Tuesday 9 June 2009

A baroque tragedy played for laughs

To look on the bright side, the fact that our pilots are currently fighting to the death in the cockpit is at least taking our minds off the unprecedented economic turbulence through which we are flying.

And, really, there is no need to worry now we have Sir Alan, sorry M’Lord, Sugar stepping up to the plate as our “Enterprise Tsar”, whatever that is. Since he is a man chiefly famed for saying “You’re fired”, we can at least understand why a Prime Minister whose continued employment hangs by a gossamer thread might want to keep him on side.

However, I cannot help feeling that an opportunity has been missed to widen the appeal of the administration by bringing in that “really, really nice person” Susan Boyle to run Culture, or possibly Health. Simon Cowell would make a more convincing Chancellor than either Alistair Darling or Ed Balls, while Amanda Holden could excel as a new Secretary of State for Nice Frocks and Empathy.

Is that any more surreal than the actual events of the last week? We are miles past the point where “you could not make it up” and I eagerly await the inevitable denouement. Closely followed, I hope, by the book, the play and the opera about how it all went so spectacularly wrong.

Opera has always been my favourite performing art, and last Thursday I had the rare privilege of attending the very first British performance of a work that was rivetingly topical, being all about the plotting and scheming of the political elite. Only it was written as long ago as 1667 by Francesco Cavalli and focused on the bizarre, brief reign of the little-known Roman emperor Heliogabalus, a sex-obsessed, cross-dressing teenager who made Caligula look like a model ruler. (If only I hadn’t promised not to mention Gordon’s name in this column again, I could now insert a witty comparison with the respective records of Messrs Brown and Blair.)

Inevitably the director felt compelled to update the action, to make it more relevant to us thickos in the audience, so we had one Roman riding a motorbike, kitted out as one of the butcher members of the Village People, and a memorable scene in which the senate was completely filled with scantily clad bunny girls. Plus a dinner party ruined by a couple of birds of ill omen (stuffed owls on strings, the budget clearly not running to animatronics) and a final gladiatorial contest that culminated in a yellow Porsche being driven onto the stage, its bonnet laden with bloody corpses. Luckily the music was good.

It all took my mind off events in the real world for several hours, though turning on the car radio after the show and hearing James Purnell’s murderous letter of resignation made me realise how little has changed across the centuries. True, even if Labour’s women remain “window dressing”, as Caroline Flint has alleged, no-one has yet suggested kitting all Blair’s Babes out in bunny costumes, though one wonders whether this was only because of the difficulty of sourcing one small enough to fit Hazel Blears. But the owls of doom are circling over Downing Street, hooting mournfully, and I am sure I can hear a yellow sports car being revved up to carry off its baroque cargo of the politically deceased.

Meanwhile outside our frail craft the lightning flashes through the towering cumulonimbus clouds of impending economic doom, thick ice forms on the airspeed monitors, the autopilot disengages and, just as you reach screaming point, the bloke in the next seat turns out to be the BNP’s Nick Griffin, who smiles and says “Turned out nice again, hasn’t it?”

If this were a bad dream, we would all wake up now. I wonder what there is left for the Prime Minister to have nightmares about?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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