The Week in Arts: Carry on cackling

IT WAS strange sitting behind the real Barbara Windsor at the National Theatre for the opening of Terry Johnson's Carry On Homage, Cleo, Camping, Emanuelle And Dick, while on stage her alter ego was both seducing and being seduced by the Sid James character. Would the real Barbara laugh, cry or sue? Well, she was crying at the end, as she is the only one of the central characters still alive. But it was interesting to note at which points she laughed. The first came when it was remarked on stage that things were so bad on the set that Charles Hawtrey nearly sobered up. But I was more intrigued to hear a barely-stifled giggle when an on-stage heavy sent by her husband said to the Sid James character: "It's not that Ronnie minds you owing him money. It's not that Ronnie minds you shagging his wife. It's your shagging his wife when you owe him money." Barbara Windsor, I gather, had seen the script and tweaked it a little. And if that's what she was happy, indeed mightily amused, to leave in, I'd love to see the out-takes.

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DORIS LESSING has turned her formidable pen to opera critics, and it makes juicy reading. Ms Lessing, still apparently smarting from the mauling 10 years ago for Philip Glass's The Making Of The Representative, for which she wrote the libretto, has written a piece for the journal of the Friends of the English National Opera. She recalls: "I have never read anything so venomous, so poisonous. [Philip Glass's] experience with opera has been that critics damn a first showing of a piece, but when the next one appears they damn that, saying ... it is not as good as the last! Is is that some critics have in them a well of malice they need to empty from time to time?"

So can the ENO hail Ms Lessing as their champion? Not totally. In her next paragraph: "More than one production I have sat through with my eyes closed, unable to bear it."

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CULTURE SECRETARY Chris Smith wants art taken out of the galleries and brought to the people. He is being taken at his word by textiles artist Anna Sheppard, who is putting on a display of her wall sculptures next week in Soho hairdresser, Tommy Guns Haircuts, in Beak Street. The sculptures are constructed from hairgrips, nets and rollers. Next week, the public will be allowed to view the exhibition, and no doubt to gaze at the bewildered people being shampooed.

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ROYAL OPERA House chairman Sir Colin Southgate may not save quite as much money as he thinks when he closes down the Royal Opera company next year. The Royal Opera House will have to pay all the principal singers they have engaged, unless they find other work. One national opera promoter tells me: "Find an Italian tenor or his agent who will admit to another engagement when he can be paid for not singing with the Royal Opera!" I call that cynical, xenophobic and probably absolutely true.

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<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
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