Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell in Seven Psychopaths
Theatre In the Republic of Happiness Royal Court, 6th December to 19th January Martin Crimp is a lurking playwright. His characters lurk in the margins of misery. And his reputation lurks in the wings of expectancy, even after all these years. A play such as Attempts on Her Life(1997), which challenged conventions of theatrical form and narrative, has become a modern classic in Europe and a touchstone text in contemporary theatre studies.
Crimp’s latest is a dystopian triptych for Christmas with an unseasonal twist. In the first part, a family gathering is interrupted by a sudden arrival; in the second, there’s a reality TV take on our runaway confessional culture; and then, in the third, the characters’ identities become fluid and things get very strange.
Crimp is an expert in the insecurities of modern speech, with his own special line in taut atmospheres and ensemble patterns. He’s a genuine experimentalist, sometimes infuriatingly obtuse, but always fascinating. He should be well served, not only by director Dominic Cooke and mesmeric designer Miriam Buether, but also by a top cast including the emerging star of our subsidised stage, Michelle Terry. Michael Coveney
Classical Philip Glass at 75 Barbican, 14th to 15th December
America’s legendary minimalist composer turned 75 this year, and the Barbican is marking the occasion with a mini(malist) festival, giving us a rare opportunity to look back over four decades of experimental music- making. The venue already brought us Glass and Wilson’s opera-meditation Einstein on the Beach back in May, and now it’s the turn of the composer’s music for film and small ensemble.
On 14th December, Godfrey Reggio’s cult classic Koyaanisqatsi—a cinematic “tone poem” whose visual music is the landscape of contemporary America—will be screened to the live accompaniment of Glass’s score. Ascetic restraint collides with the sensuous textures of voices and both natural and synthesised instruments to create an immersive sonic wonderland.
On the Saturday, 15th December, the Philip Glass Ensemble—the best specialist exponents of the composer’s work—will take the lead in a concert that assembles a collage of Glass’s music. The phasing, echoing patterns of Music in 12 Parts, will sit alongside the popular Glassworks, excerpts from chamber opera The Photographer and Glass’s soundtrack to 1998 film The Truman Show. It’s a programme that makes clear the astonishing debt we owe to Glass. Without him our contemporary electronica, dance music, film and even computer game soundtracks would sound very different. Alexandra Coghlan
Art Opening of the Dr Susan Weber Gallery for furniture V&A, from 1st December
Up in an airy attic, beside the restored ceramics galleries, the Victoria & Albert Museum will this December open its first gallery dedicated solely to furniture. The Dr Susan Weber Gallery, part of the museum’s ambitious redevelopment, will present more than 200 pieces, some which have not been on show for over 30 years. Taken together, they will illustrate 600 years of thinking about how we sit, eat, store and sleep.
They include major works of decorative art: a medieval casket from northern Europe showing scenes from Tristan and Isolde; a painted corner cupboard made by Chippendale for the legendary 18th century actor David Garrick; a 300-year-old Mexican bureau-bookcase covered in mother of pearl. Heroes of modernism such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Eileen Gray, Marcel Breuer and the Eames brothers are represented, as well as less easily characterisable geniuses, such as Italian Carlo Mollino, whose Arabesque table was partly inspired by a surrealist drawing of a woman’s back. Emma Crichton-Miller
Film Seven Psychopaths On release from 7th December
Martin McDonagh’s latest film, Seven Psychopaths, is the follow-up to his cult hitmen-on-holiday comedy, In Bruges. Set in LA, this begins like the kind of movie-about-movies favoured by Charlie Kaufman before swerving into genre territory like a truck whose brakes have failed. Colin Farrell is Marty, a screenwriter who needs a good idea to reverse his fortunes. When his best friend Billy, an actor and part-time dognapper, steps in to help by stealing a dog belonging to a vicious LA gangster, Marty is up to his neck in “material” for his screenplay, usefully entitled “Seven Psychopaths.”
Bringing a playwright’s ear to the dialogue and an ironist’s point of view to the plot, McDonagh is sufficiently steeped in popular movie culture for him to warrant the accolade of the Thinking Man’s Tarantino. Consequently the baggage brought to the screen by the likes of Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken is more of a help than a hindrance. A black comedy with industrial quantities of gore, Seven Psychopaths might lack the roguish charm of In Bruges but it still manages to mix together different genres with insolent flair. Neil Norman
Podcast Social Science Bites Available on iTunes now
The format is simple: short interviews with academics about a subject in the social sciences. From Robert Shiller on behavioural economics and Richard Sennett on co-operation, to less familiar thinkers such as Avner de-Shalit on whether some cities have a distinct “spirit,” Social Science Bites is an accessible introduction to a field that tackles some of the biggest issues of our time. While some interviewees are more engaging than others, the questions remain intelligent and pleasingly sceptical, often pre-empting one’s own “but what about?” objections.
More than a series of individually interesting episodes, these podcasts add up to an enquiry into the nature of social science itself. What connects fields as diverse as anthropology, economics and sociology, and in what sense is the subject really a science? For the beginnings of an answer, start with one of the best episodes so far: the interview with genial polymath Rom Harré. David Wolf