Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
n THE last item on News at Ten on Monday night was a surprise. It was about the arts. Of all the artistic events going on in this country the one News at Ten decided to cover was Tilda Swinton lying asleep in a glass box. There was a shot of Tilda asleep. Then a quote from the gallery administrator, followed by a quote from the critic Robert Hewison (saying this is art) and a quote from the critic Brian Sewell (saying this isn't art). Then back to the studio for a wry smile from Trevor Macdonald, before a round-up of the main news. Trevor's smile said it all: the arts are a funny old thing. ITN's flagship news programme is only happy dealing with the arts when the peg is a row, a death or a gimmick. Sporting events are OK, because they have results. But otherwise TV news prefers disas- ters, politics and royalty. ITN will cover the driest EU negotiation or Commons debate rather than a major exhibition or a new production. But half the point of culture is that it's part of national life. Many of the people who make Britain internationally famous are never mentioned on the news. Ralph Fiennes appears in Hamlet, Harold Pinter appears in one of his own plays, Channel 4 and the BBC join forces to film Dennis Potter's last scripts. Silence. But if ITN has a free slot coming up soon, here are three items worth a mention: a new exhibition of David Hockney's work at the Serpentine; Diana Rigg opening in Mother Courage at the National; and Kenneth Branagh successfully writing and directing a new British-made film. National life is not only composed of politicians.

n FOLLOWING my item about the musical Jeeves, a reader has sent a tape of the original production. Vinyl copies now sell for pounds 150. Jeeves was the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn, which opened at the Prince of Wales in 1975 to terrible reviews. This month a retitled version, By Jeeves, is being workshopped, with a view to it opening Ayckbourn's new theatre in Scarborough. Listen- ing to the tape, it's hard to imagine why Lloyd Webber wants to revive it. The songs are pastiches of the period and are dominated by the lyrics. Few of them - "Code of the Woosters", "When Love Arrives", "Summer Day" - give Lloyd Webber any scope for that lush melodic sweep that we hear tinkling away in airports and shopping malls. One song, "Half a Moment", sounds like a warm-up for "Memory". Lloyd Webber has a gift for directing our attention away from lyrics. I've heard "Music of the Night" from Phantom a number of times, without having a clue what it is about: here the attention is focused almost entirely on the lyrics and that may not be wise. I quote:

When love arrives

It's hard to tell

It doesn't ring

The front door bell.