Miller pans his audiences as the dead from Harrods Food Hall

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The Independent Culture

In a "Culture Nation" discussion sponsored by The Independent last night, Jonathan Miller launched a gleeful attack on the hands that feed him. The Beyond the Fringe legend, opera and theatre director and author announced he can "hardly bear" to sit through his own productions at the Royal Opera House - because of the audiences.

In a "Culture Nation" discussion sponsored by The Independent last night, Jonathan Miller launched a gleeful attack on the hands that feed him. The Beyond the Fringe legend, opera and theatre director and author announced he can "hardly bear" to sit through his own productions at the Royal Opera House - because of the audiences.

While Miller's productions charge a comparatively small sum, he despairs that "when people pay £150 a seat to see a production funded by the state, there is a sort of desire to see, reflected from the stage, an image of their own wealth." At his recent production of Cosi Fan Tutte, he said, "you could see that Harrods Food Hall had yielded up its dead".

Miller praised small, sparse theatres like the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York and Bouffes du Nord, Peter Brook's theatre in Paris. "You don't feel like you are waiting for the interval to go to the crush bar where you've ordered very grand drinks, and you bear your wife there like an ornamental hawk on your wrist. That's when I hate the arts. When it's enjoyed by a group of people who are there to display their privilege.

"One of the things that rots the arts is grandeur," he announced at Cheltenham's celebrated three-tiered Matcham theatre. But it wasn't just the Royal Opera and the National Theatre - "that enormous Brent Cross Shopping Centre down on the South Bank" - that earned the Miller fury. People who worked at the BBC 53 years ago, when he started working there, were "shabby bohemians who otherwise would have been teaching Latin at Stowe".

"Now they have to have degrees in Media Studies, which is like having a degree in stationery. 'I'm specialising in Basildon Bond!' There was an old Peter Ustinov sketch about the doorman at the Third Programme re-reading Proust. Now he'd be reading Hello! magazine. And he'd be re-reading it, too."

But the unnecessarily complex is not what Miller is aiming for. "Derrida wrote impenetrable nonsense which has infected a vast community of academics across Europe and the United States with the mistaken belief that something important was being said," he announced.

"It's something to do with the desire to be obscure in the belief that it is deep. You can see German theatre, you can smell it a mile off ... That's one of the disasters of state subsidy - that that sort of codswallop gets sponsored and financed."

Miller decried the "sort of septic buoyancy that makes people rise to positions [in the Arts Council], rather like that dead body that comes to the surface at the end of the movie Deliverance." But he has a solution - of sorts: "What I want is trouble-makers," he concluded. "Subversive people capable of very energetically lateral thought."

Given that he might be out of a job at the Royal Opera House when his employers get to hear about this, perhaps Miller is just the subversive we need.

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