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It’s a sad fact that, 100 years on, the thousands of monuments to the First World War in Britain are more often used for orientation – “Turn left at the war memorial” – than remembrance. Simply by becoming part of the landscape, monumental sculptures become easy to ignore. Pictures, on the other hand, are harder to walk past – and it was pictures, mainly, that the British War Memorials Committee collected for its planned Hall of Remembrance in 1918.
Like taking to a moving escalator, the 2014 Proms has resumed the atmosphere of last summer – the heat, the crowds, the intensity. This sense of continuation is also built into the opening work, Elgar’s The Kingdom, the second part of a projected trilogy on the early Church, which adopts leitmotifs from Part I, Wagner-fashion, while adding new ones.
Normally one is suspicious of exercises in historical fast-forwarding – that is, investigations of some bygone event which take as their starting point the premise that the social or cultural arrangements of 200 or 300 years ago were pretty much like our own.
Appropriately for a play in which seven of the eight characters are prone to quote from the Bible, Perseverance Drive is thematically a case of old wine in new bottles.
When The Mill (20 July) started its first series, this time last year, it was derided by the critics; the public, however, rather liked it. Now it’s back, with the formula essentially unchanged: some characters have moved on, but it continues to be grim up North.
THE RETIRING Master of the Queen’s Music, composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, is 80 this year and features prominently at the Proms, which begin this weekend. He will appear in person for his Fifth Symphony and other works, though he was not expected to see this summer after his struggle with leukaemia last year. Doctors gave him six weeks.
An oddity of theatrical posterity is that a dramatist’s most famous play is often overtaken in the reputation stakes by what once seemed a lesser text.
Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford, Lord Sugar’s erstwhile Apprentice sidekicks, have developed a highly marketable double act, and this week (15 and 16 July) they used it to cast light – or to direct heat – on a highly inflammable area of British life.
Having presented its calling card with a résumé of high-street retailer John Timpson’s efforts to find a space in his own company’s car park, Sir John Tusa’s three-part enquiry into the state of leadership in some of our major organisations (weekly from 11 July) began its deliberations with excerpts from the work of one or two parliamentary select committees.
THE PHOTOGRAPHS are clear – immediate and vital, intimate or journalistic, composed with great sensitivity whether on manicured lawns or down garbage-strewn alleyways – yet the life is a mystery.
What to do with the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square?
Theatre is a profession notable for having no retirement age and, at 89, the director Peter Brook has brought to London another of the shows created by the troupe he set up in Paris after departing, Prospero-like, from the RSC, where he had staged a celebrated King Lear in 1962 and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1970.
Dredged up from the vault by some enterprising BBC archivist, A Life of Bliss (from 6 July), scripted by Geoffrey Harrison, turns out to have run for a mammoth 118 episodes in its original 1953 incarnation.
British television viewers have recently been subjected to a slightly creepy advertisement in which a digitally resurrected Audrey Hepburn eats chocolate in an open-topped car. The slightly reptilian movement of the figure is disturbing enough, as is the faux nostalgic 1950s setting.
Campaigning drama tends towards the melodramatic. Characters are destroyed, not by their own flaws, but by outside forces.
If summer opera is any kind of a barometer of economic health – and it could after all be handy for gauging the mood of hedge-fund managers and other plutocrats – then we are in quite a period of retrenchment. The schedules are majoring pretty heavily in the hard-times fallbacks of Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini, with a few extra old chestnuts in the fire.
Now that publicity has become more of an industry than an art, most theatre productions can be seen coming from a long way off. Just before starting this piece, I opened a National Theatre email alerting me to a David Byrne and Fatboy Slim musical in October and a December adaptation of Treasure Island.
It’s good for screenwriters to withhold information and keep the audience guessing. But they still have to tell a story.
The particular charm of the novelist A.L. Kennedy’s radio voice is not easy to decipher. Part of it is to do with her characteristic wryness. Rather more is to do with the tinge of melancholy – a peculiarly personal sadness, often seeming to exist at one remove from the subject under discussion – that marks her delivery.
The audience was packed with pneumatic blondes in loud clothes, and some of them were women. They were there to pay tribute to the world’s most durable, and in unexpected ways complex, music star.
THERE IS A saying that good plays are not written but rewritten and it can equally be argued that the test of a play’s strength is not the premiere but revivals.
Cinemas this week are showing two demonstrations of young male attitudes to their homeland. Each is heartbreaking in its way; both show the humanity behind the headlines.
THE POLICE were among the first groups to be caught out by a “fly-on-the-wall” documentary, when Roger Graef pointed his cameras at them in 1982. But, as Police Under Pressure (23 June) showed, they have learned their lesson since then.