Friday, July 29, 2011

South West, cultural desert?

Have just tried to book tickets at the Picturehouse in Exeter.  Not for a film, but a play.  A play screened live from London.  That 'Two Guvnors one with James Cordon.  The only seats left were in the neck-cricking front row. I bought them anyway.

Also have tickets to see operas ana bolena and la traviata, beamed by satellite to aforementioned cinema from New York.  Again am in eye-boggling seats beneath the screen, despite booking a day after tickets became available and said performances being months and months away.

Well you don't get to see much cult-cha down here in Devon, not of the performing arts type anyhow. The best we can do is watch it on a big telly taking place somewhere else.

Exeter, cathedral/red brick university city doesn't have a theatre or a performing venue to speak of.  The theatre it had, has had all its funding cut.  Repeat, all.  Not so much a cut as a thorough mincing.

The Phoenix Centre makes an attempt at being a cultural centre but with little in the way of funding falls some considerable way short its hub potential.  The bar is like a student refectory, the food borders on dreadful, and everything you touch is sticky.

The city boasts no substantial library, no decent-sized bookshop with decent coffee shop, no decent large gallery, no music venue beyond the cathedral - the cathedral I should note is spectacular, and spectacularly under-exploited.   As a result there is no cafe society, no 'latin quarter' dotted with decent wine bars or cafes charged with cultural buzz. In Exeter City there is no 'scene', just shopping malls and a depressing provincial high street.

With no decent venues, no decent artists/performers/performances come.  Check out the weekend supplements' backcovers showing the endless array of stand ups on a nationwide tour at any one time.  Run your finger down the list of venues they're scheduled to appear at and you'll notice they don't go west of Cardiff.  Never to Exeter. Very, very rarely are they dragged kicking and screaming to Plymouth.  

Yet as the scramble for Picturehouse tickets will attest that there is a thirst down here amongst us deprived Devonians, such that we get our fix where we can.   The Telegraph's Way with Words festival at Dartington had every speaker pretty much sold out.  The Dartmoor Arts week held in the tiny village of Drewsteignton sees around three hundred people squeezed into the pub's back room to listen to the evening's talks (headlined this year by such eminents as Margaret Drabble, Bill Woodrow, Peter Randall-Page and nueroscientist Semir Zeki), and art exhibitions, of which there are a lot given the disproportionate density of visual artists living down here, are all well attended.  Stuff happens.  But on a small scale. And that pretty much extends across the region.

So where is our lottery investment? Why is this corner left off the map and pretty much overlooked by anyone who's anyone?  It's not just Londoners and home county dwellers that like a bit of a show.  Is it perhaps because we don't make enough of a noise about it.  'You've got your rugged moors and your endless beaches, what more do you want for god's sake?'

Isn't the government aware that the exodus from London is accelerating as more and more of us, aided by the Internet, work remotely; are they not aware that living in London is prohibitive for most and that population-wise they need to spread the load, or that all those well-heeled types, who tend to like a bit of thay-ter, are spilling further and further westward to set up home, be it sumptuous home number 2.

A decent, attractive, sizeable venue is all we ask.  If all those central govt purse holders can't be bothered to regenerate this beautiful but culturally bereft corner of the UK now, perhaps they might consider the long, thumb-dwiddling evenings of their retirement? 

There is some hope.  John Lewis is coming.  Apparently.

No comments:

Post a Comment