Dame Judi draws a crowd

Even by old West End standards, Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream revival, with Judi Dench as a glorious Gloriana of a Titania, brought in a remarkable first night crowd to the Rose in Kingston, Surrey, last night.

En route from the station, Dame LIz Forgan of the Arts Council — saving on those taxi cab fares by walking like the rest of us mere mortals — berated me for having missed her Bottom at Benenden School in the late 1950s.

Liz had travelled on the crowded Waterloo train with Anthony Smith, the writer and broadcaster, and former president of Magdalen College, Oxford, while I had been soothing top agent Harriet Cruickshank, who was severely crushed on boarding at Vauxhall.

Harriet has a voice that carries — no wonder given her theatrical pedigreee — and even without spotting her I could hear her telling people to move down the carriage, one of only four on this rush-hour train, which had caused the problem.

My suggestion that one or two people should occupy the luggage racks didn’t go down all that well.

Even before we entered the theatre lobby we had also encountered Jeremy Paxman and Peter Hall himself prowling the red carpet, while a quick check in Carluccio’s revealed David Jacobs, the Rose’s life president, dining with his family and Sir Geoffrey Cass, former president of the RSC and Wimbledon chairman, sipping coffee with his wife.

I often think critics owe David Jacobs a nod for introducing the star rating system on his Juke Box Jury programme many moons ago. “I’ll give it foive,” was for a while a national catchphrase coined by a Brummie juror called Janice Nicholls.

Most critics this morning appear to have moderated this effusiveness and declared of the Dream, “I’ll give it four.”
Which is fair enough. Just to see the play at all was a mighty relief after the scrum in the big open bar of the Rose.

I fear  my old friend Tim Walker, the much maligned diarist-cum-critic on the Sunday Telegraph, was too deep in conspiratorial conversation with Mail veteran Rod Gilchrist to have spotted the likes of conductor John Eliot Gardiner, Pink Floyd legend Dave Gilmour, screenwriter Stephen Poliakoff, Hall’s son Ed with his Dutch baroness wife Issy van Randwyck, and RSC notables Trevor Nunn and Ian McKellen.

But you had to be there to hear Dame Judi give definitive definition to Titania’s great speeches. She was magnificent, and no-one was in any sort of mood to complain about the production being rather starchy and old-fashioned.

Dame Liz was a bit discombobulated by the extent of her seven minute walk form the station, poor love, so opened the expense account for a taxi back there, while a whole quarrel of unathletic critics piled into a fleet of cars laid on by the theatre.

Honestly, does no-one walk anywhere at all these days? I was heading off on a sprint when my Camden neighbour Baz Bamigboye offered me a lift home in his taxi. That way, I didn’t have to star study any more…apart, of course, from concentrating on Baz. 

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