Six cultural events to check out this month, from star-gazing to Kafka-esque cabaretby Prospect / November 16, 2011 / Leave a comment
We Have a Pope: the new comedy from Italian director Nanni Moretti is a gentle, subtle film rather than a savage satire about Catholicism
Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Painter Victoria & Albert Museum, 11th December-4th March, Tel: 020 7942 2000
The 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore’s birth this year has seen a resurgence of interest in his work. Yet two of his most prominent champions, Amartya Sen and Amit Chaudhuri, have complained that his poems—written in Bengali and difficult to translate—are under-read in the west.
Unlike his poetry, Tagore’s paintings do not suffer from the language barrier; he even declined to give them titles. An exhibition opening at the Victoria & Albert Museum in December offers another approach to this extraordinary figure, who had already won the Nobel prize for literature when he took up painting in his sixties.
Tagore’s early sketches—doodles he drew around the crossed-out words and revisions on his manuscripts—are some of his most immediate works. They show fantastical creatures, which he would later describe in a typically poetic fashion: “a bird that can only soar in dreams” or “a probable animal that had unaccountably missed its chance of existence.”
On loan from Visva-Bharati University, many of the paintings on show have never been displayed outside India, where Tagore’s work has been a major influence on artists such as Jamini Roy and Eleena Banik. This exhibition, one of only a handful in Britain since the 1930s, is a rare chance to appreciate Tagore first-hand.
Aloe Blacc On tour nationwide from 3rd December
The soul revival has been going for the best part of a decade but it still turns up the occasional star. Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins III (aka Aloe Blacc) of Orange County started life as a rapper and then worked for the consultancy Ernst & Young. After being laid off he returned to music and was briefly hyped as the “voice of the recession” with the release of his modern-day dustbowl anthem “I Need A Dollar” earlier this year. His album Good Things abounds with songs about honourable, blue-collar endeavour and hardship, the lyrical offspring of Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield. The music shimmers with 1960s horns, slick beats and Friday night glamour, providing the kind of spiritual uplift that only soul can bring.
On stage Blacc is a master of ceremonies, particularly fond of call-and-response with the crowd, and looks better in a bow tie than his British rapper-turned-soul-star counterpart Plan B. A word of warning, however: alarmingly accomplished dancers lurk at these gigs. Blacc parts the crowd like Moses parting the Red Sea, clearing a makeshift arena for people to show off their moves. “Right here in the middle / Open up just a little,” he commands. “Now if you’d like to dance / This is your chance!”
The Animals and Children Took to the Streets National Theatre,7th December-3rd January, Tel: 020 7452 3000
With one elegantly gloved hand holding a gin in a Weimar cabaret club and the other quietly disposing of a kitten under the table, British theatre company 1927 puts the noir in black and white, and slips the arsenic into the Wedgwood teacup.
The ensemble’s blend of music hall, theatre, animation and old-fashioned storytelling (all delivered in cut glass English accents) made them the toast of the 2007 Edinburgh fringe festival, and awards and international tours followed. Four years on they are making the journey from their previous home at the Battersea Arts Centre to the National’s Cottesloe Theatre.
The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is a Christmas show for those who would rather stay at home and read Kafka than take in a pantomime. When Agnes Eaves and her little daughter Evie arrive in the stinking, sprawling world of the Bayou Mansions, determined to rehabilitate its feral children with a simple cocktail of “love, encouragement and collage,” they soon discover that the city’s mayor has an altogether more sinister solution in mind.
Paul Barritt’s animations melt with syncopated precision into the live action of Suzanne Andrade and Lillian Henley’s music, creating a stylish show that smuggles in a stiletto blade among its silken skirts.
An Evening with the Stars Royal Observatory Greenwich, various December dates, Tel: 020 8312 6608
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars with a cup of cocoa while a friendly astronomer teaches us how to squint up at the night sky—as Oscar Wilde might have said had he dropped by the Royal Observatory this December.
The black winter skies are the perfect backdrop for spying the Andromeda galaxy, the most distant object visible to the naked eye, and the North Star. But how to know which is which? Included is a planetarium show—a crash course in cosmic orienteering—and a guided stroll outside, by which time you should be able to distinguish between Jupiter and a charter to Gatwick. The highlight is the chance, cloud cover permitting, to put your lashes to the lens of the giant telescope housed in the observatory’s dome and gawp where royal astronomers like Flamsteed have gawped before.
This is an opportunity not to be missed. Why? Because amateur astronomy is one of those things you have to do before you die, so that you can settle cheerfully in your grave truly cognisant of how inconsequential your existence has been.
We Have a Pope On release from 2nd December
Two greats of European cinema—Nanni Moretti, director of the 2006 Berlusconi-baiting Il Caimano, and Michel Piccoli, a screen veteran who once starred with Brigitte Bardot in Le Mépris—unite for a comedy about the papacy. Since Moretti and Piccoli are both outspoken left-wing artists, this sounds like a recipe for an easy satire about the Catholic church. Instead, We Have a Pope is a gentle, subtle offering—think The King’s Speech, but in the Vatican.
The Pope, played by Piccoli, is a depressed old man, so resentful about his recent appointment that he refuses to appear on the balcony following the plumes of white smoke and the traditional announcement, “Habemus papam.”
After his wails of terror are heard by thousands of the faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square, a psychiatrist, Professor Brezzi (Moretti), is employed to get to the bottom of the new Holy Father’s troubles. Brezzi’s treatments include ball-game tournaments and quasi-group therapy where all the cardinals listen in on the Pope’s would-be private psychiatric consultation. In a world of repression and conformity, emotions begin to come out as Moretti allows the humanity and humility of his characters to rise above the scandals of recent years.
BBC Radio 3 presents… Fifty Modern Classics Available now on iTunes
Difficult. When approaching the world of modern classical music, the word is impossible to escape. Commentators have even turned to neuroscience to explain listeners’ abiding antipathy to Schoenberg and his musical offspring. “Audiences hate modern classical music because their brains cannot cope,” declared one broadsheet in 2010.
But here comes BBC Radio 3 to the rescue. Fifty Modern Classics is a series of podcasts running until next summer, which offers a weekly primer in the finest works composed between 1950 and 2000—from Pierre Boulez’s spidery Le Marteau sans maître to Steve Reich’s haunting piece for string quartet and tape Different Trains. Each episode is a lovingly produced ten- minute documentary, which pushes aside dutiful biographical set-ups and makes straight for the music.
The commentary, which comes from experts and well-known admirers of the work (mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, novelist Mark Haddon, and electronica maestro Matthew Herbert have all popped up so far), combines authority with enthusiasm. Where else would you hear a phrase like “this unbelievably exciting piece of Dutch post-minimalism” (presenter Tom Service’s description of Louis Andriessen’s 1976 work De Staat)? Like all the best podcasts, Fifty Modern Classics is intimate and informative. Cast off your preconceptions and start downloading now.