The Week in Arts: The very model of a modern English miser

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The Independent Online

I wonder if two of our greatest impresarios, Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Raymond Gubbay, know that they currently feature in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

The big two feature in the famous song, best known as "I've Got a Little List", sung by the Lord High Executioner in the revival of Jonathan Miller's glorious production of The Mikado at the English National Opera. The song, of course, details the executioner's list of society's offenders "who never would be missed". I suspect no other aria in opera history - indeed no other song in the English language - lends itself so well to constant, topical updating.

When I saw the show this week, the audience (clearly well informed in matters of current cultural concern) was highly amused by the Lord High Executioner including on his list Sir Cameron, rather wittily described as "that miserabilist". Sir Cameron has replaced some musicians with computer-generated music in the transfer of Les Misérables to a smaller theatre. Mr Gubbay is on the list for starting a rival opera company to the ENO. The new verses (which also, I'm pleased to say, condemn to death the councillors who have banned the backstroke in their municipal swimming pools) were composed by the singer who plays the executioner, Richard Suart. They will certainly have raised a cheer in the ENO green room and orchestra pit, as the action of Mr Gubbay will undoubtedly have repercussions for the company, and that of Sir Cameron for musicians generally. Go see the show, gents. You'll laugh. Maybe.

My visit also gave me the chance to take in the £41m renovation of ENO's home, the London Coliseum. It looks splendid, though personally I never saw anything wrong in the blue seats, now expensively changed to red. There was one glaring oversight, though. The sign on the wall directing the audience to the right and left of the stalls neglects to say which ticket numbers correspond to which side of the auditorium; the tickets also neglect to give that information. A £41m refit - and basic help for the audience is lacking.

I'll tell you what. For one millionth of what has been spent I'll come in this weekend and chalk up the relevant information on the wall. At £40 (they can keep the small change) that has to be a bargain. Or, as W S Gilbert might have put it (on an off day): "And those brilliant ENO trustees/Spend cash hand over fist/Yet forget to tell the audience/On which side they should sit/I don't think they'd be missed/I'm sure they'd not be missed."

Who exactly do they think they are?

The highlight of the run of concerts in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall has been the performance of The Who.

Surprisingly, they didn't mention John Entwistle, though this was the first official UK gig since his death. But Pete Townshend did refer to his own arrest last year and spoke affectingly about how he was nervous at appearing on stage again.

He must have been astounded, too, at the recent TV programme which showed footage of his interview in the police station. Are people warned when they enter a police station that their remarks might be broadcast on national television?

What was noticeable at this outstanding gig was how the affection between Townshend and Roger Daltrey seems to have grown now that they are the only survivors of the original band. Not only did they hug at the end; but at one point Pete stroked Roger's hair.

Strange to remember that this was the group that once had a reputation for fighting on stage.

¿ Last week I pleaded for the Royal Opera House to offer a proportion of best seats at low prices to encourage new attenders A few days later they did just that, promising 100 top price tickets for £10 every Monday. Thank you, guys. I'm touched. Now, while you're paying attention, could I also ask for programmes to be sold at a price that is at least a third of the current £6? You're surely not going to try to justify programmes that are more than 50 per cent of the new, much vaunted ticket price. Drink prices must also come down from their extortionate levels. Leg-room in some of the rows of the £70-plus Stalls Circle is non-existent. Both the Royal Opera and Royal Ballet should make some attempt at touring in the UK. Still listening?

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