ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
THE RE-RUN last weekend of Mike Leigh's play Abigail's Party, on the splendid A Night in with Alan Bennett, confirmed it as one of the most excruciatingly funny things television has done. So it was good to see Radio 3 had scheduled a Leigh play from 1979 for this Tuesday. But Too Much of a Good Thing, Leigh's only work for radio, has never been broadcast.

The press handout is good on the history, but vague on the delay: 'In 1979, Radio 3 funded Mike Leigh to produce a play exploring a subject matter too difficult to tackle in a non- sensational manner on stage or film, but ideally suited to sound alone. The subject: sexual relationships, specifically a young woman going through the crisis of losing her virginity.' So why has it taken this 'ideal' subject 13 years to get on air?

The play was commissioned when Stephen Hearst was Controller of Radio 3. Leigh tells me he had 'an aversion to radio drama - all that standing round microphones' but was convinced to have a go when he was given the budget to try recording on location. But while the play was in production, the Radio 3 baton passed from Hearst to Ian McIntyre, who refused to broadcast it. His explanation, Leigh recalls, was that the play was 'banal, uninteresting, unworthy'. Leigh and producers who spoke up for him have another theory: the scene where the driving instructor seduces his pupil features several minutes of whooping and grunting, and McIntyre was known to take a somewhat puritanical view of drama.

A year ago, Leigh approached Radio 3 again and asked if it would broadcast the play, but was told it was 'past its shelf- life'. He is as surprised as anyone that it has finally been paroled. Having heard it, I have to agree with Leigh that 'it's not Hamlet or King Lear', but it is a gloriously, painfully comic piece. It has a vocabulary worthy of Bennett and a Pinteresque line in domestic demotic. 'Catching many rats these days, Mr Payne? What with the advances in hygienics.' It is in a different creative universe from most radio drama.

POOR John Drummond's attempts to convince anyone of the seriousness of his 'European Arts Festival' suffered a blow last weekend with the flop of its opening night at Covent Garden - a feeble romp through Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims which the assembled diplomatic corps applauded, naturally, but could be heard deriding in the coat queue afterwards. The public, meanwhile, voted with their feet. The organisers had fixed up a free, live relay on a big screen in the piazza outside and expected a crowd of 8,000, whose grateful cheers would be personally received by the cast at the end while Drummond and his ambassadorial friends looked on. But it was wet, the turn-out modest (almost down to tramps and stragglers after three hours), and the cast stayed in the warm, 'to protect their voices' as a Royal Opera spokesman tactfully put it. I'd have liked to be a fly inside the diplomatic bags the next day.

A WELCOME addition to the ranks of cheaper record shops this week: The Music Catalogue, a discount mail-order firm whose USP is a full-colour catalogue. As well as the name of each disc, you get a picture of the sleeve and a short blurb. The person behind

it, Mike Conlin, said research showed that people 'love to see the sleeves - it reminds them of the vinyl LPs they had 10 years ago'. The blurbs are a bit hit-and-miss, but the selection is sound and the discount's not to be sniffed at: three-quarters of the CDs offered are under pounds 10. The catalogue costs pounds 5; P&P is pounds 1.50 per order. For details ring 0963 33636. And remember: don't pay full price if you can help it - especially now there are signs that the chainstores are taking the hint.

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