Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation

Recommending: Growing your own vegetables

Stephen Fry blog

Stephen Fry has a blog.

He also seems to like many things tech and gadgety. Not sure why but I didn’t take him for having techno geek qualities.

If you see his taxi in America and take a picture, it may win you a prize. He is travelling round all the US states in it….

Arts funding, writing to your MP

Quite recently I wrote to my MP. I used A great, non-profit service (incidentally one of my friends, in my school class, was a founding force for this but very sadly he died recently) that helps to ensure your MP works for you, and you know what they are doing.

This is part of her reply:

Investment in the arts is one of the signs of a civilised society.
Spending on the arts increased hugely in the early part of this decade,
quite rightly, and  we have many things to show for it (numbers
attending free museums and galleries, for example). Of course we should
campaign to maintain high levels of spending, because public pressure
matters. However, this has to be set in a broader context. There are
huge demands on public spending- housing, schools, the NHS, the rising
pensions bills, the fact that we are still only getting on for halfway
towards our target to end child poverty and so forth, whilst there also
remains a powerful political lobby for tax cuts and reduced public
spending. I am more than happy to continue to lobby for more money, but
not at the expense of other essential areas of public spending.

 to my questioning / lobbying on arts funding levels. I’ve never lobbied for anything before.

I know much bigger fish than me lobbied direct to Gordon Brown et al and this week we have heard in the pre-budget report that Chancellor, Alistair Darling confirmed this week that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s allotment would increase from £1.68 billion to £2.21 billion in 2010/11, a settlement which he said “guarantees an inflation increase for the arts”.

So the result: a 2.7% inflation level increase in DCMS funding, which the government has guaranteed will be passed onto the arts.

Tony Hall (Royal Opera House) described the settlement as “the best result we could have won”, while National Campaign for the Arts director Louise de Winter said the funding package was “very good news”. She told The Stage: “We’d like to think that we made a strong case for arts funding and thankfully government has listened. There is still one small fly in the ointment though – the relief is slightly tempered by the Olympics issue – what the arts are still missing is the £137 million which was diverted to the Olympics.”

Lyn Gardner is more guarded. She is not cracking open the champagne. She identifies a point that I wrote to my MP about. She writes

While we are about it, let’s remember that the money that the government gives to the arts is not a handout but an investment. The arts gives more back to the economy than it takes in subsidies, but what cannot be measured is what it gives back in nurturing the imaginative health and well-being of the nation.

And I wrote to my MP:

On arts spending, obviously there are other pressures such as housing,
schools etc, but part of the problem is that the benefit of the arts
by its very nature is “intangible” it can not truly be measured by
attendance of galleries. One of the theoretical reasons, humans are
quite so bad at looking after the environment is the fact the tangible
cost/benefit is very hard to measure in monetary terms for the
environment – what price the ecosystem of a forest? As a theatre
writer amongst other things, I don’t think a civilised society could
put the arts above, for instance, child poverty but without the arts
and the ability to explore what it means to be human – a measure that
can not be measured in GDP, life expectancy or waiting lists
– then
our children will remain poor in other important ways too. I would ask
you to bear in mind the intangible nature of this investment and the
fact that we may very well not have that much tangible to show for it.

Shibboleth, Tate crack

Mr E is a builder, who was working at Tate Modern while Shibboleth was being installed, and although for contractual reasons he does not wish to be further identified, he is very happy to recount what he witnessed. “They dug a dirty great trench about a yard wide and a yard deep. Then they brought in lorry-load after lorry-load of cement and poured it in, using 10-foot sections of what looked like carved polystyrene moulding to form the sides. Then a whole bunch of people lay down on their stomachs for about a week and finished it off with brushes. Looked bloody uncomfortable, I can tell you. It’s about racism? Can’t see it myself, but I’m not much of a one for modern art. It was a pretty good trench, though. And one hell of a lot of cement. Good luck to ‘em.

Review: Masque of the Red Death

It is a must see theatrical event of 2007 but not without bewilderments.

What do you get with MOTRD?

You get to run around and explore a Victorian Town Hall transformed and brought alive with running parallel stories inspired by Edgar Allen Poe. On weekends you also get a gig that the Ball turns into.

You can find:  the Palais Royale and its crazy cabaret shows (and a bar) and here you can take off your mask; a treasure hunt (which I never found) from Coney (Lyn Gardner says read Poe’s story The Gold-Bug and see my preceding link to the postcard… my Coney source wasn’t giving anything away); a wardrobe to walk through, a fireplace to duck under, cubby holes in the cellar (maybe this was the secret bar), an opium den, someone who will blindfold you and give you headphones (I didn’t find this), someone who comes out the crypt (I only found the empty crypt), a mind reader (I missed his show), seance (didn’t see this), a feast (also missed), a live cat (you guessed it, I missed this too), a fortune teller (don’t ask her, if your boyfriend has been unfaithful…and yes, I never got to find her in the show to ask her about whether now is a good time to buy a house), a production newspaper (I saw none of these but seaninthestalls says the critics definitely got them) and a couple throwing books (I did manage to see see this), rooms and rooms of life and character.

Personally, I didn’t manage to find even 20% of what the show has to offer. Not sure why, part of the luck of the event. But, I did much better than Mr Hart of the Sunday Times.

Is MOTRD fun?

Yes. It’s great fun. See Whinger’s review and comments and Lyn Gardner’s review. But you have to be active and engaged. I’ve tried to think about why MOTRD is fun? I don’t think it is just the sensory enjoyment that Billington and some have suggested.

Transformation of space

The BAC building is transformed. I believe this could mean more to people who know the BAC in its untransformed state (Charles Spencer claims many of his worst nights at the theatre were at BAC). It is no longer just “a Grade II* listed Victorian building designed in 1891 by EW Mountford, first as Battersea Town Hall in 1893.”

The joy and wonder people expressed over the buildings transformation points to the importance of re-examining performance space. A trend occurred on the continent perhaps earlier than in the UK. I hear stories of 10 to 20 years ago, exciting theatre moving to the deserted warehouses of Paris rather than its stuffy central (expensive, hard to break into) theatres.

As I think back, many of the most brilliant pieces of theatre seem to happen in temporary or transformed places. Places that make you question the nature of the space. Almeida did very well in a transformed bus depot, Young Vic was always the most permanent temporary space in town (Built for £60k in the 1970s!) and it has been reconfigured to be yet more temporary and more permanent; an important quality for its Stirling Prize nomination (incidentally Haworth Tompkins did both these as well as Gainsborough and Royal Court). Shunt have moved from railway arch to railway arch and underground to members’ bar! In Paris, Peter Brook’s Bouffes du Nord is in a theatre which has been pared down and transformed from its gilted first life. The list goes on.

How much of the joy is in the re-examination of space? I think about the wonderment the crack – Shibboleth – in the Tate turbine hall is causing. It makes us question the structures around us.


You choose the action. You choose the scene. Of course, not completely, you are guided between parameters. However, mostly you are free to wander. This produces a sense of an individual show but because you know everyone else is doing it, also that “shared experience” which seems a vital ingredient of brilliant theatre.

This is why you need to be active. Although, I do wonder for this show whether sitting in one room for 20 minutes and seeing the action pass by might be more fascination than trying to follow a story thread (one of my usher moles suggests it was more fun for her than running around in the show proper).

You go to what interests you. The detail is compelling and extraordinary. Pieces of life written in books, postcards, everywhere you look fragments of story and character.

It can be exasperating, often very confusing and bewildering. Don’t explore thinking you will piece together a story, if you want to try the advice is to read Berenice, Ligeia, The Cask of Amontillado, The Fall of the House of Usher, William Wilson, and The Black Cat (supposed the BAC cat hangs out, although I didn’t spot him).

Perhaps consider it on the level of installation / performance art.

Audience/player – player/audience

You are part of the action although you also observe the action. Yes. All the world’s a stage. And in this you truly feel it. Not such how Schrödinger’s kittens would feel but being both audience and actor gives a good sense of satisfaction.

Is it the future of theatre?

Michael Billington says no. This is too simple. It is a past/present/future of a strand theatre. There have been interactive explorations of space and story before (has it been called site immersion theatre?) and we will be seeing more in the future, I guess. The key elements of duality and choice are ripe areas for theatrical exploration.

Is it good for those who don’t go to theatre often?

Yes. Very. But not if you wear high heels.

Is it good for glasses wearers?

No. In this regard, Mr Hart had a similar experience to me. But maybe because I like bending rules or because I felt I was valid part of the performance, I told the usher that they should try wearing glasses or getting the mask over them. I was partially stopped 4 times. 2 didn’t care/shrugged when I explained. 1 tried to insist but really wasn’t very convincing. And 1 I ran away from, I had better things to do.

Either wear contacts or just go with the flow. Or run away. See them chase you, that would be fun. Maybe you should also shout: Freedom to the glass wearers.

John Hegley writes “I have a notion of a nation / where greener grass is. / Where everyone is trying on everyone else’s glasses./ Where nobody cares about the colour of your skin/ or the colour of the case that your glasses came in.

What is bewildering about MOTRD

You’ll find it very hard to trace story. You may find lots of empty rooms. Dead ends. You will get lost. You will be confused. If like the warrior who does not run in the rain because he knows he will be wet in any case, you absorb this into your experience, you will enjoy it.

There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.”

How different is MOTRD to Faust?

MOTRD is much more different to me than it seems to be for some. There is nothing in MOTRD to compare to the surprising brilliance of stumbling across a pine tree forest smelling of pine or of wandering through a cornfield. But the minutiae detail is all the more compressed and apparent in MOTRD. You could sit and read a notebook for an hour in MOTRD.

Faust relies on one very strong well known story. You can piece it together reasonably easily. This is not possible expect for ardent Poe fans.

It was much easier to follow a character in Faust. In MOTRD characters change more often, they come on stage for cabaret, following the thread of a character’s story is not as good a tactic as it was in Faust.

The sheer exuberant physicality of MOTRD appears in smaller blazes. At the end. In glimpses of frenetic dances for two. But there is not the intensity of the Walpurgis Nacht night club dance orgy or the surreal cellar crescendo although the ball dance comes close.

There seems to be a lot more text in MOTRD although you can’t really hear it or follow it easily

The Palais Royale is a good development of the bar in Faust. The Late night gig blurs the lines of entertainment from performance to dancing and drinking and that is fun too.

Practical points

See Whinger’s Guide. I would add, don’t be scared and do what you fee like. If you want to sit on the stairs or read through a book, do so. OK, so don’t get in a fight with the ushers but still there should be an incredible leeway to do what you. It’s your night to explore! Also I’d make sure you have a drink a the bar it will be needed.


It is a great evening out and a must see for anyone interested in any of the art forms. It has its bewildering aspects and in some ways is not easy to follow but if you can overcome that psychological hurdle it will be a fulfilling evening.

Medea in ancient Greek

Have you ever seen or heard a Greek play, a tragedy, in the ululating cries and tones of ancient Greek?

It’s definitely some thing I would recommend in one’s life time of theatre going experiences.

And you have the chance coming up… Oct 10 to Oct 13 is Medea at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.

It’s in the original Greek of Euripides.  I saw the last Greek play a few years back and it was astonishing. I’m going again on Oct 13, so maybe see you there. It’s worth the trip to Cambridge to hear what the Greeks would have heard even if you will see visual a very different performance.

Busy, radiohead, play

Seemingly running around like a confused bee.

Have heard Radiohead have a new album coming out called In Rainbows.

Saw MoonWalking in Chinatown, which was a simple story very atmospherically told (walking round Chinatown with its noise, pee and random people). It’s pretty much finished though but a good thing that Soho Theatre did.

Going to see Pure Gold tonight, of course I’m a huge Talawa supporter, but I’m expecting it to be good. Link.
And excitingly going to Masque of the Red Death link and the after show party. It is one of the must see shows for me this year.

OK. Have to continue buzzing around, more when I finally settle into my hive.

  • About me

    I'm a playwright and investment analyst. I have a broad range of interests: food, gardening, innovation & intellectual property, sustainability, architecture & design, writing and the arts. I sit on the board of Talawa Theatre Company and advise a CIS investment trust on socially responsible investments.

  • Recent Work

    Recent plays include, for theatre: Nakamitsu, Yellow Gentlemen, Lost in Peru, Lemon Love. For radio: Places in Between (R4), Patent Breaking Life Saving (WS).

  • Nakamitsu

  • Yellow Gentlemen