Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

During my season at the Theatre Royal Haymarket I had a pretty hefty post: adulatory letters, importunate postcards, pathetically grateful notes and the occasional missive from a member of the ratbag community. I'm not sure if English readers know what a ratbag is. It is an Antipodean term which has not been so enthusiastically appropriated over here as the Australian verb `to whinge'. A ratbag, in Ozspeak, is a colourful crank; a crackpot, or at worst, an obsessive loony. If you spend any time in the public eye, you're bound to get a letter or two from the odd ratbag. The ratbag letters I receive are among the most interesting items in my correspondence. Last week the stage doorman presented me with a letter from America which announced the arrival in London of a famous psychic. He had apparently been consulted by people such as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, and he was strongly convinced that two of his former clients, Rex Harrison and Tallulah Bankhead, were making phantom appearances on stage while Dame Edna was performing. It was his hope to attend a performance with the necessary paraphernalia of psychic research in an attempt to materialise the Dame's ghostly competitors. Were this to occur, it would certainly be an evening no audience would quickly forget, but an encounter between the Australian icon and the ectoplasmic Tallulah might well traumatise the children from Hampstead, Islington and Blackheath whom enlightened parents often bring to unsuitable entertainments. I knew, of course, that the Haymarket was haunted, and someone I know - Alec Guinness? Eileen Atkins? - has actually seen the ghost. Apparently, it hangs around the stalls in outmoded clothing, drawing attention to itself by not looking at what's happening on stage. Well, to be boringly sceptical, this could apply to a lot of sentient theatregoers, most of whom wear outmoded clothing - anoraks etc. - and rarely glance at the proscenium arch, since while I'm up there apostrophising the audience, they are usually eating or looking at the person they are with to see if they're laughing or missing the point. When I was a young actor in Melbourne there was an old critic on the now-defunct Argus who was very easy to spot from the stage because he never seemed to be looking at it. He was either asleep or scribbling in his notebook, and not seldom, in-ghostlike fashion, would vanish halfway through the show, either to the pub or to his office, depending on his deadline. He was an amiable old soul who probably never saw a curtain call in his life, but he belonged to that school of provincial theatre critics who, in the case of a whodunnit, told the reader who did it, or in the case of a comedy, repeated the jokes, only got them wrong. Perhaps he really was a ghost, since I'm pleased to observe that he has rematerialised, or some of his methods have, in the theatrical criticism of the Independent.

I wonder why the Evening Standard hates Lord Archer? Of late, they have mounted a campaign of astounding vindictiveness against my recent patron. I have always found Jeffrey a man of loyalty, integrity and total commitment, and if his crime in the eyes of the Standard is that he has gilded the lily now and then, this is surely something for which every politician in the land might stand indicted. …

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