The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Music

Barbican Centre, London, EC2: The Cinematic Orchestra, 30 June

The Barbican hosts Jason Swinscoe's Ninja Tunes project. Combining jazz improvisation, sampled soundtrack music, film images and dance music tropes, this orchestra achieves a variety and beauty not to be underestimated. Originally written for a string quartet, from visuals such as René Clair’s surrealist Entr’acte (The Cinematic Orchestra) and Peter Tscherkassky’s Outer Space (Dorian Concept and Tom Chant), the final product has a depth of emotion which can take the breath away. This is their final date in the UK before they move on to Italy.

Literature

Hampstead Heath, London: Walking Book Club, 1 July

This week the book-lovers from the Walking Book Club will turn to Vita Sackville-West’s All Passion Spent. Written as a fictional companion to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, this novel follows newly-widowed Lady Slane as she rents a house in Hampstead to begin a new life. Introducing the reader to a variety of Lady Slane’s new friends and a few figures from her past, this novel extols the virtues of following one’s desires, no matter how late in life. This free event, open to all readers and their walking companions, offers participants a chance to discuss the book in an informal setting.

Cinema

Queen of Hoxton, London, EC2: Easy Rider, 1st July

The Rooftop Film Club gives cinema lovers an opportunity to see classic films in the open air. On Sunday they give their screen over to Easy Rider, the 1969 classic directed by and starring Dennis Hopper. Easy Rider is the tale of two bikers who head from LA to Florida to retire after a major cocaine sale. A cult favourite, this film discusses themes of freedom, boundaries and establishment and offers a detailed portrait of its time.

Theatre

AE Harris and mac Birmingham, Birmingham: Be Festival 2nd July- 8th July

This year’s Be Festival is the third to be held in Birmingham as part of a Europe-wide project to unite cultures and individuals through theatre. This year, mac Birmingham will host the winning show from the BE festival 2011, As the Flames rose, we danced to the sirens, the sirens by the Sleepwalk Collective. AE Harris will show four thirty-minute shows each night from  this year’s entrants, each accompanied by dinner, music, drinks and an after show party. All shows come from across the continent and are designed to be viewed and understood by everyone, regardless of language.

Exhibitions

Piper Gallery, London W1: Inaugural exhibition: Then and Now: Edward Allington and Vaughan Grylls

This week marks the launch of a new contemporary art gallery. Piper Gallery will represent artists who are continuing to produce innovative work at least 40 years into their careers. Those exhibiting include Edward Allington, Tess Jaray and Francis West.

The Cinematic Orchestra will be playing at the Barbican Centre on 30th June. Photo: Getty Images
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A new BBC program allows us to watch couples undertake mediation

Mr v Mrs: Call the Mediator is a rather astonishing series - and it's up to the viewer to provide judgement.

Somewhere in Epsom, Surrey, a separated couple, Sue and Peter, are trying with the help of a family mediator to sort out their financial situation. It’s a complicated business. Long ago, when she was in her twenties, Sue lived with a man called Bernard, a partner in the accountancy firm where she worked as a clerk. Bernard, though, was 25 years her senior, and because he already had three children the relationship seemed to have no future. Sue wanted a family of her own, and so she left him for his colleague Peter, whom she married in 1982. In 2015, however, she fell out of love with Peter. One morning in January, she cleaned the house, made a casserole for him and the two of her  three adult sons still living at home, and scarpered back to Bernard.

You wouldn’t call Bernard a Svengali. He is soon to be 80; his major pleasures in life appear to be golf and mah-jong. But he does play a role in all this. Every offer Peter makes, Sue takes home to Bernard, who then goes through the small print. If he sounds gleeful at what he regards as Peter’s pitiful idea of a settlement, she seems not to notice. But then, Sue, a housewife, seems not to notice anything much, least of all that the well-off Bernard insists he can’t keep her, financially speaking – never mind that, come lunchtime, it’s she who’s there in his well-appointed kitchen, dutifully dotting Worcestershire sauce on molten slices of Cheddar. Is Bernard taking his revenge on ­Peter for having nicked the woman he loved all those years ago? Or does he genuinely care only on grounds of fairness that everything is split 50:50? You decide!

I’m not joking: you really do. The BBC’s rather astonishing three-part series Mr v Mrs: Call the Mediator (Tuesdays, 9pm) offers no judgement in the matter of Peter and Sue, or any of the other couples it features. In this, it reflects the mediators, whose sanguine exteriors I find quite disturbing.

“You’ve had some intimacy, yes?” said Judith, a mediator working in King’s Cross, as a woman called Nichola complained that her ex, Martin, had broken into her flat and begged her for sex, an act that required her to have a “full health check” afterwards (post-coitus, she discovered he had joined an internet dating site). Nichola didn’t answer the question, choosing instead to stare at Judith’s earrings (dangly earrings appear to be a requirement for jobs with the Family Mediation service). Meanwhile, Martin walked out, fed up of Nichola’s “snidey remarks”. Another woman, Victoria, had agreed to mediation only if she and her ex-husband could sit in separate rooms; their mediator, Irene, had to shuttle between them every 15 minutes. How the mediators keep their mouth shut when people are behaving like this, I have no idea. To the long list of jobs I can never do, I must add another.

Everything about this documentary series is eye-popping, though that doesn’t mean I’ve much appetite for it. Some people descend into snarling madness when they split up; their hurt, to which they cling as if to a soft toy, makes rational thought all but impossible, and it is horrible to see. I was mildly surprised that National Family Mediation allowed the BBC access, but I suppose they’re only hoping to encourage more people to sign up, the better to avoid expensive court battles. What is far more astonishing is that these couples were willing to be filmed as they yelled and cried and exposed their most intimate flaws and secrets. Why did they do it?

Jason, who sends his ex-wife “helpful” web links mansplaining how a child’s teeth should be cleaned; Nichola, who won’t even talk to her husband when he delivers their small sons back to her (they must run in the dark from his car to the stairwell of her flat); Sue, whose mediation, thanks to Bernard, drags on for three months before she accepts Peter’s offer: I can’t think that any of them is a bad or cruel person. In their misery, however, they seem so. Lots of us have been there. But when things improve, we get to look back in horror, to gaze wonderingly at the sickness that then took hold. For these couples, it’s all preserved for posterity: the meanness, the futility, the mind-turning hate. 

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 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain