The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Festivals

Institut Français, London: SW7: BD & Comics Passion Festival, 24 – 27 May

"Bandes dessinée" literally translates from the French as “drawn strip”. It is from this phrase that we took the notion of the “comic strip”, and it lends its name this week to one of the UK’s premier comics festivals. Hosted jointly by the Institut Français and Comica Festvial, the Bandes Dessinées (BD) and Comics Passion Festival features a four day event schedule of renowned comics creators, including Guy Delisle, Luke Pearson, Tom Gauld, Grzegorz Rosinksi and Jonathan Ross. Also expect music, performances, workshops and bookstall from some of the best independent comic vendors.

Various London Venues, London: Chelsea Fringe Festival, until 10 June

Embracing Chelsea’s floral heritage whilst stepping out of the ticketed cloisters of the annual flower show, the brand new Chelsea Fringe Festival calls itself “a wonderful mix of public spectacles, horticultural happenings, and community celebration”. The three week festival will be staging a huge range of free events and quirky installations across the capital including “edible bus stop” gardens in South London, a “Floating Forrest” designed by Alexander Reford and built from 600 wooden disks suspended in the Grand Union Canal and a mobile beer garden powered by bicycle.

Literature

Olympia Exhibition Centre, London W14: London Antiquarian Book Fair, 24 – 26 May

Book lovers  – listen up! This weekend sees antique texts take centre stage at London’s long-running Antiquarian Book Fair, presented by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) in collaboration with the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). The Olympia Exhibition Hall will be filled with books, maps, prints, ephemera and manuscripts, with an atmosphere that encourages browsing and the indulging of curiosity. The fair will also feature tours and a popular lecture series. Tickets are free but must be reserved online in advance.

Exhibition

The Turner Contemporary, Margate: She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea - Tracy Emin at the Turner Contemporary, until 23 September

Tracy Emin’s first major solo exhibition at the Turner Contemporary, She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, was specially conceived for this exceptional space in Margate, the town where the artist grew up. She credits Margate as the inspiration for a number of her most famous works. Here, she brings together pieces exploring themes of romance, sensuality, eroticism and love. Expect drawings, monoprints, sculptures and neons, both pre-existing and newly created, spanning the range of Emin’s ouvre.

Art

Brick Lane Yard, London, E1: Art Car Boot Fair, 27 May

The organisers of this one-day festival, now in its ninth year, were probably quite pleased when the Wall Street Journal called it “the funkiest car boot fair around”. Art Car Boot is an art fair that aims to put the emphasis on art as accessible, affordable, and interactive. Boasting its “best line-up yet”, this year will see over 70 artists offering up their work, including Sir Peter Blake, Polly Morgan, Billy Childish, Emin International and many more. Staged in a car park off Brick Lane, the fair also ramps up the entertainment with vintage cars, a “handbag disco” and food stalls hosted by St John’s Bread and Wine, Rod and Line, and Nude Espresso.

"Cycle London" by comic artist Luke Pearson, on display at the London Transport Museum. Pearson will appear this weekend at "BD & Comics Passion Festival" in London. (Image: Nobrow Publishing)
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.