On the Stage

Swedish smorgasbord

How delightful to learn veteran sexpot Britt Ekland is back treading the boards. Appearing in a British stage tour of The Cat and the Canary, all can be assured the old girl has matters in hand should problems arise. One former co-star from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs admiringly recalls dear Britt making her glorious entrance on a chariot, adding: “When she couldn’t remember her lines, she just started talking in Swedish.”

Although loath to ask, can anyone recommend a theatrically-minded accountant who still understands the ways of our trade? For years I and many co-stars benefited from the financial expertise of Derek Noble of Osterley, who truly “got” what it was all about. Ever since his passing — or getaway overseas if you prefer crass gossip — I’ve regrettably struggled to find anyone similarly competent.

Now I’m left to contend with the most unreasonable demand from the tax folk, who seem under the misapprehension yours truly and my former representative were less than forthcoming. Only last week, I briefly attempted to lighten the mood, joking over the telephone to one Inland Revenue inquisitor: “I fear, young lady, you’re mistaking me for Al Capone!” Not even a titter . . .

Catty comments

Amid the critical mauling endured by the movie version of Cats, Dame Judi Dench’s game attempt to suddenly suggest her feline character Old Deuteronomy is transgender sadly meets with an uncharitable response.

Far from gratefully helping the 85-year-old onto the bandwagon, the thin-skinned transgender police accuse her of “out of touch nonsense”. There really is no pleasing some people!

I note there have been irate claims of a secret “blacklist” of performers at the National Theatre of Scotland. While firmly denied, surely such fears cannot be discounted?

I too have regrettably experienced what can only be described as “Scottish hostility” in the past. Murky professional obstacles have also been placed in my way in Wales, Belfast, Northern England, much of the Midlands, Bristol, Suffolk, Hampshire and, of course, Islington.

The conspiracy truly never ends …

After learning Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke is worrying her pretty little head about pesky “selfie” requests from fans as she prepares for a West End debut in The Seagull, may I humbly propose an old-fashioned solution to avoid tears? More than one “cult” television star in my past acquaintance went to the trouble of having a trusty supply of black-and-white photos in their suitcase whenever on tour, ensuring oddball admirers were never left disappointed. I recall a charge in the region of £3 sufficed. Make hay, Emilia!

Appearing alongside boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe in Beckett’s Endgame at the Old Vic, I’m reminded that cheeky Scottish tease Alan Cumming, 55, has been heard to “joke” of an alternative career as a “pornographic Harry Potter”. I do hope he hasn’t led the impressionable lad astray …

Following “almost constant theatre work” (I know the feeling!) over the past decade, it seems like only yesterday when Imelda Staunton was emotionally announcing a lengthy break from the stage, insisting: “I’m not talking weeks or months, I’m talking about years.”

Mercifully an empty threat on her part: the trusty steeplechaser is returning for another West End run in “Hello, Dolly!”

Out to grass

May I briefly add to the affectionate tributes paid to my late pal Jon Pertwee on his 50th anniversary as Doctor Who. I was among those who much preferred him to thirsty voiceover artist Tom Baker. A convivial bottle of port with Jon could be consumed with considered reflection and largely without incident. By contrast, one regrettable Soho encounter with hell-raiser Baker resulted in yours truly waking several hours later on an irate stranger’s lawn near Luton.

As Dame Eileen Atkins prepares for her doubtless triumphant return to the Old Vic this April — starring in Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles — let it be said there have been many moths to her considerable flame. While my own youthful approach was, alas, swatted away many summers ago, frisky Irish film star Colin Farrell must surely count among the most unlikely suitors. Despite being four decades her junior, this young rogue once brazenly suggested Eileen “roll back the years” by succumbing to his lustful Celtic charms. I’m assured that while initially flustered, Eileen displayed admirable composure before turning him down — though this impertinent seducer apparently still refuses to give up hope.

Was it really necessary for the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, to rename a star dressing-room after that incorrigible show-off Dame Biggins? Apparently it’s in honour of his Widow Twankey putting “bums on seats”over the festive period. Biggins claims it was “a surprise and an honour”. Certain other theatrical stalwarts, so selfless in their service to Bromley, prefer to call it a kick in the teeth!

What a shameful state of affairs. “Certain people” saw fit to ruthlessly enjoy the benefits of my tab at the Two Brewers, while I stood nearby, kindly performing an evening of impromptu monologues for delighted regulars. A most happy night was tainted to the tune of £59.

Long before he became the vain old dog we know today, Sir Patrick Stewart contended with grim up north origins. Tugging at fans’ heartstrings, he’s been recalling the family’s outside lavatory doubling as his “study, reading room . . . and private place.” Perhaps a more harrowing childhood trauma remains too painful to revisit? Raised in Yorkshire, young Patrick was forced to grow up with Brian Blessed.

Money talks

Once a tour de force but now forced to tour, as the old saying goes, John Cleese claims to be choosy about whom he graces with his presence.

Still on the road courtesy of a financially disastrous divorce from American wife number three, the 80-year-old snootily says of his travelling stage production: “I don’t spend much time in the sticks … my work draws to me areas where people understand irony.”

A discreet word of reassurance to those in remote parts: show John the colour of your money and he’ll be there in a shot.

In reference to my recent report of an audition for a “small, but pleasing role” in Sir Kenneth Branagh’s second Hercule Poirot film, it angers me to reveal a childish hoax. Be sure those responsible for sending me to a desolate corner of Berkshire before breaking down in juvenile giggles when I rang the so-called “casting director” will come to rue the day.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover