Dublin. 16 June 1904. A little after 8 a.m. Two men – both annoying, one stung with grief and ambition – are having an argument. One is pierced by thoughts of his late mother. ‘Pain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted his heart.’ She has come to him in a dream smelling of wax and rosewood. ‘Dedalus,’ the other calls up to him. ‘Come down, like a good mosey. Breakfast is ready.’
Ireland. 16 June 1982. 6:30 a.m.
The NT has rejigged Hamlet for 8- to 12-year-old children. It’s a decent attempt to cover the highlights at a sprint lasting just 90 minutes. A few gripes. The medieval setting is unclear because the courtiers wear matching red and yellow suits, like Butlins entertainers. Why not military costumes? British kids are used to seeing the royals in uniforms. And a martial emphasis would tell us that Elsinore is a heavily armed dictatorship where family rivalries may spill over into civil war.
Art That Made Us is an ambitious new series, firmly in the ‘history of something in a load of different objects’ category. That the something in question is Britain duly means that we get the BBC’s usual, and perhaps even very British, mix of deep patriotism on the one hand and deep suspicion of patriotism on the other.
The opening episode tackled the era formerly known as the Dark Ages, which the narrator felt duty-bound to remind us yet again was actually a period of great creativity and innovation.
In 2014, an exhibition of watercolours by the renowned avian artist, John James Audubon, opened in New York. The reviews, from the New York Times to the Guardian, were unambiguously enthusiastic, celebrating the painter as a legendary genius who ‘exceeded the limits of his era’. Fast forward eight years, and a rather different vibe hangs over the latest outing of his bird portraits, one that reflects both the limits of that era and the limits of the man.
Compartment No. 6 is set aboard a long train journey across Russia, a country we don’t hear much of these days (I wish!). It has won multiple awards, including the Grand Prix at Cannes, and is by the Finnish filmmaker Juho Kuosmanen, who has said of his films: ‘Basically, they are boring.’ It’s true, this is not eventful, even if the restaurant car does run out of hot food at one point. This is a character-as-plot film and if that isn’t your style it is going to feel like a very long journey indeed.
One wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of Tamara Rojo. The most fearsome figure on the British dance scene since the authoritarian reign of Ninette ‘Madam’ de Valois, she has capped a brilliant international career as a prima ballerina with a formidable decade as artistic director of English National Ballet (as well as the award of a PhD, the patented invention of an anti-bunion device and the birth of her first child at the age of 46).
Stormzy occupies a curious place in British pop culture right now. He’s the darling of liberals for all his good deeds – setting up an imprint for black writers within Penguin, and a charity to put black kids through Cambridge. He’s also the figurehead of UK hip hop, which at times has made him a lightning rod for the particular worldview of certain people. ‘Is it asking too much that he show a scintilla of gratitude to the country that offered his mother and him so much? Instead of trashing it,’ wrote, inevitably, Amanda Platell in, inevitably, the Daily Mail, after Stormzy had attacked Theresa May’s government over the Grenfell fire.
Utopia, Limited (1893) is a rare bird, and one that every Gilbert and Sullivan completist simply has to bag. The point of completism, of course, is to acquire an overview: if artists are truly original, everything they created should illuminate the whole. But what if a career tailed off, or ran to seed? It’s just going to be depressing, isn’t it? By the time they began their penultimate opera, Gilbert and Sullivan hadn’t collaborated for three years.