The Week in Arts: The gods smile on those in the cheap seats

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The Independent Online

The Proms are in full swing. And, next week the BBC hospitality boxes at the Royal Albert Hall will be in full swing. Alfred Brendel's last Prom and Simon Rattle conducting Das Rheingold on period instruments will be hot invites. But there's a rather embarrassing problem for the BBC and for the hall. It's been claimed that these much sought-after boxes, with perfect views and perfect wines to match, are not best placed acoustically.

Let's not beat about the bush. They are, in fact, the worst places in the whole of the Royal Albert Hall from which to appreciate the music. The claim comes from one of the most distinguished musicologists in the country, the composer Michael Berkeley, who also presents a programme on BBC Radio 3.

Giving his advice on how best to hear the music at the Proms, Mr Berkeley wrote in a newspaper article: "Under no circumstances should you sit directly opposite the stage ... This, believe it or not, is where the BBC has most of its hospitality boxes, and the music comes at you as though through a telescope held the wrong way around. It is simply too far away." He rather likes, he adds, the gallery, where there is marvellous view "and the music rises up with an astonishing if ethereal quality".

Now if I were Nicholas Kenyon, the director of the Proms, I would be less than pleased that Michael Berkeley had told the world that you get a better deal way up in the gods for a few quid than you get in the top-price BBC boxes.

But actually the Royal Albert Hall is not the only place in which top price and top sound quality are miles apart. Michael Berkeley also says that the sound is better in the cheaper seats at the Barbican. And I was once advised by a senior executive at the National Theatre to avoid the front of the circle in one of the main auditoria as you couldn't always hear in the first (and top-priced) row. As I cling to the quaint notion that hearing the actors in a theatre can (usually) enhance the performance, I took his advice.

It's rather disconcerting for those splashing out a lot of money for their seats to discover that they are getting poor sound or even no sound at all. Perhaps there's a need for greater honesty here. Tickets do tend to state "restricted view" when the sightlines are not good. Should they not also state "restricted sound" if the acoustics are a problem? Now there's a talking point for the hospitality boxes at next week's Proms.

Portrait of an artist - but which one?

Certain tantalising clues have been leaked about the film that Woody Allen is shooting in London. We know that it stars Scarlett Johansson and that some of it at least centres on the world of Brit Art. Rumours have been carefully spread that we will recognise some of the characters on screen. It's even said that Charles Saatchi, the multimillionaire collector of Brit Art, might have a cameo.

But the details of the plot and characters are being kept secret. Who among the femmes fatales of Brit Art will Scarlett play, I wonder? Will she base her performance on the vivacious Cornelia Parker, the reserved and serious Rachel Whiteread, the enigmatic Sam Taylor-Wood? No, I predict that, in a career-defining performance, Scarlett Johansson will be none other than Tracey Emin. It won't be easy. One is mysterious, young, alluring, softly spoken and innocent. And then there's Scarlett. But never fear, she can do it. From Girl with a Pearl Earring to woman with an unmade bed. Woody Allen's masterpiece awaits.

¿ Children should find M Night Shyamalan's The Village enjoyably scary when it goes on general release in the UK next Friday. But they nearly weren't able to see it. Shyamalan explained at a Q&A session after the movie's premiere in London this week that he altered a stabbing scene to get the American censors to reduce the certificate from an adult rating to a PG13. The knife still goes in, but Shyamalan has taken away the thud sound.

At a time when many Hollywood directors and producers want to add a bit of violence or swearing to ensure the street cred of a higher age certificate, it's rather refreshing to find a director who wants a younger audience. And what's a thud between friends?