Please support the outdoor Shakespeare productions
It’s the rich wot gets the pleasure; it’s the poor wot gets the bill. This was ever the case and will become more observably so in the weeks ahead. I refer, of course, to the Olympics. Remember being asked if we wanted them? Me neither. Blame Tony Blair. Watch for that cheesy rictus grin in the front row at key events. Not present? Some freebie elsewhere. As for the rest of us — for which say ‘them’, for I would never have wished myself among those eager for seats . . . as for the rest, forget it.
Do you know anyone — the well-connected, privileged few apart — who has actually secured a ticket to attend any of the must-see events, as some consider them? I supposed not. But why should that be a source of dismay? This celebration of all that is wonderful in terms of human achievement is marred by simultaneously being a cause to promote much that is vile — starting with McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.
As our country speeds towards bankruptcy, the squandering of so much of our money at the instigation of that puffed-up popinjay Lord Coe is utterly appalling. Shall we take an Olympic torch — one of the dozens that seem to be touring the country at present — and place it somewhere painful?
And if I am not permitted on taste grounds to make this suggestion, let me inquire why the BBC — whose panjandrums will be seated at the Olympics (watch, watch) with Blair and Coe — could allow reference at 6.48pm on Monday to Lionel Blair’s having “taken a homo erectus through the tradesman’s entrance”. This was a quip from chairman Jack Dee — on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. I laughed like a drain (odd phrase), but I was glad I did not have a ten-year-old beside me asking what was funny. Any suggestions about what I might have said, Lord Patten?
Perhaps while I am quizzing the chairman of the BBC Trust, I might repeat my question of two weeks ago about the Beeb’s continuing, shameless promotion of boxing. If he does not know that this is done, let me refer him to the 8.25am sports slot on Monday’s Today programme, occupied in its entirety by a we’re-totally-on-the-same-wavelength interview with heavyweight David Haye. Saturday’s bout? A marginally improved version, he said, of the pub punch-up he might otherwise have had with Dereck Chisora. Charming!
But enough of this. Today — as might be inferred from the pictures on this page — my intention is to urge readers to show their support for the arts rather than sport. I refer to the theatrical companies who are at present offering first-class productions of Shakespeare’s plays in delightful settings around Oxford.
By buying tickets for these my readers will be supplying succour to hard-working entertainers who are fighting to survive — without support from the public purse — in what is surely the most dismal summer any of us can remember.
They will also be seeing some top-class work.
My first taste of Shakespeare outdoors this year came with Creation Theatre’s The Merchant of Venice, which I review today on our arts pages. Before the performance, the retiring chair of the company’s trustees, Jeanne Wesson, spoke forcefully of Creation’s urgent need of our support.
An alternative indoor performance area at the Said Building makes Creation performances weatherproof. The same is not true of the Oxford Shakespeare Company, who are performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream (warmly reviewed today by Giles Woodforde) in the gardens of Wadham College. Its boss Charlotte Lloyd Webber told me: “The weather situation is, of course, really dire and could have an extremely unpleasant outcome for many events. Can I urge the public to get out there and support us all, come rain or shine, otherwise the future of quality, professional open air events will be — if you’ll pardon this most apt of puns — dead in the water.”
I have yet to see Dream but was along the road at the Bodleian Library on Sunday for Shakespeare’s Globe’s Hamlet. It is superb, with Michael Benz as good a prince as I have seen in years, including those of David Tennant and Rory Kinnear.
Benz might be remembered for his role as child star of the BBC’s 1995 version of Little Lord Fauntleroy. This was adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel by Julian Fellowes, already starting by then to corner the market in upper-crust drama. Perhaps this explains his lordship’s presence at the Bodleian on Sunday, in a wide-brimmed black leather hat of raffish design and looking like an elderly Neddie Seagoon.
What next for Michael? A role in Downton Abbey perhaps?