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

Lloyd Evans

Cheesy skit: A Mirror, at the Almeida Theatre, reviewed


The playwright Sam Holcroft likes to toy with dramatic conventions and to tease her audiences by withholding key information about the characters. This tinkering seems to scare the critics into praising her scripts even though they feel like clumsily written thrillers or botched sci-fi yarns where the rules keep changing. Her technique appeals to high-minded

Dismantle the maestro myth and classical music will suffer

The news that conductor John Eliot Gardiner is thin-skinned, ill-mannered and thuggish should not be news to anyone. Or not to any Spectator readers anyway. ‘What, one wonders, will John Eliot Gardiner be chiefly remembered for?’ wrote Stephen Walsh in October 2013. ‘Perhaps, by many who have worked with him, for his notorious rudeness to

Uneasy listening: Kathryn Joseph, at Summerhall, reviewed


I have always been fascinated by artists who bounce between tonal extremes when performing, particularly the ones who serve their songs sad and their stagecraft salty. Adele, for example, fills the space between each plushily upholstered soul-baring ballad by transforming into a saucy end-of-pier variety act, coo-cooing at the crowd and cursing like a squaddie.

The problem with pop-literary collaborations


‘We all secretly want to be rock stars,’ the 2022 Booker Prize-winning author Shehan Karunatilaka said recently. By ‘we’ he meant novelists, and he was more or less right. Most authors want to be rock stars, just as many rock stars aspire to bookish credibility. The former crave a whiff of glamour and instant gratification;

The joys of provincial repertory theatre    

Arts feature

Provincial repertory theatre, in which a semi-permanent company of actors performed a varied diet of plays for their community, week-in, week-out, has all but died out in Britain. Local theatres have become venues for visiting productions, one-off events and numerous outreach schemes, but the old continuity – a kind of magic – has gone. I

The future of opera – I hope: WNO’s Candide reviewed


Bernstein’s Candide is the operetta that ought to work, but never quite does. Voltaire’s featherlight cakewalk through human misery, set to tunes from the West Side Story guy: what’s not to like? And what can be so wrong with its twinkle-toed score that the combined rewriting efforts (and this is not remotely the full list)

The West has much to learn from Hungarian culture

Arts feature

In central Budapest a crew from Hungary’s state TV is filming the unveiling of a new street sign. In honour of his centenary year composer Gyorgy Ligeti now has a road named after him. Contemporary classical music is deemed newsworthy in Hungary. Even more astonishingly – and anyone working in British classical music might want