Arts feature

You’ve been framed

‘I like ordinary people,’ says the extraordinary photographer Martin Parr, pushing a few high-concept smoked sprats around his plate at St John, the Smithfield restaurant. Parr is Britain’s best-known photographer, but he is no acolyte of celebrity. Like the Italian anti-designers, his Seventies contemporaries who wanted to dull the sheen of modernism by elevating the

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Dying of the light | 25 February 2016

Finding St Peter’s is not straightforward. I approach the wrong way, driving up a pot-holed farm track between a golf club and a wood until a fly-tipped sofa blocks my way. Beyond the sofa, behind padlocked security fencing, stands an old stone bridge. Someone has sprayed ‘Go Home’ on the pillar. I prowl through the

On the trail of Piero

Piero della Francesca is today acknowledged as one of the foundational artists of the Renaissance. Aldous Huxley thought his ‘Resurrection’ ‘the best painting in the world’. His compositions marry art and science with cool precision and a sophisticated grasp of perspective — he was, after all, a mathematician. But he was only rediscovered in the

Sweet and sour | 25 February 2016

Dear, good, kind, sacrificing Little Nell. Here she is kneeling by a wayside pond, bonnet pushed back, shoes and stockings off, while she rests her blistered feet. She scoops a palm of water with cupped hands and tenderly washes those of her grandfather: her feckless, gambling, on-the-lam grandfather. It is an old Oscar Wilde chestnut,


Kit-car Chekhov

Director Robert Icke has this to say of Chekhov’s greatest masterpiece: ‘Let the electricity of now flow into the old thing and make it function.’ He uproots ‘the old thing’ from its natural setting and drops it down in no-man’s land. It all feels modern. Aircraft buzz in the heavy summer air. A thunderstorm sets


…Long live ENO!

The three most moving, transporting death scenes in 19th-century opera all involve the respective heroines mounting a funeral pyre — partly, no doubt, a matter of operatic convention and fashion, but also recalling opera to its duty as a rite of purification. Berlioz’s Didon in Les Troyens, like her creator, is so relentless in her

ENO must go…

Last week Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England, revealed that opera receives just under a fifth of the Arts Council’s total investment in our arts organisations, which amounts to many millions of pounds. Yet it accounts for ‘between 3 and 4 per cent of live audiences in theatres’. How can these figures possibly


Night moves

The Night Manager (BBC1, Sunday) announced its intentions immediately, when the opening credits lovingly combined weapons and luxury items. ‘Blimey,’ we were clearly intended to think, ‘it’s a bit like James Bond.’ True, the main character works — at this stage, anyway — in the hotel trade rather than as a secret agent. Yet, when



The 20th-century painter who called himself Balthus once proposed that a monograph about him should begin with the words ‘Balthus is a painter of whom nothing is known. Now let us look at the pictures.’ But while Balthus may have felt that far too much was known about his private life, Hieronymus Bosch is an


Bottom Gere

The Benefactor is both a bad film and a thoroughly inexplicable one. It’s one of those what-were-they-thinking projects that wastes decent talents — Richard Gere and Dakota Fanning, most notably — for no discernible purpose and has you thinking throughout that whatever they were paid it wasn’t enough, and even if they’d been offered more,


Just Williams

It’s tempting to believe that somewhere in the bowels of Broadcasting House in London the voice of Kenneth Williams is still roaming, rich, ribald and ever-so-fruity, ready to jump out and surprise us. He was just so unmistakable on air, both fantastically intimate with the microphone and very aloof, but never better than playing someone