The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.


A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance, Tate Modern, 14 Nov 2012 – 1 April 2013

Tate Modern’s major winter show has finally opened, and it embraces the "blockbuster exhibition" philosophy to the letter – famous names, iconic art works, and a whole-hearted welcome for the fact that nudity is never gratuitous in art.

A Bigger Splash is a survey of the relationship between performance and painting from 1950 onwards. It’s centred on the era-defining drip paintings of Jackson Pollock (laid out on the ground as they were when he painted them), and the 60 years or so of artists responding to his principle that painting is physical. As you’d expect, icons abound – Hockney’s sun-drenched swimming pools hang next to Yves Klein’s famous experiment of what happens when you use a naked woman as a paintbrush. There are so many defining names of 20th-century art that the show has the aura of a quick rush through Modern Art History; Yayoi Kusama, Bruce Nauman, the Vienna Actionists. This is art at its most visceral, pig guts, mass nudity and the occasional orgy are all included in the ticket price.


Constellations, Duke of York Theatre, until 5 Jan 2013

Melding quantum multi-universe theory with beekeeping may not be the most obvious preamble for theatre, but critics were universally delighted with Constellations when it debuted earlier this year. That critical consensus lead to Constellations being one of the biggest success in the Royal Court's history, and now its back for a second run. Written by the award-winning playwright Nick Payne and now directed by Michael Longhurst, Constellations is a romantic drama with a difference. Shunning the convention that play narrative lines must unfold along the temporal limits of the time and space – Constellations exists in a parallel world where every possible situation unfolds simultaneously on stage. The action unfolds in not one universe, but several, as we see a couple meet, greet and a relationship grow in a plot which twists in and out of every chance not taken.


Nouvelle Vaguem, Hammersmith Apollo, 16 November

Since their formation in 2004, Nouvelle Vague have repeatedly demonstrated that no one carries off effortless insouciance quite like Parisians. The French foursome are returning to London for another tour, and demonstrating, once again, their mastery of the cover version. Their synth and dubstep overhauling of classic Eighties pop may sound like a recipe for over-ironic disaster, but this band have repeatedly shown that style and soul are an inherent part of their repertoire. Head over to west London tonight, for versions of "Blue Monday", "Love will Tear us Apart" and "Dancing with Myself", as well as new covers and a changing line-up of singers.


Wayne Mcgregor Random Dance, Barbican Curve Gallery, 18 November

The Barbican has enjoyed tremendous success recently for bringing Londoners more of what they just cant get enough of – rain.  Just in case you're not feeling damp enough outside, you can head on indoor to this multi-sensory installation by Random International currently at the Curve Gallery, where motion sensors and digital technology bring rainclouds to you.

From this Sunday, the Rain Room, will play host to a cross-disciplinary collaboration with Wayne McGregor, who is choreographing an extensive and original new work which sees dancers performing experimental pieces as they dodge in and out of the indoor downpour. With an original score by Max Richter, this promises to be a truly unique melding of contemporary art and dance. Admission is free, but get there as early as possible to beat the queue.


Jewish Film Festival, various locations, until 18 November

The final week of the nationwide festival, which, for the first time hosts screenings in London, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.

This is a unique chance to see a broad range of international cinema, much of which it is difficult to get access to within the UK otherwise. Five UK premières are on over the weekend alone, and other highlights include the closing night gala of the French-Israeli-Canadian A Bottle in the Gaza Sea. Panel discussions will follow screenings of Joel Fendelman’s David, and the award-winning God’s Neighbour.

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash (1967), part of the A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance exhibition, now on at the Tate Modern. Photo: David Hockney / Tate Modern
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Would the BBC's Nazi drama SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago?

This alternate history is freighted with meaning now we're facing the wurst-case scenario. 

Would SS-GB have felt half so resonant a year ago? Though the clever-after-the-fact Nostradamus types out there might disagree, I can’t believe that it would. When it comes to the Second World War, after all, the present has helpfully stepped in where memory is just beginning to leave off. The EU, in the process of fragmenting, is now more than ever powerless to act in the matter of rogue states, even among its own membership. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hungary, for instance, is already operating as a kind of proto-fascist state, led by Viktor Orbán, a man whom Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, jokingly likes to call “the dictator” – and where it goes, doubtless others will soon follow.

The series (Sundays, 9pm), adapted from Len Deighton’s novel, is set in 1941 in a Britain under Nazi occupation; Winston Churchill has been executed and the resistance is struggling to hold on to its last strongholds in the countryside. Sam Riley plays Douglas Archer, a detective at Scotland Yard, now under the control of the SS, and a character who appears in almost every scene. Riley has, for an actor, a somewhat unexpressive face, beautiful but unreadable. Here, however, his downturned mouth and impassive cheekbones are perfect: Archer, after all, operates (by which I mean, barely operates) in a world in which no one wants to give their true feelings away, whether to their landlady, their lover, or their boss, newly arrived from Himmler’s office and as Protestant as all hell (he hasn’t used the word “degenerate” yet, but he will, he will).

Archer is, of course, an ambiguous figure, neither (at present) a member of the resistance nor (we gather) a fully committed collaborator. He is – or so he tells himself – merely doing his job, biding his time until those braver or more foolhardy do something to restore the old order. Widowed, he has a small boy to bring up. Yet how long he can inhabit this dubious middle ground remains to be seen. Oskar Huth (Lars Eidinger), the new boss, is keen to finish off the resistance; the resistance, in turn, is determined to persuade Archer to join its cause.

It’s hard to find fault with the series; for the next month, I am going to look forward to Sunday nights mightily. I would, I suppose, have hoped for a slightly more charismatic actress than Kate Bosworth to play Barbara Barga, the American journalist who may or may not be involved with the British resistance. But everything else seems pretty perfect to me. London looks suitably dirty and its inhabitants’ meals suitably exiguous. Happiness is an extra egg for tea, smoking is practically a profession, and
the likes of Archer wear thick, white vests.

Swastikas adorn everything from the Palace of Westminster to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace is half ruined, a memorial to what the Germans regard as Churchill’s folly, and the CGI is good enough for the sight of all these things to induce your heart to ache briefly. Nazi brutality is depicted here as almost quotidian – and doubtless it once was to some. Huth’s determination to have four new telephone lines installed in his office within the hour is at one end of this horrible ordinariness. At the other is the box in which Archer’s mutinous secretary Sylvia (Maeve Dermody) furiously stubs out her fag, full to the brim with yellow stars.

When I first heard about The Kettering Incident (Tuesdays, 12.20am; repeated Wednesdays, 10pm) I thought someone must have found out about that thing that happened one time I was driving north on the M1 with a more-than-usually terrible hangover. Turns out it’s a new Australian drama, which comes to us on Sky Atlantic. Anna (Elizabeth Debicki), a doctor working in London, pitches up back in Tasmania many years after her teenage friend Gillian disappeared into its Kettering forest, having seen a load of mysterious bright lights. Was Gillian abducted by aliens or was she, as some local people believe, murdered by Anna? To be honest, she could be working as a roadie for Kylie, for all I care. This ponderous, derivative show is what happens when a writer sacrifices character on the altar of plot. The more the plot thickens, the more jaw-achingly tedious it becomes.

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 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit