Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is Ben Elton the new Arthur C Clarke?

Arthur C Clarke is one of those rare creatures: a science fiction writer with vision. I mean a vision that is on the money more often than not. This is strange enough, but every now and again along comes someone with vision and the common touch: a communicator, comedian and writer by the name of Ben Elton, who has proved through his jointly penned Queen musical, "We Will Rock You", that he stands among the ranks of the Nostradamus fraternity.

His creation was first performed way back in May 2002 so it must have been conceived during those bubble days of the first internet boom. Five years is a long time in terms of technological advancement, but soothsayer Elton, 48, accurately predicted the rise of global software corporations that would very soon control our every thought, and more importantly our music. Now it may be that he was thinking of Microsoft when he encapsulated that thought on his manuscript, but little did he realise in those PG days (that's Pre Google to the uninitiated), that the powerhouse of search and online ads would be vying for world domination in the way that it has today.

Another internet prophet, Robert X. Cringely, recently speculated on "Google's plan to host all of our applications", but why stop there? It could be that they really aspire to mature into Globalsoft, Elton's scarcely fictional megalomaniacal mega corporation, headed by a Killer Queen and intent on ridding the world of music it did not control. I must admit to being ignorant of Page and Brin's fondness for British seventies glam rock or indeed eighties alternative comedy, the progenitors of the musical subject of this piece, but you never know.

We have investigated the roots of the ideas that gave birth to this theatrical rockfest, with live music thundering from stage enveloping speakers, but what of the performances? I can say that the whole family, buoyed by expectation of classic singalong tracks whose appeal has bridged the generations, was not disappointed. The event itself, magnified by the majesty of a visit to the capital and the delights of the West End, which started with lunch on the South Bank in the buzzing Strada beneath the newly refurbished Festival Hall, was an assault on the senses.

The staging could best be described as theatre for the video generation, with pulsating pixels on flying screens providing a dynamic visual experience and canvas against which the faithfully rendered songs and lets face it paper thin plot played out. It was a feast for the eyes and ears if not the brain - it left that organ a bit undernourished - after all this was never going to be culture but none the worse for that.

A cast devoid of stars literally popped up out of the stage floor and generally had a great time on the fiendishly flexible set, which awed with its clever ability to lift, rotate and generally thrust the actors deep into the Dominion's cavernous auditorium, over the heads of the posh bods in the stalls.

Ben Elton has taken the spirit of that notoriously difficult to categorise band, made flesh a few of their lyrical characters and melded them together with a joke filled script which showcases all of their hits and packages it into two hours of enjoyment for the whole family. As Paul Weller said 'That's Entertainment'!

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