Evgeny Lebedev

My fantastic two knights at the theatre

The Evening Standard Monday 2 December 2013

Not long after our Theatre Awards here in London, I visited New York, in large part to see No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot on Broadway. The hype had been huge. And, under the excellent directing of Sean Matthias (full disclosure: I own The Grapes pub in Limehouse with Sean and Sir Ian McKellen), both performances lived up to it magnificently.

There was a pleasing irony in watching Ian and Sir Patrick Stewart, two of the most successful actors of their generation, perform in plays about existential angst. We know that these men have unrivalled star power and that somehow made the anxiety and introspection of their characters more powerful.

In Waiting for Godot, a play I have often found taxing and difficult, there is such a strong dose of comedy that it sometimes borders on slapstick. This kept the pace lively, and offered respite from the unforgiving absence of plot. When I asked Ian if he was happy with how it went, he said he was happy that it was over. Then I reminded him that the run goes on until April. If you can get tickets, you would be crazy to miss it.

Be proud of our papers

Waking up each morning to survey the news I couldn’t thinking how lucky we are in Britain when it comes to newspapers. The New York Times is a powerful and increasingly global institution, whose journalism and digital innovations we can learn much from. In print, its front page has a forbidding appearance; and the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post are little better. Yes, there are a few tabloids, and countless local papers, but it’s strange to think that such a large country has so few truly national titles. Here, by contrast, we have a huge range, with great variety of tone, presentation and ideology. What’s more, in London, you get to pick this newspaper up for free each afternoon.

At a time when existential angst has infected Fleet Street, it’s easy to be complacent about how rich a newspaper culture we have in Britain.

Food for thought

Graydon Carter’s Waverley Inn is a special place. It’s a true neighbourhood restaurant with a beautiful décor, smart service, excellent food, and a magic atmosphere. I know from personal experience that running a restaurant is hard work, but Graydon’s memorable little place has got me thinking about getting back into that game.

With us in the booth were Michael Gambon and Ian, both of whom have now been in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land. Listening to those two recall stories from their decades in theatre was nothing less than inspiring, and utterly hilarious. Antonia Fraser said not long ago that her late husband wanted his plays to be funny. With these two, he certainly achieved that.