Angela Lansbury is such a good actress that she could strike terror into your soul as Mrs Lovett, before before going on to make a tea-pot the maternal ideal as Mrs Potts. Yet she will forever be remembered as Jessica Fletcher: busybody, mystery writer and crime-solver, which is probably why it took her till she was 89 before she won an Olivier Award. She entered the hall of kitsch TV fame and people forgot just how good a stage performer she was, and is. She has ruled Broadway many times before, but her appearance as the drunk and disorderly Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit last year brought her back to the London stage for the first time in my life.
There was something spectacular about seeing a woman (aged, at the time, 88) hurling herself around the stage and rebounding off the furniture as though broken bones were something that only happen to other people. I saw her give a less physical performance four years earlier, in A Little Night Music. Her character was wheelchair-bound, but when it was time for the curtain call, she sprang on from the wings like a musical gazelle, and took a low, elegant bow. Her message could not have been clearer: the character was the one enfeebled by time; the actress was as energetic as ever.
And hopefully that's the message reinforced by her Olivier win. Old doesn't have to mean frail, and it doesn't have to mean retired. Actors can rarely afford to retire (though Murder, She Wrote would probably have paid for Lansbury to spend the past twenty years on a continuous five-star cruise. Lucky she didn't: imagine the death-toll if Jessica Fletcher went anywhere near a cruise-ship for more than a cursory visit). But they also often prefer to keep working for other reasons. Learning lines is proof that your memory isn't going anywhere. Working with a new cast means retaining your adaptive skills. And the energy of a theatre audience is restorative: who wouldn't feel better about themselves if they received a standing ovation from a packed house eight times a week?
A new survey reveals what many of us would have guessed: the UK is one of the most godless countries in the world. In fact, we were 59th most religious country, out of 65 countries surveyed, and only 30% of us consider ourselves to be religious. I’m beginning to wonder if we stand a chance of getting into the top five godless countries in a year or two, if we train hard, and really commit to the whole idea.
To crack our way into the top five (Netherlands, Czech Republic, Sweden, Japan and China), we all need to practise not going to church, or any other place of worship. If some of us are prepared to go the extra mile, maybe we could stay in bed on a Sunday morning, reading a good murder mystery instead of The Good Book. Or perhaps we could take a different tack: encourage more religion in our closest rival, Holland (26% religious). Perhaps you might go and start a cult there. Either way, I think we have it in us to become a nation of world-beaters.
At the risk of being vulgar (and it's one I take lightly, of course), at the same time as Angela Lansbury was winning her award, I was winning the Classical Association Prize, which is given annually to the person who spends as much of her time as possible banging on about classics. Since I have managed to cram in a novel about Greek tragedy, a radio series about key figures in the ancient world and a TV documentary about Ancient Greek sculpture since they last awarded it, I figured I was in with a chance. But still, after years spent judging every prize from the Man Booker to the Sony Awards, it is lovely to win something instead.