David Lister: The Week in Arts

How not to get a theatre named after you
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The Independent Online

Laurence Olivier was once spotted collecting two tickets for a show at the National Theatre and was overheard asking for two for the Olivier. It must have been slightly eerie for him and for those who heard him do it. Generally, the names of theatres go back so far into the past that you won't encounter the person who inspired the name lingering at the box office. I did, though, interview Sir John Gielgud in the foyer of the newly renamed Gielgud Theatre, which gave a frisson of pleasure to at least one of us.

Laurence Olivier was once spotted collecting two tickets for a show at the National Theatre and was overheard asking for two for the Olivier. It must have been slightly eerie for him and for those who heard him do it. Generally, the names of theatres go back so far into the past that you won't encounter the person who inspired the name lingering at the box office. I did, though, interview Sir John Gielgud in the foyer of the newly renamed Gielgud Theatre, which gave a frisson of pleasure to at least one of us.

Theatres don't often get named, as they don't often get built any more. Even less frequently are they renamed. The change of Shaftesbury Avenue's Globe to the Gielgud by its then owner, the estimable Janet Holmes a Court, followed a considerable period of lobbying. But, suddenly two famous West End theatres are to be renamed by their owner, the equally estimable Sir Cameron Mackintosh.

Sir Cameron, who has unequalled passion for, and knowledge of, the West End, is to rename the Strand Theatre after Noël Coward and the Albery after Ivor Novello. Both gentlemen were huge figures in the West End and in theatre itself, though it has to be said that a lot more people know a lot more about Noël Coward than his fellow actor, composer and playwright Ivor Novello. But then the Strand is a lot bigger than the Albery, so there's a sort of logic there.

They're strange things, names of theatres. Every single visitor to the Olivier knows who Laurence Olivier was. But I suspect at the National's other two auditoria barely 1 per cent of visitors know who Messrs Lyttelton or Cottesloe were. Perhaps 1.5 per cent at the Donmar know that its name is an amalgamation of the producer Donald Albery and the ballerina Margot Fonteyn, who launched it as a rehearsal space.

Then there's the question of whose name should go up in lights. No one would argue with actors having first claim. Thank goodness Olivier and Gielgud both have theatres named after them. Outside London, there's an Ashcroft, a Richardson and a Redgrave too. Playwrights fare less well. Noël Coward was, of course, a playwright, actor, composer and impresario. George Bernard Shaw has a London theatre, though its location, like the work of its namesake, is sometimes a little hard to get to grips with. In the main, though, playwrights don't get theatres named after them. A long-running (though probably untrue) story in theatreland has it that Harold Pinter, who had had a successful run with plays at the Comedy Theatre, mentioned to Tom Stoppard the possibility of the venue's name being changed. Stoppard is said to have replied: "You'd do better to change your name to Harold Comedy."

Directors also have to take a back seat, though I'll risk a heated exchange with Sir Cameron and say that Sir Peter Hall has probably done more for British theatre than Ivor Novello.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has done his bit too, though for Sir Cameron to call one of his theatres the Lloyd Webber might be asking a bit much. And what about the producers and impresarios who have dominated the West End from behind the scenes? Few had more power than the legendary Binky Beaumont. But it might just be too masochistic on a first date to ask: "Fancy coming with me to the Binky?"

A case of one reunion too many

The Spice Girls may reform, it seems, for the Live 8 concert. Bob Geldof said at the press conference that he had spoken to them that very morning, and it looked hopeful. I wonder how he did that.

Did he have time on that rather busy day to make five separate phone calls? Or were they all gathered breathlessly round the one receiver? Who knows? But it might be better to leave the fans with their memories. For all their foibles, the Spice Girls were an excellent little pop band. And their fan base loved them.

But that fan base has grown up, and so have the Spice Girls. These aren't a bunch of interesting girls on the make any more. They aren't even girls any more. Can they really sing "Friendship is for ever" when everyone knows some of them weren't on speaking terms for years?

An audience watching them will be thinking less about the music and more about a history of broken marriages, rejection, in-fighting and humiliation. This won't be a reunion gig. It will be the coffee morning from hell.

¿I attended the world premiere on Thursday of Karl Jenkins's Requiem in Southwark Cathedral. The best-selling contemporary classical composer conducted the piece, which was played by a symphony orchestra from Kazakhstan. Literature about Kazakhstan was displayed in the cathedral. It took a few minutes, for this spectator at least, to dismiss thoughts of Ali G from his mind, but after that one could appreciate the brio with which the orchestra played the piece.

Jenkins has built up a good relationship with the orchestra, but I'm a little surprised that it was not a home-grown outfit performing in the cathedral. The outfit from Kazakhstan probably comes cheaper than any British orchestra, even with air fares, and it is undoubtedly a respected ensemble; but if I ran, or indeed played in a British orchestra, I might have a few questions to ask.

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