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MISSION TO EXPLAIN
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 memory. 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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