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August 16 2012

August 15 2012

John Minihan's best photograph

'This is Samuel Beckett in a cafe in Paris. He set it all up. He wanted the picture to say: This is who I am'

I'd never heard of Samuel Beckett until he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1969. After that, I went to see some of his shows and quickly became fascinated by this Irishman living in Paris. In 1980, he came to London to direct Endgame. Sam was a recluse, with a real aversion to journalists, but an Irish porter at the Hyde Park Hotel gave me a tip-off that he was staying there. I left him a note and, when I called the hotel the next day, I got put straight through.

At our first meeting, I showed him pictures I'd taken at the wake of a woman from Athy, the Irish town where I grew up. She was called Katy Tyrrell and I took shots of her and her family for three days and two nights. Clocks were stopped, fires were put out, and the mirror was covered with a sheet. He was intrigued. Then I took several pictures of him. Sam probably thought this was the last he was going to see of me, but I don't operate like that. To my mind, a 16th of a second is nothing out of someone's life.

After that, I would photograph stagings of his plays, starring everyone from Patrick Stewart to Ian McKellen. Actors would appear for nothing, simply because the work was beautiful to perform. It was perfect for a black-and-white photographer, too. I sent Sam all the photos, and he would write me thank-you notes on postcards.

In 1985, just before his 80th birthday, Sam invited me over to Paris. We agreed to meet at his local cafe in Montparnasse at 3pm on a Sunday. I arrived at 2pm and found a secluded table by the window with good light. I can still see Sam walking towards me with a smile on his face – he knew exactly why I had chosen that spot.

We talked until 4.50pm. He mesmerised me. Daylight was quickly disappearing and I thought the moment had passed. Then Sam said: "John, would you like to take a photograph?" I got out my Rolleiflex and took three frames. They turned out better than I expected because Sam directed the whole scene. He wanted it to say: "This is who I am."

That night, I was so excited to have snapped Samuel Beckett in Paris, his chosen city, that I went out and got completely and utterly pissed.

CV

Born: Dublin, 1946.

Studied: London School of Printing and Graphic Arts.

Influences: Cecil Beaton, EO Hoppé, André Kertész.

High point: "As an apprentice on the Daily Mail, developing images and seeing them appear before my eyes."

Low point: "When I lose a subject I love, like Beckett."

Tip: "Research your subject. If it's a writer, read their books – it will tell you who they are."

• John Minihan is speaking on 27 August at the Happy Days Enniskillen Beckett festival, where his photographs are on display; 23-27 August.


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August 04 2012

Edinburgh fringe theatre roundup

Peep; Still Life; Coalition; After the Rainfall; One Hour Only

On the first day of the Edinburgh festival fringe last week – "preview Wednesday", when venue staff are still wallpapering every flat surface with posters for the month's attractions, and early-up spectators wander around trying not to feel like unworldly partygoers who arrived at the exact hour written on the invitation – I was reminded how shockingly intimate fringe theatre can be.

Nudity did it. Unblinking, close-quarters nudity. Day one at Edinburgh had in previous years cast me as a reluctant hula dancer (that was 2011's Dance Marathon) and a ranging urban troublemaker (2010's En Route, asking of its participants trespass and minor acts of graffiti). This year, hardly off the train, only just done with the great annual question of whether to get a post-journey jacket potato from Tasty Tatties or a scotch pie from Auld Jock's, I was squatting down in a peep show-style booth trying to maintain a stern and professional expression while a candid play about sex unfolded six inches from my face.

Peep was an odd production, a triptych of 20-minute playlets for which the creative team had constructed a new makeshift venue outside the Pleasance Courtyard. Four actors performed in a room little bigger than a double bed, an equatorial line of one-way glass ringing the space at waist height. Behind this sat audience members, each in their own tiny compartment. We were supposed to feel sordid, peering in on performers from our cubicles, and I did. This was especially so during the short entitled "69", a montage about the pleasures and problems associated with sex in modern Britain. At one point, without warning, the semi-clothed actors spun to the glass and hovered close, glaring – giving the audience some idea of what it's like, perhaps, for the luckless who've worked in such booths in real life.

Costume, again, was an impermanent thing across town in the white-walled confines of the Whitespace gallery. Here I saw Still Life, a one-woman show about Henrietta Moraes, Francis Bacon's famous model and muse. Sue MacLaine played Moraes, clad, sometimes, in a burgundy robe, more often in nothing at all. The audience were asked to cluster around with handed-out paper to draw pencil sketches.

"I will hold this pose for one minute," said Moraes, interrupting the story of her life to stand straight-backed. "I will hold this pose for eight minutes," she said later, explaining that Bacon had once asked for her to be photographed in just such a reclining position. The resulting pictures inspired his A Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, which sold this year at Christie's for £21m. The original photographs of Moraes, meanwhile, were sold on as porn in a Soho pub. "Ten bob each."

Written by its gutsy performer MacLaine, Still Life interwove affectionate elements of biography with a more oblique sense of what it cost to be the human starting point for lasting art. Moraes was an alcoholic and heavy drug user. Bacon made her an immortal, but his close attention might have left behind trouble. At one point in the play Moraes begged her scribbling audience: "Draw me now and see if you can get beyond almost… Show it back to me. Show me myself."

Still with the sheaves of sketch paper in my pocket, I went on to the entirely different Coalition, a political comedy at the Pleasance Dome. It presented a near-future Britain, the alliance between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats almost over, the Lib Dems in ruin. No Cameron, no Clegg, the key players here were fictional, the Lib Dems led by Matt Cooper (comedian Thom Tuck), a likable weakling so beaten down by "coalition chess" he can't really remember why there should be anything wrong with the idea of 48 new British nuclear plants. An enjoyable comic play, a little baggy at 90 minutes. Good but not great.

I still wanted great – that brilliant play, seen in its first few outings at the fringe, impressive enough to make you its missionary. Everybody! Everybody! Abandon your plans, get tickets! A single gem is enough, in week one, to make all the early-bird aimlessness and guesswork of the emergent festival worthwhile. On Thursday I saw two brilliant plays, back-to-back.

After the Rainfall told a woozily complex story that strung together ideas about colonialism, revolution, social media and, somehow, ant hills; a story of parallel lives (a scientist, a spy, a sister, a student) lived out over a span of more than 70 years. The group behind the play, Curious Directive, staged a fringe hit last year, Your Last Breath, that was similarly layered, jumping about in time to tell a story about extreme human endurance. Its high point was a memorable dance sequence involving coloured string that criss-crossed the stage.

After the Rainfall needed no similar centrepiece. Its flourishes were fainter: rolling landscape, seen from the window of a low-flying plane, summoned by a simple piece of canvas being manipulated under a spot. Such subtlety characterised script and performance, the unfairness of colonial Britain's artefact-pinching, for instance, inferred not in a lecture but in a believable conversation between strangers on a train. As well as vibrant design, a strength of this rising company is a talent for compactness. After the Rainfall achieved more in a single hour than would seem possible. I left heavy with its weight, eager to sit down and think it all through.

But no time. I was straight to the uppermost floor of the Underbelly venue on Cowgate to watch a third play in two days about sexual exposure. And One Hour Only threatened, for a minute or so, to be as intense as Peep, as solemn as Still Life. In fact it was neither; instead, a terrifically simple love story, a modern Brief Encounter, staged in a brothel with the ticking away of costly minutes threatening the growing liking between prostitute Marley (Nadia Clifford) and customer AJ (Faraz Ayub). Marley and AJ are Londoners, clever and studying to better themselves, but young and naive enough to assume that their knowing, 21st-century ease with paid-for sex will never trouble them intellectually. Of course it does – the worse, over their 60 minutes together, as they begin to fall for each other.

Written by performance poet Sabrina Mahfouz (who last year impressed with dramatic monologue Dry Ice) the play did not spend much time decrying the sex trade. That has been done well, and often, at fringes past. Instead, Mahfouz made quiet study of the strange and even hostile places like-minds can find each other out. Staged in the uppermost room of the Underbelly, a hangar-like auditorium that is arguably the least cosy at the festival, One Hour Only achieved an intimacy that surpassed even those productions put on in a mocked-up peep booth, a life drawing class. The story, not the setting, forced audience proximity here. Everyone kept leaning in closer and closer.


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Edinburgh festival diary: news and gossip

Valentina makes tea, comics pose with pets and a man plays dead for a month

T stands for tedium

Bravest performer at this year's fringe? Early shout for Valentina Ceschi, one half of the duo who perform the offbeat play Captain Ko and the Planet of Rice (Underbelly). For at least 10 minutes Ceschi mimes the role of an absent-minded, tea-making elderly lady. She slowly turns on a kettle, opens cupboard doors, closes them, turns on the kettle again… It goes on and on. In opening week it's fair to say the audience were restless. Some fell to giggles and a few, inevitably, walked out. Ceschi never once flinched. Bravo!

Live on stage? Well, dead actually

A different type of commitment is being shown this month by a supporting player in Matthew Osborn's Shopping Centre at the Gilded Balloon. A man plays dead on stage for the show's entire 55-minute running time. That'll require roughly 1,500 minutes of deadness over the course of the festival. Double bravo!

Pets win prizes

It isn't looking like a vintage year for comedians' promo posters in Edinburgh (and not just because Richard Herring, in a recent broadside against the commercialisation of the fringe, likened festival poster campaigns to "atomic warfare"). There seems to be an unexpected minor vogue for portraits of standups clutching pets: Tania Edwards holds a restless cat, Jim Jeffries a sleepy-eyed dog. Pete Johansson goes for shock, smoking a crack pipe. Loretta Maine, meanwhile, illustrates her show Bipolar with a picture of two polar bears. Mm.

Does that ring a bell?

Verbatim sporting play The Prize (Underbelly) bravely teases the Olympic bother-police by putting circular award crests on its posters. This seems to suggest, from a distance, the famous rings. If we see any stage invasions of The Prize by uniformed IOC strong-arms, you'll know why.

Hooray for Harry's hobby

As well as trialling material for his forthcoming UK tour over the first few days of the fringe, Harry Hill is also showcasing his artistic talents in his first public exhibition of paintings and sculptures, My Hobby, which opened on Friday at White Stuff and runs until 2 September. Characteristically surreal, it features celebrities depicted as you've never seen them – including Philip Schofield as Munch's The Scream (it really suits him), and Britpop stars painted on coconuts. There's also a specially commissioned interview between Hill and cult artist David Shrigley.


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August 02 2012

London arts venues report mixed fortunes during Olympic Games

London 2012 Games causing low turnout at British Museum and West End theatres but National Theatre and BFI report boom

Despite the eerily deserted streets of central London, arts and entertainments bosses are reporting very mixed fortunes during the Olympic Games. Some have seen visitor numbers plunge since the Games started, such as the British Museum where visitor numbers are down by 25% and some West End theatres down by a third, but others including the National Theatre report business as good as last year, with near full houses every night.

Although box-office figures have not yet been compiled, anecdotally many venues report that business is picking up this week as Londoners realise there are bargains to be had, and that travel – after warnings of transport chaos initially scared people into staying home – has so far been easier than before the Olympics.

Terri Paddock, editor of the Whatsonstage website, said many of their posts are reporting empty streets, and theatres surviving by heavy discounting and last-minute sales. "I live in Lambeth, work in Tottenham Court Road and am walking through the West End throughout the day and evening. I can tell you personally that I have never seen it so quiet during my 20+ years living in London," she said.

The British Film Institute is on track for a record month, with the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises sold out for the next six weeks on their giant Imax screen, and at its South Bank cinemas spectacular advance sales for its season of every Hitchcock film. "We are forecast to exceed target for attendance during the month," a spokeswoman said.

However at the British Museum, normally a heaving mass of overseas visitors in August, visitor numbers are down 25% on July/August last year, and there are plenty of tickets available on the day for the major exhibition, Shakespeare: Staging the World – which was expected to be one of the blockbusters of this summer. "We know this is the general picture from speaking to other venues," a spokeswoman said. "We've very deliberately scheduled the Shakespeare exhibition to run on to 25 November, and we're expecting a very different picture after the Olympics and when the schools go back. It's actually a really nice time now to visit cultural attractions, without the usual crowds and it's so easy to get around in London."

In stark contrast, at the National Theatre it has been standing room only on many nights for all their shows, with the starriest, Simon Russell Beale in Timon of Athens – traditionally regarded as one of Shakespeare's least appealing plays – selling out for almost all shows, and 90% sold for all the Olympics dates. George Bernard Shaw's The Doctor's Dilemma is doing least well, but has still already sold 60% of available tickets for the same dates.

A spokeswoman said the bulk of ticket sales are to their regulars in London and the south-east, but sales to overseas visitors wandering in on the day are healthy too, and all the free activities in and around the building on the South Bank are very well attended.

The Society of London Theatres, representing 52 theatres mainly in the West End, said numbers are picking up this week, compared to last week when many had banks of empty seats to rival any of the Olympics venues. They also report that people are recognising there are bargains to be had: business is brisk at the TKTS discount ticket booth in Leicester Square, operated by the society. Ticket sales for the Kids Week promotion, now expanded to the whole month of August, which offers free or heavily discounted tickets to under-16s accompanied by a full paying adult, are well ahead of last year – 100,000 tickets have already been sold, compared to 70,000 for the whole promotion last year.

The Tate Modern gallery has been on a roll this summer, with massive publicity for its new Tanks underground space, a string of new exhibition openings, and many of the Festival 2012 events happening around it on the South Bank. However a spokeswoman said that although the place is still buzzing, ticket sales are down for the charging exhibitions. Further down on the opposite bank Tate Britain – not helped by its main restaurant closing until next year for renovations – has also seen a sharp drop in ticket sales.

At the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, which would normally expect 20,000 people a day at this time of year, and long queues outside the gates before opening time, staff say they are "still busy, but noticeably quieter". A spokeswoman added "it makes it a really fantastic time to visit". The Museum of London also reports visitor numbers well down, and suspects that their mainly family audience was put off by the warnings of transport problems.


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July 27 2012

Seven days on stage: Will Olympic tourists sprint over to the West End?

As the curtain rises on the Olympics, London's Theatreland is on tenterhooks about ticket sales, while a new musical prepares to take wing at Beijing's Bird's Nest Olympic stadium

Late sprint?

With the Olympics getting into full swing this weekend, London's West End – and its theatres in particular – are on tenterhooks, waiting to discover whether any of the incoming tourists will make the trip across the capital to see a show. Earlier in the year, Andrew Lloyd Webber warned that the summer would be a "bloodbath" for Theatreland, with theatres left empty and ticket sales through the floor. While that doesn't seem likely to happen – according to a report we on the Stage have produced this week – there's still a big question mark over whether the influx of overseas visitors will make up for a "noticeable" dip in advanced sales.

Birdsong in Beijing

In Beijing – the last Olympic host city – an example emerged this week of the potential benefits that the Games can bring to the performing arts. China's National Stadium, better known as the Bird's Nest Olympic venue, is to host its first ever stage musical. Fascination, as it's called, will open this September and will run for three years, playing to a potential capacity of 10,000 people per show.

Less than super

You could be forgiven for not having noticed, but Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest TV talent show – Superstar – drew to a close this week. The final of the ITV show – held slightly strangely on Wednesday night – played to 3.3 million viewers, less than half the number that similar BBC contests have attracted. As well as not proving a massive hit with viewers, the show has also sparked a few strong opinions within the industry, with Gavin and Stacey star Joanna Page describing the contest as "insulting".

Tattoo close to the bone

Controversy in Germany, meanwhile, where the Bayreuth festival opened this week, but with one notable absentee. Yevgeny Nikitin, the bass-baritone who had been due to sing the title role in a new production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, dropped out of the event after a row centring on a Nazi tattoo emblazoned on his chest. It proved a particularly sensitive subject given the festival's (and Wagner's) historic links to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.

Stirling work

In Northern Ireland, the new Belfast Lyric Theatre is celebrating its nomination for the prestigious Stirling prize for architecture. The venue is up against – among others – the London Olympic Stadium for the prize, which will be announced in October. Encouragingly, William Hill has the Lyric at 4 to 1 to win, compared to 5 to 1 for the Olympic stadium.

Warehouse to courthouse

London's Donmar Warehouse theatre finds itself facing a lawsuit from David Birrell, an actor who was blinded in one of his eyes after a prop gun misfired during a show. The accident happened during the 2010 production of The Passion. He is seeking £250,000 in damages.

And finally ...

Ghost the musical, which had already announced its closure in the West End this October, will now also bid farewell to Broadway. The show will shutter in New York in August, after a run of 136 performances. Still, it's not quite the end of the road: a Dutch version opens in August, while there are also plans for a US tour and other international versions.

Follow Friday – my theatrical Twitter tips

@lyricbelfast – the official Twitter feed for Northern Ireland's only full-time producing theatre, the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Some interesting extra content – pics, videos and the like – available via Twitter, plus the obligatory endless retweets of people saying nice things about the theatre.

@thebenforster – Ben Forster is the winner of ITV's search for a Jesus to appear in Andrew Lloyd Webber's revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Lots of thanking of his supporters going on at the moment, but it will be interesting to see if he gives an insight into rehearsals for the arena tour.

@jopage – Joanna Page, best known for her role in Gavin and Stacey, but also an established stage actress. Not a huge fan of TV talent shows, it seems, but, judging from her Twitter feed, does seem to like dogs a lot.

Alistair Smith is deputy editor of The Stage. You can follow me @smithalistair


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July 26 2012

Tino Sehgal, participatory art and the Booker prize: a week in the arts

Who's on – and off – the Man Booker longlist, varying responses to Tino Sehgal's new Turbine Hall installation and the Twitter debate about who should be paid in participatory art

The Man Booker longlist – sans Tremain, Lanchester, Amis, McEwan, Pat Barker, Banville, and, most surprisingly, Smith, was announced. Gaby Wood on the Telegraph, who was a judge on the much-criticised prize last year, welcomed the fact that the longlist supports "ambition and experiment". Justine Jordan of this parish, though bewildered by the absence of Zadie Smith (and yes, she has read it) praised the list's "eccentricity and invention". (When pressed in person she suggested that if you're going to read one book on the list, aside from the one you already have – the Mantel – it should be Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil. I'm also hearing from early readers that the Will Self is very good.)

• The new Turbine Hall installation, These Associations by Tino Sehgal, opened. I wrote a report on the work, in which participants approach members of the public and tell them a story about themselves, and Adrian Searle gave it a really enthusiastic, five-star review. Jonathan Jones offered a view on the fact that there are no official photos allowed of Sehgal's work. Alastair Sooke in the Telegraph was less enthusiastic, saying: "There is still a whiff of artifice about their stories, which feel polished and rehearsed."

• There was an interesting piece by Claire Bishop on the Guardian's comment pages about the nature of participatory art, which fed into something that had kind of been bugging me regarding what Sehgal had been saying at the press conference about anarchy and crowds and suchlike: his work is, of course, highly organised and controlled in one sense, presenting a highly wrought structure for the human interactions to take place within. Bishop addressed this. Sehgal's pieces, she wrote, "like so much other participatory art under neoliberalism, serve a double agenda: offering a popular art of and for the people, while at the same time, reminding us that today we all experience a constant pressure to perform and, moreover, this is one in which we have no choice but to participate". I sort of agree with her; on the other hand, Sehgal's work is such an elegant rebuff to the idea of monumental sculpture and such a fascinating way of looking at crowds versus individuals (let's face it, the experience of Tate Modern is usually about the individual (oneself) trying to have a moment with another individual (an artist) despite the hordes, that I'm still inclined to like it.

• This leads me to another debate about participatory art: who should, or shouldn't be paid? The "interpreters" in the Sehgal piece are not professional performers but are taking part in the piece in their free time. They are working in strict four-hour shift patterns with breaks, and paid between £8 and £9 per hour – "a matter of respect", Jessica Morgan, the Tate curator said to me. I suspect it is also a matter of good fortune, since the Tate has its Unilever sponsorship to help pay for this to happen all day every day until the end of October. But, what if you are producing You Me Bum Bum Train? Here the performers are not being paid, as Laura Barnett reported, and Equity is not pleased. It's clear that the blurring of boundaries between the audience and the performers in such works hits a bit of a nerve; are the structures of traditional theatre, including the union, fitted to tackle this kind of experimental work? Marcus Romer, artistic director of Pilot Theatre, wrote a blog arguing that performers always ought to be paid. This came out of an interesting discussion on Twitter, in which that view was challenged by Andy Field, for whose Forest Fringe performers and theatre-makers have worked for free. A flavour of his tweets on Bum Bum: "They're not working, though are they? It's not a 3-month internship or three weeks of rehearsal. You do it in your spare time."; "And what about people that volunteer to work [with] Spencer Tunick? Or Nic Green? Or who run with the Olympic torch?"; "I'm suggesting there's a difference between the demands and expectations of an actor in a play and a performer in Bum Bum."

• It's almost a month now since the Simón Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela mambo'd out of town. The debates it raises in Britain go on. A piece in Classical Music magazine was highly critical of the adulation that the Sistema receives on these shores. Marshall Marcus wrote a rejoinder on his blog. Perhaps the most penetrating piece, however, was by cellist and former Maestro judge Zoë Martlew. In several respects, she nails what's going on: she exposes the poor quality of many music-education projects in the UK and, despite her own clearly expressed scepticism at elements of Dudamania, she identifies what's good about the Sistema. "They didn't get there via PC education projects. They have achieved excellence by sheer hard work from a young age combined with an absolute love of the music they play instilled by a fully funded training system." She adds: "I find it supremely ironic that [the Simón Bolívar Orchestra], trained (in part) by volunteers from my own state-funded music generation, is now invited back here to light the classical music fire in the generation Thatcher lost."

What I'm reading

Elanor Dymott's debut novel Every Contact Leaves a Trace. It is very, very engrossing, a kind of fragmentary literary thriller set, in part, in Oxford. But it is much cleverer and more nuanced than that description suggests (the university setting is not just for colour, but becomes thematically active as the place where knowledge is sought and tested). Highly recommended as pacy holiday reading that's also deeply thoughtful and very smart.


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July 22 2012

Angharad Rees obituary

Actor best known for her role as Demelza in the 1970s hit BBC TV drama Poldark

The actor Angharad Rees, who has died of pancreatic cancer aged 63, soared to fame in Poldark (1975-77), the BBC's dramatisation of Winston Graham's novels set in 18th-century Cornwall. Rees played the fiery servant Demelza, whose beautiful smile, wide-open eyes, flowing red locks and headstrong nature won over the brooding hero.

Robin Ellis starred as Ross Poldark, the British army officer returning home from the American war of independence to find his father dead, the family estate run down and their tin mines about to be sold. He seeks to reignite the flames with his fiancee, the aristocratic Elizabeth (Jill Townsend), but discovers she is set to marry his cousin. Poldark finds a soulmate in the miner's daughter Demelza after stopping a stallholder at Redruth fair from thrashing her for stealing. He offers her a job as his kitchen maid, and later marries her.

The costume drama, which ran for two series and attracted up to 15 million viewers in Britain and many more around the world, was particularly popular with women, who swooned over Ellis and admired the feistiness of Rees's character. The wild Cornish locations were also impressive at a time when the majority of costume dramas were almost entirely studio-bound.

Rees was born in London, the daughter of a distinguished Welsh psychiatrist, Linford Rees, and his wife, Catherine. When Angharad was a baby, her parents moved the family back to their homeland, to live in Cardiff.

In the mid-1960s she gained experience as an assistant stage manager and actor at the West Cliff theatre, in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. She made her screen debut in 1968, as the parlourmaid in a BBC television adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, and had one-off parts in TV dramas and comedies including The Avengers (1968) and Doctor in the House (1969).

Rees played Jack the Ripper's murderous daughter in the Hammer horror film Hands of the Ripper (1971) and appeared as Gossamer Beynon, alongside Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole, in Under Milk Wood (1972). Although she had few further film parts, Rees seemed ever-present on television throughout the 1970s. Some of her best roles included Sarah Churchill, the daughter of the wartime prime minister Winston Churchill (played by Burton) in The Gathering Storm (1974), and Celia in a 1978 production of As You Like It, opposite Helen Mirren. She also guest-starred in The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show (1977), an accolade in itself.

As Lady Evelyn Herbert, she teamed up with Ellis again in the television film The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (1980). Later, she starred as the remarried former wife of Paul Nicholas's vet in the sitcom Close to Home (1989-90) and joined the second series of Trainer (1992) as Caroline Farrell, coping with her drinking and gambling husband Freddie (Jeremy Sinden).

She appeared in the West End in It's a Two Feet Six Inches Above the Ground World (Wyndham's theatre, 1970) and The Millionairess (Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 1978-79). In 1973, she married the actor Christopher Cazenove, with whom she had two sons. The couple divorced in 1994. Their eldest child, Linford, died in a car accident in 1999.

Rees subsequently gave up acting in order to concentrate on developing her own jewellery design business, including a shop in Knightsbridge. She described this new career as therapeutic, and some of her creations were featured in the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007).

Rees had a relationship with the actor Alan Bates, who had suffered the loss of his own son years earlier. However, she turned down his proposals of marriage and the couple eventually parted in 2002. "We were very close, but it was difficult because I had not yet given way to my grief over the loss of my son," she said in an interview in 2007.

Continuing to support the arts, Rees was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and was appointed CBE in 2004. The following year, she married David McAlpine. He survives her along with her younger son, Rhys.

• Angharad Mary Rees, actor and jewellery designer, born 16 July 1949; died 21 July 2012


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July 21 2012

Timon of Athens; Peace Camp; The Only True History of Lizzie Finn – review

Olivier, London; Cuckmere Haven, Sussex, and other venues; Southwark Playhouse, London

Suddenly Timon of Athens looks essential. Nicholas Hytner's aggressively witty production, which transforms Athens into a city, the City,

of HSBC and helicopters, shows Shakespeare looking into the heart of finance and of debt. Simon Russell Beale makes the central character more coherent than ever before, and more vital, more important, more all-encompassing – part Thersites, part corporation smoothie, part Lear. The evening is a marvel.

This is a play that is rarely performed and hardly ever praised. It's not a mystery that this should be so. An argument rages about how much was written by Middleton. The drama seesaws violently: at one point Timon, snugly surrounded by fawners and flatterers, is beaming away as he puts his hand into his pocket for anyone. At the next, having discovered he is broke, and that his erstwhile "friends" will not help him, he has turned into a raging misanthropic hermit. He has been accused of having no inner life.

Objections now meet their match. Russell Beale, the most intimate and complicated of actors, absolutely melds the two parts of the play. He starts off plummy, slightly bouncing on his well-heeled shoes; he ends up wizened, stooped, the mellifluousness of his voice strained, with a woolly hat and a supermarket trolley full of his "goods". Yet he always suggests, at his smuggest or most excoriating, that he has an internal commentary going on that makes him slightly sceptical of his current mode: when he turns on his former life – "who had the world as my confectionary" – it seems not arbitrary but inevitable. Meanwhile the elasticity of his verse speaking – whole paragraphs of cursing on a single breath – sweeps his character along.

The ability of Hytner's production to press on the present is extreme, and greatly helped by Tim Hatley's design: the play opens in the new Timon wing of the National Gallery – instantly recognisable by the typography – and closes in a cardboard citizens world. There are deft and welcome transpositions of parts from male to female: let's hope this is the beginning of a trail of such roles for the beautifully wary but candid Deborah Findlay. Nick Sampson transforms himself into the essence of sycophancy, his back bent into an "S". Tom Robertson puts in a full-on funny trustafarian turn. Hilton McRae becomes the Fool to Timon's Lear and weariness personified: he announces "Here comes mankind" as if the mere thought quenches his breath. Meanwhile the banquet to which Timon summons his former flatterers to reject them with anti-food is not subtly but suitably remade: Shakespeare specifies water and stones; Hytner gives them piss and poo. Right for our times.

It's 14 years since Deborah Warner introduced angels to Euston in her Tower Project. In Peace Camp she has set out to create "a halo" around the country. For those (such as me) who are allergic to haloes, she has pulled off something better: she's made a work of the imagination that from a distance suggests that a new aurora borealis has dropped to earth.

Produced by Artichoke, the inspired two-woman team who give theatre a gloriously free-wheeling aspect, Peace Camp was co-commissioned by the London 2012 festival and City of Culture 2013 and developed by Warner in collaboration with Fiona Shaw and composer Mel Mercier. From last Thursday to today, camps have been set up in eight places along the British coast, from Godrevy in Cornwall to Valtos on the Isle of Lewis.

Every approach is different and the way you get there is part of the point. The appearance of the camp constantly changes. Faraway at dusk in Sussex it looked like an orange grin painted on the hills. Sometimes it seemed to float. Later, during a half-hour walk through red mud, with the stars covered by clouds, it vanished altogether, then bobbed up as a faint light. Only close up, yards away, did the smear of colour separate and spring into focus as an encampment with orange and white tents like hives, or opened umbrellas, lit from within, sending out a murmur of human and other noises. And it's only when you're next to the tents that you hear the words rising out of them. Love poems, recorded by Eileen Atkins, Bill Paterson and that handy crew, "members of the public". There is a Welsh folk song and Donne's The Good-Morrow, and Stevie Smith's elegant and unexpected verse ("Do other enchanted people feel as nervous/ As I do?") about what it's like being the Frog Prince. Accompanied by fog horns and pipes the poems are the same in all the tents. Still, everyone – silhouettes milling silently – pauses in front of one or another tent as if it might have a different tale. It never does; unison is what's at stake here. Pause is what Peace Camp memorably makes you do.

Spurred on by Kate Kellaway's review and by two consecutive evenings of encomia from friends, I spent a night off in the theatre. I hadn't meant to write about sparky Southwark Playhouse but must. It's so exhilarating to look into the face (a female one) of the future.

I had expected Sebastian Barry's play to be luscious and it is: the news about The Only True History of Lizzie Finn is the director, Blanche McIntyre. The concentration of what she's created, with a lovely lead performance from Shereen Martin, is exceptional: frisky but unfussy. One idea alone, beautifully realised in James Perkins's design, shows her imagination. The set remains the same: scene changes and mood shifts are managed by different forms of light. Nightlights float on water, flame comes up from the stage floor and, to mark a move from exterior to interior, a lamp is quietly placed among the actors. All the action is lambent. Blanche McIntyre will soon be working in a bigger (not necessarily better) theatre. One day she will have a theatre of her own.


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June 28 2012

Culture coach: the week's essential arts stories

RIP Nora Ephron; the Spice Girls musical girl-powered into London; and the Venezuelans hit the South Bank

• What you always wanted: the Spice Girls musical. Mark Brown reported. Viva Forever! with book by Jennifer Saunders, is at the Piccadilly Theatre from December. He told me the publicist had said it was like herding cats, getting those women together for the photo opp.

• The British Museum and the V&A have been given an Art Fund grant to establish a contemporary photography collection charting changes in the Middle East. The most recent works relate to the Arab Spring.

• In a row about Scottish arts funding, Creative Scotland apologised for inadvertently causing anxiety over changes announced to the funding regime ... More of this to come in the Guardian.

• Lots of reviews of the Simón Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela. Financial Times; the Independent; the Guardian. Love them or hate them, it's impossible to deny the impact they have on audiences.

• RIP Nora Ephron, whose real force as a feminist thinker and essayist is being appreciated, it seems, only now. All our coverage on one page. Hadley Freeman wrote a lovely thing. So did Emma Brockes. For a quick and lovely treat give yourself her Girl with a Dragon Tattoo spoof.

• For a heavenly, and very funny piece about the perils of a conductor's life, read The Worst Concert of My Life from Mikel Toms' blog.


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May 20 2012

This week's cultural highlights: The Raid and Bath festival jazz weekend

Our critics' picks of this week's openings, plus your last chance to see and what to book now

• Which cultural events are in your diary this week? Tell us in the comments below

Opening this week

Theatre

Wah! Wah! Girls
British musical meets Bollywood in new love-against-the-odds show set in the East End of London with a cast of 14, almost all British Asians and a Polish handyman. Peacock,London, Thursday to 23 June.

Posh
Laura Wade has updated her Royal Court hit to point the spotlight once again on the Oxbridge dining clubs that spawned the posh boys currently in power. Duke of Yorks theatre, London, until 4 August.

Betrayal
John Simm stars in Harold Pinter's semi-autobiographical play about an adulterous love affair. The power of the piece is that it works backwards from its bitter end to the moment the affair first sparked. Crucible, Sheffield, until 9 June.

Film

The Raid (dir. Gareth Evans)
Brilliant martial arts bulletfest from Indonesia that puts western action movies to shame. Welsh director Evans orchestrates nail-biting sequences. Out now.

Dance

The Royal Ballet Ballo Della Regina and La Sylphide
Romantic illusion and virtuosity combine in this double bill of works by George Balanchine and August Bournonville. Royal Opera House, London, in rep from Monday until 15 June.

Emio Greco/PC: Rocco
Dance is reconfigured as a boxing match in this new work from Emio Greco and Pieter C Scholten, inspired by Visconti's film Rocco and His Brothers, about a prostitute who brings trouble to the siblings. Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London , Tuesday and Wednesday.

Classical

Caligula
The British premiere of Detlev Glanert's 2005 opera based upon the play by Albert Camus. Peter Coleman-Wright is the crazed Roman emperor in Benedict Andrews's production for ENO, with Ryan Wigglesworth conducting. Coliseum, London, Friday until 14 June.

Philip Glass at 75
The latest instalment of Glasgow survey of minimalism pays a birthday tribute to one of its founding fathers, including the British premiere of his Sixth Symphony, the Kronos Quartet playing his film score to Bela Lugosi's Dracula, and the man himself giving a solo piano recital. Royal Concert Hall and City Halls, Glasgow (0141-353 8000), Thursday to Saturday.

Jazz

Arve Henriksen/Trio Mediaeval
Norwegian trumpeter Henriksen has taken the ambiguous, muted sound of Miles Davis as adapted by his fellow-countryman Nils Petter Molvaer, and given it a unique contemporary spin with the help of ingenious electronics, and a world-music perspective that includes study of the ethereal Japanese shakuhachi flute. He lends his inimitable variations to the early-music vocals and plainsong of Trio Mediaeval. Sage, Gateshead, Monday. Then touring.

Visual art

The Historical Box
Dissident American art created in the aftermath of Vietnam, 1960s performance and the feminist revolution – mangled things and angry things, from a time when art thought it could make a difference. Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly, London, Wednesday to 28 July.

Pop

Japandroids
The euphoric rock duo preview forthcoming album Celebration Rock up and down the UK. Cooler, Bristol, tonight. Then touring until 29 May.

Jay-Z and Kanye West
Superstar rappers bring their Watch the Throne collaboration to London as a forerunner for gigs in Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield next month. 02, London, tonight and tomorrow.

Last chance to see

Theatre

Making Noise Quietly
Robert Holman's exquisite triptych of mini-dramas that explores what it means to be human in a violent world. Just beautiful. Donmar, London, until Saturday.

Film

Breathing (dir. Karl Markovics)
A tremendous social-realist drama from Austria directed by actor-turned-director Markovics. An orphaned teenage criminal tries to discover his mother's identity.

Classical

The Flying Dutchman
The end of the first run of ENO's new production, much praised for Edward Gardner's conducting, and for performances by James Cresswell, Orla Boylan and Stuart Skelton. Coliseum, London , until Wednesday.

Jazz

Lynne Arriale/Benny Golson
Arriale, a quietly forceful Bill Evans-influenced American pianist with a knack for unusual interpretation and evocative composing invites legendary saxist/composer Golson (the bluesy acid-jazz favourite Killer Joe is his) into her regular Convergence Quartet. Ronnie Scott's, London, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Art

Elizabeth Price
Fetishised objects, great music, scenes in galleries – and in a drowned container ship. These are digital video installations with a hardcore hi-tech sheen from the 2012 Turner prize contender. Baltic, Gateshead, until Sunday.

Pop

The Horrors
Southend-on-Sea's post-punkers conclude the UK leg of their seemingly endless world tour. Brixton Academy, Friday.

Book now

Theatre

Fuerza Bruta
Return of the rave show from the people who brought us the legendary De La Guarda. This isn't in the same league, but if you're looking for excitement and sensation, this shouldn't disappoint.Roundhouse, London, 27 December to 26 January.

Ben Hur
An impossible feat: a stage version of the epic novel featuring sea battles, Roman orgies and chariot-racing, all on a stage the size of a postage stamp. A cast of four play 12,059 characters! Should be fun. Watermill, Newbury (01635 46044), 22 June to 28 July

Dance

Flawless and English National Ballet: Time Is of the Essence
Ballet, street dance and acrobatics test out their mutual chemistry in this new collaboration choreographed by Marlon Wallen and Jenna Lee. HMV Hammersmith Apollo, London, , 1-2 JuneThen touring.

Classical

Spitalfields summer festival
This year's associate artists are the Gabrieli Consort and Players, cellist Matthew Barley and composer Talvin Singh; plus there's a wide range of choral music, from the renaissance to the present day, with new works from Alec Roth, Huw Watkins and Nicola LeFanu. Various venues, London, 8-23 June.

Jazz

Bath festival jazz weekend
This festival always features a wide-ranging jazz weekend: this year's includes saxophonist Jason Yarde's subtle duo with pianist Andrew McCormack, Courtney Pine's genre-bending Europa, pianists Stan Tracey, Tord Gustavsen, Gwilym Simcock and Zoe Rahman, along with Manchester's acclaimed young Beats & Pieces big band. Various venues, Bath, 2-4 June.

Art

Wide Open School
A hundred artists lead courses, lectures and demonstrations open to the public. Get down and dirty with the Gelitin group, take a course in queer home economics, cook offal with Yto Barrada, learn about energy not quality with Thomas Hirschhorn. Hayward, London , 11 June-11 July.

Pop

Richard Hawley
The bequiffed son of Sheffield takes his latest album, Standing at the Sky's Edge, out for an autumn jaunt. Tour begins at Holmfirth Picture House, West Yorkshire, 16 September.


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May 17 2012

Scottish arts shakeup to concentrate funding on one-off projects

National arts agency Creative Scotland's new strategy after suffering £2.1m budget cut raises fears of a drain of talent

Dozens of Scottish arts companies and art centres are facing deep funding cuts and job losses under a radical restructuring of spending by the national arts agency Creative Scotland.

The agency's new funding strategy puts far greater emphasis on theatre groups, art centres, galleries and festivals competing against each other for subsidies for one-off projects from next April to help it cope with a £2.1m cut in its funding from the Scottish government.

Creative Scotland insists the new system will produce much sharper and more creative art, and greater collaboration between companies, but critics within the arts community believe it raises doubts about the long-term survival and strength of many of the organisations losing core funding.

They fear the uncertainty and instability of relying in future on short-term funding will lead to a drain of talent from Scotland and harm their ability to attract new talented directors and curators.

Creative Scotland said overall arts spending in Scotland was being far better protected than in England, where the Arts Council has seen swingeing funding cuts.

One of the UK's largest annual poetry festivals, the StAnza festival based in St Andrews, the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, a city now famous for its three Turner Prize winners, and the Stills contemporary photography gallery in Edinburgh are among the 49 organisations being put on short-term project funding.

Deirdre MacKenna, the director at Stills, which had got up to 60% of its funding from Creative Scotland, said: "We've no idea what the impact will be because we don't understand what it is Creative Scotland has in mind for us. [It's] all about the expertise and keeping it in the sector. [If] we undermine the capacity of the sector, you start to mess long term with its potential capacity."

Eleanor Livingston, director of the StAnza festival, said they had received significant basic funding from Creative Scotland under the now-scrapped flexible funding scheme, which allowed StAnza to stage its most ambitious programme to date in March.

"We're very disappointed that flexible funding won't continue, because we've found it extremely useful in helping StAnza develop and expand," she said.

Creative Scotland is organising a series of meetings with the affected groups to discuss the new strategy. Its executives admit it will involve pain and change for many affected groups, but it insisted that it could be extremely helpful to many companies.

The agency estimates the money available for funding arts projects in Scotland will roughly double to £15m because of a steep increase in National Lottery funding in the next few years; that will increase from £18m in 2010 to £32.3m in 2014, and again the next year.

However, the 49 "projects clients" getting short-term funding will be forced to compete on a project-by-project basis.

Venu Dhupa, the most senior of Creative Scotland's three creative directors and architect of the restructuring, conceded the shakeup would create a "more volatile environment" and require flexibility for many of the affected companies.

Dhupa said her job was to get the best possible value from public funding, but the agency would try to support the companies and ensure projects lasting for two or three years were funded where possible.

She said: "What we're trying to do is inject some energy into the ecology [of Scotland's art world] but also have some stability. We know some organisations will find it difficult to adjust to the new climate, but we will do our best to help advise them."

Creative Scotland has secured the core funding for 40 other major "foundation" organisations, such as the Edinburgh international festival, the Fruitmarket gallery in Edinburgh, Dundee Contemporary Arts, the Tramway and Citizen's theatre in Glasgow, Edinburgh's Traverse theatre and Pier Arts Centre in Orkney. Three other arts organisations, including Edinburgh Printmakers workshop, have been added to the list of foundation organisations.

A further 22 organisations have been made "annual clients", including the cutting-edge Glasgow International arts festival, the Celtic Connections music festival, Edinburgh's Festival Fringe Society, and the St Magnus music festival in Orkney.

Dhupa said the restructuring would force some companies to become more entrepreneurial and commercially-orientated to win external funding or put on more popular shows. She cited the Canadian-based theatrical circus company Cirque du Soleil and the playwright and director Robert Lepage as examples of brands which had won independent commercial success.

There would also be a greater emphasis, she said, on finding and cultivating celebrities who could be trained to promote Scotland and Scottish arts and abroad, as well as supporting and promoting volunteers and amateur artists.

• This article was amended on 18 May 2012 because it suggested Robert Lepage has a dance company; in fact he's a playwright and a stage and cinema director. The spelling of Cirque du Soleil was also corrected.


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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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Sea Odyssey's vast puppets bring more to Liverpool than the Grand National

Merseyside's recent spectacular show illustrates how street theatre and public art can attract vast crowds. The north west's industrial heritage is doing the same. Alan Sykes reports

Two new reports highlight the value of cultural tourism to the economy of the north west of England. Last month's 'Sea Odyssey' street theatre jamboree in Liverpool is reckoned to have brought in £12m in extra spending by the vast crowds which thronged the city streets. Meanwhile, an estimated £11m was spent in the last year by people visiting industrial heritage attractions throughout the region.

For 'Sea Odyssey', the city's Business Improvement District managers estimate that their core area of the city centre alone saw a footfall just shy of 1,000,000 people over that weekend – 53% more than for the Grand National a week earlier. As well as those watching the event itself, visitors poured into shops, restaurants and other attractions which saw significant rises in custom – the Walker Art Gallery was 145% up on the previous year, the Maritime Museum was up 130% and Merseytravel, who laid on an extra ferry for people wanting to watch the giants sail down the Mersey, handled an extra 143% of passengers.

Councillor Wendy Simon, Cabinet Member for Culture and Tourism at Liverpool City Council, says:

"We always knew this would be a huge weekend for the city, but 'Sea Odyssey' exceeded our expectations in terms of the crowd numbers and their reaction to the show. An independent report on the impact of Sea Odyssey is now being put together with final figures available within the next couple of months."


The city council certainly believes it got value for money for the £1.5m it cost to commission the French street theatre outfit Royale de Luxe to put on the event.


Meanwhile, a similar contribution to the region's economy, albeit in a more widespread and low key way, is claimed for the industrial heritage attractions spread throughout the area.

For the last year, Visit Manchester, working with the other tourist boards in the North West, has been managing a project called Modern History, an ERDF-funded project aimed at promoting around 100 of the North West's industrial heritage attractions, including Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, Cumbria's Honister Slate Mine and the Anderton Boat Lift in Cheshire. The research shows that mines, mills and transport systems that have been converted into visitor attractions are increasing the tourism revenue of the region. Honister, for example, which continues to produce the Westmorland green slate that was probably mined there in Roman times, now offers a via ferrata climbing path – giddily strung from a cliff-face and shortlisted for this year's Enjoy England awards - to go with the mine tours and slate sales.


The report shows that an extra 24,000 day visits and over 5000 overnight stays throughout the North West were generated by the campaign. Lisa Houghton, marketing manager for Modern History, is quoted in the Manchester Evening News saying:

The north west was instrumental in moving the world into the industrial age and the rich stories that surround this period are still relevant today – as the high visitor levels reflect. The research proves what a hard-working campaign Modern History has been and we are confident that even though the project has come to an end, it leaves a strong legacy that will continue to drive footfall to our wonderful attractions and museums for years to come.


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April 17 2012

Cultural Olympiad: but will the tower of mist be ready?

Confused by the Cultural Olympiad? With the 2012 Games just 100 days away, Alex Needham reveals the 10 things you need to know

1 Some of it's already over

The Cultural Olympiad (CO) kicked off in 2008, described by the government as "a four-year programme of cultural activity" intended to showcase the best of British art in the run-up to the Olympic Games. Some projects have launched already, like the celebrations for Charles Dickens's 200th anniversary. And one event has not only opened but closed: David Hockney's landscapes at the Royal Academy. Ruth Mackenzie, the programme director, cleverly got round this by badging it "a countdown event".

2 London is everywhere

Even to seasoned observers, the CO can be confusing. But all will become clear (hopefully) on 26 April, when the final programme will be announced for the big finale. This is called the London 2012 festival (21 June to 9 September) even though it encompasses events all over the country.

3 Why £40m might be bad news

The CO will cost around £97m. Though some projects will be screamingly high profile, they will seem like a slow night at an arthouse cinema compared to the opening and closing ceremonies. More than 1 billion people watched the 2008 opener in China. In December, David Cameron doubled the ceremonies' budget to £81m. This is either a good sign (the plans were so great they deserved even more dosh) or a very bad one (they were so awful only a £40m cash injection could save them).

4 It will feature a very big bell

Directed by Danny Boyle, the opening ceremony, on 27 July, will last four hours and has a 12,000-strong cast and crew ranging from a rumoured Paul McCartney to schoolchildren from the Olympic boroughs. The ceremony has been titled Isles of Wonder after Caliban's speech in the Tempest. At 9pm the biggest bell (27 tonnes) ever cast in Europe will toll, inspired by the one in Boyle's recent staging of Frankenstein at the National theatre. The BBC's coverage includes a skit filmed in Buckingham Palace, starring Daniel Craig as James Bond. There will be a section celebrating the NHS; one on the suffragettes; a soundtrack by Underworld; and, finally, the lighting of the Olympic torch.

5 Perfect people needn't apply

Insiders say idiosyncratic performers were chosen for ceremonies over ones with perfect looks or voices. The director has said he is aiming for the ramshackle charm of Sydney's opener rather than Beijing's epic stage-managed slickness.

6 Musicians are not amused

Masterminded by Kim Gavin, the man behind Take That's recent live extravaganzas, the closing ceremony on 12 August will include a two-and-a-half-hour "mashup" of British music. Much to the displeasure of the Musicians' Union, everything except the vocals will be pre-recorded, which the organisers have justified by blaming everything from the weather to the shape of the stadium. The Rolling Stones, Adele and the Spice Girls have all been rumoured as possible performers – but, tragically, the Sex Pistols have said no.

7 Keith Moon can't make it

The organisers also asked whether Keith Moon, the Who's drummer, was available for the closing concert, despite the fact, as his old agent explained, he died in 1978. Perhaps, like Tupac at Coachella this year, he may appear in hologram form.


8 The mist may be cancelled

The ceremonies will be as mainstream (albeit with an edge) as possible, but there will be highbrow projects, not least Birmingham Opera's staging of Stockhausen's six-hour opera Mittwoch aus Licht (Wednesday from Light). Its finale sees a string quartet performing airborne, in four separate helicopters. Olafur Eliasson's proposed artwork Take a Deep Breath, in which people record their breathing on a website, was turned down for a £1m grant after much rightwing media mockery. There is also little sign of Anthony McCall's Column, a six-mile-high tower of mist planned for Merseyside. One of 12 commissions called Artists Taking the Lead, it is still undergoing tests thanks to fears it could endanger aircraft.

The jury is also out on Martin Creed's Work No.1197: All the Bells in a Country Rung as Quickly and as Loudly as Possible for Three Minutes, which asks everyone in the UK to ring bicycle bells, doorbells and churchbells at 8am on 27 July. Spoilsports the Central Council of Bell Ringers have declared they won't be playing.

9 Aeolus, god of wind, is coming

The strand of the CO dedicated to deaf and disabled arts has received £3m and has big plans. Pointing the way to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, a project called Boomba Down the Tyne, will mashup Geordie and Brazilian culture. Comic Laurence Clark's show, Demotivational Speaker, promises to challenge perceptions of the Paralympics by asking why everyday activities are considered inspirational when disabled people do them. And a collection of disabled theatre companies will be on Weymouth beach performing Breathe, the story of Aeolus, the Olympian god of wind.


10 The Bard travels by tube

Shakespeare will be everywhere. Even if you're not going to the British Museum's Shakespeare: Staging the World, listening to the companion show on Radio 4, or watching the BBC's all-star productions (Henry IV stars Jeremy Irons and Julie Walters), you might find Mark Rylance declaiming monologues on the tube. It's all part of the World Shakespeare Festival, produced by the RSC with partners ranging from avant garde theatremakers the Wooster Group, who are putting on Troilus and Cressida, to the equally out-there dreamthinkspeak, whose "meditation on Hamlet" is titled The Rest is Silence. Amateur theatre groups all around Britain have also been invited to put on Shakespeare plays partnered with the RSC.

Then there's Globe to Globe, in which global companies perform Shakespeare's plays in their own languages – with minimal surtitles. Love's Labour's Lost will be in British Sign Language and Cymbeline in Juba Arabic, of South Sudan. So how do you say "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" in Juba Arabic? Only 100 days to go until it all kicks off and we find out.


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April 01 2012

This week's cultural highlights: Into the Abyss and Madonna

Our critics' picks of this week's openings, plus your last chance to see and what to book now

• Which cultural events are in your diary this week? Tell us in the comments below

Opening this week

Theatre

In a Garden
The Ustinov's ambitious season of modern American plays continues with the British premiere of Howard Korder's play about an American architect summoned to a Middle Eastern country to fulfil an impossible commission. Richard Beecham directs a tale of dangerous misunderstandings. Ustinov, Bath (01225 448844), Wednesday until 5 May.

Film

Into the Abyss (dir. Werner Herzog)
Werner Herzog probes the dark heart of humanity with his death-row interviews. Why do people kill?

Dance

The Royal Ballet: Mixed Bill
The Royal at their adventurous best, with new works by Liam Scarlett and Wayne McGregor, plus a revival of Wheeldon's classy, intelligent Polophonia. Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), Thursday until 23 April.

The Eifman Ballet: Anna Karenina (Tue-Weds) Onegin (Fri)
Big, passionate storytelling from this St Petersburg-based company. London Coliseum, WC2 (0871 911 0200), Tuesday until 7 April.

Classical

St John Passion
Stephen Layton's performances with his choir Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are regularly among the best of the annual crop of Easter passions; Ian Bostridge takes the role of the Evangelist this time. St John's, Smith Square, London SW1 (020-7222 1061), Friday.

Aldeburgh Easter Weekend
Beethoven is this year's focus; Elisabeth Leonskaja's performances of the last three piano sonatas are flanked by performances of the Ninth Symphony, with the Britten-Pears Orchestra conducted by Ben Parry, and Schoenberg's rarely heard choral piece Friede auf Erden providing the prologue. Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh (01728 687110), Friday to Sunday.

Jazz

Oxford Jazz festival

Lively, week-long international festival, including Swedish jazz singer Cecilia Stalin (exploring new vocal settings for classic John Coltrane themes) at the Ashmolean Dining Room on Thursday, innovative young guitarist Kristian Borring at COPA on Friday, and a full Easter weekend programme – headlined by bass star Michael Janisch's international group, the New York Standards Quartet at Oxford Playhouse on 7 April. Various venues, Oxford, 1-7 April.

Pop

The Futureheads
In the wake of their a cappella album, Rant – a pretty bold move by anyone's standards – the Futureheads embark on an acoustic and a cappella tour. Tour begins Monday, Komedia Brighton (01273 647100).

Orbital
There's something rather pleasing about the way the reformed Orbital have gone from providing a night out for disco dads to a genuine musical force once more: new album Wonky may actually be their best. Tour begins Thursday, Manchester Academy (0161-832 1111).

Visual art

Remote Control
Exploring the impact television has had on culture, this is more than just artists on the box. This huge group show channel-surfs Richard Hamilton and Richard Serra, Adrian Piper, Taryn Simon, Mark Leckey and many others, from the 60s to the present. ICA, London SW1 (020-7930 3647), Tuesday to 10 June.

Last chance to see

Theatre

Romeo and Juliet
Young, fresh, vibrant and completely heartbreaking, and you can't often say that about Shakespeare's over-familiar tale of star-crossed lovers. A memorable revival from director Robert Icke and Headlong. Hull Truck (01482 323638), until Saturday.

Film

Michael (dir. Markus Schleinzer)
This brilliant and bizarre drama, inspired by the Fritzl and Kampusch cases, shows the banal life of a paedophile. The suspense is unbearable.

Jazz

Get the Blessing
Vivacious jazz-rock band driven by Portishead's rhythm section plays mix of Ornette Coleman-influenced jazz, Morricone-like atmospherics and old-school twangy guitar rock from new OC DC album. Ronnie Scott's, London W1 (020-7439 0747), Tuesday.

Pop

Le Beat Bespoke Weekender
The Pretty Things, the Sorrows, July, the Poets and the Trashmen: if these are the kind of vintage names that excite you, then this mammoth annual mod/psych event offers nirvana. 229, London W1 (020-7323 7229), Thursday to Sunday.

Kylie Minogue
Who would have thought, 25 years ago, that Kylie Minogue might celebrate her silver jubilee by playing gigs consisting entirely of B-sides, demos and rarities? Tour ends Monday, Manchester Academy (0161-832 1111).

Visual art

Thomas Demand Model Studies
Demand photographs models of real and imagined places – this time working with rediscovered architectural models by celebrated US architect John Lautner (1911-94). Images of haunting, mysterious, decaying places. Nottingham Contemporary (0115-948 9750), until 15 April.

Book now

Theatre

Professor Vanessa's Wondershow
The era of the 1930s and 40s circus sideshow is recreated in a show that will take over the Roundhouse's main space and invite audiences to step back in time. Gawp at the headless lady and the electrifying 27,000-volt girl, and marvel at the human insect circus performers. Roundhouse, London NW1 (0844 482 8008), 23-29 April.

Wonderland
Alice gets a makeover, in an adults-only new piece from the ever-inventive Vanishing Point, which looks at what happens when a young girl leaves home in search of fame and stardom. A tale of dreams, temptations and curiosity. Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (0131-473 2000), 29 August to 1 September.

The Sunshine Boys
It's not so much Neil Simon's tale of a legendary vaudevillian double act that is the draw here as the casting, which is very tasty indeed. Thea Sharrock directs Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths in this tale of showbiz rivalries. Savoy, London WC2 (0844 871 7687), 27 April until 28 July.

Film

This Must Be the Place (dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
Paolo Sorrentino's English-language debut has Sean Penn as a retired Goth rocker living in Dublin. News about his father sends him on an American quest.

Dance

International Dance Festival Birmingham
Birmingham's month-long dance programme brings UK revivals for hit shows like Sylvie Guillem and Russell Maliphant's Push, a solo for Louise LeCavalier created by Nigel Charnock, and the premiere of a new work featuring the disabled dance virtuoso David Toole. Various venues, from 23 April until 19 May.

Classical

Einstein on the Beach
Some seats still available for the UK premiere of Philip Glass's groundbreaking stage work, in a recreation of Robert Wilson's original 1976 production. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891), 4-13 May.

Jazz

Esperanza Spalding

Charismatic young Grammy-winning vocalist/bassist Spalding brings her 12-piece band to London, showcasing songs from her April album release, Radio Music Society. With her stage presence, acoustic-bass virtuosity, graceful vocals and seamless fusion of jazz, pop and classical chamber music, Spalding has star power written all over her. Koko, London, NW1 (0870 432 5527), 28 May.

Pop

Madonna

Whether you think MDNA represents a return to classic form or a more modest achievement, Madonna's UK tour is bound to be one of the summer's biggest musical events. Tour begins 17 July, Hyde Park, London (0844 576 5483).

Visual art

Glasgow international festival of visual art
Interactive art by Jeremy Deller, Wolfgang Tillmans photographs, Richard Wright drawings, LA-based installationist Kelly Nipper at Tramway, a new film co-commissioned with Scottish Ballet by Rosalind Nashashibi, and much more, at venues throughout Scotland's funkiest city. What's not to like? Various venues, 20 April to 7 May.


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March 31 2012

Spring arts calendar 2012

From Snow White to Jack White, and Cumbria to Cannes, the Observer's critics pick the season's highlights. What are you most looking forward to? Post your comments below

Download the spring arts calendar 2012

April

2 Pop Dr John The New Orleans legend decamps to Nashville to record with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach; excellence ensues on the Locked Down LP.

4 Art Damien Hirst The world's richest living artist enjoys a major survey of more than 20 years of his work, including medicine cabinets, diamond skull and a certain preserved shark. Tate Modern, London until 9 September.

6 Film This Must Be the Place Sean Penn plays a retired rock star scouring America for the fugitive Nazi who tormented his father in Auschwitz. Paolo Sorrentino escapes from the art house in his first English-language film.

7 Theatre Where Have I Been All My Life? Following the success of London Road, her verbatim musical at the National, Alecky Blythe documents a local talent show for the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Until 28 April.

11 Art Hans-Peter Feldmann A retrospective for the German conceptual artist whose work since the 1950s has involved collecting and re-presenting everyday cultural artefacts. Serpentine Gallery, London until 3 June.

11 Dance A Streetcar Named Desire Scottish Ballet unite choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and theatre director Nancy Meckler in a new take on Tennessee Williams's psychodrama. Theatre Royal Glasgow until 14 April, and touring.

12 Theatre The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning Before he was a WikiLeaks whistleblower, Bradley Manning was a schoolboy in Wales, and this National Theatre of Wales production is staged in his old Haverfordwest school before transferring to two other Welsh venues. Until 28 April.

13 Theatre Wild Swans Jung Chang's international bestseller charting the incredible lives of three generations of women in China takes to the stage. Young Vic, London until 13 May.

16 Classical Bruckner Project Daniel Barenboim (conductor) and his Berlin Staatskapelle orchestra return to London for Bruckner's three final symphonies, 7, 8 and 9, paired with Barenboim as soloist in two Mozart piano concertos. At the Royal Festival Hall, London for three nights.

19 Dance Artifact Set to the music of Bach and danced here by the impeccable Royal Ballet of Flanders is the subversive new-dance master piece of the American choreographer William Forsythe. Sadler's Wells, London until 21 April.

20 Theatre Sea Odyssey The Sultan's Elephant entranced us in 2006; now Royal de Luxe take over Liverpool city centre with 50-foot marionettes for a street spectacular marking 100 years since the Titanic's maiden voyage. Until 22 April.

20 Art Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art More than 130 artists, including 2009 Turner prize-winner Richard Wright, show work over 18 days at this major visual art festival in Glasgow, now in its fifth edition. Until 7 May.

23 Pop Jack White Jack White's debut solo album, Blunderbuss, is every bit as tremendous as you would hope from this restless former Stripe. There's a new colour scheme – blue – and his touring outfit (coming to the UK 21-24 June) features one all-male band and an all-female counterpart. The album, though, doesn't need gimmicks to sell it. Replete with waltzes, ballads, pianos, bravura guitar solos and troublesome women, it finds the newly-divorced White on energetic, mischievous form.

25 Art Out of Focus Major show featuring 38 photographers, including Ryan McGinley, Mat Collishaw, John Stezaker and Yumiko Utsu, who challenge the received rules of the medium. Saatchi Gallery, London until 22 July.

27 Film Albert Nobbs In a role she created on stage 30 years ago, Glenn Close plays a cross-dressing hotel waiter in Victorian Dublin. Close also co-wrote the script with novelist John Banville. Both she and Janet McTeer were Oscar-nominated for the film.

28 Classical Monteverdi's Vespers 1610 The great Italian choral masterpiece associated with St Mark's, Venice takes over the galleries and balconies of Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow for full spatial effect. The Dunedin Consort hold court.

May

1 Classical Vale of Glamorgan Festival Taking place in spring not autumn for the first time, this contemporary music festival celebrates Gavin Bryars, Philip Glass at 75 and more, across several venues in Cardiff. Until 11 May.

2 Theatre The Rest is Silence Site-specific company dreamthinkspeak kick off this year's Brighton festival with a "meditation on Shakespeare's Hamlet". Expect labyrinthine adventure. Malthouse Estate Warehouse, Shoreham until 27 May.

3 Design Bauhaus: Art As Life A big show of a big school: before the Nazis closed it down, the Bauhaus led the way in defining modern architecture, design and art. Barbican, London until 10 August.

6 Pop Grimes Canadian synth darling Claire Boucher brings her Visions album – already one of the year's most talked-about – out to play in Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, London and Manchester. Until 10 May.

8 Theatre Babel Wildworks, the Cornish creators of last year's acclaimed Port Talbot production of The Passion starring Michael Sheen, stage an outdoor event inspired by the biblical story of Babel. A collaboration with four London theatres involving 500-plus people, this epic show explores what happens when the scattered tribes are called back. Caledonian Park, London N1 until 20 May.

10 Dance Snow White With costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier and music by Mahler, Angelin Preljocaj's darkly adult take on the Grimms' fairytale promises a very sophisticated pleasure indeed. Sadler's Wells, London until 12 May.

10 Pop The Great Escape This Brighton powwow has become a nigh-on unmissable appointment with every new band going. Until 12 May.

11 Film Dark Shadows In Tim Burton's film version of the camp gothic American TV sitcom, an 18th-century vampire (Johnny Depp) is unleashed on the year 1972.

12 Classical LSO and Valery Gergiev The London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev brave evening traffic to play Trafalgar Square for the first time with The Rite of Spring. "The acoustics will be a challenge," says Gergiev.

16 Film Cannes Film Festival Wes Anderson's new film Moonrise Kingdom opens the 65th festival. The Artist's silent march to Oscars success started at Cannes last year – will another winner be unearthed this time round? Until 27 May.

16 Art Bedwyr Williams: My Bad Biggest solo show to date for Williams, whose often hilarious work explores the absurdities of life in his native north Wales. At Ikon, Birmingham until 8 July.

18 Film The Dictator After Borat and Brüno – General Admiral Shabazz Aladeen. Sacha Baron Cohen's newest mock-doc character is the dictator of a fictional Middle Eastern state. Megan Fox appears as a concubine.

20 Art Photographers' Gallery Reopens London's biggest public photography gallery, recently relocated to Oxford Circus, celebrates its £8.9m facelift and extension with an Edward Burtynsky show, until 2 July.

23 Theatre Posh Laura Wade's 2010 Royal Court hit about an elitist Bullingdon Club-style dining institution at Oxford gets a West End transfer to the Duke of York's theatre, London. Until 4 August.

27 Classical King Priam A strong season at the Brighton festival (from 5 May) culminates in this rare chance to hear Tippett's King Priam in concert, performed by the Britten Sinfonia and Brighton Festival Chorus, conductor Sian Edwards.

31 Theatre Wah! Wah! Girls Love against the odds in London's East End drives Sadler's Wells' Bollywood-style musical at the Peacock theatre, directed by Kneehigh's Emma Rice. Until 23 June.

June

1 Design Serpentine Pavilion Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, the team who gave Beijing its Bird's Nest stadium, reunite to build the latest of the Serpentine's annual pavilions. Until 14 October.

1 Film Prometheus; Snow White and the Huntsman Beginning of the summer's blockbusters as Ridley Scott's hotly anticipated Alien prequel goes head-to-head with the Grimm Brothers reworking.

6 Dance Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch Month-long season of 10 works by the late, great German choreographer, each exploring a different world city. Barbican and Sadler's Wells, London. Until 9 July.

7 Classical Opera Holland Park Another mouth-watering seven-opera season opens with Lucia di Lamermoor. Also includes Gianni Schicchi, Eugene Onegin and the family-friendly Fantastic Mr Fox. Holland Park, London W8 until 4 August.

8 Pop No Direction Home New boutique festival from the End of the Road people bringing sounds to north Notts's Welbeck Estate. Richard Hawley, Gruff Rhys and Dirty Three headline. Until 10 June.

15 Film Rock of Ages This adaptation of the Broadway/West End smash, a musical constructed around rock anthems, stars a bewigged and mostly topless Tom Cruise as fictional headbanger Stacee Jaxx.

15 Pop Plan B in the Forest The Forestry Commission lures various artists into the trees every year, but urban crooner Ben Drew is probably the most surprising sylvan songsmith yet. Until 7 July.

18 Theatre Kiss Me, Kate Trevor Nunn returns to Chichester Festival theatre for its 50th anniversary, directing Cole Porter's feisty musical based on The Taming of the Shrew. Until 1 September.

19 Art Yoko Ono: To The Light Major London retrospective will include a project called Smile, in which Ono invites people worldwide to email a photograph of their own smile. Serpentine, London until 9 September.

21 Pop Bruce Springsteen The Boss has never been more pumped than on his recent album. Join his tour-cum-rally. Until 24 June

21 Theatre Lakes Alive Les Commandos Percus follow up the arrival of the Olympic torch in Windermere, Cumbria earlier that evening with On the Night Shift, a theatrical lakeside firework display set to music at Glebe recreation ground.

22 Classical Stour Music This tiny 'festival of music in East Kent' held in a beautiful church on the pilgrim route to Canterbury has lured star countertenor Andreas Scholl. Until 1 July.

22 Film Killer Joe Directed by William "The Exorcist" Friedkin, this dark, pulpy film about a murderous cop (Matthew McConaughey) was the talk of last year's Venice and Toronto festivals.

23 Pop Radio 1's Hackney Weekender Hackney's famed football fields play host to a 48-hour Premier league of pop. Jay-Z leads the roll call of international talent, with Lana Del Rey, Jack White and Azealia Banks in defence. The cream of British pop, R&B and hip-hop are represented too (Tinie Tempah, Florence Welch, Emeli Sandé). Best of all it's free. Hackney Marshes, London E9 until 24 June.

24 Pop Nicki Minaj With her Roman Reloaded LP fresh out of the blocks, hip-hop's firecracker is set to dazzle London, Birmingham and Manchester. Until 28 May.

25 Classical The Trojans Berlioz's ambitious masterpiece, conducted by Antonio Pappano and director David McVicar; starring Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Caterina Antonacci and Eva-Maria Westbroek. ROH's Olympic-season climax. Until 11 July.

25 Classical Dr Dee London premiere at ENO of Damon Albarn's masque-cum-opera about the mysterious Elizabethan magician-philosopher, directed by Rufus Norris with conductor Stephen Higgins. Until 7 July.

28 Art Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye The Norwegian artist's interest in photography and film-making is brought to the fore in this major reassessment of his work. Tate Modern, London until 14 October.

29 Film Friends With Kids In this sophisticated Allenesque New York comedy, actor Jennifer Westfeldt makes her debut as writer-director, co-starring opposite her long-time partner, Mad Men's Jon Hamm.

What are you looking forward to this spring? Post your cultural highlights in the comments section below


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Andrew Lloyd Webber calls for help to save crumbling theatres

Theatres Protection Fund to receive £125,000 from Andrew Lloyd Webber, with call for other successful writers and producers to give something back

Andrew Lloyd Webber is calling on successful producers and writers to give something back by offering financial help to ailing theatres across the country.

Lloyd Webber will announce on Monday that he will give £125,000 over the next five years to the Theatres Trust. The donation, through his foundation, will kickstart the Theatres Protection Fund, giving urgent cash for anything from repairing a leaking roof to paying for a fundraising campaign. He has also given £1m to the Architectural Heritage Fund for grade I and II listed buildings, which include some theatres.

"I'm a great lover of architecture and obviously theatres in particular," he said. "I hope my foundation's donation will help look after some of the less well-known prestigious theatres around the country and also maybe encourage other creators, writers and producers who have been lucky in the theatre, to join me in donating …

"I'm thinking of people who have made a decent living that can actually give something back. These buildings are crumbling. We don't want them ending up as lapdancing clubs or being pulled down."

Madeleine Lloyd Webber, the composer's wife and a foundation trustee, said: "Andrew has created a huge amount of millionaires in this business. There's an awful lot of people out there that are very well off thanks to live theatre."

Last week Arts Council England announced that 26 organisations are to share £114m from its new capital funding programme. With the Southbank Centre to receive £20m, the National Theatre £17.5m and the Royal Opera House £10m, there was, however, concern that the funds would support some of the most heavily subsidised arts, with London venues receiving half of the total.

Fifty-eight theatre buildings – jewels of the nation's theatrical heritage – remain "at risk". Many others have already gone, including the Borough Theatre, Wallsend, which was demolished last year. The actress Penelope Keith, a trustee of the Theatres Trust, applauded the donation: "We will now be able to offer a lifeline to theatres," she said. "There's so many around the land that were wonderful buildings that need restoring. Quite often they're in good locations and there are people waiting to pounce, knock them down and turn them into shops or whatever."

She singled out the Derby Hippodrome, a 1914 variety theatre with rich baroque plasterwork. It fell victim to vandalism, including arson, and in its state of disrepair has an uncertain future. She said: "Rather mysteriously a ball and chain happened to swing and knock into the theatre. There's no [roof] over it. It's a shell."

Acknowledging the vast capital funding involved in such causes, sometimes running into millions, she said: "Quite often they need small funds to get started. Thanks to the foundation a lot of these things we hope will now get off the ground. Theatres are so much part of a community."

Rob Dickins, chairman of the Theatres Trust, said: "Theatres have been torn down for supermarkets. These are not just 'buildings'. They have the ghosts of creativity and performance and are special for communities."


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March 25 2012

This week's cultural highlights: Roberto Fonseca and Laura

Our critics' picks of this week's openings, plus your last chance to see and what to book now

• Which cultural events are in your diary this week? Tell us in the comments below

Opening this week

Theatre

I Dreamed a Dream
SuBo is played by Elaine C Smith in this new musical based on the life of the Britain's Got Talent sensation, who has given her personal endorsement to this money-spinner – sorry, show. Theatre Royal, Newcastle (0844 811 2121), until 31 March, then touring.

Fierce festival
Birmingham gets ready for boundary-busting performances from UK and international performers, including Ann Liv Young, Playgroup and Graeme Miller. The festival takes place in unusual spaces all across the city, including the soon to be demolished library and under Spaghetti Junction. Various locations, Birmingham, Thursday to 8 April.

Film

The Hunger Games (dir. Gary Ross)
Suzanne Collins's teen bestseller is turned into an exciting dystopian thriller. Jennifer Lawrence stars.

Dance

English National Ballet: Beyond Ballets Russes
The second programme of this ambitious mix of revivals and reinventions from the great Diaghilev legend. Coliseum London WC2 (0871-911 0200), 28 March to 1 April.

New Dance Commissions
Enterprising selection of new work commissioned by ROH2 from Sarah Dowling, Laila Diallo and Freddie Opoku-Addaie. Linbury Studio Theatre, London WC2 (020-7304 4000), 29-31 March.

Classical

Parsifal
Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Opera give concert performances of Wagner's final stage work, followed in Cardiff the next day by Mahler's Eighth Symphony, and in London by Verdi's Requiem. Millennium Centre, Cardiff (029 2063 6464), Saturday. Then touring to London and Birmingham until 6 April.

Pacifica Quartet
The US group return to complete their Shostakovich cycle with the Ninth to the 15th Quartets. Wigmore Hall, London W1 (020-7935 2141), 26 and 28-29 March.

Jazz

Roberto Fonseca
The piano star and Buena Vista sideman takes Cuban jazz and dance traditions and wrenches them into new identities – mixing in electronica with familiar guitar and percussion sounds, reconnecting Cuban music to traditional and contemporary Africa, and leading a thrilling band promoting his new Yo album. Barbican, London EC2 (020-7638 8891) Monday, then touring to 1 April.

Pop

Odd Future
Overhyped or hip-hop's big hope? Perhaps the response to the controversial LA rappers' first major label album, The OF Tape 2, will decide it. Tour begins at O2 Academy, Birmingham (0121-622 8250), 28 March.

Pulp
One-off Teenage Cancer Trust gig by beloved, reconstituted national treasures. Royal Albert Hall, London SW7 (0845 4015034), 31 March.

Visual art

Gillian Wearing
Private lives and public personas, false identities and intimate confessions are at the heart of Wearing's humane and humorous art. This major survey of the Turner-prize winning artist also includes new films and sculptures. Whitechapel gallery, London E1 (020-7522 7888), 28 March to 17 June.

Last chance to see

Theatre

Democracy
Cold war politics and flawed West German chancellor Willy Brandt are examined in Michael Frayn's intelligent 2003 play, which gets a masterly revival from Paul Miller. Crucible, Sheffield (0114-249 6000), until 31 March.

Uncle Vanya
Roger Allam, Dervla Kirwan and Timothy West lead the cast in the first production of the 50th Chichester festival season. With so many West End transfers (Sweeney Tood, Singing in the Rain and The Browning Version/South Downs), Jonathan Church's outfit should be enjoying a golden 50th birthday. Minerva, Chichester (01243 781312), 30 March to 28 April.

Film

Laura (dir. Otto Preminger)
This rereleased 1940s noir classic of obsession is a must-see. A cop becomes obsessed with the memory of Laura (Gene Tierney), a murdered ad executive.

Classical

The Rake's Progress
A brief run for David McVicar's coolly stylish new production for Scottish Opera, with Edgaras Montvidas as Tom Rakewell and Steven Page as Nick Shadow. Festival Theatre, Edinburgh (0131-529 6000), on 27, 29 and 31 March.

Jazz

Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet
Young American trumpeter Akinmusire made waves in 2011 for the remarkable purity of his tone, coupled with a punchy American postbop feel laid down by a powerful band of long-time friends. Another original, UK pianist Robert Mitchell, shares this tour. Ronnie Scott's, London W1 (020-7439 0747), 26 March, then touring until 29 March.

Pop

Feist
Canadian singer-songwriter is fantastic live, exploring darker, bleaker waters on recent album Metals. Tour ends 27 March at Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow (0844 847 2487).

Pokey LaFarge
Acclaimed St Louis country-blues and string-band revivalists do not exactly reinvent the wheel, but are a treat on stage. Tour ends at Concorde 2, Brighton (01273 673311), 28 March.

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Theatre

What the Butler Saw
Sean Foley directs a revival of Joe Orton's dark farce, a Freudian nightmare involving cross-dressing, perversion and Sir Winston Churchill's penis. Omid Djalili plays Dr Rance, the government official sent to investigate dodgy dealings at a private psychiatric clinic. Vaudeville, London WC2 (0844 412 4663), 4 May to 25 August.

2008: Macbeth
Grzegorz Jarzyna's version of Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis was a wonder, and now he and Poland's TR Warszawa return to the Edinburgh international festival with a contemporary take on Shakespeare's play set in the Middle East. Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston (0131-473 2000), 11-18 August.

Gulliver's Travels
Romanian director Silviu Purcarete's production of Faust was quite something, certainly memorable for its excesses if not its content. Now EIF gets the premiere of his new version of Jonathan Swift's savage political satire. King's Theatre, Edinburgh (0131-473 2000), 17-20 August.

Film

Into the Abyss (dir. Werner Herzog)
Werner Herzog probes the dark heart of humanity and society with his death-row interviews. Why do people kill?

Dance

Royal Ballet of Flanders: Artifact
A rare UK showing for the first work created by William Forsythe when he was appointed director of the Frankfurt Ballet. Back in 1984, it set down a clear marker of Forsythe's postmodern ambitions, and it still looks subversive today. Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0844 412 4300), from 19 April.

Classical

Bow Down
The Opera Group and London Sinfonietta combine for Frederic Wake-Walker's new production of Harrison Birtwistle and Tony Harrison's hauntingly unclassifiable 1980s theatre piece. Brighton festival, (01273 709709), 17-18 May; Norfolk and Norwich festival (01603 766400), 20-21 May.

Jazz

Cheltenham jazz festival
Guest director Jamie Cullum curates an all-star international jazz lineup, with artists including former Miles Davis producer/bassist Marcus Miller, guitarist Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers trio, a new Radio 3 commission for UK piano giant John Taylor, cutting-edge US pianist Vijay Iyer with radical saxophonist Steve Lehman, a showcase for new musicians from Norway and much more. Montpellier Gardens, Gloucestershire (0844 880 8094), 2-7 May.

Pop

The Charlatans
Tim Burgess's Lambchop-assisted second solo album is more hotly anticipated than you might expect, but at these gigs the Charlatans play their Britpop-era hit album Tellin' Stories. Tour begins 8 June at Hammersmith Apollo, London (0844 844 4748).

Visual art

Hans-Peter Feldmann
Feldmann is a collector of everything from the contents of women's handbags to the views from hotel rooms, seascapes and snatched moments. The Dusseldorf-born artist is part installationist, part joker, part archaeologist of the fleeting moment. Serpentine Gallery, London W2 (020-7402 6075), 11 April to 3 June.


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