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August 16 2012

May 09 2012

Open thread: A new audience code of conduct

What should be included on our new new audience code of conduct?

We are writing a new audience code of conduct. Leo Benedictus has spoken to our arts critics and compiled their suggested list of behaviour that should be outlawed in every cinema, playhouse and concert venue across the land and judging by the comments left under his articles, this is a subject on which you have a lot to say. So, this open thread is your chance to banish antisocial audience behaviour, or at least air your bugbears. Rustling sweet papers, late comers, Tweeting; what behaviour would you like to banish? Please add your suggestions to the thread below and we'll pull the best argued and/or most popular suggestions into the list.

Here's what's been suggested so far:

Don't throw ANY liquids

Suggested by ChristyL:
'throwing away hideously overpriced beer at rock gigs is just weird. Spot fines should be instituted to enable the impoverished to have a drink.'

Ban heckling

Suggested by oldirtybusstop:
'Heckling at a stand-up show is neither expected nor acceptable. NOBODY goes to a stand-up show to hear the audience talk. If somebody interrupts they should be ejected from the club/theatre immediately. Heckling is not an art. 99% of every audience would prefer it if nobody heckled, why try and pretend that stand-up is some sort of gladiatorial arena, it's a spoken word performance not a battle to the death.'

No fondling

Suggested by David91:
'People are increasingly treating both the cinema and theatre as if they were watching at home. Hence, they text, talk, eat, sleep and, on occasions, fondle each other. It's like going back in time to the Pit at The Globe when the unwashed masses jostled each other, holding a Subway in one hand and a coke in the other'

If you're bored, leave

Suggested by Ortho:
'I've pretty much stopped going to the opera and to concerts because I don't want to pay a fortune for a seat and then have to listen to some moron in another seat talking all bloody night.'

List updated at 15:23 with suggestions from Twitter and the thread below

Respect the boundaries

Suggested on Twitter by @TonysConsultant:

Only silent cold food allowed

Suggested by katypie:
'I'd like clarity on the eating issue: what's acceptable and what's not? Clearly sweets and ice cream must be otherwise theatres wouldn't sell them. But where's the line? Not hot food, obviously. I recently had a date pull out a large baguette from a rustly paper bag while at a show and felt very embarrassed...my instinct is that anything small, discreet (noiseless) and coming in little bite-sizes is probably acceptable, but anything that borders on a meal or picnic (sandwiches!), not ok.'

No coughing or blowing noses

Suggested by joolsbaby:
'keep your bloody cold germs at home too. No one wants to hear you coughing and sniffing through a performance.'

Concentrate on the performance

Suggested on Twitter by @acwilson:


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May 08 2012

Was Bianca Jagger wrong to take flash photos at the opera?

The activist was spotted snapping away during Einstein on the Beach. In his new code of conduct for audiences, Leo Benedictus looks at what sort of behaviour is now acceptable

Last Friday, the theatre critic Mark Shenton was distracted from a five-hour performance of Philip Glass's opera Einstein on the Beach by a woman in his row taking photographs with a flash. It turned out to be Bianca Jagger. She had been snapping in defiance, Shenton claims, of complaints from those around her. Jagger has since said that others were taking pictures, too, adding that Shenton insulted and assaulted her. (He denies the latter, but admits the former with some pride.) The rules of behaviour in today's theatre audiences certainly seem to have changed. So, in the spirit of public service, and after consultation with Guardian critics, here is a new code of conduct.

1 Don't rattle your jewellery

All noise matters when you've come to listen to something. So a rustling packet in a classical concert can be as distracting as someone walking in front of a cinema screen. This makes even minor noises problematic. Vibrating phones are one example (we'll get to ringing). Vigorous page-turning is another. (In German concert halls, apparently, this is looked upon very gravely.)

Even jewellery is a common problem. "It's women who insist on wearing those multiple bangles," says our classical critic Andrew Clements, "so that every time they move their arms, which they invariably do in the quietest passages, you get extra unwanted percussion." Clements also complains about loud snoring, so if you know yourself to be a snorer, perhaps have a can of Red Bull before the show. The weak-bladdered should have half.

2 Do you really need an audioguide?

If you go to a gallery to be told what to look at, then by all means get one. But if you go along to explore, to be surprised, to linger around works that excite you, then all you have to do is, well, walk around. "Will an audioguide help you to get more?" asks art critic Jonathan Jones. "Or will it distract you from a fresh encounter with the art?"

Freedom of movement, he thinks, should be protected: stand where you like, look as long as you like, go back and look again. Anybody who objects can wait their turn. Freedom of speech, on the other hand, can be a nuisance. "What's annoying," says Jones, "is when someone loudly holds forth about a work, oblivious to strangers who are also looking. This can be distracting and destructive – even on the rare occasions when the showoff actually knows anything."

3 Talking, lateness, cameras, food, body odour

Michael Billington describes food as his "chief beef" in theatre audience etiquette, and recalls someone recently bringing a whole Chinese takeaway into The Duke of York's in London. Tim Ashley describes other people's body odour as his great bugbear, and insists other opera critics say the same. "If you're sitting next to somebody who stinks through six hours of Wagner, it can be a trial," he says. Theatre critic Lyn Gardner, meanwhile, is of the firm opinion that "people's bladders have quite clearly got weaker over the last 20 years".

There are difficult choices here. Cinemas and regional theatres often rely on confectionary sales to survive, so they do end up contributing to the rustling menace. As for lateness, there is a feeling that some venues could be far more sensitive about when they let the tardy in. After an overture is OK; between movements of a symphony is not. (Composers could start notating such moments in manuscripts, using whatever the Italian is for "latecomers".)

The principle, in short, is to avoid annoying people. So if you've annoyed somebody, you're in the wrong (and let's face it, you're never going to convince them otherwise). If somebody complains, obey them – and argue about it afterwards.

4 Your right to throw beer ends where my body begins

This observation from rock critic Caroline Sullivan is a reminder that, although gigs clearly have more relaxed rules than most other shows, there are still rules. And beer-flinging is certainly not permitted. "I experienced it most recently at Kings of Leon in Hyde Park," Sullivan says. "The entire audience expressed their enthusiasm by throwing pints over each other."

Accidental flinging also occurs, often as a consequence of lazy carrying. So if you're buying drinks for your friends, you are not allowed to transport more than three glasses at any time.

Sullivan does not object to mosh pits, though. "If you want to mosh, go down there and I'll stay at the back," she says. Her main grievance concerns her view. "Tall people really should play fair and stand at the back," she says. "I think it should be law." The practical considerations here – if a tall person has a short friend, or if he wants to mosh – have yet to be ironed out.

5 It's called "children's theatre" not "nursery"

Quite naturally, parents want to avoid spending time with their children. But the price of a ticket to a children's theatre show does not include babysitting services from those on stage.

This exercises Gardner, especially when parents look as if they know the rules but can't be bothered following them. "What they do is sit there while the show is going on, looking at their mobiles, and allowing their children to wander all over the stage," she says. By the same token, if you've taken young people to the theatre, and they are clearly bored, don't try to force them to be interested. This is unreasonable and counter-productive. "Not all theatre is good," says Gardner. "A lot of it is really rather dull."

6 Hecklers are allowed to say two unfunny things

Standup is unusual in that audiences are expected to try to spoil it. Many comedians disapprove of heckling and in bigger venues it's impractical; even so, people do sometimes shout funny things, and most comics will have a decent putdown ready if hecklers fail to reach a certain standard.

However, heckling is an art for miniaturists. If you think you've thought of something funny to say, but it doesn't get a laugh, then you need to revisit that assumption. Spoiling the performance in an attempt to save face is not the answer. Drunk people are very slow to learn this. At one Scott Capurro gig in Edinburgh, I remember a young woman having to be physically removed by staff because she would not stop interrupting (a surprise, because his audiences are often only too happy to walk out). Perhaps this punishment should be meted out more often.

7 Off means off

About 10 years ago, it became routine for venues to warn audiences to turn off their phones. About five years ago, everybody stopped noticing. This is a forgetfulness problem, in short, and it will never go away. (Phones also ring at funerals, remember.) Instead, we have to manage it. So when you turn your phone off, it should be off, not silent. This discourages you from distracting people, or yourself, with its vibrations or lights. It's tough but necessary. When staying connected is important, there could be limited exceptions. Gardner suggests that theatres should institute special rows of seats for tweeters (as happens in parts of the US).

Billington even recommends turning off your phone with time to spare. He cites the US director Bartlett Sher, who believes audiences need a while to disconnect themselves from all their everyday worries – perhaps 20 minutes. By the same rationale, you should always arrive early, as Ashley does.

8 Don't be so bloody precious

Overreacting is antisocial behaviour, too. So if somebody's annoying you, in any way, act early. Think carefully about what you hope to achieve, and – if you can achieve anything – speak kindly at an opportune moment. Don't just stew until your anger overflows.

In the theatre, where Gardner describes "a sort of war" between the old guard and the new, this is a growing problem. Star-led casting, in particular, brings in people who are not used to the environment. They are more liable to behave badly, but they are also badly needed. If you love the theatre, then you are doing it a disservice by sending them home annoyed. On the other hand, when something is being a distraction nearby, you have a duty to do something. Others further off may be equally annoyed, but powerless, so they are depending on you.

Remember that – and don't rely on having an enraged Mark Shenton at the end of every row.


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April 26 2012

Hunt launches London 2012 Festival

From a bouncy-castle Stonehenge to Jay-Z, the Olympic festival will feature 12,000 events at 900 venues across the UK

It will include a bouncy-castle Stonehenge, a retrospective of British women's comedy, extreme sports choreography, a world record improv attempt and, organisers of the London 2012 Festival sincerely hope, the loudest national ringing of bells that has ever been heard anywhere. There will also be a cast of stars and artists that run from Damon Albarn to Jay-Z through names that will probably never again appear on the same bill including Tracey Emin, Stephen Fry, George Benjamin, Mike Leigh and Rihanna.

The £52m London 2012 Festival, which launched on Thursday, is the culmination of the cultural olympiad and is meant as a showstopper – a blinding array of arts events across the UK between 21 June and 9 September, staged in the spirit of "once in a lifetime".

The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, launched the festival and its 140-page brochure at the Tower of London, and while he did not have the demeanour of a minister under siege, he spoke only about the programme and did not hang around to take questions.

"This festival is a celebration of the remarkable culture that we have in our country," said Hunt. "And in this very special year when we will be in the global spotlight as never before in our lifetimes, this festival encapsulates all that we are proud of. The range is extraordinary. There will, absolutely, be something for everyone."

Ruth Mackenzie, who was brought in two years ago to get a somewhat listing ship back on course, said it would be the largest cultural celebration of our lifetime. "I am confident that we are going to see some quite remarkable work and work that we're never going to forget.

"The challenge for our festival is to match up to the achievements of the Olympic and Paralympic Games with a once in a lifetime chance to share something with amazing artists from around the world."

The festival will involve more than 25,000 artists, with 12,000 events at 900 venues, including 130 world premieres and 86 UK premieres.

Many of the festival events were known already, but new details were announced in the pop, fashion and comedy programmes. In the last there will be a retrospective of women in British comedy, from Joyce Grenfell to Victoria Wood; a season looking at the role that the Hackney Empire has played in radical comedy since Charlie Chaplin took to the stage there more than 100 years ago; topical comedy shows at the Criterion Theatre hosted by Stephen Fry; Tim Minchin at the Eden Project in Cornwall; and Neil Mullarkey leading a world record improv attempt in Barnsley.

There will also be a barge full of comedians – called the Tales of the Riverbank Comedy Barge – travelling from London to Edinburgh with impromptu gigs and masterclasses along the way.

In fashion, the festival has paired designers and visual artists to work together for one-off commissions at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It will include Giles Deacon with Jeremy Deller, Jonathan Saunders with Jess Flood-Paddock and Stephen Jones with Cerith Wyn Evans. Mackenzie said: "It is one of our most thrilling experiments in getting artists to beyond their personal bests, as they say in the world of games."

The pop highlights will be the Radio 1 Hackney weekend, where 100,000 people are expected for a lineup that includes Jack White, Florence + The Machine, Jessie J and will.i.am. A new free festival in Newport, Busk on the Usk, will include Scritti Politti, meaning that its lead singer, Green Gartside, will perform in his own city for the first time.

There will be lots of pop-up events, said Mackenzie, not least one in the true sense of the word with artist Jeremy Deller touring the nation with a bouncy castle in the shape of and the size of Stonehenge.

Some events have had question marks over them, including the artist Martin Creed's plan to get as many people as possible to ring a bell at 8am on 27 July. There was initial scepticism from church bellringers but Mackenzie said everyone was now signed up, including the Royal Navy, which would ring ships' bells. "This is one of my favourite examples of participation and inclusion," said Mackenzie. If anyone does not have a bell they can download one for their phone.


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December 14 2011

Readers' cultural review of 2011: What, no Katy B?

Last week our critics picked their highlights of 2011. Did they get it right? Readers respond with their own highs (and lows)

MattB75

One Man, Two Guvnors was the most fun I've had in a theatre for years – easily the best play of 2011, and James Corden best performer. The National theatre largely misfired for me: A Woman Killed with Kindness, Cherry Orchard, 13, The Kitchen, Frankenstein and Greenland were all largely disappointing.

The RSC's Homecoming was the best revival. Rupert Goold's Merchant of Venice was great fun, even if the inconsistency in Portia's characterisation (from ditzy blond Glee fan to brilliant prosecutor, hm) took the edge off it.

Tom Brooke was my favourite actor of the year – in The Kitchen, and I Am the Wind.

oogin

Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid are still two of my least-admired starchitects. However, credit where it's due. I had the pleasure of wandering Toronto's AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario), redesigned by Gehry [a few years ago], and apart from his usual frivolous facade, the interior had been quite brilliantly done. So restrained and sophisticated: words I never never thought I'd use for the old showboater.

daveportivo

Katy B owned pop in 2011, or temporarily leased the lower sections of the charts from Adele at least. Seven singles off one album and a successful B-side, bridging the gap between cool, intriguing dance and charming, relatable 2000s-style British pop-star writing. Loved it.

Kleistphile

The programme of the year has been Mark Cousins' superb history of the cinema, The Story of Film: An Odyssey, on More4. Incredibly wide-ranging, informative and inspiring, with extremely intelligent analysis of how film developed and how the great directors innovated.

drdownunder

Artist Christian Marclay's awesome 24-hour film-montage The Clock, shown as part of the British Art Show in Plymouth. Mesmeric, fascinating, witty editing and marvellous film-buffery content.

SlimJim888

The Inbetweeners Movie. The snobs may scoff but this film says more about Britain and its youth than 20 Ken Loach films ever could.

OldFriar

Two of the greatest musical evenings were the appearances of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer in Mahler's First symphony, and the zany late-night Prom with audience requests including Bartók, Kodály and Stravinsky. A month before that, the magic combination of Andris Nelsons and the CBSO in Richard Strauss and Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky.

At the Royal Opera, the three most memorable performances were Madama Butterfly with Kristine Opolais in the title role and her husband Andris Nelsons in the pit; Werther with Sophie Koch and Rolando Villazón doing his best (still short of what Jonas Kaufmann can do); and the recent revival of Faust, with Vittorio Grigolo, René Pape, Angela Gheorghiu and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

digit

The release by the BFI on DVD and Blu-Ray of Barney Platts-Mills's 1971 film Private Road, starring Bruce Robinson (who later wrote Withnail and I). I first saw this in about 1987 on TV and I've been wanting to see it again ever since. Even better than I thought.

Mark42

Gruff Rhys's Hotel Shampoo was my favourite album of the year; Cashier No 9 was not given the recognition it deserved. Enjoyed Kate Bush, Tinie Tempah, Noel Gallagher and Will Young's offerings, but very disappointed with Coldplay. Adele: lovely voice but too many songs sound the same on her album.

Still, it wasn't all bad: the end of Westlife and hopefully the beginning of the end for X Factor.

dbeecee

Right Here Right Now; Format international photography festival in Derby. Thousands of photographers took part from all over the world, including Joel Meyerowitz and Bruce Gilden. An exciting and eclectic mix showing the best in street photography.

davidabsalom

Best resurrection: Rab C Nesbitt. Comedy of the year for me. Now that the Tories are back in, he seems to have found his mojo again.

zibibbo

Leonardo da Vinci at the National Gallery. I think the major problem with this absurdly hyped show is that, apart from the two versions of the Virgin of the Rocks and the unfinished St Jerome, the other six "Leonardo" paintings on display are either too unattractively gauche, stiff and mannered to be considered good or significant. Or they're too implausibly naturalistic to be an autograph work (La Belle Ferronière is too lifelike to be by Leonardo). Or just too plain weird and damaged to take seriously (step forward, the newly discovered Salvator Mundi).

Thank you, Adrian Searle, for having the integrity to give your honest opinion about this insanely promoted but hugely disappointing show.

andglove

The High Country, an album by Portland band Richmond Fontaine, demands your attention from first song to last. It's one of the only albums that will give you the same sense of satisfaction that finishing a novel does.

LDTBFJ

Bridesmaids was a great and genuinely funny film. Comedies (and female comedians) are too frequently dismissed, especially by the Oscars board.

Snarlygog

British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet in Plymouth. It was good to see [Christian Marclay's] The Clock and Sarah Lucas's work up close and personal. At least there is an emphasis on craft skills in video art: good focus, framing and timing are back in fashion.

alphabetbands

Nicola Roberts, the good one from Girls Aloud. In her album Cinderella's Eyes she lays out her inner demons and anguish on a platter of sumptuous dance pop hooks and beats. The album is so simple that my two-year-old can sing along, and layered enough that we slightly elder statesmen can appreciate it as well.

juliendonkeyboy

In no particular order: Sufjan Stevens live at Southbank: ambitious, experimental, joyous, exciting, sad. Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle: the sixth episode, Democracy, was quite simply awesome. Senna is my film pick: made in 2010, but didn't get released on these shores until 2011. Wonderfully moving.

habsfan0303

Propeller's Comedy of Errors was riotous. I mean, how often does a naked grown man run past you with a sparkler wedged into his buttocks?

glynluke

Archipelago is the worst film I have ever seen in 50-odd years of cinema-going. How Peter Bradshaw and Philip French can find a single redeeming quality in this dreadful two-hour river of bathetic, emotionless, drama-free drivel baffles me.

Shatillion

I loved Attack the Block. I got mugged the week before it was released and actually found watching it quite cathartic. I was rooting for the little shits by the end. That's good screenwriting.

JimTheFish

A really disappointing year for British TV, which has been on a downward slide. Doctor Who was probably still the best thing domestically. The Crimson Petal and the White and The Hour were underwhelming misfires; The Shadow Line was about the only really promising new kid on the block.

The basic problem is that there's just not enough TV drama being produced. We need more one-offs, more Plays for Today to allow TV to find new voices and take more chances. Everything seems to be market-researched and focus-grouped into mediocrity.

LocalBird

We went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park this summer and were blown away by the incredible Jaume Plensa exhibition; the alabaster heads took my breath away. Beautiful, mesmerising and enchanting.

Carefree

Memorable plays: Flare Path, Frankenstein (Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature was brilliant), and Much Ado at the Globe (Eve Best and Charles Edwards were good enough to almost match my memories of Janet McTeer and Mark Rylance as Beatrice and Benedick).

Damper squibs were Chicken Soup with Barley (far too long). Conor Macpherson's The Veil at the National started brilliantly but didn't deliver the beautiful, haunting, elegiac power of The Weir – a great shame.

Alarming

There were aspects of Grayson Perry's Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman that drove me round the bend. But he wrote well about his theme and chose some absolutely lovely objects from the British Museum's collection.

uptomost

85A collective from Glasgow's brilliant mechanical opera Idimov and the Dancing Girl at the Secret Garden Party. Spooky, funny, ingenious.

AdminGuru

The Tree of Life: a vast expansive film with multiple interpretations, and little in the way of film convention for the casual viewer to latch on to. Viewers fall into two camps I think: those who want simply to be entertained and led, and those who want to explore and participate. Tree of Life is about participation.

Wrighthanes

I just couldn't get The Tree of Life. I tried. I wanted to like it. Admittedly I was on a Singapore Airlines flight, which is not the ideal way to appreciate its cinematic beauty.

DeunanKnute

The Tree of Life is quite possibly the most overrated movie of all time. The sheer brilliance of every single actor isn't in dispute, nor is the superb cinematography. The movie itself is the problem, because it's a real clunker. It's also one of the few films I've seen at the cinema where people were either (vociferously) walking out in disgust or staying behind just to boo.

GorillaPie

The [designs for the] new US Embassy in London. I realise these buildings have to be more fortresses than offices, but really. I'm disappointed that such an important new commission isn't going to be more iconic. Especially since I live opposite the site.

Gundmundsdottir

Possibly the biggest disappointment was the final track on Bon Iver's second album: it never fails to surprise me with just how cheesy and plain bad it is.

CurlyScot

Some of my favourite moments have been in otherwise unremarkable shows. I was slowly won over by Susan Hiller at Tate Modern, and Nancy Spero's works Azur and Hours of the Night II [at the Serpentine] were so incredible I forgot all the meh stuff that surrounded them. The only exhibition I have been unreservedly knocked over by was Mike Nelson's Coral Reef at Tate Britain – an old piece so I'm not sure it counts. Not a superlative year; let's hope 2012 is better and isn't overwhelmed by a spurious Cultural Olympiad.


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October 15 2011

Rewind TV: Comic Strip Presents: The Hunt for Tony Blair; Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey; Who Do You Think You Are: Tracey Emin – review

The Comic Strip's handsomely made political satire had mischief at its heart, while Joanna Lumley proved that a little charm goes a long way during her adventures in Athens

Comic Strip Presents: The Hunt for Tony Blair (C4) | 4oD

Joanna Lumley's Greek Odyssey (ITV1) | STV Player

Who Do You Think You Are: Tracey Emin (BBC1) | iPlayer

We see so little of the Comic Strip ensemble these days that it's easy to forget how long they've been in the trenches of British spoof, tossing out a grenade every now and then, as if cursed to spend the rest of their days striving to match the perfection of their hilarious first episode, Five Go Mad in Dorset, which introduced high jinks to Channel 4's inaugural broadcast in 1982 and the term "lashings of ginger beer" to the cultural memory.

The Hunt for Tony Blair – a parodic splicing of noughties politics and 1950s British film noir (though what Herman's Hermits were doing on the soundtrack I don't know) – wasn't uproariously funny but it was handsomely made, with melodramatic shadows and enough money for fog, flat-footed policemen and steam trains. The plot, such as it was – a madcap chase across country, with the PM on the run for murder – threw up knockabout humour and vignettes from Blair's WMD fiasco, featuring a cast of the usual suspects: a languid Nigel Planer as Mandelson; Harry Enfield in East End shout mode as "Alastair"; the excellent Jennifer Saunders as Thatcher in her dotage (and full Barbara Cartland drag), watching footage of her Falklands triumphs from a chaise longue.

Director Peter Richardson, whose comic talents aren't seen enough on screen, played George Bush as a rasping B-movie Italian mobster ("I'm gonna get straight to the crotch of the matter here"). With the exception of impressionist Ronni Ancona (whose 10 seconds as Barbara Windsor seemed puzzlingly extraneous), no one went for a direct impersonation. Stephen Mangan didn't make a bad Blair, though he could have worked on the grin, and he couldn't quite make his mind up between feckless and reckless as he capered from one mishap to the next leaving a trail of bodies. Did Blair's moral insouciance ("Yet another unavoidable death, but, hey, shit happens") call for a look of idiocy or slipperiness?

The comedy had mischief at its heart in mooting that Blair had bumped off his predecessor, John Smith, and accidentally pushed Robin Cook off a Scottish mountain, while Robbie Coltrane's Inspector Hutton (aha!) tacitly invoked the spectre of Dr David Kelly (we never found out who Blair was charged with murdering). But it was hard to squeeze fresh satire from the overfamiliar stodge of the politics ("Tell Gordon to run the country and trust the bankers"). Mangan was at his funniest hiding among sheep in the back of a truck or kicking Ross Noble (playing an old socialist) off a speeding train, though there was amusement elsewhere. I had to laugh at variety theatre act Professor Predictor, shoehorned into the story to enable Rik Mayall in a bald wig and boffin glasses to answer questions from the audience. Would the Beatles still be at No 1 in 50 years' time?

"No. The Beatles will no longer exist. But Paul McCartney will marry a woman with one leg."

How the audience roared. "Pull the other one," someone shouted. Arf, arf.

My heart sank a little when Joanna Lumley started her Greek Odyssey with the words: "I'm in Athens, the capital of Greece." Well, OK, I suppose she could have meant the one in Ohio. But it wasn't long before she won me over, not least by climbing what looked like a homemade ladder to the top of the Acropolis to watch restorers scraping away, using toothbrushes and dentists' drills. You wouldn't have got me up there. "Don't look down," said her interpreter. Joanna, bless her, tried to take her mind off her vertigo by telling us about the traumatic day she got stuck on a ladder as a girl and had to be rescued. She was only up here now, she said, out of duty to the viewers. "Because I love you," she said, shooting a toothy smile at the camera.

After a day at the ruins she was ready for a night on the town and was soon heading for a club where it was tradition for the customers to pay 60 euros for a plate of flowers to throw at a singer on stage. Apparently, a wild evening here could cost five grand. Economic crisis? Pah!

"We live only for this day," reasoned one reveller. "Tomorrow, maybe everything boom!" Maybe? Still, it was good to see philosophy alive and kicking in the home of Aristotle and Plato.

There were gods to be worshipped, in particular 1960s bespectacled diva Nana Mouskouri, whom Joanna met at the remains of a huge amphitheatre. She was taken aback when Joanna asked her to sing, but she didn't need asking twice. The tourists were stilled as Nana trilled, as if required to observe a minute's silence. Joanna does make friends easily. She wooed the odd women of Evia who communicated by whistling at each other. They could speak, too, but if you wanted to banter with a goat on a roof – as one did – only whistling would do. Admittedly, the goats could only say "meh" but frankly it's eerie to see one converse in any tongue. Whistling was a dying language, though, with most of the children in the tiny community of 40 unwilling to learn it, perhaps seeing English or Chinese as a more attractive option in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Then on a remote peninsula, Joanna stumbled upon an old woman living in a deserted hill village. Everyone had left, she said, when they built a road in the 70s. What on earth did she live on? For her answer she took Joanna out to forage for wild asparagus, which she cooked with oil and salt, and lemons as "sweet as oranges". Tucking in, Joanna asked if she didn't get lonely out here in this ghost town in the middle of nowhere. "I'm not afraid of anything," she said. Homer would have put her on the itinerary.

Art's tough girl Tracey Emin has spent her career answering the question Who Do You Think You Are?, or at least creating an effigy of who she wants us to think she is. As a medium of revelation itself, WDYTYA? admits no such cunning. After all, you can't choose your own family. Tracey was a nervous wreck. Would she get the ancestors she deserved – gritty swashbucklers, salts of the earth, creative mavericks – or would they turn out to be loss adjusters from the home counties?

It didn't start well, with maternal great-grandfather Henry having been a product of reform school. Tracey's inventive mind fizzed with wishful thinking. Perhaps young Henry had been plucked out of poverty and earmarked for an education by a rich patron, impressed by his native gifts and promise? In fact, he had stolen two brass taps. But, hang on, he had a spotless record during his years there and acquired skills with saw and lathe that would stand him in good stead if he now emigrated to Canada, which was all the rage with former inmates. Tracey's eyes lit up, but no – he burgled a house instead and stole some cocoa, £8 and a violin. Tracey was sad for poor Henry (whose mother had died) but not without hope: "Maybe he wanted the violin to play," she suggested, adding that there had been guitar players in the family.

Perhaps, said the researcher gently. Tracey blamed the father, but then it transpired that he'd done a year's hard labour for thieving in the 1880s, when hard labour meant walking the treadwheel six hours a day – and that was the equivalent of climbing Ben Nevis twice, said the narrator, who throughout this fascinating programme talked us through pictures of grimy urchins, old lags and scenes of corrective punishment.

But just as Tracey was losing heart, the next archive provided thrilling evidence of a "besom-maker" in the family and then, blimey, a line of tent-dwellers, pedlars, tinkers and Gypsies as long as your arm – kindred free spirits to the blood and bone! Tracey's face said it all. You couldn't make it up and yet it looked as if someone just had.


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October 07 2011

TV highlights 07/10/2011

The Culture Show | Rostropovich – The Genius Of The Cello | Autumnwatch 2011 | Criminal Minds | A League Of Their Own | Chris Addison: My Funniest Year

The Culture Show
7pm, BBC2

Another week, another eclectic collection of reports from the arts show, which this week visits Glasgow. Top of the bill is host Andrew Graham-Dixon interviewing Grayson Perry, who's lately curated an installation of new works mixed up with objects drawn from the British Museum collection. Mark Kermode discusses We Need To Talk About Kevin with its director Lynne Ramsay, Simon Armitage celebrates National Poetry Day, and critic Michael Collins considers representations of working-class characters in the theatre. Plus, choreographer Akram Khan and the work of artist Gerhard Richter. Jonathan Wright

Rostropovich – The Genius Of The Cello
7.30pm, BBC4

The cello is the closest orchestral instrument to the human voice in its range of expression. It has achieved a pre-eminence in the classical repertoire, growing throughout the 20th century. Much of this is to do with the tireless brilliance of the late Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. This profile, rich with footage, depicts a man whose energy and lust for life, as well its joys and sadnesses, informed his playing, and whose excessiveness broke the banks of mere virtuosity. David Stubbs

Autumnwatch 2011
8.30pm, BBC2

Once a week for eight weeks, Autumnwatch will be hoping something happens. Presenters Chris Packham, Martin Hughes-Games and Michaela Strachan will be travelling the country to try to catch wildlife in action. The live locations include the wetlands at Slimbridge reserve in Gloucestershire, where kingfishers, otters and 35,000 wildfowl are all potential stars, and the National Arboretum at Westonbirt, which will probably be worth a visit for the stunning seasonal colours alone. Martin Skegg

Chris Addison: My Funniest Year
11.10pm, Channel 4

Addison takes to the stage of the Hackney Empire to deliver a live clip show based around his favourite year. His comedy odyssey takes us back to 2001, when Bush Jr came to power and ITV's Popstars gave us Hear'Say. News footage shows the year to be not that funny at all, with the twin towers falling and mass culling of foot and mouth-infected livestock, but this just gives Addison a chance to deploy the stockpile of gags he's had a decade to gather. Phelim O'Neill

Criminal Minds
9pm, Sky Living

A show based around the FBI's behavioural analysis unit, which psychologically profiles killers. For this seventh season, Criminal Minds departs forensic reality for a slightly far-fetched fantasy. Last series, it seemed that team member Emily Prentiss was a goner – stabbed in the abdomen by her arms-dealer former lover. How straightforward that would have been. In fact, Prentiss is alive, and hiding out in Paris until she finds an opportune moment to rejoin the unit. Fun stuff – and look out for Mad Men's Duck Phillips (Mark Moses) guest-starring as a member of a senate committee. John Robinson

A League Of Their Own
10pm, Sky1

While its antecedent, They Think It's All Over, managed to show the surprisingly sharp side of sporting figures such as David Gower and Steve Davis, A League Of Their Own merely plays down to expectations. Team captains Andrew Flintoff and Jamie Redknapp, though likable enough, aren't terribly interesting, leaving the burden of entertainment on James Corden and his interchangeable support staff of panel-show comics, which, for this fourth series, includes Jack Whitehall, Jason Manford and Lee Mack. Gwilym Mumford


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September 21 2011

Funny faces: comedians from the 40s to now – in pictures

More than 50 photographic portraits of comedians from the 40s to the present day have gone on display at the
National Portrait Gallery



National Portrait Gallery celebrates 70 years of British comedy

Exhibit includes modern performers Russell Brand and Johnny Vegas, as well as stars from the past such as Kenneth Horne

From Benny Hill looking dirty-minded to Johnny Vegas looking sexy, the National Portrait Gallery in London is celebrating British comedy in a free display that includes several recent acquisitions.

The gallery said it had acquired a photograph originally commissioned by the Guardian, which shows Vegas mimicking Demi Moore's pregnant pose on the cover of Vanity Fair. The photograph is one of more than 20 taken by Karl J Kaul, including Sacha Baron Cohen as Michael Jackson and Russell Brand as Christine Keeler.

Other recent acquisitions include portraits of Jimmy Carr and Mitchell and Webb by Barry Marsden, Omid Djalili by Karen Robinson and Matt Lucas by Nadav Kander. The display charts 70 years of British comedy, from people such as Kenneth Horne in the 1940s to the Catherine Tate Show. Along the way it takes in comedians and comic performers from the Goon Show to Les Dawson to Victoria Wood.

Clare Freestone, the gallery's associate curator of photographs, said the NPG aimed to promote an appreciation of people who have made and are making British history and culture. "Comedians do this in a unique way," she said. "They are very good at reflecting back at us the times in which we live and, of course, they make us laugh."

She said the gallery had a large number of photographs of comedians taken over the last century, some by celebrated photographers such as Bill Brandt, Lewis Morley and Annie Leibovitz.

"This display gave us the opportunity to highlight a group of people that have always been held high in public affection, with their performances often creating national talking points."

Comedians: From the 1940s to Now runs until 8 January 2012


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July 11 2011

Rupert Murdoch: a real-life Mr Burns?

As a portrait of power unfettered, The Simpsons' Monty Burns is as much cartoon villain as Rupert Murdoch, the show's owner

Rupert Murdoch has done one thing that enriches modern life – but it does not involve publishing a newspaper. Amid the boa constrictor of shame that has engulfed and engorged his British tabloid the News of the World, let's recognise the most wonderful – and totally incongruous – pearl of his global media empire: The Simpsons.

It makes no apparent sense that Murdoch ever allowed this left-of-centre cartoon to be made by Fox. The reason is presumably that it is popular and a good investment. The bottom line is that when the funniest American family's creator Matt Groening created his science-fiction parody Futurama for Fox, less astronomical ratings led Fox to cancel it, although cult status later won it a reprieve. So it is success and not charity that keeps The Simpsons as such an immortal fixture of Murdoch's TV stations.

There has never been any attempt by the makers to disguise their political views. In a compilation of early highlights, actor Troy McClure revealed that Groening plants hidden rightwing messages in the show. The joke, of course, was that he does the opposite and that its sceptical view of capitalist life is not hidden at all. Springfield, the town where the Simpsons live, is dominated by tycoon Monty Burns, owner of the local nuclear power station. Rapacious, heartless Mr Burns is a caricature tycoon right off a 1930s Monopoly board, yet his wealth constantly interferes with the well-being of Springfield. In his darkest hour he even blots out the town's sunlight.

Is Burns a portrait of Murdoch? Not as such. Rather he is a portrait of the power of money unfettered, which may amount to the same thing. Murdoch himself has appeared on the programme, introducing himself as follows: "I'm Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire tyrant." Groening said he performed the line enthusiastically. But does the fact that The Simpsons is part of his business undermine its radical spirit?

Some would say the radicalism really only belonged to the show's classic early years. In the 1990s, nothing in contemporary pop culture was so brilliant and hilarious. And it was – it is – a Murdoch property. We owe the most widely criticised business empire of the age this much gratitude: it gave us the finest and funniest piece of modern televisual pop art. Murdoch's current travails resemble one of the periodic disasters that hit Mr Burns, such as the time the nuclear power station owner ran for political office and was forced to eat Blinky, the three-eyed fish, live on television. "The old man's finished," say his spin doctors after he spits out the nuclear-mutated fish. "It was over when the fish hit the floor." And they leave as he cries out: "You can't do this to me – I'm Charles Montgomery Murdoch!" Sorry, that should read Burns.


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February 13 2011

The big picture: Julie Christie and Dirk Bogarde film Darling, 1964

As the Baftas approach, we look back to a past winner. British comedy-drama Darling earned its stars best actor and best actress awards in 1966

Photographs are time capsules, histories that compress information about more than the single moment when the shutter blinked. This one ranges across two centuries before settling on one charmed decade.

The water fountain, propped on a pedestal and topped by an officious obelisk, is a relic of Victorian philanthropy, catering to the thirst of the itinerant poor. The passing matrons could be Edwardian, wearing a genteel uniform – funereal hat and oppressively long coat, gloved hands and festoons of pearls round the neck – for a promenade to the shops. The young couple holding hands belong in a later, more relaxed era. She, idly dangling her bag from her hand rather than holding it protectively in front of her, wears a dress that could be by Mary Quant with a collar that makes her look like a sunflower. The old women are dressed for wintry old age; this sprightly pair – both with sunglasses, he with no tie and carrying a jacket he doesn't need – bask in the springtime of the body.

Time, like this north London thoroughfare, is a one-way street. The sun is behind all these people, and the shadows cast by bodies, slanting trees and the upright lamp-post are long. But the figure sitting down on the pavement, with a suppliant crouching beside her, is exempt from the flow; she has parked herself in a deckchair as if she were at the beach, not in a harried place of transit. For her it will always be 1965, and she will always – thanks to John Schlesinger's film – be beautiful.

The character played by Julie Christie in Darling is a go-getting model and sexual careerist; Dirk Bogarde is the television journalist who tracks her social rise. Almost 50 years later, the fable about vacuous, ephemeral celebrity remains tartly relevant. The photograph, however, is not satirical. Despite the Op Art glasses and the winklepicker shoes, Christie transcends fashion. Wearing a schoolboy's cap at a rakish angle while exhibiting – if you look very closely – a stocking top that marks the border beyond which the eye can't trespass, she also bestraddles the sexes. She bites her lip to signal a delicious, teasing indecision; Bogarde's bristling quiff alerts us to the urgency of his whispered appeal.

The overdressed frumps still plod through the dowdy, monochrome 1950s. But for me, Christie's shock of hair is as golden as the afternoon sun, her blazer dazzlingly candy-striped: in a black and white world, she radiates colour. Obelisks represent solar rays that were symbolically petrified, and the one at the kerb should be pointing its chiselled tip at her.


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October 19 2010

Tonight's TV highlights: Hostage In The Jungle | Wonderland | Grand Designs | Young Voters' Question Time | Mad Men | The Office: An American Workplace

Hostage In The Jungle | Wonderland | Grand Designs | Young Voters' Question Time | Mad Men | The Office: An American Workplace

Hostage In The Jungle
7pm, BBC2

Terrific documentary recalling the bizarre tale of Ingrid Betancourt. In 2002, Betancourt was running for the presidency of Colombia when she was kidnapped by the narco militia that trades as FARC. She was eventually held for a little over six years before a dashing rescue by Colombian commandos in 2008. This film allows Betancourt to tell her story, which is variously buttressed and disputed by some of her fellow hostages, including her now estranged campaign manager Clara Rojas, who had a child with one of her captors. An astonishing study of extremity. AM

Wonderland
9pm, BBC2

Country Life magazine's "girls in pearls" are the focus of tonight's film. Five former high society brides, photographed for the posh tome at the time of their engagements, tell the stories of what happened afterwards. Arabella, Camilla and a Sackville-West sit in their capacious drawing rooms, talking of thwarted expectation and hellish upkeep on the family pile. But with the subtlety and skill you'd expect from Wonderland, this is more than just a flick through a dog-eared glossy rag. They always seem to find the interviewees you want to listen to.

JNR

Grand Designs
9pm, Channel 4

Never mind the downturn – Grand Designs is recession-proof, a property programme that's about more than the bottom line. This is a show that deals in passion and backstory as much as bricks and mortar and so far this season there have been some admirable, even some tearjerking moments – unfamiliar territory for Kevin McCloud and his permanently-raised eyebrow. Tonight's episode features Kathryn Tyler, who has plans for a Scandinavian-style eco house in Falmouth. JR

Young Voters' Question Time
8pm, BBC3

Richard Bacon hosts a live debate on the day that Chancellor George Osborne unveils the government's Spending Review. Voters under the age of 25 will have the opportunity to quiz a panel of politicians and "famous faces", and air their views on what they think of the £83 billion worth of cuts. Billed by the government as a financial necessity and by the Labour opposition as more dangerous than Margaret Thatcher's gutting of public services nearly 30 years ago, the young 'uns aren't going to be short of points to debate. MS

Mad Men
10pm, BBC4

Serial downloaders of Mad Men have been breathlessly banging on for weeks about how fantastic episode seven of this series is. The standards are obviously already sky high but this 45 minutes of TV is as good as anything you'll see this decade. Set against the backdrop of the Clay-Liston heavyweight rematch in May 1965, there's little here but Don and Peggy as they live out a dark night of the soul working on a Samsonite ad. Here Don is just about hanging on to himself as he avoids making a phonecall that he knows will break his heart. WD

The Office: An American Workplace
10pm, Comedy Central

What with 30 Rock, Community and the (not yet aired in the UK) Parks And Recreation, US channel NBC is on something of a comedy roll. The Office is something of a godfather to them all and still going strong, despite the announcement that star Steve Carell is to leave at the end of the seventh series currently airing in the US. The start of series five here begins with Michael Scott and the team taking part in a corporate weight-loss challenge aided by a pre-diet glutton fest including, mmm, a cheese fountain. Brilliant. WD


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October 11 2010

Banksy's satire on The Simpsons

Banksy's opening sequence for The Simpsons is very funny – but what does it tell us about the show?

The first ever episode of The Simpsons showed a family plunged into poverty by the vagaries of capitalism. When Mr Burns cancels the Christmas bonus, Homer has no idea how to get presents for his children in Simpsons Roasting Over an Open Fire. That set the political tone of the series, so forgive me for not being amazed by the courage of Banksy in satirising the ethics of the now-venerable Simpsons in its own opening credits. The British street artist has created a very funny opening sequence in which we glimpse a hellish underworld where oppressed Koreans labour to put together the programme and its merchandise.

Banksy is supposedly responding to "reports" that the makers of The Simpsons use far-eastern sweatshop labour to help churn out its episodes. I don't know about "reports", but I do know that the makers of the show have joked about the same subject. As for Banksy's portrayal of the Fox logo surrounded by military searchlights and barbed wire, that too is of a piece with the programme's persistent biting of the hand that feeds it, including caricaturing Rupert Murdoch. This is a cartoon about blue-collar Americans that always makes it clear who their oppressors are – not foreign terrorists, but big business and the Republican party (which has been shown scheming in a secret Dracula-like lair).

Liberal-seeming, Apple-style capitalism has also been a favourite target. When Homer gets a job in an ideal community, the only drawback is that non-hierarchical, sustainable-businessman Hank Scorpio is a supervillain who doesn't want to be called boss – he just wants to rule the world. So Banksy's joke may be that in turn, the cartoon has itself become part of the cosy modern consensus, still broadly leftish in its views but no longer looking at the world – or itself – with the honesty of youth. Then again, he got his sequence made.


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August 16 2010

A picture of ourselves offended

In his Edinburgh festival show, the comedian provocatively uses a picture of an art work that has been condemned as child pornography. Is standup the right arena for such a debate?

Warning: this blog contains spoilers for Sanderson Jones's comedy show Taking Liberties

"Do you want to see the picture of a naked 10-year-old girl?" comic Sanderson Jones cries. Almost as one, we cheer our assent. Confronted by the sight of Brooke Shields as a child standing nude in a bath and wearing makeup, there is a stunned silence. The man directly behind blurts out: "Oiled." Everyone is thrown by this, including Jones.

We are not a paedophile ring comparing holiday snaps, but an Edinburgh fringe audience watching Jones's standup show Taking Liberties. Jones, formerly the hirsute face of Ikea UK, has assembled an entertaining hour that questions the nature of offence and its impact upon civil liberties, gradually building from petty irritations to jokes about his dead mother, the Jean Charles de Menezes killing, to Guardian readers' ill-informed opinions on Islam. With some live Chat Roulette.

The Shields image, which is unveiled during the closing section of the show, is in fact a copy of artist Richard Prince's work Spiritual America, a photograph of a photograph taken by Garry Gross in 1975 for Playboy with the consent of Shields's mother. Condemned by some as child pornography, the image was removed from London's Tate Modern in October last year after police warned the gallery it might be breaking obscenity laws.

Jones's show contends that Spiritual America is an appropriate image to use in comedy, a catalyst for a debate about freedom of expression. But is standup an appropriate medium to debate the subject in such graphic fashion? There is a warning about an unspecified image at the top of the show. Yet how many in that room felt free to express their unwillingness to see it, whatever it may have been? Jones couldn't reveal his set-piece without undermining its impact, and few people want to be seen walking out of a gig so early.

So much of standup relies upon surprising, sometimes shocking the audience – as in Kim Noble's staggering, shocking 2009 fringe show, in which he projected video of himself masturbating into jars of vaginal cream, which he then seemed to put back on the supermarket shelf.

Unlike an image hanging sedately in the Tate Modern, approached deliberately and contemplatively, live comedy retains that sudden, explosive power – that visceral punch. It provokes honest, instinctive reaction, be that laughter, revulsion or simply a man blurting out "oiled". That makes it the perfect art form to explore offence and freedom of expression without any pre-conceived agendas. I wasn't offended, I was shocked. But I'm grateful standup still affords me freedom to be offended if I choose.

And yes, you might find the number of spoilers in this post offensive. But you haven't seen what Jones does with the image yet.


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July 09 2010

Jigsaw ep.403 - Videotainment Revolution.

Milton plans a rebellion to reclaim the Jigsaw Video Thing from the clutches of cancelation. While Milton attempts to recruit the Tikis to the cause, Regibor makes a startling revelation. Two, if you count the bit where he reveals that Kranium told them the show was canceled months ago.

July 07 2010

Jigsaw ep.402 - That's My Lump.

Milton is shocked at his discovery that Dr. Kranium has canceled Jigsaw. He tries to enlist Lump for help, only to discover that Lump has other plans.

June 28 2010

Jigsaw ep.401 - The Last One.

It was super tempting to use one of Ivor Slaney's famous tracks of music at the end of this episode, but somehow the silence just seemed more powerful.
What, you don't know Ivor Slaney? You know Ivor Slaney. He's the guy who wrote that song. The one that goes "Dun dun DUUUUUNNNNN!" And the one that goes "Doodle DEE doodle DEE doodle DEETdoodleDEE!!" But he's really best known for the "Dun dun DUUUUUNNNN!" one. He's my musical hero.

June 24 2010

Spiderleggy Jigsaw promo

To be fair, the robotic spider legs shown here are pretty cool. New episode next week, provided no more hard drives decide to fail.

May 23 2010

Here comes summer

Stevie Wonder hits the UK, Toy Story goes 3D, and it's the last ever Big Brother – our critics pick the unmissable events of the season

Pop

Stevie Wonder

Anyone who can't face braving Glastonbury to see the Motown legend's Sunday-night set can head to London's Hyde Park for this headlining show. It's likely to be heavy on the hits, but a little too heavy on the audience participation, if complaints from disgruntled punters at Wonder's recent shows are anything to go by. And be warned: Jamiroquai seems to have been enticed out of retirement to provide support. Hyde Park, London W2, 26 June. Box office: 020-7009 3484.

T in the Park

This beloved Scottish festival is prized as much for its atmosphere as its lineup. And they're certainly wheeling out the big hitters this year: Eminem, Muse, Kasabian, Jay-Z, Black Eyed Peas, Florence and the Machine, La Roux, Dizzee Rascal and Paolo Nutini, among others. Balado, Kinross-shire, 9-11 July. Box office: 0844 499 9990.

Wireless

There are those who would argue that going to a festival with no camping doesn't strictly constitute going to a festival: equally, there are those who wouldn't countenance doing anything else. Either way, this year's Wireless lineup looks strong: it includes Pink, the Ting Tings, LCD Soundsystem, Lily Allen, Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Plan B and Friendly Fires. Hyde Park, London W2, 2-4 July. Box office: 020-7009 3484.

Benicassim

If you're prepared to travel abroad for your festival jollies, Spain's Benicassim can offer things no British event can: a beach and guaranteed good weather. This year you can also catch Kasabian, Ray Davies, the Prodigy, Lily Allen, the Specials, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vampire Weekend, PiL, Dizzee Rascal, Hot Chip, Goldfrapp and the intriguingly named Love of Lesbian. Benicassim, Spain, 15-18 July. Box office: tickets.fiberfib.com

Green Man

Of all the boutique festivals, Green Man is the longest-established. This year's eclectic bill sees something of a shift away from its nu-folk roots – but they presumably know their audience well enough to know what they'll like. Doves, Joanna Newsom and Flaming Lips are among the headliners; also on the roster are Billy Bragg, Fuck Buttons, Wild Beasts and Steve Mason. The traditional end of things, meanwhile, is held up by the Unthanks and Alasdair Roberts. Brecon Beacons, 20-22 August. Box office: 0871 424 4444.

Film

Greenberg

An indie comedy from Noah Baumbach, creator of The Squid and the Whale. Ben Stiller is Roger Greenberg, an unfulfilled middle-aged guy who house-sits for his more successful brother Phillip in LA, and begins a relationship with Phillip's nervy assistant Florence, played by mumblecore star Greta Gerwig. Released on 11 June.

Inception

The Batman movies made Christopher Nolan one of Hollywood's biggest hitters; now, he raises the stakes with this non-superhero film. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, a guy with a unique gift in a strange dystopian future where corporate espionage has engendered an unsettling new technology. Released on 16 July.

Toy Story 3

The first two Toy Stories were sublime, so hopes are high for the third instalment. Woody, Buzz and his toy pals are facing the much-feared betrayal/abandonment issues hinted at in the previous film. Their owner has grown up, and they are headed for the charity bins, to be played with by kids who do not appreciate them. So the toys plan a daring escape. Released on 21 July.

Mother

This movie from South Korea has acquired cult status on the festival circuit, and makes a welcome appearance in the UK. Kim Hye-ja plays an elderly woman whose twentysomething son still lives with her. When he is charged with murder, it is up to her to right what she is convinced is a terrible wrong, and to track down the real killer. She is a formidable amateur sleuth. But what will she – and we – discover? Released on 20 August.

The Illusionist

Sylvain Chomet, the director of the hugely admired animation Les Triplettes de Belleville, has scored another hit by resurrecting an unproduced script by Jacques Tati and bringing it to life with complete fidelity to his spirit. It is a gentle, melancholy tale about an old-school vaudevillian magician and entertainer who finds that modern showbusiness is leaving him behind. But a young girl still thrills to his act. Released on 20 August.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Comic fans suffering from withdrawal after Kick-Ass can find comfort in this adventure. Based on the graphic novel by Brian Lee O'Malley and directed by Edgar Wright, this stars Michael Cera as the introspective rock musician Scott. He falls hard for Ramona Flowers, but discovers that he has to vanquish her seven ex-boyfriends before he can win her heart. Released on 6 August.

Books

Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor

In Edwardian Dublin, a young actress begins an affair with JM Synge. This latest from historical novelist O'Connor, author of Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls, is loosely based on the real story of the great Irish playwright's affair with Molly Allgood, moving between 1907 Dublin and 1952 London. Harvill Secker, 3 June.

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Twenty-five years after Ellis burst onto the scene with Less Than Zero comes this sequel to his story of disaffected LA teenager Clay and friends. Middle-aged Clay is now a screenwriter, returning to LA to cast a movie and catch up with ex-girlfriend Blair, childhood best friend Julian (now a recovering addict running an escort service) and their old dealer Rip. Picador, 2 July.

Faithful Place by Tana French

Every holiday needs a good crime novel and French's skilful thrillers are tailor-made to terrify. This follows the story of Frank Mackey, who planned to run away to London with his girlfriend Rosie, aged 19. She failed to turn up; 20 years later he's still in Dublin, working as an undercover policeman. And then Rosie's suitcase is found. Hodder, 19 August.

A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Reasons Why We Can't Stop Reading Jane Austen

Authors from Jay McInerney to Fay Weldon, Alain de Botton and Susanna Clarke ponder Austen's enduring appeal in this collection, edited by Susannah Carson. Martin Amis, for one, dreams of a 20-page sex scene between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, with Darcy "acquitting himself uncommonly well". Particular Books, 3 June.

Visual art

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception

Belgian artist Alÿs, now based in Mexico City, has pushed a block of ice through sweltering streets, had 500 volunteers move a Peruvian sand dune, and walked the 1948 Armistice line between Palestine and Israel, trailing green paint behind him. This will be the largest survey of his work ever held. Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), 15 June-15 September.

Martin Creed: Down Over Up

A mid-career survey show of the Turner Prize-winning artist who made the lights go on and off, filled galleries with balloons, and had runners sprinting through Tate Britain. Creed works increasingly with performance, both with his band Owada and with dancers. His art can be funny, touching and outrageous, all carried off with wit, charm and a lack of pretension. Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (0131-225 2383), 30 July–31 October.

Alice Neel: Painted Truths

Alice Neel (1900-1984) was a tough, single-minded and wonderful American portraitist whose subjects included her family and art-world friends, such as Andy Warhol (whom she painted in bandages after he was shot). An artist's artist, her work is idiosyncratic and acute. Expect art schools to be filled with teenage mini-Neels next term. Whitechapel Gallery, London E1 (020-7522 7888), 8 July–17 September.

John Cage: Every Day Is a Good Day

Cage did much more than compose 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The composer, writer, mushroom-hunter, unconventional artist and collaborator with Merce Cunningham and Jasper Johns is undergoing a major revival. This show is curated by artist, writer and long-time fan Jeremy Millar, and is organised according to Cage's ideas of chance and indeterminacy. Baltic, Gateshead (0191-478 1810) 19 June‑5 September.

Picasso: The Mediterranean Years (1945-1962)

Complementing Tate Liverpool's current Picasso show, this exhibition, curated by Picasso biographer John Richardson and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, focuses on the artist's Mediterranean roots, with portraits, sculptures, ceramics and prints, mostly taken from Picasso's own collection. Gagosian Gallery, London WC1 (020-7784 9960), 4 June–28 August.

Wolfgang Tillmans

Based in London for 20 years, Tillmans takes his relationship with the city as the starting point for this show. Abstract photographs and snapshots, portraits and places, old things and new: Tillmans's subjects are as rich and varied, as surprising and askew as the world itself. Serpentine Gallery, London W2 (020-7402 6075), 10 July–17 October.

Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries

An exhibition for anyone interested in the skulduggery of forgery; the mangling of old paintings to make them fit later taste; or in the science of restoration and CSI-type investigation. The show analyses work from the gallery's own collection. National Gallery, London WC2 (020-7747 2885), 30 June–12 September.

Theatre

Women, Power and Politics

Nine dramatists, including Bola Agbaje, Moira Buffini, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Sue Townsend, join forces to create a two-part show exploring the role of women in British politics. Given that there are more Lib Dems than women in the current cabinet, it seems a timely venture. Tricycle Theatre, London NW6 (020-7328 1000), 4 June-17 July.

Morte d'Arthur

Having adapted The Canterbury Tales for the RSC, the writer-director team of Mike Poulton and Gregory Doran now give us a compressed version of Malory's epic on Arthurian legend. Expect the round table, the holy grail and the hot, adulterous passion of Lancelot and Guinevere. Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon (0844 800 1110), 11 June-28 August.

Alice

Playwright Laura Wade and director Lyndsey Turner have just had a hit with Posh at the Royal Court. Now things get curiouser as the pair collaborate on a new version of Lewis Carroll's novel, in which Wonderland looks suspiciously like Sheffield. Over-eights only. Crucible, Sheffield (0114-249 6000), 17 June-24 July.

Greenwich and Docklands International festival

This outdoor festival can hold its head up proudly among its European peers. French company Ilotopie return with a new show, Oxymer – and there is a dazzling array of work from Catalonia. All events are free. Various sites around London, 24 June-4 July.

The Critic/The Real Inspector Hound

Sheridan is matched with Stoppard in two of the funniest plays ever written about theatre. In the first, a ludicrous play about the Spanish Armada descends into chaos; in the second, two critics get caught up in a Christie-style whodunit. Jonathan Church, who has boldly restored Chichester's fortunes, directs. Minerva, Chichester (01243 781312), 2 July-28 August.

You Me Bum Bum Train

Two hundred performers and an audience of just one – you. This show has been six years in the making, and now gets a full-scale production courtesy of the Barbican's BITE programme. LEB Building, London E2 (0845 120 7511), 6-24 July.

Earthquakes in London

Rupert Goold directs a Mike Bartlett play promising a rollercoaster ride through London from 1968 to 2525. Themes include social breakdown, population explosion and paranoia: a chance for Goold to exercise the expressionist talents he used in Enron. Cottesloe, London SE1 (020-7452 3000), from 28 July.

The Gospel at Colonus

Classic Greek drama is given a twist by US director Lee Breuer, who relocates Sophocles's tragedy to modern America and throws in a gospel choir, Blind Boys of Alabama, to collectively play the role of Oedipus. Edinburgh Playhouse (0131-473 2000), 21-23 August.

Architecture

The Serpentine Gallery summer pavilion

The gallery's 10th summer pavilion is as red as a London double-decker. It's also Jean Nouvel's first building in Britain, but only just: the French architect, best known for the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, has nearly completed a controversial office block in the City of London. This boldly geometric pavilion will be home to a series of cultural events. Serpentine Gallery, London W2 (020-7402 6075), 10 July–17 October.

Venice Biennale

The 12th International Architecture Exhibition is curated this year by the Pritzker prize-winning Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima. This is one of the most delightful places to encounter the latest ideas in architecture. Venice, 29 August–21 November. Details: labiennale.org

Television

Secret Diaries of Anne Lister

Anne Lister was a woman way ahead of her time. A Yorkshire industrialist, land-owner and traveller, she was also a lesbian and lived with her lover, long before lesbians officially existed. Best of all, she was an avid diarist, recording her life in great detail – and often in code. Maxine Peake stars as Lister in this one-off 90-minute drama, written by Jane English and directed by James Kent. BBC2, June

Big Brother

Love it or hate it, there's no denying BB's influence and impact on the first decade of the 21st century. Remember the chickens, and Nasty Nick? And how much nastier it got over subsequent series? This is the end – the last BB ever. (To be read in Marcus Bentley's Geordie voice: It's D-Day in the Big Brother house ...) Channel 4, June

Father & Son

A four-part thriller written by Frank Deasy (Prime Suspect: The Final Act and The Passion) about an ex-crim who returns to Britain from a quiet life in Ireland, to save his teenage son from prison. Starring Dougray Scott, Stephen Rea, Sophie Okonedo and Ian Hart. ITV, June

Vexed

A three-part comedy drama about a pair of cops (Toby Stephens and Lucy Punch) with a lot of chemistry between them, as well as issues at home. Written by Howard Overman, who penned the hit show Misfits for E4. BBC2, August

I Am Slave

A one-off drama from the people who created the feature film The Last King of Scotland, tackling the issue of slavery in contemporary Britain. Inspired by real events, it tells the story of a young woman's abduction from her home in Sudan to London, where she is enslaved. Channel 4, August

Classical and opera

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Bryn Terfel finally sings a role he was born to play – that of Hans Sachs, in Wagner's most life-affirming work. Welsh National Opera presents Richard Jones's new production in Cardiff and Birmingham, before bringing it to the Proms as a concert performance. Millennium Centre, Cardiff (029-2063 6464), 19 June-3 July; Hippodrome, Birmingham (0844 338 5000), 6 & 10 July; Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0845 401 5040), 17 July.

What are Years

The highlight of Pierre Boulez's first-ever appearance at the Aldeburgh festival promises to be the world premiere of 101-year-old Elliott Carter's Marianne Moore song cycle, with Boulez conducting soprano Claire Booth and Ensemble Intercontemporain. Snape Maltings Concert Hall (01728 687110), Aldeburgh, 26 June.

The Duchess of Malfi

English National Opera and the theatre company Punchdrunk join forces to take over a vacant site in London's Docklands for an "immersive" production of Torsten Rasch's new opera, based on John Webster's 17th-century revenge tragedy. Great Eastern Quay, London E16 (0871 911 0200), 13-24 July.

Bach Day

As usual, the Proms will mark most of the year's significant musical anniversaries – Schumann, Chopin, Scriabin, Mahler – and will devote an entire day to Bach. John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Brandenburg Concertos, David Briggs plays organ works and Andrew Litton takes on an evening of orchestral arrangements. Cadogan Hall & Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0845 401 5040), 14 August.

Montezuma

The European colonisation of the new world is the theme of this year's Edinburgh international festival – and Carl Heinrich Graun's rarely performed opera from 1754, with a libretto by Frederick the Great of Prussia, fits into it perfectly. A Mexican production team stages this story of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, with a cast drawn from both the old and new worlds. King's, Edinburgh (0131-473 2000), 14, 15 & 17 August.

East Neuk festival

Expect high-class chamber music at this Scottish event, with both the Belcea and Elias quartets in residence. Programmes range across more than three centuries, from Tallis to Britten. Various venues, Fife (0131-473 2000), 30 June to 4 July.

Jazz

Wynton Marsalis

Marsalis and the Lincoln Center orchestra celebrate 80 years of big-band jazz history with three big London concerts, as well as workshops and jams at the Vortex Club and elsewhere. The Hackney gigs feature both an afternoon family concert and evening show, while the Glasgow performance is part of the Glasgow international jazz festival. Barbican Hall, London E8 (0845 120 7500), 17-18 June; Hackney Empire, London E8 (020-8510 4500), 20 June; Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow (0141-353 8000), 27 June.

The Necks

Every performance by Australia's cult improv trio the Necks is different – though you can be sure that each will be a seamless episode of free improvisation. Hypnotic hooks emerge and fade from trance-like drones, jazz phrasing is touched on and abandoned, and drum sounds are both textural and rhythmic. It's a unique ensemble, with a big cult following. Tron Theatre, Glasgow (0141-552 4267), 22 June.

Pat Metheny Band

Guitar star Metheny came to Britain with his one-man-band Orchestrion project earlier in the year, but this show represents the Metheny his long-time fans know: the leader of an accessible quartet fusing Latin music, jazz themes and lyrical guitar. Regulars Lyle Mays (piano), Steve Rodby (bass) and dynamic drummer Antonio Sanchez complete the lineup. Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7500), 10 July.

Kurt Elling

Jazz singer and multi-award nominee Elling has it all – Sinatra's soaring sound and charismatic cool, a dazzling jazz-improv technique, and an intelligent audacity about picking unusual material. Ronnie Scott's, London W1 (020-7439 0747), 30 June-3 July.

World music

Womad

This festival can either be a miserable mudbath or an easy-going weekend in the Wiltshire countryside – but it's worth risking it for an impressive lineup. From Congo, Staff Benda Bilili play rousing rhumba-rock from their wheelchairs; and from Australia there's the soulful Aboriginal star Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. Plus Nigeria's master drummer Tony Allen, the Kamkars from Kurdish Iran, and great American veteran Gil Scott-Heron. Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, 23-25 July. Box office: 0845 146 1735.

Cambridge Folk Festival

There are dozens of good UK folk festivals this summer – but Cambridge still has the highest profile, partly because it has become an international event with increasing emphasis on American stars. This year the line-up includes country legend Kris Kristofferson, the Carolina Chocolate Drops and the multilingual Pink Martini, along with Malian star Rokia Traoré. The British contingent includes the Unthanks and Seth Lakeman. Cherry Hinton Hall, 29 July to 1 August. Box office: 01223 357851.

Dance

Pleasure's Progress

Will Tuckett visits the dark underbelly of 18th-century England, mixing dance and opera in this homage to William Hogarth. The cast includes the excellent Matthew Hart. Jerwood DanceHouse, Ipswich (01473 295230), 18-19 June, then touring.

Russian ballet in London

Heavyweight Moscow ballet giant the Bolshoi and the St Petersburg featherweight, the Mikhailovsky, fight it out for London's summer ballet audience. The Bolshoi have a new staging of Coppélia and Ratmansky's Russian Seasons, while the Mikhailovsky bring the classic Gorsky-Messerer Swan Lake, as well as Chabukiani's uber-Soviet ballet Laurencia. The Mikhailovsky are at the Coliseum, London WC2 (020-7632 8300) from 13 July; The Bolshoi are at the Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), from 17 July.

Carlos Acosta

Acosta returns with his latest mixed programme – and his performances include debuts in the beautiful Russell Maliphant solo, Two, and Edwaard Liang's Sight Unseen, with Zenaida Yanowsky. Coliseum, London WC2 (020-7632 8300), from 28 July.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch: Agua

Following Bausch's death last year, her company opted to continue touring her work. Agua, seen here in the UK for the first time, is a tragicomic take on life played out against Brazilian landscapes. Playhouse, Edinburgh (0131 473 2000), 27-29 August.

Comedy

Penn and Teller

Stand aside, Derren Brown. Perform your disappearing act, Paul Daniels. Las Vegas magic act Penn and Teller are coming to town, for five nights in London this July. The duo's 30-year partnership has yielded multiple Emmy nominations, an appearance on The Simpsons – and, of course, their hit 1990s Channel 4 series, The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller. This is their first live UK appearance in 16 years. Hammersmith Apollo, London W6 (0844 844 4748), 14-18 July.

Hans Teeuwen

Already confirmed for the Edinburgh fringe this year, the once-seen, never-forgotten Dutch comic Teeuwen unleashes his new show Smooth and Painful on an unsuspecting world. Even if you've seen the twisted cabaret of this demoniacal Nick Cave of comedy before, you've no idea what he'll come up with next. Pleasance Beyond, Edinburgh (0131-556 6550), 4-29 August.

My Name Is Sue

Winner of a Total Theatre award at last year's Edinburgh fringe, this frumpy cabaret once again unites the talents of composer/performer Dafydd James and director Ben Lewis, of the terrific Inspector Sands theatre group. James dons a blouse and skirt to play the titular housewife, who sits at a piano and whacks out the musical story of her unheralded life. Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff (029 2031 1050), 4 and 5 June. Then touring.

Emo Philips

A UK comedy favourite since the 1980s, Philips returns for the first time since 2006 to play – er, a tent in a field in Suffolk. Signing up the falsetto-voiced man-child is a real coup for Latitude: judging by his last British shows, age (he's now in his mid-50s) hasn't mellowed this relentless dispenser of disturbed one-liners. Latitude festival, July 18, then touring; at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar, Edinburgh (0131-556 6550), 5-29 August.

• Previews by Peter Bradshaw, Alexis Petridis, John Fordham, Michael Billington, Lyn Gardner, Robin Denselow, Brian Logan, Andrew Clements, Sam Wollaston, Judith Mackrell, Adrian Searle, Jonathan Glancey and Alison Flood


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December 31 2009

What to see in 2010

Can Martin Scorsese pull off a horror movie? Is Glasgow the new Venice? And what's Ricky Gervais up to in Reading? Our critics pick next year's hottest tickets

Film

Cemetery Junction

Having conquered Hollywood, Ricky Gervais is coming home. With his long-time collaborator Stephen Merchant, he has set out to create a British film in the tradition of Billy Liar and the Likely Lads – and of course his own masterpiece The Office – about three blokes working for the Prudential insurance company in Gervais's hometown of Reading. Released on 7 April.

A Single Man

The smart money says Colin Firth will be bringing home a certain gold, bald-headed statuette for his performance as a bereaved gay man in Los Angeles. Based on the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, the movie – fashion designer Tom Ford's directorial debut – follows one day in the life of Firth's literature academic as he confronts his own mortality. Released on 12 February.

A Prophet

Tahar Rahim is Talik, a scared young Arab guy in jail who is made an offer he can't refuse by Corsican mobster César, played by Niels Arestrup: he must murder a supergrass, or be killed himself. A gripping prison movie from French director Jacques Audiard. Released on 22 January.

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's much-anticipated new movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio was originally slated to come for autumn; the delay was reportedly due to its promotional budget getting credit-crunched. Anyway, better late than never. It's a mystery thriller with a generous spoonful of horror – a new generic twist for this master director. Released on 12 March.

The Headless Woman

A wealthy woman accidentally hits something in her car. Was it a dog? A person? She slips into woozy confusion, and the movie mimics the woman's disorientation and denial as she attempts to carry on with her life. An arthouse cult classic from Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel. Released on 19 February.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Edgar Wright is the British director who struck gold with Shaun of the Dead. Now he tackles his first proper Hollywood project – a wacky comedy based on the Bryan Lee O'Malley comic-book series. Michael Cera plays bass guitarist Scott Pilgrim, who, having fallen in love with a woman, must now do battle with her seven former boyfriends. Released on 27 August.

Father of My Children

A discreetly directed and superbly acted drama based on the tragic life of the French film producer Humbert Balsan. Grégoire is a much-loved mover-and-shaker in world cinema whose finances are crumbling. The ensuing crisis is brilliantly portrayed. Released on 5 March.

Visual art

Glasgow international festival of contemporary art

A huge, budget-melting installation by Swiss artist Christoph Büchel in the vast Tramway; a major new film by Gerard Byrne; works by Fiona Tan, Douglas Gordon, Linder and many more spread around Scotland's liveliest city, in the UK's best annual visual arts festival. Forget Edinburgh, forget Liverpool: this is the one. Venues across Glasgow (0141-287 8994, glasgowinternational.org), 16 April-3 May.

The Real Van Gogh: the Artist and His Letters

Van Gogh was erudite, intelligent, a great artist and an inveterate writer of letters. But he also did that thing to his ear, drank too much absinthe and killed himself. This show looks at his art in the light of his letters, recently published in English in full. Royal Academy of Arts, London W1 (020-7300 8000), 23 January-18 April.

Chris Ofili

Manchester-born Chris Ofili has rolled joints from elephant dung, made paintings decorated with dung, and moved on to territory that brings together German expressionism, Trinidadian myth, lovers, prophets, gods and ghosts. Promises to be blasphemous and inspiring, elegiac and sexy. Tate Britain, London SW1 (020-7887 8888), 27 January-16 May.

Jenny Holzer

There's more to American artist Holzer's work than an endless tickertape of words spelled out  in LED lights. There are billboards, benches, condom wrappers and paintings. This is poetry with a plug, light shows with literature, an art of anger and beauty. Baltic, Gateshead (0191-478 1810), 5 March-16 May.

Sixth Berlin Biennial

The Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art is always fascinating, and sometimes great. In a city infested with artists and overshadowed by history, it attracts fewer wannabes, hangers-on, art-surfers and arrogant airheads than Venice. Berlin is serious, the food is a joke, the weather uncertain and the art at the time of writing a complete mystery. Go anyway. Venues across Berlin (00 49 [0] 302 434 5910, berlinbiennale.de), 11 June-8 August.

Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, stock-broker turned post-impressionist and symbolist painter and sculptor, mystified Van Gogh, with whom he shared a house for a while. What an odd couple. Gauguin died in French Polynesia in 1903 at the age of 54. His art, however, is a time bomb, still ticking in the 21st century; and this is the first major show in Britain for 50 years. Tate Modern, London SE1 (020-7887 8888), from 30 September.

Pop

Whitney Houston

Houston's misadventures during the last decade made the likelihood of her touring again seem nil. But here she is playing her first UK dates since 1998, rehabbed and in robust voice – although her ability to hit those power notes has diminished somewhat. Which may be a good thing. MEN Arena, Manchester (0844 847 8000), 8-9 April. Then touring.

Green Day

Here's a thing: an overtly political US band who are big enough to play stadiums. Mind you, if Green Day's views weren't complemented by radio-friendly rock, their two British summer dates would probably be somewhere cosier. Old Trafford (0871 2200 260), June 16; Wembley, London (020-7403 3331), June 19.

The xx

It's all about understatement and nuance with this indie band, earmarked just about everywhere as 2010's ones to watch. Don't expect fireworks or obvious "wow" moments on their first major headlining tour: they and their acclaimed self-titled album are very much insidious pleasures. Komedia, Brighton (0845 293 8480), 1 March. Then touring.

Lily Allen and Dizzee Rascal

Lily and Dizzee have more in common than you would think: they easily rank with 2009's most successful British musicians, and she's as influenced by Rascal's hip-hop milieu as he is by the pop world she inhabits. MEN Arena, Manchester (0844 847 8000), 5 March; 02 Arena, London (0844 856 0202), 7 March.

Glastonbury

The daddy of them all celebrates its 40th anniversary, and Glasto virgins U2 will be among those braving the mud to celebrate. Sold out, but returns go on sale in the new year. Worthy Farm, Somerset, 23-27 June.

Jazz and world music

Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Orchestra

Specials and 2 Tone co-founder Dammers pays tribute to mystic free-jazz bandleader Sun Ra, who died in 1993, with a mix of jazz, funk, reggae, dub, hip-hop and rock. The all-star lineup includes Nathaniel Facey, Zoe Rahman and Jason Yarde. Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (024-7652 4524), 4 March. Touring until 9 April.

Dan Berglund's Tonbrucket

Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson's death in 2008 wound up popular jazz trio EST, but bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus ­ Ostrom visit not only EST's music, but Pink Floyd, Arvo Pärt and more in their new quartet. Queen's Hall, Edinburgh (0131-668 2019), 13 March. Touring until 1 April.

Wynton Marsalis

The prolific Marsalis and his Lincoln Center Orchestra celebrate 80 years of big-band history in three major concerts, with jams all over London, including the Vortex. Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7550), 17 and 18 June; Hackney Empire, London E8 (020-8510 4500), 20 June.

African Soul Rebels

Mali's Oumou Sangaré, famed for her bravely outspoken views, is one of the stars of the sixth African Soul Rebels outing. She's joined by the rousing big band Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, and the veteran South African experimental political band, Kalahari Surfers. Poole Lighthouse (0844 406 8666), 18 February. Then touring.

Ali and Toumani

The most eagerly awaited African album of the year, this is the final recording by the great Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré, and the kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté – recorded a few months before Touré's death. Out 22 February.

Dance

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

After the shock of Bausch's death this summer, her company has announced plans to continue under the joint direction of Dominique Mercy and Robert Sturm. In April, they come to London with Kontakthof, Bausch's 1978 meditation on love and human foibles. It will be performed by two radically different, alternating casts – one made up of senior citizens, the other of teenagers. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 1-4 April.

Mark Morris Dance Group

Morris made L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, an ecstatic embrace of a dance, more than 20 years ago; it still ranks as one of the great experiences in the repertory. Handel's score will be played and sung by members of English National Opera. Coliseum, London WC2 (0871-911 0200), 14-17 April.

Hofesh Shechter

The rise and rise of Shechter continues with Political Mother, a large ensemble piece that plays with definitions of shock and normality, and comes with Shechter's own score. Dome, Brighton (01273 709709), 20 and 21 May; Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0844 412 4300), 14-17 July.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company

A posthumous season for the late, great Merce includes the UK premiere of the work he choreographed just months before he died. Nearly Ninety belies its title with a score including music by Sonic Youth. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 26-30 October.

Theatre

Arthur and George

David Edgar adapts Julian Barnes's gripping novel about a Birmingham solicitor who, after being convicted of a grisly crime, recruits the help of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Fact merges with fiction in a story that deals with race, innocence, guilt and spiritualism - with echoes of Sherlock Holmes. Rachel Kavanaugh directs what promises to be that rare thing: a necessary adaptation. Birmingham Rep (0121-236 4455), 19 March-10 April.

Peter Pan

David Greig relocates JM Barrie's masterpiece to a gas-lit Victorian Edinburgh. Director John Tiffany (Black Watch, The Bacchae) and designer Laura Hopkins are at the helm, so this Pan shouldn't simply fly, but soar. Kings, Glasgow (0844 871 7648), 23 April–8 May. Then touring.

Hamlet

Once again, it looks like we're set for a major battle of the princes. John Simm has first crack at the title in a Paul Miller production in the refurbished Sheffield Crucible. Then Rory Kinnear takes on the moody Dane, with Clare Higgins as Gertrude, directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National. Some people, recalling the very recent David Tennant-Jude Law clash, resent this duplication. I say: "Bring it on." Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (0114-249 6000), from September; Olivier theatre, London SE1 (020-7452 3000), from October.

Posh

Just in time for the general election, Laura Wade's new play deals with a group of Oxford hearties, all members of an elite student dining society. They hunt, booze, take illegal substances (possibly) and are, it seems, destined to rule over us. It's good to see Wade, who made a big impact with Breathing Corpses in 2005, resurrecting the class war in a topical Court production, directed by Lyndsey Turner. Royal Court, London SW1 (020-7565 5000), 9 April-22 May.

Oh! What a Lovely War

Joan Littlewood's timeless musical satire on the first world war gets its first major post-Iraq outing, with directors Erica Whyman and Sam Kenyon leading the troops over the top. Northern Stage, Newcastle (0191-230 5151), 6 March-27 March. Then touring.

The Persians

A Brecon military range becomes the setting for a site-responsive revival of Aeschylus's great play about war and defeat. Mike Pearson, who has been using found spaces with his legendary company Brith Gof long before it became fashionable, directs. Cilieni Village, Powys, Wales (01874 611622), 11-21 August.

Architecture

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

Dynamic reconstruction of the famous 1930s theatre. New work includes a 1,030-seat modern take on a 17th-century courtyard stage, a revamped art deco foyer, a rooftop restaurant and a bridging tower linking old and new spaces. November.

Folkwang Museum, Essen, Germany

Six rigorously geometrical new wings parade around four urban courtyards in this major extension by David Chipperfield of a fine museum devoted to 19th and 20th-century French and German art. The model of a modern building for a (hopefully) less wilfully ostentatious era. April.

Rolex Learning Centre, Lausanne, Switzerland

This exquisite Swiss building – a single, undulating floor boasting lake and mountain views – is a coming of age for Tokyo's Sanaa, designers of the 2009 Serpentine Pavilion. A science research centre that's as much landscape as architecture. February.

Television

Mad Men

The immaculately dressed alcoholic misogynists of the Sterling Cooper ad agency return to alternately horrify and entrance us. Nine months on, how is the company's merger with a London firm working out for boss Don, copywriter Peggy and co? And what state is Don's estranged wife Betty in? BBC4, from 27 January.

Glee

Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy's new musical comedy-drama about a high-school choir (the "glee club" of the title) is huge in the US. The club's show tunes and chart hits have sold millions, while viewers and critics have embraced the cast of engaging misfits (Murphy has a sharp eye for school dynamics, as fans of his shortlived cheerleader show Popular will recall). E4, from 11 January.

Money

This two-part slice of 1980s nostalgia, based on Martin Amis's novel, should offer a thought-provoking look at the era of flash cash and queasy living. Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Shawn of the Dead) stars as anti-hero John Self in a cast that includes Mad Men's Pete (Vincent Kartheiser). BBC2, spring.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister

Maxine Peake (Shameless, Criminal Justice) plays a lesbian who keeps a coded journal of her love-life in a 19th-century Yorkshire village. Everything about this 90-minute drama screams "record", "hit" and "award-winning". BBC2, March/April.

Mistresses

Furtive hotel sex; frantic muffin-baking; guilty pinot grigio guzzling. This soapy drama about four Bristol thirtysomething women returns for a third series with some inspired new casting: Joanna Lumley joins as the bossy mother of muddle-headed doctor Katie, played by Sarah Parish. BBC1, late 2010.

Classical and opera

Mahler in Manchester

The most innovative celebration of Gustav Mahler's 150th birthday you'll hear all year: the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic's cycle of his symphonies, in which each symphony is paired with a new piece from an international line-up of composers, from Austrian surrealist Kurt Schwertsik to Parisian organist Olivier Latry. ­ Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (0161-907 9000), 16 January-5 June.

Placido sings Handel

Whoever thought you'd see this at Covent Garden? Placido Domingo takes the composer's greatest tenor role, Bajazet, in Tamerlano, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the pit. Mouth-watering. Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), 5-20 March.

Elegy for Young Lovers

English National Opera continues its part-time residency at the Young Vic with Hans Werner Henze's 1961 opera on crazed creative amorality in the Alps, with a libretto by WH Auden, and a production directed by Fiona Shaw. The only chance to see Henze, the greatest living opera composer, in the theatre in the UK this year. Young Vic, London SE1 (020-7922 2922), 24 April-8 May.

WNO's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

The operatic role of the year: Bryn Terfel sings Hans Sachs for the first time in Wagner's Meistersinger. It's a part he should play even more convincingly than the Wotan he sang in Covent Garden's Ring. This new staging by Richard Jones could be the one that cracks Wagner's complex comedy. Welsh National Opera, Cardiff (08700 40 2000), 19 June-10 July.

Total Immersion: Wolfgang Rihm

No composer alive has written as much music as Wolfgang Rihm; yet no major figure in new music is as shamingly unfamiliar to British audiences. With this two-day event, part of its Total Immersion series, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with the help of the London Sinfonietta and the Arditti Quartet, put that right. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 12-13 March.

Comedy

Dara O'Briain

From Three Men in a Boat to one man on a stage, TV favourite O'Briain takes to the nation's concert halls for a 64-date tour. A civilised and smart standup long before TV fame came calling, this is the Mock the Week anchorman's first tour in two years. Regent, Stoke (0844 871 7649), 1 March. Then touring.

Laura Solon

With her latest show, Rabbit Faced Story Soup, the winner of the last-ever Perrier award has turned her talent for creating comic characters into a comedy play about an ailing publishing house and its missing star novelist. Now she's taking it on a national tour. Junction, Cambridge (01223 511 511), 29 January. Then touring.

Pappy's Fun Club

The fast-rising young quartet take to the road with their Edinburgh 2009 hit show World Record Attempt: 200 Sketches in an Hour. It's less Fast Show, more nonsense cabaret, supplying music, anarchy and good cheer. Komedia, Brighton (0845 293 8480), 21 January. Then touring.

Chosen by Judith Mackrell, Michael Billington, Caroline Sullivan, Lyn Gardner, Jonathan Glancey, Peter Bradshaw, Adrian Searle, John Fordham, Robin Denselow, Brian Logan and Tim Lusher


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