Prospect recommends

Five things to do this month
December 10, 2012

London International Mime Festival: Leo by Circle of Eleven

Film Lincoln On release from 25th January

Either prescient or a lucky gamble, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln was released in America just as Barack Obama was re-elected. A president needs a second term to get things done, as Lincoln shows. The film focuses on the pinnacle of its namesake’s re-election government of 1864-65—the passage through Congress of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that set black slaves free.

Spielberg’s masterstroke is to concentrate on the key weeks of political manoeuvre. Drawing on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 bestseller Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Tony Kushner’s screenplay describes votes begged and borrowed in an era when Republicans were progressive and Democrats conservative over slavery. Despite a huge cast, there’s little Spielbergian epicry and the sentimentality remains restrained. Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance quietly towers (like that famous statue) in this intimate study of Lincoln’s manners and methods both with colleagues and wife, played by Sally Field. Startlingly revisionist? Perhaps not, yet a film about political process is marvel enough. Francine Stock

Festival London International Mime Festival Various venues in London, 10th to 27th January

Forget what you know about fruit being thrown in opera houses. The stage floor will be very pulpy by the end of Smashed, Gandini Juggling’s intricate theatre piece—nine jugglers and 80 apples strong—which will run in the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio as part of this year’s London International Mime Festival.

Now in its 37th year, the festival is the largest of its kind in the world. Many of the performances are based around skills not typically associated with mime, including acrobatics, illusionism and puppetry. These are all turned to the purpose of showing scenes and characters without using words, and the effects, more often than not, are riveting.

Australian Wolfe Bowart’s piece, Letter’s End, shows what can be done with deftly-projected films and old-fashioned clowning. Another highlight is the premiere of Not Until We Are Lost, by Ockham’s Razor, a London-based aerial theatre company. All human relationships start to look very risky when played out on the tilting, trapeze-like apparatus they use. Laura Marsh

Opera The Minotaur Royal Opera House, 17th to 28th January

When Harrison Birtwistle’s opera The Minotaur premiered in 2008, it was greeted with shock and awe as well as acclaim. Relatively short —13 scenes, two acts—this potent distillation of the story of Ariadne, Theseus and the eponymous beast resonates long beyond its running time of 110 minutes.

With a libretto by poet David Harsent, Birtwistle has fashioned a modern classic of malevolent beauty. The production conjures the terror of the white-faced innocents as they are taken to the Minotaur’s labyrinth for sacrifice, as well as the pathos of the Minotaur’s condition. The work shuttles between three distinct elements—the “bullfight” scenes in which the Minotaur confronts, rapes and slaughters the human characters, the “human” scenes between Ariadne and Theseus, and the dream sequences in which the Minotaur can express himself through speech.

If this is an opera from which one emerges shaken and stirred rather than humming snatches of aria, the surging brutality of the percussive score and the unflinching approach deliver a primitive, provocative power similar to Pier Paolo Pasolini’s films of Medea and Oedipus Rex. Conducted by Ryan Wrigglesworth, who replaces Antonio Pappano (suffering from tendonitis due to a surfeit of baton-waving), this magnificently ugly beast of an opera will rise to terrify us once more. Neil Norman

Theatre No Quarter Royal Court, 11th January to 9th February

Dominic Cooke’s five years as artistic director of the Royal Court have been measured out in three plays by Polly Stenham, poster girl for his brave and successful policy of giving centre stage to the theatre’s Young Writers Programme.

A whole raft of talented young playwrights have followed in the wake of Stenham’s 2007 hit, That Face, a devastating re-working of the Oedipus myth in a middle-class teenage world of drugs, peer pressure and sexual promiscuity.

That Face transferred to the West End, won every award going and established Stenham as the most conspicuously “young” playwright (she was 20) since Noël Coward in the 1920s or Christopher Hampton in the 1960s; there were elements of both in the play.

Her new offering, No Quarter, opening in the Royal Court’s intimate upstairs studio, promises more dysfunctional family fall-out, with a young boy taking solace in music and sanctuary in the remote family fastness. Is he a new Hamlet for the text and twitter generation? Michael Coveney

Art William Scott Tate St Ives, 26th January to 6th May

February marks the centenary of the birth of British painter William Scott (1913-1989). This exhibition has gathered paintings from over six decades to chart the evolution of his work from romantic British post-impressionism to a haunting space between abstraction and bare figuration.

To mark the moment, his sons have donated to the Tate one of his most radical works, The Harbour, painted in 1952. It is an extraordinary work. A jetty—or is it simply a bold black line?—forges out into thick white paint with irrepressible energy, while thin black lines above and below map out harbour walls. A decisive break from his earlier colourful paintings of figures, still lifes and landscapes, it points ahead to the bold abstracts of the 1960s, but also to the tenacious hold of the physical world on his imagination. While he was one of the first British artists to discover the American Abstract Expressionists after the war, this exhibition emphasises his roots in Scotland and Ulster, his links with St Ives and his indelibly European sensibility. Emma Crichton-Miller