John Bellany, "The Obsession," 1966

Prospect recommends

Five things to do this month
October 17, 2012

ArtJohn Bellany: A Passion for LifeScottish National Gallery, 17th November to 27th January 2013 He has made it then, after all. John Bellany, the forceful Scottish figurative painter, is 70 this year, and in his honour the Scottish National Gallery is mounting a full retrospective. But while resilience is woven into his work—those strong, scuffed colours, bold outlines and expressive faces—despair has often haunted him. Born in Port Seton, to a long-line of fishermen and ship-builders, steeped in Calvinism and the varying moods of the sea, Bellany’s early paintings are vivid depictions of that bracing sea-faring life. A mind-expanding stint at the Royal College of Art in London was followed, however, in 1967 by a harrowing visit to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, which ushered in a long period of emotional turmoil, self-destructive drinking and ill-health. In his painting, dark confrontations with evil and trauma gave way increasingly to wild expressions of pain. A liver transplant in 1988 saved him. Bellany’s richly coloured later work, with its symbolic resonances, reflects amazement and delight at the unexpected bounty of this second life. Emma Crichton-Miller

Film The MasterOn release from 2nd November Take no notice of the fevered speculation: Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth film is not  a definitive account (or indictment) of the rise of Scientology. Sure, there are similarities—Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic polymath who soon after the second world war founds a movement known as The Cause. But the film is more than the story of a cult—it is an evocation of a national mood, channelled through the volatile ex-navy officer (played by Joaquin Phoenix) who falls into Dodd’s band. As with Anderson’s previous film, There Will Be Blood, the narrative is disconcerting, sometimes shifting perspective with a character’s subjectivity. It is executed with technical brilliance—from the choice of the wide 65mm format, boldly appropriate to the epic films of the period, to Jonny Greenwood’s brooding, intimate score. The Master is above all a portrait of a mindset, of a generation’s yearning for inclusion, purpose, self-improvement and forgiveness. Francine Stock

Dance Concerto/Las Hermanas/RequiemRoyal Ballet, 17th November to 5th December Kenneth MacMillan is one of the few choreographers who warrant a triple bill devoted entirely to their work. He was a pioneer of psychological ballet, creating pieces that reflected his own complex and often anguished character. The three works on display at the Royal Ballet reveal the extent of his creativity. They are also a tribute to his friend and mentor, John Cranko, the Marlowe to MacMillan’s Shakespeare. Las Hermanas is based on Lorca’s play The House of Bernarda Alba and was the first work MacMillan made for Stuttgart Ballet, where Cranko was artistic director. A stunning work of narrative dance, it has a palpable atmosphere of repressed sexuality that matches Lorca’s dark drama. Concerto was made in 1966 for Deutsche Oper Berlin where he spent four difficult but productive years as director of ballet. Set to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2 it is a lively comment on Germany’s earlier, darker years, with a large corps de ballet marching mischievously in precision-tooled ranks separated by a graceful and innovative pas de deux. Requiem is MacMillan’s tribute to Cranko, who died in 1973 at the age of  45. It incorporates many of his mentor’s highly individualistic tropes as well as harnessing imagery from William Blake in the groups of mourners. More articulate than any memorial service, it is moving beyond words. Neil Norman

Exhibition Mughal India: Art, Culture and EmpireBritish Library, 9th November to 2nd April 2013 One of the highlights of the British Library’s exhibition of illustrations and manuscripts from the Mughal empire shows Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, receiving his son, Prince Aurangzeb, at court. It is a telling scene: the background is flattened, the dozen men assembled are all drawn in profile, and no one’s eyes meet. The puritanical prince would usurp his father within a decade, in 1658, banning music and wine, and disbanding the imperial atelier that produced these jewel-like images. The 18th and 19th centuries have traditionally been seen as a period of decline for the Mughal school. (VS Naipaul characterised painting during the Raj as “bazaar art.”) This exhibition should challenge that consensus. Assembling over 200 manuscripts, it is the first to cover the whole of the Mughal dynasty. The earlier works, meanwhile, are busier and more brightly coloured, commissioned by the liberal Akbar the Great (1556—1605), who famously welcomed a delegation of Portuguese Jesuits and ordered his craftsmen to copy their reliquaries. Like his court, this collection is a rich mix. Laura Marsh

Theatre HeroRoyal Court, 23rd November to 22nd December Ten-year-old Mimi, dressed as John Proctor from The Crucible, finds herself in the school toilets having a surreal, uneasy conversation with a male school governor who treats her as an adult. The eerily well-judged disquiet of that scene, and the ache of those surrounding it in Kin, won EV Crowe a nomination for the Evening Standard’s 2011 Most Promising Playwright. Her follow up is Hero. The focus this time is on teachers and though Crowe isn’t the first to dramatise homophobia in schools, she’s characteristically breaking with tradition. Her hero isn’t struggling along the well-trodden path to sexual self-acceptance. He’s in the highly sensitive arena of a primary school but he’s cheerfully uncloseted. The problem rests with a bothered colleague. This potentially incendiary material is in the ideal hands of director Jeremy Herrin. He has a matchless reputation for steering new writers, including Polly Stenham (That Face) and Anya Reiss (Spur of the Moment), to success. Crowe’s instincts and Herrin’s sure touch are a killer combination. Warning: the Theatre Upstairs only seats 80. Don’t dither. David Benedict