Prospect recommends: November

Six cultural events to check out this month, from Hamlet in German to Justin Timberlake's brainy sci-fi
October 19, 2011

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of IlluminationBritish Library, 11th November-13th March 2012, Tel: 01937 546546

The illustrations in Henry VIII’s personal copy of the Psalms are as revealing as the annotations he made in its margins. On display at the British Library from November, the drawings show a stout, doublet-clad figure—indistinguishable from the Tudor king—doing battle with Goliath and posing as King David. Jean Mallard, the artist and scribe, clearly knew how to flatter.

The library’s first major exhibition of illuminated royal manuscripts—beautifully decorated, handwritten volumes collected by the kings and queens of England—gives a fascinating insight into their owners’ lives. Ranging from the 9th to the 16th centuries, the exhibition includes a parchment roll nearly five metres long, tracing the genealogy of the royal family back through William the Conqueror and the Anglo-Saxon kings. One of the most intriguing manuscripts is a 13th-century bestiary describing real and imaginary creatures, accompanied by moral lessons. A lion’s skull, excavated from the Tower of London’s moat, is displayed alongside it as a reminder that the king of the beasts had his place at court, among the exotic animals of the royal menagerie.

The manuscripts on show are remarkably well preserved, having remained hidden from view in private collections for centuries. This vibrant exhibition offers a chance to appreciate the beauty of the handmade book, but also to see some of the best surviving examples of medieval and Renaissance decorative art as art in its own right.

Laura Marsh


In TimeOn release from 1st November

The new film by Andrew Niccol, writer of TheTruman Show and Gattaca, takes the phrase “time is money” literally. In the near future, when each person reaches 25, they stop ageing but are given only a year to live. The wealthy can buy themselves long lives; the poor must work to get enough time to stay alive. In Time centres on a young man, Will Salas, falsely accused of murder. To survive, Will must challenge the corrupt society around him.

All this may sound naff and “high concept,” but Niccol has good form balancing philosophical ideas with engaging storytelling. Pop star turned (surprisingly good) actor Justin Timberlake leads the strong cast, which also includes Amanda Seyfried and the reliably sinister Cillian Murphy. The talent is matched behind the camera, with Roger Deakins, the Coen brothers’ extraordinary cinematographer, on board.

In Time forms part of a small but welcome resurgence of brainy science fiction movies this year (Source Code, Super 8 and Contagion) which ask the big questions about human beings—with a few car chases and shootouts thrown in for good measure.

David Wolf


Parallaxby Atlas Sound (4AD, 7th November)

Bradford Cox doesn’t have a filter. Between his indie rock band Deerhunter and his solo project Atlas Sound, this is his seventh album in four years, not including the dozens of songs that he’s given away online. This almost constant flow of music mirrors his stream-of-consciousness lyrics and his openness in interviews—in a recent meeting with the Guardian, he claimed to be a virgin and went on to introduce the journalist to his parents.

It may be difficult to keep up with everything that Cox produces, but for those new to his work, Parallax looks set to be his most accessible and polished album yet. He’s traded the lo-fi wooziness of his debut for a cleaner sound. The singles from Parallax are rich and detailed, with an autumnal quality. Acoustic instruments take the lead, while shimmering guitar and misty synth create the space and atmosphere that characterise Cox’s music. His high voice has become more confident, and songs like “Terra Incognita” have a classic quality, recalling the sounds of the 1960s and 1970s without mimicking them.

The cover of Parallax is a knowingly iconic photo of Cox taken by Mick Rock, the veteran music photographer. After four years as a darling of America’s underground scene, it seems Cox now aspires to match the classic rock stars he adores.

Daniel Cohen


HamletBarbican Theatre, 30th November-4th December, Tel: 020 7638 8891

Two Hamlets vie for attention this month in London. Michael Sheen in the title role at the Young Vic will get the populist vote, but by far the most interesting production in years comes from Berlin. Director Thomas Ostermeier has been running the legendary Schaubühne theatre since 1999. In a succession of hits there, whether by Ibsen or contemporary writers such as Marius von Mayenburg, he has given the words “youth” and “experiment” a new spin.

His Hamlet, first seen three years ago, is more than true to Peter Brook’s famous adage, “rough theatre”; it is dark, dirty and very muddy. The floor is covered in muck, clods of which the distressed prince eats, in one of many extraordinary scenes which some might say come more from the madhouse than Shakespeare. Lars Eidinger rampages through the part with a vehemence and histrionic freedom that perhaps only a new translation—by Mayenburg—can allow (there are English surtitles).

A cast of six act out a febrile drama of paranoia, vindictiveness and confusion, with a set that lurches towards the audience, and massive screen projections amplifying the characters’ murderous proximity to us and each other. There’s little poetry in this production but enough directorial ingenuity to astonish—and convince—all but the most timid.

James Woodall


Victor Pasmore: From Constructions to Spray PaintNew Art Centre, Roche Court, Salisbury, 12th November-29th January 2012, Tel: 01980 862 244

The title says it all. This small exhibition of works by the 20th-century British abstract artist Victor Pasmore takes us from his early constructions in the 1950s and 1960s through to some colourful late spray paintings from the 1990s. It reminds us of how convincing a link he was able to forge through his career between the utopian geometric visions of the Constructivists and the more playful abstraction of artists such as Miró and Klee.

Pasmore (1908-1998) built his career as a young man as a largely self-taught, lyrical figurative painter, a friend of William Coldstream and founding member of the realist, anti-avant garde Euston Road School. In 1948, however, Pasmore made a radical switch to abstraction, a decision hailed by the august critic Herbert Read as “the most revolutionary event in post-war British art.” Pioneering the British revival of both abstraction and Constructivism, from 1951 Pasmore gave up painting altogether, building intriguing pictures instead, in shallow three dimensions, out of plywood and Perspex. This restless experimentation even led him into architecture, when he took on the role of consulting director to the newly-constructed town of Peterlee in County Durham.

It was not until the mid-1990s that Pasmore returned to painting, discovering, after his move to Malta, a new freedom through spray painting. This exhibition is the first survey show since Pasmore’s death, revealing both the rigorous analyst of space and, in the vivid late works, the sensual poet. Inhabiting both Roche Court’s modernist Artists’ House and the gallery, this is an ideal opportunity to re-evaluate an artist who has yet to be fully given his due.

Emma Crichton-Miller


Heart of DarknessRoyal Opera House,1st-5th November, Tel: 020 7304 4000

“The horror! The horror!”: the immortal line from Joseph Conrad’s 1902 novella Heart of Darkness is enough to send a shiver into the soul. Of all Conrad’s prodigious output it is the tale of riverboat captain Marlow and his search for the rogue ivory agent Kurtz that has seeped most deeply into the cultural fabric.

Although Conrad’s novels have been adapted into many different forms—films, television, radio and theatre—few of them have arrived as operas (with the exception of The Secret Agent earlier this year in New York). Utilising Conrad’s text from the novel and his Congo Diary, award-winning British composer Tarik O’Regan and librettist/artist/writer Tom Phillips have collaborated on a chamber opera that aims to explore the mystery of Kurtz, Marlow and his trip up the Congo.

Opera East Productions and American Opera Projects, New York, have acted as joint midwives to the one-act opera that receives its world premiere in London at the Linbury Studio Theatre. The eight singers and 13 musicians aboard will be led by Alan Oke, the highly regarded British tenor recently seen as the 89-year-old billionaire J Howard Marshall II in the popera Anna Nicole. Early reports from rehearsed readings and private previews in the US indicate that fans of Mamma Mia! had better steer clear. All together now: “The horror! The horror!”

Neil Norman