Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.


Tate Liverpool, René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle until 16 October

Catch the end of the first UK exhibition devoted to the Belgian surrealist in a decade. This exhibition brings together major works and those from Magritte's early commercial career- many previously unseen in the UK. A highlight is a selection of rarely seen photographs and films. Adult tickets are priced £9, with concessions at £7.10.


Soho Theatre, London W1D, Josie Long- The Future is Another Place 20 October

Long is from South East London and started doing stand-up comedy at 14 years old. She has achieved rapid success, winning the BBC New Comedy Awards at 17 and supporting Stewart Lee during his spring 2005 tour. The Future is Another Place began at the Edinburgh Fringe. In this intelligent and charming show Long uses anti-Tory material; however, rather than being overly ranty, she is upbeat and optimistic.


Hammersmith Apollo, London W6, Bon Iver 23 October

Performing on 23-24 October, catch Bon Iver's indie folk sound. Best known for his raw and emotive vocals, American singer-songwriter Justin Vernon founded the band in 2007. Fellow band members are Michael Noyce, Sean Carey and Matthew McCaughan. The band have recently released a self-titled album follwing their widely-acclaimed debut For Emma, Forever Ago of 2008.


The Banqueting Hall, London SW1, Bye Bye Kitty!!! 17 October

What is one of the first things you think of when someone mentions contemporary Japanese culture? Is it kawaii (cuteness, sometimes super-girly hyper-cuteness)? David Elliott, founding director of the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, urges that this stereotype detracts attentions from the real nature of modern Japanese art. He emphasises its intensely reflective, self-critical and often political stance. Elliott will discuss the Bye Bye Kitty!!! exhibition he curated at the Japan Society in New York earlier this year, which will be complimented by a discussion with sociologist and Japanese art specialist Adrian Favell. The event is free, but booking is essential.


National Theatre, London SE1, The Kitchen until 8 November

Set in London during the 1950s, Arnold Wesker's darkly funny play takes place in the kitchen of an huge West End restaurant. It is a hectic place where a range of intriging and dynamic characters work: chefs, waitresses and porters from across Europe. Peter is an upbeat young cook who strikes up an affair with married waitress Monique, but can their relationship survive? As part of the National Theatre Live, The Kitchen will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide on 6 October.

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Netflix's Ozark is overstuffed – not to mention tonally weird

Could the channel use a hit? Every time my subscription leaves my bank account, I think again that it could.

The main reason why Ozark, the new Netflix series, feels so underpowered has to do with its star, Jason Bateman (who also directs): a good actor who badly wants for charisma, he simply can’t carry it alone. Watching the first few episodes, I kept thinking of Jon Hamm in Mad Men and (a better example here) Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, both of whom played, as does Bateman, characters around which the plots of their respective series turned. When they were on screen, which was often, it was all but impossible to tear your eyes from them; when they were off it, you felt like you were only biding your time until they returned. But when Bateman disappears from view, you hardly notice. In fact, it feels like a plus: at least now you might get to see a bit more of the deft and adorable Laura Linney.

In Ozark, Bateman is Marty, an outwardly square guy whose big secret is that he is a money launderer for the second biggest drugs cartel in Mexico. When the series opens, he and his wife Wendy (Linney) and their two children are living in Chicago, where he nominally works as a financial advisor.

By the end of the first episode, however, they’re on their way to the Lake of the Ozarks in rural Missouri. Marty’s partner, Bruce, has been on the fiddle, and the cartel, having summarily executed him, now wants Marty both to pay back the cash, and to establish a few new businesses in which future income may be cleaned far from the prying eyes of the law enforcement agencies. If this sounds derivative, it is. We’re in the realm of Breaking Bad, only where that show gave us out-of-control Bunsen burners and flesh-eating chemicals, this one is more preoccupied with percentages and margins.

Where’s the friction? Well, not only is the FBI on Marty’s tail, his wife has been cheating on him, with the result that their marriage is now just another of his business arrangements. The locals (think Trump supporters with beards as big as pine trees) have proved thus far to be on the unfriendly side, and having paid off their debts, the only house Marty can afford has a cliché – sorry, crotchety old guy – living in the basement. On paper, admittedly, this all sounds moderately promising. But hilarity does not ensue. As dull as the Lake of the Ozarks when the tourist season is over, not even Linney can make Bill Dubuque’s dialogue come alive. Her character should be traumatised: before they left Chicago, the cartel, for reasons I do not completely understand, pushed her podgy lover – splat! – off his balcony. Instead, she’s fussing about the crotchety old guy’s sexism.

Ozark is overstuffed and tonally weird, so I won’t be binge-watching this one. This completes rather a bad run for me and Netflix; after the lame new series of House of Cards and the egregious Gypsy, this is the third of its shows on the trot to bore me rigid. Could the channel use a hit? Every time my subscription leaves my bank account, I think again that it could.

And now to The Sweet Makers: A Tudor Treat (19 July, 8pm), in which we hear the sound of the “living history” barrel being scraped so loudly, those attending the meeting at which it was commissioned must surely have worn ear defenders. Basically, this is a series in which four confectioners “go back in time” to discover how their forebears used sugar (first, the Tudors; next week, the Georgians).

What it means in practice is lots of Generation Game-style faffing with candied roses and coriander comfits by people in long skirts and silly hats – a hey-nonny-nonny fiesta of pointlessness that is itself a sugar coating for those nasty things called facts (ie a bit of tokenism about slavery and our ancestors’ trouble with their teeth).

Resident expert, food historian Dr Annie Gray, strained to give the proceedings urgency, sternly reminding the confectioners that the sugar house they’d spent hours building did not yet have a roof. But who cared if it didn’t? Destined to be eaten by fake Tudor guests at a fake Tudor banquet, it wasn’t as if anyone was going to lose their head for it – not even, alas, at Broadcasting House. 

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder

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