“We want to be experts in presence,” says founder of L’Arche Jean Vanier, halfway through Summer in the Forest. He is explaining the essential ethos of L’Arche’s 149 communities of people with learning disabilities in 37 countries: “We take time, and we waste time, to become who we are called to be.”
You would not think a dramatist could suffer for having written too many great plays. But because Arthur Miller left a quartet of masterpieces – The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, Death of a Salesman and All My Sons – there is little inclination to root around in the bottom of the drawer.
“Giovanni da Rimini: A 14th-Century Masterpiece Unveiled” (until 8 October) celebrates the donation to the gallery by Ronald S. Lauder that allowed it to acquire a devotional panel by the Riminese artist depicting Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and Other Saints, which makes its first appearance in this Room 1 exhibition
Diane Keaton plays Emily, left broke and boiling mad by her feckless late husband. One day, spying through her binoculars, she spots Donald (Brendan Gleeson), long-time resident of a sylvan shack nestled in the woods. She goes in search of him, they meet and they – well, I think you know what’s coming.
Hilary Mantel has always written engagingly about her family’s history. Remembering her childhood in the memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, she noted that the relatives who referred to her as “Our ’ilary” had “aspirations but no aspirates”. The starring family member in the first of this year’s Reith Lectures (13 June) was her maternal great-grandmother, Katherine O’Shea, a mill worker from County Waterford …
The National Theatre once staged what became known as “The Hare Trilogy” – three plays by Sir David Hare about the state of Britain. The latest premiere at the venue might be called “The Hair Sextet”. In Barber Shop Chronicles, Nigerian-born dramatist Inua Ellams weaves together half a dozen narrative strands taking place on the same day in barbers’ shops.
Romantic opera has never been accused of too much realism. That function is taken by its cynical cousin, operetta, where startling truths may be whispered: all-night-parties lead to hangovers, for example, or (even more alarmingly) not all love-affairs have to end in tragic early death – sometimes they just end.
These days, we like our singers to have a back story, a personal history that feeds into the song. Adele would be a good example. By that standard, Ella Fitzgerald doesn’t sound like a great singer at all. She didn’t sing huskily of hard times, cruel men and costly dependencies.
From Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple in theatre to The Young Ones on TV, the flat share has long been one of the most reliable dramatic set-ups, with comedy and poignancy coming from people forced to live together from economic necessity rather than choice.
Unsolved murders may be two a penny but the case of Lord Lucan, his wife and the murdered nanny has added ingredients that have made it irresistible for press and public for nearly half a century. Money, privilege, class, a particular aristocratic loucheness – these are what have given the tragic tale of the Earl of Lucan its grip for all these decades.
One afternoon in May, in a little church tucked behind St Mark’s in Venice, the Moscow Synodal Choir suddenly burst into song. It had been booked that morning to sing an Orthodox Mass in the crypt of the basilica, but its performance in the deconsecrated church of San Gallo was unscheduled: a spontaneous response to a temporary altarpiece installed in the church for the Venice Biennale.
Though the title and stained-glass poster design of a new London production might tempt coach parties of Catholics, a notice at the door, also with a stained-glass border, advises, in mock-ecclesiastical language, to think hard before booking it for Sister Innocent’s birthday outing: “Prepare thyself for really really rude language … sexual references, excessive drinking and extensive use of the smoke machine.”
Margaret Atwood’s chilling novel of a dystopian future in which those women still fertile are made into “handmaids” or breeding stock for their overlords and their sterile wives, was made into a film in 1990, starring Natasha Richardson as the main protagonist, Offred.
The seventieth Cannes Film Festival could have meant even more of a celebratory air than is usual at this star-studded event; but France has suffered a number of terrible attacks, the Nice tragedy included, since last year. Given that and the current state of the world, the official selection included a weighty share of films dealing with serious social, political and ethical issues. The most notable theme was the nature of our responsibility to others.
A century ago last Thursday, in the penultimate year of the First World War, German Gotha heavy bombers returning from a raid on London decided to jettison their remaining cargo over the Kentish coastline. Most of the bombs fell on Folkestone, killed 81 people – many of them shopping for the Bank Holiday weekend – and came so unexpectedly that many observers assumed that the rumbling sky heralded only the approach of thunder.
It is a sunny afternoon, and I am standing in a green, flower-strewn field in a sleepy corner of southern England. Behind me is what is left of the vast Benedictine monastery that stood here for hundreds of years, dominating in equal measure the local landscape and the local economy: in its heyday, its church was almost a carbon copy of Westminster Abbey, and not much smaller.
The deadpan drollery of Aki Kaurismäki’s cinema is wondrous to behold, and tricky to explain. Is his sense of the absurd a folk signature of his native Finland or does it derive from a more personal appreciation of humankind’s struggle with conscience and duty? His new film does not really clear it up either way, but in style it is inimitably and definitively his own: a steady progression of tableaux vivants, hushed interiors of Hopper-esque gloom, characters who hold their poses just a second or two longer than is natural.
On the evidence of Chaplains of the Sea, Noel Coward’s Mrs Worthington, long ago counselled not to put her daughter on the stage, should be advised to give the merchant marine an equally wide berth. According to Mark Dowd’s excellent documentary (17 May), the 1.5 million seafarers currently employed on cargo ships endure some of the worst working conditions on the planet, with nine-month contracts a staple and time ashore limited to snatched three-hour furloughs.
American Epic is a three-part examination of the roots of American music, the sound that now dominates popular culture all over the world. It takes us back to where it all began, the 1920s, when the pioneers of modern recording went into deep rural and ethnic America to find new music and new talent to sell to a new generation.
Figuring out the essence of life A phalanx of busts forms a guard of honour at the entrance to Tate Modern’s retrospective of Alberto Giacometti (until 10 September). In the 20 years since the artist’s last major exhibition in this country, the prices of his elongated sculptures have gone through the roof, with his Man Pointing – the Tate’s version of which is on show – selling for a record $141 million at Christie’s, New York in 2015. Today’s brand-conscious billionaire collectors like their art to be immediately recognisable, and you can spot a Giacometti a mile away.
The crown of opera Monteverdi reigns supreme Opera, invented in Italy in 1597, might not have succeeded so spectacularly without Claudio Monteverdi, who wrote the first masterpieces. Equally, Monteverdi might not have achieved his current towering genius status without Sir John Eliot Gardiner who formed the Monteverdi Choir when he was a Cambridge student 53 years ago and its Baroque orchestra four years later.
Begorra meets gorblimey EastEnders rocks up in Ireland Soap operas, despite their high-octane dramatic interventions, depend for their success on familiarity, on the slow accretion of character over a length of time. The longer viewers have to get to know a character the more they can stomach any implausibility thrown at them. And there must, of course, be lots of trouble.
A nightmare beyond birth The terror of post-partum psychosis Albert Hudson Bannister came into the world in early February 2014. Neither of his parents, the comedian and writer Jessica Pidsley and her husband, Matthew Bannister, were, as they circumspectly put it, “under any illusions” about the challenges that lay in wait. What they didn’t anticipate was that a bare 72 hours after Albert’s birth they should be in the grip of a full-blown psycho-drama.
It was a true-life story that captured an immense global audience: Making a Murderer, Netflix’s 2015 series about a Wisconsin man who served 18 years in prison for a wrongful conviction, before he was released and subsequently re-arrested and convicted of murder, had 20 million viewers across the world on the edge of their seats.
Required to capture a country of vast distances and multiple contradictions, American literature has tended towards the gigantesque: and stretching as it does to eight hours across two parts, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America is the Moby-Dick of American theatre, filled with massive ideas, images and language.
You won’t find many adults who can look at the camera and say things with such devastating honesty as the children in this series about youngsters and what they say. As if to compound the impression that growing up is simply a process of losing the good sense we were born with, the few adults taking part often seemed irredeemably silly.
The French director François Ozon is a master of the unreliable narrative. In the House (2013), Angel (2007) and Under the Sand (2001) are brilliant exercises in the way that film can be used to manipulate meaning. His latest, Frantz, might be his most ambiguous yet: it is certainly his most moving.
Remember Fattypuffs and the Thinifers? André Maurois’ humorous children’s book of 1941 depicted a world divided between the jolly fatties and the vinegary, life-denying skinnies – and our sympathies were firmly on the side of the former.
A doctor who sees a dead rat on the landing of her apartment block considers it an issue of domestic rather than professional concern. Ten months later, though, the medic is an exhausted member of a public-health team fighting against a bacterial infection of such virulence that cemeteries are overwhelmed and the city gates have been sealed.
Excitement, relief and the eventual disappointment generated by the Bishop of London’s premature announcement in 1555 that Queen Mary and her husband, King Philip of Spain, were going to have a baby is reflected in the sumptuous music on the new Signum CD performed with supreme artistry by the vocal group, Gallicantus.
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