CRIES & WHISPERS

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The Independent Culture
4 THIS column has often wondered (aloud, as is its wont) whether the theatre might be running out of steam. It didn't look that way this week. On Monday, there was the acclaimed opening of a new, or new-to-the- stage, Tom Stoppard: Indian Ink. On Tuesday, there was a new Hamlet, rapturously received, at a venue that was new even to Shakespeare, the Hackney Empire. For a verdict on both productions, turn to the Critics pages in the news section. This corner, as ever, concerns itself with more important things. I went to the Stoppard clasping my quoteometer, a handy little device designed to measure how long it would take the master of the theatrical one-liner to come up with a line destined for the dictionaries of quotations.

The curtain went up at five past seven. Before ten past, an academic had remarked, Stoppardishly, "That's why God made poets and novelists - so the rest of us could get published." Ping! went the quoteometer. The classic Stoppard line: a conventional sentiment - academics are parasites - delivered with unbeatable flair.

Another four minutes passed. A different character was speaking - though, as even Felicity Kendal acknow-ledged the other day, no characters in Stoppard are all that different from one another. "Biography," said this one, "is the worst possible excuse for getting people wrong." Ping! Every four minutes, I braced myself for another mot, but that was more or less that. Late on, there was a good try: "She used men like batteries," someone said of Kendal's character - "when things went flat, she put another one in". But that wasn't quite Stop-class because strictly, surely, it's the batteries themselves that go flat, not "things".

4 STOPPARD had much else to offer, not least a couple of curious connections with the other theatrical events of the moment. Felicity Kendal, amazed at the people she found running the British Empire, expostulated: "I wouldn't even trust them to run the Hackney Empire." Earlier, Kendal, a poet, was talking to Art Malik, a painter, and urging him not to worry about what other people said about his work. "Learn to take no notice," she instructed him, with an exasperation that suggested the author might be a little more sympathetic to Simon Gray than to Stephen Fry.

4 THIS intertextuality business is getting out of hand. The following night, the first glimpse we got of Ralph Fiennes, he was standing with his back to us. Just as he is everywhere at the moment, in the ads for Quiz Show. There was even one in the Hamlet programme.

4 IT IS no longer a surprise to turn on the telly and find yourself assaulted by trailers. We have noted before that nobody does this kind of sell harder than the BBC. Even so . . . On Monday's Film 95, there was a trailer for an interview with Woody Allen. The interview is already in the can, and Barry Norman took the opportunity to give us a taste of it. Monday was 27 February. The interview will be shown on 17 April, seven weeks later. Is this a record? What makes it all the stranger is that interviewing is not Barry's strong point. He is the only BBC inquisitor who treats his subjects with the reverence that the Director General expects.

Jack Hughes

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