Play Jerusalem By Jez Butterworth, dir Ian Rickson. Royal Court Theatre, 10th July-15th August, Tel: 020 7565 5000, from £10
Jez Butterworth has had an odd career since Mojo made his name at the Royal Court in 1995 and was subsequently filmed with Harold Pinter, Butterworth’s hero, in the cast. The film Birthday Girl (2001), starring Nicole Kidman, which Butterworth wrote and directed, was a sex enslavement thriller that misfired badly, while his latest movie, Fair Game, which he wrote and produced, is shooting with Sean Penn. Just turned 40, Butterworth’s theatre reputation has come into sharper focus this year with Parlour Song, a fine play of suburban strangeness and romantic betrayal at the Almeida. Now a new play—his fourth at the Court—directed by Ian Rickson and starring the peerless Mark Rylance alongside Mackenzie Crook, (gormless Gareth in The Office), promises another poetic conjunction of urban displacement and rural myth-making.
Not many playwrights since Shakespeare have tried to depict the intellectual and spiritual conflict between countryside and city manners to the extent that Butterworth has. Jerusalem, set on the morning of a county fair on St George’s day, takes a reading of national disaffections through the story of Johnny Byron, a character the playwright describes as a modern Pied Piper cast adrift on a sea of drugs and alcohol, threatened with an eviction order and a serious kicking from his mates.
This role should suit the maverick side of Rylance’s talents; he was the best Hamlet of his generation and an inspired artistic director of the Globe theatre. Director Rickson specialises in expressing the poetic hinterland of Butterworth’s writing and, with Crook also on board (he played Konstantin in Rickson’s naggingly elegiac revival of Chekhov’s The Seagull), the scene seems set fair for an intriguing and provocative contemporary drama. Michael Coveney is a theatre critic for whatsonstage.com
Art Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design V&A, 14th July-18th October, Tel: 0207 942 2000, www.vam.ac.uk; free
You might have thought we would hear less about the much-vaunted design economy in these chastened times. This V&A show, however, chooses to focus not on the sleek mainstream, where design aspires to furnish “Cool Britannia,” but on contemporary design’s most eccentric outpost, design art. The objects in this show—wardrobes, chairs, consoles, lanterns, chandeliers, tables, sofas, mirrors, vases and even bathtubs—take function as merely the starting point for extended forays into fantasy, history and cultural anthropology. The pieces are called design because they are dreamed up by trained designers and masquerade as household objects, but they operate as art—provoking thought, exciting our imaginations, joking, seducing and terrifying by turns. You can be charmed by Tord Boontje’s Fig Leaf wardrobe (above), marvel at Maarten Baas’s charred mirror or Vincent Dubourg’s Napoléon à Trotinette console, or shudder at Kelly McCallum’s gold maggots in a stuffed fox’s ear.
Rather than prototypes for industrial production, these unorthodox objects are turned out in ones or twos or threes, often by hand, sometimes requiring the collaboration of teams of craftsmen. They cock a snook at many of modernism’s most cherished beliefs about ornament (“baubles, charming entertainment for a savage,” as Corbusier had it), economy and mass production. Instead, they embrace irony, excess and idiosyncrasy, and command a high price. The show was conceived because the commercial market for these pieces has been growing substantially in recent years. But even in a recession, for those who cannot afford to buy, only to gaze, this exhibition usefully reminds us of a parallel history of taste, previously explored in the V&A’s “Baroque” exhibition, which runs sweetly alongside the austerities of minimalism, and is ready to break out anew at the first sign of affluence.
Emma Crichton-Miller is an arts writer
The Manchester International Festival Various venues, 2nd-19th July, Tel: 0161 238 7300, www.mif.co.uk
The programme at the second Manchester International Festival is so remarkable—Steve Reich, Kraftwerk, Zaha Hadid (below), and Marina Abramovic on just the first two days—that director Alex Poots has surely made a pact with the devil. The festival has gathered its all-star cast by commissioning only new work (a rarity in this world of artistic regurgitation) and by targeting artists with the power to lend cultural capital to a city still undergoing regeneration. No less than “20 world premieres” are billed, including Neil Bartlett’s theatrical critique of our bingo-loving nation, Everybody Loves A Winner, and conspiracy filmmaker Adam Curtis’s “haunted house walkthrough” which captures the rise of American power during the 1960s to music by Damon Albarn. With so much new work in one place, critical casualties are likely, but risk-taking is central to MIF’s appeal.
The stakes are particularly high for singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, whose first opera Prima Donna debuts here after being commissioned in 2006 and then rejected by the Metropolitan Opera. Partly inspired by an archive interview with Maria Callas, it relates an ageing opera singer’s struggle with new love and fading talent. Wainwright has written his score for a large orchestra (provided by Opera North) and penned the libretto in French, promising big romantic themes and “good old tunes.” A self-confessed opera buff, he has spent years on the project, and one can only applaud his ambition and insouciance over the prospect of a flop (tickets are still available). Yet this spirit of experimentation, shared by many of the artists here, will almost certainly rank Manchester among Britain’s most intrepid cultural events.
Nick Crowe is a music writer
35 Shots of Rum On general release from 10th July
No one in cinema has shown us black male beauty more admiringly than Claire Denis, who for my money is currently the world’s finest woman filmmaker. Ever since her 1988 debut Chocolat, the French director has often turned to such talented and fine-looking African and Afro-Caribbean actors as Isaach De Bankolé and Alex Descas. In Denis’s new film, 35 Shots of Rum, Descas plays Lionel, a widower of few words whose life as a train driver runs to a satisfying routine: he has the camaraderie of his colleagues (more like the group fun of cops in The Wire than the staged discourse of a Ken Loach film), and the doting love of his teenage daughter, Josephine (Mati Diop). But necessary change is looming: Lionel’s closest friend is being retired against his wishes; he is aware that his tight bond with Josephine must be loosened, yet he’s anxious about her friendship with Noe (Gregoire Colin), the music-biz boy who lives upstairs, while also gently trying to deflect the yearning of his ex-girlfriend and neighbour, Gabrielle (Nicole Dogue).
Descas’s performance makes a marvellous contemplative rock of Lionel, and Denis’s portrait of this ad-hoc family group mixes the smooth sweetness of the title’s tipple with the bluesy melancholy that touches many of her films. 35 Shots of Rum is a relatively conventional movie compared to the elliptical impressionism of Denis’s last, The Intruder, but I can’t think of a director who more thrillingly captures the language of look and gesture, aided as she is by the subtlety of her brilliant cinematographer, Agnes Godard. Some of that delicacy might be missed on DVD, so catch it at the cinema if you can.
Nick James is the editor of Sight & Sound
Wynton Marsalis Barbican, 24th July, Tel: 020 7638 4141, www.barbican.org.uk, from £25
Wynton Marsalis is a spellbinding virtuoso trumpet-player, a considerable band-leader, and no mean composer. He’s also the keeper of the keys of the jazz tradition, a man who fights tirelessly for old-fashioned values of craft and “swing.” As head of the Lincoln Centre Jazz programme he has the most powerful position anywhere in the jazz world—a fact which causes much resentment among his numerous critics. Many jazz musicians feel that cleaving to the values of the swing era is foreign to the entire spirit of the form, and t he idea that it should always be “the sound of surprise.” For rap artists like Incarnate he’s beyond the pale, a sellout to the white establishment.
On 24th July Marsalis brings the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra to the Barbican Centre. The line-up—his supporters say—offers a rebuttal to those who conversely think Marsalis sidelines white players, or players from outside the mainstream. Pianist Chano Dominguez brings a sharp tang of flamenco to the ensemble, while the horn section includes Scottish ex-pat Joe Temperley. But a “Spanish vein” has been part of jazz since the days of Joe Oliver, and Temperley, fine player though he is, is hardly radical. Which isn’t to say this gig will be a retreading of old ground. Marsalis is keenly aware that jazz has to renew itself—but for him the renewal has to come from within the tradition. In a world that has less and less time for tradition—while worshipping “roots”—Marsalis’s crusade seems peculiarly lonely, and endlessly fascinating.
Ivan Hewett is the Telegraph’s music critic