David Lister: The Week in Arts

Why can't EastEnders watch 'EastEnders'?
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In this respect, the soaps, always alleged to be a slice of real life, bear no resemblance to real life at all. The characters in television soaps just don't watch television.

I can, of course, understand the difficulty in having them watch the programme that they are in at that moment. But they don't seem to watch television at all. Real life? This omission makes them the most unusual and un-lifelike people in the country.

As I say, I have long wondered about this. And I was reminded of this strange omission by an article in yesterday's Independent by Michael Collins on the portrayal of the working class on television. Collins won the Orwell prize this year for a book on the subject, and presents a programme about it on Channel 4 tomorrow. In his article (and presumably in the programme) Collins makes just a passing reference to the lack of television in soaps, making the point that The Royle Family was really the first programme in which characters watch television.

But the omission is worth making more of a fuss about, I think. Television is a major part of all our lives - not just the watching of it, but talking about it, using it as a point of reference, loving it, hating it. But on television (The Royle Family apart), it doesn't exist. It's not just in the soaps that it is absent. In other dramas - detective dramas, love stories - it is equally absent. Why does no one cuddle up on the sofa to watch Friends? Why is no one ever watching Newsnight when the phone rings? Why are teenagers on television always out causing trouble or coming up with clever one-liners at the breakfast table (as if!), and never doing what real teenagers spend time doing: watching The OC on the television. It is one of the greatest ironies that television scriptwriters, who make their livelihood from television, virtually never stick a television set in their scripts.

In the soaps, of course, the complete absence of television is ludicrous. These characters would, in anything approaching real life, be watching the soaps.

So what can scriptwriters do? They can have the characters watch soaps on the other channel. But that might not go down too well with the bosses; or, they can have the characters watch another soap on the same channel. That, you would have thought, should not be impossible; but perhaps inter-programme rivalry forbids it.

I have another option. I would like the characters in a soap to watch their very own soap. Surreal? Perhaps. But surely it is not beyond the normal suspension of disbelief employed in watching any drama.

I have a lovely vision of the Slater family in EastEnders watching a television set, which has on it, the Slater family in EastEnders watching a television set, which has on it ... on and on into infinity. Magic.

He is heavy, he's my brother ...

Whether the debut album by the Magic Numbers is the best album of the year so far is a matter of personal taste. My personal taste is that it is. What is a matter of fact is that the Magic Numbers are fat. There have been fat rock stars before, of course. One would not have wanted Mama Cass or Gerry Garcia to be dropped on one. But bands where the entire membership is large are a rarity.

The band consists of two pairs of siblings. Brother and sister twice. So it's not quite random fatness we are seeing here. But whatever it is, I salute it. Not only does this American band produce melodic and sophisticated rock harmonies; it is also unashamedly overweight.

And the band's larger-than-life (or larger than he should be) lead singer is called Romeo. I salute that, too. Why should only a thin, dashing, athletic type be a Romeo?

Rock bands are meant to break with convention, and the Magic Numbers have certainly done that, without missing a beat - or a meal.

* The adverts for the forthcoming production of Schiller's Mary Stuart at the Donmar proclaim it a world premiere. This might puzzle a lot of people, not least the late Herr Schiller. Mary Stuart has, of course, been seen many times over many years.

As closer examination of the adverts make clear, this is a world premiere only of this particular translation of Mary Stuart. But then pretty well every classic on view these days has a new translation. The current version of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler in the West End certainly does, as did the version of Chekhov's The Seagullwhich has been on in Colchester. New translations go with the territory when it comes to staging the classics. So putting the words World Premiere in big letters is a little bit mischievous. I never knew that those earnest souls at the Donmar had such naughtiness in them.