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October 11 2011

This week's arts diary

Harman grabs shadow-culture post, plus a whiff of San Francisco Opera, and Fiennes in art-world spoof

Hurray for Harman

What to make of Harriet Harman as the new shadow culture secretary – a job she'll combine with chairmanship and deputy leadership of the Labour party? For a start, Harman's far too powerful within the party to have had the job imposed upon her; she must have wanted a policy area to dig into. But as for the arts part of the role, it's hard to see it looming large when her immediate concerns will surely be the Leveson inquiry and – let it be hoped – a defence of the BBC.

She is not someone who has made much of the arts in her political career to date, but there's plenty of music in her family: her daughter, Amy Harman, has just become joint principal bassoonist of London's Philharmonia Orchestra. And these things do matter: David Miliband, when at the department of education, was influential in promoting music education. No coincidence that his wife was, and is, a violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra.

Harman's not afraid of political knockabout, and of course she is fantastically experienced, so it will be interesting to see how she tackles culture secretary Jeremy Hunt head-on. Finally, the consistent thread through her career has been her feminism: and frankly, we just can't have enough of that in the arts. Or anywhere, for that matter.

Bad smells in California

A mole from San Francisco Opera has passed me a memo sent around the company. "Dear Artists & Staff," it begins. "PLEASE REFRAIN FROM WEARING ANY TYPE OF FRAGRANCE (PERFUME, STRONG HAIR SPRAY, SHAVING COLOGNE, ETC.) AT ANY REHEARSAL OR PERFORMANCE. Many people are allergic to fragrant products; this allergy can prove damaging to the singer's vocal cords, not to mention the miserable symptoms. We are often all in very close proximity and it is very important that we all take the time to be thoughtful and considerate regarding the use of fragrances." You can just tell there's some madly prima-donnaish singer behind this. They'll have only themselves to blame when they have to inhale Eau de Sweaty Tenor, unleavened by a hint of Chanel.

Fiennes in art-world spoof

Elmgreen and Dragset entertained visitors to the 2009 Venice Biennale with their mordant work The Collectors, which saw the Nordic and Danish pavilions transformed into art aficionados' homes, one of which featured a dead collector face-down in his pool. The Scandinavian duo have now written a play, Happy Days in the Art World, starring Joseph Fiennes, Charles Edwards and Kim Criswell.

It is, says Michael Elmgreen, a Beckettian (big clue in the title) look at their own existence, "with biographical stuff from our lives as well as a lot of lies". The main characters will, says Elmgreen, be "cynical and humorous and it will be very unflattering; if the play also makes fun of others, it certainly makes more fun of ourselves". It opens in New York next month, at the Skirball Centre for the Performing Arts. There are also two preview performances at Glasgow's Tramway on Friday and Saturday next week. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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