Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The National Portfolio

After all the tension, the phone calls and emails started to fly around at 7.30 this morning. The Arts Council hasn't exactly had an easy task on its hands; and probably did quite a good job of cutting down the number of RFOs without simply slashing everybody in sight. The National Portfolio is published online, but of course this only says who got money (including all the usual suspects, with their varying levels of cuts). The headline figures are that 849 RFOs have been reduced to 695 - but 110 of these are new, which means that 264 organisations must have been axed completely. Well done the 110 new clients. We weren't one of them.

I've yet to talk to ACE about this, but I can predict from the written report what they will say. They reported that we were "Good" in every area - but "the budget is limited". Well, of course that's true - but it wasn't too limited to fund some other people, so we do need to know a bit more.... I'll let you know what they say!

On a nicer topic, I saw Peter Brook's A Magic Flute at the Barbican last week. It's had quite a mixed press - and you can see why, especially with regard to the singing. But it's an incredibly winning performance, especially if you happen to be sitting in the front row, which I was. All the bombast and vast scale of most opera has gone - this is a chamber show with a piano, and so becomes very subtle, human, and delicate. Brook doesn't look for "readings" or "interpretations" (which is something I probably would do). Instead, you get the sense of an elder of the theatre returning to a childlike delight in the simplicity of fable and fairytale. It is, in every sense, enchanting.

Brook has long been famous for his work on magical pieces, of course (A Midsummer Night's Dream is the stuff of legend). As in that production and his Tempest, the theatrical magic is in the hands of anonymous spirits, who employ circus tricks and the rough magic of theatrical honesty to make the performance happen and the story move forward. It's all about the audience investing totally in the show.

It's also one in a series of productions Brook has done of late, great works: The Tempest, The Cherry Orchard. As he's now 86 himself, you can't help feeling that this is in some way about signing off. So the fact that what may well be his last project is a late piece by somebody who dies aged 35 is very touching. As I said, it's childlike. Direct and simple magic.

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