Drink acid or read lesbian fiction?

Enthusiasm is in short supply, as the arts world throws up a muted defence of the North and a temper

Grim up North?

In the week when David Cameron’s favourite think tank decided the North of England should be packed up and moved nearer the Thames, there’s been little outrage from the Northern arts world. Even the Liverpool Cultural Company, responsible for the events marking Liverpool’s year as European City of Culture had nothing to say about the fact said city was “beyond revival”. Perhaps it’s too much time around Ringo Starr, who kicked off the celebrations but admitted there’s nothing he misses about Liverpool.

Not everyone is so pessimistic. Poet Ian McMillan, Northern and proud, told us he’s got a few ideas about how to revive these Northern cities. “How about Parliament and the Royal family being based in the North?”, he wondered. “The Queen in residence in Clifton Park, Rotherham and Parliament meeting in Bradford Town Hall?”.

Somewhat rattled, he continued: “The report assumes, reading between the lines, that nothing from the North is of intrinsic value, and that we all want to move to the South to better ourselves. Of course that isn’t true, but the report certainly helps to rock (or re-rock) the North’s sometimes fragile sense of self-confidence.” Whatever next, he mused. “A state funeral for Margaret Thatcher?”

Preaching to the inverted

The book which rocked Britain is celebrating its 80th birthday. Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness was put on trial for its promotion of “sexual inversion”, with Virginia Woolf appearing in court in the book’s defence. Radio 4 is commemorating the occasion with a two-part guide to the history of lesbian novels, curated by crime writer Val McDermid.

Sadly it wasn’t much of a party for The Well of Loneliness with none of the invited guests having a kind word for it. Sarah Waters found it “a bit mawkish and a bit daft”. Jeanette Winterson was even less restrained. "It's so terrible," she wailed. "It's enough to make a girl straight."

Still, they view the book rather more highly than James Douglas, then editor of the Sunday Express. "I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel. Poison kills the body, but moral poison kills the soul." Funnily enough, I’d take the acid over the Sunday Express anyday.

Tessa takes centre stage

Having taken on the 1992 election, privitisation and the Iraq war, David Hare is turning his reproachful gaze to the moral vacuity of Tony Blair’s Labour. His new play, Gethsemane, takes on two recent scandals, cash for honours and the company kept by Tessa Jowell’s husband, David Mills, with both Lord Levy and Jowell making thinly-veiled appearances in the play.

Gethsemane opens in November at the National Theatre, the institution which Jowell previously had nothing but praise for. Speaking of the NT’s famed £10 Travelex season, she said “I hope it means thousands who don’t consider themselves theatre-goers decide to give it a try." Sadly Gethsemane isn’t part of the season but perhaps the thousands can still be tempted.