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Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Catching the last show

Arts correspondent Rosie Millard is bowled over by the thrill of "just-in-time" show-going when she visits The Genius of Rome exhibition.

Funny things, deadlines. We all know that journalists can't exist without them.

But audiences too seem to need imminent closure like a Damoclesian sword in order to get going.

Remember the Monet show this time two years ago at the Royal Academy?

Some 8,500 people turned up every day to see the Academy's fabulous array of Late Paintings - waterlilies, London Bridge, the works. It was busy, but organised.

Until the last weekend that is, when people arrived in their camper vans to queue before daybreak.

Monet at the Royal Academy
The Monet show had a record-breaking final weekend
The gallery also staged a final and much-publicised 24-hour opening with gimmicks such as accordion players from Boulogne and specially whipped French hot chocolate to delight the crowds.

Between 0800 BST on 17 April 1999 and 1800 BST on 18 April, 40,000 people turned up. The ending was more of an event than the event itself.

No matter that the show had been on for the last three months. Some of us do not want long-runners. We just need the urgency of a final date.

So there was no surprise about goings-on at the Royal Academy this weekend.

Its spring show The Genius of Rome was due to close on 16 April. Guess what? Everyone waited until it was about to end before paying a visit.

I got round to going to it on Thursday. Along with thousands of other dilettantes.


I am now so inspired by this Last Hurrah technique that I intend to apply it in spades

Over the Easter weekend, 12,500 people decided that come what may, they simply had to go and see The Genius of Rome.

Interestingly however, far from wrecking the experience, I think the urgency of a deadline and the presence of a throng added to the overall thrill.

This was Caravaggio, Guernico and their circle, painting with the drama of a red-top writer and the brushstrokes of an angel.

Essentially, these painters specialised in taking the most dramatic events of the Bible or classical mythology, and turning the volume up a bit.

Betrayals, ear amputations, stonings, death by 1,000 arrows - all the nasties from both Old and New Testaments were in there, emphasised by incredible lighting, vertiginous arrangements and soap-opera style emotion.

Just right for a big crowd to take on board. Even mundane, non-holy events such as pickpocketing were given the big treatment, all fumbling fingers, crazy drapery and gleaming eyes.

With the bright colours of oil painting, these pictures looked as new and as vivid as the film billboards from Bollywood or some newly ingenious advertising campaign from French Connection. And now its over.

Simon Munnery
Simon Munnery: Grabbing the last chance to see Attention Scum
I am now so inspired by this Last Hurrah technique that I intend to apply it in spades. You have to be on your toes, but I think it will be worth it.

Tonight I am going to see Simon Munnery's brilliantly nihilistic show Attention Scum which finishes on 27 April.

Then I bought some tickets for Shockheaded Peter, an extraordinary theatrical adaptation of the childhood horror stories, Struuelpeter, which brings down the curtain on 28 April.

Forget The Mousetrap, Les Mis and other things which never seem to end, like those interchangeable and interminable Noel Coward shows starring Felicity Kendal or Penelope Wilton on Shaftesbury Avenue.

I intend to organise my diary wholly around those little Last Chance boxes in the Sunday Times or Time Out.

Don't worry about the smug excitement of a pre-premiere audience.

There is nothing quite like the thrilled gasps of a crowd who know they are the lucky recipients of a truly final, final bow.

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See also:

20 Jan 99 | Entertainment
London goes Monet mad
18 Apr 99 | Entertainment
Academy's last Monet spinner
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