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Early years in Liverpool gave him the perfect voice for John Lennon in the animated ‘Yellow Submarine’ film

COMEDY / Clever clogs replay

'IT'S GOOD to see a graduate making something of himself for a change,' observes a rough and ready individual in the queue for complimentary Robert Newman tickets. 'Normally they just do eff-all and live off the state.'

THEATRE / A twist in the cocktail: Paul Taylor on Design for Living at the Donmar

The design on the poster and the programme for Sean Mathias's revelatory Donmar revival of Design for Living is studiedly deceptive. At first (or even second and third) glance, you seem to be looking at a cocktail glass into which an olive is tumbling from on high. Then it dawns on you that the olive might actually be a navel, and that the glass has a pair of vertical lips swimming in it . . .

THEATRE / Three's company, two's a crowd: The menage a trois is full of theatrical promise, and nobody has better exploited it than Noel Coward in Design for Living. By Paul Taylor

The snappiest gag about menages a trois was delivered by Groucho Marx. In Animal Crackers, he ogles a couple of starlets and quips, 'We three would make an ideal couple. Pardon me while I have a strange interlude.' He's referring, of course, to Eugene O'Neill's nine-act drama Strange Interlude (1928) and to its heroine who is torn, protractedly, between two men. Groucho's joke would work even better, though, as a gloss on Noel Coward's Design for Living, which was premiered in New York five years later with the same actress, Lynne Fontanne, in the leading role.

True Gripes: Seen and herd: Teen tribes make holidays a nightmare

With the school holidays about to end, I'm looking forward to life returning to some sort of normality. Don't get me wrong. I love children, the little darlings - it's just that sometimes I feel like Noel Coward, famously intolerant of badly behaved brats. Driven to distraction by a movie star's hopelessly indulged offspring, the playwright proposed giving the boy a Christmas present of a chocolate-covered hand-grenade.

Letter: Mad dogs were never as English as this

Sir: Once again the stoical English patience has been rewarded with a late heat wave, and once again I see, in unabatable disbelief, the stoical English gentleman suffering to melting point in his unyielding English uniform of jacket, collar and tie]

BOOK REVIEW / Dropping the bottom line: 'The Kenneth Williams Letters' - ed Russell Davies: HarperCollins, 18 pounds

IN A letter dated 5 September 1951 Kenneth Williams writes to his friend John Hussey: 'Just finished painting the downstairs lav and I flatter myself it looks rather gay.' While this is clearly a tremendously important revelation to anyone currently working up a thesis on 'The Lavatory as Trope and Signifier in the Life and Work of Kenneth C Williams', I'm not sure what it tells the rest of us. Even before he died in 1988, the world was more than familiar with Williams's lavatorial obsession. Unlike his friend Joe Orton, Williams didn't view the khazi as the perfect venue for liaisons d'amour but as a private sanctum: he was notoriously reluctant to allow even his most trusted friends to soil this holy of holies.

DANCE / Weird, man: Judith Mackrell reviews Takarazuka at the London Coliseum

Oh, you mean it's a freak show,' said my date, as I tried to explain what Takarazuka was going to be like. In fact this all-female Japanese review is too slick and gorgeous to be that. But as you watch beautiful women impersonating male heart-throbs in order to seduce both the 'women' on stage and the crowds of Japanese women in the audience below, and as you stare at the show's surreal overload of glamour and glitz you do feel weirdly displaced. The show seems to come from another planet - one called Kitsch Heaven - even if to the performers it is sincere and serious art.

Fashion: They'd rather be dad: Next summer, it will be cool to be as uncool as your father. Alison Veness sees the Jacques Tati look emerge at the menswear collections in Paris

The male of the species has had a hard time in the past few years. He has been offered the opportunity to wear skirts, cajoled into dubiously loud shirts, made ridiculous in flash leather and cloned into the role of aspiring architect in ever so tasteful, top-to-toe navy.

BOOK REVIEW / Leap back into make-believe: William Scammell examines four poets' treatment of love, family and contemporary life

THE Bryan Ferry of English poetry, smoother than the lapels on a Hollywood tux? Thom Gunn meets Emily Dickinson? Noel Coward with a dash of Elvis? Hugo Williams is all and none of these, as elusive as the scent wafting around the actress mother who figured in his last book, Writing Home, and who looms large once more in Dock Leaves (Faber pounds 6.99).

BOOK REVIEW / The boys come out on top: 'The Penguin Book of Lesbian Short Stories' - ed Margaret Reynolds, 15.99 pounds / 9.99 pounds; 'The Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories' - ed David Leavitt and Mark Mitchell, 15.99 pounds / 10.99 pounds

I'M NOT sufficiently learned in the matter of lesbian fiction to know whether or not Margaret Reynolds's selection can be judged to have covered all the available bases, but if she wishes to claim that it does then all I can say is that lesbians are notably deficient in literary talent. Seven of the 'short stories' in this anthology aren't stories at all, but extracts from longer works, in one case a non-fictional work, Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. Of the other 25 stories, one is genuinely comic and at least four or five 'comic' in the wrong way (with Merril Mushroom, Sarah Maitland and Francis Gapper the worst offenders).

THEATRE / A nice job in the construction industry: Alan Ayckbourn, whose 46th play has just opened at Scarborough, is the master of complicated stage business. But do his clever effects add up?

A recent survey by the Little Theatres Guild brought winding news for Alan Ayckbourn. It appears that last year Shakespeare managed to pull level with him in terms of the number of times his pieces were performed. This posthumous honour may be shortlived, though, for Shakespeare - having declared, so to speak, at around 38 plays - is at a rapidly increasing disadvantage. The Complete Works of Alan Ayckbourn shows no signs of being even remotely near to completion, so there's more of him to spread around. Communicating Doors, which has just opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, is his 46th play.

The Art of Theatre: 10 Games & Parties: Nicholas Wright's Masterclass

RICHARD: We don't seem to be getting on with the game.

THEATRE / That Noel Coward, man he was cool . . .: Strange claims are being made for Noel Coward, 20 years after his death. That his plays have a life beyond those cosy West End productions; that, well, he's like hip. Biographer Philip Hoare presents the evidence

Tomorrow afternoon, on the lush green slopes of the north coast of Jamaica, Graham Payn and a small group of pilgrims will declare a rather suburban-looking white block of a house open. The house, Firefly, was latterly the domicile of a playwright whose birthday they will celebrate, and who was, at the zenith of his career, the highest paid author in the world.

Arts: Overheard

I never really liked her brutality or her selfishness . . . But I do approve of the way she walks on men and uses them, which is what men often do to women.

Obituary: Gustav Sacher

Gustav Sacher, singer and teacher: born Bukovina 17 May 1898; married Mila Flecker (died 1979; one son); died London 26 November 1993.
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As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links