David Lister: Let's give poor old Wagner a rest – and the Spice Girls while we're at it
A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Saturday 21 July 2012
The most bizarre, but potentially most interesting, suggestion for the arts in recent weeks has come from Germany to coincide with the Bayreuth Festival.
The president of the German Theatre Association Klaus Zehelein chose the annual Wagner celebration, and also the composer's bicentenary, to call for a worldwide moratoriums on productions of the Ring Cycle. There are simply, he says, too many productions of the Ring. Most, he says, are for the wrong reasons – because it's so big.
He will fail, of course, in his wish (and should beware of bumping into those slightly scary, obsessive Wagnerites on a dark evening). But I do wonder if cultural moratoriums are quite as mad as they seem. Perhaps they can be a springboard for imaginative thinking, new commissions, and more cutting edge work.
If I can be Cultural Moratorium Officer for Britain for a few moments, I would suggest for a start a 12 month ban on all Tchaikovsky ballets. They are delightful, of course, but how they dominate the repertoire at the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, year after year after year. Have a moratorium on Tchaikovsky, and the two incoming heads of both companies will really have to think hard about widening the repertoire and finding different music and different choreographers.
Let's not just stick to the supposed high arts, either. I would want to decree a moratorium on encores at rock concerts, those utterly artificial, totally planned, unspontaneous moments of studied excitement, connived in by performers and audience alike. End the gig with a genuine climax for once. I'd also insist on a moratorium on those absurd excuses for ripping off fans, remasters in both pop and film, directors' cuts and all the other devices which leave listeners and viewers too self-conscious to admit they can't hear or see the difference, especially after shelling out a small fortune for the box set.
In theatre, it's a year with no jukebox musicals please. Sorry, Spice Girls, but we will have to live without your return a little longer, while new composers and lyricists take the stage. It would also do no harm for the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare's Globe to talk to each other and agree for once not to have the same Shakespeare play on at the same time. The next is personal prejudice, but I'm afraid all video art is on pause for a year.
With television drama, it's a cliche to say there are too many police and hospital dramas. Nevertheless, let's address the cliche and have a moratorium on them. Instead, let's have a run of chartered accountant and chartered surveyor dramas. Then we'd see if there were really good scriptwriters, actors and directors out there.
We should not dismiss the thought of moratoriums. They do not signal a dislike of the arts, they signal a desire to move forward and experiment. Herr Zehelein had the germ of a good idea, even if he should avoid going out at night for a while.
Tate St Ives's masterplan should include free entry
The Tate seems busier than ever with major redevelopments underway to both Tate Britain and Tate Modern. I'm pleased to learn that the Tate Britain revamp will involve, among much else, a new Members' room to replace the tiny one that serves members at present. The Tate masterplan also involves a substantial redevelopment of Tate St Ives, the beautiful outpost overlooking the sea. I hope that alongside the rebuilding, there might be an announcement that admission to Tate St Ives will in future be free. It has always struck me as nonsensical, not to say a mite hypocritical, for the Tate to proclaim the virtues of free admission, while keeping rather quiet about the fact that in St Ives, as opposed to London and Liverpool, visitors have to pay each time they go in. The Tate management claims it has little choice as the building is leased, and it is the council that insists on the charges. But that's not sufficient excuse. The Tate itself could subsidise free admission in St Ives. Why should gallery goers in Cornwall be second class citizens?
Hiking up ticket fees is not so 'super' for the public
I'm grateful to Mark Shenton of The Stage newspaper for lending support in his organ to my campaign against booking fees, and for pointing out one that I had missed – the charge being levied on tickets for the forthcoming arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. A top price ticket of £65 at London's O2 incurs a booking fee of £8.45; the cheapest seat of £45 has a £6.85 fee. These are absurdly high percentages on the seat prices, a superhike on Superstar that surely the show's composer and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber will want to address.
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