Media: A week in the arts

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The Independent Online
I had thought that the select committee meetings on the Royal Opera House were the most vivid theatre in town: the head-to-head clash between Gerald Kaufman and Mary Allen on Thursday was as dramatic as anything on stage, and Vivien Duffield, the ROH's chief fund-raiser, providing a brief but authoritative, almost Dame Peggy Ashcroft style, cameo.

The ROH was a hybrid, a strange animal, she said. "You say you're a strange animal," began Mr Kaufman solemnly ... "Not me, you understand," said Mrs Duffield with studied innocence to raucous laughter from the audience. A measured performance.

But the best drama came well out of the public eye, at the annual conference of the Theatrical Management Association in Norwich. There, Stephen Daldry in the keynote speech looked back on his career as artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre and provided as dramatic and poignant a soliloquy as any on the Royal Court stage during his reign. "I am angry I achieved so little," he began, an unusual admission for a leader of thespians. But this was just the start of an impassioned mea culpa. "I am angry that I didn't commission more plays," he went on, then growing ever more lyrical, "that more seeds weren't sown, that more structures weren't put into place. And, in my own heart, I feel my own work has not been good enough."

Follow that! He did. "The refurbishment took me away from my work," he said as if beseeching the very heavens for forgiveness. "I took my eye off the ball, and the ball in question is the simple act of putting on a play." The reaction was something theatre directors dream of - but usually for their plays. Kate Organ from West Midlands Arts described it as "moving, dreadful and awesome". The chairman of the session told delegates they could take some time to reflect and compose themselves if they wished. Actually, I think Daldry did rather well at the Court, his championing of Martin McDonagh and his encouragement of much other new writing played a vital part in modern Royal Court history. He can leave the Court confident of his reputation. But surely after his conference speech he should now move into dramatic performance, or indeed earn a fortune as the most tear-jerking after-dinner speaker in the land.

Many of you seem to be as irritated as I am by high prices in the interval at arts events. Among those answering my request for examples is one eminent victim of catering abuse, the former secretary general of the Arts Council, Sir Roy Shaw. He is perplexed by theatre ice-cream prices. Why, he wonders, does a Losely ice-cream cost pounds 1 at most theatres, pounds 1.20 at the National Theatre and pounds 1.60 at the Duchess Theatre. Another reader, Mr Alf Randles, is unhappy at having paid pounds 1.30 for a coffee at the bar at the Royal Ballet at Hammersmith. He should think himself lucky. Had he gone for the champagne he would have had to part with pounds 50. That, you might remember, was in the "ballet for the people" season.

David Freeman, Opera Factory's innovative director, is joining forces with promoter Raymond Gubbay for opera in the round at the Royal Albert Hall next February. Their Madam Butterfly will involve flooding the hall with 15,000 gallons of water for a Japanese setting, with walk-ways and bridges running over the water to Madam Butterfly's House sitting on stilts.

Freeman explained over the statutory launch lunch, suitably enough in a Japanese restaurant, that the water would be drained at the interval to symbolise Butterfly's unhappy experiences in love. Perhaps such concepts are best experienced, rather than stated. He might, though, discover that next to children and animals, water is the most unpredictable prop. The National flooded more than the stage when it tried to recreate a river in Ayckbourn's Way Upstream. And those with longer, seedier memories will know that, in the Seventies, Paul Raymond presented Fiona Richmond in a swimming pool on stage. When it was drained it, too, revealed the heroine's spiritual angst. Kind of.

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