David Lister: The Week in Arts

Are there any signs of life in Stratford?

Share
Related Topics

There was a large, conspicuous signpost for a butterfly farm; there were no fewer than three signs directing one to the racecourse, even though there was no racing that day. But I couldn't see any that might help the tourist to find the places for which Stratford is famous around the world. More famous even than for its butterfly farm.

Clearly some of the critics who did find the main theatre this week may have wished that they hadn't. The RSC was none too smart in opening the festival with a much disliked production of Romeo and Juliet. It can't be often that a festival's opening show is described by its media partner (The Daily Telegraph) as "tiresome", "lousy" and "dreadful". But I'm not too worried about the odd flop on stage. That will right itself.

Indeed, the second play in the festival, Antony and Cleopatra, received raves the following night. No, it's the profile off stage that worries me; of the festival, and indeed of Stratford itself. It's not just the lack of signposting to Stratford's theatres that I find lamentable. The fact that it does not possess a mainline station with a direct link to London must also bewilder tourists.

The RSC says that signposting is a matter for Stratford Council, but it would do the company's bosses no harm to bang a little more loudly on the council's doors with some demands.

More importantly, has the Complete Works jamboree permeated the national consciousness, or is it to be a treat only for dedicated theatre-goers? I fear that it is the latter. For the RSC to present for the first time every Shakespeare play in his birthplace over a 12-month period is an event that should be trumpeted around the world. It really is no exaggeration to say that. At best it could be an event that is talked about in decades to come, with an "I was there" cachet for those who attend part of the season - and an "I was numb" cachet for those who attend every single play.

But at worst it might end up being regarded as just another season of Shakespeare plays, with many visitors not even realising that the Hamlet or Macbeth they happen to catch is part of an unprecedented showing of the entire canon.

It is perhaps a little sad to say it of an obviously theatrical event, but what this festival needs is some TV exposure. The BBC's lack of interest in Shakespeare - and I mean the real thing, not the updated variety it is so proud of - is a cultural disgrace. But the RSC could also do more to press the corporation to mount joint endeavours. The BBC should be filming a selection of the complete works across the next 12 months and showing them on a mainstream channel. No offence to BBC4, but if this really is an unprecedented cultural event, then it should be aimed at a large viewing audience.

The RSC and its artistic director Michael Boyd can be congratulated for the festival. But staging the stuff isn't enough. Artistic directors and their boards have to be impresarios. Shakespeare was certainly one. He even lobbied the Queen and brought shows to the palace for her birthday. Now there's a thought.

Not so bleeding obvious

What was the first swear word used on television? The question, which could add a frisson to a pub quiz, is answered in the programme notes for the West End production of Steptoe and Son, the belated offshoot from the old TV series. Interviewed in the programme, the original scriptwriter Ray Galton recalls: "We put the first swear word on the BBC." He had Harold and Albert, right, try to move a piano out of a high-rise flat. At the end, they get it wedged in a corridor.

Giving up on the job, Harold said: "We've learned one very important lesson today. What goes up can bleeding well stay there."

The word "bleeding" on primetime TV caused problems for the BBC, with Tom Sloane, then head of light entertainment, prepared to go to the stake for the impurity of the script. "They'll take that out over my dead body," he declared. And it did stay in, but that was not the end of the matter. A "bleeding" on the BBC led to questions being asked in Parliament.

* "Tate Liverpool welcomes its 10 millionth visitor," boasts the venue this week. And I say "balderdash". Such announcements are hilarious and meaningless. Aside from the fact that linguistically it is dubious - many people visit repeatedly; it is not 10 million different visitors - free museums have simply no idea how many visitors they get. How can they have? Most have no mechanism for measuring how many people come in a day. And even in those venues which claim to have man, woman or machine logging each new arrival, there is no way of logging the numbers in a school party that rushes into the entrance hall.

In fact, it is only those much-derided charging museums that can give an accurate figure for how many people they attract and can argue about numbers when they apply for funding. Visitor numbers proudly announced by free museums are just hyped-up guesswork.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
New SNP MP Mhairi Black distinguished herself in Westminster straight away when she made herself a chip butty in the canteen  

The SNP adventure arrives in Westminister - but how long before these new MPs go native?

Katy Guest
The Public Accounts Committee found widespread concern among civil servants that they would be victimised if they spoke out about wrongdoing  

Nikileaks explained: The sad thing about the Nicola Sturgeon saga is that it makes leaks less likely

Jane Merrick
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?