i

Testicular cancer is ‘almost cured’

Television: A CHRISTMAS CALLOW

What do you need for a successful theatre show? A helicopter landing on stage? A huge revolving set that transforms itself into French Revolution barricades? Well, you can make a pretty engaging show from just one man and a lectern - as An Audience with Charles Dickens proves.

Well armed ... Labour expose ... Vulcan wink

There you are. Come in. Today I want to talk to you about the silent champagne cork, on sale in some champagne bottles from next month. What a good idea! How often have I wished for one at around eleven in the morning when, in delicate mood, I have approached the bottle that effervesces with a hand too unsteady to wield a sabre. This abhorrence of noise and din runs in the family. My grandfather, I remember, liked to be awakened by Scotch whisky dripped from a feather. I have some other proposals which would be of help amid the incessant racket of modern times: 1) The silk-bristled toothbrush 2) A total ban on soup 3) Silent ice 4) Tills without bells 5) Trappist house music 6) Did you know that there is a dog, the Basenji, which cannot bark? 7) Goldfish tend towards the taciturn, too 8) Burglar alarms that go "Boo!" 9) Package holidays by glider 10) A curfew in Islington.

review The Alchemist Birmingham Rep

The trio of confidence tricksters at the centre of Ben Jonson's The Alchemist may not know how to turn base metal into gold, but they are certainly adept at other types of transformation. This shows itself not just in the quick-change artistry that enables them to assume almost as many different identities as they have clients. It's also apparent in the almost alchemical effect of their trickery on the gullible dupes who seek their services. With a little artful nudging from this trio, ambitions which were dull and limited take absurd, imaginative flight. The dross of ordinary, humdrum reality is transformed into the fantastical and strange, though of course those being ripped off aren't best placed to appreciate this metaphoric side to the process.

THE CRICTICS FILM: Today suburbia, tomorrow the world

That Golden Palm which now casts its dappled shade over Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies (15) might come as something of an agreeable surprise, for all that it is well deserved; his wanly comic drama about families has many of the qualities of a national family joke, so replete with this country's shared disappointments, half-forgotten grudges and rueful acceptances that you might not think it fully intelligible in Cannes, or anywhere outside these shores. Do audiences in Nancy yelp with laughter, as we do, when Paul (Lee Ross) grunts "Can be, mate" to someone who asks if his work is hard? Will cinema-goers in Helsinki squirm, as we do, when Monica (Phyllis Logan) says of her WC "I think the peach tones make it quite tranquil"? Are Bostonians likely to wince in recognition, as we do, at the shrill maternal whine with which Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn) catechises her daughter Roxanne (Claire Rushbrook) about contraceptive devices?

Game in grip of trench fever

Lindsay still upbeat about the Super League as uncertainty Down Under casts a shadow over play-offs

LETTER: Great minds...

From Mr Simon Callow

The Tesco of classical music, Raymond Gubbay Ltd stacks them high and sells them low

On 30 September 1791, the Freyhaustheater in Vienna presented the first night of a new work. It appeared on the playbill as "A Grand Opera in Two Acts by Emanuel Schikaneder", though the long arbitration of posterity has reassigned the credit. It is now conventional to refer to The Magic Flute as an opera "by Mozart". At first history didn't deal very kindly with Schikaneder - one of the early accounts of his involvement with Mozart (detailed in 1791, HC Robbins Landon's account of the composer's last year) held that he was driven solely by financial need, and imagined his entrepreneurial pitch in the following way: "Write an opera for me, entirely in the taste of the present Viennese public; you can surely satisfy not only the connoisseurs but also your own reputation, but see to it that you cater primarily to the lowest common denominator of all classes." In other words, it is a fantasy of mercenary instincts transformed by sanctified genius, more so as the anecdote has Mozart working for free in return for copyright and then being ripped off by his partner.

For the love of an armadillo

"I'm quite a good liar," says Stephen Fry, "and I think that helps enormously." The cerebral star refers not to credit-card fraud or even temporary disappearance, but to his skill at Perudo, a dice game requiring poker-style bluff and deception. Long fashionable among the clubs and bars of Soho, Perudo has moved out of the shadows this year with a new distribution deal and its first National Championships, which take place next week.

Six of the best: Purcell tercentenary events

The Fairy Queen Barbican, Silk St, London, 7.30pm tonight (0171- 638 8891) Based on A Midsummer Night's Dream, Purcell's semi-opera is a series of exotic masques set in a magical world - the original stage directions called for swans dancing with fairies, huge fountains and peacocks. What this performance may lack in fantastical excess is more than made up for by the Sixteen Choir and Orchestra, Jeremy Sams's narrative and wonderful lighting and visual effects.

opera : Il trittico, Broomhill

REVIEWS Della Couling cuts through the clutter of Simon Callow's stagin g of Puccini

Reading between the lines

choice: three to see in the next seven days

A desert... then there was Gobbi

Simon Callow recalls how a revelation in Covent Garden turned him from sceptical schoolboy into man of the theatre

ISMISMNew concepts for the Nineties

No. 21: quitticism

A happy touch with solemn proceedings; Faith and Reason

The celebrations of VE Day provided a reminder that an official priesthood still has an invaluable role, writes Paul Handley, editor of the Church Times.

Try me: WAISTCOATS

I've been a shameless wearer of the things for ages, ooh long before Simon Callow in Four Weddings and a Funeral, made it cool to be waistcoated to excess.
Career Services

Day In a Page

Independent Travel
Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples
Seven Cities of Italy
Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence
Prague, Budapest and Vienna
Lake Garda
3.	Provence 6 nights B&B by train from £599pp
Prices correct as of 20 February 2015
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable