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					38     December 1985          Marxism Today

                                                                 MISSION                                             simply about the morals of attachment.

                                                                                                                     But the hero does go to hell at the end, taken
                                                                 TO EXPLAIN                                          by the statue of the father of one of the women
                                                                                                                     he's destroyed.

                                                                 Interview with                                      It's a metaphor for the fact that there must
                                                                 Jonathan Miller                                     be an account, written at a time when hell
                                                                                                                     was the only way of articulating and
                                                                                                                     symbolising final judgements and accoun-
                                                                 Presumably        Don     Giovanni will   be   in   tability. It depends what you think hell is
                                                                 English?                                            . . . I think he's taken away by all the
                                                                                                                     dead women and the punishments of the
                                                                 Yes. What you get in return for the loss of         hereafter are nothing other than the
Jonathan Miller's working life consists of                       acoustic elegance is immediate intelligibil-        sentence that one would be forced to enact
a series of contradictions. He tries to be                       ity, so it becomes a drama. It's important          one's sins for ever.
an artist and a scientist at the same time,                      with any good dramatic opera that you
in a society of specialists, and to use his                      know what's going on from moment to                 Mozart lived in the age of reason, the
experience in one field to make him                              moment. Most people going to Covent                 Enlightenment of the rationalist 18th cen-
better at the other. A darling of the media                      Garden or places where it's done in the             tury, but had his own appetites to contend
in the 60s, when the Oxbridge revue                              original language, are either crazed opera          with. Was any of what you've just said in his
Beyond the Fringe ushered in the satire                          buffs who know every word anyway or                 mind consciously?
boom, he finds himself today increasing-                         they get a vague idea by reading the
ly excluded from the major institutions of                       programme notes. Now I think that if you            I don't think consciously. Mozart was
the arts world.                                                  simply get a vague idea it's rather like            tremendously interested, as we all are, in
   His television series The Body in Ques-                       making love in a contraceptive. It just             this double pull that exists inside a
tion saw him use his unique skills as a                          takes all the immediate sensation away.             personality. What would it be like to
communicator to guide us round that                                                                                  follow appetite, untrammelled, to the
most mysterious of subjects, the human                           What's the attraction of Don Giovanni for           end? To seduce every woman who glances
body. And the attraction of opera, that                          you? On the face of it, it's a sort of religious    in one's direction? To follow every single
most artificial-seeming of art forms, is                         revenge story; if you don't do as you're told,      unspoken encounter to its sexual conclu-
the way it lets him reveal the mysteries of                      you end up in hell fire.                            sion? There's that, which we all feel. But
real and observable life. His current                                                                                there's also the pull of the notion of
production of Rigoletto - in which a                             No I don't think it's religious. Well, you          responsibility, of attachment, of domes-
hunch-backed clown has his daughter                              can see it in other terms. It's a moralistic        ticity, things which actually seem to be
killed while trying to save her from                             work, and not in the worst sense. Mozart            the basis of the society we have. I suppose
seduction - is set in New York, among                            has set the force of unbridled licentious-          some marxists might say the family is
the mafia; its most famous aria comes                            ness against the requirements of an                 simply an elaborate device for guaran-
out of a juke box. This month it is joined                       orderly life. He sees it as a liberating            teeing the inheritance of property and the
at the London Coliseum by Don Giovan-                            instinct (as Freud did) that has to be              maintenance of power, but that's only one
ni, Mozart's treatment of the come-                              restrained to make the possibility of an            aspect of it. The family is simply the way
uppance of Don Juan. Here Jonathan                               orderly life. Also there is the notion that         we haul ourselves up by the bootstraps
Miller, a lifelong socialist, talks to Paul                      this free philandering leaves a lot of              from being relatively simple primates.
Allen about television, the National                             casualties behind it: abandoned women,
Theatre, medical matters and his life in                         ruined women, dishonoured women,                    There can't be many opera producers who
the opera.                                                       thrown out. In many ways the opera is               bring that information towards the staging of
                                                                (Zerlina) and Mark Richardson (Masetto).
                Giovanni: Jonathan Miller with Lesley Garrett
Directing Don
                                                                                                           December 1985    Marxism Today    39

Don Giovanni or anything else.                  Yes, I'm off to New York in the new year         wonderfully skilled protagonists of re-
                                                to do A Long Day's Journey into Night with       latively minor arts. The greatness of the
I suppose it's unusual in that I don't come     Jack Lemmon. That's rather exciting.             theatre is supposed to be in the writing.
from the theatre. I come from outside           But I don't see very much of an                  Directors and actors will come and go but
with interests and knowledge which seem         opportunity in England. I do most of my          the only thing that's remembered is
to be relevant to the theatre. If theatre is    work in the classical theatre, not because I     Shakespeare.
of any interest at all, it's about us, about    don't like modern theatre, it's just hard to
what we're like, and I come from an area        find anything worth doing. But if you're         Do you think television is ever going to be the
where I spent a lot of time thinking about      not a member of the Royal Shakespeare            medium for the advances in thought made,
what we're like.                                Company or the National, you really can't        using the written word, by the Freuds, the
                                                get your hands on casts that are big             Marx's or whoever? Can it ever be that
One of the problems with opera is that people   enough to do the work. There are quite a         serious a medium?
have ceased to take any notice of what it's     number of directors of my generation -
about. They're embarrassed if you point out     people like John Dexter, William Gaskill,        Probably not. Television's a very good
that, say, Tosca is set in a police state.      Michael Blakemore - who are now                  medium for explaining. Well, I say very
                                                internal exiles, gipsies, who find it quite      good. It's actually a fairly good medium
An awful lot of the opera audience is           hard to scrape together productions.             for explaining things. It hasn't got the
determined to avert its gaze from the real                                                       advantage of a direct lecture where you're
emotional charges that are in opera. They       Do you think it's a conspiracy? Or just the      simply listening to someone talking.
simply want to hear lovely voices . . .         sheer institutional nature of mainstream         There's a conflict often between ideas and
there's a sort of Richard Baker world!          British theatre, dominated by the two great      images I think, because they employ
                                                blocs, the RSC and the National?                 different parts of the brain. And they're
What's to become of it?                                                                          not in sync. But television's wonderful for
                                                Yes, it's become very consolidated, and if       getting to places you can't reach for
You just simply have to go on digging           you're not in the institutions . . . I blotted   reasons of expense, fear, embarrassment
your trench work of serious productions         my copybook with the National. I made a          or distance. It enables you to go to war, to
which take the good works and reaffirm          definite and self-conscious decision to get      see the unbelievably small, the incompa-
their emotional reality so that the             out. I didn't like Peter Hall, I didn't like     rably large, the amazingly distant, the
audience is not let off the hook or made to     the institution he was heading. There are        dreadful and the embarrassing. You can
think it's attending a lovely concert in        a number of young and ambitious men in           get into a hospital, you can see someone
frocks. It mostly is!                           place now and they want to keep the work         undergoing ordeals the normal private
                                                for themselves. It's not a conspiracy            citizen is not allowed to witness, you can
What are the chances of you ever producing      against me or those others, but it is hard       go into prisons, you can go to the highest
at Covent Garden?                               to get a production now.                         mountain, you can see nature in inaccessi-
                                                                                                 ble forms. It extends our senses, and it's
Oh, I've never been asked and I don't           Does diversification make life possible for      at its very best when it's doing news,
think I ever will go now. I suppose some        you in the sense that it gives you the variety   documentaries and sports events.
of that is sour grapes, but I find it very      you personally need?
difficult to adjust myself to that type of                                                       You've done other things in television.
audience, to work with those sorts of           I'd be very bored if I was in the theatre
stars.                                          full time. It's an extremely engaging            I've been in and out of it for 20 years. I
                                                entertainment and often very hard work           quite liked my Alice in Wonderland. I'm
Do you feel the same about the non-musical      and I'm not going to pretend it can't be         quite proud of that as a work of cinema
theatre? Do you have any plans for theatre      very difficult to do. But it doesn't fill up     which is what it really is. But one of the
productions?                                    my mind. How could it? There are
40    December 1985    Marxism Today

best things I ever did was the programme         / sometimes wonder if this sense of being           I've come for my giro, or ticket! The
about Ivan, the man with Parkinson's             excluded, shut out, doesn't come from the fact      shabby old theatres at least impose a sort
Disease. It is an hour-long documentary          that you work in so many different fields.          of light-heartedness on what you do.
which intruded into the life of a man with       People who work in a single area, or                   I see myself leaving Britain fairly
a crippling and disabling disorder. It got       institution, like to preserve the sanctity of it,   shortly. I think my attempt to go back
somewhere you wouldn't normally be able          and they're suspicious of people who seem to        into medicine was partly prompted by an
to go. Now a doctor is doing that the            breach that mystery.                                impatience to leave English theatre.
whole time but he's never communicating
that to other people, not even to the            Some of my ertswhile professional col-              It sounds as though you've abandoned the
patient.                                         leagues think of me as this sort of                 attempt to go back to medicine.
'Mission to explain' is a discredited term       disreputable fugitive who now comes
                                                 back to plunder the whole store.                    Well, I should really, because in the three
because of the fiasco of TV-am, which bore it
                                                                                                     years I was doing it I realised my interest
as a motto at first. But that seems to be your
                                                                                                     in other things was never extinguished.
                                                 Medical colleagues?                                 Being full-time in medicine was just as
                                                                                                     burdensome as being full-time in the
There ought to be a mission to explain.          Yes, and then there are people around in            theatre. I like to dodge in and out . . .
Merely gaping at things is uninteresting         the media who simply say I'm a jack of all
and I think improper. But when the               trades. This sounds a cantankerous and              Did theatre work give you anything to take
periscope of television takes you to places      arrogant thing to say, but I'm usually              back into medicine? You've described the
where it might otherwise be improper             called a Jack of all trades by people who           advantages of working the other way round.
merely to look, and elucidates as well,          are Jacks of one! And I don't think that if
then it's very good.                             I were to stick at one job, say the theatre,        Oh yes, a tremendous amount. I now
                                                 I'd be better at it. It may be that the             observe things in the wairds, watching
You've a production of another Mozart opera      things which I've done which have been              patients, which often the physicians miss
about sex and infidelity, Cosi Fan Tutte, to     liked are good because I mess around with           . . . the way someone with a locomotive
be seen on television next year. You produced    other subjects. One of the things that's            disorder will phrase a movement, or the
12 of the BBC Shakespeares and directed          wrong with the theatre is that people in it         way they don't finish the movement, or
seven. Anything else in the air?                 don't spend enough time observing real              it's clumsily phrased. Often in people who
                                                 life. They observe other performances.              are not overtly paralysed I can see things
                                                 It's too professional.                              that are in fact the result of brain damage,
I was trying to do a series on the history of                                                        because I've spent 15 years watching
the idea of evolution but it was turned                                                              normal people moving under the influ-
                                                 Do you think the deficiencies of British
down in favour of James Burke. It's the                                                              ence of music or under the influence of
                                                 theatre are peculiar to the British theatre? Is
way of the world. It's hard to get in now,                                                           rehearsed emotion. There's a constant
                                                 it peculiar to Britain that we should be
they're much more ratings conscious. But                                                             reciprocal relationship for me between the
                                                 dominated by large institutions set up I
I have got a wonderful new patient that I                                                            clinic and the theatre.
                                                 suppose as part of a socialist vision of the
might do a programme on. He's a
                                                 arts?                                                  America is not like England. There
musician but he's got a kind of encephali-
                                                                                                     they like people dodging in and out . . .
tis that's destroyed his short term
                                                 It's a mixture of something that is totally         I've just been talking to a university who
                                                 commendable and a regrettable outcome               actually would like me to come and work
                                                 of empire building. The National Theatre            in the theatre department for some time
You obviously have to confront the question      has been under one man's management                 but also work in the department of
of how much you're going to intrude, even if     and the RSC under one man's manage-                 neuro-psychology at the same time. I'm
they've asked you to do it. The world is full    ment for a very, very long time. Two                not a fugitive from an oppressive regime,
of people begging to go on television.           men, virtually, have run both theatres for          but I feel myself a fugitive from a regime I
                                                 25 years. That is bad. It means one person          don't like very much - a dreary,
                                                 controls employment in each, and it has             drudging, grudging world in England.
Yes. We were very careful.
                                                 become very, very centralised. Also, we
                                                 haven't got enough of these places. In              You're not just talking about the present
Why don't you get involved in films more?        Germany they're all over the place, so the          regime? You feel it about the post war culture
                                                 socialist idea of a subsidised theatre is not       as a whole?
Very difficult to get involved, unless           peculiar to here.
you're full-time. Not that the actual job is                                                         Yes. It's class-ridden and it's pompous
full-time. What comsumes the time is the         You don't think there is anything debilitating      and it's condescending.
footling business of raising funds, going        about the big institutions themselves?
round, finding a script, working it up,                                                              And you don't think it will be very different
getting the money, persuading people that        There is, probably, in the long run.                if Neil Kinnock wins the next election?
this is a going concern. There are people        Certainly very big, institutionalised mod-
who can spend three years drumming up            ern buildings aren't good for the theatre.          No I don't think so. Probably a bit greyer,
money for one movie.                             There's an official feeling, like the DHSS.         that's all.

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