23 April 2005

Lulu and the Face-lift

Michael Billington and Ian Rickson had a polite set-to in the Guardian arts pages last week about the non-issue of the length of plays. I like IR's last para:

Writers may defy critical taste, or resist fashion, but they are not shy of pursuing their own vibrant aesthetics. I respect Billington for caring. We all want a healthy theatre. But we must not use the values of the past to judge the theatre of the future.

Meanwhile at the Coliseum, the opera tribe are lapping up Lulu, all four hours of it (if you include intervals and milling about before and after, which I do). The last time I was at ENO was to see my favourite thing of all time ever (probably), John Adams' Nixon In China, director Peter Sellars, libretto Alice Goodman (great poet married to great poet Geoffrey Hill) with Madame Mao's choreography reimagined by Mark Morris. In one of the intervals, the missus bumped into James Maddalena (Nixon) outside the stage door having a crafty fag. You're amazing, she said. Why, thank you, he drawled.
Since that wonderful night, the Coliseum's had a face-lift. And very handsome it is too. New bars, new loos, reupholstered seats, lifts. Second best of all is the Trafalgar Room, a tiny but unmissable addition that puts you in mind of the Great Glass Elevator. It gives you a view of, you've guessed it, Trafalgar Square. First best of all is, us people in the cheap seats no longer have to leave the building and go round the corner to the fire exit to reach the balcony - we've got a staircase of our very own!
As for the show, it was stupendously good. Mesmerising. Very cinematic, big in every sense - sound, sets, characterisation. But when stillness or ambiguity or downright strangeness were called for, there they were. And Lulu's death - perhaps the most terrifying scene in the history of a form littered with the violent deaths of heroines - was played out against the backdrop of the most disturbing, diabolical design I've yet seen on stage.
All this for a tenner, and guess what - I hear Nixon is coming back. God I hope so.

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