ARTS / Cries & whispers

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The Independent Culture
ANYONE who has been on the London Underground in the past umpteen months has been treated to dozens of pictures of Harrison Ford apparently sprinting for the train now departing platform four for Rayners Lane. The pictures are an example of what the business world will insist on calling synergy: they are advertising both Ford's new film, The Fugitive, and its distributor's principal outlet, the Warner West End, off Leicester Square, which has just reopened (tape cut by Harrison Ford, of course) as a 'state-of-the-art' cinema. So how good is it?

Full marks for its opening gambit: it's showing The Fugitive on five screens out of nine, which means that you should never have to wait more than 45 minutes for the projector to roll. So I didn't book: I just headed down there. As it happened, I was in perfect time for the 7.30pm screening. As it also happened, it was sold out, so I bought a ticket for the 8.15, confident that a spanking new state-of-the-art cinema would keep me amused for half an hour.

When I reached the bar on the first floor, I saw that I was in for an uncomfortable wait. Sure, there were popcorn, hot dogs and six sorts of coffee as well as a licensed bar but, in a space the size of a football pitch, there is not a single seat. The result is people hugging the walls, standing on one leg, juggling bags and drinks. There is nowhere to put anything down, unless one of the few standing-height tables, evidently acquired in a job lot from British Rail, happens to be free.

The feel of the place is more British Airports Authority: all grey and electric blue, plastic and neon, cold and hard. You could never love it, but I suppose it doesn't want to be loved, it wants to be profitable. And it is a pretty good place to see a film. The auditoria are big, the screen a great curve. And the seats are properly staggered. But, again, they are plasticky and hard: if, like me, you tend to slump down and rest your knees on the back of the seat in front, you'll come out aching. The stereo system has been much trumpeted, and is certainly impressive. The thud that is used to show Ford registering each memory of his wife's murder hits you like the slam of 10 cell doors. Too impressive, in fact: the sound is just too good to be true. The film, however, is excellent.

AN UNEXPECTED side-effect of the Peter Mayle affair. A recent trip to the north of Scotland brought me alongside the country residences of Alan Clark, the diarist, and Peter Maxwell-Davies, the composer. Neither was at home. So, answering natural curiosity, I paused to see how the other half lives (in a tidy estate behind a high-wire fence in Clark's case; less grandly, two down from the Old Man of Hoy in Maxwell-

Davies's). An innocent diversion, you might have thought. Certainly no trespass was involved. But something troubled me; and I blame Mayle. I felt guilty. Like the factories in Leeds that cause acid rain in Norway, do the coachloads who, we hear, journey south to gawp at the Wicked Willie man's Provence farmhouse mean that all celebs are now off- limits? In my case, and against my better judgement, it seems they do. And so another harmless pleasure is removed.

TO THE Barbican for the RSC revival of Stoppard's Travesties. It's a great night out, but one thing bothers me. None of the furniture is vertical. This would be fine - the play deals, among other things, with surrealism - if it were not the theatrical fashion. If Stoppard stands for anything, it is not fashion. The set for his other show, Arcadia at the National, is a model of elegant restraint. If a text is full of jokes, flights of fancy and jeux d'esprit, the set does well to be deadpan.

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