The Diary: Woody Allen; Stephen Merchant; DC Moore's Honest; Ai Weiwei; Róisín McBrinn

Alice Jones
Friday 04 March 2011 01:00

Name it again, Woody

Another year, another Woody Allen film. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, released on 18 March, is typical late-period Allen – London whimsy, performed by a wonderful cast including Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Freida Pinto and Antonio Banderas. "Most of them ask me no questions about the character or about the script," says Allen. "They just come in and do it... and then we move on." Not quite, Woody! Apparently a couple had their reservations. Pinto asked to change the name of her character as it was the same – Latika – as her Slumdog Millionaire heroine. Allen's second suggestion was also rejected by the actress for not being of the correct class. Finally, Pinto had to come up with her own name, Dia. Brolin, though, found Allen less accommodating of his proposals – namely that his character should be wheelchair-bound and Yugoslavian. "He wrote me back an email response that just said 'no'," he admits.

Merchant class

Great news: Stephen Merchant is finally to embark on his first full stand-up tour in September. The gangly comedian, best known for his work with Ricky Gervais on The Office and Extras, has been quietly testing out material on the circuit for well over a year and, from what I've seen, Hello Ladies is shaping up to be a strong, deeply likeable show with self-deprecating anecdotes about dating disasters and the trials of being 6ft 7in tall. "Most people don't realise that I was a stand-up comedian before I met Ricky Gervais and his coattails," says Merchant, who started performing in Bristol in the late Nineties. His last live run was in Rubbernecker, a four-hander at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2001. Back then his fellow performers at the Café Royal were little-knowns Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr and Robin Ince.

Raising the bar

Taking pub theatre to new levels, DC Moore's Honest, a searingly funny monologue by a tipsy civil servant, has already been staged in the snugs of The Mailcoach in Northampton and Milne's Bar in Edinburgh. Along the way, it has battled the hostelry hazards of stray dogs and aggressive drunks, making unexpected appearances from the wings. Now in the West End, it has its own, quieter, bar at The Queen's Head, off Piccadilly, but that hasn't stopped the odd interruption from audience members lured in by Trsytan Gravelle's confessional tones. "On the first night someone shouted out 'yeah, me too!', after Dave's first line, bought him a pint and insisted he down it," says Moore, "I guess it's a sign it's going well." Moore, one of Britain's brightest talents, has scored hits at the Royal Court with Alaska and The Empire and is currently writer-in-residence at the theatre where he is working on a large-scale play for downstairs. "I've a vague idea to do something around stand-up comedy," he tells me. "It's my favourite art-form." The Olivier nominee is also working on a project for the National Theatre.

Seed money

Fans of Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern need not despair when it closes on 2 May. Just days later, the Chinese artist will open a retrospective at Lisson Gallery, exhibiting works that have never been seen here before. Among the pieces are Coloured vases, 51 Neolithic pots decorated in lurid industrial paint, a 55kg marble chair and a series of wooden cabinets showing the phases of the Moon. The artist, who had to cancel an exhibition in his homeland when the authorities deemed it "politically sensitive" and had his brand new Shanghai studio demolished, is enjoying popularity in the West. His Tate work sold at Sotheby's last month for £349,250. Not bad for a (big) bag of seeds.

Fringe benefits

Congratulations to Róisín McBrinn , the first winner of the Quercus Award, a biennial prize created by Marianne Elliott and the National Theatre studio to help young directors make the leap from the fringe. "The idea is to offer one exceptional director a first opportunity to direct on a main stage. This is the kind of opportunity younger directors have been looking for and not finding," says Elliott. McBrinn, who trained as an assistant director under Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse opens Lorca's Yerma, at Leeds' West Yorkshire Playhouse tomorrow. "The prize is the show," she says. "A funded production on a main stage. The scale is so much bigger than anything I've done before."

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