Alice Thomas Ellis
Is there a Brazilian in the house? Be- cause I want to know what happens to Isaura the Slave Girl. I can't stand the suspense. It's a Brazilian soap opera dub- bed into English, and Portuguese must be fearfully flowery because to keep up with the lip movements the English actors have to say lines like, 'It is extraordinarily courteous of you to honour me by enter- taining me in your elegant and well- appointed home, famed in song and story.' Isaura herself is a tiresome girl with more than a hint of five o'clock shadow; the villain Leoncio is purest Sir Jasper and makes JR seem rather sweet. In this house everything stops at 4.30 and we gather round the set, riveted. The fascination of the thing lies principally in the fact that it doesn't seem to have any rules: and if it does it breaks them. It went off at a dogleg the other week when the hero got burnt to a crisp. We couldn't believe it. We waited to hear that it was all a misunderstanding, that he and the virtuous lady who chanced to be with him at the time had been momentarily captured by brigands or had suffered a lapse of memory — but no, they had been definitively incinerated. The characters change character too. There's one lady who began as a raucous, grasping tart, became a golden-hearted tart and is now a modest and maidenly tart. It is confusing, and also — as in Othello — it only needs one person of moderate sense to step up and explain a few matters, point out a few very obvious facts, and all the trouble would be over. But then I don't suppose there'd be much drama if the protagonists had any sense.
I feel faintly guilty, living in London and never going to the theatre, because I must be taking up space that an ardent theatre- goer would be delighted to fill. I don't like Hyde Park either, or Madame Tussaud's, and music makes me cough. Years and years ago Fritz Spiegl took me to an opera in Liverpool and although when I went in I was in prime condition, after a few bars of whatever it was I was coughing my head off and people were trying to give me barley sugar. Afterwards we went to some recep- tion at the Bluecoat building and a large prima donna called Edith was cavorting about on the dance floor. As she passed, making expansive gestures she (I trust inadvertently) struck me on the side of the head; so I don't like opera singers much either.
Nothing changes. I was taken to the ballet quite recently, again in the best of health. It was a modern ballet and began with about 30 people lying on the stage. After some minutes they all got up and jumped a bit and then they all lay down again and I began to cough. Television doesn't make me cough and if it did I should merely have to go to the medicine cupboard and take a mouthful of Fisher- man's Friend. So I don't go out. Not even to the cinema. The last time I went to the cinema I saw someone being blown to bits in vivid technicolour and I didn't like it. If it's TV you can turn it off but if you're in the cinema you have to sit with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears and you feel silly. I once saw a film called Frenzy because Alfred Hitchcock elected to shoot it in our old office building in Covent Garden and I watched a perfectly nice lady being graphically wronged and then throt- tled and I didn't like that at all. When I see a poster outside a cinema announcing that the film within offers the most terrifying experience of your life I say thanks for telling me and go off to see The Sound of Music. Actually I hate The Sound of Music. For some reason the heroine makes me think of someone who's been carved out of shoe polish.
I don't think I'm a spectator by nature. I can't bear watching people leaping round on the high wire or balancing plates on poles or eating fire; the whole thing seems pregnant with disaster and most ill- advised. We went to Lord's yesterday to watch someone playing real tennis whch also looks rather dangerous with a fiercely fast and hard ball. There were a number lying around on the court and Janet re- marked dreamily, 'What a lot of balls; but she didn't really mean that because long after I had grown restive and started wanting my lunch she was leaning eagerly forward trying to grasp the rules. She tried to explain what she had learned to me but while I could see that both the gentle- men were very good at what they were doing, precisely what it was I couldn't tell you.