Art and artists, impact and uses


Yesterday I went to the theatre – The Apollo, where I saw the revival of Tom Stoppard’s ‘Travesties’. Going to the theatre is usually a pleasure but this visit was much more than that. A great play – and for me Stoppard is the “guv’nor” – and a great production, with some fine performances, not least from Tom Hollander as Henry Carr, the character around which the play revolves. It’s a demanding role, requiring many switches of pace, near repetitions, long and energetic monologues and transitions from age to youth and back again. The audience was spell bound and the laughter came in waves.

Travesties is everything I want in a play – entertaining, thought provoking, and rooted in the culture from which it springs. It deals with the Soviet revolution, Dadaism, the writing of Ulysses and the contrasts between Lenin, Tzara and Joyce as well as recycling much of The Importance of Being Earnest, some Shakespearian passages and comic song. There are also quite a few references to Gilbert and Sullivan, whose ‘Patience’ poked fun at Wilde. The motivations and causes of the First World War are picked to pieces, the questions  of combat and neutrality, patriotism and the revolution are debated. It’s just a pity the run ends on Saturday.


One of the arguments that particularly caught my attention was the one that concerned the role of art and artists. What is the point of it, Henry Carr wanted to know. What is the point of anything else? was almost the answer. Is the artist the most important player on the field or an irrelevant bystander? Is art what separates us from the animals or a form of self indulgence? All this was very timely as I spent the previous two days in a room with a range of artists from different disciplines, learning just how much difference art does make to people in so many ways.

Health, wealth and well being

What we learnt was that art has a range of positive effects on health and well being – and even on wealth if we count the collective purse. Visual arts, dance, music, theatre, poetry and the rest can all have positive effects on physical health and mobility as well as on mental health. Not only that but the present of art and artists in hospital and care settings can have a significant impact on length of hospital stay, use of medication, and recovery rates – all saving money for the NHS.

Inspiring stuff, and with input from practitioners in the field, very educational. The outputs from this couple of days will become clearer when we meet again to look at practical proposals from participants. I’m expecting great things. For myself, I’m torn between the inspirations from the course and those from Tom Stoppard, who was one of the original reasons I took up playwriting.  What both experiences had in common was to reinforce the conviction that art is important, and we neglect it at our peril. So that’s plenty of encouragement to soldier on!



Tony Earnshaw

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