Pompeii Live from the British Museum

For an event that reached out across the country, this was spectacular. The British Museums latest blockbuster exhibition showing in cinemas closer to home, giving people the experience of a talk by the experts. Except, well, it wasn’t.

There were some experts. But there was also a chef and a gardener. I get that the point was to drive home how these were just normal people who did stuff like cooking and gardening, but honestly it felt like the whole programme had been dumbed down. Even Mary Beard felt like she’d somehow been gagged and it was like she was talking to an audience of ten year olds.

Except she wasn’t talking to an audience of ten year olds, she was talking to an audience where the average age was somewhere around 70. Certainly in my local cinema anyway. I felt disheartened to be very much the odd one out, and at nearly thirty I am hardly young. While I understand that the average fine art and architectural society does attract people of retirement age due to the meetings being during the working day (chicken or egg?) where was the outreach to the art and history lovers that are still of working age?

I have been to plenty of curator talks, artist talks, expert talks over the last few years at places like the British Museum, the Tate, the Tate Modern, the Photographers Gallery and so forth. In fact, it’s easily one of my favourite ways to pass an evening or a weekend. I enjoy nothing more than hearing a lecture given by an expert, or even a first reading of an academic paper. Perhaps I had expected this kind of level of academia from the Pompeii Live event. Especially with the cost being quite high for what was a broadcast rather than being there in person (£11 for my student ticket, I had debated if I should go or not at that cost).

But there was no real hard information in the presentation. There was much oohing and aahing over beautiful things (and yes, the things are very beautiful, I was lucky enough to see many in person) but the level of discourse was that of something around a school year seven or eight history lesson. Except the bit of course where we all had a jolly good laugh about the amount of penis iconography that the Romans like to string up everywhere (suddenly I felt like I was in a room of thirteen year olds being given the tampon talk at school).

I don’t know. It just felt like very little effort had been put into the whole presentation. Compared to the talks, lectures and presentations that I know the British Museum is more than capable of giving I felt deflated. To be honest I just expected better and I was very disappointed at the average age of the audience. Did the British Museum even attempt to market this to anyone outside of a fine art and archeology club?

I’m pleased that they’re trying new things and bringing history and culture to the wider nation who cannot make London on a regular basis, but compared to the work that they already do it just felt like a gimmick.

Here’s hoping that the next one is an improvement, because I think this is broadly a step in the right direction, although to be honest I’m wishing I spent my £11 (plus car park and coffee) on a ticket to London to see the real thing.