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A critic is panned by the theatres

ALL THEATRE reviewers remember Vincent Price's 1973 film Theatre of Blood, in which Price, playing an embittered old tragedian, sets about murdering every member of the Critics' Circle in ways made notorious in Shakespeare's plays. And thus the Observer's critic Michael Coveney was most disturbed to discover that some of the senators of the London theatre huddled at the Royal Court on Wednesday and - he understands - took daggers to him. Jenny Topper of the Hampstead Theatre, Dominic Dromgoole of the Bush, Nicholas Kent of the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn and Max Stafford-Clark of the Royal Court are all said to be upset because they feel Coveney is unfriendly to new writing. And he has been harsh: a recent Stafford-Clark production of Hush, by April De Angelis, was a 'toothless satire' and 'a compendium of modish Royal Court banalities.' Coveney tells us he's not hostile to new work; he just doesn't think there are many good plays being written at the moment. He agrees he has been critical of the Hampstead Theatre, and says something quite unprintable about Kent. Coveney says indignantly that it is 'pathetic' that four subsidised artistic directors should be 'wasting their time' discussing his work. 'It's a sort of corporate paranoia. Either they will try to get me into line or undermine my credibility with my editor, which would be a vile thing to do.' Stafford-Clark says that while Coveney's attitude to new writing was discussed at the meeting, no decision has yet been made on what action to take. Others of the alleged cabal are bemused by Coveney's suspicions - people at the Hampstead theatre say they now understand why he came to Wednesday night's opening in the company of a gentleman he introduced as his legal adviser. Coveney adds enthusiastically: 'I feel a critical debate coming on about the new writing. Something is blowing up.'

LUNCHES we'd like an invite to. At the Arts Council on the 22nd of this month Lord Palumbo's guests will include David Mellor and the Princess of Wales. What a lot they'll have to talk about - the funding of the English National Ballet, Diana's favourite, for example.

Verbal indigestion

RECESSION watch. A company that promotes the services of Derek Hatton as an after-dinner speaker says that 'due to the economic climate at present we can offer Derek Hatton at a greatly reduced fee'. For a limited period, Billy Marsh Promotions announces, Mr Hatton can be yours for 45 sparkling postprandial minutes for just pounds 850 plus VAT. That is some pounds 600 cheaper than his rates in the more buoyant economic days of the late Eighties.

MADONNA justifies the book featuring her in bondage scenes in terms to which we can all happily relate. She tells next month's Vanity Fair why being tied up feels so good: 'When you were a baby your mother strapped you to the car seat. You wanted to be safe - it's an act of love.'

Flogging a dead cat

SIMON BOND, a stalwart of the toilet-book industry with his manuals on the uses of dead cats, has again inflamed the passions of the cat-loving lobby with the publication of the latest in the series, Uses of a Dead Cat in History. His wife was harangued by the Anglo-American Feline Federation as she strolled across Hyde Park last week: the group promises to picket all shops found stocking the book. Spokesfelophile Bruce Spencer explains the federation's action from its HQ on 5th Avenue in New York: 'People are just fed up with kicking images around which are held in such high esteem, such as the cat. Let's have a bit of sanctity here. We went up to Harvard at the weekend and the college people there feel that the adult world first polluted the air and the water, and is now polluting the rest of the world with this kind of humour.' Bond is relaxed: 'I had all this about 10 years ago. I was living in the US when the first book was published and out of the blue I would receive threatening calls from old ladies with quivering voices saying: 'We know where you are.' ' Bond loves cats and, despite being allergic to them, has three - Kitty, Jack and 'the cat from Hell', Lilly.


10 September, 1924 Arnold Bennett writes in his journal of meeting T S Eliot: 'Pale, quiet, well assured. He works at Lloyds Bank, in a department of his own, 'digesting' foreign financial and economic journals. Interesting work, he said, but he would prefer to be doing something else. He edits the Criterion, and writes, in the evenings. I said to him: 'I want to ask you a question. It isn't an insult. Were the notes to The Waste Land a lark or serious? I thought they were a skit.' He said they were serious, and not more of a skit than some things in the poem itself. I understood him. I said I couldn't see the point of the poem itself. He said he didn't mind what I said as he had definitely given up that form of writing. He wanted to write a drama of modern life in a rhythmic prose 'perhaps with certain things accentuated by drum-beats'.'