Rhiannon Harries: 'The drama of the West End is not as exciting as M&S'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Celebrated theatre and opera director, neurologist, writer, sculptor, television presenter and altogether sickening polymath Jonathan Miller says he hadn't been to see a West End play in a decade.

This makes me feel much better. More of my cultural exchanges than I would like to admit involve the phrases "I haven't managed to get tickets yet", meaning I haven't got round to trying, and "I've read lots of good things about it!" Nul points.

Miller, speaking to The Independent in his slightly grumpy trademark tone last week, put his indifference down to a number of factors, some of which are more cerebral than others. A West End, in his opinion, too focussed on big names, for one.

He has received a fair amount of justified stick for that one, with plenty of commentators pointing out that Mark Rylance, the lead in Jez Butterworth's lauded Jerusalem is hardly a bit of celebrity fluff, and that Miller himself cast the rather starry Joanna Lumley (below) in the main role for The Cherry Orchard in 2007.

But I suspect that the celebrity complaint was a rationalising afterthought, and that Miller's disdain has more to do another of his statements: "I don't want to go to the West End; I hate travelling. I prefer to be at home with my grandchildren, and just go to Marks & Spencer."

Ah, now this is where Miller and I really do think alike. Not that I have the worthy excuse of grandchildren. And nor do I consider Marks and Sparks a cultural experience interchangeable with theatre (although it certainly represents one of the great pleasures of civilisation). But I don't want to go to the West End either, no matter how high the quality of what is on offer there.

It's not the travelling, although anyone who wants to hang around after a performance for a drink and can't afford a taxi can expect some seriously tedious nightbus action. The problem with the West End is that it's in the West End, which contains some of London's unloveliest places. Yes, there are pockets of interest and prettiness, but by and large theatreland proper is packed with bad restaurants, confused tourists and drunk teenagers; all the more so at this time of year. It is seedy, but in a dull way, without that frisson of excitement that can redeem a less salubrious part of town.

Still, I did manage to drag myself there one weeknight after work earlier this year to see Miller's updated Cosi Fan Tutte at the Royal Opera House, which was excellent and I'm glad I went.

I hope he'd appreciate the effort. After all, I could have gone to M&S – it was late- night opening that day, too.