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The steel erector Severfield Rowen, which is working on the City's Cheesegrater skyscraper, counted the cost of the "most challenging year in its history" yesterday as it crashed to a £21.5m loss.

THEATRE / Reversal of fortune: A 21-year-old has bold new plans to save the Mermaid Theatre. Charles Nevin meets the man with a mission

DOWN IN Puddle Dock, by Blackfriars Bridge in the City of London, there is something stirring. Muhammad is coming to the Mermaid: Muhammad Ali, that is, for the British opening of Ali, Geoffrey Ewing's one-man off-Broadway play based on the champion's life.

Captain Moonlight's Notebook: Thackeray desk is a walking treasure

NEWS reaches me of consternation among staff at the Observer. A rather special piece of furniture, known as the Pendennis table, has gone missing. It is a large oblong leather-topped Victorian table on which - according to a brass plate screwed into the middle of it - William Makepeace Thackeray wrote his novel, Pendennis, in 1850. It came into the possession of the Observer when the Pall Mall Gazette, a sister paper, folded early this century.

BOOK REVIEW / Post-imperial distress signals: William Scammell reviews three know-it-all collections

MONOSYLLABIC, throwaway titles are currently de rigueur. Self-abasement is the order of the day, for we have grown very humble about our place in the cosmos, our crimes and misdemeanours. Jokes are OK, too, and puns, and a syntax that almost falls over itself to embrace prepositions rather than the imperialist swagger of verbs and nouns. The last thing a modern poet wants to do is to seem to presume. Yet this last-ditch knowingness - been there, touched dirt, got the guilt - is simply the obverse of those flag-waving certainties practised by the Cro- Magnons of two or three generations ago.

Captain Moonlight's Notebook: Lobbies worth loitering in

I WENT on a tour of London's foyers last week, to try to understand why Jacques Attali approved pounds 750,000 to be spent on new marble walls for the entrance and public areas of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development - one among many items of the bank's expenditure which has caused dismay and outrage. My tour showed that a passion for grandiloquence is not confined to French intellectuals who want to make 'statements' about the purpose of the institutions they head.

Column Eight: Grand Met has it taped

This week's Big Brother prize goes to Grand Metropolitan. Our man at yesterday's annual meeting of Grand Met's shareholders was discovered - heinous crime - with a tape recorder and told to surrender it to security men before going into the meeting.

View from City Road: Unilever speeds up its footwork

CONFUSION was rife yesterday after Unilever announced its head office reorganisation. Analysts in the City - who have seen British Gas, Burton and others announce huge head office redundancy programmes in recent weeks - assumed it was a cost-cutting exercise.

New Customs chief warns against free trade abuse: Colin Brown meets Valerie Strachan, the next chairman of Customs and Excise

VALERIE STRACHAN won a European woman of the year award for her work in bringing down the barriers to free trade on 1 January. But, as the chairman- elect of Customs and Excise, she is promising a crackdown on revellers who abuse the system.

High-flyer's high standards: The Government is aiming to stretch brighter pupils as curriculum chief says majority of teachers are doing a good job

David Pascall was not surprised to find himself the target of teachers' protests last week, when he announced that the National Curriculum Council intended to reinforce grammar, spelling, and classic literature in the teaching of English.

Edinburgh Festival Day 20: Reviews: Shameless Extras

Over the last three years, Talking Tongues have won wide acclaim for their intense two-woman shows. Their subject has always been trust and vulnerability within a claustrophobic relationship. This year, writers David Farr and Rose Garnett have developed these concerns in an incisive dialogue underpinned with lying and deceit. Rachel Weisz and Sasha Hails perform with neat timing and precise characterisation, but the play's framework (a chance interview between two possible killers) is defused by a weak ending.

Edinburgh Festival Day 19: Reviews: Eh Joe, Stirrings Still and Ohio Impromptu

The San Quentin Drama Workshop trades on its experiences of working with Samuel Beckett in this patchy triple-bill. Stirrings Still is a makeweight: not performed, but played on audio tape while the audience looks at a single slide of the author. Eh Joe was written for television: the visual impact derived entirely from camera moves. It is performed here with precise minimalism (every single blink counts), but even old Sam put in more action than this. It is Ohio Impromptu that most fully shows off Rick Cluchey and Bud Thorpe's capabilities. Each move is deliberate and powerful, and the narration a sonorous and cheekily accurate impersonation of Beckett actor supreme, the late Patrick Magee. A more throughtfully compiled programme would have been stunning.

Edinburgh Festival Day 18: From Heaven Through the World To Hell

Teatr Provisorium presents a pacy dramatic collage, assembled from Goethe's Faust, Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, Thomas Mann's Faust, the Book of Job and other texts. It's like a tragic cabaret, illuminating its ghastly subject - the nature of evil - with dazzling and bitter wit. Janusz Oprynski's inventive direction is complemented by Jan Maria Kloczowski's propulsive score which drives the plot. Even the most baleful moments (such as a meditation on the death of Eurydice, taken from the poet Zbigniew Herbert) are performed with lugubrious irony by the Polish two-man cast. In spite of the weight of the subject and the seriousness of its treatment, it is impossible not to leave laughing. Richard Demarco Gallery, 17-21 Blackfriars Street (venue 22), 031-557 0707. 9.30pm. To 5 Sept.

Edinburgh Festival Day 16: Reviews

MONROVIA MONROVIA

Edinburgh Festival Day 10 / Eclipsed

Locked up in a Colditz-style penitentiary in deepest Ireland, fallen women expiate their sin by scrubbing the dirty linen of a community which disowns them. Patricia Burke Brogan's first play shows four such women, forbidden from seeing the men or babies who got them there in the first place, living out their days smoking furtive cigarettes, planning escape and even staging a mock- wedding with Elvis as groom. The play starts slowly, but its strength grows with appealing performances.

THEATRE / Real Time: Edinburgh Festival Day 4

It is the eve of Yom Kippur, 1973, in Tel Aviv. A group of immigrants gather in Eva's Bar to celebrate the festival under the shadow of war. Interspersing dialogue with magical visual images, Tmu Na tell the stories of each of the displaced people. Under delicate lighting and through precise changes of mood, the audience is drawn into the characters and into the celebrations. There are moments when the story-telling loses pace, but the visual invention of directors Nava Zukerman and Yael Sagie never falters.

City tiger in a paper jungle: Chris Blackhurst and Nick Gilbert on the struggles of Lord Stevens

Every December, a memo is sent to staff at the Express Newspapers building forbidding any display of Christmas decorations in the windows overlooking Blackfriars Road.
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