David Lister: When will David Cameron make a song and dance about song and dance?

The Week in Arts


Whether or not you agree with what David Cameron said about the film industry this week, whether or not you think it insufficiently mainstream (as he does) or too mainstream, at least the Prime Minister was engaging with the arts.

Or, to be more precise, he was engaging with one art form – film. Prime Ministers tend to do that. They make speeches about film, and they invite rock stars to No 10. And that's it, really.

So here's my question for quizmasters, political historians and arts archivists everywhere. When did a British prime minister last make a speech about dance? What are Mr Cameron's views on the state of British choreography? Does he have opinions on the ballet repertoire, which one could certainly argue is too mainstream in its overreliance on a few Tchaikovsky classics? This isn't a little niche area. Dance is massively popular. But can you imagine the astonishment if Mr Cameron were to follow up his visit to Pinewood and his film speech with a visit to a Royal Ballet class at Covent Garden to hold forth on extending the repertoire?

Come to that, when can we expect a prime-ministerial speech on classical music and opera? When Vladimir Putin held a radio phone-in in Russia the other day, one of the callers was the maestro Valery Gergiev. It would be hard to imagine Mr Cameron having a debate with a British conductor in front of the nation.

Theatre is more vibrant today than it has been for some time, but there are issues regarding various aspects of it: the lack of ethnic minority people in the audience, the need for contemporary playwrights to engage across the political spectrum, the extent of touring among the big subsidised companies. Where does the PM stand on all this?

I'm not suggesting that Mr Cameron should be dashing from arts venue to arts venue, sounding off as the whim takes him. Nor do I think he has to have a view on every art form under the sun. Let any cabinet discussions on mime festivals remain undisclosed for another 30 years. But I do wonder why Mr Cameron, all prime ministers before him and the other party leaders see culture only in terms of popular culture. Yes, the film industry is important in terms of revenue, but so is the music industry, so is West End theatre. And our museums and galleries, concert halls and dance houses bring in huge numbers of tourists.

There's a world outside the multiplex. Mr Cameron could learn much about his country, let alone great acting and great painting, by attending tonight's last night of state-of -the-nation play Jerusalem, and the first day of the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy next week. And by all means make a speech about both.

Tears of a diva timed to perfection

Only a cynic, or someone allergic to classical crossover, could have failed to be moved at the reports of Welsh diva Katherine Jenkins breaking down in tears during a concert at Oxford. Jenkins, who announced a split with her fiancé just before Christmas, was opening her tour this week, and had just sung "Your Silhouette" about a woman alone. The lyrics refer to "lying in your empty bed" and "clinging to a memory of you".

What's a girl to do? Even a 31-year-old consummate pro like Miss Jenkins couldn't stop the tears and had to be consoled on stage by her music director. This was all captured by photographers, and was widely reported. Even non-Jenkinsites like myself now know she has a national tour and a song called "Your Silhouette". But, was it actually the first time she had sung the song since the break-up? Wouldn't she have rehearsed it that afternoon? But these are niggles. Let's hear it for Katherine Jenkins, a real diva who brings tears to the eye, especially her own.

Why no credit for Andrew Lloyd Webber?

I took issue last week with Andrew Lloyd Webber, who said that the Olympics could cause a "bloodbath" for London theatre, and that he would be closing some of his theatres during the Games.

I believe that people will still go to the theatre during the Olympics, and I'm not the only one, it appears. The Society of London Theatre put out a press release this week saying theatres would be open during the summer, though it coyly never mentioned Lloyd Webber or his decision to close some of his venues. There were also comments from Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire, the husband and wife team who are joint CEOs of the Ambassador group of theatres. Mr Panter declares: "London theatre will be very much open for business during the Olympics."

A separate comment from each of them seems a bit over the top, especially when again neither mentions the blatantly conflicting view of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Is he in purdah? Why are his fellow theatre owners clearly entering the debate he started, yet refusing to give him the dignity of a name check? Most odd.

d.lister@independent.co.uk // twitter.com/davidlister1

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