Monday 1 April 2013

Posher, prettier, pricier, even perhaps more political

Bricks and mortar bookshops are fighting back against online and discount selling by redefining the printed book

At the end of March, Joanne Harris’s latest novel Peaches was published in paperback. I say novel but perhaps the singular is misleading. The Peaches sitting next to the checkout at your local Tesco, or stored in an Amazon stockroom, will not be the same as the book in your local Waterstones. In fact it will be a whole chapter shorter as Harris has joined the growing number of authors to have produced extra material for the use of the bricks and mortar bookshop only.

Waterstones (as perhaps should be expected from its largest chain of bookshops) has led the way in bookshop-exclusive extra material. Its edition of Ian Rankin’s Standing in Another Man’s Grave includes an essay on Rebus by Rankin, The Hydrangea Sonata by Ian M Banks has an author interview and a glossary of his sci-fi terms, while Stuart Macbride’s latest novel contains an extra short story. In its non-fiction department, On The Map by Simon Garfield (the chain’s bestselling non-fiction book of last year) comes with a free pull out map, and The John Lennon Letters prints letters unpublished elsewhere. Waterstones is not alone in selling customised editions of books. The small independent bookseller Foyles has had great success with similar initiatives – such as retailing copies of Alexander McCall Smith’s novel Trains and Lovers with the added bonus of a small booklet containing the brand appropriate exclusive short story ‘All Change at St Pancras’ (one of Foyles’s six branches is located in London’s St. Pancras Station).

Waterstones PR manager Jon Howells links this emergent trend to the fight back of the bricks and mortar bookshop against the joint cyber threat of Amazon and e-books, ‘the more we can…. make people shop on in a high street bookshop the better.’ And it is easy to dismiss bespoke books as just one marketing ploy among many. But in doing so you would be mistaking it for something akin to a free eye shadow on a copy of Vogue. The fact is that, by marketing the printed book as an enriched counterpoint to the homogenous functionality of the e-book, we are witnessing the beginnings of a shift in the very values we assign to the printed book.

If one ever needed a reminder that the literary text is a much a product of material circumstance as authorial imagination this is it. As yet the extra material has been confined very much to the text’s margins. What makes Peaches especially worth comment is the way in which the extra material begins to encroach upon the main body of the story. According to Harris the extra-material can be read as an ‘an epilogue or even as the prologue to an as-yet-unwritten story.’ Will the readers of the Waterstones’ editions then, come away with a rather different view of her novel from those who have bought it from Amazon? Is the next step to have shop-exclusive variables in the story? Will the text revert to being as unstable and multi-various as that of a Shakespearean play? How long will it be before book groups are discussing the rival merits of the Waterstones’ version of the latest novel as opposed to the Blackwells’ one?

The printed book, therefore, begins to be coded not as something uniform or production line but as almost artisanal – like spelt bread from a local baker as opposed to Hovis sliced white. And because of this it is changing from the often unconsidered vehicle for a text to an artefact in and of itself – something reflected not merely in the content of the book but in its physical form. No more the cheap, mass production values of the Wordsworth Classics with their slapdash editing and thin yellow pages. These days books are made to grace shelves rather than merely be stored on them. In his 2011 Booker Prize acceptance speech, Julian Barnes declared his belief that the endurance of the printed book will be contingent on high-end production values:  “Those of you who have seen my book, whatever you think of its contents, will probably agree it is a beautiful object. And if the physical book, as we’ve come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying, worth keeping.”

Barnes’s sentiments find an echo in Alexander McCall Smith, a great champion of the bookshop and printed book alike. He cites the Everyman series as an exemplar of attractive publishing. He says he is happy to do anything he can to help promote the cause of the printed book and he is optimistic as to its fate, ‘I’m not one of those who believe that the physical book is going to disappear… the physical book is a lovely aesthetically pleasing object and people want that… As is often the case with these changes they’re quite nuanced and not necessarily a simple picture.’

The same could be said of the changes being undergone by the bricks and mortar bookshops themselves. Over the last couple of months Foyles has held a series of workshops (some open, some for industry professionals) on the subject of the independent bookshop of the future. Ideas discussed have ranged from the installation of Yo-Sushi-style bookbars and 24/7 book dispensers on walls outside shops, to author-curated displays, membership schemes and writing rooms. Meanwhile, new Managing Director James Daunt is attempting to make Waterstones seem more like an independent bookshop. Its shops routinely play host to local societies, its cafes carry stock from local suppliers and books of local interest are flagged in displays. If the book is becoming more like an artwork, then the bookshop looks set to become more like a theatre - or at least a type of cultural hub. The twenty-first-century equivalent to the eighteenth-century coffee shop, perhaps?

Technological innovation can have a nasty habit of killing off what came before. The fate of HMV (itself a former owner of Waterstones) provides a recent lesson on the destructiveness of evolutionary technology. Yet there have been different models of change – television has not switched off the radio, cinema has not meant curtain down for theatre, and in spite of cameras, painting is still very much in the frame. These art forms might have been made more niche, more elitist - but still they survive. Posher, prettier, pricier, even perhaps more political ( a preference for a printed book purchased from a high street bookshop could just as easily be read as a rejection of faceless, corporate globalised internet behemoths as a fondness for paper) – is that the future of the printed book? Watch your bookshelves carefully - the physical book is shaking the dust from its covers and gingerly flexing its creaking spine. As it starts to make its way from the place it has held in popular understanding since the invention of the steam press, the question is where will it come to rest?


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Bringing back working class values?

The Reward Society, by Tom Manion (Richer Publications, 2012)

Public services cannot be sustained at their current level. They are under unprecedented pressure from the global financial crisis, slow growth of the UK’s service-based economy and the demographic pressure of an ageing society. Consequently there need to be drastic reductions in what is currently very high but unproductive public spending. One in four of us work for the public sector - councils are often the biggest local employers and the NHS alone employs 1.7 million, making it the largest employer on the continent. Approaching half of GDP (around £700 billion) is spent on public services including welfare benefits which account for about £200 billion. In a bid to cut public expenditure by £80 billion by 2015 tens of thousands of workers have already been made redundant. But, says Tom Manion, ‘radical’ social landlord and author of The Reward Society, it is the deterioration of our ‘attitudes, values and behaviour’ that is most costly of all.

The authorities spend a ridiculous amount of resources on dealing with a minority of people who are just not behaving as they should. It would be far better, he says, to encourage good behaviour. ‘If bad behaviour improved, we as a society would have a lot more resources to spend’. Putting to one side the child-like simplicity of Manion’s argument, he is perceptive enough to identify a genuinely big problem - one of the defining ones of our age - and its many manifestations. We now accept as normal the ‘dishonesty, idleness and lack of thought for others’ that in the past wouldn’t have been tolerated, he says. There is an £8 billion a year burden of dysfunctional families who ‘run health, police and social services ragged’. A welfare safety net that has ‘become a spider’s web, trapping people in dependency and making poverty comfortable’. A crippling ‘contagion’ of absenteeism in the workplace: a ‘sickness sub-culture’ not confined to the public sector but nonetheless identifiable with it. Never mind the ‘yoof of today’ it is not unusual for groups of young adults to be making an intimidating nuisance of themselves. These ‘screeching, lurching lads and ladettes, peeing in the gutter and falling into fountains’ at the weekend are ‘back behind the building society counter’ come Monday morning. ‘Their parents would not have behaved like that’, says Manion, ‘so why do they?’ Why indeed?

He answers his own question. Old ‘decent’ working class values have been lost and we’re the poorer for it. He explains that as a ‘bad boy my behaviour completely violated the standards of the working-class culture where I grew up, and I knew that and took the consequences’ he recalls. While his complaint that rent arrears have gone through the metaphorical roof is made by Manion the landlord; he also remembers how his mother’s generation ‘took pride in paying their rent, or indeed any bill, on time’. He invites us to compare this with the points-based public housing allocation system that has created an ‘arms race of need’ in which ‘people’s problems become their most valuable assets’. In place of the independence and pride of an earlier generation is a bureaucratically endorsed culture of entitlement. It has ‘infantilised’ tenants and kept them ‘locked into the dependency frame of mind’ and unable or unwilling to do anything for themselves. ‘Downloading help and sympathy on to people in perceived need doesn’t improve their situation’ he explains. ‘They’ve got to stand up on their own two feet and find their own way of including themselves in society’.

This isn’t helped, argues Manion, by the army of people with ‘social’ in their title ‘engaged in keeping their clients in a state of dependency’. He may sound very Daily Mail but he surely has a point? It does seem to be the case that ‘a lot of people reach adulthood without ever getting the hang of personal responsibility’. There is indeed, if one cares to look, an increasing tendency to blame other people for one’s problems. Unless you believe that living off the state is good for one’s health, it is hard to argue with Manion’s view that the welfare state - whatever its one-time merits as a system of social insurance - is now ‘entrapping people in conditions which stunt their development as human beings’. Manion’s book is welcome in as far as it challenges this culture of dependency. Far from being a figment of fevered right-wing imaginations - as today’s thoroughly conservative left-liberals would have it - a personally debilitating relationship with the state is a very real consequence of the way that a therapeutic mindset has undermined people’s sense of themselves as capable of running their own lives.

His solutions don’t break out of this mindset so much as reconfigure it (which I’ll come to in a moment). But his orthodoxy-busting and common-sense approach is refreshing. Manion is no fan of public services which he says ‘just aren’t that good’. Whatever remains of a public service ethic on the part of public servants is allowed to ‘dribble away in bureaucracy and ineffectual pettiness’. Instead of a ‘dynamic and productive’ performance culture we have a ‘survival culture’ he says. ‘People cling on to procedures’ rather than make a decision they may be held accountable for. Which is all spot on as far as it goes. But Manion doesn’t seem to notice that all of this is happening in the so-called performance culture he wants to bring into being. It is the very obsession with processes that is having such a corrosive influence over public service provision and has done for decades now. It has occupied the vacuum where a traditional public service rationale once existed.

Manion’s account of public sector absurdities and his own successes in challenging them suggest that there is much room for improvement. When he first became a social landlord he was baffled by the costly, off-putting and entirely unnecessary practice of ‘sheeting-up’ empty properties when tenants left. Despite much resistance, he says, he brought an end to it and employed estate agents instead of housing officers with a brief to move tenants in and out on the same day. But for all his wise words on dependency and welfare, and his challenges to daft public sector practices, he badly lets himself down with his supposed solutions. This is because he thinks that treating people like idiots will make them more responsible. Apparently oblivious to the economic dislocation of inner cities since the 1970s or the deliberate residualisation and run-down of public housing by successive governments since the 1980s; he insists that the mere presence of tower blocks and the ‘graffiti, litter and needles’ on the walk to school are to blame for the decline of the communities concerned. And that if only the ‘wrong sorts of behaviour by the wrong sort of people’ are dealt with, that will make things better again.

His desire to ‘restore pride and [a] sense of justice’ to communities seems genuine enough but it is soured by his contempt for the ‘wrong sorts’ and a narrow determinism that can see no way out except through his own petty authoritarian interventions. For all his talk of taking on local bureaucrats and liberal opinion more generally, Manion is actually today’s idea of a model social landlord. He believes in building communities rather than houses, and that housing is - despite what you might think - about ‘more than the provision of roofs over people’s heads’. This is despite the sector failing to do just that. As Manion himself tells us, levels of investment in housing in the UK are roughly equivalent to that in the former Eastern bloc countries. We live in ‘poorer quality, more overcrowded accommodation’ than our north European neighbours, he says. But if this suggests rather strongly that the housing problem is a bricks and mortar one, why the obsession with tenants’ behaviour? And why go on peddling the ‘cycle of debt and despair’ that he, like every other patronising left-liberal commentator, claims the poorest in society are caught up in.

Manion is so intent on the naturalising of dependency-induced inadequacies that his behaviour-intervening approach isn’t a challenge to, but a massive accommodation to, the problem he sets out to solve. So, while I can’t help but agree with him that we shouldn’t be subsidising fat people, via their GPs, to go to the gym (his gym!), nor do I think people like him who are ‘exercising regularly, not smoking and eating healthily’ are any more deserving of state ‘support’. It is no business of the state to dictate to people how they live their lives or to reward them when they make the ‘right’ decision either. Manion is full of contradictions like this. He wants people to take more responsibility for their lives but his proposals would have the opposite effect. So while he is against the pampering of ‘undeserving’ dependents; he thinks the rest of us aren’t’ dependent enough and should be compelled to have an ‘annual health MOT with outcomes being linked to taxation levels’.

The same inconsistencies are true of his attempts to manage the behaviour, performance and motivation of his staff. While he seems to have achieved a remarkable turnaround in reducing rates of absenteeism his account of how he has done this is not convincing. His introduction of ‘heath awareness, anti-smoking policies, motivational programmes, annual medical checks, eye tests, fitness and relaxation packages’ seem to have less to do with it than an admirably no-nonsense approach to the sickie. If they pull one staff are booked in for an appointment with the resident GP. This would be enough in itself but Manion goes much further. The Diamond employment package, he tells us, includes all sorts of perks but if the doctor thinks ‘they’re too fat or they drink too much, he will tell them’. And if they choose not to take his advice and make a ‘commitment to maintaining their health’ they ‘lose entitlement to most of the benefits’. Such is the deal you enter into when your employer takes an interest in your ‘wellbeing’ or ‘mental and emotional health’.

Ever the understanding boss, he worries about how difficult it can be for employees to leave their private troubles ‘at the door when they come to work’? But work can be a refuge or a welcome distraction from private worries too. Giving this up for lunchtime ‘fitness, guitar, dance, singing, yoga and massage’ classes may, and for the counsellors, coaches, mentors and ‘chill-out zones’ might sound empowering but the rationale is both an intrusive and bottom-line one. ‘We pay their wages and in return we expect certain behaviour from them’ explains the touchy-feely Manion. Turning the working relationship into one of counselled dependency can store up many more problems than it solves. For both parties. The fact that public sector workers tend to be a ‘bit jaded and tired’ isn’t surprising but Manion’s approach isn’t going to fill the hole where a public sector ethos should be. 

‘Yes, it’s bossy and interventionist’ he concedes, ‘but the benefits to society will be enormous’. Really? As with his counter-factual treatment of the housing problem, Manion ignores much of the evidence in favour of personal anecdotes and prejudices. He manages to find a ’£4.6 million super-size mortuary’ to back-up his flabby argument that ‘excessive Western lifestyles’ will become increasingly unaffordable. We’ll have to spend ‘huge sums’ dealing with the consequences of a society that is ‘eating itself to death’ he claims. In truth, ordinary (as opposed to the rarer cases of morbid) obesity isn’t necessarily a health problem as study after study has shown. Again, as he is forced to admit when he refers to the data, the UK ‘fares reasonably well’ health-wise. Life expectancy is around the EU average; ‘healthy life years’ - those spent without the ill-health or disability associated with advanced age - are higher than the EU average and ‘exceed those in many comparable countries’. This is not to say that all is well with the health service - the NHS does not deserve its protected status as an officially ‘cherished’ institution as the crisis of care in many hospitals and care homes has shown - but it does make a nonsense of the dubious justifications for the lifestyle interventions proposed (and practiced) by Manion.

His obsession with behaviour - whether it’s that of his tenants or his employees - as if it were some disembodied dependent variable to be manipulated by public managers like himself is as depressing as it is wrongheaded. But this is in keeping with the extension of the new public management developed in the 1980s/90s into society at large. As if the managerial colonisation of public services isn’t bad enough they are now intent on the behaviour management of individuals too. Not only in health and housing. The same goes for schooling too. For Manion ‘education remains paramount’ not because it is important for kids to get a good education, but ‘because a well-educated person is more likely to understand the importance of healthy diet, exercise and so on’ which will result in ‘savings for the state’!

Manion, for all his radical pretensions, is more orthodox than he imagines. His belief that public services should be redefined so that they ‘support and promote a safe, decent, healthy, responsible society’ is already in the mainstream of public service reform. The problems that he raises - both cultural and fiscal - are no less real and pressing for that, however, and he is to be commended for taking them seriously. Many of his contemporaries don’t. But his attempt to build public service provision around these problems, rather than to try to understand them and address them in their own terms, can only make matters worse. While it may seem like a good idea to Manion for public sector bodies to tell people how to behave when so many are seemingly misbehaving; this has nothing to do with what public services should be (and used to be) about. Indeed, it makes it all the harder to build public services that meet society’s needs without nurturing more dependency, or taking responsibility out of people’s hands - ironically the very thing that he thinks he is challenging.


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The customary and the disturbing

Man Ray Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London

When it comes to the grading of skills in the visual arts, there’s a temptation to regard photographers as being at the bottom of the scale. Anyone, we think, can point a lens and press a button. Photographers don’t have to get down and dirty learning their stuff in an art college. They might improve their style as they continue pursuing their trade, but essentially they’re one-trick ponies. Does this exhibition - the majority of which includes material which has not been previously exhibited in the UK - give us cause to re-examine this view?

Born in Philadelphia in 1890, Man Ray spent his early life in New York, turning down an architectural scholarship so that he could devote himself to painting. Initially learning photography so that he could reproduce his works of art, in 1920 he decided to work as a portrait photographer as a source of funding. But, five years earlier, Man Ray had had the formative experience of meeting Marcel Duchamp at Ridgefield art colony in New Jersey.

Duchamp was one of the original exponents of Dada — an art form which was a precursor of Surrealism and which was anti-art, designed to shock via its incongruities and obscenities. The pair attempted to establish New York Dada before relocating more fruitfully to Paris in 1921, resulting in Man Ray being at the forefront of Dada and Surrealist movements. From this period we see a photograph of Mina Loy in 1920, showing the poet, playwright and novelist in profile, her face a mixture of toughness and ecstasy. Two years later we see the novelist James Joyce in profile, looking down in despair, while a photograph of writer Ernest Hemingway in 1923 shows the moustachioed novelist in a belligerent mode.

A year later, a self-portrait shows the photographer as fierce and wary, as if expecting trouble from his onlookers. Antonin Artaud, photographed in 1926, is caught turning to us with a sneer as befits the exponent of the Theatre of Cruelty. From the same year we see, by way of contrast, a photograph showing the cross-dressing high-wire walker Vander Clyde in his performance alter ego of Barbette in fierce mode, a sort of pugilistic drag queen. A photograph of dancer and choreographer Helen Tamarisk in 1929 shows her with a tough, combative stare topped by an almost explosive frizz of hair. From 1935 we see the Marchesa Casati - socialite and future camp icon of how to maintain grace under the pressure of poverty - vamping between a pair of fake horses.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Man Ray left France for his homeland, establishing a new base in Hollywood. Officially, he was devoting himself to painting, but he also continued his photographic portrait work. We see the actress Dolores Del Rio, circa the 1940s, with an ornate head dress and Man Ray’s wife, Juliet, is captured in 1947 with an expression that combines haughtiness with uncertainty. But there is a flat feel about his Hollywood period: it seems, somehow, enervated. Maybe he was affected by the readjustment attendant on the life of a refugee. Or perhaps the sunny but conservative climate of Los Angeles simply didn’t suit his temperament.

Nevertheless, returning to Paris in 1951 — he would make it his home until his death in 1976 — Man Ray’s creative spirit seemed to pick up again. The City of Light appeared to do more for his work than the City of Angels. From 1953 we see American Conductor Ned Rorem caught in a pose manifesting an argumentative, tough prettiness, bringing to mind Truman Capote’s estimation of him, in his unfinished novel Answered Prayers, as a ‘Quaker queer — which is to say, a queer Quaker — an intolerable combination of brimstone behavior and self- righteous piety’. Three years later singer Juliette Greco is shown surrounded by black, appropriate for the in-house chanteuse of Left Bank Existentialism. A colour photograph taken of film actor Yves Montand circa the 19505 shows him looking surprisingly uncertain, given his status as a screen heart-throb. In 1968 Catherine Deneuve is shown surrounded by objects including a chess board and books.

Was Man Ray a great photographer? Yes. Did his style evolve? Yes and no. Yes, he had a voracious appetite for creativity, especially when it came to new methods involving mechanical work. He was an enthusiast for the three-dimensional art form designed to disconcert and which would come to be known as the Surrealist Object, his most famous being a metronome with the engraving of an eye impaled on its wand. In photography, he manifested it in his development of the solarisation technique. We see a solarised portrait of his then-lover and collaborator, Lee Miller, from circa 1929 showing the photographer as if the high contrast monochrome clouds of a thunderstorm-laden sky have been superimposed upon her. We also see, from 1932, a solarised self-portrait of Man Ray, showing him in profile and giving him a similar appearance to Miller. Solarisation makes some of his portraiture stand-out, but only momentarily. It comes across as a process — some might say a gimmick — which, whilst it shows his technical skills in the dark room, does not enhance its subject matter with any deeper significance than a standard photograph.

But, when it came to portraiture, the majority of Man Ray’s work was conventional with, arguably, little discernible difference in the main body of this work over the years except for the Hollywood period. And does this lack of major evolution matter? No, for he was, arguably, more-or-less fully-formed as a photographer when he started his career behind the lens, his visual skills probably honed by his earlier architectural and painterly activities, so giving him the ability to capture his subjects in a manner simultaneously conventional yet interesting.

As well as in the majority of his portrait photographs, his mainstream side can be seen in his pre-war work for fashion magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Bazaar. Such magazines, in their advertorial roles, are in the business of entertaining — but not overly upsetting —the paying punters. We see a colour photograph for the front cover of the January 1937 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, showing a hand modelling a diamond ring resting on a constellation globe. It’s eye-catching, but it isn’t going to perplex the magazine’s fashion-conscious readers. (Man Ray would exhibit his more avant-garde work in the magazine Minotaure.)

Without wishing to deny Man Ray’s integrity regarding his involvement with Surrealism, his inter-war period in Paris gave him good and useful connections among the avant-garde, including the ‘Lost Generation’ of American ex-pat artists who, for one reason or another, did not feel that they could thrive in Roaring Twenties, pre-Wall Street Crash America. Also — either through wisdom or good fortune — he didn’t hatch all his eggs of creativity in the Surrealist nest. For the sake of his reputation, this was just as well — any possibility of success for Surrealism‘s attempt to shock society via visual subversion would come to an end in 1945 with the stark, simple black and white newsreels showing the horrors of the liberated concentration camps. It would go on to take its place in art history as just another artistic movement and be regarded, in some quarters, as a rather whimsical one.

And this consideration of Man Ray’s work takes us beyond questions about the limits of photography as an art-form. We are led to consider what his ultimate guiding attitude was. A phrase from the poet Lautreamont has become the standard description of the spirit of Surrealism: ‘Beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.’ It is, perhaps, ironic that that Man Ray — who participated in this movement which set out to challenge received social attitudes - could also produce photographs which are eye-catching, yet conventional. Perhaps he deliberately split his work into the customary and the disturbing, maintaining this juxtaposition of radically different things in a Surrealist spirit. Or perhaps he wanted to have his cake of unconventionality while eating it at the table of cafe society. There is no clear answer to this mystery, but this exhibition makes us continually ponder it.



Till 27 May


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Saturday 23 March 2013

Fill in the gaps

Steptoe and Son, Lyric Hammersmith, London

Have Emma Rice and Kneehigh run out of ideas? This was once a revolutionary company, with such charm and colour, who told odd little stories in richly imaginative ways. Their shows were gentle yet restless, punctuated with thrilling flashes of darkness.

But I’ve seen all of Kneehigh’s tricks and the magic isn’t working anymore. Perhaps this is because their shows now play out on a much larger stages. This company used to work in tents but now they’re bounding about at the Lyric. It’s hard to be endearing and quirky on a grand scale. All the sparky theatrical effects – the little jigs, the winks at the audience and scrappy little tea towels with scene names scribbled all over them – just don’t work as well in a big space. The ‘sweet’ stuff is starting to turn sickly. 

Furthermore, I’m not convinced that Kneehigh’s theatrical playfulness is the best starting point for an adaptation of the classic British sitcom, Steptoe and Son. Ray Galton’s and Alan Simpson’s show is undoubtedly more sophisticated than most TV scripts but it is still a TV script – and that means TV dialogue. The transfer of dialogue from TV to theatre is always tough but it is almost impossible when the stage in question is a Kneehigh stage; cluttered, symbolic and deeply theatrical.

Amid such richly textured visuals and dramatic flourishes, the dialogue sounds particularly thin. That is a massive problem since, other than Kneehigh’s indulgent theatrical interpolations, the chat is all we’ve got here. Precious little happens in Steptoe and Son. That’s the whole point; there’s a whiff of Beckett hovering about this father (Mike Shepherd) and son (Dean Nolan) duo who are forever trying to move on but who always find themselves right back where they started.

The classic Kneehigh touches - the karaoke sessions, a moon that doubles up as a clock and the spooky cold music that trembles beneath every scene - only make the dialogue sound weaker still. While these kooky visual and aural touches scream out ‘THEATRE’, the dialogue whispers ‘television’. The actors and the characters they play struggle to make themselves heard above all that dramatic din. 

While the show practically groans with theatrical embellishments, the really important stuff - the central relationship between father and son – has been taken for granted. It feels like Kneehigh has assumed the audience will have prior knowledge of the show and will happily fill in the gaps, thickening up the central relationship and plumping up the characters’ back-histories.

But I have not seen much of the original sitcom and cannot do Kneehigh’s work for them. Perhaps they’ll do the job themselves next time round. 


Till 6 April 2013


Theatre

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Gruesome and abstract

Ring, Battersea Arts Centre, London

Imagine being told a bedtime story by the devil, while slowly suffocating in a pitch black room. Ring feels a little like that – only this particular devil seems to know you very well indeed. He has rooted out the darkest parts of your soul and is going to rip these rotten bits clean out of your chest and expose them, dripping in blood, to the rest of the world.

If that sounds a little gruesome and abstract – well, tough – this is a gruesome and abstract show. It’s hard to say exactly what Fuel’s show is about but it’s easy to say how it makes you feel: frightened and vulnerable and horribly exposed. It’s a bit like an internal ghost ride; what you find in the midst of those dark shadows is really up to you.

The production takes place in pitch darkness, with the entire audience seated and wearing headphones. It seems we’re at some sort of self-help meeting with a slightly sinister tinge. A skittish leader welcomes the group and then plunges us into darkness. Supposedly this dark state is to allow us to speak openly – but it is really there to allow Fuel company to work their soundscape magic.

Sounds swirl around us, creating seemingly concrete realities that we know cannot be real. The chairs are re-arranged into a circle and we hear them crashing and scraping against the floor. Only the chair we sit on has not moved. Are we on our own in the middle of this circle or is this all an illusion?

This disorientating disconnect between sound and reality lies at the heart of this show. At first, we resist the obvious inconsistencies between what we hear and what we know to be possible. But the 3D soundscape, which is so convincing and so overwhelming, gradually wears us down. We begin to believe the little lies and, with that first suspension of disbelief, we become Fuel’s playthings. We are putty in their hands and, whichever way they shape us, we willingly comply.

With the walls of disbelief broken down we become horribly susceptible to the sounds that whoosh around our befuddled brains. The unease in the room ratchets up. Initially it simply seems there is an imposter in the room; someone who everyone does not like or trust. But gradually a real threat of violence creeps in and engulfs us all. More frightening still, this threat seems to be coming from within. The person who everyone is frightened of is us. We’re left sitting alone in the pitch black with nowhere left to run.


Till 28 March 2013


Theatre

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Tuesday 26 February 2013

Duchamp, the Joker

The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns part of Dancing Around Duchamp season at the Barbican, London

If you were to draw a diagram of the flow of 20th century artistic influences without including Duchamp, it would look quite linear and predictable. Add Duchamp, and the picture changes dramatically. A seemingly random pattern will emerge, with lines zooming across decades and styles, mocking the distinct categorisations of art history. Duchamp’s influences ranged deep and wide, but his rediscovery in the post-war period served as an antidote to modernism’s heroic attitude and tendency to take itself too seriously, and inspired a radical artistic turn that would have a lasting impact.

Although his early work resembled that of his contemporaries Picasso and Braque, (in ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ for example), his contribution to art differed in not being confined to a specific style or visual language. What Duchamp brought to art was an attitude, first and foremost: irreverent, cerebral and humorous.  Picasso’s radical experiments took place on the surface of the painting, Duchamp wanted to break free from it. It’s that fluidity that made Duchamp a kind of Joker figure of 20th century art, in more senses than one.

Duchamp, ‘Fountain’, 1950

The Duchamp season at the Barbican is a tribute to the most significant of Duchamp’s reincarnations, his American revival as the godfather of a new and irreverent attitude towards art’s institutionalisation and its obsession with the nature of the medium. Its centrepiece is The Bride and the Bachelors, an interdisciplinary exhibition that brings together the works of Duchamp, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and examines the collaborative relationships between them.

In keeping with Duchamp’s legacy of challenging artistic boundaries, the exhibition includes a wide spectrum of works ranging from painting and ‘combines’ to dance and music. At the centre of the exhibition is a slightly elevated stage that features performances from Cunningham’s repertoire, performed to pieces by Cage, Johns, Frank Stella and others, with stage sets by both Rauschenberg and Johns. It’s carefully orchestrated to tell the story of Duchamp’s engagement with the four American artists and the way it revolutionised the way we think about art.

In terms of the visual artworks on display, the exhibition is dominated by Duchamp’s trademark pieces, eclipsing to a certain extent the works of Rauschenberg and Johns on display. The most prominent is a replica of ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (The Large Glass)’, the ‘painting’ he worked on between 1915 and 1923. The free standing wood-framed plate of glass introduced several of Duchamp’s radical ideas that he would continue to experiment with for decades, and that would eventually be adopted and developed by Rauschenberg and Johns.

In no specific order those ideas were: giving the painting a three-dimensional presence, introducing the catalogue as a necessary companion to the art work, and finally embracing the element of chance as antidote to subjective aesthetic preferences. Painting on glass wasn’t a new idea of course, but Duchamp revived what had become a decorative form of art and gave it a new meaning. It was a challenge to the autonomy of the painting surface, with the movement of people, change of light and accidental shadows all became part of the painting.

The three-dimensional ‘leap’ was revisited by Rauschenberg in his 1959 painting Monogram (not part of the exhibition unfortunately). Rauschenberg used a taxidermy goat with a tyre around it, installed it on a canvas and displayed it flat on the floor. It was a breakthrough moment, as the distinction between painting and sculpture was challenged. On display is another of Rauschenberg’s paintings that makes an allusion to ‘The Large Glass’, his 1962 Trophy V (for Jasper Johns). The sliding window frame installed within the surface of the painting hints at unperceived depths that seems to mock the modernist obsession with the two-dimensionality of painting.

Robert Rauschenberg, ‘Minutiae’, 1967 copy of 1954 original’

Both Rauschenberg and Johns continued to experiment with integrating three-dimensional objects within the painting surface, as represented in the exhibition by Jasper Johns’ ‘Field Painting’, where the two-dimensional letters pop-out of the painting surface, with the letter ‘R’ formed by a lit neon strip. The two American artists picked up painting where Duchamp had left it, displaying a similar mischievousness and fondness for ordinary objects that went against the aloofness of high-brow art.

The ‘catalogue’, the series of notes and diagrams that Duchamp had created for ‘The Large Glass’ was to have a different type of influence. Seemingly intended to explain the painting, the catalogue in fact complicated the piece by describing elements that were not in the painting. In fact, the catalogue was in of itself an art work that required engagement and interpretation. With the catalogue, Duchamp was mocking the idea of the inherent narrative that is transmitted from the artist to the audience. He was encouraging multiple interpretations and unscripted audience engagement.

Together with Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’, the upturned urinal he exhibited as an art work, Duchamp’s ‘Large Glass’ catalogue represented a seminal moment in the formation of conceptual art. Art was no longer purely about craftsmanship and the aesthetic value of the art work, gesture and thought process became crucial. From our jaded contemporary perspective, fed on a diet of a soulless barrage of Brit Art and vacuous ‘gesturism’, Duchamp’s creations might not appear so radical. He might even be considered guilty of spawning the self-indulgent conceptual art automata. But that would miss the point; Duchamp’s attempts at liberating art were truly radical, whereas contemporary conceptual art has crassly turned to cheap parodies for which Duchamp would have had little time.

Duchamp’s dalliance with chance represented another strand in the life of these artistic collaborations. The story begins when ‘Large Glass’ was chipped during transport, leaving a pattern of cracks on the glass. Duchamp accepted that as part of the natural life of the painting, and went on to experiment with different processes of accidental form-making. Chance processes and random systems were employed by both John Cage and Merce Cunningham, in a unorthodox attack on the subjective pretences of music and dance.

Merce Cunningham and Jasper Johns, ‘Walkaround Time’, 1968 ’

The exhibition tells the story of those experiments and Duchamp’s role in the process comprehensively, both through the inspired live performances and the large collection of note sheets, sketches and diagrams. In addition, the sets and costumes designed by Rauschenberg and Johns highlight the breadth of the engagement between the five artists, and the exhilarating sense of rethinking the limits of artistic disciplines. It gives a sense of the experimental appetite that is essential to avant-garde art. In that respect, it is reminiscent of the Bauhaus but without its overwhelming social engineering pretensions.

In many ways, that is down to Duchamp’s - the Joker’s -  infectious playfulness, an attitude that encapsulates the pure art impulse much better than that weighed down by social reformism or political agendas. There is a sense of joy about Duchamp’s humorous attitude, and that of his American circle,  which sets it apart from the prevalent irony of today. In fact, that sterile, self-parodying form of ironic detachment is the antithesis of the child-like enthusiasm that permeates Duchamp’s work and ideas.

The Bride and The Bachelors is a very welcome account of Duchamp’s post-war American adventure, and the rich web of encounters and collaborations that reinvigorated the master himself and nurtured the American artists with whom he worked. Duchamp’s legacy could be detected in as diverse places as Georges Perec’s novels, Jean Tinguely’s sculptural machines and even the music of bands like Kraftwerk and Neu! (via Cage). As interesting as those influences are to disentangle, the Barbican exhibition however tells a richer story, not merely of artistic lineage but that of the Joker reinventing himself. 


Till 9 June 2013


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Sunday 24 February 2013

No need to shout

If you don't let us dream, we won't let you sleep, Royal Court Theatre, London

I wish the Royal Court would stop shouting at me. It’s starting to royally piss me off. Don’t get me wrong; I still hold my breath every time I go to this theatre. But the number of times I leave feeling a little flat – especially after seeing a play which supposedly SPEAKS TO US ABOUT THE WORLD WE ARE LIVING IN TODAY – is starting to creep up.

If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep (the title of which is WRITTEN ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS) is part of the Court’s New Playwrights Programme. It’s written by Anders Lustgarten, who is a political activist and clearly a very bright and passionate man. Lustgarten has a lot to say about today’s financial situation and the fierce spiral of shite we’re all being dragged into. But the fact remains that this play is shouty, profoundly confused and pretty crude. Has this piece been picked for its voice or its volume?

Set sometime in the ‘near’ future (is there a context I loathe more?), Anders’ play depicts a world in which human behaviour is being commodified by ever resourceful traders. Some clever corporate bods have come up with a new idea: a ‘Unity Bond’ that goes up in value only when the number of addicts and re-offenders go down. It is a surprisingly optimistic enterprise which is rapidly and somewhat predictably reversed. Soon enough, the investors find themselves betting small fortunes not on the resilience but on the demise of the fellow human race.

It’s a bold idea – but one that only wafts hazily throughout this play. For much of the time, we’re shown snapshots of a city that’s gone to the dogs. Racism is running riot. Old nurses are being ignored by the very hospitals to which they dedicated their lives. And the money men are ruling the roost, clucking and cackling on top of their massive wads of cash.

Such over-amped characters and over-stretched scenarios are begging for a light, comic touch. But director Simon Godwin has played things far too straight. The majority of performances are much too earnest and feel thumpingly over the top. Meera Syal is one of the few to tap into the play’s comic potential and her vaguely satirical scenes are the among the few scenes we take seriously.

It isn’t just the tone that’s out of whack but the structure too. This play might just have worked if all the scenes were kept fast, furious and slicingly amusing. But the early shot-gun scenes are loosely threaded together for an extended and fairly excruciating final act, in which all the put-upon characters place the whole economic situation on trial.

Everything becomes grindingly over-explicit, as the ‘austerity’ measures are picked apart by an angry throng. There are a few gems of economic insight in here but it’s really tough to stay engaged. We’ve been dragged in so many different directions; the tone has swung all over the place, the characters have shed their skin countless times and the director feels bizarrely absent. The dialogue, too, is a curious mixture of dry and sentimental, precise and sweeping, and is very hard to stick with. 

It’s all deeply frustrating. Why do so many new writing schemes pick plays that explicitly ‘talk about today’ rather than plays with a resounding, unusual and honest voice? I strongly believe it is how the playwright speaks – and not specifically what he or she speaks about - that reveals the most. It’s the melody and not the lyrics of a script that matter; the rhythm, passion, humour and tremble in the playwright’s voice.


Till 9 March 2013


Theatre

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Thursday 21 February 2013

Brilliantly complex perspectives

The Paper Cinema's Odyssey, Battersea Arts Centre, London

It might seem a stretch for me, a theatre critic, to review The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey. After all, this isn’t theatre. Instead, this exquisite version of Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ is more like an animated graphic novel. Yet this is still an innately theatrical experience. There are a number of live performance elements: we are shown the puppeteers and process behind the graphic projections and a trio of on-stage musicians provide the soundtrack. The result is a show that has all the immediacy, warmth, imagination, wit and energy of live theatre.

The production starts off simply enough, as an artist sketches Odysseus and the image is projected on a screen. The space hums with the quiet magic of a bed-time story. That innocence is a quality that softly lights up the entire production. This group’s talent is certainly impressive yet they never set out to dazzle us, only light us from within.

The complexity of the projections build, reflecting Homer’s sophisticated, non-linear narrative technique. We jump between Odysseus’ adventure and his wife, Penelope and son, Telemachus back home. As the action jumps between the two, the images are layered on top of each other. We see Penelope’s face; the light brigtens, we see through her head and right through to her thoughts inside. The flexibility of this company’s craft allows them to keep up with even the jumpiest and most ambitious of narratives.

Admittedly, the narrative thread is sometimes lost in the bounding jumps between Penelope and Odysseus’ plight. Sometimes, it feels like we’re only experiencing this story on an aesthetic level. But that aesthetic experience is so powerful and so profoundly connected to the core of Homer’s story that, while we lose hold of some of the finer narrative threads, we never disconnect from the heart of this tale.

There are some extraordinarily complex moments, which highlight the keen ambition of this intially modest-seeming company. Folding cardboard cut-outs create brilliantly complex perspectives and the use of two cameras allows the company to create an image so deep, it feels like the company has somehow moved beyond 3D.

Yet it is this company’s simplicity that remains its greatest strength. Despite all the technical and artistic ingenuity on show here, this is still a resolutely unflashy production. This simplicity allows the company to create some extraordinarily powerful moments with just the tiniest of tweaks. When Odysseus and Penelope are finally reunited, the stark black and white set is suddenly flooded with colour. It feels like nothing less than the beginning of a new and better world. Awesome.


Till 9 March 2013


Theatre

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Competing claims of love and the glory of war

Medea, ENO, Coliseum, London

As somebody named after a character from Shakespeare’s rarely-performed Timon of Athens*, I am wary of rarely-performed works. There is usually a reason for persistent neglect. And Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Medea has been so rarely staged that this David McVicar production is its UK premiere, 320 years after it first opened in Paris.

But I’m happy to report my fears were unfounded. Opera companies all over the world must be kicking themselves right now. True, a modern audience may be reluctant to sit patiently through the lengthy interludes of dancing and chorus singing that intersperse (or hold up) the dramatic developments of the plot. The production seems to play with this at one point, when it feels as if the first interval will never come, and one of the onstage characters leads optimistic applause several times, only to be cut off by the next song or dance.

But the dancing is witty, energetic and entertaining, and the fresh mix of baroque, jive and bump’n’grind styles plays with the music, the World War II setting and the modern audience’s familiarity with music videos. And the spurious dancing and singing is always justified by the storyline, whether it’s a spectacle commissioned by the amorous Orontes to win Creusa’s heart or the diabolical writhings of the beings Medea summons from Hades to wreak her terrible revenge.

In this case, Hell hath fury exactly like a woman scorned. Medea is feared and hated by the citizens for her past deeds (unspecified in this opera, but in myth she dismembered her own brother to distract her pursuing family while she eloped with Jason). But when we first meet her she’s just a woman who fears her husband has fallen for a younger blonde.

The wartime setting is all-pervasive: all the men and most of the women are in uniform, and Jason makes a convincing case that he’s only courting Princess Creusa to cement a defensive alliance with her father, General Creon. There are soldiers everywhere, an oppressive atmosphere of fear and deceit broken briefly when Orontes and his squadron of gallant airmen arrive. For a while, jolly dancing brings everyone together: army, navy and air force, khaki-clad women, politicians, even the waitress serving drinks. Then the machinations resume.

The competing claims of love and the glory of war are a recurrent theme. Christopher Cowell’s translation sits lightly with the music, its simplicity leaving space for the emotions to come through the music and the powerful performances. ‘Mark my despair,’ sing Jason and Creusa to each other, if you should regret your choice to be with me instead of Orontes or Medea. Their insecurities echo and counterpoint, ‘Mark my despair, Mark my despair…’ Because, though her suspicions are not confirmed until halfway through the drama, Medea is being betrayed by Jason, whose feelings are divided between her and Creusa. And it’s the very human dimensions of all the main characters, who confide their dilemmas in duets as well as revealing them in soliloquising arias, that makes the tragedy emotionally plausible.

Medea has unearthly powers. The fears of the populace are justified when she summons the powers of Hades to help her take revenge, but by then we have seen her sentenced to exile from Jason and their sons, racked with fear that she has lost his love, and deceived about his intentions. So though she’s a semi-divine figure from Greek myth, she’s also a person like anyone we know who has been betrayed and heartbroken.

Unlike any person we know, however, she is able to turn the tables on those who thought her powerless. Her revenges are so terrible they have the chorus singing ‘Oh cruel Gods!’ and vowing never to worship at their temples again. We’re asked to sympathise with Medea’s feelings, but not to condone her actions.

In spite of being based broadly on Euripides’ character, Charpentier’s Medea is curiously modern, and at times her modernity emerges into the music, with harsh discords that strain against baroque formality. Sudden shifts of mood when indecisive or duplicitous lovers move from passion to fear, jealousy or anguish are propelled by nimble changes of tempo, texture and key. And yet there are pure period passages of warlike brass and kettledrums, harpsichord accompanied recitative, and diabolical thundersheet action.

If you don’t like baroque music, it might be an overlong evening of spurious dancing. But if this production doesn’t put Charpentier’s Medea back into the opera repertoire I’m not sure what would.

*No, really, don’t bother.

Till 16 March 2013


MusicOpera

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Wednesday 13 February 2013

CW editorial note - 13 February 2013

Shedding light on art history

Shedding light on art history

This time on CW, Nicky Charlish reviews the Royal Academy’s current Manet exhibition, asking what we can learn from the artist’s relative lack of success in his own time, while Tessa Mayes visits the Hayward’s Light Show with her three-year-old. Timandra Harkness is taken with La Traviata at the ENO while Miriam Gillinson is less impressed by In the Beginning Was The End at Somerset House. Meanwhile, Rosamund Cuckston reviews Jeanette Winterson’s historical novel The Daylight Gate.

13 February 2013


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A deeper realism

Manet: Portraying Life, Royal Academy, London

All political careers are said to end in failure but strictly speaking this isn’t true. The final error of a politician is something from which future generations can, if they wish, learn, so transforming that failed career into a sort of success, albeit one enjoyed by others. Does art, too, have its apparent career failures that have the potential for success? The subject-matter of this exhibition - the first major one in the UK to showcase Edouard Manet’s portraiture - gives us a chance to test this theory out. But before we consider his work in the light of failure and success, let’s see what’s on offer here.

The exhibition is divided into categories based on Manet’s family, his artistic, literary, and theatrical friends, his models, and status portraits (the last of these being intended to show the power, wealth, position and breeding of the sitters). Born in Paris in 1832 to middle-class parents (Manet’s father was a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Justice and his mother was a diplomat’s daughter), in 1849 he entered the studio of the successful salon artist Thomas Couture. Manet spent the next six years training within and beyond Couture’s tutelage. The Paris Salon and independent exhibitions showed the novice artist other approaches to painting. The style which Manet experimented with was Realism, a movement which aimed to give a precise rendering of the external world and so attemptingvisually what novelists such as Zola were trying to do via the written word.

So Manet shows us a France which, after the upheavals of the Revolution and Napoleonic rule, was trying to come to terms with industrialisation and the rise of a middle-class which, while attempting to follow Prime Minister Francois Guizot’s injunction to become rich, was unsure of itself and probably subconsciously aware of the political tensions running under the surface of society (although probably trying not to think about them) — tensions which would burst into action with the cataclysm of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and its aftermath. ‘Music in the Tuileries Garden’ (1862) shows people who seem torn between a desire for relaxation and a fear of somehow breaking the rules of an unclear etiquette. In ‘The Railway’ (1873) a small girl looks through railings at the top of a railway embankment at the cloud of smoke from a passing train, while a young woman - a sister? a governess? (although she’s arguably too well-dressed to be the latter) — looks at us directly with a slightly-bemused expression. ls she mildly contemptuous of childish interest in a passing train or is she trying to put a brave face on a sense of confusion engendered by the shape of society’s mechanical future?

A status portrait which seems, at first glance, to be an exercise in visual spin-doctoring is the ‘Portrait of M. Antonin Proust’ (1880). A politician (and no relation to the novelist) he seems both magisterially and jovially self-satisfied, yet his eyes betray a sense of sadness, as if telling us that power doesn’t remove its holders from the constraints of mortality. Meanwhile, the ‘Portrait of Georges Clemenceau’ (1879-80) shows the young radical and future war leader as dully-dressed, with an face of seeming meekness, but a closer look shows a hint of political fierceness playing underneath the politician’s expression. Meanwhile the portrait of ‘Stéphane Mallarmé’ (1876) shows the poet, cigar in hand, with a wistful, faraway, almost careworn expression: is his mind pondering the permutations of a poem or is he simply taking time out from the creative process?

In his paintings of women, Manet takes us from domesticity through, arguably, to concerns about the rise of feminism. ‘Street Singer’ (c.1862) gives us a grey, windswept female figure whilst his ‘Mme Manet in the Conservatory’ (1879) shows the painter’s wife as she looks at flowers with a mixture of wonder and regret. But ‘The Amazon’ (c. 1882) shows the up-and-coming fashionable figure of a young, black-clad horsewoman. A slight doubtfulness plays about her features — is it the uncertainty of a woman experimenting with a new, assertive lifestyle, or is Manet playing a transference game, using her face as a vehicle to express wider (conservative) concerns about the rise of middle-class women and its implications?

So Manet gives us a realism which contains deeper meanings over and above surface depiction, but is its spirit unique? He was perhaps continuing to excavate the new ground dug by Goya, especially with the latter’s series of etchings, The Disasters of War, which recorded the horrors resulting from Napoleon’s invasion of Spain. Indeed, we can go back further, to Hans Holbein the Younger and his portrait of Henry VIII which is realistic yet shows its subject as a man radiating both power and disappointment. In questioning the spirit of Manet’s work, we get near to seeing why he didn’t get the fame or position he deserved during his career.

For Manet, while trying to break away from what was perceived to be a dead, academic painterly style, wasn’t avant-garde enough for many critics because of his style and subject-matter having a lingering feel of the traditional approach hanging over it. At the same time, while Manet was interested in the work of the Impressionists, he refused to exhibit with them in the eight Impressionist exhibitions (1874-1886). Indeed, it can be said that he was too honest to allow himself to follow the easy career option of hitching his wagon to lmpressionism’s rising star. He was on the horns of a dilemma not of his own making. He fell victim to the need for some of art’s observers to classify, put artistic styles into neat boxes, link them up with artistic schools — in other words, to form the cultural equivalent of glorified playground gangs. He was too traditional for the supporters of Impressionism, too experimental for the traditionalists.

The irony here is that Impressionism itself can be seen as the art which falls between two stools: it’s avant-garde enough for people who don’t want to seem stuffily conservative in their tastes but who wish to avoid upsetting everybody else with something that is confusing or disturbing. Impressionism is not so obscure as to cause confusion (as in the case of, say, Abstract Impressionism), and it’s not explicit enough to be only too clear about what’s going on (as for instance, in Emin’s sexual drawings). However, Manet was fortunate in that, while he had a wide circle of friends, admirers and supporters from the artistic, literary and musical communities, all of whom supported the more radical movements of the time, they defended his art and sat for his portraits. Had he lacked those essential supports - which remained with him until his death in 1883 - he might well have been relegated to the footnotes of art history.

From this exhibition, we can see what Manet did was to help breathe some fresh air into academic painting by combining realism with reflection. Had his career not been sabotaged by critical small-mindedness, he might have gone on to renew traditional art in a more decisive manner and so changed the course of art history. Instead, he fell victim to those who judged painting by category rather than content. His career of apparent failure has a constructive potential, for it gives us two lessons: the way that seemingly-plain reality can convey deeper meanings which make us think, and the need to avoid the pitfalls of simplistic categorisation which close off genuine appreciation.
Till 14 April 2013


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‘Dear God, to die so young’

La Traviata, ENO, Coliseum, London

I may have imagined this, but to me the overture to Verdi’s opera sounded muffled, distant, almost like a nostalgic reminder of a familiar piece of music, rather than a piece we were hearing (I was, at any rate) for the first time.

Then the red velvet drapes open on… another set of red velvet drapes. Through which erupt the partygoers in black suits or little black dresses, and their hostess Violetta. The whole party takes place between layers of artifice, with shy Alfredo in spectacles and a beige cardigan pushed towards Violetta as a cruel joke.

Throughout the opera, layers of curtains open and close. Sometimes Alfredo and Violetta move them, opening up their feelings and hiding them again. At one point they’re violently torn down. It’s a simple idea but it works in this production by Peter Konwitschny. He has cut the piece back to its simple lines: boy meets dying girl; they fall in love but society tears them apart; he comes back to her but she dies. Played straight through, with no interval, it runs under two hours.

The human voice, expressing with extraordinary skill the most powerful moments of anybody’s life: love, betrayal, loss, death: this is opera stripped of flamboyant spectacle, which leaves the story and the feelings all the more universal. True, dying of TB is now avoidable, in the developed world at least. True, living in unmarried bliss no longer means shame for your family and an obstacle to your sister’s marriage. But the happiness of love, the pain of sacrificing your own relationship for another’s future happiness, the cruelty of death, have not been abolished.

It would be comforting if Violetta’s last moments were peaceful and resigned, if the fact her lover returns to her could make dying of TB romantic. But the fact Alfredo has come back, that they might have had a second chance at happiness, only twists the knife in Violetta. ‘Dear God, to die so young,’ she sings, burning with anger.

By the end, only Violetta is left on stage, facing oblivion alone. Alfredo and his father are in the auditorium with us, watching the solitary drama of another’s death. All the red velvet is gone, leaving nothing but light and darkness. And the music, and the human voice.


Till 3 March 2013


MusicOpera

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Light entertainment

Light Show, Hayward Gallery, London

No cameras, light, kids, action!

Light Show , Hayward Gallery, London

In the first few days of its opening Light Show was sold out. People were turned away at the door every time I went there on cold days to try to get in. Correction. Families were being turned away. It appears Light Show , a sophisticated exhibition at the Hayward Gallery charting the ‘experiential and phenomenal aspects of light’ sculpture since the 1960s, has kid appeal.

When I told my three year old son we were going to a ‘light show’, his eyes just, well, lit up! I couldn’t sell an exhibition of surrealist female art to him, but something with ‘light’ and ‘show’ in the title was a winner. The smile fell from his face, however, when at the entrance the exhibition warden warned us, ‘Children’s hands have to be held at all times. No running about. Some of the lights are very hot. They can’t be touched. The artists wanted it that way.’ So I spent the whole exhibition trying to stop him being burnt or even, perhaps electrocuted?

The light bulb has been with us since 1878 (if you go with the view that Joseph Swan invented it, not Thomas Edison). Light sculptors and artists since the 1960s have played with the light bulb’s transient emissions to form beautiful and arresting pieces. The first work on show, ‘Cylinder II ’(2012) is made up of long strips of metal hanging from the ceiling and harbouring tiny lights that turn on and off to make mesmerising shapes within the overall loose shape of strips. Sometimes it looked like rain was falling. At other times it looked like white, static stars in the sky. ‘Christmas tree lights,’ I explained to my son, as the installation morphed in to bright, twinkling stars, flashing. My son wanted to touch it of course.

Moving swiftly on, with a jerk of his small arm, I wanted to take a photo of my son enjoying a comedy splash of light on the floor and another hanging sculpture that gave off a warm glow and was quite hot I’m sure judging by the heat it gave off. ‘No photos,’ said a warden. It was all about the experience here and now.

There was something quite refreshing to disappear in to dark rooms with beautiful light shapes where nobody could whip out their bloody mobile phone and take a quick i-photo. People were catching each other’s eye for a change. My son charged in to a dark room to follow some people who he thought were clearly up to something. I thought, ‘Great! This exhibition might conquer his fear of the dark’.

In the room everybody felt compelled to walk towards an extremely bright projector light that produced rays of white light that got larger towards the back of the room. While some people were taking sneaky photos of their faces half lit, my son started trying to use his arms to cut through the light shafts of ‘You and I, Horizontal’ (2005). Then he pulled me out of the light’s grip, underneath it, squatting in the dark, pretending we were in a tent, as if the light was our blanket. Not once did he say his usual refrain of, ‘Take a photo!’ He was completely absorbed in his new, light-inspired fantasy world.

Plenty of circular, philosophical musings described the works and the artists’ reasonings. Very postmodern. Artists and sculptors grapple with their use of light as if struggling with an elusive concept of truth as just a light with a bad connection that was never on or off, just buzzing confusingly. ‘Light is what we see.’  ‘Light has the power to affect our state of mind.’ One installation ‘plays with the indeterminacy of light and variable viewing positions’.

Still, to be fair, it’s not all like that. One 2011 installation ‘Model for a Timeless Garden’ is just into light as special effects to change our perceptions. The artist uses strobe lighting on small fountains of water that makes the water looking like frozen, droplets of liquid. Actually I thought the strobe lighting had made solid shapes appear like water. I had no idea it was water! ‘It’s too dark in here,’ was all my son would say, as he tried in vain to find his way out of a blackened room by pulling a big, black curtain back on the wrong side and bumping in to somebody trying to get in on the other side.

Jenny Holzer’s 2008 work ‘MONUMENT’ was light sculpture with a political message. She’d wrapped a large, upright cylinder with LED florescent coloured tickertape. The 35,000 words whirring round were of declassified government documents from the war on terror and included the testimonies of soldiers, officials and detainees with some words left out to indicate government censorship.

In between rooms of seemingly hot and cold light that were neither (they were just projecting warm reds and oranges or cold-looking blue white light) was a dark room with just a singular hanging light bulb. Nobody seemed to stay long in the room. A friend who had seen the show told me he found that room ‘boring’. Only two people stood to look at it on our visit. The work was a largish light bulb, hanging from a long cable until it almost reached the ground, with a low light glow that made the floor look like it was made of water and entitled ‘Light bulb to Simulate Moonlight’ (2008).  It was calming. Nobody spoke. The exhibition went on all around us as me, my son, and an elderly couple that looked like they were in love, just looked at the rippling effect a singular, dimmed bulb could make to our surroundings and senses.

Then my son started doing funny ‘monster’ shadow puppetry on the wall behind us and broke the silence.

Till 28 April 2013


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A museum of oddities

In the Beginning Was The End, Somerset House, London

A stream of naked workers lazily ascends a winding staircase. A suited man swoops past a window, plunging to his death in slow motion. A bunch of robots go rogue, fish swim around a boardroom submerged in water while an employee repeatedly slides down a slanting desk. Dreamthinkspeak certainly know how to pull together a collection of arresting images – but is In the Beginning Was The End any more than a museum of oddities?

The trouble with Tristan Sharps’ production is that it’s stuck somewhere between an art installation and interactive theatre. For much of the time the show resembles an exhibition and the audience is required to create its own energy and line of enquiry. Within the labyrinth that is Somerset House we’re presented with vast spaces, devoid of actors but packed with odd exhibits. We wind through shadowy corridors filled with striking artwork, deserted offices crammed with throbbing machines, gloomy rooms lined with flickering video installations and magical archways, laced with ivy and humming with the scent of lemon.

Perhaps if this show had simply been a collection of truncated images, all vaguely pointing towards a broken world, it might have worked. Yet these static stretches are squashed in between vague narrative sections, which demand more of this production and its audience. Just as we’re adjusting to the still rhythm of an exhibition, we enter the Head Quarters of ‘Fusion International’. An obscure storyline emerges. We’re shown a series of inventions, which have been designed to make life easier but seem to be tipping both the employees and customers over the edge.

These inventions and employees then appear as motifs throughout the rest of the show. Such repetition changes the energy of this production. Suddenly we expect to be led; for the show to have a beginning, middle and end and for our questions to be answered. Expectations are raised and disappointed. 

It makes for a frustratingly obscure piece, which feels intellectually and physically remote. At one point, we walk through a corridor lined with abstract images; sparkling dots that tease at a meaning that never materialises. We strain in front of these attractive images, waiting in vain for a picture to emerge.


Till 30 March 2013


Theatre

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Tuesday 5 February 2013

The family from Hell in the local tower (block)

The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson (Hammer 2012)

The Daylight Gate, Jeanette Winterson’s story of the Pendle witches published under the Hammer imprint, contains some repulsive and horrifying scenes and suggestions of a ‘dark one’ being evoked. There is also plenty of sex, gore, and torture. It also gives some historical context for the witch trials at Pendle: the still prevalent Catholicism in Lancashire and the drive by King James to eliminate both it and witchcraft which become fused into one thing by the lawyer Thomas Potts with his repeated rants on ‘witchcraft popery popery witchcraft’.

There is no attempt to rehabilitate the unfortunate Pendle witches or their accusers as real people with breadth of character of the kind which might be achieved by imagining a way past the real Thomas Potts’ account of them in a ‘Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the countie of Lancaster’. The humanity of the accused witches is sacrificed in the name of evoking horror and pity.

The story begins with the accusations made by a pedlar, John Law, who has been harassed by two women who want him to give them some of his goods, and who has become ill, apparently as a result. Shortly after this, we are introduced to the Pendle witches, inhabitants of the Malkin Tower: Old Demdike, her daughters Elizabeth and Sarah Device, grandchildren Alizon, James, and Jennet Device, and Chattox and her daughters Agnes Chattox and Nance Redferne.

We never know much about these characters. Throughout the novel they remain a sort of raped, diseased and abused lumpen conglomerate, differentiated only by various repulsive physical characteristics and traits such as Elizabeth Device’s odd eyes, Jennet’s starving devouring of food (chicken including all the bones) and James’ madness etc. They are hungry, desperate, and defiant but this is countered by little else in the way of dreams, hopes, friendship or love. As they are not successful elsewhere in life, they play on evoking others’ fear of them to get by. They sell each other out only too easily: Elizabeth Device has encouraged James to take her daughter Jennet to be raped by her own father Tom Peeper, over and over again. James gives up his mother at the witch trial and his sister gives up her brother and her mother.

There is little or no attempt to give any of them an inner life, and unlike the witches of Shakespeare, (Shakespeare makes an appearance, mainly to reinforce the one historical point being made over and over about witchcraft popery popery witchcraft), they don’t even really have any symbolic effect over events either. They believe they can work magic but this seems to be used to add to the idea that they are revoltingly subhuman. In one scene a tongue cut from a boy who has raped Elizabeth Device, is stitched into the rotting head of a corpse which has been boiled, along with a ‘bottled baby’ which the child Jennet Device has assumed to be her toy.

Shakespeare has a token presence and it is rather silly. It doesn’t particularly move the story on, and it doesn’t do Jeannette Winterson any favours for readers to be reminded by Shakespeare’s presence of the rather more interesting characters with complex inner lives of his plays, particularly the downtrodden ones. In spite of the performance of ‘The Tempest’ that takes place in the book, Elizabeth Device is no Caliban calling down curses on Prospero, even when she does have a boiled head for magical purposes.

The novel’s heroine and one character with any depth is Alice Nutter. A landowner who has made her fortune by inventing a magenta dye favoured by Queen Elizabeth and who has worked with a famous alchemist who has given her an elixir of mercury, she lets the Pendle witches live in the Malkin tower on her land and keeps them from complete starvation with gifts of food. The reason why unfolds as the novel progresses: Old Demdike, or Elizabeth Southerns, is Alice’s ex-lover. Demdike really has sold her soul and gone over to the dark side. She married a man called Device and this excellent surname, really the surname of some of the Pendle witches, only adds to the implication that she has married the devil. She has had children and most certainly lost her looks. Alice, on the other hand, is an attractive woman, riding a horse like a man (at least, when no-one else is around to see), wearing her magenta dress, and hunting with a tame falcon. The local magistrate Roger Nowell finds himself inconveniently attracted to her, even though they have had a dispute over ownership of some land, and in the end, tries to help her save herself from trial and execution as another of the Pendle witches. Alice appears to be young but Old Demdike’s family suspect she is really as old as Demdike. ‘Nobody knew how old. Old enough to be soon dead, and if not soon dead, then as lined and wrinkled as the milk-and-water-well-behaved wives of religious husbands with their hidden mistresses’.

Alice Nutter’s elixir of mercury, it is implied, has given her both youth and freedom. Freedom is not just liberty presented as a contrast to the incarceration of the witches, or the freedom of Alice’s wealth in contrast to their poverty, but also freedom from more typical expectations of women such as marriage and family. Its magic is that it helps Alice make money and run her life as she chooses. She has lived openly making money from her magic. But there is a fine line between magic and witchcraft, although the latter was usually the accusation levelled at peasants.

Alice has a lover, Christopher Southworth, who took part in the Gunpowder plot. As Southworth is a Catholic who has been exiled to France and is on Thomas Potts’ list of wanted men (witchcraft popery popery witchcraft), betraying his presence at her house to Roger Nowell could potentially save Alice’s life, but instead she helps Christopher to hide, to visit his devoutly religious sister who is also kept in Lancaster Castle along with the witches, and ultimately, to get away. In doing so, she seals her own fate.
While Alice Nutter is a more interesting character, the Pendle witches themselves seem to have come straight out of some throw-up-our-hands-in-horror story of the local family from hell: the feral underclass family, grooming children for sexual exploitation, living off handouts or going on the rob, with poverty as an excuse for their behaviour. They are revolting, gobby, and one-dimensional. The reasoning presented for Jennet turning prosecution star witness becomes increasingly weak and increasingly modern. ‘Jennet looks at them. Her brother who sold her. Her mother who neglected her. Her sisters who ignored her.’ At the end Alice goes to her execution not only because she has helped Christopher Southworth escape, but because she has not given up on her ex-lover Elizabeth Southerns, the matriarch of this family from Hell. ‘I had no doubt that I was to be a sacrifice, though I did not know what kind of sacrifice.’

The moral failings of the Pendle witches are reflected in those of their ordinary accusers and pursuers: the rapacious constable and his henchman Tom Peeper; the syphilitic prison guards. There is no attempt to explain how widespread the belief in witches was among ordinary people who could otherwise raise families, make money, do jobs, and run households, and who, shock horror, might not be either rapacious, evil, hypocritical, or abusive. In order to do this, those people would have to be seen as otherwise ordinary, and an attempt made to portray their inner lives, too, as worried by unexplained misfortunes and circumstances. Winterson does show that all seventeenth century people, irrespective of their education or income, had some beliefs in magic, but only those of Alice Nutter, and to a lesser extent Christopher Southworth are made psychically real to the reader, and these in a fairly extreme way. The underlying lack of explanation for events and misfortunes, and the related sense of lack of control over their fate of many people in the 17th century, would perhaps be a more mundane starting point, but nonetheless could be a worthy subject for a more impressive kind of horror.

A quick search on the Pendle witches reveals that a trial at the same assizes heard by the same judge let a bunch of accused witches, the Samlesbury witches, go free. There were also plenty of instances of real witch hunts falling apart and women and men not being found guilty of anything because they had other people coming to their defence. Even eight of the real Pendle witches were acquitted. Those sort of cases might not suit the Hammer imprint, and of course, it is four hundred years this year, since the Pendle witch trials. But ignoring this kind of ‘noise’ in the real story is not just down to the horror story tradition, the best of which leave one perturbed and unsure, rather than feeling life’s certainties have been reinforced. The Daylight Gate does not leave the reader feeling perturbed or unsure. Like many Hammer horror films, it tells a story we already know only too well. This time it’s of feral families, of terrible rapacious men, of religious intolerance, and women brutalised and killed as a result. All the magenta dye in the world cannot cover the grey dreariness of these familiar themes.


Fiction

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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

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London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

BBC News
Economist.com
CNN
Guardian ‘comment is free’
Telegraph blogs
Times Online blogs
bookforum.com
Arts & Letters Daily



Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

London and online galleries

National Gallery
Royal Academy of Arts
TATE ONLINE
Serpentine Gallery
V&A Museum
Saatchi Gallery
The world’s interactive art gallery
Eyestorm
The leading online retailer of limited edition contemporary art
Ascot Studios Art Gallery
One of the leading independent art galleries in the UK

Other resources

critical network
Forthcoming Events and Exhibitions
WRITING FROM LIVE ART
A Live Art UK initiative

Art Monthly, taking art apart since 1976

Artangel
pioneering a new way of collaborating with artists and engaging audiences


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Contemporary Writers
New writers, new works, databased by the British Council

Pen Pusher
London-based free literary magazine

Story
Celebrate the short story!

Orange Prize
Only the fairer sex need apply

Man Booker Prize
Literary Prize of the Finest Quality

Granta
The up and coming speak

The Bookseller
Infused with news from the world of books

International Pen
Writers around the world campaign for freedom of expression

Serpent’s Tail
Independent publisher for experimental voices

Random House
Fiction from the biggest publisher around

Edinburgh Book Festival
Books books and discussing books galore

Jewish Book Week
Celebrating, discussing and critiquing Jewish Lit


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

BBC News
Economist.com
CNN
Guardian ‘comment is free’
Telegraph blogs
Times Online blogs
bookforum.com
Arts & Letters Daily



Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Battle of Ideas

Institute of Contemporary Arts

Intelligence Squared

Gresham College

LSE Public Lectures

Fabian Society Events

Exhibitions and Talks at the British Library



Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for this year’s Battle of Ideas festival.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Internet Movie Database
IMDB - does exactly what it says on the tin

BFI
British Film Institute’s Finest

BFI’s Sight and Sound
World cinema eating its heart out

They shoot pictures, don’t they?
Dedicated to the art of directing

Barbican Film
Some of the most innovative films in town

ICA Film
Independent, political and art-house gorge-fest

National Media Museum
Not nearly as bad as it sounds

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Music scholar Cara Bleiman takes a look at the political potential of music past and present in an essay, striking chords

Sarah Boyes asks What Does Music Mean? in a Battle in Print

Frank Furedi looks at the role of truth in music over recent years

Gramaphone Magazine
Established, incisive classical music magazine

BBC Music
Listen by genre and read all about it!

British Music Information Centre
All about 20th and 21st century music

Classic,net
Heady internet resource for exploring all things classical

Royal College of Music
Events, research, hire a musician

tradmusic.com
Scottish, Irish and World music resource

Music Manifesto
New Labour dumbing down music education

Busk Action
Small group with BIG aims to deregulate busking

Royal Albert Hall
Classical music and shows

English National Opera
Britain’s only full time repertory opera company!

Royal Opera House
Music, ballet, theatre and a very big building

No Music Day
Imagine a day with no music…


Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Marxists Online
Marx, Engels, Lenin and beyond

New Left Review, international Leftist journal

Mute Magazine, culture and politics after the net

Red Pepper, influenced by socialism, feminisim and environmental politics

Dissent Magazine, US Leftist journal for the clashing of strong opinions

And its counterpart, Commentary, general, yet Jewish

Granta, magazine for new writing

Wikipedia, ze internet encyclopedia

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, all things philosophical

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

Internet Movie Database
IMDB - does exactly what it says on the tin

BFI
British Film Institute’s Finest

BFI’s Sight and Sound
World cinema eating its heart out

They shoot pictures, don’t they?
Dedicated to the art of directing

Barbican Film
Some of the most innovative films in town

ICA Film
Independent, political and art-house gorge-fest

National Media Museum
Not nearly as bad as it sounds

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.

BBC News
Economist.com
CNN
Guardian ‘comment is free’
Telegraph blogs
Times Online blogs
bookforum.com
Arts & Letters Daily



Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.


The Stage
Theatreland’s newspaper

Theatre Monkey
What theatregoers tell you that box-office staff do not

National Theatre
What’s on: plays, exhibitions, music

Royal Shakespeare Company
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

 

Like what you see? - keep it that way, support Culture Wars online review.