I’m so focussing on the novella that I forgot to write up what we did in London the other week. We went to the opera.
Admittedly, we went to see Monkey: Journey to the West, which has music by Damon Albarn and design by Jamie Hewlett. It was only having seven performances in London, and we’d been trying to see it for a couple of years. We missed the Paris and Berlin runs by days or weeks, but there was no way we were missing the London run.
The chap, who had also never been inside an opera house before, pointed out that he never expected his first criticism of opera to be “there were too many fight scenes”. There were quite a few, and being a wuxia fan, I thought there were just the right amount of them. My main criticism is that there were issues with scene transistion. At the start, there are long animated sequences between scenes and by the end it’s more the traditional thing of stage hands rapidly moving the fake rocks about a bit. I’d have preferred short animated sequences for each transistion.
I think the chap was mainly interested in the music but I was there for the design, having been a fan of Hewlett since the Deadline days. And it was gorgeous. There were clever little things like Monkey’s outfit – a yellow tracksuit with a dark stripe down the side – being an echo of the infamous Bruce Lee one. Hewlett’s Monkey designs, are being used – in a somewhat toned down version – by the BBC for the Olympics. But all the costumes were superb. And the fight sequences were wonderfully choreographed. Princess Iron Fan’s head soldier, a swordswoman, got a massive round of applause at curtain call because she was so good (only Pigsy and Monkey got more). Monkey was superb, really playing the trickster element up for the audience.
Skimming the reviews afterwards, I noticed The Times’ reviewer remarked:
At the first night, the Covent Garden foyer heaved with crowds who hadn’t the faintest idea where they were going.
Combined with the pre-review sneers about the RSC stunt casting Tennant as Hamlet (the reviews have taken it all back – see the Independent, the Times and the Guardian), there’s just the faintest idea that theatre critics don’t like the idea of the masses attending what still gets called ‘high culture’. Or perhaps it’s railing against the idea that ‘high culture’ is inviting the masses in (desipte that being a stated aim of the RSC). Given it costs much the same to see a West End musical as it does for a seat in the gods at the Royal Opera House, such hints of sneering at the masses are a bit hypocritical. The RSC and the ROH both get Arts Council England and/or National Lottery money in order to survive, money primarily raised via income tax or cheap gambling. A 2005 report by the Lottery operators, Camelot, indicates that there is higher participation in the lottery by people in the C2,D and E social demographic (percentage participation being higher than percentage of population) with higher average weekly spends by the same groups than those in the ABC1 demographic. So these places of ‘high culture’ survive thanks to the gambling habits of the very people the critics don’t like in their shiny citadels.