Leading article: Power and influence

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Influence. Funny concept that. Not power exactly but the ability to nudge power, direct it as it were. Businessmen buying honours have power and influence. People have to listen to them. But government these days seems to have more influence than power.

Which makes one wonder what a list of the "most influential figures in British theatre" published in the trade magazine The Stage today actually means. The directors, producers and theatre owners who can put on your show or damn it, one supposes. But that is power. Influence is more subtle. Who influences public taste? Playwright or the public itself?

Interesting then that the two winners of this list are Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian, who've been seen weekly on television choosing a star for a new stage version of The Sound of Music (Connie Fisher as it turns out, and jolly successful she seems to be). Are they there because they're the choosers or because they were really performers in this sense? And how far were they the choosers, when the public was asked to vote for the winner from their list of finalists?

The public is the final arbiter, of course, as any one of The Stage's list would agree. No good choosing the plays if you can't get the bums on the seats. Kevin Spacey (down to 14) fell foul of that one, when he presented even so great a playwright as Arthur Miller. But then Kevin Spacey is also a star, which is where all these lists come unstuck. The producers and directors may make the decisions but it is the performer that the public remembers. Who does the public talk about when they leave theatre? David Ian or Ian McKellen, Rosemary Squire or Judi Dench? Or Connie Fisher for that matter.

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