I can no longer remember when it was that high streets did not all look the same. The architectural writer James Maude Richards bemoaned the disappearance of local character from our shops as early as 1938, but even so he could include a plumassier, submarine engineer and shop of model transport in his winsome introduction to the high street. With the exception of some of the specialists, subs included, these were shops that could still be found in many towns beyond London.
A Number, by Caryl Churchill, is a sci-fi drama of impenetrable complexity. It’s set in a future society where cloning has become possible for those on modest incomes. A Cockney father reveals to his grown-up son that he’s a replica of his older brother who died, aged four, in a car crash that also killed his mum. The son reacts with anger and bafflement. But Dad soothes him with happy news. The boy’s DNA was stolen by a gang of scientists who created 20 more copycat zombies, and these replicas are now scattered across the globe.
The Royal Opera has come over all baroque. In the Linbury Theatre, they’re hosting Irish National Opera’s production of Vivaldi’s 1735 carnival opera Bajazet; unsurprisingly, its first appearance at Covent Garden. Upstairs in the big room, they’re doing Handel’s Theodora: premièred at Covent Garden in March 1750 and then ignored by the Royal Opera and its forebears for the next 272 years. In fairness, it isn’t actually an opera.
According to the makers, This is Going to Hurt is intended as ‘a love letter to the national health service’. If so, however, it’s certainly not a soppy one. Few non-British people who watch it will, I suspect, find themselves wishing they had an NHS of their own — where the mission statement could easily read: ‘We Aim to Muddle Through Somehow, Despite Everything.’
Adapted by Adam Kay from his own phenomenally successful memoir of life as a junior doctor, the programme opened with Adam (Ben Whishaw) realising he’d slept in.
In September 1889, Vincent van Gogh sent his brother Theo a new self-portrait from the mental hospital at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. ‘You must look at it for some time,’ he instructed, then ‘you’ll see, I hope, that my physiognomy has grown much calmer, although the gaze may be vaguer than before, so it appears to me.’
Vincent was severely ill and was in the hospital to recover from his affliction, the nature of which remains controversial.
I have heartburn. I probably have heartburn simply because both my parents also had a lot of heartburn, and I have treated it the same way they treated it, with antacids. But lately, with all the sleep disruption and discomfort, I tried to get rid of my heartburn and regretted it. I didn’t talk to my doctor, however, because the last time I tried to schedule an appointment the earliest she could see me was in six months.
Even leaving aside its origins as prison slang, punk has always meant different things on either side of the Atlantic. Forty-five years ago, in New York, no punk band sounded like the next one: the only thing that linked Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Suicide, Blondie and Television was that they played the same club, CBGB. Over here, by contrast, punk was rapidly codified into people shouting angrily over buzzsaw guitars.
As there are no stand-out films this week aside from Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Death on the Nile — is that the one where they all did it? Or is that the train one? — I thought I’d alert you to a film that may have slipped under your radar: After Love. It was released last year. It’s a small film, tiny. I don’t know what the budget was but it wasn’t $90 million. Yet it’s already won many awards, rightly, and has just been nominated for three Baftas and is staggeringly confident and powerful.