Prospect recommends: September

Six cultural events to check out this month, from art in Selfridges to Puccini's greatest opera
August 24, 2011

John Burningham: An Illustrated JourneyThe Fleming Collection, London W1, 13th September-22nd December, Tel: 020 7042 5730

Whether it is because, as he jokes, he has a mental age of five, or because his work is the rare product of an especially sweet imagination and an unorthodox childhood, John Burningham is one of Britain’s finest children’s authors. Your favourite Burningham may be Mr Gumpy’s Outing, or perhaps Granpa. I have too many to list.

It is his illustrations for Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, however, that inspired this exhibition at the former corporate collection of Fleming’s Bank (founded by the Bond author’s grandfather), which has become a foundation for Scottish art. The now, alas, wingless model of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which Burningham created will hang from the ceiling.

Among other previously unseen archive material, the show includes sketches Burningham made of the tough Govan district of Glasgow, which won him a place at art school; his charming early posters for London Transport also appear. With their inventive use of collage, paint, and plasticine modelling, these pieces are already suffused with the mixture of poetry, wistfulness and humour that animates all his illustration.

Now 75, Burningham is still drawing. This is your chance to revisit the dream-like world he has spent so many years creating.

Emma Crichton-Miller


AttenbergOn release from 2nd September

This eccentric comedy of manners from Greece is the sparkling debut of director Athina Rachel Tsangari, one of the group of film-makers that brought us the bizarre Dogtooth last year. If the financial crisis doesn’t bring down the Greek film industry, Tsangari will be a director to watch.

The main character Marina, played by the winsome Ariane Labed, is a naive young woman living in a small industrial city. She spends her evenings watching the documentaries of David Attenborough (mispronounced “Attenberg”) with her disaffected father. Having neglected Marina’s education, the father is now dying, because, he says, he’s “boycotting the 21st century.” In reaction, Marina decides to reacquaint herself with humanity, persuading her friend Bella to teach her how to kiss and cuddle, in scenes that veer from funny to awkward and back again. The friends also stroll about the grounds of Bella’s apartment block, striking poses and doing daft walks.

It may sound like Restoration comedy meets Monty Python, but deadpan acting prevents the film from sliding too far into whimsy. Made before the Greek economy crumbled, Attenberg conveys the feeling of living in a purposeless town with too much time and too few prospects.

Nick James


La La La Human StepsSadler’s Wells, 28th September-1st October, Tel: 0844 412 4300

Since its inception in 1980, the Montreal-based company La La La Human Steps has challenged the rules of dance. French-Canadian founder Édouard Lock, together with his first muse, Louise Lecavalier, pushed at the limits of the human body. Dancers worked at speeds that turned their limbs into a blur while hurling themselves through sequences that would give pause to experienced stuntpeople. Achingly fashionable, Lock’s company was courted by the likes of David Bowie and Frank Zappa.

Three decades on, Lock is still pushing. Lecavalier started her own troupe in 2006, but her wild spirit lives on in the company. Lock’s latest work, which has no title, conflates Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas with Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Composer Gavin Bryars deconstructs the music (with Blake Hargreaves) and reinvents it in much the same way as he did with Tchaikovsky in his 2007 work for the company, Amjad, which fused Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.

Shrouded in darkness from which the dancers appear and disappear like wraiths, the new work delivers Lock’s traditionally fierce tango-like duos, trios and quartets with a deeper exploration of classical steps. Stabbing pointwork at double speed, spins that would make a whirling dervish dizzy and sword-thrust arabesques are all conveyed with a cool and fractured lyricism.

As if that weren’t enough, Lock’s 11 virtuoso dancers will be joined by Mariinsky star Diana Vishneva, one of the world’s greatest ballerinas. Expect kinetic classicism; expect ascetic drama. Expect the unexpected.

Neil Norman


+by Ed Sheeran (Atlantic, 12th September)

When something feels very “now” it often means you’re looking at the future. Ed Sheeran and his captivating brand of folk/R&B are beamed to us from a record industry five years hence, where all pop stars are invented on Twitter, look and sound like confident buskers and could fit their tour kit into a spongebag. The 20 year old from Suffolk has put in 600 live performances over the last three years and released nine online EPs. Until recently he hadn’t made a penny, of course—the video for his hit single “The A Team” famously cost £20.

Sheeran’s first full-length album combines a kind of organic R&B (vocal acrobatics, beat-box percussion) with the urgency of street poetry. The new single “You Need Me (I Don’t Need You)” is a defence of musical authenticity over a complex backdrop of loops and effects pedals. Other tracks are teenage love songs, their touching lyrics toughened up with the percussive scratch of an acoustic guitar. Sheeran started off playing in car parks and may one day end up back there. For now, he is thriving in a straitened music industry because independence and struggle are his themes—and because he’s too young to know or care how much easier it used to be.

Kate Mossman


Il tritticoRoyal Opera House, 12th-27th September, Tel: 020 7304 4000

Richard Jones’s gleefully seedy production of Gianni Schicchi returns to the Royal Opera House as part of his staging of Il trittico, Puccini’s 1918 triptych of one-act operas. Few companies attempt all three in one night. At three hours and 45 minutes, the running time is daunting and the production costs high. But Il trittico is arguably Puccini’s greatest achievement. The squalid grind of poverty in industrial Paris (Il tabarro), the luminescence of redemption in a closed convent (Suor Angelica), and the sniping rhythms of a family at war (Schicchi) are heard in three distinct works.

In the true-crime tragedy of Il tabarro, klaxons blare across the fetid waters of the Seine as stevedores and rag-sellers snatch a little pleasure from their back-breaking lives. The suffering of the heroine of Suor Angelica is more decorous—the nuns at Puccini’s sister’s convent wept when they heard the score—while in the comedy Schicchi, a clan of Florentine grotesques bicker over a will while the body is still warm.

Having balanced pathos and bathos in last season’s popera, Anna Nicole, it will be interesting to see how Richard Jones makes his mark on Puccini’s high-octane trilogy. With sopranos Eva-Maria Westbroek and Anja Harteros as Giorgetta and Angelica, and baritone Lucio Gallo donning both the cloak of Il tabarro and Schicchi’s string-vest, it is an irresistible package, and a chance to hear Antonio Pappano conduct the repertoire he knows most intimately.

Anna Picard


The Museum of Everything: Exhibition No 4Selfridges Ultralounge, London, 2nd September-25th October

The London department store’s basement art-space has become something of a go-to gallery in recent years, staging exhibitions of everything from graffiti art to Vivienne Westwood shoes. In September, it becomes the unlikely venue for the Museum of Everything’s latest showcase of outsider art.

The museum, which has no permanent home, was founded in 2009 by filmmaker James Brett to show work by “unintentional, untrained and undiscovered artists.” This, its fourth exhibition, features 50 artists with physical and learning disabilities. Among them are Tomoyuki Shinki, whose DayGlo drawings of musclebound wrestlers recall the excesses of Manga comics, and Harald Stoffers, who records the small events of each day in unsent letters to his mother, his meticulous cursive flowing across sheets of paper like the layered strata of rock.

The quality of the art is startling, and the location—Selfridges’ famous window displays will host reproductions of pieces—adds a welcome element of playfulness.

Laura Barnett