Arts Reviews

The good, bad and ugly in arts and exhbitions

Why I fell out of love with Wagner

It’s four years since I gave up opera criticism. The pandemic had struck, I had hit a significant birthday, and notched up three decades at the coal face – a quarter of a century at the Telegraph, and an earlier stint at this address. There were other things I wanted to do and after reviewing something like 2,500 performances, I had said everything I wanted to say, several times over, and knew that it was time for other voices to be heard. Truth be told, I was becoming a little jaded. My blind spots – opera seria, the final eight mediocrities of Richard Strauss, Rossini’s irritating comedies – were turning

Lloyd Evans

Unmissable – for professors of gender studies: Alma Mater, at the Almeida Theatre, reviewed

Alma Mater is a topical melodrama set on a university campus. The new principal, Jo, (amusingly played by Justine Mitchell) is a radical feminist who recalls the bitter struggles of the 1980s when she strove to put women on an equal footing with men. Her task now is to address the college’s reputation for ‘binge-drinking, partying and casual sex’. To ingratiate herself with the students she makes a speech full of swear words which greatly impresses the first years, apparently. Then a nightmare unfolds. A naive Welsh fresher, Paige, attends a fancy dress party where she’s sexually assaulted by a handsome older student. Drink was involved. Paige admits that she

The beauty of pollution

On the back of the British £20 note, J.M.W. Turner appears against the backdrop of his most iconic image. Voted the country’s favourite painting in 2005, ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ (1838) was Turner’s favourite too. It remained in his possession until his death; the 70-year-old artist swore in a letter of 1845 that ‘no consideration of money or favour can induce me to lend my Darling again’. But I suspect he would have approved of his darling’s current loan, along with that letter, to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle as part of the National Gallery’s bicentenary programme of loans of national treasures to regional museums. Turner relished the atmospheric effects

Sparky and often hilarious: Garsington’s Un giorno di regno reviewed

Hang out with both trainspotters and opera buffs and you’ll soon notice that opera buffs are by far the more trainspotterish. It’s the pedantry, the one-upmanship (‘Really? You should have heard it with Goodall in 1976’). Above all, it’s the impulse to collect. You can’t actually buy little pocket books with lists of obscure operas to be underlined in biro once you’ve seen them (blue for a full staging, red for a concert performance) but there are certainly opera-goers who compile their own lists of personal stats – and they let you know it. The completist urge is powerful. Hardcore opera-spotters will cheerfully cross continents to cop a rare performance

Sam Leith

Completely batty: Vampire Therapist reviewed

Grade: B+ Looter-shooters, match-three games, dragons and spaceships… Sometimes you despair of video games doing the same thing again and again – and then a lone developer gets a severe bump on the head and produces something completely batty.  Vampire Therapist is a comedic adventure-story therapy-simulation starring a vampire, except he’s also a cowboy, and he’s training to be a cognitive behavioural therapist in the backroom of a German nightclub under the tutelage of a 3,000-year-old bisexual vampire who was romantic with Marcus Aurelius back in the day.  Our hero was a bad vamp in the Wild West for many years, you see, but he fell in with the Transcendentalists

Are the best young ballerinas being lured away from dance by sport?

As graduation ceremonies go, the Royal Ballet School’s annual matinée ranks among the most spectacular. It takes place at the Royal Opera House in front of an adoring parental audience, and although it serves primarily as a showcase for those passing out into the profession, it also contains spots for all 250 or so pupils, ranging in age from 11 to 19 and globally recruited, culminating in a glorious parade (called the défilé) of the entire establishment, drilled with a precision that reminds one of ballet’s miliary roots. This year Christopher Powney, the school’s artistic director for the past decade, hands over to Iain Mackay, formerly a principal at Birmingham

Acceptable for a hangover day: Fly Me to the Moon reviewed

Fly Me to the Moon is a romantic comedy starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum set during the 1960s space race but, unlike Apollo 11, this isn’t going anywhere we haven’t been before. The extent to which the film does take flight is largely thanks to Johansson’s charisma, even though I couldn’t help shake the feeling they’d fired up a Maserati for a job that basically required a pootle to the shops and back. Tatum, meanwhile, doesn’t have to do much but stand around and look beefy – but he does excel at beefiness. (The shoulders on this fella!) Tatum is 82 per cent shoulders,18 per cent neck. (This is

Forget monetary policy, the Bank of England’s greatest crime was architectural

In 1916 the Bank of England committed what Nikolaus Pevsner was to call the greatest architectural crime to befall London in the 20th century. It decided to demolish much of its own building, designed by the great Georgian neoclassical architect John Soane. Soane’s lost masterpiece is the subject of the latest series from the essential architecture podcast About Buildings and Cities. The podcast, started in 2016 by presenters Luke Jones and George Gingell as a hobby, has slowly become a fan-funded staple for architects, offering a re-evaluation of the received wisdoms about the canon and some affable banter along the way. He built a rich ‘internal world’, lit by roof

Lloyd Evans

Morally repugnant: Boys From the Blackstuff, at the Garrick Theatre, reviewed

Yosser Hughes is regarded as a national treasure. He first appeared in 1982 in Alan Bleasdale’s TV drama, Boys from the Blackstuff, which followed a crew of Liverpool workers who lay tarmac (‘black stuff’) for a living. When their contract expires the lads are left shocked and helpless even though job security is not a perk of their profession. The atmosphere of the show, adapted by James Graham, may come as a surprise to those who know Yosser by reputation only. Far from being a worker’s champion, Yosser is a crook, a hypocrite and a class-traitor. He and his friends moonlight for cash while claiming state benefits, which are, of

James Delingpole

If you can stand the stress, The Bear is still possibly the best thing on TV

The Bear has been called ‘the most stressful thing on TV’ and I think that’s probably a fair description. It’s set in a Chicago restaurant and – as has become de rigueur in all films and TV series about restaurants – the kitchen scenes are invariably fraught, jerkily shot, uptight, pent-up, explosive, inflammable, past boiling point, chaotic, horrific and generally conducive to the prevailing notion that while war might be hell it’s an absolute picnic when compared to being a chef. It’s also, if you can bear the stress part, possibly the best thing on TV. At least it has been for the first two series, which have built on

The mesmerising Olympic posters designed by the likes of Warhol and Whiteread

You could be forgiven for assuming that the citizens of Paris weren’t exactly bursting with joy at the prospect of this summer’s Olympic Games. They’re annoyed at everything: road closures, public transport price hikes and – would you believe it? – the prospect of their country being taken over by extremist cranks before the month is out.  Bref, or indifference towards the Games is the prevailing attitude – and should you need (flimsy, anecdotal) evidence, I offer you the fact that when I visited an exhibition devoted to the Olympics the day before the first round of voting in the election last week, I had the space entirely to myself.

Complain all you like but Glastonbury has delivered the goods again

There’s yet to be a Glastonbury line-up that hasn’t provoked a chorus of naysaying. Refrains like ‘looks rubbish. I wouldn’t go’ and ‘not like it used to be’ are de rigueur. Dismissing the headliners as ‘crap this year’ rivals football as the nation’s favourite sport. Yet there’s something to be said for trusting the Glastonbury bookers: check out, say, the lower-tier bands on the 1994 poster and see how many greats they discovered before they were famous – Radiohead, Pulp, Oasis… Nowhere else in the world could hand written signs for toilets induce a Proustian yearning to return Glastonbury’s prestige and legendary ‘vibe’ are now such that the festival is

Camila Cabello’s new album presents an existential threat to songwriting

It is always interesting to observe the ways in which pop stars try to negotiate first growing up, and then growing old. From teen scream to respected mainstay to elder states(wo)man is not an easy path to walk without a few stumbles. At certain times, it requires making some blatantly strategic moves. Cabello wants so badly to grow up that she evolves from a past incarnation practically into thin air Few readers will remember that the first solo single George Michael released after dissolving Wham! was called ‘I Want Your Sex’, a forgettable bump-and-grind with a steamy video designed purely to shift audience expectations away from all things teenybopper and

Damian Thompson

Buy this for Beethoven’s beguiling arrangements of British folk songs

Grade: B+ Beethoven was proud of his Triple Concerto for Violin, Cello, Piano, pointing out that no one else had attempted such an experiment. He was writing at the height of his youthful powers and the work is stuffed with earworms. Yet I can’t think of any later composers who copied that particular model, and you can’t blame them. This is essentially a concerto for piano trio and full orchestra – not an easy combination, because the soloists keep having to pass the baton to each other while bracing themselves for the next orchestral tutti. Nicola Benedetti, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Benjamin Grosvenor make a really good job of it; Kanneh-Mason’s

Jenny McCartney

How we became addicted to vaping

For those of us with a poor grasp of time, who can still recall when a night at the pub could be sharply revisited by a Proustian wave of stale smoke arising from yesterday’s clothes, it can almost feel as if vaping crept up on us out of nowhere. One moment, it seemed, all the authorities had firmly agreed that Nick O’Teen was a creepy pusher hooking innocent kids on gaspers, and were pledging to legislate and tax cigarettes into oblivion; the next, great hordes of schoolchildren were apparently free to suck constantly on little vials of liquid nicotine with sugar-rush names such as Cherry Fizzle and Blue Razz Lemonade.

Sly, sexy and smart: The Nature of Love reviewed

The Nature of Love is a French-Canadian film about an academic who considers herself happily married but then encounters a builder and sparks fly. I’ve made it sound like one of those Confessions… films, or an airport novel, but it isn’t. It’s sly, sexy and smart and, even though it’s billed as a romantic comedy and skips along nicely, it also asks some important questions, such as: once a relationship becomes humdrum has it moved to a deeper plane? Or is that the lie we tell ourselves? To compensate? Written and directed by Monia Chokri, the film stars Magalie Lépine Blondeau as Sophia who, like Glenn Powell’s character in Richard

The art of Japanese woodblock printing

Van Gogh owned a copy of Utagawa Kunisada’s woodblock print of the ‘Yoshiwara Poet Omatsu’ (1861), which is currently on display at the Watts Gallery. It depicts the poetess who rose from humble origins in an elegant kimono at her dressing table and was part of Kunisada’s series of paintings titled Biographies of Famous Women, Ancient and Modern, but Van Gogh may not have known that. By the time he started amassing Japanese prints – he splurged on 600 of them in the winter of 1886 – they had become collectibles sought after by avant-garde artists for their clear lines, bright colours and the immediacy of their cropped figure compositions

‘Zings off the stage’: My Fair Lady, at Leeds Playhouse, reviewed

If you want to kill a musical, make it into a movie. Cats, Phantom of the Opera, South Pacific… cinema history is littered with dud remakes of world-conquering theatrical sensations. But it’s almost worse when a film musical succeeds on its own terms, and – like a mask eating into the face – proceeds to write over the original show in the collective memory. I once saw a newspaper describe a West End revival of The Sound of Music as a ‘stage version of the classic movie’, which is a bit like describing Pride and Prejudice as a novelisation of the hit BBC drama. Her coloratura is like sunlight on