How to direct attention to yourself

David Lister arts notebook

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The strange events at Covent Garden over the last fortnight have obscured what would, in normal times, have been the arts story of the month: the decision by Stephen Daldry to step down as artistic director of the Royal Court theatre. There was some speculation that, despite overseeing a genuinely thrilling period at the Court, the not unusually shy Daldry had become a little shy and nervous of directing plays himself. He hasn't actually directed at the Royal Court for three years.

Whether inspired by those whispers or not, Daldry is to direct again. Well, sort of. A curious notice arrived from the Royal Court announcing "a special event" in June. It is that Stephen Daldry "will direct a short play". That the director of the Royal Court directing is now a special event is itself a noteworthy contribution to the theatre of the absurd. It gets more absurd. The play This Is a Chair by Caryl Churchill lasts only 20 minutes. The notice stresses: "There is no press night for this play and reviews are not sought."

This is indeed a novel touch. I predict that "not seeking" reviews will soon become commonplace. What better way could there be to entice critics to your theatre than such a tantalising disclaimer? I look forward to reporting on Daldry's return to the stage in a future arts notebook, but the item will be a short one, and readers are not sought.

Heritage Secretary Chris Smith interrupted a short break mountaineering in Scotland to issue a terse statement on the Royal Opera House last weekend. It was not widely reported, but it was devastating enough to demand an action replay for those who missed it. Following the resignation of Genista McIntosh and her replacement by Arts Council Secretary General Mary Allen (with ROH chairman Lord Chadlington failing to advertise the post), and the Arts Council deciding Mrs Allen should not bother to see the summer out at the Council, Mr Smith simply commented: "I'm looking to the Arts Council to make sure the lottery project [the pounds 78m for redevelopment given to the ROH when Lord Chadlington was chairman of the Arts Council lottery panel and Mary Allen was Arts Council secretary] takes place efficiently and with proper probity." Can there be any doubts about proper probity at the Royal Opera House? Now that Mr Smith is safely down the mountain, perhaps he could explain further why he chose such an enigmatic phrase.

But has Genista McIntosh actually left the Royal Opera House'? Not if you read the new edition of Opera House, Covent Garden's own house journal, out this week. Taking pride of place is a two-page interview with Ms McIntosh headlined "Settling In." The article ends with a flourish: "And you're the boss?" "As far as I'm aware I am, yes," she says. In cold print, the words may look somewhat hesitant and conditional. But you didn't hear the way they were spoken, in a tone that left no room for doubt.

Devilish difficult things, deadlines. But on this is one occasion, I rather think the Royal Opera House management should have changed a couple of pages at the 11th hour.

One lottery project being conducted with super-efficiency is the redevelopment of the Serpentine Gallery in London's Hyde Park, which will be completed by September. This week, I accompanied the gallery's director Julia Peyton Jones around the building site and down into the cavernous underground space that has been dug out beneath the gallery for the first time. I had hoped there would be Hyde Park archaeology to discover, a discarded flick-knife from one of the Hell's Angels who guarded the Rolling Stones at the 1969 free concert, perhaps. But the cavern was bare. The large underground space is to be used for workshops and storage. That is too prosaic a solution. Knowing how Julia Peyton Jones has championed Damien Hirst's pickled sheep and cattle at the Serpentine, she should turn the basement into Britain's first art gallery slaughter house.

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