Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004
First Theatre Rant Of The Year
For anyone foolish enough to miss out on tickets for my current theatrical rave, the sold-out adaptation of His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman's already classic kiddies' adventure/ fantasy sequence/ sci-fi trilogy/ ripping yarn/ theological treatise (and it's all of those, and a mind-engagingly whole lot more besides), the good news is that it's returning to London's National later this year, and will be running well into 2005. Tickets will be on sale from mid-March, so get this year's Chr***mas pressies early – or kick yourself for not getting your act together and missing out again.

Much as I rate this event, and "event" is the only word which even begins to give this six-hours, two-parts performance any kind of justice, its return for an extended run means that, for something like five months, the stage of the National's Olivier Theatre will be dominated by just one show.

For me, the main attraction of that subsidised slab of concrete on the South Bank lies in its theatrical variety: one day you're watching a bright and bitingly witty comedy with her off the telly, the next day, and on the same stage, a disturbing and almost fairy-tale, adults-only take on child-murder, and the day after that, some piece of over-intellectual, up-its-own-arse political posturing on romantics and revolutionaries which I never really got because I'm not clever enough and don't live in Hampstead. It's the very reason why I was always dead-set against the National doing those big, over-the-top musicals. Why have one more big-budget Oklahoma! when, for the same price, you can stage a dozen new Alan Bennetts or David Hares?

Of course, without the guaranteed revenue from the big, sell-out, knock-'em-dead-in-the-aisle shows, you'd have no Alan Bennetts or David Hares anyway. There probably wouldn't even be a National Theatre. So sometimes there has to be some give-and-take and you have to sacrifice your artistic diversity and your seven or eight different plays a year for lengthy runs of single blockbusters and lots and lots of bums on seats. But, as you'll all by now have worked out, I'm a stroppy old Stranger, and I want it both ways.