Culture

Culture

The good, the bad and the ugly in books, exhibitions, cinema, TV, dance, music, podcasts and theatre.

The unstoppable rise of country music

Arts feature

When a major artist releases a new album, the first thing to follow is the onslaught of think pieces. And when Beyoncé released Cowboy Carter earlier this year, the tone of these think pieces – especially on this side of the Atlantic – was one of slightly baffled congratulation. Here, at last, was a pioneer

Suppress your groans: this women-only show is fascinating

Exhibitions

In a Victorian art dealer’s shop a woman waits with her young son while the supercilious owner examines her work; behind her two top-hatted gents interrupt their inspection of a drawing of a dancer in a tutu to give her the once-over. The woman’s shabby umbrella, propped against the counter, awaits reopening in the rain

The jaw-dropping story of the British Museum thefts

Radio

It’s August 2023 when news breaks that artefacts have gone missing, presumed stolen, from the British Museum. I’m about an hour into investigating the story for a feature when a suspect is named in the press. I know him. He’s the curator I was seated next to at a British Museum dinner nine months earlier.

Bristol’s new concert hall is extremely fine

Classical

Bristol has a new concert hall, and it’s rather good. The transformation of the old Colston Hall into the Bristol Beacon has been reported as if it was simply a matter of upgrading and renaming. There were probably sound reasons for doing so, but in fact (and despite protests from the Twentieth Century Society) the

The weird, hypnotic world of Willie Nelson

Pop

Many years ago, I wrote a book about Willie Nelson. At its conclusion, I reached for an elegiac, valedictory tone. In 2006, when The Outlaw was published, Nelson was already 73, and it seemed plausible to suggest that one of the great American lives might be winding down. I pictured Nelson rolling off the road

Sam Leith

Gorgeous and deeply absorbing: Manor Lords reviewed

More from Arts

Grade: A ‘God games’, as they used to be called, have a storied history. SimCity, Civilisation and the excellently sadistic Dungeon Keeper have all been responsible for many a PhD thesis being delivered late. The Almighty seems to have smiled on the latest iteration of the genre. The product of a one-man-band independent developer, Greg

Meet the man who says improvisation is the key to Mozart

Classical

In August 1993, the pianist Robert Levin sat down in Walthamstow Assembly Rooms with the conductor Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music (AAM) to record the complete piano concertos of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart was big – the bicentenary celebrations of 1991 had made a global impact. And Hogwood and the AAM were

The brilliance of Beryl Cook

Arts feature

Nobody claims Beryl Cook was an artistic genius, least of all the artist herself. ‘I think my work lies somewhere between Donald McGill [the saucy postcard artist that George Orwell wrote so lyrically about] and Stanley Spencer,’ she once told me. ‘But I’m sorry to say I’m probably nearer McGill.’ She was, as ever, being

Jenny McCartney

A gripping podcast about America’s obsession with guns

Radio

The love affair between so many Americans and their guns – long a source of international fascination – appears to be getting more painfully intense. The greater the publicity over gun crime, the more Americans think they’d better acquire a firearm to keep themselves safe. There are now roughly 400 million guns in the US

Damian Thompson

Yunchan Lim’s Chopin isn’t as good as his Liszt or Rach

The Listener

Grade: B- In 2022 the South Korean pianist Yunchan Lim became, at 18, the youngest winner of the Van Cliburn competition, displaying a virtuosity that stunned the judges. You could see conductor Marin Alsop’s astonishment as he bounded through the finale of Rach 3, combining accuracy and swirling fantasy at daredevil speed. It’s been viewed

Fascinating insight into the mind of Michelangelo

Exhibitions

You’re pushing 60 and an important patron asks you to repeat an artistic feat you accomplished in your thirties. There’s nothing more daunting than having to compete with your younger self, but the patron is the Pope. How can you say no? Besides, it’s an excuse to get away from Florence, where your work for

Lloyd Evans

Minority Report is superficial pap – why on earth stage it?

Theatre

Minority Report is a plodding bit of sci-fi based on a Steven Spielberg movie made more than two decades ago. The setting is London, 2050, and every citizen has been implanted with an undetectably tiny neuroscanner which informs the cops about crimes before they’ve been committed. However, as the first scene reveals, the undetectably tiny

Wonderfully special: La chimera reviewed

Cinema

La chimera, which, as in English, means something like ‘the unrealisable dream’, is the latest film from Italian writer/director Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders, Happy as Lazzaro). Her films are arthouse, in the sense that if you’re in the mood for someone blowing stuff up and escaping by speedboat while enjoying flirtatious repartee with a sexy