Doodles with a difference Premium

23 June 2016 | by Laura Gascoigne
“Doodle like da Vinci to strengthen your memory and beat creative block,” recommended the email from Cass Art that recently dropped into my mailbox. Along with colouring, doodling is the latest relaxation fad for stressed adults. Is this just another example of our society’s infantilisation, or is there more to it?

Dark power of Verdi Premium

23 June 2016 | by Robert Thicknesse
The tormented king (the frightful Philip II) fears his son Carlo is plotting against him, so he calls up the Grand Inquisitor and asks if he has the right, the justification, to have his son killed. “Why not?” says the priest. God did. Then he and Philip lay on an IS-style mass-execution of heretic Flemings to make a point about peacekeeping.

For worse, for poorer Premium

23 June 2016 | by John Morrish
Divorce and family breakdown are horrible, especially if you seek resolution in the courts, which are both gladiatorial and extortionate. In Mr v Mrs: Call the Mediator (21 June) we were shown the alternative: meeting outside the court system and trying to find common ground.

Slick, quick and clichéd Premium

23 June 2016 | by Mark Lawson
Making fairy tales its business, Disney Theatrical Productions has become something of a business fairy tale. Set up by the movie company in 1993 to turn hit children’s films into stage shows, DTP has made billions from The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins and others.

The holiest of heights Premium

23 June 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
The thirteenth series of this Radio 4 staple broke upon the ether with a zealous consideration of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (14 June).

Fleshing out the ruins Premium

16 June 2016 | by Joanna Moorhead
What is most extraordinary about Rievaulx, the twelfth-century Cistercian abbey in Yorkshire, is that it is there at all. One minute you are cruising down a remote country lane, passing hawthorn bushes and fields full of sheep and the occasional cottage; and the next minute, wham!

Back on the road Premium

16 June 2016 | by Robert Thicknesse
ENO has been through a ghastly period, losing its artistic director, its chief conductor, a chairman, an executive director, the trust of the Arts Council, a load of its audience and much confidence in itself.

Ape expectations Premium

16 June 2016 | by John Morrish
René Descartes was robust on the matter of animals: essentially auto­mata, they do not have language so they do not think. In our own time, Noam Chomsky has insisted that language is a uniquely human attribute.

Gangsters and molls Premium

16 June 2016 | by Mark Lawson
Outside of pantomimes and summer shows, the scheduling of theatre productions is dictated by a set of variables that include availability of talent and the dates of preceding shows.

A chorus from dawn to dusk Premium

09 June 2016 | by Rick Jones
Birds learned how to create melody long before mankind did. And no other animal ever got there: elephants merely trumpet their one-note vuvuzelas; whales boom beneath the ocean waves, but nothing sings like the birds.

High price to pay Premium

09 June 2016 | by Mark Lawson
Thrillers are a form that theatre has largely ceded to the screen, possibly because fights are hard to stage, car chases impossible and there are strict rules about the firing of guns in auditoria.

Peggy’s pickings Premium

09 June 2016 | by Joanna Moorhead
In the late 1930s, as Europe teetered towards war, an American woman travelled feverishly around the continent buying up an essential commodity that she believed would be at dire risk in a Nazi-run continent and that would be an essential building-block to a post-war future.

For the love of a son Premium

09 June 2016 | by John Morrish
One of the turning points in the public estimation of Tony Blair was when he was challenged in his own constituency by Reg Keys, who had lost a son fighting in Iraq. Keys’ passionate speech at the 2005 election count provided one of the most uncomfortable moments of Blair’s career.

Summer rosé compared Premium

09 June 2016
In two weeks’ time, the Great British Public will have made up its mind about continuing or ending membership of the European Union. Many wine enthusiasts are predicting that a Brexit vote would mean new trade tariffs, which could send the price of European wine rocketing.

God’s own players Premium

02 June 2016 | by Mark Lawson
The theatre director Phillip Breen starts a new production with an exercise book listing, on one page, the characters in each scene and, opposite, how he visualises the staging. For his latest show, though, no stationer’s shop sold a volume that was up to the task.

Another Austen Premium

02 June 2016 | by Anthony Quinn
Whit Stillman proved himself a dab hand at high-society comedy as long ago as 1990 with his brittle debut Metropolitan, an ensemble portrait of gilded Manhattan youth trying on adult attitudes for size. A couple more films followed, then a long silence until Damsels in Distress arrived, and underwhelmed, in 2011.

Top marks Premium

02 June 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
For the concerned parent of a GCSE-sitting schoolchild – I am one – nothing could have been more timely than All in the Mind’s feature on the question of exam-induced stress (24 May).

Flemish flourish Premium

02 June 2016 | by Laura Gascoigne
Marking the publication of a new catalogue of its collection of Netherlandish drawings – 10 years in the making – the V&A has mounted a free exhibition, Master Strokes: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Golden Age (until 13 November).

Rock ’n’ roll composers Premium

02 June 2016 | by John Morrish
This week we saw the first episode of Revolution and Romance: Musical Masters of the 19th Century (31 May), a slick but rather undemanding three-part series about classical music.

Questions of guilt Premium

26 May 2016 | by Geoff Andrew
For many, the Cannes Film Festival is suggestive of a slightly tacky glamour. The French have long taken le cinéma seriously, however, and for all the red-carpet posturing, the world’s most famous film festival is indubitably a celebration of an illustrious international art form.

Playing the fool Premium

26 May 2016 | by Mark Lawson
The only problem for a young dramatist who has a huge hit early on – such as James Graham’s This House or Nick Payne’s Constellations – is the pressure to repeat the success. By chance, both playwrights are taking this test simultaneously.

Letting the music go Premium

26 May 2016 | by Rick Jones
Until 2015, the abbreviation LFBM stood for the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music but the airline sponsor withdrew after three decades and now the “L” stands for London. Without a principal backer, the programme has shrunk a little but audiences and artists have remained loyal both to each other and to a great institution.

Weird but not wonderful Premium

26 May 2016 | by John Morrish
There is definitely a gap in the television market for short, dark plays with creepy and fantastical twists. The question is whether there is a market in the gap. Would anyone today watch something like Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected? Or do they get all the weirdness they want from Doctor Who?

Believe it or not Premium

26 May 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
The Radio 3 Sunday Feature slot is a consistently high-class affair, and Michael Goldfarb’s elegant résumé of the career of the seventeenth-century philosopher Benedict Spinoza (22 May) was a treat.

Sent from Coventry Premium

19 May 2016 | by Laura Gascoigne
“Naked women and pictures of Jesus” is how the teenage George Shaw once summed up the contents of the National Gallery. Little did he dream of growing up to become the gallery’s Associate Artist, awarded a two-year residency on site to prepare an exhibition inspired by the collection.

Citrus squeeze Premium

19 May 2016 | by Brian Morton
Lemonade isn’t fizzy. It isn’t sweet. And it isn’t champagne. In contrast to perhaps her most famous song so far, this one is maybe about taking a ring off rather than putting one on. You don’t have to read between the lines. You just have to read the lines. All is not well in the most powerful entertainment business marriage.

Singing for Europe Premium

19 May 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
One might reasonably have expected the talking heads in this sparkling overview of the Eurovision Song Contest to be pop moguls, songwriters and musicians.

Lines in the sand Premium

19 May 2016 | by Mark Lawson
As well as being a soldier and spy, T.E. Lawrence (1888-1935) was a literary figure – his book, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, long shaping European views of Arab culture – who rapidly became a dramatic character.

Accidental damage Premium

19 May 2016 | by John Morrish
Louis Theroux has made a remarkable transition from satirist of minor celebrities to sympathetic listener to people leading difficult lives. His methods, though, have hardly changed: in sometimes meandering programmes, he ingratiates himself into people’s domestic settings, lets them talk, and then asks pointed questions that sometimes stay just this side of impertinent.

Hymns from the terraces Premium

12 May 2016 | by Brian Morton
David Beckham recently referred to Wembley as a “sacred” place. The former England football captain’s heart is in the right place, even if it is not the same place as his vocabulary, but everyone knew what he meant.

The shadow of the Marchmains Premium

12 May 2016 | by Mark Lawson
After The recent success of theatre and TV versions of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels, it is proven that the same book can thrive equally well on stage and screen. Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, though, appeared almost simultaneously in the two media. Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is a different proposition.

Bitter pills Premium

12 May 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
The second instalment of the second of Dominic Lawson’s provocative series (4 May) featured some unusually strong language. Nothing obscene, mind, but the words “liar” and “deluded” clanged in the ether like church bells.

Italy’s melting pot Premium

12 May 2016 | by Laura Gascoigne
Touring the ruins of Selinunte in the 1970s, my sister and I were picked up by a young Sicilian. Al Pacino in The Godfather he was not: he had red hair, freckles and the sun-blistered skin of a fisherman.

Comedy without errors Premium

12 May 2016 | by John Morrish
William Shakespeare, his father, mother, wife and daughter are sitting in his kitchen. Anne Hathaway gives the playwright some advice. “Don’t do comedy. It’s not your strong point.” Will is affronted. “It is my strong point, wife. It just needs lengthy explanation and copious footnotes. If you do your research, my stuff is really funny.”

Why write new church music? The question is as absurd as asking, why write new love songs? Composers create church music in response to the experience of faith; and faith is different in every age.

Life, death and being Irish Premium

05 May 2016 | by Mark Lawson
An East Belfast loyalist, shown his baby granddaughter for the first time, is horrified to see the face of Gerry Adams looking back at him. A depressed young man, seeing no option but to end his life, finds access to his suicide auctioned to the highest bidders.

Dead end Premium

05 May 2016 | by John Morrish
Another week, another BBC Four history/travel series. The Silk Road (1 May) had all the raw ingredients of the genre – beautiful photography, quaint locals, a presentable presenter – without­­ turning them into anything nutritious.

Let there be light Premium

05 May 2016 | by Joanna Moorhead
First things first: the lift. Up you go, at the Ikon Gallery, to the sound of a heavenly choir; what a smart idea is this. The piece you are listening to is an installation by Martin Creed, the Quaker artist who won the Turner Prize in 2001; the piece, Work 409, involves the recorded choral voices, which rise as the lift ascends and descend as it falls.

Staying normal Premium

05 May 2016 | by D.J. Taylor
Jack Monroe started writing – I was going to say “her” but as a non-binary transgender she prefers the pronoun “their” – austerity recipe blog in 2012. The goad was a complaint by a Southend councillor that drunks, drug addicts and single mothers were depressing the town’s retail trade.

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).

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