David Lister: Theatre can be even tougher than Chelsea, Mr Abramovich

The Week in Arts

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One of the arts events of this month will be the visit to the West End of London in a couple of weeks by the Sovremennik theatre company from Moscow.

The posters promise performances of three plays, two of them by Chekhov, at the Noël Coward Theatre, adding the intriguing line "Tour Support by Roman Abramovich".

Apparently some enterprising members of the company approached the Chelsea football club owner, and the billionaire agreed to stump up a substantial sum to bring the entire company over to London for a residency.

Don't knock it. As arts cuts begin to bite, it is surprising only that British companies haven't shown the initiative of Sovremennik and approached one of the football club-owning fraternity. You'd have thought that the Royal Exchange or Hallé might point out to Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour their proximity to his football club. Indeed, the Royal Court might mention to Mr Abramovich with a nudge that it is Chelsea's local theatre.

So, as he swaps his seat in the stands for the dress circle at the Noël Coward Theatre, may I offer a few tips for the transition?

In theatre, as opposed to Chelsea, an expression of confidence in the play's director boringly means just that, not that they will be fired the following morning.

When a performer falls dramatically to the floor and writhes in agony, it is, as in football, not to be taken remotely seriously. However, if you're watching the new production of Spiderman, it is probably genuine.

When watching the performances you must not wear your enigmatic football-watching face. Anything less than rapturous applause will have the cast seeking psychoanalysis.

No need to avoid press conferences. In football they may consist of gnarled sports writers asking when the manager is going to be sacked. In the arts they consist of drooling groupies clutching autograph books.

You may not (yet at least) have given John Terry flowers. But you put the show at risk if you neglect to deliver a bunch to the dressing rooms of your leads.

The other thing you must remember is the different attitude to money in football and theatre. At Chelsea your wealth has bought you not just the right to make appointments, give advice and instructions and generally be treated as if every word you say is a divine utterance. In theatre, the creatives view money as a vulgar necessity. They would rather it wasn't referred to; they certainly won't accept that giving it entitles the giver to any say at all in artistic decisions. They will see you, not themselves, as the lucky one. Their thinking is that money has bought you an association with Chekhov. And what more could any man want?

It's been a while since foreign language plays were in the West End in their original language, and credit to Roman Abramovich for enabling it to happen. But after immersion in the mores of theatre, he might be yearning for Stamford Bridge.

Sheridan's got talent – without reality TV

Each year at this time, The Stage newspaper publishes its list of the 100 most important people in theatre. One that caught my eye was a new entry at number 20, the actress Sheridan Smith. The star of the musical Legally Blonde has become a recognised musical star on the back of that one marvellous performance, but she has also shown great comic prowess in a number of TV performances, most recently a Chekhov short drama on Sky. What particularly struck me, though, was that The Stage cites her as "one of the very few younger leads not to have come to prominence through a TV talent search". Welcome to 2011, the year when it is remarkable that an actress has made it through acting, rather than through a reality TV competition.

Brendel is a genius and he knows it

The pianist Alfred Brendel, who has retired from public performance, has published a collection of his poetry. Asked about this on the Today programme on Wednesday, he said: "I did not intend to write poetry. I had a short period of genius in my teens."

I like that phrase. Most of us would be dismissive of our teenage scribblings, or at least feel it necessary to show a false modesty when discussing our juvenilia. But Brendel, speaking of what is just a secondary talent to his musicianship, uses the word genius. And he does it with some style, disarming those who might think it a little pompous by adding that it was only a short period of genius. By the age of 20 he was a mere mortal again as far as poetry was concerned.

We should all learn from the great one. What we wrote in our teens was neither doodling nor overblown sentiment. It was genius, alas cut short.

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