Keira’s happy Christmas

There was a thin coating of snow in North London last night, and some neighbours had even started snowballing as we reached home after Keira Knightley’s opening at the Comedy.

Festivities were in order: the skinny actress had walked across the stage without falling over and had even done much better than that, confounding the doubters who thought the role of a bitchy Hollywood bimbo was beyond her range.

The critics were squirming, too, not only to try and do right by Keira ( contrary to popular opinion, critics are warm-hearted softies who like nothing more than basking in the success of others) — but also in keen anticipation of seeing themselves on the stage.

Martin Crimp’s Moliere adaptation transforms the poetaster Oronte into a creepy drama critic called Covington, nothing to do with Julie, but a nominal amalgam, perhaps, of myself and Billington.

All resemblance stops right there, of course, as Tim McMullan’s portrait is light years away from Niall Buggy’s furtive, sweaty raincoat wallah at the Young Vic in 1996; he’s a booming dickhead in a barathea blazer and ripped jeans, teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown and fingering a play he wants put on by people he spends his life belittling.

One can think of one or two models for this sad creature, and Paul Taylor in today’s Independent congratulates the actor on his research, though how he thinks the arena for it was in the Sunday market I’ve no idea. 

Not a hint here of John Peter or Christopher Hart, of Susannah Clapp or Kate Bassett, certainly not of the clanger-prone beatific Wooster of the Sunday Telegraph, Tim Walker. (Taylor identifies the actor as Tim Mullen instead of Tim McMullan, but nobody’s perfect.)

The only critic with a booming voice comparable to McMullan’s is dear old Henry Hitchings, the new chap on the Evening Standard, and it’s true he sometimes wears fashionable jeans.

But he’s not a playwright manque, as far as we know, though of course his predecessor, Nicholas de Jongh, has been fiddling with his own playscripts for years.

Whatever the source, the critics seem to have enjoyed the show, just as the casting agents no doubt relished Nicholas Le Prevost’s two-faced operator and acting teachers the wonderfully hard-edged and catty portrait of themselves by Tara Fitzgerald.    

The first night throng was badly let down on the hospitality front, however, by their hosts, the Ambassador Theatre Group.

The service in the stalls bar was execrable, one barman even screwing and unscrewing bottle tops as he fumbled with the inteval tsunami: I timed him taking five minutes to serve his first two customers.

ATG charge £4 for a mediocre programme and £6.50 for a rubbish plastic beaker of red wine. When will these rip-offs be terminated? Where’s Moliere when you need him most?
I couldn’t find Keira’s parents, the playwright Sharman Macdonald and actor Will Knightley — although, oddly enogh, I saw Will yesterday afternoon in  a Midsomer Murders repeat as I ironed by best shirt and trousers (no frills or rips) for the opening.

Jonathan Pryce and Kate Fahy were in the stalls to see their old friend Nick Le Prevost, and everyone seemed in appropriately seasonal party mood.

So well done Keira, you did just fine for a stage debut. And now, as I write, the sunshine is breaking over the brow of Kite Hill on Hampstead Heath and I feel a critical work-out coming on…now, where’s that briefcase….

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