Rain Dogs revisited

Tom Waits's 1985 album is re-imagined at the Barbican.

Rain Dogs was Tom Waits's ninth album, released on Island Records in 1985. Its 19 tracks brought a wide range of instruments together, from congas to accordians, to give an intimate portrayal of the New York slums. Waits wrote most of the album in a basement room at the corner of Washington and Horatio Streets in Manhattan. It was, Waits has said, "kind of a rough area, Lower Manhattan between Canal and 14th street, just about a block from the river."

Tonight at the Barbican, 26 years on from its first release, the album will be re-imagined. Multi-instrumentalist David Coulter is directing Rain Dogs Revisited in which a range of singers, from Swiss American soul-rock singer Erika Stucky to The Tiger Lillies (an eccentric British trio whose drum-kit is entirely made of silverware and spatulas), will be performing their own interpretations of the album.

The evening also features Irish cabaret singer, Camille O'Sullivan, who has starred in the Olivier award-winning La Clique and has long included in her solo performances dramatic interpretations not only of Waits's work, but also of music by Radiohead, Nick Cave and David Bowie. Talking ahead of the concert, O'Sullivan commented on Waits's "great variety within his albums... you could do three or four Tom Waits songs side by side and you wouldn't know they were by the same person." She is a long-term fan of Waits - drawn to the drama and darkness within his music, as well as his gravelly voice: "I think he's enigmatic and an amazing writer. He's got a real understanding of getting into an emotion - either in a mad zany way, or by writing some of the most beautiful love songs."

O'Sullivan herself is known for her charged performances and the way she immerses herself in the story of a song. Waits provides the perfect material: "He creates wonderful song monologues... Not being a songwriter myself, that's all you can latch on to - that there's a narrative in there." But she also acknowledges that she has to make the tales her own. The worst tribute to an artist is to mimic their distinct style. As a devoted fan, O'Sullivan has seen Waits in concert many times: "He's wonderful to watch perform - he's almost like a mime artist."

Rain Dogs Revisited is performed at the Barbican tonight (13 July), with tickets priced at £15-25

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Bertie Carvel's diary: What would the French think about infidelity to Doctor Foster?

The joy of debuting a new series, Rupert Murdoch's squeamishness and a sting in the tail.

According to the adage, the first thing an actor does when he gets a job is to go on holiday. And so, having finished our sold-out run of James Graham’s Ink at the Almeida and with the show (in which I play a young Rupert Murdoch) about to transfer into the West End, I’m packing my bags.

But before I can skip town, I’ve one more professional engagement: the press launch of series two of the BBC drama Doctor Foster, which we finished filming at Christmas. I’ve now seen the final cut of all five episodes, and I’m excited to share it with an audience. There’s no substitute for seeing other people’s reactions at first hand, especially with a show that got people talking so much first time around, and it’s electric to sit in a cinema full of expectant journalists and commentators and feel the room respond. Nothing beats this: to put so much into making a thing and then experience an audience’s unmediated, reflexive reaction. When it goes well, you feel that you’ve shared something, that you’ve all recognised something together about how things are. It’s a unifying feeling. A sort of bond.

Cheating spouses

Handling the interviews has been tricky, when there’s so little one can say without giving the plot away. (The first series began with Suranne Jones’s character Gemma, a GP, suspecting her husband Simon of having an affair.) What’s more, lots of the questions invite moral judgements that I’ve tried my best to avoid; I always think it’s really important not to judge the characters I play from outside, but simply to work out how they feel about themselves, to zero in on their point of view. There’s a sort of moral bloodlust around this show: it’s extraordinary. People seem to want to hear that I’ve been pilloried in the street, or expect me to put distance between myself and my character, to hang him out to dry as a pariah.

While I’m not in the business of defending Simon Foster any more than I’m in the business of attacking him, I am intrigued by this queer mixture of sensationalism and prurience that seems to surface again and again.

Shock horror

Oddly enough, it’s something that comes up in Ink: many people have been surprised to find that, in a story about the re-launch of the Sun newspaper in 1969 as a buccaneering tabloid, it’s the proprietor who considers dropping anchor when the spirit of free enterprise threatens to set his moral compass spinning.

I’ve never given it much thought before, but I suppose that sensationalism relies on a fairly rigid worldview for its oxygen – the SHOCKERS! that scream at us in tabloid headlines are deviations from a conventional idea of the norm. But what’s behind the appetite for this sort of story? Do we tell tales of transgression to reinforce our collective boundaries or to challenge them?

For me there’s a close kinship between good journalism and good drama. I’m reminded of the words of John Galsworthy, who wrote Strife, the play I directed last summer, and who felt that the writer should aim “to set before the public no cut-and-dried codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist’s outlook, set down without fear, favour, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may afford”.

So when it comes to promoting the thing we’ve made, I’m faced with a real conundrum: on the one hand I want it to reach a wide audience, and I’m flattered that there’s an appetite to hear about my contribution to the process of making it; but on the other hand I think the really interesting thing about the work is contained in the work itself. I’m always struck, in art galleries, by how much more time people spend reading the notes next to the paintings than looking at the paintings themselves. I’m sure that’s the wrong way around.

Insouciant remake

En route to the airport the next morning I read that Doctor Foster is to be adapted into a new French version. It’s a cliché verging on racism, but I can’t help wondering whether the French will have a different attitude to a story about marital infidelity, and whether the tone of the press coverage will differ. I wonder, too, whether, in the home of Roland Barthes, there is as much space given to artists to talk about what they’ve made – in his 1967 essay, “The Death of the Author”, Barthes wrote that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”.

No stone unturned

Touring the villages of Gigondas, Sablet and Séguret later that evening, I’m struck by the provision of espaces culturels in seemingly every commune, however small. The French certainly give space to the work itself. But I also notice a sign warning of a chat lunatique, so decide to beat a hasty retreat. Arriving at the house where I’m staying, I’ve been told that the key will be under a flowerpot. Lifting each tub in turn, and finally a large flat stone by the door, I find a small scorpion, but no key. I’m writing this at a table less than a yard away so let’s hope there won’t be a sting in this tale.

Ink opens at the Duke of York Theatre, London, on 9 September. More details: almeida.co.uk

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear