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Archives for August 2010

What is the ICA for?

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Will Gompertz | 13:00 UK time, Tuesday, 31 August 2010


There is a corridor running east to west along the seventh floor of Tate Modern. On the southern side is a whitewashed wall into which the occasional door has been embedded. It could not be plainer, and with good reason.

Along the entire northern side is a wall of glass with a lucidity which allows for one of the finest views of London the capital has to offer. On a clear day, with the outline of St Paul's Cathedral cut from the sky as if by a pair of razor-sharp scissors, the glass wall frames a picture as good as any hanging within the building.

St Paul's

It was on such a day roughly six years ago when I was ambling along this corridor, taking in the view, that I received a call asking my opinion regarding the appointment of a new artistic director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). Did I think Ekow Eshun, the journalist, editor and cultural commentator, would be a good appointment?

Ekow EshunI said that I thought he would. That if given the support of a managing director to deal with the day-to-day bureaucracy, Ekow would, I felt, bring fresh ideas and direction to a place that had once played the swell host to London's avant-garde, but had since become a lost and bewildered soul. Ekow could give the ageing ICA a much-needed hip replacement.

Ekow got the job and a managing director to support him, but has found the going tough. And now, after five years or so in the director's chair, he's off, saying that a mixture of withdrawing sponsors and forthright senior staff made it impossible for him to achieve his artistic aims. But what were they? What could they possibly have been? To ask a question so often posited it's becoming a cliche: what is the point of the ICA?

Founded in 1947 by Herbert Read as a place for artistic experimentation and playfulness, the ICA has become an earnest multi-disciplinary art centre with two galleries, two cinemas, a theatre, reading room, bookshop and cafe.

Today the public's interest in contemporary arts is at a heightened state with multitudes visiting contemporary art galleries, attending festivals, reading new fiction, watching movies and processing alongside articulated elephants. Yet, amid this clamour for all things contemporary, the ICA has lost its lustre.

The zeitgeist has long since packed its bag and left only to pitch up down the road at the Serpentine Gallery, or at Tate Modern, or at the Whitechapel, or at White Cube, or at Rough Trade Records or at numerous club nights, fringe theatres, independent bookshops or small cinemas. And that's just London.

The ICA not only missed this contemporary arts wave, but has been drowned by it. Why? Maybe it was the weight of its own reputation, like members of a venerable pop group peering at their navels trying to re-invent the old magic while a younger, funkier, self-confident generation blasts through them.

ICAOr perhaps being sandwiched between Jay Joplin's White Cube and Tate Modern squeezed the life and purpose out of the place. It certainly needed to react to the new arts scene, to establish its new role in a changing ecology.

The ICA hasn't failed as such. It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, has mounted some critically-acclaimed shows and has continued to experiment. But it hasn't succeeded either. Its financial problems and its staff's low morale are common knowledge. But the main problem is the same one it has struggled with for some time: what is its purpose?

I was working at the Tate when I took the call asking me about Ekow's suitability for the ICA job. At the time, the seventh-floor corridor seemed to me to capture in architectural terms the museum's stated vision to show modern art from a contemporary perspective, an unimpeded view over London saying that the museum was connected with today's world.

Of course there are plenty who think that much of the art shown at Tate Modern is completely out of touch with any sort of reality, but few would argue that the purpose of the place is unclear.

And it is a clear, simple vision that the ICA requires now. Does it even need a building? Could it not be a publisher, producer and promoter of new ideas and new voices unencumbered by the overhead of an expensive building? Maybe it should major on the "institute" part of its name and take a formal academic turn?

Or hand it over to the people for whom it was designed in the first place, artists: let Jeremy Deller run it one year and Paula Rego the next?

What next for the local library?

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Will Gompertz | 16:05 UK time, Friday, 27 August 2010


When was the last time you visited your local library? Last week? Last month? Last year? Never?

My colleague David Sillito produced this excellent piece on the subject earlier this week after a report by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport showed that visits to public libraries are in decline. It reveals that the proportion of adults who went to a public library at least once in a year has fallen from nearly 50% in 2004/05 to under 40% in 2009/10. The numbers who go to a library every week has dropped by a third in five years.

Library bookCheap books, easy online shopping and digital downloads have all been cited as causes of the slump. It's a downturn that has not gone unnoticed by politicians and local councils who are keen to cut costs. Libraries are beginning to seem like an expensive luxury.

Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture said recently:

"I hope we don't get hung up about library buildings. There's always a feeling that if a library closes, that's it, it's the end of the world. So there will be some re-shaping of library services but I do think it is important that we think imaginatively about where libraries could be. I wouldn't even have a problem, for example, if there was a library in a pub."

A pub? Really? How does that work? A pint of bitter, a bag of crisps and a copy of Ulysses please, barman. And how would granny react when she came round to see little Tommy and help him with his homework, only be told that he was down the pub with his mates and wouldn't be back for hours?

Actually it is working at the George and Dragon in Doncaster, but only because they have the support of the Library Services. So it's really an extension of an existing service, a bit of "outreach", as opposed to being an entity in itself.

Another idea being considered is relocating the local library to the local supermarket. On the face of it that might seem like a sensible idea, but again isn't without problems. Supermarkets have become one of the country's most successful book retailers, a profitable business. Why would they swap swiping cash-yielding bank cards for not-for-profit library cards? And to do both would surely create a conflict of interest.

But then is closing buildings the answer to the falling usage of our public libraries? Run differently, more imaginatively perhaps, could they not provide the sort of environment in which an idea such as the Big Society might thrive?

The public's interest in books is certainly not waning; if anything, it's growing. Book clubs, book festivals and book tours have all boomed in the past decade. When the Edinburgh International Book Festival started 26 years ago, there were only a handful of book festivals in the UK. Now there are over 300.

And there are some very successful public libraries. The Ideas Store in Tower Hamlets, which is now being turned into a brand across east London, has over 700,000 visits a year and regularly has queues of people waiting to get in. This in an area where many people have only the most basic education and more than a hundred languages are spoken.

How do they do it? Simple. By fusing the idea that made bookshops and book festivals so popular. They have talks, lectures, courses and a staff whose focus is the visitor experience. There are promotional displays of books put out on tables. And they serve a decent cup of coffee. As people leave classes they are encouraged to borrow books on their way out.

Too many libraries are stuck in the last century, offering poor service, indistinguishable aisles of books, outdated administrative systems and an oppressive, intimidating atmosphere. Their only concession to the 21st Century is often a huge reduction in the books they carry, which have been replaced by banks of faceless computers.

They could take a leaf out of the School of Life's book. The small London-based adult-education organisation offers the services of a bibliotherapist, a book reading specialist, who will discuss your reading life - past, present and future - and then make suggestions of books you might like to try.

For communities, a local library is like a local school: you might use it only rarely if at all, but you know it is important, that it represents a set of ideals and a way of life that puts learning and understanding at their centre. And like a church, the building is important, providing a visual statement on behalf of the community that would be lost inside a pub or a supermarket.

Ed Vaizey has just launched a new initiative called the Future Libraries Programme, aimed at increasing innovation, efficiency and seeking imaginative new ways of working. Perhaps the imaginative answer to the decline in the public's usage of their libraries is not to accept it as inevitable and reduce investment and close buildings. But to do the opposite and use them as a tool for galvanising communities, not by turning them into social centres or community centres but into knowledge centres.

A place where old and young, rich and poor, can come and exercise their brains and share ideas. The success of the Idea Stores suggests people will come, whatever the size of the society.

Tobacco advertising

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Will Gompertz | 12:35 UK time, Thursday, 26 August 2010


Every morning, while most sensible people are still in bed, my colleague Torin Douglas is up and at it producing this very useful daily media briefing.

CigarettesToday's post contained this link to a story about tobacco firms using websites such as YouTube to sell their products, an accusation they deny. Having co-founded and published Shots, a publication about creativity in advertising, I was intrigued.

Life for marketing bosses at cigarette manufacturers became much harder when the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 came into force in November 2002 in the UK, with most smoking advertising ending on 14 February 2003.

Until that time and for decades before, the tobacco industry had been responsible for producing some of the most memorable adverts ever produced.

From the Marlboro Man posters through to the hapless bald bloke in the Hamlet ads, the advertisements promoting tobacco often found their way beyond their target market and into the national consciousness.

There was a period, before the outright ban in 2002, when the rules for promoting smoking were tightened, stopping the advertiser from using the brand's name.

What followed was a series of posters for brands such as Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut that took poster advertising to a new artistic level. They were necessarily daring, brilliantly conceived, beautifully art directed and great to look at.

And as with all advertising, nobody had any idea whether or not they were successful (marketing boss: I know half my advertising works and the other half is a waste of money, I just don't know which is which).

It was the combination of the big money on offer from the tobacco companies and the censorship over using the brand's name that created the necessity that proved to be the mother of the ad agency's invention. And I imagine it is that same blend behind the current promotional activity undertaken to promote smoking.

This article talks about how tobacco companies are using pop festivals
as a means of reaching their target market. It also mentions the use of the internet as a recruitment tool.

Now I can see the logic in banning the promotion of a substance that can kill you, appeals to teenagers, is addictive, deemed anti-social and perceived to be corrupting.

But what strikes me odd about all this, is that health campaigners have asked why alcohol hasn't been given the same treatment?

I would have thought the booze business fails on all the same points that led to the ban on tobacco advertising, while also succeeding in a similar way; by having made some very good ads.

Franzen media roadshow

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Will Gompertz | 10:40 UK time, Wednesday, 25 August 2010


Is anybody unaware that Jonathan Franzen has a new novel out called Freedom?

Jonathan FranzenOr that he was on the front of Time magazine; the first time a novelist has been covered on their cover for a decade?

Or that Barack Obama took Freedom on his holiday with him?

His publicist has done very well. The hyperbole and chatter surrounding the - yet to be released - book is akin to the launch of a new Apple product.

It is rare in publishing for a literary author to receive so much coverage. Had his publishers known quite how much attention he was going to attract they might have thought about releasing the book at a different time.

Early autumn is a big season for the publishing industry; it's when they release a large swathe of their new titles; a period during which they hope a mixture of chilly, dark evenings, the Man Booker Prize and Christmas shopping will lead to sufficient sales to see them through what tends to be a lean January and February.

But the Jonathan Franzen media roadshow threatens to eclipse all other novelists with a new story to tell. Perhaps Fourth Estate should come to an agreement with future media outlets wishing to cover Franzen's Freedom, which stipulates that they must mention at least two other soon-to-be-published books (not necessarily Fourth Estate - more readers is good for them too).

I will:

Lights Out in Wonderland by DBC Pierre (Faber & Faber published 2 September).

The Empty Family by Colm Toibin (Viking, published 7 October).

Wheeling and dealing

Will Gompertz | 10:34 UK time, Tuesday, 24 August 2010


This caught my eye. Just out from Other Criteria, the publishing-cum-art-merchandising company, founded in 2005 by Damien Hirst, Hugh Allan and Frank Dunphy.

Damien HirstIt's a stainless-steel 4x4 wheel cover adorned with a Damien design, which as part of an unlimited edition could be yours for £900. That's a bit pricey given that these people will create a cover with your own personalized, unique, artwork on for under £200. But then the likelihood is that you, unlike the Leeds legend, are not one of the most significant artists of your generation.

Anyway, price is not the point; it's the medium. Damien is a man blessed with both artistic talent and business acumen. And good timing. As the hammer came down for a final time at his record-breaking sale at Sotheby's in London on Tuesday 16 September 2008, Lehman Brothers were filing for bankruptcy and thus precipitating a global credit-crunch.

Which means there must be something behind his idea of making an artwork for rear-mounted 4x4 spare wheels. Never a booming market, I would have thought - and one I imagine shrinking now as popular models such as Land Rover's Discovery have removed the spare from the back door. The Suzuki Jimmy still has a rear-mounted spare wheel, but are Jimmy drivers Hirst fans?

So what does Damien know that we don't? I wouldn't be surprised if Ford announces a radical redesign of its best-selling Focus model in the next few months that features a rear-mounted spare wheel.

Who cares about autotune?

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Will Gompertz | 13:17 UK time, Monday, 23 August 2010


One of the more annoying properties of inventions is that you can't uninvent them. Not even for short periods of time. You can always pretend they don't exist by banning them, but knowledge is clever stuff and will easily outmanoeuvre such dull thinking.

Take the nuclear bomb. Creating the technology that has the capacity to obliterate us might seem, in hindsight, a bad idea. And no matter how many non-proliferation treaties the Western world's lawyers rustle up, we will forever live in the sinister shadow of a nuclear armageddon until somebody invents a device to erase our collective memory - one that isn't a nuclear bomb.

When Dr Harold (Andy) Hildebrand left his post as a research scientist in the geophysical industry to found Antares Audio Technologies in 1990 to seek ways he could use his previous experience to improve the process of digital sampling, it was inevitable that success on his part would mean the music industry would feel the effects.

And so it has. After a couple of early successes, Dr Andy then went on to invent Auto-Tune in 1997, a programme that corrects pitch problems in a singer's vocals. Just as Les Paul transformed the possibilities of the electric guitar through his solid-wood designs, and indeed his multi-track recording inventions (an area where Dr Andy has also found success); just as with Dr Robert (Bob) Moog's eponymous synthesizer, autotune has taken its place in the producer's toolbox of handy enhancements.

But where Les Paul's and Bob Moog's inventions are considered to have opened up possibilities for music-making, Dr Andy's autotune has generally been seen as a reductive tool; put bluntly, a cheat. Like an athlete using steroids to enhance his or her performance, some see autotune as the refuge for vocal fakes and frauds.

I don't agree. A singer's voice is just another instrument that has already been enhanced by the use of technology over the years. Almost nobody minds when a microphone is used to capture a singer's sound and then regurgitate it through a set of speakers, an amplification process that interferes with the purity of the natural voice. Or when a sound engineer sits in the middle of a gig and twiddles the knobs on the sound-desk to amplify the noise he or she wants to create, which is quite different to the unamplified sound on the stage.

So what's the problem with another addition to the armoury of electronic gizmos to manipulate the audience's aural experience? Especially if it is used with ingenuity as was the case with Cher's hit Believe.

There is a problem, though, when it comes to a talent show such as The X Factor. I don't care that the producers are manipulating my emotions; all artforms - including TV - do that. I don't care whether they use autotune or not, or indeed who uses it.

But I do care if autotune is not offered to all the contestants. If a singer knows it is available and chooses not to use it, that is fine. But to have the producers select who is put through one mixer to help them avoid another (in the shape of Cowell and chums) is wrong and certainly not in tune with the spirit of the show.

Roadkill: Looking at life afresh

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Will Gompertz | 11:26 UK time, Thursday, 19 August 2010


There's a pattern to seeing shows at Edinburgh that is reminiscent of the military marching beat: miss, miss, miss, hit, miss.

A rookie visitor will try to improve his or her success rate by casually asking other attendees if they can recommend a show. This is a mistake that will lead to the Fringe's three stages of mourning: excitement, frustration and humiliation.

It goes like this:

Rookie [to a die-hard festival goer sitting on the wall outside the Pleasance Dome reading a copy of The List]: Hi there. Sorry to bother you, but you look like you know your way around these parts. Can you recommend a show?
Old Hand [cool, but delighted to be asked]: Sure. You really should go see Joe Bloggs. He's incredible - it's the best show I've seen in years. Amazing.
Rookie: Really? Fantastic. Which venue is he playing?
Old Hand: The Udderbelly, I think. No, no, wait a minute - he's at the Pleasance.
Rookie [pleased to be given the chance to show some festival knowledge]: Which one?
Old Hand: Courtyard.
Rookie [grateful and excited]: Fabulous, thanks - I'll pop down there right now and get a ticket.
Old Hand: I wouldn't bother - it's sold out.

At this point the Old Hand gives a smug but sympathetic shrug and wanders off with a final twist of the knife: "but he really is very good; truly exceptional". The Rookie walks away dejected and won't learn that this question will always elicit the same "...but it's sold out" answer until he or she has repeated the experience at least five times.

Of course, once you've cottoned on you very quickly have the pleasure of playing the game yourself. I did this morning.

I was at a breakfast hosted by a theatre company for some of its supporters. A convivial and informed bunch, they were discussing the merits of the shows they had been to see before the toast had popped up. The "misses" were dealt with first. I waited patiently. Then talk turned to shows they were due to see. I sipped my coffee. And then, as I spooned the last of my Frosties into my mouth, came the question, "So, tell me Will: have you seen any shows you'd recommend?"

"Oh yes," I said. "Roadkill is absolutely amazing - harrowing but superb."

Scene from RoadkillAnd it is superb and honestly the best thing I have seen at the Fringe, which surprised me as it is a site-specific piece that used video technology - neither of which I generally find to be particularly successful additions to the theatrical experience.

But for this story - a young Nigerian girl is brought to Edinburgh by her "Auntie" under false pretences and is entrapped in a world of hideous prostitution - both the location and video accompaniment worked perfectly. If the purpose of the arts is to make us look at life afresh, to provoke our intellects, to challenge our preconceptions and to comment on our lives, then this work succeeds magnificently.

As with the best theatre, Roadkill transports you - literally - to another place and takes you on a narrative that is moving and profound. The 16-or-so fellow audience members (numbers are limited due to the locations in which the action takes place) who were with me all emerged knowing they had seen and experienced something beyond the usual.

We had witnessed a story told so directly, so brutally and so well that, for a while at least, the world seemed a different place. And then this morning I was flicking through the papers and saw this story on page 4 of the Guardian. Under normal circumstances I suspect I would have clocked it and moved on without bothering to read the whole piece.

Not now: I read every single word, took in the stats, mulled over the arguments and was appalled. And then I read Ed Pilkington on the same subject in the Guardian's G2 section.

The arts have a reputation for frivolity and otherworldliness; those who inhabit them are brushed aside as luvvies, not serious people. That's wrong. And if you don't believe me, go and see Roadkill.

Except of course, it is sold out.

Scottish arts funding

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Will Gompertz | 16:20 UK time, Wednesday, 18 August 2010


I was talking about the Scottish arts scene with the author Ian Rankin at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday. He was saying that although much smaller than the English arts sector, the Scots have a vibrant and successful creative community.

Ian RankinHe cited Dundee by way of example. He talked about how it had turned itself into a global centre for the video games industry.

The city's Abertay University he said, has a highly regarded department running prestigious courses in computer games and then of course there is Realtime Worlds, a video games company headed-up by Dave Jones, the creator of Grand Theft Auto, which is a leading player in the market.

What we didn't know was that as we spoke Realtime Worlds was itself becoming a virtual reality and had gone into administration. Which makes what Ian said later in the conversation all the more prophetic.

He was expressing his frustration with the Scottish government's prevarications and indecision around their arts policy, which like health and education has been fully devolved from Westminster. He says there have been too many culture ministers, too many meetings and not enough action.

What he feels the arts in Scotland need is support in developing and producing new ideas, otherwise emerging businesses will either move away or go bust.

Fiona HyslopIt's an opinion that is shared by the current Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop, who I met this morning at the Pleasance Courtyard.

She told me there are big differences in the political philosophy between her government and the coalition one in Westminster. She feels the London lot have cut too much, too quickly and points out that while Jeremy Hunt has already cut arts budgets in England, her government have left the subsidy they provide to Scottish arts institutions untouched. So far.

Quite reasonably she was unwilling to be drawn on the possibility of any future cuts as the Scottish government have yet to receive their funding settlement from the Treasury in London. But I did get a sense, which was shared among all of those in the Scottish arts sector to whom I have spoken, that her government's approach to arts funding will be different to Westminster's.

Ever since Sir Walter Scott helped create the modern image of Scotland through his books, there has been recognition here that the arts have the power to do much more than entertain, enlighten and educate; they also pull in punters from across the world and enhance Scotland's image.

Fiona Hyslop is keen to point out that while the international tourism industry saw a drop of 4% in the last year, visits to Scotland were up by over 2%, a success she puts down in part to a vibrant arts offer.

She was also proud of their new arts funding body called Creative Scotland, a conflation of the old Scottish Arts Council and the Scottish Screen Agency. The idea is to cut down on bureaucracy, streamline decision-making, back innovation and bring together Scotland's creative industries, all the things that Ian Rankin was calling for in fact.

So, with this new vibrant arts body now open for business, would she be asking them to step in and help out Realtime Worlds? No she wouldn't, she told me, as this was an area for her Scottish government colleagues in the Enterprise department who are aware of the situation apparently and have started discussions with the relevant people.

As she looked around the buzzing Pleasance Courtyard and commented on what she thought felt like the busiest Edinburgh Festival, she commented that the Festival had developed out of a time of austerity.

It'll be interesting to see, come the autumn, whether the Scottish government will continue to back the arts to the same degree as they have in the forthcoming period of austerity.

Update 19 August: The word "coalition" appeared in the wrong place in a paragraph above - apologies; now rectified.


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Will Gompertz | 16:12 UK time, Tuesday, 17 August 2010


Edinburgh: On Friday, I drove from Salvador Dali's house-cum-surrealist-masterpiece at Portlligatt in Spain to my suburban home in Oxford stopping only to fill-up with petrol, coffee and Petit Ecolier biscuits.

Casa Museo Dali by alanconnor on Flickr

Packed into the confined automotive space with me were luggage for a family of six, bikes, balls, my wife and our four children. The outside temperature averaged 30C; the air-con was off (sorry kids, it wastes petrol), the roads busy. Added to which I appeared to be the only one with any taste in music.

Now, I don't know the exact properties of semtex, but I'm guessing they're not dissimilar. Fortunately though, we had some bomb disposal experts on hand to help to defuse the situation in the shape of: Nature, Norman Foster and Apples.

There is currently an exhibition on at Tate Britain in London called Art and the Sublime, which looks at how artists in the 18th and 19th Centuries tried to capture the vastness and magnificence of nature and beauty. It's a good show, but doesn't stand comparison to the real thing.

Driving across the Pyrenees and then through the Massif Central isn't like looking at a painting by a great landscape artist such as Turner; it's like being in one. The Tate describes the word "sublime" as the feeling when one's "ability to perceive or comprehend is temporarily overwhelmed". Such was the magnificence of the landscape we were driving through that "temporary" turned into eight hours.

"Sublime" is a term generally attributed to nature, but there's no reason why it shouldn't be used to describe a man-made object. I can think of no better word to sum up the Norman-Foster-designed bridge at Millau in south-west France. It's extraordinary and beautiful and had us all starring out of the car windows in a state of temporary overwhelmedness, even though we had driven across it on previous occasions.

Viaduc de Millau by alanconnor on Flickr

But however great the views or awesome the bridge, such a journey requires yet more in order for peace and harmony to be maintained as we slowly baked in our Toyota pressure-cooker. This is where Apples (or similar devices made by other manufacturers) can come in handy.

One child chortled away watching two seasons of Flight of the Conchords on my laptop, another starred happily at the tiny battered screen of his second-hand iPod Nano as Wallace and Grommit went about their business while the other two shared an iTouch and its headphones on which they gamed, watched videos and exercised their right to listen to very bad music in private.

I am aware of recent articles saying that allowing your children to escape into a digital audio-visual reverie is bad, that it will induce all sorts of terrible things like stupidity, but I don't agree. I think advances in technology that enable "rich-media" content to be consumed in a host of different ways is good. Sometimes.

The problem for me arises when the technology stops being the subservient medium for the delivery of great content and becomes part of the show. Take 3D films, for example. It can be great when the essence of a film's concept is based upon using 3D technology as part of the experience, as was the case with Avatar. Not so great when 3D is retro-fitted like one of those souped-up sports exhausts on a Ford Focus; performance is rarely enhanced and the thing ends up looking a bit silly.

An article in the Financial Times said concern was growing among Hollywood execs about gratuitous overuse of 3D technology, which could spoil what they foresaw as a profit party before it had properly begun. It is becoming increasingly clear to them that adding the novelty of 3D technology to a movie as an afterthought will not turn a turkey into a Golden Goose.

The same applies to theatre. I have seen several productions where big audio-visual effects and screens have been added to either little or detrimental effect. It happened again last night when I went to see Opera de Lyon's production of Porgy and Bess at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.

Opera de Lyon's production of Porgy and Bess

The stage sets were excellent and initially the massive curved screen that sat above them seemed like a good idea. In the first scene the performers on the stage were accompanied by an echo of themselves on the big screen that showed them existing within the confines of a small urban courtyard. Good contextualisation and arresting imagery. Then the problems started.

Like a child with a new toy, the production played with the idea until it broke. The screen was used throughout and not just to enhance the plot or set. The result was confusion. There was one scene at the end of Act II that had what must have been the entire, huge cast on the stage. It was their moment. Except it wasn't. It was the big screen's moment, again.

As the cast-of-lots gave it their all, they were literally overshadowed by 20-foot close-ups of individual performers pulling faces. It is difficult to look at two things at once at the best of times, but utterly impossible when the choice is a backlit, gigantic gurning face or a group of individuals who are made dwarf-like by the overhead cinematic pyrotechnics. Fine for Gulliver's Travels, not for Porgy and Bess.

Of course, there are instances where the integration of large-scale video screens into a performance works brilliantly - the early Gorillaz shows, for example. But again, that was when the technology was serving a very clear artistic purpose. I'm going to give it another go tonight. I'm off to see a site-specific show called Roadkill that I understand relies heavily on audio-visual technology to deliver its narrative punch. I'll report back.

Worth A Listen: Fitzrovia Radio Hour

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Will Gompertz | 11:19 UK time, Thursday, 5 August 2010


I'm still on holiday, but I really wanted to share this with you.

The Fitzrovia Radio Hour perform spoof 1940s radio plays - complete with sound effects. They are attired in evening dress, adopt cut-glass English accents and play in front of a live audience. Theyare at the Edinburgh Festival between Friday 6 August and Monday 30 August - playing at the Underbelly venue in the city. Take a look at their topical radio play looking at current events in the world of arts and culture - called "Kick Up the Arts".

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