The word “robot” was first used in 1920; but when Science Museum curator Ben Russell started to research the history of humanoid machines for the current blockbuster exhibition, he discovered something he was not expecting. The first creator of these objects, he found, was the Catholic Church. The year was around 1560; the place, a monastery – probably in Spain.
Imagine that, in the week after the European Union referendum, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy had published verses in which the symbolic figure of Britannia reflected on the wildly different responses from different parts of her realm. Such a publication might have ranked among the great literary interventions in politics.
Earlier this year, the death of Sr Frances Carr left only two remaining members of her Shaker religious community, which was established in Maine in 1783. The Shakers being bound to celibacy, renewal by numbers has been a challenge.
Built in the late 1990s, Manchester’s Intu Trafford Centre is an altogether baroque edifice, marble-domed, crammed with allegorical frescos, architectural stylings borrowed from sources as detached from each other as art deco and ancient Egypt and what was, at the time of its installation, the world’s largest chandelier.
It seems a particular cruelty of fate that a country with such a rich cultural heritage as Italy should lie along not one, but two tectonic fault lines. When earthquakes strike, as they did across central Italy last year, the human tragedy is compounded by the loss to history.
Plays sometimes make such an impact that even non-theatregoers will know the title. The 1960s threw up two – Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – new productions of which opened within 48 hours of each other last week.
Impressions of paradise Premium16 March 2017
Newman’s poetic vision of death was the tumultuous conclusion to Manchester’s four-day Elgar Festival.
Outsize Athena sits magical and mysterious, half-human, half-machine, bolts for her knees and sturdy, chiselled lines on her geometric face. She is a masterpiece by Eduardo Paolozzi, whose work has been assembled at the Whitechapel Gallery in London for a major retrospective (to 14 May).
As the Shakespeare role that actors most want to play conveniently appears in the play that audiences are keenest to see, theatregoers are never far from a Hamlet: Andrew Scott’s attempt on the title role follows those by Benedict Cumberbatch and Paapa Essiedu.
The origins of oratorio are a fascinating episode in the history of music. They lie in St Philip Neri’s progressive, modernising reaction to the Reformation, his followers recognised as the order of the Congregazione dell’Oratorio by Pope Gregory XIII in 1575.
To arrange or not to arrange? Premium02 March 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Not that long ago most marriages in Europe were arrangements made between families rather than individuals. The expectation of a romance bespoke-tailored is recent. Neither approach gives any guarantee of lasting conjugal happiness, but in the congregation of Birmingham Mosque, marriage and family is where tradition and modernity collide.
Miracles of execution Premium23 February 2017 | by Lucien de Guise
Of all the reminders of the worst of human behaviour, the crucifix is surely the most potent. It symbolises something everyone, in every society, can understand: the slow, torturous death of one individual at the hands of others.
Alternative facts Premium23 February 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
What would life in Britain be like if Germany had won the war? The new Sunday night series SS-GB (first episode, 19 February), based on Len Deighton’s 1978 novel, is not the first drama to have imagined a dystopian what-if version of the Second World War.
Traditional Christian teaching excuses the eroticism in the Song of Songs as a metaphor for Christ’s love for the Church. To emphasise a secular interpretation for the night after Valentine’s Day, however, Ensemble Plus Ultra included recitations of four Shakespeare sonnets in its concert in London’s Choral at Cadogan series.
Dr Sarah Goldingay’s mission, she assured her listeners at the start of this wide-ranging Sabbath morning half-hour (19 February), was to reimagine, re-evaluate or even re-sanctify noise; to listen out, as she put it, “to divine noise in and amongst the din”.
When the choir of The Sixteen sings Bach, it is like switching on electricity. From a standing start, suddenly they are in the middle of flowing counterpoint: perfectly synchronised parts enter with imperceptible attack as the current picks up where it left off, usually two nights previously.
Made in heaven? Premium16 February 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Channel 4 marked the eve of St Valentine’s Day with a documentary that held a scented candle to the rites of modern romance. Yet though it may not have been its intention, The Wedding Day (13 February) was both timid and snide.
The writer Nicholas Royle began his exploration of the world of the unreturned library book (9 February) at Manchester Central Library. Keeping his voice down, in what, he explained had been his teenage stamping ground, he confessed himself a serial offender.
Becoming popular after the Second World War, the so-called “State of England” play summed up political and social tensions through a suggestive setting: a music hall in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, a cabin cruiser in Alan Ayckbourn’s Way Upstream, a battered caravan in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem.
Slavery unbound Premium09 February 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Exactly 40 years ago, the final episode of the television adaption of Alex Haley’s Pulitzer-winning novel Roots attracted 100 million viewers, a record beaten only by the finale of M*A*S*H a few years later.
Opera has often been about appetite – but never quite like this. Tarrare – it is a true story, or founded in truth – was an unlucky French boy in revolutionary Paris whose constant enormous hunger led him to wolf down anything he could lay his hands on – rocks, cats, trash, half a cow, you name it.
Margaret Forster died in February 2016 at the age of 77. A year on, this commemoration fronted by Roger Bolton (7 February) was resolutely informal, and consisted mostly of her husband and fellow writer, Hunter Davies, roaming through the houses they had shared in London and the Lake District, reminiscing about the six decades they had together and grimly setting about, as he put it, “dismantling a life”.
In November 1917, British troops arriving at Ventimiglia near Genoa were greeted with showers of carnations and barrels of wine. After the Italians’ disastrous defeat at Caporetto, the British had despatched an Expeditionary Force to the Italian defensive lines on the River Piave, and the change from the trenches felt as good as a holiday.
Postcards from the edge Premium02 February 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Can a community be created artificially, or does it have to emerge organically? This is one of the questions asked in a documentary about Britain’s remotest island, Fair Isle, situated in turbulent seas between Orkney and Shetland.
When a country covets the soil of another, it also tends to want its soul. Colonialism and evangelism have often been linked, missionaries confirming on a Sunday the Western foundations laid by mining corporations and administrators during the week.
In 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, that terrible prequel to the even bigger war that was about to engulf the whole of Europe, Pablo Picasso wrote: “I have always believed and still believe that artists who live and work with spiritual values cannot and should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilisation are at stake.”
An urban jail Premium25 January 2017 | by Lucy Lethbridge
Last year I attended a conference in London during which a woman in the audience shouted: “I am not a slave.” She then started to berate the British press and Establishment and called for the release of Aravindan Balakrishnan, jailed for 23 years in 2015 for crimes including rape, false imprisonment and child cruelty.
Most Read Articles
Manage my subcription hereManage
Sign up for our newsletterSign Up