Robinson’s sense of theatre

All available tickets for film director Mike Leigh’s new play at the National Theatre have been sold, even though only the cast and director know what it is about.

Theatre lovers this week rushed to buy into the new production at the Rentokil theatre by Sir Gerry Robinson, the veteran Irish dramatist, even though most details of the plot have still to be revealed.

Crowds besieging the Rentokil box office freely admitted they had little idea even of the genre of Sir Gerry’s latest potential chef d’oeuvre – whether comedy, tragedy, farce or something altogether sui generis.

However, they expressed confidence that the Donegal native’s charming personality would help to ensure another winner and said his track record showed that faith in his abilities had paid impressive dividends before.

Past hits by Sir Gerry include the all-action thriller Roaring Fortes, which held the City in thrall in 1996. He had first come to public attention some nine years earlier after an unusual piece about contract services – Putting on the Met, subsequently re-titled Magnetic North – attracted rave reviews.

Details of the new production are known only to those directly involved in the rehearsal process, including Europa Partners, a boutique acting services specialist.

However, individuals familiar with Sir Gerry’s methods predicted it would not involve burning the candle at both ends.

As he once said: “I’ve always worked short hours.”

Sir Gerry has in the past expressed appreciation of the Czech writer, Milan Kundera, whose titles, of course, include The Unbearable Lightness of Cleaning and The Book of Laughter and Delousing.

Top ranking MPs

Three cheers for John Hutton, the Cabinet Office minister, who on Wednesday enlivened a fallow period for parliament with plans to measure consumers’ opinion of public services.

The idea is to identify and then track how pleased consumers are with different aspects of public services, with the possible help of a consumer satisfaction index that would help public bodies improve. The net could potentially be drawn very wide, with everything from rubbish collection to school dinners covered.

So heartily does Notebook endorse these proposals that it would like, respectfully, to suggest that “consumer” satisfaction with MPs be part of the blueprint.

Imagine the excitement if it proved possible to draw up an annual league table ranking our elected representatives on the basis of the data collected.

Those towards the bottom of the pile would feel compelled, no doubt, to conduct extra surgeries to improve their ratings. House prices in the constituencies of the best MPs would soar. The very top ranked honourable member would be able to claim an accolade on a par with the existing parliamentarian of the year award. She might even find people from neighbouring constituencies beating a path to her door with their problems.

Of course some might counter that MPs must already reckon with the ultimate consumer satisfaction index, in the form of regular general elections.

That is a valid enough point for some. But what about those like the Labour member for Smokestack Central, or her Conservative counterpart in Little Snoring in the Meadows, who have built-in majorities running into five figures which mean that their presence in the mother of parliaments is unlikely to be jeopardised however well or badly they perform? A new mechanism for encouraging some of them to pull their socks up would be no bad thing.

Mine’s not an Audi

Bernd Pischetsrieder, the cigar-smoking head of Germany’s Volkswagen, steered perilously close to a Ratner moment on Wednesday when he dismissed cars made by Audi, his company’s most profitable division, as a “complete waste of money”.

Unlike Gerald Ratner, who was forced to quit after dismissing one of his company’s products as “crap”, Pischetsrieder also attacked rivals, saying Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars were also a waste. “You can get the same transportation performance fuelled with the same speed from a much cheaper car,” he told financial analysts in London.

The company’s spin machine reacted by going into overdrive, saying he was just trying to explain the difference between “I want it because I want it cars” such as the Audi and cheap cars for getting around. But this cut little ice with his audience. “He’s right,” said Stephen Cheetham, one analyst. “The value in the non-fancy stuff.”

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