David Lister: The Week in Arts

Pray rain doesn't stop play in the open air
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The Independent Online

First, though, this weekend Somerset House is mounting a free open-air arts festival for families to celebrate five years of being vehicle-free. For the centrepiece, a children's theatre performance by the company Oily Cart, there will be palm trees, pirate ships and a giant inflatable Neptune's palace.

The change of use of the courtyard has certainly been welcomed. Elton John says it gives him huge pleasure to perform there. Griff Rhys Jones calls it: "The history of London, its river and its past magnificence in one art-laden courtyard. A treasure beyond price."

The design guru Stephen Bayley says it is "a vast public piazza dedicated to aesthetes, gourmets and (in winter) skaters rather than sadistic tax inspectors".

Despite running the campaign, I am now beginning to feel a little sorry for the tax inspectors. It was their cars I was against, not their personalities. Nevertheless, the use of the Somerset House courtyard has added a new dimension to summer arts. But I wonder how well film will do. Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Flash Gordon are two of the movies that will adorn the 18th-century courtyard in August. There will be early evening DJ sessions and food and drink.

Somerset House is not alone in experimenting with movies in the open air on a summer evening. Stella Artois, the drinks company which sponsors a famous tennis tournament, among other things, is now also putting on films in London's Kensington Gardens and at Heaton Park in Manchester - Donnie Darko in London, Pulp Fiction in Manchester. They are going a step further than Somerset House. For Donnie Darko, on 6 August, the film will be preceded by a performance of the film's score, with its composer Michael Andrews joining forces with the National Symphony Orchestra. In Manchester, on 3 September, Fun Lovin' Criminals are scheduled to perform their Pulp Fiction sampled hit "Scooby Snacks" along with covers from the soundtrack.

It's radical stuff. I had hoped that there might be drive-in movies among the events, as I have always wanted to experience the romance of that very American custom. But no. A Stella Artois spokeswoman tells me that as there will be drink at the event, they could hardly encourage people to drive.

Films on a summer's night? Can it work? I'm not 100 per cent sure. Personally, I like complete hush during films as well as complete darkness and a constricted space. But I suppose the sight of the moon and the stars will give a dimension to Close Encounters that even Spielberg might not have envisaged. And seeing and hearing the Donnie Darko soundtrack played live with the film is intriguing. Perhaps we are on the verge of a new film-going experience in Britain. Provided it doesn't rain.

One that slipped through the net

Television memorabilia clearly isn't yet setting the auction houses alight in the way that pop and film items do. This week, there was an auction of what I would consider to be one of the most iconic props in the history of TV - the hairnet worn by Ena Sharples in the early days of Coronation Street. I wouldn't have blinked if I had read that some soap fanatic had paid a few thousand pounds to have Ena's hairnet on the mantelpiece or even to wear it themselves in one of the more bizarre examples of celebrity association.

I did blink, however, to see that it fetched just £61 at auction, probably less than most of the Coronation Street cast and crew spend on lunch. The buyer was a man from Germany who bought it for his mother, a fan of the series.

If he wishes to make a quick profit, I will give him £62 immediately. There will inevitably be a boom in TV soaps memorabilia at some time in the not too distant future. And then the hairnet will probably fetch around 50 times that £61.

* We all have hearts that can be broken, even journalists, and arguably even theatre producers. So one has to have sympathy with Sienna Miller in her current emotional turmoil. But should sympathy extend to an actress missing a performance? Here my heart hardens.

Scholars might argue that the Stephen Fry amendment allows stars in psychological or emotional difficulties to skip a performance. I disagree. However, Sienna Miller at 23 and with no West End stage experience can be forgiven. The producers of As You Like It, David Lan and Sonia Friedman, who granted her a night off because of what their press statement termed "the huge media attention she has endured", cannot be so easily let off.

They decided to cast an untested stage actress with the hope that her celebrity would bring in a new, young audience. On Tuesday that new, young audience didn't get to see her. Mr Lan and Ms Friedman should offer them a refund.