David Lister: The Week in Arts

The curtain goes up on Sunday theatre at last
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The Independent Online

A quiet revolution is taking place in theatre. It is taking place behind the scenes, and very soon indeed it will come to fruition. It will affect all of us – well, all of us theatregoers, and a host of others from taxi drivers to restaurant owners. Theatres are going to open on Sundays.

Not all of them, not at first. The National Theatre will lead the way, as it does in so much. Management and unions are in the final throes of negotiation. But the West End will follow. It has been announced that one West End show, Stomp, will open regularly for Sunday performances, and the Donmar plans Sunday openings for its West End season. Once West End performances become commonplace on Sunday, the rest of the country is unlikely to be left behind.

The National Theatre initiative is very much at the instigation of its artistic director Nicholas Hytner. He has wanted this for quite some time, but the backstage unions have not made negotiations easy. Any self-respecting trade union should get as much as it can for unsocial hours, of course. But it would also be nice for theatre unions to acknowledge that, just like newspapers, pubs, cinemas, concert halls and sports events, not to mention hospitals and the like, they are in a business that can't be contained in traditional office hours. And, no, before you ask, we don't get extra money in newspapers for working on Sundays.

Any debate about Sunday opening for theatres is very different now than it would have been 20 or even 10 years ago. The nature of Sundays has changed. And we shouldn't assume that going to an entertainment on a Sunday means easy parking and travel any more. My experience of seeing Daniel Barenboim at the Royal Festival Hall last Sunday was that the concert was marvellous, the parking and traffic a nightmare. But the significant thing is that Barenboim performed on a Sunday afternoon. The Royal Festival Hall was open. The Hayward Gallery's art exhibition was open, as was the Tate just down the river. In the whole South Bank complex, only the National Theatre was dark. Elsewhere in the capital, cinemas and football matches were packed; rock concerts were happening; even the Royal Ballet has some Sunday matinees. Only the theatres were closed.

The irony is that theatre, more than any other art form, needs the Sunday openings to widen the audience. Families already go to the cinema, the ballet, the concert together. Weekends are one time they can go to the theatre together. Tourists, too, need to be considered. Many come to London for a weekend break, and theatres on Sundays could benefit from that.

It also means that most theatres would be able to close on Monday nights. Actors and backstage staff could have a day off, and the theatre world could cease worrying about those deserted Monday night auditoria.

Stomp's co-creator Steve McNicholas told The Stage newspaper: "We've been playing in New York on Sundays for 14 years, and it just seemed crazy that people don't do it in London. New York is a multicultural city so it seems natural to have shows on a Sunday there. Similarly, London is a multicultural city. Times have changed. We're not in the 1950s."

I don't quite go along with that reasoning. I don't think the multicultural make-up of a city should be the spur for Sunday performances. Some cultures would, indeed, utterly oppose it. It is the multicultured nature of a city that is important. We have a range of Sunday entertainments available to us. At long last, theatre can be added to the list.

Are Brit School jokes off-limits?

Alex Turner was in understandably boisterous mood at the Brits on Wednesday when his band Arctic Monkeys won two top awards. I would have liked to hear his volley of jibes at the Brit School. But as soon as he started, his words were muted on the live TV coverage that I was watching.

I gather that the sound was also turned down at the ceremony itself, so no one had the pleasure of Turner's wit. How pathetic. Not of Turner, but of the Brit Awards organisers. What with Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash and Adele, the Brit School has had plenty of favourable coverage. I'm sure it's big enough to swallow a few light-hearted insults from the Arctic Monkeys.

Is it really a rule now that the close links between the school and the awards ceremony means that jokes about it are outlawed? It doesn't sound very rock'n'roll to me. I hope that next year every acceptance speech contains at least one Brit School joke.

* The phenomenon that was the cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas performed by Daniel Barenboim at the Royal Festival Hall might not have been quite such a phenomenon if it weren't for the Hall's artistic director, Jude Kelly. The original plan was for Barenboim to perform the works over a year. It was Kelly, I gather, who realised it would be more of an "event" if he performed them over three weeks. And "event" it most certainly was.

Jude Kelly's first year as artistic director of the whole South Bank Centre is proving eventful in all senses of the word. As well as urging Barenboim to perform the marathon in such a short space of time, she was also responsible for the RFH's reopening weekend of free performances. Perhaps it is her theatrical background (she was formerly head of the West Yorkshire Playhouse) that makes her see the importance of the event in artistic life. A classical recital can be a piece of theatre. Barenboim's performances most certainly were.