arts notebook

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The Independent Online
The arts took centre stage, literally, in the election campaign yesterday. Sir Richard Eyre allowed the National Theatre's Lyttelton auditorium to host the main arts debate of the campaign. The only pity was that the cast was one of understudies.

Mark Fisher, the No 2 spokesman for Labour, at least has some claims to what Equity might call star status, as he has written most of Labour's policy. But David Mellor for the Tories is a back bencher, whatever his ministerial past, and cannot speak for the Government at all. At least the two main parties managed to find MPs. The Lib Dems didn't. Janet Ludlow, a Tower Hamlets councillor, was the party's spokeswoman.

So what happened to the desire of Virginia Bottomley, Jack Cunningham and Robert MacLellan to star at the National Theatre? Jennifer Edwards, director of the National Campaign for the Arts, has organised the four national debates. (The others, in Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff, attracted their share of understudies too.) The two main parties told her that Mrs Bottomley and Mr Cunningham were too busy campaigning nationally (and we've heard such a lot from them in the past four weeks, haven't we?). Mr MacLellan simply has too many briefs apparently.

Perhaps the main party spokespeople have heard reports about how their understudies were put under the spotlight in Cardiff. After rehearsing several platitudes, they were interrupted by the director of Cardiff's Sherman Theatre, who said lack of funding meant his theatre was likely to close and he would be issuing redundancies soon. The Welsh MPs on stage agreed they could do nothing about it.

Ms Edwards wearily but accurately summed it up: "No, the arts aren't being given sufficient attention in the campaign. But when you've got sleaze, Europe and fish out of the way, there doesn't seem to be much time left for other issues." Perhaps the National Theatre should have advertised the debate on its neon sign overlooking the Thames as "Arts, Sleaze and Fish - The Way Forward". That might have got the party leaders in, and a Dimbleby to chair them.

Talking of David Mellor (briefly, I promise you), I see that his namesake, Dr David Mellor, the art expert who curated the Sixties art exhibition at the Barbican a couple of years ago, is curating Les Sixties: Great Britain and France 1962-73, an Anglo-French exhibition for the Brighton Festival. Curiously, on the publicity material he is now called Dr David Alan Mellor. Why this decision to use his middle name in his middle years? Alan is a nice name, a goodly name. But no need to flaunt it... unless as a serious art historian and academic you are reluctant to be confused with a politician who dabbles in the arts. Dr David Alan is too sensitive. He should relish the confusion. Come the next election campaign, he'll probably be debating arts policy on the stage of the National Theatre.

I'm sorry to learn that the Royal Ballet has cancelled George Balanchine's Apollo, one of the highlights of the next month. But for once they should be congratulated on the last-minute cancellation. It emerges that The George Balanchine Trust in New York notified the company that it requires detailed casting approval and moreover would not give the company a licence to perform Apollo until a representative had seen the final dress rehearsal on 29 April, the day before the first performance, with no guarantee that approval would then be given. This patronising and offhand attitude takes the biscuit. Having watched Sarah Wildor bring the house down dancing Juliet this week, and Darcey Bussell and Sylvie Guillem provoke a black market in tickets for La Bayadere a fortnight before, I am in no doubt that the Royal Ballet is enjoying a marvellous season. Indeed, Apollo was going to star Darcey Bussell and Irek Mukhamedov, not exactly a cast that needs anyone's prior approval. The guardians of the Balanchine Trust should get off their high horses and read some reviews.

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