Waitrose & Partners Weekend Issue 584

32 13 J ANUARY 202 2 WEEKENDING Events BOOK IT NOW Quentin Letts Photography: Wasi Daniju, © naturepl.com/ Tony Wu/ WWF, Apple TV+ THINGS TODO THIS WEEK The theatre critic’s guide to what’s on prime time David Harewood and Charles Edwards in Best of Enemies THE WORLD OF PLAYWRIGHT JAMES GRAHAM Ask the public: “Who are theatre’s stars?” and they will probably name an actor – a TomHiddleston, Lily James or Gillian Anderson. But theatre is not just about glamour and greasepaint. It needs playwrights, obscure figures who toil in lonely bedsits to produce the scripts actors will humanise. At present, there is no playwright starrier than James Graham, whose latest play, Best of Enemies, is currently on at London’s Young Vic. The subject matter may sound niche – a series of 1968 American TV debates between the liberal author Gore Vidal andWilliamF Buckley, a right-wingmagazine editor. The detail of their disagreements, from the VietnamWar to Richard Nixon, is now ancient history. Incidental characters include US TV anchors whose names we have long forgotten, if we ever knew them in the first place. Enoch Powell makes a fleeting appearance, as doHarry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin and a comically dimwitted AndyWarhol. These figures are hardlymodern. So how come the play has been a hit? Graham, 39, takes factual episodes from recent decades and retells them without taking sides. He found national success in 2012 with This House, which was about the hung parliaments of the 70s. Every few scenes, the government and opposition whips changed places, a process that became almost like a Tudor dance. Graham’s next hit, Ink, was about Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of The Sun newspaper. Then came Quiz, the story of Major Charles Ingram, aka the ‘CoughingMajor’, who infamously won TV’s WhoWants to Be aMillionaire? Grahamdoes not preach at his audiences. He allows his characters to have goodmotives, evenwhen their actions may seemdangerous. In Best of Enemies, despite a backdrop of 60s civil rights tensions, political assassinations and TV studio rancour, there is plenty of humour. I loved JohnHodgkinson’s cameo of Chicago’s rasping and racketyMayor Daley. One could simultaneously think: “Crikey, what a stinker he was,” and “They don’t make ’em like that anymore.” It was the same in Ink, which showed, yes, the ruthlessness of Fleet Street yet also caught its camaraderie. His next project is a six-part BBCTV drama, Sherwood, about a policemurder investigation inNottinghamshire (Graham’s home county). It should hit our screens later this year. He has also beenworking with Sir Elton John on amusical about the American televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker. James Graham is not infallible. I remember flogging down to Plymouth to see a decidedly ordinary play he had written about theMonster Raving Loony Party. But that’s the thing about life – sometimes we win, sometimes we don’t. In an arts world, that too often seems determined to be outrageous, Grahamunderstands the world is composed not of certainties but of flawed people failing honourably. He approaches the past not with a sepia lens or with scorn, but with a rueful clemency. Good for him. As we enter a new year of hopefully amazing theatre, do rememeber that timings and dates for all shows featured in this columnmay be subject to change due to any future government Covid restrictions Make do and mend, get savvy with a money-saving podcast or enjoy a good book in Fran Quinn’s weekly round-up FIVE GREAT NEW READS WHEN IT’S CHILLY OUT Winter is a great time to retreat to a good book and lose yourself in a gripping story. To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara is the eagerly awaited follow up to A Little Life, spanning three centuries, each presenting an alternative reality America. The Final Case by David Guterson (author of SnowFalling on Cedars) tells of amoving father-son story alongside a tense courtroomdrama. TheMaid by Nita Prose is soon to be a film starring Florence Pugh. This gripping whodunnit spools out froma hotel maid discovering a guest dead in bed. Nikki May’s Wahala is also being adapted for the screen. This is a compelling story of the friendship between three Nigerian-British women who are thrown into disarray by the arrival of an interloper. The freshen up Shop for a new perfume at John Lewis, including unisex Maison Margiela Beach Walk Eau de Toilette