Price of a critic and bashing old Brecht

Someone I don’t know has paid £8,000 to attend the first night of Marguerite this week in my company. The money — raised by auction at a charity bash — goes to the Hampstead Theatre while the prize also includes a dinner in Joe Allen’s with yours truly after the event.

Which prompts a variation of the old gag: first prize, a night out with a theatre critic; second prize, two nights out with a theatre critic…  

The unlucky winner in this instance is a businessman and Hampstead Theatre supporter called Simon Palley, who sounds a jolly nice chap over the telephone. Unfortunately, Simon now has an unavoidable business commitment on Tuesday night, so he’s sending along his young brother instead.

I hope we find each other quickly in the Haymarket portico, else I might be arrested for soliciting young men on the off chance they go by the name of Joseph Palley.

It’s a tremendous donation for Simon Palley to have made, so I feel I owe him (or, rather, his brother) an entertaining evening. I hope that Marguerite plays its part, too. And if Joseph  likes a bit of star-spotting, I hope the clientele in Joe Allen’s rises to the occasion. I may give Biggins a ring to see where he’s planning to dine on Tuesday night…and warn him off!
The charity auction was arranged at Lord’s Cricket Ground by the formidable Sarah Coop, head of development at Hampstead and all-round super Mum, party-goer and sportswoman.

I note that even the mighty Arsenal football club could only raise £4,000 at auction for the privilege of having lunch with novelist and mad Gooner (Arsenal are known as the Gunners) Nick Hornby; and the winner was…Nick Hornby’s own brother, which is slightly pathetic.

Another kind of bashing has been going on over Bertolt Brecht, where Nick Cohen follows the rather more predictable Brecht baiting in the Daily Telegraph with a disgraceful headline, one I never dreamt of seeing in The Observer, of all papers — “Time for curtain to fall on Brecht” — and a highly contentious article about old BB’s “endorsement” of the genocidal crimes of Stalin and Hitler.

How this squares with the reputation of the playwright — the greatest poet and dramatist of the European theatre in the last century — who wrote Arturo Ui, the satirical parable about Hitler, Cohen does not explain, preferring to regurgitate other people’s denigratory stories to fit his own position as a revisionist ex-leftie.

I was also saddened, indeed shocked, to see my esteemed friend and colleague Susannah Clapp slighting Kenneth Tynan’s championship of Brecht in her review of The Good Soul of Szechuan, implying that her distinguished Observer predecessor did his readers a bad turn in persuading people that Brecht was “a good thing” and dubbing The Birthday Party “a flop” (which he didn’t, anyway).

In “missing the point” of The Birthday Party, Tynan in fact wrote a far more interesting review than Hobson who supported it. He was writing in the wider context of the other surreal playwriting going on at the time, and also the socialist epic theatre of Brecht which he not only understood deeply but which was also — after the Berliner Ensemble’s visit to London in 1956 — transforming the perameters and ambitions of the British theatre itself.

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