Arts: Nice acting, shame about the interview

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TOBY STEPHENS, son of the late Sir Robert Stephens and Dame Maggie Smith, gives a thrilling performance opposite Diana Rigg in Jonathan Kent's chillingly intense production of Phedre which opened in the West End this week.

Kent rightly describes Toby Stephens as "a heroic actor in an unheroic age". So it is a pity that Stephens marked the first night with an interview which was a little less than heroic.

Aiming a gratuitous swipe at the Royal Shakespeare Company, which made him a star just a couple of years ago, he said: "As I was leaving, it was a very unhappy company." (One assumes the two facts were unrelated).

He goes on to add that he was not tempted to go with the RSC to Plymouth: "No way. Not being at all snobbish, but you're down there for a month or whatever. It's going to be empty. It's just going to be demoralising. And I know people in the company who say it is."

Actually, that is being snobbish. It shows a metropolitan snobbery and a preciousness which can only be described by that awful word "luvvie". A whole month in Plymouth! Well, people do survive it.

The RSC's artistic director, Adrian Noble, made a difficult but commendable decision to leave London in his determination that all parts of the country should see the best classical acting. Devon is not Siberia. Perhaps Jonathan Kent should take his splendid new production for a month in the West country as an exercise in theatre-in-education - for his own cast.

SIR CLIFF RICHARD told me a lovely story when I met him this week, which illustrates how crafty record companies were back in the Sixties. He would get very resentful, he said, when he rang up to try to book Studio 2 at Abbey Road, constantly to be told that he couldn't have it because The Beatles were using it. Not good for the ego.

"I didn't actually meet Paul McCartney till years later," said Sir Cliff, "and I told him the story.

"He gasped and said `but whenever John rang up to ask if we could use it to practise, he was told that Cliff and The Shadows were in there!'"

There's a studio booking manager out there somewhere who saved EMI a lot of money - and lost the chance of a lot of bootleg tapes.