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Arts

‘Pan and Syrinx’, 1617, by Peter Paul Rubens

How will the British public take to Rubens’s fatties?

Arts feature

This week a monumental exhibition, Rubens and His Legacy, is opening at the Royal Academy. It makes the case — surely correct — that the Flemish master was among the most influential figures in European art. There are few painters… Read more

An early 14th-century Persian image of Mohammed

Mohammed — in pictures

Arts feature

Two months ago I was sitting beside the tomb of a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, telling a story about the last week of the Prophet’s life. It was detailed enough to paint an imaginary portrait of him and included… Read more

Leave your brain at the door: David McVicar's Andrea Chenier at the Royal Opera House. All images: Bill Cooper/ROH

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera House, review: like a Carry On - but without the jokes

Opera

Who on earth could have predicted that a hoary old operatic melodrama set in revolutionary France would find resonance in the present where the pen as a weapon against bigotry and hypocrisy has suddenly achieved iconic status. But hold up,… Read more

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Confessions of an illegal downloader

Music

I’ve never been into shoplifting, though I once had a friend who was. And, no, before you ask, I’m not using that old ‘friend’ device to hide my own identity. She was a girl I met at university. Bookshops were… Read more

Bull Photo: Simon Annand

Young Vic’s Bull, review: a new Mike Bartlett play to bore you into catalepsy

Theatre

A knockout show at the Young Vic. Literally. The stage has been reconfigured as a boxing ring to make Mike Bartlett’s play, Bull, feel like a sporting fixture. This is a common conceit, even a cliché, but here it’s done… Read more

A Most Violent Year2

A Most Violent Year, review: mesmerising performances - and coats

Cinema

A Most Violent Year is a riveting drama even though I can’t tell you what it’s about, or even what it actually is. (What’s new?) Set in New York City in 1981, against the improbable background that is the heating… Read more

David Tennant as D.I Alec Hardy and Olivia Colman as D.S Ellie Miller

Broadchurch, review: ‘unwatchable’

Television

Probably the two greatest advances in western culture in my lifetime have been the Sopranos-style epic serial drama and the advent of TV on demand and/or the DVD box set. I don’t think I’m saying anything weird or contentious —… Read more

Leo Tolstoy

Radio 4’s War and Peace: almost as good as the book

Radio

To have listened to Radio 4’s marathon ten-hour adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace as it was being broadcast on New Year’s Day must have been both wonderful and a bit weird. Like soaking in an ever-replenishing warm bath, indulgent,… Read more

‘Exceptionally good’: Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain in ‘Testament of Youth’

Shirley Williams: Saving my mother from the scriptwriters

Arts feature

Shirley Williams sits at the head of a table in a large conference room in Lib Dem HQ. She will be 85 this year, but still has a finger in many a pie, most of which we’re not to talk… Read more

Ivan Vasiliev (Siegfried) and Alina Cojocaru (Odette) in ENB's Swan Lake

ENB’s Swan Lake: the rights and wrongs of ballet thighs

Dance

There’s been heated disagreement over the past week about what’s right and wrong. Is the rocket-propelled ex-Bolshoi enfant terrible Ivan Vasiliev ‘right’ for Swan Lake? Is English National Ballet right to accept such huge thighs in this of all classics,… Read more

Helio Oiticica's Metaesquema (1958) and Kazimir Malevich Black and White Suprematist Composition (1915)

Geometry in the 20th and 21st centuries was adventurous - and apocalyptic

Exhibitions

Almost a decade ago, David Cameron informed Tony Blair, unkindly but accurately, ‘You were the future once.’ A visitor to the Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition, Adventures of the Black Square, might mutter the same words in front of the first exhibits.… Read more

Gyula Orendt as Orfeo and Mary Bevan as Euridice Photo: Stephen Cummiskey

Royal Opera’s Orfeo, Roundhouse: shouts its agenda so loudly the music struggles to be heard

Opera

What a week to stage an opera about art’s power to challenge institutional authority, oppression — even death itself. Orfeo’s weapon might be a lyre rather than a pen, but the metaphor is silhouetted clearly against the monochrome backdrop of… Read more

Tree, The Old Vic Illustration: Lizzie Stewart

Old Vic’s Tree: Beckett plus Seinfeld - plus swearing

Theatre

‘Fucking hell. You twat. Fuck off. Fuck. Fuck.’ These dispiriting words are the opening line of Tree, a newish play by the lugubrious comic Daniel Kitson, whose stand-up show once transported me into the heavenly arms of Lethe. His script… Read more

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Wild made me want to puke

Cinema

Wild is yet another film based on a true story, as currently seems to be in vogue for some reason. (See The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher, The Theory of Everything, Testament of Youth etc.) Maybe the film world has run out… Read more

Maisie Williams as Casey Jacobs in Cyberbully

Channel 4’s Cyberbully: an unashamedly old-fashioned drama in being both well made and moral

Television

Channel 4’s Cyberbully (Thursday), written by Ben Chanan and David Lobatto, turned out to be a brilliantly gripping drama, even if the average middle-aged viewer might have found the early scenes as baffling as Finnegans Wake. Teenage Casey Jacobs (Maisie… Read more

Ludwig Van Beethoven Photo: Getty

Was Beethoven influenced by yoga?

Radio

How many digital radios have you bought over the years? How many are still working? Of the four I used to have, only two are now working and those only in certain parts of the house. I wonder, if a… Read more

Chico, Harpo and Groucho Marx (left to right) enjoy a day at the races

What unites Churchill, Dali and T.S. Eliot? They all worshipped the Marx Brothers

Arts feature

‘I had no idea you were so handsome,’ Groucho Marx wrote to T.S. Eliot in 1961 on receiving from him a signed studio portrait. The Missouri-born Eliot was the Marx Brothers’ devoted fan; three years later, in June 1964, Groucho… Read more

2014 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival - Weekend 2 - Day 1

His lyrics are hopeless, his covers are catastrophic, yet I still love Bryan Ferry

Music

There were two new albums I wanted for Christmas — the Bryan Ferry and the Pink Floyd — and to my delight I got both. Others may prefer the unknown and the experimental as presents, but at this time of… Read more

‘The Spectators’, 1947 and 'Woman with the birdcage' by Robert Colquhoun

The tragic tale of the Two Roberts is a story of two artists cut off in their prime

Exhibitions

In 1933, two new students met on their first day at Glasgow School of Art. From then on they were inseparable. They lived and worked together. They became lovers. They stayed together throughout their lives. They shone at art school,… Read more

Channing Tatum and Steve Carell

Foxcatcher: piercing, shattering, spellbinding

Cinema

Foxcatcher is a crime drama (of sorts) that has already been dubbed ‘Oscarcatcher!’ as it barely puts a foot wrong. It is tautly directed, deftly written, thoroughly gripping and offers psychological heft as well as sublime performances all round, even… Read more

Paul Barritt’s stunning design for ‘The Golem’ resembles ‘a ketchup-splattered bumble bee’

Young Vic's Golem: its status as a cult hit fills me with troubled wonder

Theatre

The Young Vic produces shows that please many but rarely me. Its big hit of 2014, A Streetcar Named Desire, won virtually every prize going apart from the one it deserved: the year’s deadliest assault on a much-loved classic. The… Read more

Un ballo in maschera

Royal Opera's Un ballo in maschera: limp, careless and scrappy

Opera

Whether by chance or bold design, the Royal Opera’s two Christmas shows were written at precisely the same moment, between 1857 and 1859, and both mark a high point of refinement in their respective traditions. Both Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde… Read more

Actor, playwright and broadcaster, Alan Bennett Photo: Getty

Without childhood traumas, how did Alan Bennett ever become a writer?

Radio

‘So — take heart,’ said Alan Bennett, sending us out from his play, Cocktail Sticks, on a cheery note. The treatment for cancer had been gruelling, but that was 15 years ago, so… This Radio 4 production was adapted (and… Read more

Mathew Baynton as Sam Pinkett alongside James Corden as Phil Bourne Photo: BBC

It's because Corden is such a dick that The Wrong Mans was so blindingly brilliant

Television

God, it must be awful to have been at school with James Corden. As he sat fatly at the back of the class farting and flicking bogies and distracting the teacher with his relentless smartarsery, you’ll have consoled yourself with… Read more

‘Woman at Her Toilette’, 1875/80, by Berthe Morisot

2015 in exhibitions - painting still rules

Arts feature

The New Year is a time for reflections as well as resolutions. So here is one of mine. In the art world, media and fashions come and go, but often what truly lasts — even in the 21st century —… Read more

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Birdman: plenty to see, little to feel

Cinema

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, which stars Michael Keaton as a one-time superhero movie star (just like Keaton himself), is audacious technically, and so meta it may well blow your mind, but it is also weird, maddening, wearing and exhausting. It… Read more

3 Winters  Photo: Ellie Kurttz

National Theatre’s 3 Winters: a hideous Balkans ballyhoo

Theatre

A masterpiece at the National. A masterpiece of persuasion and bewitchment. Croatian word-athlete Tena Stivicic has miraculously convinced director Howard Davies that she can write epic historical theatre. And Davies has transmitted his gullibility to Nicholas Hytner, who must have… Read more

Magnificent: Nina Stemme as Isolde and Stephen Gould as Tristan

Royal Opera’s Tristan und Isolde: an absurd production - but still a magnificent night

Opera

Any adequate performance of Tristan und Isolde, and the first night of the Royal Opera’s production was at least that, leaves you wondering what to do with the rest of your life, as Wagner both feared and hoped it would.… Read more