The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

Royal Academy of Arts, London W1, David Hockey RA: A Bigger Picture 21 January - 8 April
Hockney's landscape works on display at the Royal Academy are exquisite, ranging from LA scenes to Yorkshire from the Nineties to now. In addition to the giant multi-panel paintings created specifically for the galleries, Hockey has also enlarged 50 iridescent iPad drawings for the occasion and experimented with film documentation using 18 cameras, which are displayed on multiple screens. Advance booking is strongly recommended. (This exhibition will be reviewed in next week's New Statesman.)

Comedy

Soho Theatre, London W1, Chris Ramsey: Offermation 25 January - 28 January
Chris Ramsey is bringing his acclaimed Fosters' Edinburgh Comedy Awards nominated show to Soho. It explores the nature of communication and how to bring down the barriers people put up between themselves. Ramsey is an exciting young comic, having previously supported Russell Kane and Al Murray on tour and appeared on Comedy Rocks, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, 8 Out of 10 Cats and Russell Howard's Good News.

Theatre

Apollo Shaftesbury, London W1, The Madness of George III 18 January - 31 March
Alan Bennett's comedy about the Hanoverian monarch's brushes with lunacy originally premiered at the National Theatre in 1991 and has since become an international theatrical sensation. David Haig performs in the title role alongside an excellent cast, including Clive Francis, Beatie Edney and Madhav Sharma.

Dance

Aldwych Theatre, London WC2, Midnight Tango 20 January - 31 March
The stars of BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace, get their own West End show, produced by Arlene Philips and directed by Olivier Award-winning choreographer Karen Bruce. The show explores the magic of the tango, and is set in a late-night bar in downtown Buenos Aires, and features ten of the finest tango dancers in the world.

Music

Royal Opera House, London WC2, Don Giovanni 21 January - 29 February
Mozart's Don Giovanni is one of the most fiery and flamboyant operas in the canon. Gerald Finley and Erwin Schrott share the title role under the musical direction of conductor Constantinos Carydis.

This article first appeared in the 23 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Has the Arab Spring been hijacked?

Don't Tell the Bride YouTube screengrab
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How did Don’t Tell the Bride lose its spark?

Falling out of the love with reality TV’s wedding planning hit.

Steph, 23, from Nottinghamshire, is standing in a drizzly field wearing a wedding dress. Her betrothed, Billy, is running around in a tweed flat cap trying to make some pigs walk in “a continuous parade”. A man from Guinness World Records is watching with a clipboard, shaking his head. Bridesmaids gaze sorrowfully into the middle distance, each in a damp pig onesie.

Thus ends the second wedding in E4’s new series of Don’t Tell the Bride – and the programme’s integrity with it.

When the classic programme, which follows grooms attempting to plan their wedding (punchline: human males doing some organising), began a decade ago on BBC Three, it had the raw spark of unpredictability. For eight years, the show did nothing fancy with the format, and stuck with pretty ordinary couples who had few eccentric aspirations for their wedding day.

This usually resulted in run-of-the-mill, mildly disappointing weddings where the worst thing that happened would be a reception at the nearest motorway pub, or an ill-fitting New Look low heel.

It sounds dull, but anyone who has religiously watched it knows that the more low-key weddings expose what is truly intriguing about this programme: the unconditional commitment – or doomed nature – of a relationship. As one of the show’s superfans told the Radio Times a couple of years ago:

“It’s perfect, and not in an ironic or post-ironic or snarky way. The format has the solemn weight of a ceremony . . . Don’t Tell the Bride is not about ruined weddings, it’s about hope. Every wedding is a demonstration of how our ambitions curve away from our abilities. It’s a show about striving to deserve love and how that’s rarely enough.”

It also meant that when there were bombshells, they were stand-out episodes. High drama like Series 4’s notorious Las Vegas wedding almost resulting in a no-show bride. Or heart-warming surprises like the geezer Luke in Series 3 playing Fifa and guzzling a tinny on his wedding morning, who incongruously pulls off a stonking wedding day (complete with special permission from the Catholic Church).

For its eight years on BBC Three, a few wildcard weddings were thrown into the mix of each series. Then the show had a brief affair with BBC One, a flirt with Sky, and is now on its tenth year, 13th series and in a brand new relationship – with the more outrageous E4.

During its journey from BBC Three, the show has been losing its way. Tedious relationship preamble has been used to beef up each episode. Some of the grooms are cruel rather than clueless, or seem more pathetic and vulnerable than naïve. And wackier weddings have become the norm.

The programme has now fully split from its understated roots. Since it kicked off at the end of July, every wedding has been a publicity stunt. The pig farm nuptials are sandwiched between a Costa del Sol-based parasail monstrosity and an Eighties Neighbours-themed ceremony, for example. All facilitated by producers clearly handing the groom and best men karaoke booth-style props (sombreros! Inflatable guitars! Wigs!) to soup up the living room planning process.

Such hamminess doesn’t give us the same fly-on-the-wall flavour of a relationship as the older episodes. But maybe this level of artifice is appropriate. As one groom revealed to enraged fans in The Sun this week, the ceremonies filmed are not actually legally binding. “It makes a bit of a mockery of the process that the bride and groom go through this huge ordeal for a ceremony which isn’t even legal,” he said. Perhaps we should’ve predicted it would all eventually end in divorce – from reality.

Don’t Tell the Bride is on E4 at 9pm

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.