The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

Yinka Shonibare, Pop! Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. 16 March – 20 April

Stephen Friedman Gallery is exhibiting a show of new works by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, famed for his installation of a ship in a bottle on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth. Drawing on Shonibare’s observations on the financial crisis, the exhibition humourously explores themes of corruption and decadence. Shonibare critiques contemporary society’s penchant for luxury goods and the idiosyncrasies of the banking industry. Shonibare has re-worked of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, where Christ is replaced by Dionysus – the mythological God of fertility and wine – surrounded by twelve over-indulged "disciples". The celebration of Dionysian excess continues in a piece called Banker, which portrays a well dressed mannequin suggesting a lewd act of self-pleasure with a champagne bottle. Figures depicted in these works are dressed in Batik printed cloth. The technique of textile manufacture and printing originated in Indonesia, and was mass produced by the Dutch and sold to west African countries, where it became a symbol of "African" identity. 

Film

Human Rights Watch Film Festival. London(Various Locations): Curzon Soho, Curzon Mayfair, ICA, Ritzy Cinema. 13-22 March 

Established in New York in 1994, and coming to London in 1996, Human Rights Watch has organised this annual film festival to shed light on issues of human rights abuse through film. This year’s programme covers four themes: traditional values and human rights (encompassing women’s rights, disability rights, LGBT rights) crises and migration, issues in Asia, occupation and rule of the law. Fourteen documentaries and five dramas will be screened, highlighting issues from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, North Korea, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia and Tanzania. Many films will be followed by Q + A sessions with filmmakers and experts.

Theatre

The Audience, Gielgud Theatre, London. Until 15 June

Based on the weekly private meeting between monarch and prime minister known as "The Audience", Peter Morgan’s latest play imagines a series of meetings between the changing incumbents of Number 10 Downing Street and the Queen over a period of sixty years. From young monarch to  grandmother, the play charts pivotal moments of the second Elizabethan reign. While ministers move on, the monarch remains a constant force, skilfully played by Helen Mirren. (The Audience is reviewed by Andrew Billen in the latest edition of the New Statesman.)

Dance

 Flamenco Festival (10th anniversary). Sadler’s Wells, London. 15- 27 March

Tante (song), palmas (handclaps), baile (dance) form the three pillars of the expressive Spanish dance form, Flamenco, dating back to the 15th century following an influx of Romani Gypsies via India, North Africa, and the Middle East. With expressive arms and powerfully stamping feet, the Sadler’s Wells will be putting on a spectacular display of performances by leading dancers and musicians in  the tenth edition of London’s annual Flamenco Festival. This year, there will be eight different performances in the main house and two special perfomances in the Lilian Baylis studio along with additional events taking place around the building. Dancers to look out for will be Israel Galvan and Eva Yerbabuena   On the 15, 16 and 22 of March, Sadler’s Wells will be holding a Spanish Food and Wine Festival in conjunction with the dance performances, where audiences will be able to sample traditional Tapas, Andalucian dishes all expertly matched with the best Spanish Wines. (This will need to be booked in conjunction to tickets to the festival.)

Anglo-Nigerian contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare poses next to his Fourth Plinth commission (Photo: Ben Stanstall, Getty Images)
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Broken and The Trial: From Sean Bean playing a priest to real life lawyers

A surprisingly involving depiction of a clergyman provides the saintly contrast to the sinner being judged by a real jury.

I was all set to scoff at Broken, Jimmy McGovern’s new series for BBC1 (30 May, 9pm). A drama about a Catholic priest and his impoverished parish in a “major northern city”, it sounded so hilariously McGovern-by-numbers (“Eh, lad, give us the collection bowl – the leccy wants paying”) that on paper it could pass for a spoof. Even funnier, Sean Bean, late of Game of Thrones, was to play the clergyman in question.

Naturally, I adore Bean, who comes from the major northern city that is Sheffield, as I do, and who is so terribly . . . virile (though when I interviewed him in a car park behind King’s Cross Station a few years ago, and a security guard in a high-vis jacket approached us furiously shouting the odds, he ran and hid in his trailer, leaving yours truly to face the music). But let’s face it: he’s not exactly versatile, is he? The idea of him in a cassock, or even just a mud-coloured cardigan, made me laugh out loud.

Settling down to watch the series, however, I soon realised that no scoffing would be taking place. For one thing, Broken is hugely involving, its Dickensian plot (no spoilers here) as plausible as it is macabre. For another, in the present circumstances, its script seems to be rather daring. Not only is Father Michael Kerrigan shown – cover my eyes with the collected works of Richard Dawkins! – to be a good and conscientious priest, but his faith is depicted as a fine and useful thing. If he brings his besieged parishioners solace, he is sure to be carrying vouchers for the food bank as well.

The flashbacks from which he suffers – in which his mammy can be heard calling him a “dirty, filthy beast” and a spiteful old priest is seen applying a cane to his hand – are undoubtedly clichéd. But they are also a device. Forty years on, he is happy to nurse his dying mother, and his love for God is undimmed: two facts that are not, of course, unrelated. How weirdly bold for a television series to set its face against the consensus that denigrates all things Christian as it never would any other faith.

I don’t for a minute buy Anna Friel as Christina, the gobby, broke single mother Kerrigan is determined to help. Even when covered in bruises – a bust-up at the betting shop – Friel manages to look glossy, and she never, ever quits acting (with a capital A), which is a drag. But Bean is such a revelation, I was able to ignore the voice in my head which kept insisting that a Catholic priest as young as he is – in this realm, “young” is a couple of years shy of 60 – would surely be Polish or African (I’m not a Catholic but I am married to one, for which reason I occasionally go to Mass).

He plays Kerrigan, whose overwhelming desire to be kind sometimes makes him cack-handed, with great gentleness, but also with an uninflected ordinariness that is completely convincing. Part of the problem (my problem, at least) with Communion is the lack of rhetorical passion in most priests’ voices, something he captures perfectly. One other thing: Line of Duty fans need to know that Adrian Dunbar – aka Ted Hastings – can also be seen here wearing a dog collar, and that he looks almost as good in it as he does in police uniform.

On Channel 4 The Trial: A Murder in the Family was an experiment in the shape of a murder trial in which the defendant – a university lecturer accused of strangling his estranged wife – and all the witnesses were actors but the lawyers and “jury” were real. Over five consecutive nights (21-25 May, 9pm), I found it pretty tiresome listening to jury members tell the camera what they made of this or that bit of evidence.

Get on with it, I thought, longing again for the return of Peter Moffat’s Silk. But I adored the lawyers, particularly the lead ­defence barrister, John Ryder, QC. What an actor. Sentences left his mouth fully formed, as smooth as they were savage, his charm only just veiling his mighty ruthlessness. Drooling at this performance – which was not, in one sense, a performance at all – I found myself thinking that if more priests came over like barristers, our dying churches might be standing room only.

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 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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