Arts and Entertainment

Without question, the book that has most influenced my life has been Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs. I was astonished by the outrageous pot-head humour: crazy ideas taken way beyond their normal limits. The book was a savage indictment of American racism and consumerism, it dealt with the corruption, graft and lies of politicians with Swiftian humour. I had never read anything like, then or since.

TURNING POINT / Something happened: Kevin Jackson on a night in which theatre seemed to make sense, thanks to Beckett's Endgame

Like the awkward friendships of teenage years, the cultural enthusiasms of lost adolescence can be a bit of a ticklish matter for those heaving into middle age. Should you try to keep faith with your callow, narrow-waisted self by preserving them in the amber glow of nostalgia, droning on about the fretwork of Clapton and Hendrix as if you were still in the back row of Divinity class? Take rueful but forgiving leave of them and crank up the volume on your new Hildegard of Bingen CD? Or imitate Stalin by expunging them ruthlessly from the official version of your life?

THEATRE / Arctic roles: Nick Kimberley on a beguiling new work, Beulah Land at the ICA

The potential energy of theatre on the page requires performance to make it kinetic: there is always something beyond what text supplies, or else why perform it at all? Authors - even dead ones like Samuel Beckett - attempt to control performance, but the trick for a director is to release the text from the page. The director Lucy Bailey worked with Beckett early in her career and has also directed opera, a dramatic medium in which music fractures narrative linearity. Something similar occurs in Bailey's latest production, Beulah Land.

BOOK REVIEW / Keeping mum over the Oedipus complex: 'Baudelaire' - Joanna Richardson: John Murray, 30 pounds - Behind every genius is a woman to blame: Sue Gaisford on a biography of Baudelaire that takes his mother to task

In 1852, Baudelaire wrote to his mother: 'I believe for ever and ever that the woman who has suffered and borne a child is the only one who is the equal of men. To give birth is the only thing which gives a woman spiritual understanding.' If he really did believe that, then it follows that his own mother must have had at least some 'spiritual understanding'. Yet this enormous book sets out to prove, again and again, that his mother was the author of all his despair.

Lost in France: Paris in the Sixties: Peter Lennon, taking his chances as a foreign correspondent, gatecrashes a private view where he starts chatting to a little balding man with a wrinkly face and a taste for champagne. Only months later does the young reporter discover that his new acquaintance is the star of the avant-garde

I was wandering down the rue St-Andre-des-Arts when I saw people standing in that narrow street outside an art gallery, sipping from champagne glasses. Through the plate-glass window I could see young women merrily urging champagne on the small mob inside. I noted no coin was changing hands.

THEATRE / The Fringe: The passion killers

Anna Reynolds's first play, Jordan, was a revelation - a study of a woman who has killed someone she loved that was both movingly compassionate and ruthlessly thorough in the way it imagined her thoughts and feelings. Red is a study of two women who have each killed (or helped to kill) someone they loved. Again, it manages to be compassionate and ruthless. But the second time around, the achievement seems much less impressive.

BOOK REVIEW / The patron saint of Difficulty: 'Mallarme: A Throw of the Dice' - Gordon Millan: Secker, 30 pounds

'HOW long will it take Nature to produce another brain like that?' were Rodin's words as he walked away from Stephane Mallarme's funeral. In his lifetime (1842-98), Mallarme was respected, loved, even revered by his peers and disciples, and ridiculed by the press on the grounds that his work was wilfully obscure, precious, incomprehensible, mad. In our own century, scholars and critics (French and Anglo-American) have elected him the patron saint of Difficulty. Behind the brain that produced some of the purest and most challenging poems of their time, or any time, and some of the most subtle and uncompromising reflections on poetry, Mallarme the husband and father, the Parisian litterateur, the kindly 'Mossieu' of the little hamlet of Valvins, has all but disappeared. Mallarme would probably not have minded; after all, he pronounced himself dead at the age of 22, to be resurrected in his visionary writings. Part of Gordon Millan's purpose in Mallarme: A Throw of the Dice is to rescue the poet's gregarious, retiring, dedicated, distracted personality from the myths and distortions, and to see the work as of a piece with the man who loved life and suffered. As Samuel Beckett said, in a very different context: 'Thanks, I suppose'.

THEATRE / Way out of line: Samuel Beckett was notoriously fastidious about his stage directions, drilling his actors on intonation, obsessively concerned with gradations of lighting and rhythm. Since his death the Beckett estate has monitored productions of his work, so when Deborah Warner reassigned some lines and sent Fiona Shaw on walkabout in Footfalls at the Garrick she was asking for trouble

Samuel Beckett once tried to put a stop to the first New York production of a theatre piece he had written, on the grounds that a stage direction had been violated. Given that the 35-second Breath (1969) consists of nothing but a stage direction, this intervention is not as pedantic as it sounds. Certainly, the producers of the Broadway O] Calcutta], to which the sketch made a contribution, can't have been unaware that there's a world of difference between 'Faint light on stage littered with miscellaneous rubbish. Hold light about five seconds', and the same orders with the phrase 'including naked people' inserted after the word 'rubbish'.

Books: Myth in the making: Ted Hughes has always had his doubts about criticism, but this first collection of prose gives the remarkable range of his work over 30 years, as well as insight into his motives and methods

ONE NIGHT, as a student at Cambridge, Ted Hughes had a strange dream. For some time he had been finding his weekly essay a torment to write, and once again he had ended up sitting over a blank page till 2 am before giving up and going to bed. He dreamt that a fox - a very large fox, as big as a wolf - walked into the room on hind legs. It looked as if it had just stepped out of a furnace, its body charred, its eyes full of pain. It came up to his desk, laid a bleeding hand on the blank page, and said: 'Stop this - you are destroying us.'

MUSIC / End games: Nicholas Williams on the premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Beckett-based saxophone concerto

There were two defining elements in Mark-Anthony Turnage's new concerto for soprano saxophone, premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on Wednesday. One was the power and artistry of the work's soloist and dedicatee, Martin Robertson; the other was the guiding inspiration of a monologue of despair by Samuel Beckett.

BOOK REVIEW / Be all and end all: Beckett's dying words by Christopher Ricks OUP pounds 17.50

DYING WORDS live on - that's their purpose, to leave an impression, like the dent in a pillow after the corpse has been removed. We associate them with truth-telling, and though, truth to tell, many last words have been banal (William Pitt the Younger: 'I think I could eat one of Bellamy's veal pies'), and many others are surely apocryphal, others have been pleasingly in character: 'I am dying, as I have lived, beyond my means' (Oscar Wilde, never losing self-consciousness); 'Kill me, or else you are a murderer' (Franz Kafka, tortured and paradoxical to the last).

Treasures of the Muse in pools of dental mouthwash

THE BEST opening ever written for any book was that for Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, but then I found a better one, and I have not found a better one since. Here it is, from memory:

BOOK REVIEW / Warmth at the art of aphorism: The trouble with being born - E M Cioran, trs Richard Howard: Quartet, pounds 8.95

'WHAT'S it all about, then?' The cabbie's question, apocryphally asked of Bertrand Russell, is even more comically futile now than it was then. Living philosophers who know what it's all about and, moreover, could explain it to a cabbie, are not easily found, or keep their thoughts to themselves. Perhaps this is why E M Cioran isn't as well known as he ought to be.

Why polo can cost a mint

THE POLO shenanigans are on again in the Phoenix Park, where one attends in the clubhouse, and outside it, in the company of broke, and not so broke, millionaires and the svelte, beautiful women who, for some reason, seem to be irresistibly attracted to this bruising sport.

The Broader Picture: First love, last rites

I NEVER knew Katy Tyrrell when she was alive, but for two nights and three days in 1977 I photographed her wake in the town of Athy on the south-western borders of Co Kildare: the poignant stillness of her face at peace, her body dressed in the Legion of Mary burial shroud, the mirror covered with a white sheet, the clocks stopped, the fires put out. The wake room is prepared for family and friends to pay their last respects, and the vigil lasts through the night with only a candle flickering. Local mythology has it that you should look at the body, because then you are looking at a reflection of yourself. For death is the beginning.

If anyone asked you who you are . . .

THE stage is the Lyttleton at the Royal National Theatre, on London's South Bank. It is set to show a very large country house in the 19th century. In front of it the seats for the audience are about three-quarters full of people of varied ages and dress. If they have a coherent look, it is earnest.
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