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John Bull versus Hiawatha

25 August 2012
Troilus and Cressida|A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It) Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon|Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Written soon after Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida is by a long chalk Shakespeare’s most unpleasant play. With a pox-ridden Pandarus and the filthy-minded nihilist Thersites as our guides to one… Read more

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Conversation pieces

25 August 2012
Light Structures: Halima Cassell | Francis Bacon to Paula Rego Blackwell: The Arts and Crafts House | Abbot Hall Art Gallery

Anyone interested in art holidaying in the Lake District this summer — or indeed taking a short break in the Lakes — is in for a treat. The Lakeland Arts… Read more

Crime and punishment

25 August 2012

Just a snippet on an edition of Today last spring taken from the programme that had just won an esteemed Sony Gold radio award was enough to create an impact.… Read more

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Making Russia great

25 August 2012
Catherine the Great: An Enlightened Empress National Museum of Scotland

Catherine the Great was born neither a Catherine nor with any prospects of greatness. As Sophie Frederica Augusta of Anhalt-Zerbst she was a minor German princess with modest expectations, but… Read more

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The accidental director

25 August 2012
Jumpy previewing at the Duke of York’s and runs

She’s certainly a class act. But how did she manage it? Nina Raine, the 36-year-old writer-director, has established a formidable position in the British theatre. Her first play, Rabbit, opened… Read more

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Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan

25 August 2012
Sweet Tooth Ian McEwan

Cape, pp.320, 18.99, ISBN: 9780224097376

‘I’m trying to help you, Serena. You’re not listening. Let me put it another way. In this work the line between what people imagine and what’s actually the case can… Read more

Alexander Fiske-Harrison enjoys a 'story slam' at the Edinburgh Fringe

25 August 2012

The Edinburgh Fringe is a place of youthful hopes, naive dreams and occasional flashes of genuine inspiration. Usually these turn out to be very much flashes in the pan. But… Read more

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Caspar David Friedrich, by Johannes Grave

25 August 2012
Caspar David Friedrich Johannes Grave

Prestel, pp.288, 80, ISBN: 9783791346281

In October 1810, the poet and dramatist Heinrich von Kleist substantially rewrote a review submitted to a publication he edited, the Berliner Abendblätter. Indeed, as few editors would dare —… Read more

The Roxburghe Club, by Nicolas Barker

25 August 2012
The Roxburghe Club: A Bicentenary History Nicolas Barker

Sotheran, pp.347, 95, ISBN: 97819019021116

Book-collecting fraternities are far from uncommon, but none of them is the equal of their British progenitor, the Roxburghe Club, either in age or exclusivity.  This June the members celebrated… Read more

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The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton, by Diane Atkinson

25 August 2012
The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton Diane Atkinson

Preface, pp.486, 20, ISBN: 978 1 84809 301 0

Caroline Norton seems an unlikely pioneer of women’s rights. Born in 1808, the granddaughter of the playwright Sheridan, she was a black-eyed beauty, a sharp-tongued socialite with a gift for… Read more

Short Walks from Bogota, by Tom Feiling

25 August 2012
Short Walks from Bogotá: Journeys in the New Colombia Tom Feiling

Allen Lane, pp.266, 20, ISBN: 978184614834

Ten years ago a cartoon appeared in the Independent showing the New World Order — Bush and Blair peering at a distorted global map with only one entry for South… Read more

Philida, by André Brink

25 August 2012
Philida André Brink

Harvill Secker, pp.310, 14.99, ISBN: 9781846557040

The location of Philida is a Cape farm which used to be named Zandvliet and is now the celebrated vineyard Solms Delta, owned jointly by Richard Astor and the eminent… Read more

The Heart Broke In, by James Meek

25 August 2012
The Heart Broke In James Meek

Canongate, pp.550, 17.99, ISBN: 9780857862907

This is a big juicy slab of a book, as thrilling and nourishing as a Victorian three-parter.  It resembles its forebears thematically, too.  It asks a straightforward question: how does… Read more

Are You My Mother, by Alison Bechdel

25 August 2012
Are You My Mother? Alison Bechdel

Cape, pp.286, 16.99, ISBN: 9780618982509

Alison Bechdel’s first book, Fun Home, enjoyed great acclaim: a memoir presented in comic-strip form, it described her father’s suicide and hidden homosexuality, her childhood visits to the family funeral… Read more

David Cameron Meets With John Major In Downing Street

How a nice little rabbit can win the political rat race

25 August 2012

‘Nice people, with nice habits/ they keep rabbits/ but got no money at all,’ sang the popular duo Flanagan and Allen in my father’s day. I can still remember Dad… Read more

Why do all the fattest people live on islands

25 August 2012

Here’s a mystery which has been keeping me awake at night recently. Why do people who live on islands, and even more so very small islands, tend to be grotesquely… Read more

I’ve left London. How will I ever work again

25 August 2012

They say that moving house is the third most traumatic thing after death and divorce and they’re right about that, I reckon. For the past few weeks and months I’ve… Read more

Branson always puts up a fight, but his days as a railwayman are surely over

25 August 2012

In my list of things to do before I die, going up in a hot-air balloon with Sir Richard Branson ranks pretty low. But still I admire his fighting spirit:… Read more

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Malthus’s children

25 August 2012

Two hundred years ago, the creepy Revd Thomas Malthus would take to his pulpit to rail against the copulating lower orders. Author of An Essay on the Principle of Population… Read more

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Dictating terms

25 August 2012

When the International Criminal Court (ICC) was set up ten years ago, it was meant to make the world a safer place. The Court and the various UN war crimes… Read more

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War on games

25 August 2012

On a visit to my old school not long ago, I found myself confronted by my former PE teacher, now the deputy head. She fixed me with an icy glare.… Read more

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Edinburgh notebook

25 August 2012

One of the rites of passage for a comedian is walking through the rain at the Edinburgh Fringe, looking down and seeing one of your own flyers being trampled underfoot.… Read more

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A fan’s notes

25 August 2012

When was the last time a piece of technology made you happy? Truly happy, so satisfied with the experience that you immediately wanted to repeat it? For me it was… Read more

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The new country garden

25 August 2012

Like Nostradamus, the vision is flickering but I believe I have glimpsed the future — at least, the future look of garden and landscape design. I wonder whether, in these… Read more

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Driving to Shangri La

25 August 2012

I’d go to Canada if I wanted to ski, or fish, or see the Northern Lights, but in the end it was only to launch my (Canadian) boyfriend D.W.’s book… Read more