WHEN SIR Peter Hall said he was going to chair a new body to challenge government policy, the culture secretary, Chris Smith, and his deputy Alan Howarth sniped at him with some relish. Messrs Smith and Howarth may find their task rather more difficult next Wednesday. When Sir Peter launches his new group formally at The Old Vic he will, I gather, be flanked by worthies including John Tusa, head of the Barbican Centre, and Norman Rosenthal, exhibitions secretary of the Royal Academy. Neither can be accused of perpetual whingeing. Indeed, the RA has never been in receipt of government money. So this is beginning to look like a more sophisticated critique of government policy than Smith has yet admitted. And I'm afraid there's worse news for him. Sir Peter is attempting to woo Mark Fisher on to his group. Fisher was Smith's deputy until the last reshuffle and one of the key architects of Labour's arts policy. There hasn't been this much political in-fighting since Thatcher's days. Who knows? We may even see
a return to political playwriting next.
AN INTRIGUED crowd that included Deborah Warner and Fiona Shaw gathered at the Roundhouse on Tuesday for the presentation of the Montblanc de la Culture award to Torquil Norman, who has put pounds 6m of his own money into the building's restoration. Particularly intriguing was the reopened Roundhouse Undercroft. Warner and Shaw, director and actor, were pacing it out with who knows what plans in mind. The builders have also unearthed a room that is not mentioned in any Roundhouse archives. The present artistic director, Paul Blackman, speculates that Nicol Williamson, when he played Hamlet, may have used it with his Ophelia, Marianne Faithfull, for "extra rehearsals" - a fine piece of Sixties artspeak.