Big luvvie is watching you

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The Independent Online
It's hi-tech, state of the art and scary. Rising out of the foyer, winking and scheming like Hal, the subversive computer in 2001, comes the new all-seeing, all-knowing theatre box office. With potential to arrange and maybe change your life.

The first to be installed will be at the Royal Court, when it reopens at the end of next year. Stephen Daldry, the Court's artistic director, tells me that it will carry enough detailed information about theatregoers to put a profile of your personal habits onscreen as you book your tickets.

In his words, "when you ring up, the box-office manager could say `Thank- you sir, I see you booked in Row R last time. Would you like the same seat? You usually come by car. Can I advise on a new place to park?'" And so forth.

But will it end there, I wonder. With such a resource, could we be entering the era of the box-office counsellor? "Hello sir, I see you were in the stalls last time and now you want the balcony? Business bad, eh? Well, the recession is hitting us all. Ah, not bringing the wife this time? Don't worry, discretion's the word. I've worked for all our leading theatre directors so I know when to look the other way."

It was something of a bombshell that the Royal Opera House chairman Lord Chadlington dropped this week, namely that the House was only saved from insolvency a few days ago by two anonymous donations amounting to pounds 2m. He was coy about naming the donors, referring to them at the House of Commons select committee as "various trusts". The trusts are, variously, Royal Opera House board and development board members Lord Sainsbury, who coughed up pounds 1.5m, and Mrs Vivien Duffield, who gave the other pounds 500,000, both making the condition that they must be paid back and would not bail out the House again.

They may not need to, as I gather the House has found a more novel way of raising cash. One potential Japanese sponsor apparently made it known recently that he would be in England for only one night and wished to see Darcey Bussell and no other ballerina dance The Sleeping Beauty on that evening. He clearly had more than his fair share of arrogance. He also had pounds 3m. And money doesn't talk, it dances. The programme schedulers complied.

One chap who hadn't commented so far on the inclusion of Beatles songs at the Proms this week was Sir Paul McCartney. I tracked him down on holiday in Europe where he sounded rather chuffed at "Penny Lane" and "Eleanor Rigby" being given the Proms treatment. "Not only does it expose the classical audience to The Beatles' material, hopefully it will also expose Beatles fans to orchestral music." I suspect that divide was crossed a decade or two back. But if not, Sir Paul intends to make sure it is with his own symphony, which will be given its world premiere at the Royal Albert Hall by the London Symphony Orchestra in October.

I need advice from those that proffer advice - perhaps the new style box-office counsellor, indeed - on how to react to the most unusual warning on the posters for the Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World. The film is described as being "not suitable for sensitive children". Does one take the kids, and implicitly admit they haven't got a grain of sensitivity, or insist they stay home and wallow in their sensitivity while their friends see the movie? I shall have to write for advice to fellow parent Steven Spielberg, and ask whether the young Spielbergs are deemed sensitive or not.

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