Last Night's TV: Les Mis at 25: Matt Lucas Dreams the Dream/BBC2
Arena: Rolf Harris Paints His Dream/BBC2

The arrival of Les Misérables in the West End some 25 years ago was a good news/bad news deal for ticket touts. On the up side the demand for tickets was stratospheric; on the down side it wasn't the easiest title for an East End gouger to mutter out of the side of his mouth. In Les Mis at 25: Matt Lucas Dreams the Dream, Nicholas Allott, a senior executive for Cameron Mackintosh, recalled walking to the theatre one day and hearing a burly man pitching tickets for a show he could only pronounce as "Lesbian Rebels".

Personally I think I might have enjoyed the musical more if that had been an accurate account of its contents, but along with quite a few members of its early audience I wasn't a big fan. The reviews after the opening night of the RSC production at the Barbican were catastrophic, giving Cameron Mackintosh, who'd brought the show over from France and reworked it intensively for British audiences, just 24 hours to decide whether to pull the ejector-seat handle. His peers thought he was mad to proceed. One big Broadway producer advised him, "If you've got a stiff, bury it." But, all credit to his nerve, he went ahead anyway and now everybody on the planet, barring a few Mongolian tribesman, have seen the show. Shockingly, the National Theatre of Norway effectively closed itself down for 15 months so that it could host the Norwegian version, the run only ending because somebody pointed out that it really might be time to do some Ibsen.

Matt Lucas is a big fan and this 25th Anniversary Souvenir Programme (a Cameron Mackintosh co-production, just in case you were wondering about its nakedly advertorial status) offered both a history of the most successful musical ever and an account of Lucas's preparations to appear in a gala concert performance at the O2, in the comedy role of the tavern-keeper. It wasn't exactly a demanding lead up, amounting to not much more than trying the costume on and making sure he didn't stumble on his way to the microphone, but his enthusiasm for the experience provided a useful counterpoint to the showbiz nostalgia from Michael Ball, Herbie Kretzmer and Colm Wilkinson.

Matt Lucas, incidentally, did very well in a show that looked like a cross between an unusually bombastic rock concert and a performance by the Red Army Choir, but which nonetheless stirred the attendant faithful to raptures. One woman who'd turned up was so devoted to the musical that she'd even had the Bayard urchin from the poster tattooed on her shoulder. It's just a guess, but I think she will have enjoyed this programme too, which only acknowledged less than devoted accounts of the musical in order to demonstrate how snobbishly wrong they had been all along.

The friction between an élite definition of great art and what people actually like was also palpable throughout Arena: Rolf Harris Paints His Dream, a peculiar conceit in which the Michelangelo of house paint had been invited to depict four contemporary young women as Titania, declaring her love for Bottom. In between times he was seen performing at Glastonbury, to a vast audience of affectionately indulgent rock fans, and painting the Queen, who looked distinctly put-out when she discovered that Harris had spent the whole of one session doing the details of her jewellery.

It wasn't very clear what the programme was about for at least an hour, which gave you another 30 minutes to try and work out whether the director, Vikram Jayanti, had actually brought it off. I think – and it was so odd I'm reluctant to be definitive here – that we were being encouraged to think of Rolf as a metaphorical Bottom: hairy, slightly comical and, in his own words, "a peasant", while the women, attractive and lissom, were Titania types. But the moment you tried to elaborate this connection it stopped making sense – or seemed to swerve dangerously towards the lubricious. There was a distinctly creepy moment of flirtation between the 80-year-old artist and Emer Kenny, her own unhairy bottom barely veiled from the camera's over-eager inspection by a thin gauze.

Rolf had underpowered conversations with his models – about modern art, national identity, being recognised in the street – and occasionally we would cut away entirely, as during an inconsequential section in which his wife, Alwen, told us about her dyslexia and showed off the mosaic lamps she makes from old bits of stained glass. Lizzy Jagger pitched up to pose – a nice girl with a giggle that would probably drive you out of your mind within a day – and Dervla Murphy chatted to the artist about the black depression into which he'd plunged after Rolf's Cartoon Club had been cancelled by a new controller. Harris also shared his wounded feelings about the reaction he'd got when he offered the National Portrait Gallery his finished portrait of the Queen. "We have numerous portraits of Her Majesty, you know," he was told. Harris seemed to feel this was a hurtful example of élitist snobbery. I just thought his distress made him seem a little greedy. Popular affection, huge crowds at his own private view, an invitation to Glastonbury, an audience with the Queen – but he wants establishment recognition too. I bet Lucian Freud doesn't moan about the fact that he's never been invited to present Animal Hospital.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence