Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

  Comedy

Chris Tucker, London, Hammersmith Apollo, London W6, 24-28 November
The actor and comedian returns to the stand-up comedy circuit after a five-year absence with a world tour beginning at the capital’s Hammersmith Apollo. A man who was given a record-breaking $25 million for the third Rush Hour film, Tucker’s absence comes to an end with the tour and his role in Silver Linings Playbook, out now. The comedian first started doing stand-up after graduating from high school and during the 1990s frequently performed on HBO series, Def Comedy Jam.

Film

Iranian Film Festival, until 23 November, London
The third annual Iranian film festival in London concludes its run with feature film, The Last Step and other short films. Directed by and starring Ali Mostafa, the surreal film sees a man die and stay on screen, offering observations to his film star wife. For the first time, the festival will be followed up with regular screenings in London next year of the best of Persian cinema. My Persian Nights will bring films from the middle eastern country to London in overnight, outdoor and drive-in shows next year.

Art

Ian Hamilton Finlay, Tate Modern, London SE1, until 17 February 2013
Don’t miss this chance to see one of the most renowned British artists of the past century on show at Tate Britain. Ian Hamilton-Finlay was a concrete poet before he became an artist, and throughout his career the two art forms have remained inseparable –whether he was inscribing text onto stones, crafting hand-made books or cultivating his masterpiece artist’s garden, Little Sparta. Twenty-four of his works are currently omn display in the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain, in materials varying from classical bronze and ceramic to electric neon.

Dance

Unleashed, Barbican Centre, London EC2, 23-24 November
More than a year on from the London riots, there is still no definitive understanding of what caused them. Adding a new dimension to the barrage of media commentary which accompanied the outbursts, Unleashed is a theatre show that explores the hopes, fears and lifestyles of the riot-generation.
Made by the Young People of Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning and Blue Boy Entertainment, this art-council funded show combines music, dance and poetry in a high-energy exploration of what it means to be a young person living in London today. This is guaranteed to be your only chance this year to tackle the question of cuts, jobs and David Cameron via the medium of break dancing.

Literary

Book Slam Launch II, Rough Trade East, London E1, 28 November
London’s finest literary salon presents some of our best comics, writers, musicians, plus shining greats of the Twittersphere. Scriptwriting legend Jesse Armstrong has writing credits for almost every television show worth watching - Peep Show, The Thick of It, Fresh Meat and Four Lions. He will be speaking alongside the delightful Salena Godden, as well as comedian Peter Serafinowicz. Music is provided from the 25-piece Basement Orchestra.

Ian Hamilton Finlay, A Wartime Garden (collaboration with John Andrew, 1989) © The estate of Ian Hamilton Finlay
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In defence of orientalism, the case against Twenty20, and why Ken should watch Son of Saul

My week, from Age Concern to anti-semitism.

Returning late from a party I never much wanted to go to, I leap up and down in the middle of the Harrow Road in the hope of flagging down a taxi, but the drivers don’t notice me. Either they’re haring down the fast lane or they’re too preoccupied cursing Uber to one another on their mobile phones. My father drove a black cab, so I have a deep loyalty to them. But there’s nothing like being left stranded in NW10 in the dead of night to make one reconsider one’s options. I just wish Uber wasn’t called Uber.

Just not cricket

Tired and irritable, I spend the next day watching sport on television – snooker, darts, cricket, anything I can find. But I won’t be following the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket again. It’s greedy, cynical, over-sponsored and naff. Whenever somebody hits a boundary, cheerleaders in cast-off gym kit previously worn by fourth-form Roedean girls wave tinsel mops.

Matches go to the final over where they’re decided in a thrashathon of sixes hit by mercenaries wielding bats as wide as shovels. Why, in that case, don’t both teams just play a final over each and dispense with the previous 19? I can’t wait for the elegant ennui of a five-day Test match.

Stop! Culture police!

I go to the Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery to shake off the sensation of all-consuming kitsch. Immediately I realise I have always confused Delacroix with someone else but I can’t decide who. Maybe Jacques-Louis David. The show convincingly argues that Delacroix influenced every artist who came after him except Jeff Koons, who in that case must have been influenced by David. It’s turbulent, moody work, some of the best of it, again to my surprise, being religious painting with the religion taken out. Christ’s followers lamenting his death don’t appear to be expecting miracles. This is a man they loved, cruelly executed. The colours are the colours of insupportable grief.

I love the show but wish the curators hadn’t felt they must apologise for Delacroix finding the North Africans he painted “exotic”. Cultural studies jargon screams from the wall. You can hear the lecturer inveighing against the “appropriating colonial gaze” – John Berger and Edward Said taking all the fun out of marvelling at what’s foreign and desirable. I find myself wondering where they’d stand on the Roedean cheer-leaders of Mumbai.

Taking leave of the senses

My wife drags me to a play at Age Concern’s headquarters in Bloomsbury. When I see where she’s taking me I wonder if she plans to leave me there. The play is called Don’t Leave Me Now and is written by Brian Daniels. It is, to keep it simple, about the effects of dementia on the families and lovers of sufferers. I am not, in all honesty, expecting a good time. It is a reading only, the actors sitting in a long line like a board of examiners, and the audience hunched forward in the attitude of the professionally caring.  My wife is a therapist so this is her world.

Here, unlike in my study, an educated empathy prevails and no one is furious. I fear that art is going to get lost in good intention. But the play turns out to be subtly powerful, sympathetic and sharp, sad and funny; and hearing it read engages me as seeing it performed might not have done. Spared the spectacle of actors throwing their bodies around and singing about their dreams against a backdrop painted by a lesser, Les Mis version of Delacroix, you can concentrate on the words. And where dementia is the villain, words are priceless.

Mixing with the proles

In Bloomsbury again the next day for a bank holiday design and craft fair at Mary Ward House. I have a soft spot for craft fairs, having helped run a craft shop once, and I feel a kinship with the designers sitting bored behind their stalls, answering inane questions about kilns and receiving empty compliments. But it’s the venue that steals the show, a lovely Arts and Crafts house, founded in the 1890s by the novelist Mary Ward with the intention of enabling the wealthy and educated to live among the poor and introduce them to the consolations of beauty and knowledge. We’d call that patronising. We’re wrong. It’s a high ideal, to ease the burden of poverty and ignorance and, in Ward’s words, save us from “the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.

An Oscar-winning argument for Zionism

Speaking of which, I am unable to empty my mind of Ken Livingstone and his apologists as I sit in the cinema and watch the just-released Academy Award-winning Son of Saul, a devastating film about one prisoner’s attempt to hold on to a vestige of humanity in a Nazi death camp. If you think you know of hell from Dante or Michelangelo, think again. The inferno bodied forth in Son of Saul is no theological apportioning of justice or deserts. It is the evisceration of meaning, the negation of every grand illusion about itself mankind has ever harboured. There has been a fashion, lately, to invoke Gaza as proof that the Holocaust is a lesson that Jews failed to learn – as though one cruelty drives out another, as though suffering is forfeit, and as though we, the observers, must choose between horrors.

I defy even Livingstone to watch this film, in which the Jews, once gassed, become “pieces” – Stücke – and not grasp the overwhelming case for a Jewish place of refuge. Zionism pre-dated the camps, and its fulfilment, if we can call it that, came too late for those millions reduced to the grey powder mountains the Sonderkommandos were tasked with sweeping away. It diminishes one’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause not a jot to recognise the arguments, in a world of dehumanising hate, for Zionism. Indeed, not to recognise those arguments is to embrace the moral insentience whose murderous consequence Son of Saul confronts with numbed horror. 

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred