This week, it’s all about the arts and culture…
1. Last Sunday, the nominees for this year’s Olivier Awards were announced. You can read the full list of nominations here, but I’m particularly interested to see which play wins ‘Best Revival’, a particularly strong category with two nominations for the Young Vic (A Streetcar Named Desire and A View from the Bridge) and one for the Old Vic (The Crucible). Ivo van Hove seems sure to walk away with the Best Director award, and Mark Strong the Best Actor (both for A View from the Bridge). I am surprised, however, that Helen McCrory wasn’t nominated for her brilliant turn as Medea in the National Theatre’s production, but perhaps with Kristin Scott Thomas being nominated for another tragic Greek heroine – Electra – it meant there wasn’t space for another. I haven’t seen Taken At Midnight, for which Penelope Wilton is nominated, but, having seen the other three Best Actress-nominated performances, the award surely has to go to Gillian Anderson who was simply superb as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. The winners will be announced on 12th April.
2. In other theatre news of a very different nature, on Friday a huge fire broke out at the Battersea Arts Centre, one of the city’s most-loved venues. Much of the building has been destroyed. You can read a message from the theatre’s Artistic Director here, and if you want to donate to the fund to rebuild the theatre, you can do so here.
3. This week, the longlists for two major literary prizes were announced. The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction celebrates the best in writing by women from around the world. I’ve read a depressingly small number of titles on this year’s longlist (which you can read here), so I’m certainly not in a position to say whether there are any glaring omissions, and having judged a literary prize I know how difficult it is to whittle all the submitted books down to a longlist. But, of those I haven’t yet read, I particularly want to read Ali Smith’s How To Be Both and Rachel Cusk’s Outline. The shortlist is announced on 13th April and the winner on 3rd June.
The second literary prize that announced its longlist this week was the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Again, I’ve read very few titles on the list, though I do have a copy of Haruki Murakami’s Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which I’m sure I’ll get around to at some point, and the German writer Jenny Erpenbeck is rightly celebrated worldwide, so I’m sure her latest novel The End of Days is one of the favourites to win. The Investigation by Korean author Jung-myung Lee also sounds interesting. The shortlist is announced in April and the winner in May.
4. It feels as though there isn’t much that’s particularly good on television at the moment (though I’m watching neither Poldark nor Indian Summers, so I suppose I could be missing out). The only programme that has me completely gripped recently is Hostages, an Israeli drama that has been showing on BBC4 on Saturday evenings. A surgeon and her family are held captive in their own home by a group of masked intruders. The surgeon is due to perform an ordinary operation on the Israeli prime minister: if she and her family wish to remain unharmed, she must ensure the prime minister dies on her operating table. As some have noted, Hostages really isn’t the most plausible of dramas, but it does make for utterly compelling viewing, probably due in no small part to the fact that each episode is only around half an hour long, and the ensemble cast give excellent performances. (As an aside, I remember trying the American version which aired a year or so ago and starred the brilliant Toni Collette, but I only lasted for an episode or two. It seems that American remakes of brilliant foreign dramas [see also The Killing and The Tunnel] just aren’t a patch on the original.) If you’re not yet watching Hostages, all the episodes are still available on BBC iPlayer, though given the series finished last night, you’d best watch them within the next few weeks.
5. In more television news, I was interest to read that the Oscar-winning actor William Hurt has signed up for ITV’s thirteen-part adaptation of the epic Old English poem, Beowulf. Clearly Hollywood stars still believe television offers them greater opportunities than film. Filming on the drama is scheduled to begin later this month, but no transmission date has yet been announced.
6. The BFI Flare Festival, celebrating the best in queer cinema from around the world, returns to London from 19-29 March. I’ve read many excellent reviews of The Duke of Burgundy, the latest film by Peter Strickland, which stars Sidse Babett Knudsen of Borgen fame, and The New Girlfriend, a French film directed by the celebrated François Ozon.
7. This week I’ve been listening to Rebel Heart, by the woman everyone loves to hate: Madonna. She’s probably the artist who’s worked the hardest over the past thirty years to remain contemporary and relevant, releasing very different albums throughout her career, many of which have been critical (yet not commercial) failures. On this latest album, the list of collaborators proves she’s down with the kids: Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Diplo, Avicii. But in 2015 it’s often just too hard to marry the woman we can see with the music and words that make up some of her songs; given that Madonna is now in her fifties, it’s unsurprising that the songs on the album that work best aren’t the ones where she’s clearly overstretching herself in her desire to keep up. Of course she doesn’t want to consign herself to the scrapheap of pop, but she should have more confidence in those songs (e.g. ‘Joan of Arc’, ‘Ghosttown’) that are more personal, more reflective, more vulnerable, otherwise she risks coming across as a ridiculous caricature of her former self. Rebel Heart features a number of contemporary dance numbers, which Madonna has favoured on her recent albums, from the solid opening track ‘Living for Love’ to the dizzyingly frenetic ‘Bitch I’m Madonna’ to, perhaps the best, ‘Iconic’ (which, oddly, features Mike Tyson). The lyrics veer from traditional Madonna – that mixture of striking (or shocking, depending on your opinion) images of Catholicism in an unholy union with those of a graphic sexual nature (‘Holy Water’) – to those that feel more personal, drawn from her divorce (‘HeartBreakCity’) or breakups. Then there are those that you just don’t want to listen to again (‘Body Shop’). The album’s title hints at its own internal struggle: Madonna the rebel, or the synthetic creation, with Madonna the heart, the fifty-something woman. Madonna’s not quite there with Rebel Heart, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction, and a much stronger album than the previous, MDNA.
8. I finished reading Adult Onset, the latest novel by Canadian author Ann-Marie MacDonald this week. Like MacDonald’s previous novels, Adult Onset draws heavily on the author’s own life, and MacDonald has referred to the writing of it in interviews as like performing open heart surgery on herself. That gives you some idea of what the experience of reading it is like. Set over the course of a week in the life of Mary Rose MacKinnon, a 48-year-old mother of two small children whose wife is away working, MacDonald explores the sheer monotony and difficulty of parenthood, particularly when dealing with small children alone. We see Mary Rose at breaking point, wondering why she signed up for the life of a 1950s housewife. Parenting has also forced Mary Rose to confront the trauma (both physical and emotional) of her own childhood, and to examine how the scars she bears inform her relationship with her parents, and the way she chooses to parent her children. Other novels have grappled with similar issues – the struggle of women to have it all, to cope, to conform to all the pressures of 21st century society – but in Adult Onset MacDonald brilliantly marries the academic nature of these discussions with the intensely personal, private hell of one woman who is just trying to get through the day without lashing out. Adult Onset is a challenging novel that forces the reader into a difficult place, but it’s difficult not to be full of admiration for an author so bold and incisive, and it’s always a cause for celebration to have an important addition to LGBT literature.
(I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Ann-Marie for the LGBT radio show Out In South London, so do listen to the show at 6.30pm on Tuesday 7th April to hear her talking about all the issues she raises in her novel, and what it was like to write something so personal.)
Categories: On My Mind . . .