The Friday arts diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.


Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty, Sadler's Wells, 4 December - 26 January 2013

Matthew Bourne is now renowned for his endlessly (re)inventive approach to classical ballet. By melding classical scores with supernatural storylines and nineteenth-century characters with twenty-first century problems, his sell-out shows are unlike anything else on the current dance scene.

Sleeping Beauty is his attempt at tackling the third and final of Tchaikovsky’s trio of ballets. In previous years he has staged delightfully atypical versions of Swan Lake, transforming it into a gay romance with an all-male cast, and re-written Cinderella into a wartime love story.

Sleeping Beauty is having a similarly semi-iconoclastic revival at the hands of Bourne. The story has been altered to suit his over-active imagination into a  gothic, time-travelling tale. Now Sleeping Beauty falls asleep in the Edwardian era and wakes up in our digital one.

The production has everything you’d come to expect from a Matthew Bourne dance show: costumes so fantastical they could have come from a Tim Burton film, a sexed-up narrative and – why not? - a few added vampires for good measure.

Luckily, the one thing Bourne hasn’t tampered with is Tchaikovsky’s original music. He remains resolutely faithful to the classic score, proving that he knows just when to stop messing with a winning formula.


London Underground Film Festival, The Horse Hospital, 6 - 9 December

If Hollywood blockbuster’s aren’t quite your cup of tea, make sure you head along to the London Underground Film Festival this weekend. Billed as a celebrations of "obscure, no budget, low budget, genre and genreless, new and recycled films", this is a hugely valuable showcasing opportunity for young, up-and-coming filmmakers as well as a great chance to diversify your cinema trips.

Hosted at the Horse Hospital – a three-tiered art venue striving to serve London’s need for underground and avant-garde media, the film festival will show a wealth of new shorts, international films and even has a full-day screening on Saturday. As well as a truly global representative of filmmaking talent, there is even a secret ballot where audience members can vote for their favourite short of 2012.

Highlights include the new British feature Savage Witches as well as a rare screening of Bruce La Bruce’s LA Zombie


Despite- Sixteen Palestinian artists under one roof, Rich Mix, London, until 28 December

Amongst the cultural mix in east London lies Despite, an exhibition, featuring the work of contemporary artists from Palestine. Work comes from artists from the West Bank and Gaza including Mohammed Joha, Hani Zurob, Majed Shala, Mohammed Abusal, Nidal Abu Oun and Raed Issa. The exhibition is curated by Arts Canteen, a group which brings the work of visual artists and musicians from the Middle East/Arab world to create dialogue between the region and the UK.

The artwork featured explores the different “real” environments we live in with the artistic imagination, and it is hoped it will challenge preconceptions and fire curiosity.



Gary Numan, The Forum, London, 7 December

The godfather of techno and one of the best electro-pop artists of the 1980s will be performing at the Forum tonight as part of his latest Machine Music tour.Numan will also be performing on Saturday at Rock City in Nottingham



The Changeling, Young Vic, London, until 22 Dec 

This production of Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s 1622 tragedy is set in the modern day. Joel Hill-Gibbins’s revival has received rave reviews from the critics. In this slightly longer production, Sinead Matthews plays Beatrice-Joanna, who hopes to fix her love life to be the way she wants it through murderous actions. The subplot involves mad doctors in a madhouse controlling those who just might be saner than they are.

Dancers performing Matthew Bourne's reinvention of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Paul McConnell/Getty Images)
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Shami Chakrabarti’s fall from grace: how a liberal hero lost her reputation

Once, it was trendy to say you liked the former director of Liberty. No longer.

It might be hard to remember now, but there was a time when it was trendy to like Shami Chakrabarti. In the mid-2000s, amid the Iraq War backlash and the furore over identity cards, speaking well of the barrister and head of the human rights campaign group Liberty was a handy way of displaying liberal credentials. She was everywhere: Question Time, Desert Island Discs, Have I Got News For You. A young indie band from Worcester called the Dastards was so keen on her that it even wrote a song about her. It included the lyric: “I turn on my TV/The only one I want to see/Is Shami Chakrabarti.”

The daughter of Bengali immigrants, Chakrabarti was born and brought up in the outer-London borough of Harrow, where she attended a comprehensive school before studying law at the London School of Economics. Her background was a great strength of her campaigning, and during the most authoritarian years of New Labour government she burnished her reputation.

Fast-forward to 13 September 2016, when Chakrabarti made her House of Lords debut as a Labour peer. Baroness Chakrabarti of Kennington wore a sombre expression and a rope of pearls looped round her throat beneath her ermine robe. It was hard to recognise the civil liberties campaigner who was once called “an anarchist in a barrister’s wig” by Loaded magazine.

Yet Chakrabarti has also been cast in another role that is far less desirable than a seat in the Lords: that of a hypocrite. On 29 April this year, Jeremy Corbyn announced that Chakrabarti would chair an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. The inquiry was prompted by the suspensions of Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West, and Ken Livingstone, for making offensive remarks that were condemned as anti-Semitic. On 16 May Chakrabarti announced that she was joining Labour to gain members’ “trust and confidence”. She said that she would still run the inquiry “without fear or favour”.

The Chakrabarti inquiry delivered its findings on 30 June at a press conference in Westminster. The atmosphere was febrile – there were verbal clashes between the activists and journalists present, and the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was reduced to tears. The report stated that Labour “is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism” but that there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”. It listed examples of “hateful language” and called on party members to “resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons”. Many Labour supporters were surprised that the report’s 20 recommendations did not include lifetime bans for members found to have shown anti-Semitic behaviour.

Then, on 4 August, it was revealed that Chakrabarti was the sole Labour appointment to the House of Lords in David Cameron’s resignation honours. Both Chakrabarti and Corbyn have denied that the peerage was discussed during the anti-Semitism inquiry. But critics suggested that her acceptance undermined the report and its independence.

In particular, it attracted criticism from members of the UK’s Jewish community. Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “This ‘whitewash for peerages’ is a scandal that surely raises serious questions about the integrity of Ms Chakrabarti, her inquiry and the Labour leadership.” A home affairs select committee report into anti-Semitism in the UK has since found that there were grave failings in the report for Labour.

Two further incidents contributed to the decline in Chakrabarti’s reputation: her arrival on Corbyn’s front bench as shadow attorney general and the revelation that her son attends the selective Dulwich College, which costs almost £19,000 a year in fees for day pupils (£39,000 for full boarders). She said that she “absolutely” supports Labour’s opposition to grammar schools but defended her choice to pay for selective education.

Chakrabarti told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “I live in a nice big house and eat nice food, and my neighbours are homeless and go to food banks. Does that make me a hypocrite, or does it make me someone who is trying to do best, not just for my own family, but for other people’s families, too?”

This was the end for many of those who had respected Chakrabarti – the whisper of hypocrisy became a roar. As the Times columnist Carol Midgley wrote: “You can’t with a straight face champion equality while choosing privilege for yourself.”

Hypocrisy is a charge that has dogged the left for decades (both Diane Abbott and Harriet Harman have fallen foul of the selective school problem). The trouble with having principles, it is said, is that you have to live up to them. Unlike the right, the left prizes purity in its politicians, as Jeremy Corbyn’s squeaky-clean political image shows. Shami Chakrabarti started the year with a campaigning reputation to rival that of the Labour leader, but her poor decisions have all but destroyed her. It’s difficult to recall a time when a liberal icon has fallen so far, so fast. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood