Arts and Entertainment

Julian Fellowes, DVD

FIVE BEST PLAYS

THE CHERRY ORCHARD. Adrian Noble's stunning version of Chekhov's masterpiece. With Penelope Wilton and Josie Lawrence. Stratford Swan (01789 295623) in rep to Jan. Sat 1.30 and 7.30.

GOING OUT : THE FIVE BEST PLAYS

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. Just one London performance for Barrie Rutter and Northern Broadsides' refreshingly direct and invigorating production. Riverside Studios, W6 (0181 741 2255), Sun 26 Nov 7.00-9.30.

The vagabond king

The women he's slept with, the men he despises, the plays he derides: Robert Stephens has some stories to tell, and being laid up in a hospital bed is not going to stop him telling them. By Georgina Brown

REVIEW:Theatre Three Tall Women Wyndham's Theatre, London

'The effect of these cast changes is to make the work feel both tighter and more humanely balanced than it did previously'

THEATRE : Outing Earnest

Importance of Being Earnest On tour

THEATRE / A Brodie of some note: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Strand Theatre

Here's an idea for a theme-party that would get the neighbours talking. The men all come in drag as Miss Jean Brodie, fluting in those prim yet preening Morningside tones, wrists sharply angled out, bearing impossibly erect, court shoes gleaming. The wives all come dressed in gym slips as her 'garulls' - Edinburgh's Marcia Blain School in the comfort of your own living-room.

BOOK REVIEW / Brass beds and wet blancmange: 'The Kenneth Williams Letters' - Russell Davies: Harper Collins, 18 pounds: Anthony Quinn finds humour, pathos, and telephone phobia in the witty and engaging letters of Kenneth Williams

READERS who managed to make their way through The Kenneth Williams Diaries last year may well hesitate before sampling any more of the agonies this lonely, lugubrious man committed to paper. The spectacle of a mind slowly torturing itself to death isn't easily borne, even when accompanied by Williams's great trumpet screeches of vulgarity. Happily, this companion volume of letters elicits the public performer in him, shifting from the introspective gloom of the Diaries to a more relaxed and benign gregariousness. Forced to deal with lives outside his own, Williams proved to be a witty and vivacious correspondent.

TELEVISION / Mad, bad, but never dangerous to know

'IS HE just very, very angry or is he plain bonkers or what?' asked Nigel Williams, searching for the mot juste to describe King Lear. The actor playing the role at Stratford looked mildly nonplussed at this formulation of an ancient essay question and declined to discuss. I suppose you could take this slangy interrogation as evidence of a decline in standards at the BBC but you would, I think, be wrong. What made Omnibus's (BBC 1) profile of Robert Stephens bearable - more than that, positively engaging - was its irreverence about the rough magic of the stage. I wouldn't have believed it possible, for example, to make an hour-long documentary about Lear without somebody mentioning Everest.

CINEMA / Overheard

Pure heaven for Alan is to be watching a TV programme for which he was responsible, in mixed company, while on the phone to other people, all of whom are watching it too. Nigel Williams, Omnibus editor, on Alan Yentob, controller BBC1, in Two and a Half Men in a Boat (Hodder, pounds 16.99)

Curtains come down on room with a view

THE Florence pensione which was the setting for part of the film A Room with a View and which was badly damaged by the car-bomb in May, is to close.

BOOK REVIEW / Crying all the way to the Barclays: 'The Kenneth Williams Diaries' - ed Russell Davies: HarperCollins, 20 pounds

KENNETH WILLIAMS said of Russell Davies, whom he never met: 'Sounds like a nasty piece of work'. In fact, he could not have wished for a better editor. This book is perfectly produced, with an informative introduction and, as far as I can see, no typographical errors at all. Williams would have approved: he cared passionately about such things.

THEATRE / The set's the surreal thing: The Importance of Being Earnest - Aldwych; Othello - Birmingham Rep; Frank Pig Says Hello - Royal Court Theatre Upstairs; Squirrels - King's Head to 18 April.

FOR A show cast up to the nines, starring Maggie Smith and directed by Nicholas Hytner, it may seem perverse to start with the set, but if there is one thing that defines this revival of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest it is Bob Crowley's design for the second act.

THEATRE / The ultimate status symbol: Paul Taylor on The Importance of Being Earnest, starring Maggie Smith

'The chin a little higher, dear,' Lady Bracknell advises Cecily, her prospective niece-in-law. 'Style largely depends on the way the chin is worn. They are worn very high, just at present.' It's not a fashion tip she follows all that religiously herself, though, or at least not in Maggie Smith's hilarious version of the dreadnought dowager now on view at the Aldwych. When she first sweeps in, the head may be reared back but the chin is tucked down, in tight disapproving mode, against the chest. Replace that imperious feathered hat with a head-scarf and milady's pursed moues and her air of pinched, almost predatory respectability would start to look distinctly suburban.

Theatre's trap for a Dame in her prime: As two leading British actresses return to the stage, David Lister looks at the problem of finding roles

THERE IS nothing like a Dame Maggie Smith, apart perhaps from a Dame Judi Dench. The arrival in London's West End of two of the greatest and now grandest names in British theatre has caused a rush to the box office and - more interestingly for theatre historians - is challenging the received wisdom that actresses disappear after the first flush of youth.

ARTS / All the angles: Farce or tragedy, stage or screen - no role seems beyond Maggie Smith. Just nominated for her umpteenth Bafta award, she is about to take her handbag to Lady Bracknell

AS FATED encounters go, neither that of Stanley and Livingstone, nor Holmes and Moriarty, can compare to the imminent rendezvous between Maggie Smith and Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.
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