Walking along the Brighton seafront, I was struck by posters advertising endless tribute acts; among them Suspiciously Elvis, the Small Fakers and The Kinx. The Edinburgh Fringe is much the same. Shows this summer include Dirty Harry: The Ultimate Tribute to Blondie and Billie Holliday: Tribute to the Iconic Lady Day. Or how about Gary Bland’s Mr Romantic: A Tribute to Johnny Mathis — ‘an insight into Mathis’s career, and how Mathis’s music has been a big part of Gary’s life through love, heartache and laughter’. The theatre at Edinburgh, too, is full of remakes. Fancy Dan Choo-Park’s The Song of Beast (after Hamlet), where the Prince of Denmark is teleported to a South Korean slaughterhouse? Or Dead Awaken, a new version of Ibsen’s last play, set to a concept album of neo-soul and hip hop music? Me neither.
Brighton and Edinburgh are only reflecting the vast pastiche that is the British arts scene. The BBC is making new episodes of Are you Being Served?, Steptoe and Son, Hancock’s Half Hour, Porridge andUp Pompeii! All marvellous sitcoms — but they were rare combinations of the right cast and the right writers at the right time. To recreate them, 30 or 40 years on, can only be a diminution of the original. Just look at this year’s film version of Dad’s Army. Or the Coen brothers’ woeful bash at The Ladykillers. Hollywood is also in love with sequels — witness the new Ghostbusters. Publishers are doing the same, with post-mortem sequels to James Bond and Jeeves and Wooster. Once something’s a hit, it can be squeezed dry in any number of forms. Tim Minchin’s musical of Groundhog Day opens at the Old Vic this summer. The play version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is now on in the West End. And then there’s the biggest theatrical hit of all, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The author credit on the cover of the book of the play reads: ‘Based on an original story by J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany and Jack Thorne.’ But it’s Thorne who actually wrote the play. I can understand why people prefer a pale imitation of greatness rather than risking new rubbish. But where has all the originality gone? Fifty years ago, people weren’t doing tribute acts to Noël Coward and Fred Astaire; they were creating new things.
This is an extract from Harry Mount’s diary. The full article can be found here.