Theatre: You've got to laugh...

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Be honest, how many of you knew that Jimi Hendrix toured with The Monkees? As the support. Even if you're too young to be able to name a single track by the great guitarist, the idea of these two on the same stage is the wrong side of incongruous.

Other things about Hendrix are rather more well-known. Take his drug- induced death at 27. Or his famous on-stage eroticism. As Time wrote of a performance in 1968: "He hopped, twisted and rolled over sideways without missing a twang or a moan. He slung the guitar low over swivelling hips, or raised it to pick the strings with his teeth; he thrust it between his legs and did a bump and grind, crooning: `Oh baby, come on now, sock it to me.'"

And just what has this got to do with theatre? Bear with me. Cut forward 20 years to the National Theatre and Kevin Elyot's (right) The Day I Stood Still. The final scene takes place in 1969, with the hero and his friend enraptured by Jimi. They mention seeing him in concert; they dance to "Are You Experienced?" and "The Wind Cries Mary" and quote a few lines. They are youthful and optimistic and they're big fans. Who could argue with that?

The National had cleared the rights with the Performing Rights Society, no problem was forseen and PRS set about formally contacting the Hendrix estate. Meanwhile, Elyot and his merry band went about their business. Only after the play had opened did word reach them that there was a problem. Hendrix's father - who a couple of years back won an extended legal battle to control the estate - had read the relevant scenes and he wasn't happy. Why?

Because the play contained scenes of sex and lovemaking which besmirched Jimi's reputation.

Er, pardon? We seem to be in the realm of "the love that dare not speak someone else's name". For those of you who think Kevin Elyot and My Night With Reg and leap to the gay (and wrong) conclusion, I should point out that the sex in question gets little further than intimate, fully clothed snogging and that the people concerned are heterosexual. Nevertheless, Hendrix Senior has decreed that all Hendrix references be cut. God forbid that his son should be associated with anything unseemly. The result? The scene plays as written, but with The Beatles singing "Helter-Skelter". One suspects that Yoko Ono will prove a little more tolerant of the artistic furtherance of her former partner's work.

Elyot's problems don't stop there. In the play's final moments, Horace is ransacking his home to find something and rips a cushion apart in frustration. Oh no, he doesn't. Not any more. Health and Safety have put paid to director Ian Rickson's exquisite image of feathers floating slowly down. According to the authorities, this could cause allergies in the audience, the cast and the crew. Even though it happens in the very last minute, it's a danger to all.

Rather like smoking. California has now passed a law banning all smoking in public places. Even in theatre. Which is rather tough on the San Francisco cast of My Night With Reg, which is about to open. According to the script, most of the characters should be smoking throughout the play. Not any more. Ever been confused about the relationship between art and life?

`The Day I Stood Still' is in rep at the National, SE1 (0171-452 3000)