David Lister: Close that shop and go back to doing what you do best, Lily

The Week in Arts

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A bit of fun was had this week at the expense of Lily Allen. And, to be fair, she had it coming. Having announced in Garbo style that she wanted to be alone, and to quit the music business, she re-emerged in a three-part Channel 4 documentary about her efforts with her sister to enter the fashion business. As a piece of Garboesque reclusiveness, it wasn't all that convincing.

But what struck me in the programme was that while Lily's elder, slightly dippy sister exuded enthusiasm for the project, Allen herself looked weary, detached and bored. And this was all filmed, incidentally, before the trauma of her miscarriage.

She was bored – and should be bored – because fashion is not her love affair; music is. She has quit the scene far too early. It's a crying shame because Lily Allen is a genuine talent. Her jaunty tunes, allied to mischievous and feisty lyrics, fitted the zeitgeist perfectly, and it would be fascinating to see how she developed over the years. It's a talent that deserves more than two albums.

Someone somewhere should be sitting her down and coaxing her back into the field which needs her, and in which she excels. Someone in her management or family or friendship group should be finding ways for her to carry on making records while being excused the interviews and paparazzi moments that seem to distress her. It can't be rocket science.

Where, too, are those someones to have a word in the ear of film director Steven Soderbergh, the director of sex, lies, and videotape, Erin Brockovich and many other films, who has now announced that he is quitting the movie business, saying he had "a sense of having been there before". Well, off you go, Steven. Try your hand at chartered accountancy or whatever grabs you, but you will regret it. They all do. And that is why most of them come back.

I met Bryan Ferry recently, after he had re-formed Roxy Music many years after they had split up. Did he regret the years he had spent apart from the band, I asked. He didn't so much say "Yes" as wail "Yes". Going much further back into pop history, John Lennon took five years out from music to look after his young son, become a househusband and bake bread, as he put it at the time. His friend Mick Jagger publicly deplored this, saying that someone else could do all that; Lennon should be using his talent.

Jagger probably wasn't invited over to Lennon's for a slice of home-baked bread again, but he was right. Is it too pompous to say that those with talent have a duty to use that talent? I don't think it is. Lily Allen should be making music. Someone else can open a fashion shop. Steven Soderbergh should be making films. He may have "been there before", but experience is a plus not a minus. Substitute occupations will never be as fulfilling. Besides, if you're fortunate enough to have a gift, share it.

People in glass opera houses...

Later this month, the great and the good of the arts world will meet at London's Young Vic theatre to protest about government cuts. They will certainly have a good deal of right on their side. But I wonder if they couldn't sometimes do more to help themselves.

The Royal Opera House has just mounted two marvellous, sold-out productions, the opera Anna Nicole and the ballet Alice in Wonderland. Both had a huge amount of publicity and there were numerous reasons why audiences would flock to them. Yet both were programmed for just a handful of performances.

So much more money would have flowed in to this publicly funded organisation if its management had programmed substantial runs for both Alice in Wonderland and Anna Nicole this season. I have no doubt that at the Young Vic meeting there will be severe criticism of the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. But if I were Mr Hunt, I would have one or two criticisms to make of the Royal Opera House.

Radio – that great visual medium

How do you broadcast a glitzy awards ceremony, red carpet, glamorous stars, beautiful frocks and, on stage, excerpts from the musicals with dazzling choreography? Put it on the radio, of course.

That was the chosen medium for the BBC when it came to broadcasting the Olivier Awards from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, last weekend. Yes, you could also actually see it on your TV screens if you used the red button, but that means a much smaller audience and some bizarre viewing as the cameras switched from the awards ceremony to the Radio 2 presenters in their studio.

It's a pity, because this year the Olivier Awards were really well staged, fast paced and entertaining. They, and theatre generally, deserved their moment of TV exposure. As for the BBC executives who really thought that radio could do justice to such a visual affair, their faith in the power of the good old wireless is touching.


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