`Chicago' is ... an uncomfortable night out for a newspaper editor

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The Independent Online
At a preview showing of Chicago, the deeply wonderful new musical in the Strand, I sat next to Max Hastings. The 9ft-tall editor of the Evening Standard was the tallest lupin among a whole garden of variegated celebrities (Sir Cliff Richard, Anthony Samson, Ned Sherrin) at this rollicking, son-of-Cabaret extravaganza.

It was a very hot ticket and a very cool evening. The upstairs crush bar was full of groovily dressed-down young men swigging Czech beer and smoking Black Russians. The audience was a-buzz with expectation before the show, and alive with whistles and cries of "Yeahhhrr!" after each sassy number. A lady of mature years couldn't take the strain and fainted at the end of Row G while Ruthie Henshall was singing "Roxie" ...

Through it all, Mr Hastings sat with his raincoat on his lap and on his face the expression of an Easter Island statue in the rain. Evidently he is not a fan of the Broadway musical, or the convention that you are allowed to clap before the final curtain. But just as he was (I gathered) resigning himself to terminal ennui, things on stage took a more interesting turn.

The book of the musical offers an amoral look at the celebrity value of murder, adultery and crime passionel, and how you can be sure of getting a light sentence (or none at all) if you pay the bent attorney, screw the cop and do whatever the dykish matron of the remand centre requires of you. Along the way you learn to adjust your story for the newspapers. So - at one point in the first act, Billy Flynn the crooked attorney is explaining to Roxie Hart what she should tell the Press when they arrive. "Oh, and don't worry", says Billy, "because the woman from the Evening Star will be here". Beside me, I could swear, Mr Hastings stiffened perceptibly. You'll be fine with her, explains Billy, she's called Mary Sunshine and she believes everything she's told.

I stole a sidelong glance. The editor of the as-it-were Evening Star's nostrils were dilated. Was he running through a swift mental Rolladex to see which of his charges could possibly fit this description? Then on came came Mary Sunshine, a huge lady, possibly en travestie in a long sweeping coat, to sing "A Little Bit of Good (In Everyone)". It was, I think, the only moment in any Broadway musical in which a character is required to embody journalistic gullibility. And the bitch had to work for the Evening St... Mr Hastings shifted in his seat and dredged his ear with an exasperated forefinger.

Sorry to return to the hoary subject of Booker Prize Night a whole three weeks after the event, but the story of the Indian Car Fight is too good to miss. Picture the scene. Puppyish, bespectacled former publisher David Godwin, a literary agent of few years' experience but a talent-spotter of quality, has two of his charges, Arundhati (God of Small Things) Roy and Jim (Quarantine) Crace, on the Booker shortlist, and both tipped by Ladbrokes and William Hill to win. The occasion obviously warrants a special gesture. So he hires a white stretch limousine for the evening. If either Roy or Crace gets the prize, they will be whisked off to the Winner's Party with Godwin in this transport of ecstacy, handily furnished with flowers, champagne, TV and, for all I know, en suite microwave and shower unit.

In due course, Arundhati Roy is announced as the winner. Loud huzzahs at David Godwin's table. As Ms Roy is interviewed by the nation's press, Godwin checks that the limo has arrived outside the Guildhall's main entrance. But there is a problem. I can't park there, reports the driver, there is a bloody great big black motor outside the main entrance already. Appalled, Godwin tries to get it moved. The driver won't budge. Whose car is it? The driver won't give the name; he'll only say it's a mysterious Top Celebrity, who's attending the dinner with an entourage ...

Godwin puts two and two together and stamps off into the Guildhall, where he confronts the Top Celebrity, waiting for his date to emerge from the Ladies. "Could you please," he demands, "remove your car from the front door?" Why? asks Salman Rushdie (for it is he). "Because Arundhati Roy's limo is supposed to be parked there," Godwin explains. Rushdie is unimpressed. An argument ensues as to whose car is bigger, whose reputation is more starry, whose credentials as Top Literary Indian Booker Laureate are more convincing.

Some versions of the story end with Godwin and Rushdie exchanging blows on the Guildhall forecourt. Others suggest that Godwin sent a note of apology to Rushdie the next morning. Others bring up Mr Rushdie's lack of enthusiasm for Ms Roy's prize-winning prose style, as expressed to friends over recent weeks. Still others merely ponder the complicated symbolism that attaches to big cars and their temporary owners ...

Now that the Government has decided not to back Mike Foster's anti-hunting Bill, I notice that one or two non-PC, pro-hunting articles are emerging from the undergrowth. This one, for instance:

"Hunting ... is the first activity a young man just out of childhood should take up, before turning to other subjects which will enhance his reputation ... . A strong desire to hunt can lead to a great deal of profit. It makes for physical fitness, improves the sight and hearing, slows down the process of growing old and, above all, is good training for warfare".

Who can it be? Nicholas Soames? Camilla Parker Bowles? Rory Knight-Bruce?

The essay, entitled "On Hunting", continues with a lot of advice about the training of hounds (the author warns against "dull-eyed, squinting, graceless, stiff-jointed, weak, thin-coated, long-limbed, badly-proportioned and listless" mutts, not to mention those with "unsound feet"); the way you should address them ("Well done, dogs", "Come back here, dogs"); and the best names by which to call them ("Spirit, Pluck, Handle, Spike, Lance, Raider, Guard, Picket, Trooper, Sword, Killer, Blaze, Butch, Battler, Ringwood ..."). It also offers advice about how to stalk hares, deer and wild boar in the wild, the clothes you should wear and the equipment you should buy.

So who is this unreconstructed blood-sports fan, this spokesman for the discredited Country tendency? Here's a final clue. After releasing your hounds, Mr Know-All suggests, you must "pray to Apollo and Artemis the Huntress, pledging a share of the catch to each ...". For this is not some modern-day John Peel - It's Xenophon of Athens, right-wing historian and biographer and enthusiast for the chase, writing in 370BC or so, newly translated by Robin Waterfield for Penguin Classics, and demonstrating that hunting is even more old-fashioned (or more respectably pedigreed, depending on your point of view) than you thought. Shame the Greeks didn't have a word for "Yoicks!"

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