David Lister: Dear Hugh, you are invited to the theatre...

Saturday 02 January 2010 01:00

If there is a good time to say something really stupid, it is probably over the Christmas/New Year period. People are busy, not all the usual media outlets are working, and your eccentricities and downright idiocies can be quietly buried. But in the case of Hugh Grant, I'm here to tell him that he isn't going to be that lucky.

The actor told the World Entertainment News Network that he would not, like many of his fellow film stars, be appearing in the theatre.

He said: "I can't quite justify it in my head because I know what misery it is for the audience. I personally find going to theatre is enjoyable about one time in 20, and the other 19 you're just going, 'Oh, come on. Let's get to the end of it and have a drink.' I'm honest. I think there's a lot of piety about the theatre, really."

Good old Honest Hugh, the punter's friend. I don't know what he'll make of the knighthood given this week to Nicholas Hytner, head of the National Theatre. There's one of those one in 20 guys off to see the Queen while a never-fail film star remains a commoner. Films are never boring, are they Hugh?

But I do take his outburst seriously, because it is depressing and depressingly familiar. It's not uncommon to hear this one art form being called boring. When a global star like Hugh Grant, and an actor for goodness sake, says this, it is worth taking note. Does he really have such a low opinion of his fellow actors that they fail to entertain him 19 times out of 20?

Hugh Grant is an influential person in his way, and many will have read his interview and had their prejudices against the theatre confirmed. But he's wrong. And there can be no better way of proving that than to look at the year that has just passed.

I cannot think of any art form, and I include Hugh Grant's own one of film, that has been more exciting and dynamic, more in tune with the zeitgeist, than theatre. Enron and The Power of Yes examined the credit crunch in a way that few if any movies did. As Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art showed the undiminished talent of a great writer, so a slew of young female playwrights in Britain showed the power of a new generation to engage with social issues. I emerged shaken from Lucy Kirkwood's play on sex trafficking at the Arcola. At the Royal Court, Jerusalem, with a performance from Mark Rylance that Hugh Grant should visit every day for a week if he is interested in the craft of acting, was a double-edged paean to a disappearing England, and I wait to see anything similar from film makers.

That's not to say that it wasn't an extremely good year for film too, especially in Britain with new stars emerging in An Education, Nowhere Boy and Fish Tank. It's not a competition, and it would be as bizarre to condemn cinema for being "boring" as it is to condemn theatre. Jerusalem returns to the London stage in the coming weeks. I would like to offer a ticket to Hugh Grant. He might, of course, conclude that that is the one in 20 that makes it. But he needs to get out more, and he'll find that the true figure is about 16 in 20, and he should be trumpeting the genuine success of theatre, not ridiculing it with a lazy throwaway line better suited to one of his effete on-screen characters.

Let's push the envelope with our stamps

A new set of Royal Mail stamps this month will feature well-known album cover designs including Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and Blur's Parklife. Certainly, it's good to see this area of culture on our stamps. But the one thing that strikes me about British stamps is that they can be a little too po-faced. Some humour wouldn't go amiss. Other countries do have hilarious stamps, though it has to be admitted that usually the hilarity is unintentional. Denmark once extolled civic pride with a stamp of a man in gloves picking up dog droppings. Norway praised Norwegian inventions with stamps depicting a cheese slicer and a paper clip.

We're certainly better off with great moments in British music. But one could have a bit of fun, too. As well as Mike Oldfield and Blur, what about a set of stamps commemorating one hit wonders? Give The Weather Girls, Splodgenessabounds and Nizlopi their moment on the envelope too.

Brits should honour Hart

I was saddened to read of the early death this week of Tim Hart. Tim was the co-founder and one of the guiding spirits of Steeleye Span, a folk group which transcended that particular art form by playing traditional songs to a rock backing. The group is still touring after 40 years on the road.

It is the sort of band that has had a significant impact on the history of British music, but would never in a month of Sundays be honoured with a special achievement prize, or any prize at all, at the Brit Awards.

It would be fitting, though, if someone at next month's Brits did at least give a mention to Hart from the stage, and remind the millions watching on TV that there are more sides to British music than tend to be acknowledged at awards ceremonies.

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