On the face of it, the in-rehearsal firm is a somewhat perverse entertainment. These are, after all, the bits you pay good money not to see when you go to the theatre. And there's no getting round the fact that the audience for Jonathan Miller's Opera Works (BBC2) - a one-man show in which the performer/ presenter offers a medley of artistic insight, pantomime turns and loquacious charm - need to bring some patience to bear. Last night they needed to bring even more than usual because he was dealing with operatic recitative. So, although there were some lollipops for the faithful - the beginning of a Bizet song and a duet between Pamina and Papageno - you were mostly dependent on the pleasures to be derived from an enlargement of apprehension. These are considerable, I think, partly because you have to put yourself out a bit to attain them. You need to concentrate on the first run through in order to judge whether Miller is having any effect at all - and even when not much alters you find yourselves scrutinising the performers a bit more closely to decide whether he sent them the wrong way or they just couldn't follow his directions. It is even part of the pleasure of the thing that some of the experiments have disappointing results. Working on a passage of dialogue between Pamina and Papageno Miller asked the two singers to imagine themselves "waiting on an abandoned platform on the furthest reaches of the Northern Line".
The Miller cadenza that followed was characteristically enjoyable stuff - vividly informal language (among the substances invoked to convey essentially abstract ideas were molten lead, bad meat covered in piquant sauce, goulash and guano), a talent for caricature (the spirit of Leslie Stephens made a brief appearance when he was explaining how Papageno should say hello), even the germ of a Beyond the Fringe sketch - in which Papageno moans about the fact that birdcatching is no sort of profession for pulling the birds. But you could see that the metaphor hadn't quite caught their imaginations. On the other hand, when he was sketching out the scene in which Don Jose has to tie up Carmen (a scene fraught with unwanted desires) he came up with a masterful bit of business with the rope - filling the inflexible structure of the music in a way that untied the singers from the overlapping duties that had begun to entangle them. The second version was so much better than the first that it raised the hair on the back of your neck.
As did Felicity Diamond, the central character in Greed (C4), though "hackles" might be a better term. The third of a series of films on the theme of the seven deadly sins, this was actually about bisexuality (on the rather tenuous basis that "greedy" is a slang term for a bisexual. Several of the bisexuals interviewed didn't seem to know this, which made you suspect the whole thing might be a fit up). Felicity was the star attraction, a voluptuous Australian with a very self-congratulatory line in sexual liberty ("most people aren't intelligent enough to be bisexual"). Many of those who appeared, but Felicity in particular, seemed terrified of being "boxed in", "categorised", "straight-jacketed" or "programmed". Indeed, they went on about this so much that they began to sound rather neurotic, as though their sense of themselves were so fragile that it wouldn't withstand the impact of a casual preconception. Relax, you thought after a while, nobody cares what you do in bed remotely as much as you do. "Mutual respect" is apparently important to Felicity, but only for those who wear the same extravagant uniform as she does. "I'd cull about 90 per cent of the population," she said at one point, "and I'd eradicate genetic problems like idiocy, racism and lack of understanding". This final solution would seem to include those debased souls who quite like getting dressed in suits and are perfectly happy in "monosexual" affairs. Lack of understanding is the only kind of response those weirdos deserve.Reuse content