Friday, 25 January 2008

Off the beaten track

This week I seem to have contrived not to see any of the major openings at all, so far. And you know what? It’s kind of nice. I sent other people to the National and to the Hampstead for CultureWars to see Happy Now? and The President’s Holiday, while the nice PR people for The Sea could only offer me a ticket on Thursday night, for which I already had a reviewing gig booked in - of which, more later - with the short notice prevented me from getting anyone else to go. I am, however, seeing The Vertical Hour, on Saturday afternoon - well after press night - and am fascinated to find out in which of the impossibly polarised “love it”/”hate it” camps I end up (for what seems like a pretty fair appraisal, try Charles Spencer, who is always at least candid enough to put all his cards on the table and foreground his preferences).

Anyway, the net result is that I have caught a few shows that have so far eluded national broadsheet coverage this week. On Wednesday night I headed over to the Shunt Vaults, ostensibly with the aim of catching Simon Kane’s Jonah Non Grata, following the ringing endorsement from Chris Goode. I arrived at about nine and was pleasantly surprised to discover that my £5 entry fee entitled me to wander into all three pieces showing that night, free run of the (mostly reasonably priced) bar, and the chance to witness what I can only describe as a kind of avant garde “intervention” in said bar: - at eleven the lights went out, the PA system started playing very loud, horrible music - well, noise really - and a man appeared silhouetted in the doorway, naked and covered from head to toe in mud. Spotlit, he then proceeded to have buckets of viscera pour on him from the ceiling. Then, as he wondered across the bar, further viscera, then sand, rained down on him and any bystanders unlucky enough to be standing too close (seriously, if you’re in the Shunt Vaults Bar at about eleven, do check the ceiling above you before deciding on your vantage point). The whole thing took maybe three or four minutes, and was quite amazing to witness - exactly the sort of thing that every experimental avant garde bar should have.

On Thursday, I got to catch the afternoon performance of Point Blank Hotel, the new production from a group of Dartington students, one of whom had been in the rather excellent Tea Without Mother (11th para) at the NSDF a couple of years ago. Although essentially a scratch performance, there was still much to intrigue in this bizarre forty minute tale of a young woman condemned to work in a hotel owned by sadists and lunatics. It’s not a bad little bit of work. Yes, there is room for improvement, not least in the lighting department; and the multimedia film elements could perhaps do with a little more cinematic panache; but the what the piece does achieve very well is instilling a profound sense of unease. Scenes with the hotelier’s wife wielding a lethally sharp meat cleaver and footage of the young maid’s eye bleeding combine to evoke a kind of David Lynch-type atmosphere of not-quite-placeable nastiness. (Note to self: stop using David Lynch as a default reference, even when it is obviously the main influence. People will think you’ve only seen four films.)

On Thursday night I had the misfortune to witness An Audience with the Mafia for the FT. I’ll link to the review if/when it goes online. Suffice it to say that if for any reason you were contemplating popping along, reconsider immediately. It is without doubt the worst thing I have ever seen in the West End, and one of the three worst things I have ever seen in a theatre in my life. The fact I got paid to sit through it barely makes it any better.

In other news, did anyone else catch the wholly witless item about the Arts Council cuts on You and Yours on R4 this lunchtime? It really was very bad indeed. The chap from the Arts Council was allowed to make a series of baldly mendacious claims, unchallenged by an apparently unbriefed and credulous presenter. They then wheeled out the utterly useless Rosie Millard (erstwhile worst theatre critic in the world when at the New Statesman - the woman who started her Drunk Enough To Say I Love You review thus: “The title of Caryl Churchill's new play is also its first line.”) who trotted out some unverifiable claims about artists having a sense of entitlement and “why should taxpayers subsidise the arts anyway?” claptrap, without even the intellectual rigour to sound like she’d even thought through the position. Sam West was hauled out to oppose the motion, and though speaking beautifully and restraining his probable urge to punch La Millard hard in the face, did rather spoil the counter argument by setting out too vigorously, sounding a bit like he'd oppose every funding cut ever, as a matter of principle, rather than forensically pinning down the Arts Council on its myriad procedural failures and the sheer slapdash nature of the rushed-through botch-job of proposed cuts and the shamefully short time allowed for appeals, not to mention the even more ludicrously brief window allotted to making final decisions.

Following my NSDF post, I’ve stayed off the subject of the funding cuts as much as possible, mainly because so many other people were writing regularly on the matter that an additional voice would have been both superfluous and liable to contribute to compassion fatigue. But since I’ve now brought it up, I’ve been wondering lately if anyone else finding the basic tenets of the new McMaster report irresistibly reminding them of the following... (forward to about 1:40)

No? Just me, then.


Anonymous said...

the ertswhile correspondent going on about artists and tax-payers money being the same Rosie Millard as

Anonymous said...

You are kidding aren't you?

That presenter was fantastic. From the moment she rightly kicked the 'excellence ' pitch into touch as 'motherhood and apple pie' the Arts Council Zombie was on the back foot.

That woman is the reason we pay the licence fee.

Anonymous said...

That review of "An Audience With The Mafia" is now online at