Pandora: Benn joins broke composer's cause

There is a further twist in the long-running legal row between acclaimed composer Keith Burstein and London's Evening Standard.

Burstein, you may remember, attempted to sue the newspaper two years ago after a damning review of his opera, Manifest Destiny. He lost the case and was left him bankrupt, with the Standard forced to seize his royalties.

All was not lost, however, as he managed to turn the tale into a play, with with a little help from actors Corin Redgrave and Tim Pigott-Smith.

Now, after several months at a community theatre in London's Bethnal Green, the play is to transfer to the Hackney Empire, one of the country's best-known venues, on 21 May.

What's more, Burstein has managed to garner support from veteran political force Tony Benn, who is to take to the stage and address audience members ahead of the show. "He's agreed to do an introduction, which is very kind," Burstein tells Pandora. "We deal with each other through the Stop The War Coalition. We also have a terrific cast, with Janie Dee and Roger Lloyd-Pack in the starring roles."

Stella's stellar performance

Congratulations to Stella McCartney, who has become the fashion industry's sole representative to make it on to Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people. Curiously, her USP appears to be less her clothes than her staunch vegetarianism. "Even if you are not interested," writes Gwyneth Paltrow by way of recommendation, "Stella gets you to believe. It may last just one dinner, but you start to feel a bit sad for your neighbour's lamb and a bit embarrassed by your chicken."

Indiscretion on the number 88

Overheard on the number 88 through Westminster: a young man complaining loudly into his mobile about his indecisive boss. Said employer was, apparently, unable to decide whether or not it was wise to send a letter to this very newspaper.

"But I don't want to write a letter, it'll only fan the flames," came the whiney impersonation. Unfortunately – but rather amusingly – the fellow in question works for Jacqui Smith. And as yesterday's Letters page will testify, she did indeed write in.

Gervais puts on his square pants

"I can retire now!" exclaims Ricky Gervais. "I have turned down about 25 films this year because I'm too busy but there are some things that you say 'yes' to without thinking."

Goodness. What on earth could he be referring to? Has he landed a role in the latest Woody Allen? Or perhaps he will be popping up on Broadway sometime soon?

Almost. The in-demand comedian has in fact just accepted a role in the 10th anniversary episode of the cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants.

"It's only a little cameo but it's such an honour," adds Gervais, almost convincingly.

Prescott's plea: pay for my petrol please

A sign of these increasingly austere times, perhaps? Not only has John Prescott been forced to replace his famous campaign battle bus with a compact mini-van for his return to the road, but he has also taken to soliciting free (oh OK, donated) petrol for the trip.

Writes the Labour bruiser on his blog: "As I've said before we are funding the trip on small donations... so if you can help with a few pounds towards the petrol, please feel free to donate here." Bless.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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