CRIES & WHISPERS

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The Independent Culture
4 IN FLORENCE for the weekend, I naturally went to the Uffizi. This means queueing for an hour while groups of indifferent schoolkids shuffle straight to the front. Once in, there's no chance of getting a decent view of Leonardo's Annunciation because the kids have formed a ruck around it. This much, I suppose, we expect. What is surprising is the number of people going around with camcorders clamped to their faces.

Picture the scene. There you are, sitting at home in Tokyo or Toronto. You decide to spurn the beach this year and get a bit of culture instead. You save for months, fly for hours, and finally reach the Arno. Given perhaps the only chance you'll ever have of enjoying Renaissance painting in its true colours, what do you do? You reduce it to a two-inch black- and-white square.

There is an opportunity here for the Uffizi. The time spent in the queue could be filled if the staff handed visitors a questionnaire. Those who were unable to say what century Botticelli lived in, or to name two works by Michelangelo, would not be let in.

The scheme would entail a bit of paperwork: the questions would need to be changed every day, and there might have to be a second, stiffer test for those carrying camcorders. But it would be worth it. The sum of human knowledge would increase, and the atmosphere in the galleries would become a little more conducive to appreciating their contents.

4 BACK HOME, I went to Maria Friedman's one-woman show, directed by the ubiquitous Jeremy Sams at the Whitehall Theatre. She's a much-touted British singer of Broadway songs: our great white hope of the great white way. She sings old numbers in new arrangements, and does it very well. But there's more to being this kind of singer than singing. You have to have some patter.

After lurching between brassy bravado ("This is my show!") and girl next door ("my father used to run this festival ..."), it was time to introduce the band. She forgot their names. Unaware of Denis Healey's rule for these occasions (if you're in a hole, stop digging), she proceeded to reminisce about the time she forgot her own name at an audition. It could have been funny or charming, but it was just inept. If Friedman wants to carry a show, she's going to have to learn to talk.

4 THE AWARD for Most Boring Annual Event Held in May is, as ever, a hard-fought contest between the Chelsea Flower Show and the Cannes Film Festival. And the winner is Cannes, because you can't get away from it, and because Chelsea does at least interest those who like gardening, whereas Cannes manages to bore even those of us who like films.

Channel One, the cable-TV outpost of the Daily Mail empire, is making a lot of noise about Cannes. "BABES, BOYS, MOGULS AND MOVIES," it promises, in an ad in another sister organ, the London Evening Standard. It's significant that movies come last. But the real giveaway is that among the "boys" advertised are Nick Nolte and Jonathan Pryce. Nolte is 54; Pryce will be 48 this week.

Jack Hughes

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