Where’s the Bloody Horse?

There are only two questions to be asked about a previously unperformed musical called Godiva. Is she naked? And is there a horse? Stephanie Sinclaire, artistic director of the King’s Head, could answer neither while a roomful of guests, actors and journalists pondered the possibility of some gorgeous lascivious cross breed of Equus and War Horse.

This idea was soon scotched when Kim Criswell and Peter Land took to the tiny stage to give us a taster of Vivian Ellis’s unknown 1950s show: their charmingly performed coy patter song was not, to be frank, much of a come-on.

Still, the King’s Head is not what it was: the roof has been fixed, the uncomfortable chairs replaced by plush, but rather thin, banquettes, and the dinner time menu despatched in favour of some chintzy French lunchtime cuisine by Madame Gaultier.

I for one will miss being made to feel uncomfortable every time I go there though, by the sound of it, Godiva should do the trick alright.

The new season kicks off with a more promising Cole Porter show, followed by a play from Lloyd Evans’s bottom drawer (he wrote it six years ago) about a tennis player. The latter will be directed by Tamara Harvey who is developing a strangely intimate relationship with the Critics Circle.

Lloyd reviews theatre for The Spectator, so Tamara will know a little of what to expect having just steered Nicholas de Jongh’s play through to a successful opening. Veteran producer Michael Codron tells me that Sonia Friedman is thinking of transferring Nick’s Plague Over England from the Finborough to the Trafalgar Studios.

Two and a half years after Dan Crawford died, his widow Stephanie is determined to return the venue to a producing house. A brand new fantasy musical in May, Betwixt by Ian McFarlane, sounded promising in the well crafted song of dreams and childhood breathed softly into the packed banquettes by Jon Robyns. And Stephanie herself is bravely directing her own adaptation of J M Barrie’s Dear Brutus first on the King’s Head stage — and then in the film studio!

Over some delicious rustic nibbles prepared by Madame Gaultier (no relation of Jean-Paul), Michael Codron sang the praises of the Menier Chocolate Factory and admitted that the type of plays he used to produce were no longer starting in the West End; they go to the National, or the Almeida, though he does have something up his well-tailored sleeve from Roy Smiles.

Kim Posters enthused about her involvement in the Cole Porter show, while Kim Criswell — who must surely play Gypsy in a major revival one day  soon — said that she didn’t know if she was going to sing the title role in Godiva and, anyway, who would want to see her naked on a horse?

I’m afraid that musical director Michael Reed, writer Warner Brown and myself — almost as one — implied in our explosive response that very good money indeed might change hands for the privilege.

Talking of money, Caroline Underwood of Warner Chappell then told me that she had paid £170 for her ticket to the Olivier Awards this Sunday. Good grief, I said, I’d pay that much not to go to the Olivier Awards and anyway, why not spend the money on a weekend in Barcelona instead? Caroline was shocked by this iconoclasm, but rallied gamely as she dipped daintily into a passing mini-cassoulet of Madame Gaultier.

It was a bright and sunny afternoon, and the sun shone brightly on the enterprise, as I bade a hasty farewell to actresses Celia Imrie and Kate Fahy and beetled off along Upper Street. As I did so, I bumped into, for the second time in one day, that lovely, sympathetic actor Gawn Grainger, who is rehearsing the role of Caiaphas in the Judas Iscariot play round the corner at the Almeida.

Like every actor I meet these days, his first question is, “And how is the de Jongh play?” And when I say it’s nearly quite good and certainly enjoyable, they’re always delighted, if a little surprised. Even Gawn, who relishes being once described by Nick as “inept,” raises a cheery smile.

He and his partner, Zoe Wanamaker, will be at the National tonight for the opening of Major Barbara. “Oh no, we can’t go on meeting like this,” I say. “Yes,” he agrees, “third time in one day really would be unfortunate, if not a little unlucky.”

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