David Lister: The Week in Arts

'Tis the season to be stingy to children
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The Independent Online

School's out, and over the next few weeks it's family time in the arts. You can't move for Nutcrackers; and circuses and pantomimes are back in fashion, thanks in no small measure to a classier version of both - Cirque du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall and Sir Ian McKellen's Widow Twankey in Aladdin at the Old Vic, a class offering to be sure, even if the Old Vic's own website shamefully can't spell the name Ian McKellen.

The most creative minds in the arts, and the most distinguished performers, now acknowledge the fact that around Christmas and New Year there is an enthusiastic family audience to entertain. But, looking at just these few shows - and like David Dimbleby polling the audience on Question Time, I "don't claim it is a scientific survey" - I become not exactly Scrooge-like, but certainly a little puzzled.

Take the Royal Ballet's delightful Nutcracker. Good seats cost £84. There is no reduction for children, yet a high percentage of adults attending the performances will be accompanied by children. If those high percentages stroll down the road to the London Coliseum, they will find another Nutcracker, this time by the English National Ballet. For this one, children's tickets are half price. Both companies are subsidised by the Arts Council. Does this increasingly feeble organisation not have a policy about ticket price reductions that is applicable to all, rather than just a few, of its clients?

One parent tells me that it was the Royal Ballet and the opulence of the Royal Opera House that she wanted her child to see, but price dictated that she walk down the road. It saved her nearly £120 on the cost of two best seats.

Aladdin at the Old Vic also has little truck with the old-fashioned idea that there should be reductions for children. Parents wanting to take their children to gaze upon Sir Ian's Twankey will have to pay a top price of £40 and a reasonable bottom price of £10. However, child reductions apply only to the top three prices and only to "selected performances". Why? Why make it difficult for families? Cinemas don't reduce just their top prices and their reductions apply to all performances.

Again, just a short walk away, the National Theatre gives half-price tickets for under 16s for its shows. The parent trying out family arts fare at Christmas must find the whole thing an inconsistent muddle. So do I.

Cirque du Soleil does not come cheap either. Bottom price is £22 for children with a head for heights, and top price is £55. In addition, there is a health warning that "the majority of seats do not offer 100 per cent view for 100 per cent of the time".

It's certainly not a scientific survey, and, even more certainly, not a survey of provision outside London. But these are three of the most talked-about shows. They illustrate the point that, at the one time of the year when the arts should be cultivating a young audience, the notion of price reductions for children at our most famous venues has either become a muddle or has disappeared.

The effort of theatre, dance and circus to woo families over the festive period needs to be better focused. Panto, The Nutcracker and, latterly, Cirque du Soleil are, happily, staples at Christmas and in the first weeks of January. But I'm coming across families who find the lack of reductions for children irritating at best and prohibitive at worst.

Theatre, dance and circus should not be complacent about being the Christmas staples. Habits can change quickly. Parents can just as easily take their children to see the ravishing Narnia film - at an eighth of the price.

Carry on screaming

The remake of King Kong, which will undoubtedly be the highest grossing film in the UK this weekend, has sparked interest in the original 1933 film, and its star, Fay Wray. A DVD is being released of the original, with the director of the new version, Peter Jackson, supplying a documentary on it.

The performance by Fay Wray as the petrified Ann Darrow has long been considered iconic. But, in fact, Miss Wray's portrayal of the heroine was not held in quite such high regard at the time as it is now.

Variety this week reprinted some of its original review. It said: "It's a 96-minute screaming session for Wray - too much for any actress and any audience. With the blonde still screaming while in Kong's palm atop the Empire State, after having screamed all the way from the first reel, another of the unbelievable facts is that Kong shouldn't drop her and look for a non-screamer - even if he has to settle for a brunette."

It almost qualifies as the first recorded blonde joke.

* Mistranslations can be memorable. The singer Jackson Browne said in The Independent this week that in the Eagles song "Take It Easy", which he co-wrote, the line "I'm looking for a lover who won't blow my cover" is rendered in a Spanish translation as "I'm looking for a love who's not religious, not dangerous and will eat me like a lobster in pink sauce".

My own favourite mistranslation is of a line from a Harold Pinter play. A character says accusingly: "Who watered the wicket at Melbourne!" As Martin Esslin recounted in his 1960s essay Pinter Translated, a German translator, unfamiliar with cricket and its strict rules of etiquette, assumed that wicket must be the old English word for gate. As for watering, well, there could only be one meaning, Pinter being an earthy sort of playwright. So, the German translator rendered the accusation: "Who pissed on the gate at Melbourne!"

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