Damian Thompson

Are hymns dying? 

I love a good hymn, so long as I’m not expected to sing it. Lusty declarations of faith sound ridiculous coming out of my mouth and embarrass the hell out of me, so I pretend that I’ve forgotten to pick up a hymnbook on my way in. If someone shoots me an accusatory glance, then

Arts feature

What Emperor Augustus left us

The symbol engraved on Augustus’ signet ring was a sphinx. Julian the Apostate described him as ‘a chameleon’. He seized power declaring himself the saviour of the Roman Republic, but in the process abolished it. He ruled as an autocrat but maintained the fiction that he was no more than the Republic’s First Citizen —

More from Arts

Take a look at John Maynard Keynes’s armchair

Discoveries: Art, Science and Exploration at Two Temple Place (until 27 April) is like a giant cabinet of curiosities. Maps, gizmos and memorabilia are spread across two floors of this glorious high-Victorian building on the Embankment. There are drawings from doomed polar expeditions, bones and teeth of fish from the Woodwardian Collection (see above), early

Bach is made for dancing

It appears that J.S. Bach’s music is to theatre-dance what whipped cream is to chocolate. Masterworks such as Trisha Brown’s MO, George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco and a plethora of less-known, though equally acclaimed compositions owe a great deal to the giant of baroque music. Wayne McGregor is the most recent addition to this illustrious roster


Putin: ‘Oi, Europe, you’re a bunch of poofs’

Sochi 2014 is the least wintry Winter Olympics ever. Yes, there’s a bit of downhill shimmying going on in the slalom. And a few figure skaters are pirouetting around the rink. Midair daredevils, with their feet lashed to planks of bendy plastic, are performing spectacular twirls and somersaults and crashes. And there are speed freaks


Manon Lescaut is twerking — should we applaud or shudder? 

Last seen clambering over the MDF wheelchair ramps of Laurent Pelly’s Royal Opera House production of Jules Massenet’s opéra comique, Manon the minx, the ‘sphinx étonnant’ of Abbé Prévost’s 1731 novel Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, reappears in two guises as part of Welsh National Opera’s Fallen Women season; as the


So long, Scandinavia. Bonjour, Benelux! 

So long, Scandinavia. Bonjour, Benelux! BBC4, your subtitle-friendly channel, has filled the hole left by Nordic-noir The Bridge with Belgian crime drama Salamander (Saturday). At first, I thought this might involve a series of murder mysteries set in Flemish country houses, all solved by a dapper English detective called Horace Parrot. Not to be. Salamander