Cultural Life: Fay Weldon, Author
Friday 11 July 2008
I went to see Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone for Radio 3's Saturday Review. "Emotionally disturbing" it claimed to be, with its echoes of the Madeleine McCann case, and so it was, and a welcome change from the dull, written-to-formula films that pour from major studios. If profit rather than enthusiasm is the bottom line, all you get is variations on what made a profit last year.
I saw The Revenger's Tragedy at the Olivier, the National Theatre's largest auditorium; and sitting near the front, while fountains of blood spurted, and distracted by background scenes of rape and excited copulation, I had to struggle to get to the small, brief, intense, brilliant play behind it all. The trouble that I find with the Olivier is that it's so big, it's fit for nothing but spectacle.
So long as you don't watch Dr Who, you could almost believe the BBC is getting better and deserves its licence fee. Two documentary-dramas about the young Mrs Thatcher (writer Tony Saint) and Mrs Whitehouse (writer Amanda Coe) were both a delight – though sketchily attached to any historical reality. But who cares? They had vigour, verve and style; for once the writers were trusted to do their own thing, and it showed. Then there was Vanessa Engle's meticulous and moving documentary series The Jews, which managed to show real life as it is: stranger than fiction.
My grandmother, a concert pianist born in 1877, refused to listen to anything other than live music, and I may have inherited that from her. I can make an exception for anything with lyrics: opera, oratorios, country and western. Wagner's Parsifal, Handel's Messiah, Deana Carter's "Did I Shave My Legs for This?" – all just fine, particularly on radio or disc. But if there's no plot, and no live music, I prefer silence.
The first time I went to the ballet I couldn't believe there weren't going to be any words, and asked to be taken home. But this week I was much taken by the 16th-century polyphony of Victoria, Radio 3's Composer of the Week, and realised, rather late in my life, that the music itself can be a sufficient narrative in itself to enable you to do without words.
'Puffball', a film by Nicolas Roeg based on the novel by Fay Weldon, opens in cinemas on 18 July
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