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.
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