"Brilliant. Two candles. Perfect". It is late-ish on a Friday afternoon and Maureen Lipman is sitting at one of the dining tables at the Menier Chocolate Factory. At this tiny but influential south London theatre she has been playing the elderly, wheelchair-bound Madam Armfeldt in Trevor Nunn’s acclaimed revival of A Little Night Music. From tomorrow the show opens at the Garrick Theatre in the West End, and if it follows in the footsteps of the Chocolate Factory’s previous Stephen Sondheim musical, Sunday In the Park With George, it will bag a hatful of awards.
She may hate the term “chick-lit” but Jennifer Weiner — one of the best-selling novelists of the genre — certainly understands its power. Weiner, the author of Goodnight Nobody and In Her Shoes — which was adapted into a hit movie — feels strongly that a book should not be dismissed just because its heroine’s aim is to fall in love and have a family. But the Philadelphia writer, who has nine million of her books in print in 36 countries, says that she has become more pragmatic about the term.
It is a long way from the Sephardi synagogues of New York to the platform of London’s Barbican Hall. But this unusual path is only part of the extraordinary journey through life and music taken by Murray Perahia, one of today’s best-loved and most revered pianists.
Israel’s most famous writer gazes reflectively at the majestic sight of the Thames at Limehouse, from which he is separated by a panoramic window. “I was angry with my mother for killing herself,” Amos Oz recalls. “It was as if she had run off with a lover without leaving us a letter.” He is explaining the genesis of A Tale of Love and Death, about his childhood, which appeared in English in 2004 and cemented his reputation as an outstanding literary talent.
You do not get much more English than the children’s author Michael Morpurgo. He ticks all the upper-middle-class English boxes, and a few more besides. Born in Hertfordshire during the war, he went to prep school in Sussex, public school in Kent, then King’s College, London, where he read English.
There aren’t many legendary celebrities that Steve Schapiro has not photographed. In a career spanning more than 50 years, he has captured Robert Kennedy on his presidential campaign and at home with his family, Andy Warhol in his factory, as well as Barbra Streisand on numerous album covers and in concert. He has also photographed many iconic movies, such as The Godfather and Taxi Driver, capturing the action in front of the movie camera and behind it as the actors rehearse or relax between takes.
Persistence finally paid off for Matt Lucas. The rotund funny man had some near misses and minor hits before Little Britain made him one of the nation’s biggest stars. Indeed, it now transcends the UK: “It plays in over 40 countries. there’s nowhere to hide now!” laughs Lucas.
According to Pete Cohen, relationships do not work and most people are dissatisfied and unhappy. On the face of it, it is a surprisingly bleak view coming from one of Britain’s most famous life coaches. Through the power of positive thinking, he has helped hundreds of television viewers lose weight and improve their self-image on his “Inchloss Island” slot on GMTV.
But actually, it seems entirely appropriate that someone doing his job should regard life as fraught with problems severe enough for people to require specialist help to deal with them.
Well before Budd Schulberg received his Oscar at the age of 40 for writing On the Waterfront, he had already lived a pretty full life. In fact, his first 18 years were enough to produce a 500-page autobiography, called Moving Pictures, Memories of a Hollywood Prince.
Eve ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues is perhaps the unlikeliest hit in the history of theatre. Written 13 years ago, it has been performed countless times in auditoriums all over the world in front of audiences numbering in their thousands. Hollywood stars clamour to appear in it. It has had the kind of success usually reserved for big-budget musicals, and the kind of impact normally associated with groundbreaking drama.
Not bad for a play consisting of a series of monologues — both serious and humorous — intended originally to be performed by a cast of one.