Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.


Murder in the Library, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1, 18 Jan – 12 May 

The British Library’s new exhibition about crime writing, which accounts for approximately a third of all British fiction books, will take you on a captivating journey through the evolution of this popular genre. It will explore the genre's origins in the early 19th century through to contemporary "Nordic Noir", without forgetting the most prominent crime writers including Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle.

This fascinating exhibition will showcase manuscripts, books, rare audio recordings, artworks, as well as intriguing artefacts from the library's British and North American collections.

Classical Music

The Opus Ones, Peter Donohoe, Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry, 16 January

Warwick Arts Centre at the University of Warwick invites world renowned British pianist Peter Donohoe to take to its stage with a performance of music from the early part of the careers of some of the best known composers. Donohoe has devised an evening devoted to the works of Tchaikovsky, Bartók, Prokofiev, Schumann and Berg.

The audience is promised “power, tenderness, and the perennially fresh touch of one of the supreme virtuosos of our time”. Donohoe begins the evening with a pre-concert talk.


Work In Progress, Sean Lock, Leicester square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, Leicester Square, London WC2, 11 Jan – 16 Jan (except 14 Jan)

Sean Lock is taking a break from his  television appearances to begin a stand-up comedy tour. The shows at the Leicester Square Theatre are in preparation for a national tour which will commence later this year. The comedian, whose TV credits include team captain on 8 Out Of 10 Cats as well as QI and Argumental, will perform a string of shows at this venue in January and February.


The Johnny Cash Story, The Lowry Theatre, 8 The Quays, Salford, 13 January

For fans of the film Walk The Line, this one-night-only show is unmissable. Roger Dean, who has been playing Johnny Cash for most of his life after first performing The Tennessee Flat Top Box on BBC television aged 14, will be entertaining with a collection of the star’s best known songs. From Big River to Ring of Fire and I Walk The Line, the show charts Cash’s rise to fame from humble Arkansas beginnings.


The Silence of the Sea, Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London SW1, 14 Jan – 2 Feb (previews start from 10 January)

A novella originally written by Vercors, The Silence of the Sea has been reimagined by Anthony Weigh for the stage. A soldier is sent to the home of an old man and his niece. The pair, with no option but to allow him in, resist him with a silence that will become their most forceful strength.

This “exquisitely constructed human drama”, whose cast features Finbar Lynch among others, sheds new light on the original play and observes “an excruciating dilemma faced by both the occupier and the occupied”.

Sean Lock, whose pre-tour warm-up gigs will begin this week in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After Strictly, I'd love to see Ed Balls start a new political party

My week, from babbling at Michael Gove to chatting Botox with Ed Balls and a trip to Stroke City.

If you want to see yourself as others see you, write a weekly column in a national newspaper, then steel yourself to read “below the line”. Under my last offering I read the following comment: “Don’t be angry, feel pity. Her father was a member of the European Parliament. Her older brother has been a member of parliament, a cabinet minister, a secretary of state, a historian, a mayor of London. Her younger brother is a member of parliament and minister for universities and science. She has a column in the Daily Mail. Can you imagine how she feels deep inside?” Before I slammed my laptop shut – the truth always hurts – my eye fell on this. “When is Rachel going to pose for Playboy seniors’ edition?” Who knew that Playboy did a seniors’ edition? This is the best compliment I’ve had all year!


Three parts of Michael Gove

Part one Bumped into Michael Gove the other day for the first time since I called him a “political psychopath” and “Westminster suicide bomber” in print. We had one of those classic English non-conversations. I babbled. Gove segued into an anecdote about waiting for a London train at Castle Cary in his trusty Boden navy jacket and being accosted by Johnnie Boden wearing the exact same one. I’m afraid that’s the punchline! Part two I’ve just had a courtesy call from the Cheltenham Literature Festival to inform me that Gove has been parachuted into my event. I’ve been booked in since June, and the panel is on modern manners. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, of course, but I do lie in bed imagining the questions I hope I might be asked at the Q&A session afterwards. Part three There has been what we might call a serious “infarction” of books about Brexit, serialised passim. I never thought I would write these words, but I’m feeling sorry for the chap. Gove gets such a pasting in the diaries of Sir Craig Oliver.

Still, I suppose Michael can have his own say, because he’s returning to the Times this week as a columnist. Part of me hopes he’ll “do a Sarah Vine”, as it’s known in the trade (ie, write a column spiced with intimate revelations). But I am braced for policy wonkery rather than the petty score-settling and invasions of his own family privacy that would be so much more entertaining.


I capture the castle

I’ve been at an event on foreign affairs called the Mount Stewart Conversations, co-hosted by BBC Northern Ireland and the National Trust. Before my departure for Belfast, I mentioned that I was going to the province to the much “misunderestimated” Jemima Goldsmith, the producer, and writer of this parish. I didn’t drop either the name of the house or the fact that Castlereagh, a former foreign secretary, used to live there, and that the desk that the Congress of Vienna was signed on is in the house, as I assumed in my snooty way that Ms Goldsmith wouldn’t have heard of either. “Oh, we used to have a house in Northern Ireland, Mount Stewart,” she said, when I said I was going there. “It used to belong to Mum.” That told me.

Anyway, it was a wonderful weekend, full of foreign policy and academic rock stars too numerous to mention. Plus, at the Stormont Hotel, the staff served porridge with double cream and Bushmills whiskey for breakfast; and the gardens at Mount Stewart were stupendous. A top performer was Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff, who runs his own conflict resolution charity. Powell negotiated the Good Friday Agreement and also has a very natty line in weekend casual wear. Jeremy Corbyn has said he wants a minister for peace, as well as party unity. Surely “Curly” Powell – a prince of peace if ever there was one – must be shoo-in for this gig.

PS: I was told that Derry/Londonderry is now known as “Stroke City”. I imagined stricken residents all being rushed to Casualty, before I worked it out.


On board with Balls

Isn’t Ed Balls bliss? From originating Twitter’s Ed Balls Day to becoming Strictly Come Dancing’s Ed Balls, he is adding hugely to the gaiety of the nation. I did the ITV show The Agenda with Tom Bradby this week, and as a fellow guest Balls was a non-stop stream of campery, charleston steps, Strictly gossip and girly questions about whether he should have a spray tan (no!), or Botox under his armpits to staunch the sweat (also no! If you block the armpits, it will only appear somewhere else!).

He is clever, fluent, kind, built like a s*** outhouse, and nice. I don’t care that his waltz looked as if his partner, Katya, was trying to move a double-doored Sub-Zero American fridge across a shiny floor. After Strictly I’d like to see him start a new party for all the socially liberal, fiscally conservative, pro-European millions of us who have been disenfranchised by Brexit and the Corbynisation of the Labour Party. In fact, I said this on air. If he doesn’t organise it, I will, and he sort of promised to be on board!


A shot in the dark

I was trying to think of something that would irritate New Statesman readers to end with. How about this: my husband is shooting every weekend between now and 2017. This weekend we are in Drynachan, the seat of Clan Campbell and the Thanes of Cawdor. I have been fielding calls from our host, a type-A American financier, about the transportation of shotguns on BA flights to Inverness – even though I don’t shoot and can’t stand the sport.

I was overheard droning on by Adrian Tinniswood, the author of the fashionable history of country houses The Long Weekend. He told me that the 11th Duke of Bedford kept four cars and eight chauffeurs to ferry revellers to his pile at Woburn. Guests were picked up in town by a chauffeur, accompanied by footmen. Luggage went in another car, also escorted by footmen, as it was not done to travel with your suitcase.

It’s beyond Downton! I must remember to tell mine host how real toffs do it. He might send a plane just for the guns.

Rachel Johnson is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories