David Lister arts notebook

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I shall have a small wager on Janet McTeer to beat her more illustrious rivals, Vanessa Redgrave, Diana Rigg and Eileen Atkins, to scoop the Olivier award for best actress next month. Her riveting and revelatory portrayal of Nora in The Doll's House took on an added dimension in the last performances. Struck down by the West End virus that has brought work to so many understudies of late, Ms McTeer gamely refused to give way. In the penultimate performance of the run, which I witnessed last weekend, she ad libbed to apologise to Kristina for her "terrible cold", offered her a glass of water so she could take regular sips herself, and most notably went the entire three hours with a handkerchief clutched in her palm. Somehow the hankie became part of the play, a visible symbol of Nora's growth as with every torturing self examination she squeezed it, toyed with it or just plain blew her nose when no words could be found to express her increasing dismay at her husband's insensitivity.

Thank goodness she wasn't playing Desdemona, when the invaluable prop would have had to be dropped. As it was, it became a character enforcing emblem that Ibsen himself would have applauded.

Cultural machismo as an arts funder clearly is no longer measured by the size of the benefactor's cheque book, but the size of his album collection. David Mellor as Heritage Secretary boasted of his 3,000 CDs. But this week Lord Gowrie, chairman of the Arts Council, managed to trump that. Addressing the Association of British Orchestras' conference in Manchester, he proved that he was several woofers ahead of Mellor's tweeter.

Describing himself as "a great Poo-Bah of Hi-Fi", Lord Gowrie was able to reel off a CV which included President of the Federation of British Audio and director of Verity Engineering, which makes Quad and Mission "gramophones", as he endearingly still calls them. Then he played his ace. "I own and regularly sample," he said, "about a thousand CDs and two thousand LPs, half of them jazz."

Eat your heart out, Mellor. The subtext is plain. Anyone with a bit of dosh can build up a CD collection. But 2,000 LPs. It's the dedication to vinyl that shows the true enthusiast. And this is no simple Blur and Beethoven earl. Note the telling phrase "half of them jazz". It is such painstakingly crafted throwaway lines that make aesthetic reputations.

Chris Evans's departure from Radio 1 might be seen as poetic justice in Scotland. When he broadcast a breakfast show from Inverness, he caused considerable consternation with his repeated calls on air for "tartan totty". While totty is slang down south for an eligible young woman, north of the border it retains its centuries' old meaning of young child.

Sir Alan Ayckbourn is likely to have to make another defence of his theatre and, indeed, theatre generally just a few weeks after the "luvvies or lavatories" row in Scarborough. The Stephen Joseph Theatre, of which Sir Alan is artistic director, faces a pounds 70,500 cut from North Yorkshire council, which seems unfazed by the damning publicity Scarborough councillors received when they reportedly threatened to spend pounds 50,000 on public conveniences rather than the theatre. That sounded like the plot of an Ayckbourn play. In fact, it was more Kafka, as I am assured by all parties in Scarborough that it was never a case of choosing between plays and lavatories. The facts were simply not allowed to get in the way of a good story.

The North Yorkshire threat could be more worrying. Arts has to compete within the council's education budget. Defending theatre against libraries and teachers' pay will be more difficult than defending it against an increase in public conveniences. It is a great pity that North Yorkshire's placing of arts in the education budget is likely to force such a debate.