The Independent on Sunday, 23 August 2015

I have spent years trying to persuade people that the theatre is for everyone. Sure, it usually costs more to go to a play than to go to the pictures. But it can be a life-changing experience (I saw Diana Rigg as Medea when I was a teenager, and a lifetime as a classicist has followed). But Elf, a musical adaptation of the Will Ferrell movie, has just knocked my beliefs into a cocked, red-and-green-striped hat.

The cheapest tickets for the show – which has no big names, unless you count someone who used to be in Girls Aloud, which I do not – are £51.80, rising to a frankly startling £240. For a family of four, that’s £960 for a night out. Though if you really want to spoil your other half, you could go for a seat in the Royal Box (which comes with one glass of champagne, one glass of wine, a programme and an ice-cream): that’s £318 per person. For that kind of money, I would expect a real live toy-making elf to take me to my seat and sit on my lap for the duration of the show, telling me obscure elf-facts (perhaps in song), but apparently that’s not an option.

Gratifyingly, the Dominion Theatre will also charge you up to £15 per ticket as a booking fee, and another £2.50 if you want the tickets held at the box-office. London rents really have shot up, so you can see why they need to charge for the space taken up by a small piece of cardboard. And the tickets themselves are printed on parchment made from unicorn skin, hence the mark-up there. There’s little more they could do to convey that theatre – at least West End theatre – is not for ordinary people.

So unless you are a devotee of the work of Will Ferrell, I suggest you spend a tenth of the money going to a local panto, and perhaps west end theatres will get the message that reducing their potential audience to the super-wealthy is bad for business and bad for show-business.

This week saw the sad loss of Yvonne Craig, who played Batgirl, minxy crime-fighter and fantasy of teenage boys since the 60s, when she first appeared on screen alongside Adam West’s Batman. She was also an inspiration to women and girls everywhere. Barbara Gordon, the caped crusader’s alter-ego, was a librarian, which proves what authors have always known: without librarians, Gotham and everywhere else would slide into chaos.

Craig did her own stunts, making her a feminist icon as well as a superhero. And she was quick to stand up for women’s rights, appearing in an advert for the US Department of Labor, reminding Batman that she did the same job as Robin and therefore required equal pay. Even as Batman tried to put her wage negotiations aside till later, she stayed focussed on her demands while simultaneously defusing a ticking bomb. Since Marvel have recently managed to produce a DVD cover for Avengers Age of Ultron with no women on it at all (though Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow makes a small appearance on the 2D Blu-ray version), it seems we need Batgirl as much as we ever did.

I am running every other morning at the moment, preparing for a 10k race in September to raise money for a new lion enclosure at London Zoo (I run past the zoo quite often, so really it’s in my interests for the lions to be well-enclosed). I thought it was quiet in the park this summer, and assumed it was because everyone else is on holiday. But it turns out you’re all at the gym instead, as spending on UK gym membership has shot up by 44% in the past year.

The rise is attributed to the increase in budget gyms, which don’t charge huge membership fees nor force uncertain gym-newbies to sign up for long contracts. It suggests that the most powerful anti-gym propaganda of all has been the certain knowledge that if you don’t enjoy the activities at the gym, or you fall ill, or sustain an injury, you’re then condemned to watch the pounds drop from your bank-account rather than your waistline.

For those of us who have made plans for October and beyond, NASA has announced good news: the Earth will not end in the second half of September. Internet rumours had suggested that an asteroid was due to wipe us out next month, like so many baffled T-Rexes. But we are not about to join the dinosaurs (unless you have plans to see Jurassic World somewhere this weekend).

NASA scientists have clearly spent more time than they ever wanted to dismissing rumours from frenzied doom-mongers. ‘There is no scientific basis - not one shred of evidence - that an asteroid or any other celestial object will impact Earth on those dates,’ said Paul Chodas, who has perhaps the best job description of anyone on any planet: manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He continues (with almost audible annoyance), ‘If there were any object large enough to do that type of destruction in September, we would have seen something of it by now.’ So stop fearing the end of days, everyone. NASA says we’re fine.

There’s nothing like the declassification of MI5 files to make me wish that John LeCarre had been in charge of Cold War espionage. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy perhaps gave us an inflated idea of just how cunning spies really were. The reality turns out to have been somewhat less exotic. New information released about Dr Klaus Fuchs (who was jailed in 1950 for giving atom bomb intelligence to the Russians) reveals that he was told to carry a tennis ball when he went to meet his handler. Given that these meetings were happening in Kew, a leafy suburb only five miles from Wimbledon, you would have thought the chances for mistaken identity were pretty high.

His handler, meanwhile, would be wearing gloves, while carrying another pair (this was the ‘recognition signal’). And Fuchs set up the meetings by lobbing a copy of a men’s magazine over a garden fence. So the reality of spying was very James Bond, but only if he was re-written by Alan Bennett.