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KATHERINE SHONFIELD

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The current version of Our Mutual Friend came to an end last Saturday. It is a tight, seamless concoction of committed acting, textual accuracy and period authenticity, with all the good bits, and none of that flawed Dickensian superfluity. In fact, the sanitised whiff of the whole operation signals that this version is not Our Mutual Friend at all, but only Peter Mandelson's Mutual Friend.

In the wake of the removal of clause 4, Peter Mandelson's Mutual Friend neatly excises each character that raises an awkward question. For Mr Podsnap, all Art, Music and Literature should express and celebrate nothing more than rising at seven to work in the City, getting dressed to work in the City, and then going to work in the City. He is the embodiment of an executive of the New Millennium Experience. Peter Mandelson's Mutual Friend takes place somewhere dark and grimy. In Our Mutual Friend the sense of London is obsessionally specific. The monumental rubbish dumps, the source of wealth and evil, are at Battle Bridge, better known as the King's Cross backlands, and now in 1998, a filthy wasteland, full of rats, prostitutes and destitute people. It is the site, as in the book, of the most cynical blighting of everyday lives in pursuit of Mammon.

Sickeningly, this latest version of Our Mutual Friend acts like Podsnap himself. With a flourish of the hand it has dismissed every pertinent question this masterpiece asks about the future of London, then and now.

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