David Lister: The Week in Arts

The midnight hour is the time for culture
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The Independent Online

Fancy seeing King Lear at the Globe? Great, let's meet by the Thames at midnight. Good idea. And we can take in an exhibition at the Tate first at 10pm, and then on Sunday we'll go to the National Theatre.

It may read like a fanciful plan (and to some perhaps it may read like a nightmare), but put together several initiatives announced this week, and arts through the night is becoming a reality.

Shakespeare's Globe is holding midnight "matinees" of most of its productions this season. The Mayor of London has given the go-ahead to late-night events at venues such as the ICA, National Portrait Gallery and the V&A. It all demands a fair degree of stamina. The Globe is partly a standing venue, and you will earn your cultural spurs staying upright at two in the morning to watch Lear ruminate on old age. But a re-examination of when we really want to go to arts events is long overdue.

In theatre, there will be few more far-reaching decisions this year than that of Nicholas Hytner, the head of the National Theatre, to stage plays on Sundays from September. Until now the National has been the only venue on London's South Bank to be closed on Sundays. One could see films, go to art galleries and attend concerts. Only the theatre was dark. Hytner has waged a lengthy negotiation with the backstage unions to bring this about. And I confidently predict that a year from now, virtually every theatre in the capital will have followed suit and be open on Sundays.

Boris Johnson's launch of "Lates" is less radical. It involves only a few special events at a few venues. But it touches on something close to my heart, the opening hours of the national art galleries. At present, it's a mish-mash. Tate Modern opens until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays, while its elder brother Tate Britain has late openings only on the first Friday in every month. The National Gallery has Wednesdays as its late night, staying open until 9pm. The V&A is open until 10pm on Fridays, though a number of its galleries close at 6pm, which seems to defeat the object. Outside London there still seems to be a curfew on looking at art. The National Museums on Merseyside all close at 5pm.

So for all Mr Johnson's euphoria over "celebrating the late-night cultural economy", as his press release puts it, we're not quite there yet, even in the capital. And we need to be, because for those of us who have jobs, art galleries are simply not open at the best times. And opening in the evenings would not only be more convenient; it would give a cultural alternative not just to cinemas, theatres and concert halls, but to pubs and restaurants as well.

When I put this to the Tate and the National Gallery this week, they muttered about the expense of extending their late-night openings. Certainly, the wage bill would be a major consideration. But what if these art galleries simply closed altogether on Mondays, saved money by doing that, and opened in the evenings the rest of the week? It would at a stroke change the cultural landscape of the capital at night.

The move by Nicholas Hytner this week to open the National Theatre on Sundays is enormously important. Now the Tate, the National, the V&A and galleries outside London must show similar boldness. The arts world proclaims incessantly the need to widen audiences and attract young people. Those young people like going out in the evening. So do quite a few of us older ones.

Poetry boxing: it's a knockout

I proposed last week some changes to the Hay festival. But I should have waited a few days. For this week in Japan was the obvious answer for an unmissable, edge-of-the-seat literary festival. As this paper reported on Wednesday, Tokyo is spearheading Poetry Boxing, pictured, a competition in which opponents go into a boxing ring and have three minutes to win over the crowd with a poem.

It would certainly have made for a more focused Hay festival. Hanif Kureishi, ducking and diving, would have impressed the judges, while Cherie Blair's self-justifications may have overrun the bell.

But the Japanese are on to something. They have realised that literature is a competitive sport. Though the writers give solo performances, one only has to sit in the coffee bar afterwards to hear the audience comparing the people they have seen that day. Put them in a ring together, make them shine in three minutes, and then declare a winner – the answer to festival-going.

* Jodie from Blackpool beat the younger Jessie from Co Kerry in Ireland to the role of Nancy in the TV show I'd Do Anything after the public vote last weekend. This, remember, came at the end of 13 weeks of small-screen auditioning on prime-time Saturday night BBC1, or 13 weeks of free promotion, as Kevin Spacey rather bitterly called it recently. Just before the end of the 13-week promotion/reality TV show to cast the female lead in a forthcoming West End production of Oliver!, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who will be producing the show, was asked for his preference. "Jessie is Nancy," he replied unequivocally. I must admit I rather shared that view.

After the public chose Jodie, the BBC presenter Graham Norton put Sir Cameron on the spot, asking him if he was happy. "I'm absolutely thrilled for Jodie," he beamed, which answered the question – sort of.