The Week In Arts: If you live outside London, you don't matter

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Last year I noted my surprise on seeing a production of Matthew Bourne's
Nutcracker! in High Wycombe complete with recorded music but no orchestra. I thought it a little off that the production magically found an orchestra when it played in London. This week that rather bizarre policy became official. The Arts Council gave a sizeable grant for a new work by Bourne, which again will have recorded music everywhere apart from the capital.

Last year I noted my surprise on seeing a production of Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! in High Wycombe complete with recorded music but no orchestra. I thought it a little off that the production magically found an orchestra when it played in London. This week that rather bizarre policy became official. The Arts Council gave a sizeable grant for a new work by Bourne, which again will have recorded music everywhere apart from the capital.

The £200,000 grant for the latest Bourne ballet sans orchestra was predictably condemned by the Musicians' Union. Its assistant secretary denounced public money being spent on "a ropey old recording", and added: "The public wants to hear music played live and it is astounding that the Arts Council should be so out of touch with public opinion." The Bourne camp responded: "If there had been more funds, there would have been an orchestra... Musicians are a significant extra expense for a tour."

Certainly, it is artistically questionable whether using recorded music gives an audience the best value for money. Indeed, this paper's critic noted of the current production in London of Bourne's Swan Lake that one of the joys of the evening was the fascinating reading by the orchestra of Tchaikovsky's music.

But for me the lack of an orchestra is not the most questionable part of this. It is the staggering assumption that audiences outside London can make do with recorded music, whereas those at Sadler's Wells in Islington need an orchestra. In short, the Arts Council and Bourne seem to be saying that audiences outside London are not so discriminating in cultural matters. Put even more shortly, they are second-class citizens.

It's an appalling decision, and worse, it is against every tenet of the Government's and Arts Council's alleged cultural policy. A thrust of the Government's arts policy has been to ensure better treatment for artists and audiences outside London. The Arts Council has long had cash for touring as one of its main priorities. But now we had better redefine that. It's Arts Council cash for touring with a health warning: the production will have added ingredients if you get on the train and see it in London.

Matthew Bourne is rightly a darling of the arts world and supremely talented. And I suspect the Arts Council might have been a little more interventionist if it had been a less fashionable artist who was involved. But whoever it is should be irrelevant. There can be no differentiation between London and the rest of the country, either by artists or the distributors of public money. This episode is, in its small way, a cultural scandal.

Hello possums - here's some Rossini

* New Year's Eve is traditionally a night when opera goes a little mad or at least has a bit of fun with the classics. At the Met in New York they gave Dame Edna Everage a cameo role in Rossini's The Barber of Seville. I rather liked the deadpan way that Playbill, New York's best known theatre website, programme and information service, introduced Dame Edna's alter ego to its readers.

It said: "Dubbed Australia's First Lady, Dame Edna is the invention of Barry Humphries, a successful character actor in Europe and Australia as well as an esteemed landscape painter." I'm pleased that the esteemed landscape painter made them laugh in The Barber of Seville. But I wonder why it should just be on New Year's Eve that opera goes bananas. With opera houses always on the lookout for new audiences, and an infinite supply of comedians to call on, why not spice up more comic operas with some favourite performers? Think of Little Britain's Vicky Pollard. Yeah but no but yeah but no but. It's a natural aria.

* One Of the real surprise hits in the arts in recent weeks has been Howard Goodall's 20th Century Greats. The Channel 4 series on musicians was informative, provocative and compelling. My only slight irritation came in the last show on Leonard Bernstein. Goodall continually referred to West Side Story as "West Side". I'm not at all sure that viewers warm to the luvvyish habit of shortening titles of plays. To the outside world it's a bit daft and contrived.

I'm reminded of a story an RSC actor told me. He went into rehearsal to find a chair and a table on the stage. "Why are they here?" he asked the rather camp stage manager. The stage manager replied: "The chair's from Much and the table's from All's."

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