Poor old Richard Wagner! You spend a third of your life constructing The Ring of the Nibelung – surely the biggest one-man artwork in history – and a mere 150 years later most even of the culturally literate have only a dim (and probably contemptuous) awareness of it as some peculiar, possibly proto-Nazi manifesto stuffed with elves, dragons and gigantic blondes in horned helmets. Oh, and the “Ride of the Valkyries”.

Chilling affair Premium

28 April 2016 | by John Morrish
A writer of fiction has to strive for plausibility. Tell a true story, though, and the most incredible things become possible.

Space odyssey Premium

28 April 2016 | by Mark Lawson
Most dramatic genres – domestic drama, thriller, romance, song and dance, historical – exist equally on stage and screen.

One act of mercy Premium

28 April 2016 | by Anthony Quinn
It is the thing you have half-imagined, could scarcely believe, possibly had nightmares about. Son of Saul brings us close – as close as cinema will ever get – to the dragon’s mouth of the Holocaust.

Around the world in 90 years Premium

28 April 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
The BBC’s celebration of the Queen’s ninetieth birthday was wonderfully site-appropriate. While BBC1 – among much else – offered Nicholas Witchell’s matey encounter with Prince William, the World Service weighed in with Sir David Cannadine’s sober analysis of Her Majesty’s role as an international stateswoman (20 April).

Shock tactics in textiles Premium

21 April 2016 | by Laura Gascoigne
At evensong on 20 September 1966, sharp-eyed worshippers at Chichester Cathedral noticed that one of the canons was wearing dark glasses. Charitable observers might have attributed this to conjunctivitis, had it not been for a glaringly obvious explanation.

Understanding why Premium

21 April 2016 | by Mark Lawson
It is an urgent mystery of our time: why European teenagers, loved at home and accomplished at school, are travelling to Syria to join Islamic State, the men likely to die in war, the women to be raped in forced marriage.

Early apocalypse Premium

21 April 2016 | by Rick Jones
Sir Simon Rattle is becoming a familiar figure about town, even though he has not officially started yet as music director of the London Symphony Orchestra.

Picasso’s weeping woman Premium

21 April 2016 | by John Morrish
Anyone planning a series on the tricky love lives of artists will never be short of material. And so it proves with a new 10-parter, Artists In Love (beginning 18 April).

Scoop revisited Premium

21 April 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
Rebroadcast to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Evelyn Waugh’s death on Easter Sunday 1966, this television interview from June 1960 began with an archive clip of the host, John Freeman, recalling his trepidation at having to deal with such a legendarily irascible figure.

Elgar on the home front Premium

14 April 2016 | by Rick Jones
One hundred years ago this month, an event took place in central London that was effectively the Live Aid of its day. It was April 1916, and Britain was in the throes of the First World War. Death, danger and destruction were all around; the nation’s young men were falling like flies in the battles that were raging in trenches in foreign fields.

A ripe pair Premium

14 April 2016 | by Mark Lawson
In the cast of the first non-London production of Harold Pinter’s second play The Birthday Party was a young Scarborough actor called Alan Ayckbourn. And, although Pinter’s career is completed while Ayckbourn’s continues, the two men remain linked as the English dramatists whose works from the 1960s and 1970s are most regularly produced. A lavish revival from each backlist coincidentally opened last week.

Titanic troubles Premium

14 April 2016 | by Anthony Quinn
Mark Cousins’ cine-memoir opens with a lightning storm; a fitting overture to the violent convulsions that have shaken his native city to the verge of despair.

Continental journey Premium

14 April 2016 | by John Morrish
At the start of Europe: Them or Us (12 April) Nick Robinson stood on the white cliffs of Dover and reminded us that we are separated from the continent by geography and history. It was a pity to start with a pair of clichés, verbal and visual, but he recovered to produce a thorough and interesting programme.

Making music not war Premium

07 April 2016 | by Rick Jones
The 100th anniversary of the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising has been much marked in the media over the past few days and weeks. But according to John Gilhooly, the Limerick-born director of London’s Wigmore Hall, the real focus of the centenary should not be war and violence, it should be reconciliation, mutual friendship and a shared cultural heritage.

Jaunty Giovanni Premium

07 April 2016 | by Robert Thicknesse
As everyone knows, the naughty hero of Mozart’s greatest opera gets dragged to hell at the end – but why, exactly? Clue: it is probably not just because he is such an unsupportive boyfriend, and patronising towards the plebs.

Away with the fairies Premium

07 April 2016 | by John Morrish
In a nod to the centenary of the Easter Rising, BBC 4 broadcast a celebration of W.B. Yeats, who wrote about that event with a profound ambivalence. Bob Geldof on W.B. Yeats: A Fanatic Heart was thorough, informative and respectful – and passionate.

Young, gifted, black – and back Premium

07 April 2016 | by Mark Lawson
The American dramatist Lorraine Hansberry (1930-65) is known only for A Raisin in the Sun, her 1957 African-American domestic drama that has just completed a British tour by the Eclipse Theatre Company. That play – and the song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, written as a musical eulogy by Nina Simone, a friend and admirer – seemed likely to be her cultural legacy.

Living with death Premium

07 April 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo, the effervescent impresario of that station’s “rockest record” and its celebrated “Live Lounge” feature, was leaving the Metro on her way to take part in last March’s Paris half-marathon when her mobile phone rang.

Heaven knows the meaning Premium

31 March 2016 | by Laura Gascoigne
In the middle of the Louvre’s Mona Lisa room, an endless queue of tourists snakes around a maze of control barriers for a moment’s audience with the world’s most famous painting. What is it about the Mona Lisa that exerts this magnetism? The answer lies in the subject’s mystique.

Reversing the lies Premium

31 March 2016 | by Mark Lawson
Most people make no direct use of their education but whoever persuaded Christopher Hampton to study French to university level has proved an inadvertent beneficiary to British theatre.

An Easter rousing Premium

31 March 2016 | by Joanna Moorhead
It wasn’t conceived as a paschal ballad, but somehow it felt completely right to be belting out “High Hopes” on Easter Sunday evening with Kodaline. The song is all about redemption, and beginning again, and fresh starts; and there was a distinctly hymn-like quality to its rousing rendition in the cathedral of Hammersmith Apollo.

Watching the detective Premium

31 March 2016 | by John Morrish
There has surely been no writer more prolific than Georges Simenon. In a career lasting more than 60 years, he produced hundreds of novels and stories. But his best-known works are the “Maigret” books, a regular subject of television adaptation.

Endless questions Premium

31 March 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
Julian Barnes’ novel A History of the World in 10½ Chapters contains a section set in a hedonist’s heaven. The inhabitants, who can do what they like with a stream of willing celebrity participants, are very soon bored to distraction.

Faith out of the box Premium

24 March 2016 | by John Morrish
Every year, at about this time, the BBC discovers Christianity. It jemmies open a strongbox marked Faith, has a root around inside, then firmly clamps it shut. Then it leaves it alone, usually for another year, although if it’s feeling brave it might take a peek inside at Christmas.

A priestly prison Premium

24 March 2016 | by James Christopher
In a small town on a damp edge of coast in Chile live four suspended priests; they are isolated, forbidden from talking to strangers, and their walks along the empty beaches are monitored from afar.

Vitality, solemnity, beauty Premium

24 March 2016 | by Rick Jones
The Bach Choir’s Palm Sunday performance of their namesake’s St Matthew Passion is a London tradition dating to the 1930s. Its heyday was under the late Sir David Willcocks in whose cherished memory the present performance, the first since his death, was given.

Voices of generations Premium

24 March 2016 | by Mark Lawson
Age is a major marker in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. Its antagonistic protagonist, Jimmy Porter, is 25, which sounds young but feels old to someone who, after a university education, is now working on a Midlands sweet stall.

Fixed points, shifting sands Premium

24 March 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
The Archbishop of Canterbury is just one of the many who hopes Easter will get a fixed date: he has said he hopes it will happen “in between five and ten years’ time”.

Rocks, realism and the Resurrection Premium

17 March 2016 | by Anthony Quinn
When movies square up to the story of the Resurrection, restraint has rarely been the watchword. From the bloated pieties of The Greatest Story Ever Told to the brutish torture-fest of Mel Gibson’s infamous The Passion of The Christ, the film-going faithful have been obliged to tread a via dolorosa that has either numbed them with shock or infantilised them with awe.

The queen of country Premium

17 March 2016 | by John Morrish

Convincing conflicts Premium

17 March 2016 | by Robert Thicknesse
Opera people complain about the tiny extent of the established repertoire (writing good operas is not easy), so the marked absence of Christoph Willibald von Gluck from theatres feels rather wanton.

French fries Premium

17 March 2016 | by Mark Lawson
Both born in 1910 and given the same Christian name, Jean Anouilh and Jean Genet became two of the major figures of twentieth-century French drama before dying within a year of each other in the mid-1980s. The men align again with the simultaneous opening in London of revivals of the plays that first made their reputations.

When political gets personal Premium

17 March 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
The title of this immensely scary investigation turned out to refer to the celebrated Hollywood movie The Matrix. Those of its cast who swallowed the scarlet capsule came instantly to understand the machine-bred tyranny that surrounded them. To go for the blue option, on the other hand, was to sink into the torpor of collective delusion.

Seminal art Premium

10 March 2016 | by Brian Morton
“Hinterland” once had a rather specific meaning in the economic geography of empire: the inland territory – empty or resource-rich – behind a coastal possession. Then Denis Healey hijacked it: the old wag referred to Mrs Thatcher as having none of that saving touch of general culture that might have softened and humanised a mind bent on one direction only.

Heavenly shows Premium

10 March 2016 | by Laura Gascoigne
London is bursting out in Botticelli colours this spring, with exhibitions at both the V&A (until 3 July) and the Courtauld Gallery (until 15 May). Of course it is not the capital’s first attack of Primavera fever.

Medics on migrants Premium

10 March 2016 | by John Morrish
If you watch television at all, you have probably seen the Van Tulleken brothers. Chris and Xand are handsome, privately educated doctors, separated by seven minutes in age and half an inch in height. They present the sort of programmes where posh people in white coats tell the rest of us what to eat.

Tragedies loud and small Premium

10 March 2016 | by Mark Lawson
Multiple walk-outs and even carry-outs of horrified audience members have been reported from the National Theatre’s revival of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed, and more sensitive readers may want to avoid not only the production but even some of the details in this review.

Looking back in anger Premium

10 March 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
For the jaded intellectual palate there is nothing like a late-night three quarters of an hour in the company of Philip Dodd.

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