The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Theatre

Arcola Theatre: The Painter by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (until 12th February 2011)

The Arcola may have moved to new, grander premises in Dalston now but its commitment to new writing remains strong. Rebecca Lenkiewicz's play, based upon the life of J W Turner, is served admirably by Mehmet Ergen's subtle production, which contains a reportedly riveting performance from Tony Jones as Turner.

Film

The Portuguese Nun (ICA)

The American born, Paris based director Eugène Green's new film has garnered near universal five star reviews in the press. The complex drama, based upon the 17th century French novel The Letters of a Portuguese Nun, unfolds against the stunning backdrop of haute baroque Lisbon, with frequent diversions into superb musical set pieces of fado. In his review, the NS film critic Ryan Gilbey praised "the fairy-tale rhythm of the narrative" and judged the film to be "spellbinding."

Design

The Design Museum: John Pawson Plain Space (until 30th January 2011)

Last chance to get to this beautifully put together retrospective on the magisterial Minimalist architect. From the Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of Nový Dvůr in the Czech Republic to the designs for the Calvin Klein store on Madison Avenue, most of the intruguing plans are here for your viewing pleasure.

Art

Royal Academy: Modern British Sculpture (22nd January until 7th April 2011)

Excitement has grown around this major exhibition of British sculpture from the late 19th century up to the present day. Bringing together influential works from Barbara Hepworth, Anthony Caro and Richard Long, this is probably one to get to early on.

Poetry

Royal Festival Hall: 2011 T S Eliot Prize Readings (7 PM, 23rd January 2011)

This is the Cannes of poetry, and whilst Southbank may not exactly be la Croisette, this year's line up is a deeply impressive one, with two Nobel laureates (Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney) amongst the nominees. This series of readings, which takes place a day before the award ceremony for the Prize, is not to be missed.

Stavros Damos for the New Statesman
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A L Kennedy Q&A: “Of course we’re all doomed"

The novelist talks wise politicians, time travel and Captain Haddock. 

What’s your earliest memory?
I’m not sure my early memories are that real. I recall pulling a doorknob off in the hallway in an attempt to leave home, because I was walking away from salad and was never going back . . . Salad back then was limited and scary.

Who was your childhood hero?
I was fond of Captain Haddock. And impressed by Henry Dunant. My heroes were mainly in books. My adult heroes would be numerous. The Lakota (and other) folks resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline are amazing. Bill Nighy is quietly doing amazingnesses on behalf of others. The whole of Médecins sans Frontières – they’re extraordinary. Lots of people do amazing things but don’t get mentioned. We are constantly given the impression by politicians and the media that everyone else is a bastard. It’s not true.

What was the last book that made you envy the writer?
I don’t think that’s ever happened. I’m always happy to read a wonderful book. But I guess I have envied writers who have been to amazing places or lived in amazing times and been useful. Rebecca West, then, Chekhov, Robert Louis Stevenson.

What politician, past or present, do you look up to?
Nelson Mandela was very wise about a number of things. Václav Havel and Gandhi also. In the present, the mayor of Düsseldorf is pretty impressive. So is Nicola Sturgeon. They’re people you can stand to be in the same room with – which is unusual in politics.

What would be your Mastermind special subject?
Anything I enjoy knowing would get spoiled by having to sit and spit out chips of it. Plus: my memory is on temporary leave of absence while I have the menopause.

Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?
I’d like to have visited Shakespeare’s London – awful to live there. The UK in 1946-50 would fascinate me. And I’d like to have been in the US for the Sixties.

What’s your theme tune?
Depends. Bits of Dylan, lots of Elvis Costello, “Bread and Roses”, some First World War songs.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I was told that if I held on and passed my forties, life would be infinitely more fun. I did and it is.

What’s currently bugging you?
Don’t get me started. Let’s boil it all down to ambient cruelty and stupidity. We seem intent on becoming extinct. And if we go on as we are – we kind of should.

What single thing would make your life better?
I can’t tell you. But it would.

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
No idea. I quite liked bits of acting – that’s tough, though. I like painting, in the sense of decorating. I wouldn’t mind being a painter.

When were you happiest?
I would imagine it’s all the times when I’ve forgotten about being me entirely and been completely involved in something other – nature, writing, giving a shit about someone else . . .

Are we all doomed?
Yes, of course. We always are. We all die. That’s why we ought to be kind. 

A L Kennedy’s “Serious Sweet” is newly published in paperback by Vintage. Her children’s book “Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Almost Entirely Unplanned Adventure” is published by Walker Books

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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