David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
"Die... Die!" screams Mrs Lovett at the beggar woman in Sweeney Todd. Scores of people once made similar suggestions to Madonna as the best possible move for a career fast heading down the Swanee. Malcolm said of the Thane of Cawdor, "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it" and the same goes for the stage career of Dennis Potter. No sooner had the great TV dramatist made his peace with Melvyn Bragg and departed this world than literary managers began rooting through his back catalogue.

Bill Bryden resurrected the stage version of Son of Man at the RSC, which opened with the brawny cast making the wooden set in front of your eyes, a symbolic cross between a community play and a woodwork class. Joseph Fiennes gave a performance of blistering conviction, but you were still left wondering why they had bothered. Potter (right) was a television writer. Theatre, as LP Hartley said of the past, is a different country... they do things differently there. Theatre relies on subtext. TV does, too, but it tends to be visual and controlled by the searching eye of the camera. Theatre space is static and harder to isolate. How, for example, do you to stage a reaction shot?

In 1986, director Robin Baker and the Piccolo Theatre were the first to stage Potter's acutely observed 1979 drama of childhood, Blue Remembered Hills, which famously cast adults as children. The TV originals included Helen Mirren, Colin Welland and Colin Jeavons. Now, Patrick Marber has cast Steve Coogan, and in the Janine Duvitski (Ange in Abigail's Party) role, Debra Gillet who was treasureable as pert Geraldine in What the Butler Saw at the same address and a complete riot in the title role of The Country Wife at the RSC. No further recommendation required.

`Blue Remembered Hills' is at the Lyttelton, National Theatre, London (0171-928 2252)

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