Home Page Now we've got the best, it's time to promote yer actual culture 16/05/14

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Hart of the Matter

With an election in the offing, albeit a European one, which never attracts quite the attention of a General one, it is necessary to steer clear of anything political this week, so instead this is an opportunity to give some thought to a recent major anniversary which did not receive quite the publicity it deserved.

On April 23 (probably) we had the opportunity to celebrate a very special milestone in the legacy of one of the greatest Britons ever, if not the greatest Ė certainly in the minds of the rest of the world, if not always in his own country.

It was quite extraordinary how little evidence there was to be found on the main TV channels of the fact that it was the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. For those of us lucky enough to enjoy Sky Arts, there has been a suitable string of re-broadcasts of live performances from The Globe, but ITV and even the BBC, with the exception of a minute or two at the end of Newsnight for a week, gave us nothing.

Fortunately, in Haverhill as all over the country, we now have the chance to see Shakespeare performances streamed live from the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre at Stratford-on-Avon, from The Globe in London, and from other London theatres like the National or the Donmar, all to either Haverhill Arts Centre or Haverhill Cineworld.

As a result, there ought to be no excuse for people being unaware of the greatest single artistic achievement springing from this country, the canon of probably 37 plays which he wrote between 1589 and 1612.

So it was that this week I had the chance to see two of the best of his plays within 24 hours, involving some of our greatest actors, one at the arts centre and one at the cinema.

Normally I like to support the arts centre ones as much as possible. The live-streaming and Encore showings of major theatrical events have been a wonderful boost to the arts centre at a tough time economically, and we should all do our bit to support that, I feel.

Sadly, the technology is not always infallible and a week or two ago I was among a large and expectant audience there for King Lear from the Donmar, directed by Sam Mendes and starring probably the greatest actor of our time, Simon Russell Beale. Part way through Act One it broke down and we had to go home with the promise of free tickets to a re-scheduled transmission or our money back.

The re-scheduled showing happened to be on an evening when we could not attend, so we had our money back and, casting an eye through the Cineworld programme, I was delighted to see they were transmitting it on Thursday afternoon this week.

On Wednesday evening we already had tickets for Henry IV Part One live from Stratford at the arts centre, starring Sir Antony Sher as Falstaff, the second in the cycle of history plays which began last year with David Tennantís Richard II.

I suppose people who donít know them think the history plays are dry stuff, and the arts centre was only about half full for this epic picture of England, a dramatic and rollicking play which has done much to create the way we and others see our country at its best.

At Cineworld next day my wife and I had the privilege of being the only two people in the audience for King Lear, one of the greatest pieces of drama ever written, in an astonishing and profoundly moving production. Why?

I suppose Thursday afternoon is not ideal timing for many, although for older people youíd think it might be more comfortable than a very late night for such a long play.

But when you look around, youíll see there could actually be plenty of excuse for people not to know these delights are available at all. If you read the arts centre brochure, you may know about their live streaming, or if you are on their mailing list you may get a reminder.

For Cineworld, you have to follow their scheduling closely, either on line or via the media, to know what is coming up.

The point is that no one is making any effort to promote what is newly available in a co-ordinated and accessible manner. Whatever happened to arts development? I suppose it has been a victim of the widespread financial cuts.

Without it these live streamings are only of any value to those of us who might well have made the effort to go and see the production in the actual theatre. Of course itís nice and convenient now that we donít have to drive to London or Stratford and pay their ticket prices, and we can slip home afterwards in a matter of minutes rather than hours.

But this is not just for us. Once you get Shakespeare it is amazing stuff, but there are many people for whom his plays are a closed book, often due to poor experiences at school. Itís like people who wonít try Mediterranean or Indian food because of a bad experience on holiday or after a visit to a third-rate curry house.

The only way they eventually learn to overcome it is by finally agreeing to try a good quality local restaurant and finding that itís actually rather good and not at all dangerous. Then you canít stop them heading for such places every week.

So the challenge is Ė and it doesnít only apply to Shakespeare, of course, but to all sorts of live events now being made available to us on our doorstep, including plays, pop concerts, art and museum exhibitions, opera, ballet, the whole cultural works Ė to stimulate peopleís interest in trying something which is now far more accessible than it has ever been.

 

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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