Revolution - Russian Art 1917-1932

Royal Academy of Arts

My former colleague Victor Sebestyen, now a feted historian, said the RA had gathered “the best of the best” for this show. Certainly the mix of art, design and film - of the heroic, the idyllic (Chagall’s self-portrait with soaring wife) and the social-realist - is deeply stirring, as it charts the rollercoaster of euphoria and despair felt by artists (sometimes on behalf of peasants) as the Bolshevik revolution progressed. Portraits remind us of the rich, wider artistic life, often curtailed, of the time. Socialism meets fascism in film of Stalin-era gymnasts. The wrong-headed idealism behind still-powerful images of superhuman workers and soaring, unbuilt Soviet palaces, is very affecting.

David Hockney - a retrospective riot of joy at Tate Britain

Tate Britain

When’s the last time you walked into a room in an art gallery and smiled at the sheer colour within? That’s what happened to me at the Tate’s Hockney retrospective. They were American landscapes, all the more vibrant in contrast with 1950s and 60s pencil sketches, pop-political expressions of sexuality, soft pastels, and the deceptively flat portraits and scenes of LA sybaritism we all know (but see much more of here). I grinned again at the last rooms – the slowly sequencing seasonal films of a Yorkshire lane, the hectic vibrancy of iPad paintings scribbled before our very eyes. What joy, zest and vigour in creation, and above all what colours.

The White Devil: Review

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe

Annie Ryan’s OTT steampunk staging is a rackety take on a rackety tale of lust and revenge, through which John Webster’s darkly amoral vision sometimes shines. The malcontent antihero Flamineo’s question to his master’s ghost, “what religion’s best for a man to die in” still sounds wonderfully fresh, as does his sister Vittoria’s defiant, eloquent (and utterly dishonest) riposte when she is charged with adultery. More often, mordant insights into the human soul are swamped by overacting or an uneven balance of comedy and horror. Joseph Timms’ Flamineo is half-Kit Harrington, half Russell Brand. Which suggests he’ll go far.

John Hurt


Not keen on the way fans and journalists try to own a piece of a prominent person’s death. So all I’ll say about John Hurt, who I interviewed twice, ten years apart, is that, he was charming, and the second occasion, when he was winning a lifetime achievement award, gave me a delicious excuse to revisit his screen work. When I was at his table at an awards ceremony, he introduced himself to everyone, eschewed food in favour of two packs of Marboro, laughed at everything, and shook everyone’s hand goodbye. He once described sci-fi films as "just hanging about and toys". I can still hear his voice in my head.

Comus - a Masque in Honour of Chastity

Shakespeare’s Globe

Lucy Bailey directs a typically raucous adaptation of John Milton’s 1634 masque in praise of chastity, written for and originally performed by the Bridgwater family as an assertion of their moral right to govern Wales (yes, really). Virginal Lady Alice is menaced in a wood by Bacchus’s lusty son and must fall back on divine intervention rather than her wet younger brothers. Patrick Barlow supplies a framing prologue and feminist epilogue to make the play’s doggerel moralising - and jokes about ravishment - palatable. Emma Curtis and Danny Lee Wynter are an insipid Alice and Comus amid the rackety comedy, but it’s an engaging curiosity. Just what the Globe should be doing.

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