The Guardian from London,  on March 15, 1991 · 37
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The Guardian from London, · 37

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Friday, March 15, 1991
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37
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ARTS 37 Michael Biilington on Alan Ayckbourn's Invisible Friends Good cop, bad cop s play THE GUARDIAN Friday March 15 1991 WHERE have all the children gone? Alan Ayckbourn's Invisible Friends is a wonderfully witty, imaginative Nancy Banks-Smith smoke and droop their eyelids like Robert Mitchum. When he invites questions, they ask hopefully is it true he had been sacked. "When they are together, supporting each other, in their own environment, where they feel warm and safe and comfortable, they are hard to face. It is the worst thing you can do, I think. They're fierce. It scares the shit out of me to think of it". You'd think from their attitude that Bouza had, as Lyndon Johnson used to put it, shat on the flag. Bouza said, "They feel themselves leashed on the question of brutality. They really want to be free to do what they want on the streets. They want to be free to thump. They wanna be free to handle assholes and I don't let them handle assholes." (Alan Raymond asked for a translation) "If someone is obstreperous, truculent, difficult, rude, they want to be able to kick their ass. They really resent it in a way they don't resent anything else. Cops are mostly free to do whatever they want all over the country. They are only asking for what exists everywhere else. "The police, like very other institution that has enormous power, will abuse that power for sure. I think a chief of police is either going to serve the police and their comfort and convenience or he is going to serve the people and those two ideas are irreconcilable." He resigned at last saying he had one regret "An inability to gain the affection of the troops". An earlier Raymond documentary was the basis for Hill Street Blues. You could make a TV series out of Police Chiefs, two series, with Tim Piggott-Smith play PHOTOGRAPH: ANDREW VAR LEY Mixed media: Ian Spink (centre, wearing glasses) rehearsing Opera North's 1985 production of The Midsummer Marriage Two steps away from disaster CHIEF Gates of the LA Police is an arresting speaker. You listen with your jaw swinging open like a rifled handbag. "A certain group," he said "have decided not to live by society's rules. We need to find a better way to separate these criminals from the rest of us, who are not criminals. I propose we find a place in the desert or an island and we send tnose people to that location. Give 'em a hoe, a rake, some seeds and some water and let 'em fend for themselves." A lot of his friends have said you can't do that, Chief, because they won't stay there. But he says, oh yes, there are a lot of state of the art ways. You can put land mines all around the fence. That'll noid 'em. it's a compelling idea, which has been tried and failed. You take them to the other side of the world and surround them with sharks and what do they do when your back is turned? They sneak back disguised as middle aged ladies and mug decent audiences with their sawn-off gladiolL Probably grown from seeds provided by a kindly police force. Personally, I blame the sharks. They are never around when you want one. Cruel Gates style is sol dierly. He has formed teams called SWAT and CRASH and things like that. SWAT arrive at dawn in armoured battering rams, as used in Vietnam, ana shin down ropes from helicopters. The battering ram punctures a SWAT sized hole in your house through which pour chaps in balaclavas. When good journalists die they go to America. The willingness of American Police Chiefs (True Stories, C4) to talk to Alan and Susan Raymond at length, in depth and on the record makes you gasp. Chief Bouza ot Minneapolis has a wife who joins anti-nu clear protests, is arrested by his own men and flung into his own gaol. With some vim, one suspects and he is extremely unpopular. He said: "I think the overwhelming majority of the Minneapolis police officers really, really hate me." When he goes to roll calls, it is like addressing fish fingers in a deep freezer. His jokes drop dead of hypothermia. When he recommends the fitness programme, they blow cigarette Second Stride is a bureaucrat's nightmare no more; the inconvenient play for family audiences but the wttesioe on tne nrst night looked like Judea after Herod baa oeen at worK. There is plenty in the play for adults to enjoy but it needs the spontaneous liveliness of seven-plusses to achieve total lift-off. Ayckbourn unashamedly re-works a theme he employed in Woman In Mind: the inherent danger of fantasy families. His heroine, Lucy Baines, is a sparky teenager who compensates for the dread dullness of her own family by creating an invisible friend, Zara. But when Zara, a mixture of Heidi and a district nurse, suddenly materialises one night she brings with her a white-suited father and brother who supplant Lucy's own kin while turning out themselves to be a little less than kind. You can find all sorts of echoes in the play: Harvey, Blithe Spirit, Peter Pan. But what strikes me is the way Ayckbourn combines eye-opening magic with a deeply disenchanted view of family life. He takes a quietly bilious view of uncommunicative families which reminds me of a marvellous painting I saw recently in Hamburg's Kunsthalle. Called Sunday Afternoon it shows a father slumped in armchaired torpor and a mother gazing wanly at the lunch-table while a bright-eyed kid desperately looks for signs of life. Clearly the problem is universal. Zippily directed by Ayckbourn himself and neatly designed by Roger Glossop, the piece boasts a splendidly outgoing performance by Emma Chambers whose body arches and lunges with frustration as she tries to get her family to listen to her news that she has been selected for the school swimming-team. There is also something ominously starched about Claire Skinner's Zara who looks as if she is about to announce any moment that the hills are alive with the sound of music. Good work too from Bill Moody as the couch-potato real father and from Simon Chandler as the immaculate fantasy one. In the end, it's a richly ambivalent play that says, rather like Into The Woods, that you can make your wishes come true but that you're in dead trouble if they do. But adults, I suspect, should only be admitted if accompanied by a child. mix of dance, theatre, opera and mime, has lost its Arts Council grant. Composer Judith Weir knew them well. Here is her lament they had just seen, rather than deciding where to go for dinner. Audiences seemed to come as much from the worlds of music, opera and theatre as from dance. So far, so normal, you might think; just another small performing group with ideas above its station and no hope of attracting the sponsorship with which to realise them. But Second Stride is a surprisingly special case. Because of the company's familiarity with multi-media work, Spink has unrivalled influence as a choreographer for opera in Britain. The company regularly appears on the world's great stages; in the last year, at the ENO, Covent Garden, the Bolshoi and the Kirov. The list of directors who have demanded their work is simply a list of the people who really matter in this most booming of art forms. Through their exposure in productions like Macbeth, Clarissa and The Trojans, Second Stride must have widened the public for new dance in a way other small companies can only dream of. Lives Of The Great Poisoners, a collaboration between Ian Spink and Caryl Churchill, is at the Riverside Studios until tomorrow and finally at Bury St Edmunds on March 22 and 23. Sllfll ACADIMy smrlD Mammoths and mammon INCLUDING . ; ; ? ANYONE who works in the arts in Britain these days has become thoroughly familiar with the sound of squealing as a small performing company has its grant excised. And anyone who protests against an Arts Council decision of this kind risks an appearance in Private Eye's "Great Bores of Today". But it's a risk many people are running at the moment, following the surprise announcement that the Arts Council will cease to fund the innovative dance theatre company Second Stride after the last performance of the present tour this month. As one of many artists of various disciplines who worked with the company during the last 10 . years, I have been recalling my own experiences with Second Stride, and trying to work out why the year I spent with them seems in retrospect to have been uniquely valuable. When Second Stride's artistic director Ian Spink invited me to work on a new show with resident designer Antony McDonald, I wasn't at first convinced I once which told me the difference between Neanderthals and Homo Sap: Neanderthal Man approached ladies from the rear (like mammoths), but Homo Sap went in for face to face (like missionaries). The film had a dear little love story in which Homo (or rather Femina) Sap taught Neanderthal Man to use the missionary position. It all ended happily. None of that naughtiness, though, from the British Museum lady who showed Mr France some elegant, 20,000-year-old carvings and warned us that you couldn't elucidate thought from archaelogjcal remains. And yes, she confirmed that the successors to Neanderthal Man looked exactly like us . . . "give them a suit of modern clothes and you wouldn't notice them shopping down the High Street." Not so much Homo Sap, as Homo Major. It was modern man for Peter Day in this week's In Business (Radio 4, Wednesdays and Sundays). He talked to a collection of thrusting, intelligent and mildly off-putting business men and women who all told us about the importance of change in business. The American business woman sounded positively evangelical, with talk of the mission of the enterprise, of social purpose and of the leaders of the future leading through "vision and values." But the most amazing modern man was, I suspect, an off-cut of Peter Day's investigations into the business gurus of change. This man, who I can't quite bring myself to name, was the subject of this week's Profile (Radio 4, Wednesdays) wanted to. As many composers do, I'd previously found the provision of musical scores for dance to involve an extremely high proportion of drudgery huge tracts of musical space to be ruled, and then ignored as the dance took shape. But a visit to Second Stride's show Weighing The Heart suggested there were other ways of going about it That piece, probably the company's biggest hit to date, featured another much-missed group, the Man Jumping band. It was, oddly but entirely plausibly, a cheerful and humorous piece about death; a laser disco taking place in a busy downtown undertakers might conjure up some of its ambience. But while the audience tapped its feet, philo- . . sophical vignettes were being etched from the Desert Fathers to Simone Weil. Music and dance developed together, with almost symphonic flow, for 90 minutes. I was hooked, and signed on for Heaven Ablaze. It soon became clear that this company had highly unusual working methods. Spink and McDonald are veterans of collabora- and was described as "the high priest of the cult of corporate identity." It's evidently a growing cult; the high priest explained this was because companies were so alike, and therefore needed to have some separate identity invented for them. He has been selling the whole notion of corporate design since the Sixties, though what he actually does wasn't totally clear. It seemed to include investigating all aspects of the business and, most notably, designing significant if slightly quirky logos. His clients included the construction company Bovis, who got a humming bird as their symbol; the Prudential, where he took exception to the plastic plants, and British Telecom, whose new symbol was described as "a leaping, slightly pudgy man blowing his own trumpet." Also the Metropolitan Police. We weren't told what its symbol would be. The best bit was when he started talking about his fees. "I'm always amazed at how little we charge . . . one million pounds . . . two million pounds-. . . three million pounds ..." Wow. Before it disappears down the memory hole, a moment of tribute to The Forsyte Chronicle which came to an end last week. Some fine acting, some sound dramatisation and a good family yarn. Janet Whi-taker's direction was sure, the continuity was maintained by Dirk Bogarde's narration, and it was a story that had one of the better soap qualities of being an easy one to pick up easily. that, among other things, we had an opera on our hands. In another corner of the room, the work's many spoken lines were turning into a full-scale nineteenth century melodrama. Copious props arrived every day, lying in huge piles around the set giving the whole enterprise a performance art atmosphere. Second Stride's distinguished dancers, many of them choreographers and directors in their own right, ate up the ideas of the piece, producing constant new directions; I was nearly always to be seen copying out musical revi sions on the piano lid. We moved towards our first night, which took place in Second Stride's unlikely home base at Basildon, Essex. There followed a far-flung tour which will be ex-baustingly familiar to all small theatre companies; some of the geographical locations seemed to have been picked out of a hat. But encouraging news began to arrive of good houses in places where Second Stride has a firm following; Bristol, Cambridge, Brighton. And finally, that most gratifying of sights, a queue down the QEH steps. I particularly remember the roar of the foyers after those performances; people were, for once, fervently discussing the work 9 0! n rBERF ing Gates and Frank Finlay Bouza. The Gates series would sell well. The Bouza would be the best. I have a covert fondness, which I hope you will keep to yourselves, for City Lights (BBC 2). This is Glasgow comedy like Rab C. Nesbitt and Naked Video and nothing much else on earth. Try this. Wullie and his dilapidated pals Chancer and Tarn, who seem to live in a strip cartoon, are discussing Bo Peep, a male stripper, and whether it's Bo Peep who wears the fluffy wool jock strap or his snake. At this point Brian, a bank clerk of the utmost promty, rises irom Behind the sofa and with a wild cry of "Ah'm all rl'l" vanishes from view again. Like catching the wrong bus, it takes you into an unknown world. ! Dllttv i rive, multi-media work, carefully choosing artists whose work will genuinely enmesh. Not for them the lure of the "belle afEche" a bunch of famous names which will look good on a poster. Col laborative work means disagree ing as often as agreeing, so personal ties have to be strong. Above all it needs time while different roads are explored. A company of this modest size can put pieces on when they're ready, and not because there's a gap in a schedule. We had started out with a typi cal Spinkian dualism the discovery that the ballet Coppelia opened months before the Siege of Paris and that the ballet's first heroine died during the Paris Commune. We began to read E.T.A. Hoffman, whose short story originally inspired Coppe lia. Bob Lockyer at the BBC shut us in a darkened room and made us watch Coppelia three times through. Books, Xeroxes and photographs were passed around. With unexpected ease, a 75-minute score began to write itself, fiielled by visual and dra matic impressions from col leagues who were, so to speak. there at the manuscript with me, Musicians were lured al ways an important, though expensive, priority for Second Stride. We chose vocem, tne elec tric voice theatre group whose barrier-breaking work has similarly confounded arts funding categories. I had imagined the musicians in some corner of the stage, but as their visual roles grew and grew it became clear Covent Garden Tom Sutcliffe II barbiere di Siviglia GIFT horses, especially at the Royal Opera, aren't to be looked in the mouth: the new Barber cast is impressively fresh and lively, including promising house debuts from the solid Bruce Ford as the Count and the slightly plastic Jennifer Larmore as Rosina. Carlo Rizzi conducts with his usual impeccable ear, and exact sense ot style and tempo. Tne orchestra play very-well indeed, though Rizzi didn't manage the breakthrough he achieved with WNO's Count Ory. Gregory Yurisich's youthful Dr Bartolo is obviously destined to become a favourite here. Yes, he is a bit ham and rather too winning, softhearted and eager to delight us. But the thoughtful detail in his characterisation and the consistency of his singing and acting do have a classic ring. Stephen Unwin is in charge of this revival, which claims to be a new staging. Since it's basically in the grand old Frigerio designs there wasn't much chance for Unwin to be imaginative or different. But his main contribution is to energise the young cast, and mould an ensemble. On the whole, less enthusiasm and more imagina-, non would help. Le Roux sounds rough and raspy, and the permanent grin with which he begs the audience for indulgence sets into a rictus. Bruce Ford and Jennifer Larmore treat the whole show as a lark, and don't for a moment try to convince us that they really mean anything truthful in theatrical terms. Ford did his opening florid serenade finely, and has an ideal Rossini technique: flexible, full and open. But his motivation had less to do with the honourable hard work of creating a role than with adding the Royal Opera's scalp to his CV. Miss Larmore was so sure of her welcome that acting had nothing to do with it. She wields her sumptuous mezzo credibly but it's not all that special. OK, company once more with feeling, please. DEpJlPO - WMmAMS sW:f;".i;';iiK .: .; Based OriATrue Story Val Arnold-Forster THE Birth of Europe (Radio 4, Saturdays) is not, thankfully, an earnest plod through the history of the BBC, with the Treaty of Rome, General de Gaulle, visits to Brussels and Luxembourg, countless summits and Mrs Thatcher rampant. Maybe we've already had that series? Instead, Peter France started with the primaeval gasses and then moved onto the ice-age and woolly rhinoceroses in Pinner. Producer Mary Colwell likes lashings of background noises, so the nrst part-ot the programme was awash with winds from the Urals and the howling of rhinos, or maybe wolves. But we moved on smartly to our predecessors and ancestors. The first Euro-persons were the Neanderthals, who were good at rounding up herds of mammoths and driving them over cliffs. Mr France went to Jersey, where there were lots of Neanderthal remains. He wondered at the quantity of blood and guts in one mammoth and tried to tot up the number of Euro-Neanderthals that could feed on a herd. A nice lady back at the British Museum introduced us to the people who came next. They were the ones we are all descended from, who I'd always thought were called Homo Sapiens, or Sap for short. I saw a film City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra SIMON RATTLE conductor SIBELIUS Nightride and Sunrise SCHOENBERG Erwartung STRAVINSKY The Firebird PHYLLIS BRYN-JULSON soprano ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL TOMORROW at 7.30 p.m. 20-5 Tel: 071-928 8800 VICTOR HOCHHAUSER prcsaus ;it the ROYAL ALBERT HALL SUNDAY 7 APRIL at 7.30 ITZHHAIK I'h'yiiiK BEETHOVEN & MENDELSSOHN VIOLIN CONCERTOS Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Gmductor: ANDREW LITTON iisxn'tt -jp . UBBL-iffiillL . Mb, . iir Tilr u (UBflF "HtHSTX tTT f" iDn i Royal Albert Hall Box Olllce & CC 071 - 589 8212 823 9998225 0765

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