The Week in Arts: Will a curfew make that theatre trip a thrill?

  • @davidlister1

The proposal by the Metropolitan Police that under-16s should be banned from the West End of London after 9pm is being called bad news for West End theatre. Is it now to be officially deprived of that elusive young audience it has been chasing for so long? Of course, some of the anti-theatre brigade might argue that it would be a greater punishment for unruly youths to make them attend the plays. And even I, a theatre-lover, can think of a couple of shows in the West End that could serve as a short, sharp shock.

But in the highest echelons of the theatre world, there is panic. Richard Pulford, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre, said in The Stage this week that he was appalled by the curfew idea for young people unaccompanied by an adult. He went on: "We do everything we can to encourage young people to come to the theatre and there is no reason why they should not do so without an adult - many of today's industry figures cut their teeth doing this. If a young person comes to watch a performance, they cannot avoid being on the streets after 9pm."

It's a tricky one. Having long campaigned for cheap theatre tickets for young people, I always knew I'd have a tough battle against certain short-sighted, greedy producers and management groups; it never occurred to me that I would be stymied by Scotland Yard.

I have to admit I rather look forward to the first arrest of a curfew-breaking theatre-goer. "I swear, officer, I've spent the last three hours at Tonight's the Night, the Rod Stewart musical." "You don't honestly expect me to believe that, do you son?"

Perhaps young people carrying theatre tickets will be granted immunity from the curfew for cultural reasons. Tickets would become prized possessions, with a healthy black market operating in the school playground. Groups of beery youths would sing "here we go, here we go, here we go" as they made for the Donmar.

But there is a serious aspect too, and Richard Pulford touches on it. For some - not that many, but some - trips to the theatre, alone or with friends, are indeed made in the early and mid teens. If (and it's a big if) the curfew comes about, the habit will not be formed.

Cinema owners and managers have not taken fright like their theatre counterparts. They clearly believe that their young clientele will somehow evade the curfew. But then young cinema-goers have always pretended to be older than they are. Theatre-goers have never had to do that until now. Who knows, it might even make theatre-going risky and exciting for that elusive young audience.

A director's cut to sink your teeth into

The "extras" that come with DVD films have tended to include homages to the director, often from the director. But now there is a refreshingly iconoclastic move afoot. The DVD of The Matrix trilogy, that is soon to be released, will include commentary by critics (including the doyen of American film criticism David Thomson) saying why they loathed the film.

Thomson and two other US critics were asked to watch the trilogy together and discuss their antipathy to it. The co-writer/director Larry Wachowski says: "We thought it would be a fun idea to get three critics who hate us to spend six hours bashing the movies." A fun idea indeed, though the films' star Keanu Reeves (left) may not be quite so amused. Will the negative response DVD idea take off? Somehow, I don't see it happening over here. My hunch is that British directors are less open-minded than Mr Wachowski. But Richard Curtis, Alan Parker, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach et al might prove me wrong and include some carping critics from now on.

¿ An obituary of the British silent film star Joan Morgan contained a fascinating fact. During the filming of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, an adviser during the making of the film was the author. Hardy apparently thought movies "something of a fad", but went along with the exercise. It was the first British film to be shot entirely on location, and Hardy's role was to advise the director on different shots of Dorset.

One hopes he was also consulted about the storyline and the characters. It all takes some imagining - the director shouting "action", the actors getting into their roles, and, presumably, everyone's stomachs churning with anxiety over whether they would impress the elderly chap looking on.