The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Literature

The Paradise by Way of Kensal Green Pub, 19 Kilburn Lane, W10 4AE: Zadie Smith Reading (29 March)

Zadie Smith presents extracts from her collection of essays Changing My Mind, and discusses the importance of local libraries at a time when even the most popular are under threat of closure.

Music

Cecil Sharp House, NW1 7AY: Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (24 March)

Covers of classics from all genres, from punk to swing to pop played on ukuleles.

Dance

London Coliseum: Birmingham Royal Ballet perform Cinderella (29 March - 2 April)

After selling out in Birmingham and appearing on the BBC at Christmas, the world premiere tour of this fairytale classic comes to London.

Film

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (released 25 March)

Werner Herzog sets out to capture prehistoric cave paintings in 3-D, along the way exploring the rarely-seen, limestone encrusted caves of Chauvet, France. Few living people have been permitted access to the caves, and the entrance of a camera crew is very much a novelty. Herzog's effort includes footage of interviews conducted with the scientists and researchers who are charged with keeping these remarkable landmarks safe.

Theatre

National Theatre: Rocket to the Moon (25 March - 5 April)

Stunning, stockingless, ruthless in her youth, Cleo Singer arrives in Ben Stark's dental practice and turns his married, humdrum world upside down. Written in 1938 by Clifford Odets, the American master of dazzling, acerbic New York repartee, and starring Keeley Hawes and Joseph Millson.

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From Victoria Wood to Prince: how radio handles celebrity deaths in 2016

You have to listen to Front Row, and then Today, and see how they are covering it, what’s left to do, a ­different angle...”

“So I got a call at 6pm saying, ‘You’ll never guess who now . . .’” Fiona Couper, editor of the obituary programme Last Word (Fridays, 4pm), tells me about what happened just as she got home on Thursday, having left the show ready for the following afternoon’s broadcast. Naturally, they’d gone big on Victoria Wood, but the sudden news of Prince’s demise sent her scurrying back in to work. “Then you have to listen to Front Row, and then Today, and see how they are covering it, what’s left to do, a ­different angle...”

Fortuitously, Last Word’s presenter, Matthew Bannister, had been among a small audience invited to see Prince at the BBC Radio Theatre in 1993.

We heard archive of the singer walking on to the stage that night and saying tenderly to the crowd: “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you,” and then playing so rambunctiously, while doubtless wearing a cheerful little hat (he did often make everybody else look like the Traveling Wilburys), that the whole event “interrupted Radio 3’s broadcast next door”. News hadn’t yet filtered through of the reality of his life aged 57: that his hips were killing him, that he was frequently vomitous with stage fright (I also have it on good authority, btw, that he loved Coronation Street). Instead, mention was made of how prolific he was: all the rumoured ­unperformed songs, thousands of them falling off him like seeds, like Schubert, a whole ocean of stuff.

A little later in the same programme, the item on Victoria Wood was as memorable, simply offering close analysis of the various key changes in her song “Let’s Do It” and pointing out the ways in which Wood’s influences as a songwriter were as much jazz as music hall. Both obits – by accident as much as design – underlined forcefully just how awed and attracted we are as human beings to those who can put lyrics and a tune together and play. The ne plus ultra of art.

It’s quite a programme to be working on right now, I suggest to Couper: that strange sensation of watching an odometer moving jerkily. She sighs. “We’re just about holding on,” she nods. “That’s how we feel most weeks at the moment.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism