In only its third year, the laid-back Latitude (17-20 July) has gained a reputation for being one of Britain’s finest festivals, and it certainly has one of the most enticing and interesting line-ups of any event this summer. More than a merely musical extravaganza, the beautiful site on Henham Park Estate in Suffolk will also host comics, poets, writers, theatre companies, film directors, actors, cabaret artists and musicians, alongside headlining acts such as Franz Ferdinand, Interpol, Blondie and Sigur Ros. I’ve packed the pop-up tent and the Hunters and am now crossing my fingers and praying for sunshine… Rain or shine, this year will mark the 25th anniversary of the Edinburgh Books Festival (9-25 August), and as usual the line-up is magnificent: Sean Connery, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood alongside a plethora of other luminaries from the arts, sciences and politics. Mix up the late nights and chaos of the fringe with some civilised intellectual time-out in Charlotte Square Gardens.
Call me biased, because I’m working on them, but I truly cannot imagine richer musical pickings this summer than those to be found at The Proms (18 July – 13 September). With well over a thousand promenade tickets available for every concert, every night for a fiver, this has to be the best value in the arts, anywhere in the world. New director Roger Wright, also the Controller of Radio 3, has put together a thrilling programme that comprises old classics and world premieres, juggling time-honoured favourites with tricky avant gardists and honourably adhering to founder Henry Wood’s objective to educate as well as entertain. For the family, there are events galore including Morris dancing in Kensington Gardens and family orchestra sessions, for Daleks-fans there’s an entire Doctor Who Prom, for all music lovers there are jaw-dropping names on offer – Barenboim, Boulez, Rattle, Haitink, Dudamel to name but a handful of the conductors appearing – and this year marks the launch of the Proms Plus literary festival, which will include the likes of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, discussing Dostoevsky. It’s almost worth staying in London for the whole summer to take advantage of the bargain bonanza we’re lucky enough to have on our doorstep.
Also not to be missed: phenomenal young tenor Andrew Staples – whose recent Tamino at Opera Holland Park was described as ‘radiant’ – in his solo recital of Britten and Auden songs at Wilton’s Music Hall, one of the capital’s most charming venues, on 28 August.
Not quite paperback-on-the-beach fare, but if like me you’ll be nowhere near a sun-drenched foreign resort this summer, consider these as ideal for rainy pub afternoons in Ireland, Wales, Scotland or Cornwall. The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre) is another beautiful and philosophically stirring novel by the author of What I Loved, while Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth (Bloomsbury) will be perfect for brief interludes with a pint of Guinness/cuppa as you wait for the downpour outside to subside. Also on my summer must-read list are: Morality Tale by Sylvia Brownrigg (Picador), Everything is Connected by Daniel Barenboim (Wiedenfeld & Nicholson), Grub Street Irregular – Scenes from Literary Life by Jeremy Lewis (Harper Press), and Errol Morris and Philip Gourevitch’s Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story (Picador). Gourevitch’s book on the Rwandan genocide was among the most powerful accounts of that shameful episode in human history; the chief question raised here – ‘if you fight terror with terror, how can you tell which is which?’ is a question with equally chilling implications about another.
Apart from the unmissable David Tennant Hamlet for the RSC (from July 24) I am excited by the prospect of Her Naked Skin at the National this summer (also from 24 July). A new play by the brilliant Rebecca Lenkiewicz, this, remarkably, is the first play by a woman ever to have been staged at the Olivier Theatre, the National’s main stage. Fitting (if depressing), then, that the play is about the suffragettes and their struggle for equality. It stars the wonderful Leslie Manville as Lady Celia Cain and Jemima Rooper as her young seamstress lover in Holloway Prison, and is part of the Travelex £10 season, so get booking fast. At the lovely Chichester Festival, meanwhile a Ronald Harwood double bill, of new play Collaboration and his much-celebrated Taking Sides is fascinating at the Minerva Theatre (16 July – 30 August). Later in the summer, I am greatly looking forward to Now or Later, the latest offering from American playwright Christopher Shinn, whose 2002 play Where Do We Live was such a searching examination of New York in the immediate aftermath of September 11. Shinn promises more incisive political and cultural commentary at the Royal Court; Now or Later, starring award-winning young actor Eddie Redmayne, is set in Washington on the night before the 2008 US Presidential elections (from 3 September).
Happily for London, the coolest jazz venue in town, The Vortex, has secured one of the coolest cats in jazz, Vinícius Cantuária for three nights (21-23 July). The multi-instrumentalist Brazilian is one of the world’s best singer-songwriters and will be supported by different acts each night he’s here. Meanwhile, Sally Greene’s new-look Ronnie Scott’s continues to go from strength to strength; I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the legendary Mulgrew Miller Trio, who play there 11-13 August.
Don’t write off Wyndham Lewis as a mere Nazi-loving Vorticist with a talent for the odd incendiary modernist manifesto quite yet. Aside from his legendary portraits of contemporaries including T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Edith Sitwell, there are some quite breathtakingly beautiful and tender portraits of his wife to be found at the National Portrait Gallery in Wyndham Lewis: Portraits (3 July-19 October). While you’re there, the BP Portrait Award 2008 is as ever worth a long linger. I have visited the free exhibition, a marvellous feast of humanity in all its curious variation, on a number of occasions and am always struck by the same line popping into my head: all the lonely people, where do they all come from…?
Hey, it’s the summer. If you’re into big Hollywood blockbusters and mindless sequels, well, take your pick. If not, there are a few things out there that are independent and interesting – playing at the Curzon, director Tom Kalin’s Savage Grace, for example, starring Julianne Moore, is a tragedy about a 1950s New York heiress, based on a true story and devastatingly acted; while James Marsh’s Man on Wire is a fascinating look at Frenchman Philippe Petit’s hour-long 1974 tightrope dance between the twin towers of the late World Trade Center in New York – a feat that many at the time dubbed ‘the artistic crime of the century’. Moreover, it’s still possible nationwide to see the BFI re-release of François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim throughout July and August (check www.bfi.org.uk for dates and locations) – a glorious summer treat.
Following Akram Khan’s stunning work bahok with the National Ballet of China at Sadler’s Wells in June, I’m intrigued to see what he does with In-I, part of the Ju’bi lation season at the National (from 18 September). The internationally acclaimed contemporary dancer and choreographer will join forces with Turner prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor to celebrate the Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche. She is learning to dance (as well as exhibiting her paintings at the next-door British Film Institute –from 2 September), Kapoor is designing the set, and Khan will act, sing and play the guitar. Talk about a collaboration of multi-talents extraordinaire…
Clemency Burton-Hill will be presenting The Proms on BBC 4