Ian mckellen

Jonathan Bate weaves a memoir around madness in English literature

There is a trend for books in which academics write personally about their engagement with literature. Examples include Lara Feigel’s Free Woman, in which the author blends a memoir of her marriage break-up with a close reading of Doris Lessing’s fiction, and Sally Bayley’s Girl With Dove, which fuses an account of a traumatic childhood with sketches that focus on Bayley’s early love of books. Addressed to a wider readership, these works combine autobiography with literary criticism. They are carefully crafted, confessional and ask why literature matters. The advantage of this approach is that it avoids the pitfalls of the now highly professional discipline of English Literature, dominated in universities

Somewhere in this production lies Shakespeare’s tragedy: Almeida’s Macbeth reviewed

Yaël Farber’s Macbeth sets out to be a great work of art. The director crams the Almeida’s stage with suggestive props, glass panels, microphones, a wheelbarrow full of jackboots. The witches are not the usual vagrants or carbuncled mystics. These grim-looking ladies have expensive hairdos and nicely ironed shirts — like a panel of disgruntled academics at a tribunal. William Gaunt is a decrepit Duncan who looks ready to receive his telegram from the Queen. He can barely rise from his NHS wheelchair. But one wonders why this frail old chap had to be knifed to death? Much easier to smother him with a pillow and claim he expired naturally.

Ian McKellen is riveting: Hamlet, at Theatre Royal Windsor, reviewed

Ian McKellen in his early eighties plays the Dane in his mid-twenties. A production with such a strange innovation should be conventional in all other details so that the virtues and demerits of the experiment can be judged in the right context. But Sean Mathias’s show adds extra puzzles. Elsinore is a modern palace ruled by Claudius, in a charcoal suit, and Gertrude in a chic emerald dress, pinched at the waist. Nice togs. But the audience knows how a constitutional monarchy works and that a rightful heir succeeds automatically and peacefully. So why are these murderous nutcases roaming the corridors plotting to slit each other’s throats? That contradiction goes

It’s not all fluffed lines: the serious business of amateur dramatics

The greatest pain of lockdown has been, for me, the absence of am-dram. In one half of my life I’m your financial columnist with a constant eye on the villains and heroes of the global business scene. In the other half, I’m the panto dame of my Yorkshire home town and the veteran of dozens of other stage roles — from Canon Chasuble in The Importance of Being Earnest to Mole in The Wind in the Willows — in the friendly little arts centre that we created for our community 30 years ago. My theatrical side-career over all that time has been creative, liberating, challenging and the fulcrum of my