Charlotte O'Sullivan: BTW... (14/10/11)

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There's something about a live performance, isn't there? Something awful. People make mistakes and there's nowhere for you (or them) to hide. On Wednesday, I saw Trevor Nunn's The Tempest at the Haymarket Royal. To put it mildly, the occasion was not hitch-free.

One minute fairy messenger Iris is up on a trapeze, saying whimsical things in a whimsical way (and looking like an extra from Cats, but that's by the by). The next she's swinging upside down in silence. A brave new interpretation of the line "And some donation freely to estate..."? Nope.

A disembodied voice told us that the due to technical problems, the show would (temporarily) not go on. Iris, meanwhile, continued to hang like a roast duck in the window of a Chinese takeaway. Then the curtain came down. The woman next to me told her companion, "They dealt with it very quickly. This has probably happened before." (She was right. It had, I later learnt.)

Anyway, the women didn't seem bothered by the hiccup and the audience clapped when business was eventually resumed. But – dagnammit – The Tempest is all about illusion and my illusions had been shattered. I blame the Catholic church. I spent 10 years of my life watching men in dresses recite beautiful words and – occasionally – warble beautiful songs. Not once did any of the priests trip over their costumes or spill the wine. Not once did they say, "Owing to a technical problem with the wafers, mass is temporarily suspended. Please chat amongst yourselves."

I don't need smooth magic when it comes to politics. In fact, I hate all the PR guff that ensures public figures never fluff a line or make twits of themselves in public. Nor do my favourite bands have to be perfect on the night. A shambling singer like Bonnie Prince Billy could be forced to stop a number halfway through and I wouldn't feel in the least bit mortified.

But sheesh, once you go for the dazzling frocks and ooh-er! special effects, you need to get it right. Ralph Fiennes was an intriguingly earthy Prospero, but the word "Tempest" will now forever be associated in my mind with a gaudy thesp stuck up in the rafters. To err is human, to forgive divine. So go in peace, Trevor, but please don't let it happen again.

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