A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Saturday 30 May 1998
And so we sat on Thursday night in a row of green deckchairs to watch the inspirational actor, storyteller and comedian Ken Campbell and his cast performing parts of Macbeth in Wol Wantok (popular in the South Pacific), a language that Campbell wants the whole world to learn for the millennium. Mastering it takes about three days, he swears, and he gave a lecture on its semantics after the show.
There is certainly a simplicity and universality to it which could be educationally useful. Lady Macbeth's line "Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here" translated economically to "Satan take- um me handbag". Though as Campbell pointed out, "handbag" in Wol Wantok has a very earthy, sexual meaning which makes performances of The Importance of Being Earnest nigh-on impossible.
This world premiere and perhaps birth of a new world language is also the birth of the new Roundhouse, about to re-open at long last. The estimable Paul Blackman, once of the Battersea Arts Centre and recently producing TV in New York, has returned to London to be the Roundhouse director, and tells me it will once again host rock concerts, theatre and also film and TV studios and workshops. I would say in Wol Wantok that Paul is the very man to do it, but Ken Campbell tells me there is no verb "to be" in the universal language. It is philosophically redundant, making Hamlet's soliloquy as hard as The Importance of Being Earnest.
I was rather taken by a letter to the Sunday Times from a reader who wondered why that paper used asterisks for swear words except in its Culture section, where the words were spelled out in their full glory. Do readers of arts pages have stronger stomachs or just a purer aesthetic which objects to asterisks?
The conundrum is complicated by the Broadcasting Standards commission report last Wednesday which shows that viewers of arts programmes on television would prefer asterisks if Tracey Emin is appearing. The commission upheld a complaint by a viewer that Ms Emin "had breached acceptable standards". They were (presumably) not referring to her art but her constant swearing and drunkenness in a Channel 4 debate on last year's Turner Prize.
Channel 4 says: "She was by her own admission rather drunk... Her forthright views had added spark to the discussion. She had used `f***' several times but not in a manner or a frequency which would have caused widespread offence to viewers of this late-night programme."
In other words, it's the way you tell `em. Tracey should be plied with drink and given her own programme to offer a demonstration of how and how often to use four-letter words without upsetting anyone. The resulting video could be her next conceptual work.
There was something pretty distasteful in the young Lennons sounding off this week against dad John. Julian, whose surname hasn't hindered him in getting a record deal, complained that the late Beatle didn't practise at home the peace and love he preached in public. Sean, whose surname etc, complained bizarrely that John was an adulterer. (Had he not been, Sean would never have been born). Surprise, surprise... both the junior Lennons have an album to promote, and Dad continues to make good copy, especially when being attacked by his progeny.
But isn't it an astonishing coincidence that both should be releasing albums at exactly the same time? I hesitate to suggest that their record companiesencouraged family attacks as the best form of promotion. But I do marvel at the part played by coincidence in the music industry.
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