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David Lister

The Week in Arts: A daring new role for the National Theatre

The redoubtable Thelma Holt is a West End producer not averse to taking risks. Her track record has been recognised as far afield as Japan, which recently bestowed upon her its prestigious commendation, the Order of the Rising Sun. But with her next venture she is doing something even she has not done before - putting on a show sight unseen.

Terence Rattigan's Man and Boy, starring David Suchet, had had a regional tour, but Ms Holt had yet to see the production. The controversial play has not been staged in London since 1963, when its plot of a father asking his son to pretend to be homosexual to entrap a client caused a predictable stir. Thelma Holt wanted it back in the West End so badly that she dispensed with the usual formality of actually seeing it.

For me, she has highlighted a bigger issue here than this particular play. It is the issue of how some of Britain's foremost playwrights fall out of fashion and are neglected. Any play by Rattigan in the West End is rare. At the National Theatre his plays are rarer still. Should it not have been Nicholas Hytner's National Theatre that took the plunge and restaged this cause célèbre?

But then, for all its brilliance under Hytner, the National Theatre is still not a place where one should look for a history of British playwriting. I have given up asking directors of the National Theatre how they define the words National Theatre. It's too painful to watch the puzzled expressions on their faces. And nowhere in the NT's own literature is it defined.

Rattigan, once a giant of the British theatre, who must be virtually unknown to two generations or more, is seldom staged there. It's the same story with a host of other playwrights who were significant figures in their time - from Somerset Maugham to Arnold Wesker.

It is wrong to assume that there is not a hunger among audiences to explore the work of writers long thought to be out of fashion. Look at the success over the past year of R C Sherriff's First World War play Journey's End and the extensions to its run as the audiences kept on flocking in.

It shouldn't have to fall to bold, commercial producers such as Thelma Holt to put the microscope on Britain's theatrical heritage. The National Theatre could mount a season of 20th-century British playwriting every year in one of its three auditoria. Perhaps one decade could feature each year. It would be a way of reflecting not just on styles of playwriting but also on the social mores of the period.

Now there's a daring new role for the National Theatre. It could be a National Theatre.

Today they want a revolution...

It's always fun when Radio 4's Today programme puts on a music item to show that there's more to the world than politics. It featured a report on "answer-records", the trend for songs that respond to another song, usually involving two singers who were once in a relationship.

But the first "answer-record", according to the Today programme, came in 1968. It was "Street Fighting Man" by The Rolling Stones, a response to The Beatles' ambivalent song "Revolution". Segments of both classic tracks were played on Today and a member of The Rolling Stones, Ron Wood, even came on the programme to say how much he loved performing "Street Fighting Man". Ron's very quotable, but he wasn't, of course, a Stone in 1968.

It's a fascinating thesis by Today. But Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, pictured, must have been blessed with psychic powers. "Street Fighting Man" was recorded in March/April 1968. "Revolution", John Lennon's response to the student uprising in Paris of May in that year, was recorded on 31 May.

¿ Sir Peter Hall's desire to stage Waiting for Godot at the Arts Theatre in London this autumn is understandable. He wants to mark the 50th anniversary of his staging the premiere of Samuel Beckett's masterpiece. But his wish has been ruined by the Barbican Theatre and the Beckett estate which have jointly forbidden it, as the Barbican is mounting its own version next year.

Does the Barbican think London theatregoers can't cope with two productions of a classic several months apart? Sir Peter says he is "amazed and disappointed" at the Barbican's action. I'd add that the Barbican should perhaps remember that it has a theatre only because of the determination nearly 30 years ago of one man, the then head of the RSC, Sir Peter Hall.