Loving the sunshine al frescoDate: 29 May 2012
Ragtime opened last night on a glorious summer evening in Regent's Park, blessed with a constant flurry of pollen blossom from the tall plane trees. If only the show had lived up to its promise. The opening ten minutes are sensational, and you spend the rest of the evening wishing you were on a loop that would come round again to the opening number.
The show's title is my favourite crossword solution, the seven-letter word that answers to the clue, "Cinderella's midnight music." But the magic thus implied is emphatically absent from the Ragtime score, which manages a few pale echoes of Scott Joplin before settling into self-importance and po-faced banality. One New York critic once said it sounded as though it had been composed by committee.
Still, it was lovely to be in the park, or rather, to see so many other people joining me in my park, which I visit most weekends on a jogging expedition. I'm not sure, though, that the catering and bar service are yet up to the standards we expect. The salad selections were distinctly torpid in the main bar, and the array of mini-bites laid out for the press somewhat grey and meagre.
I found myself sitting next to Lisa Makin, former casting director at the Royal Court, and girlfriend of Lenny Henry, who is diversifying, as they say, into production. She has high hopes of a musical version of the Made in Dagenham movie, written by Richard Bean with a score by David Arnold, the film and television composer.
It is quite a risk for the Open Air Theatre to run just two productions all summer, Ragtime and A Midsummer Night's Dream, though of course the latter will be popular whatever kind of production Matthew Dunster throws at it next week. The way things are going in the park under Timothy Sheader's artistic direction, you can almost certainly say goodnight to cherubic fairies with gossamer wings.
Before then, I'm hoping to catch a few matinees of the "Globe to Globe" international season of Shakespeare before it comes to a close. I gather the Georgian As You LIke It was an absolute highlight a week or so ago. And Dominic Dromgoole tells me that not even the wet weather in April affected audiences; if anything, he says, they were more concentrated and attentive than ever in adverse conditions.
He also points out that two thirds of each audience comes with the play, so to speak, in the same language. So the Globe has been packed one night with Russians, the next with Serbians, the next with Indians, and so on. Even last night's threatened disruption to The Merchant of Venice performed by the Habima Theatre of Tel Aviv failed to materialise in any serious way.
The objection to the company performing in London was that they had performed in the "illegal" Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Of course, it's only the Palestinians who regard these settlements as illegal, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, the perception, and the newspaper reporting, in Britain is weighted, as usual, against Israel.
The theatre in Israel has quite a radical tradition in the country's third largest city, the port of Haifa, where the mix of Jewish and Arab population has led to some combustible and challenging productions, notably, recently, from the Palestinian ShiberHur company who have visited the Young Vic.
Their latest production at the Bush Theatre, The Beloved, is a rather impenetrable re-write of the story of Abraham and Isaac, so impenetrable, in fact, that you couldn't protest against it even if you wanted to; you wouldn't know what to write on the placards.
For al fresco theatregoers, incidentally, it's worth pointing out that the new Bush in the old Shepherd's Bush Library has a pleasant garden out back, a sort of abandoned railway cuttings location, with tables and chairs ranged against a lovely old brick wall with the trains trundling past overhead.
When I arrived there on Friday evening, there was only a limited choice of sandwich in the bar, but I plumped for a cream cheese and mushroom, and it was delicious, much more interesting than anything on offer at the Open Air in Regent's Park.
Now, let's hope the weather holds, not only for tonight's opening of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in Kensington Gardens, but also for my expeditions to the Globe and to Stratford-upon-Avon either side of the Diamond Jubilee Weekend.