THEATRE / On Theatre

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There are certain playwrights who can almost guarantee bums on seats. Not so long ago, it was Agatha Christie whose work sustained many a repertory theatre. During the mid-Eighties, she had a West End double when The Mousetrap (42 years and counting) was joined by Murder at the Vicarage, which City Limits deemed 'likely to be amongst this year's six best murder plays with a vicarage setting'.

More recently, Alan Ayckbourn has been the auditorium-filler of choice. Not that the author of 47 plays, including the excellent Woman in Mind and The Norman Conquests, is to be sneered at.

No one would describe Jean Cocteau as a box-office favourite. He isn't easy to market. Dead French homosexuals don't give good interview. Indeed, rumours are spreading that the National Theatre revival of Les Parents Terribles is not pulling in the punters. Untrue; the run has been extended. But beware. There are only 24 performances left in which to catch the grand-scale yet truthful acting from the cast of five, in addition to Stephen Brimson Lewis's dazzlingly atmospheric and powerful design.

It is a particular delight to witness a new career opening up for Frances de la Tour (above). After her spectacular exit in the second act, you spend the interval dreaming of her playing everything Oscar Wilde and Nol Coward ever wrote.

National Theatre box office: 071-928 2252

(Photograph omitted)

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