The Friday arts diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Dance

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.

Film

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

Art

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.

 

Music

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

 

Theatre

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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Conjuring the ghost: the "shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genuis" of David Litvinoff

A new biography tracks down the elusive Kray confidant who became a friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

David Litvinoff is a mythic character to anyone with an interest in London during the Sixties. An intimate of the Krays, he was a tough and violent Jew from the East End. He was also a musical genius with an unrivalled knowledge of jazz, the blues and rock that made him a valued friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was his ability to move from the East End to Chelsea, from the dives of Soho to Notting Hill, that was the critical factor in the extraordinary vision of London that Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg conjured into the film Performance, for which Litvinoff is credited as dialogue coach. And yet, even though all this is known and recorded, he remains a ghost, a figure who wrote nothing and who systematically destroyed all the records of his life he could lay his hands on. Even his exact role in Performance is shrouded in mystery. He is said to have dictated much of the script to Cammell. This biography claims that Jagger’s mesmerising song on the soundtrack, “Memo from Turner”, was in fact a memo from Litvinoff.

Multiple reports describe him as the most brilliant talker London had known since Coleridge, but although there are rumours of tapes they have always been just rumours. I’d have thought he was a figure who would defeat any biographer – a shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genius lost in a mist of hallucinogens – but Keiron Pim’s account of this extraordinary character is a magisterial work of scholarship. He tracks down all the living witnesses; he has also unearthed letters, and even some of those long-lost tapes.

The story that emerges is even harder to believe than the legend. Litvinoff came out of the Jewish East End but he was from one of its most talented families. His name was not even Litvinoff: his mother’s first husband went by that name but David was the son of her second, Solomon Levy. Long before he met the Krays or the Stones, he was a gossip columnist on the Daily Express, practically inventing the Chelsea set that shocked the prim Fifties. By that time he had met Lucian Freud, who painted him in an astonishing study, the working title of which was Portrait of a Jew. Litvinoff was furious when Freud exhibited it with the new description of The Procurer, and the bad blood between these two men, both of whom inhabited the drinking clubs of Soho and the Krays’ gambling joints, remained for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is Freud who comes over as the villain of the book, fingered by Pim as the man behind the most violent assault on Litvinoff: he was knocked unconscious at the door to his own flat, on the top floor, and awoke to find himself naked and tied to a chair suspended from the balcony, nose broken and head shaved bald.

I learned much from this book: a period working for Peter Rachman before he became involved with the Krays; sojourns in Wales and Australia when he was fleeing threats of violence. The big discovery for me, however, was Litvinoff’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the jazz and blues traditions that gave birth to rock’n’roll. He taught the Stones a lot but he taught Eric Clapton even more – they were both living at the Pheasantry building on the King’s Road, and Litvinoff seems to have had unlimited access to the most recherché back catalogues and the most recent unreleased recordings. The book traces, but does not comment on, a transformation from an amphetamine-fuelled hard man in the Fifties and early Sixties to the oddest of hallucinogen hippies by the Summer of Love in 1967.

But, for all Litvinoff’s knowledge, wit and gift for friendship, his tale is a tragedy. A man who could talk but couldn’t write; an out gay man long before it was acceptable, who seems never to have been at ease with his sexuality; a proud Jew without any tradition of Judaism to which he could affiliate. Above all, this was a man who lived to the full the extraordinary moment when London dreamed, in Harold Wilson’s Sixties, that class was a thing of the past. Back from Australia in the early Seventies, Litvinoff awoke again to find that it had indeed been a dream. His suicide in 1975 was cold and deliberate. He had outlived his time. 

Colin MacCabe edits Critical Quarterly

Jumpin’ Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock’n’Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim is publisyhed by Jonathan Cape (416pp, £16.99)

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser