I have circulated the rumour that HOTH and I are not averse to The Arts. We enjoy the theatre - we've been to see plays wot have been done in proper Shakespearese AND followed what was going on (laughed at the jokes and everything), visited art galleries, tutted at The Tate and goggled at The Guggenheim and have chosen to watch subtitled films from time to time. We've even been known to partake of some of the lighter operas. But after a recent visit to see the BBC Philharmonic I wonder if we should call it a day and just watch back-to-back episodes of El Dorado or Hollyoaks instead.
We had been sent an amazing offer for tickets for a performance of the BBC Philharmonic at The Bridgewater Hall for the incredibly low price of just two quid each. So, it wasn't any particular pieces or movements we'd actually heard of - but if you don't try new stuff you never know if you like it, right? We decided to take up the offer and booked ourselves an evening of Culture!
Instead of a Saturday night spent eating Haribo and watching telly in my comfy clothes I had a wash, slapped on the tutty (that's make-up where I live), got gussied up in my fancy clothes - though I drew the line at heels - and headed off with HOTH to immerse ourselves in classical music.
The first half was very enjoyable. Soaring strings, vibrant brass, proficient percussion and a lively Maestro waving his baton round like a good 'un. He even conducted the orchestra for a while (badum-tish - I'm here all week). There was a proper choir who went 'aaaaaaah, ooooooh, ohhhhhhh, laaaaaaah' about three times in total. All very impressive and refined. The audience clapped and whooped and cheered when each of the pieces ended and we were enthralled at the skill and experience of all of the musicians. After roughly forty-five minutes it came to a resounding crescendo and we all trooped out for half-time drinks (£6.65 for a gin & tonic and a diet coke), chattering delightedly.
The five minute bell rang and we took our places for the second instalment. A piano had been wheeled in during the interval - and what we were reliably informed was an 'ondes martenot' (although it looked like a Vibraphone to me and HOTH). All very exciting. The orchestra, soloists and Maestro took to the stage.....and that's when it all went horribly wrong.
Instead of melodic, evocative music there came an hour and forty-five minutes of loud, brash, discordant....noise. It was if the composer had taken a bunch of angry chimps and a few keyboards for the piano bits, let loose a pack of sugar-hopped toddlers in the pots & pans section of Sainsbury's and taken his inspiration for the strings from a bag of cats on heat being put through a mangle. There was even a woman whose sole job was to wave her maracas around (don't even go there) at seemingly random intervals. Almost the entire audience looked baffled.
The bloke on the piano was bouncing up and down like a manic kangaroo on disco-biscuits while his pet page turner sat beside him flipping the score at the nod of a head. How he knew when that was among all the other bopping is anyone's guess. Maybe he just made it up as he went along. Then Vibraphone woman chipped in with high-pitched screeches and wails (from the instrument, not, like, vocally) that were so painful the people on the front row were wincing and sticking their fingers in their ears. It sounded like a cross between the incidental 'spooky' music from 'Ghostbusters' and Alicia Keys falling downstairs.
No-one knew when to clap. We thought one piece had finished and tentatively applauded only for it all to kick off again with some mad arrangement of notes and a pitying look from Piano Man. It was beginning to sound like someone had dropped all the sheet music on the way to the Hall, shuffled it and just thought 'Sod it, no-one will know'. Which we didn't, of course.
It was one of those nights that became interminable. People were getting up and leaving whenever there was a break in the torture. One bloke fell asleep and the three ladies in front of us were overcome with hysterical giggles whenever they caught each other's eye. HOTH kept looking up at the fixtures, praying one would come loose and come crashing onto him a la Phantom Of The Opera to end his misery. All that kept him going was watching the pianist's score book become thinner and thinner as we neared the end. Discreet glances at watches became less and less discreet. I've had more enjoyable smear tests. If this was Culture you can bloody well keep it. I'd sooner watch Joey Essex reading a Chinese takeway menu. At least it had only cost us two quid each. Some of the tickets had been on sale for nearer forty.
Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, it was over. We could tell it was really finished because all the orchestra stood up and Maestro turned round to us looking sweaty and smug. We made a break for it before anyone got the idea for an encore, emerging into the night aurally assaulted, culturally confused and....well...underwhelmed. No danger of us queuing up for a copy of the CD, put it that way.
To add insult to injury, we were stiffed £16 for the privilege of parking. FOUR TIMES what we'd paid to be 'entertained'. We could have stayed in the car park and made our own entertainment for less. It certainly wouldn't have lasted nearly two hours and might even have been slightly more enjoyable.
Next time, I think we'll stick with what we know. A bit of Beethoven, a soupcon of Strauss, a dollop of Dvorak. Sod expanding my horizons. There's a reason that path is less travelled by - it leads to a mad woman with a Vibraphone and a pogoing pianist. Don't say you haven't been warned.