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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Netflix's Ozark is overstuffed – not to mention tonally weird

Could the channel use a hit? Every time my subscription leaves my bank account, I think again that it could.

The main reason why Ozark, the new Netflix series, feels so underpowered has to do with its star, Jason Bateman (who also directs): a good actor who badly wants for charisma, he simply can’t carry it alone. Watching the first few episodes, I kept thinking of Jon Hamm in Mad Men and (a better example here) Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, both of whom played, as does Bateman, characters around which the plots of their respective series turned. When they were on screen, which was often, it was all but impossible to tear your eyes from them; when they were off it, you felt like you were only biding your time until they returned. But when Bateman disappears from view, you hardly notice. In fact, it feels like a plus: at least now you might get to see a bit more of the deft and adorable Laura Linney.

In Ozark, Bateman is Marty, an outwardly square guy whose big secret is that he is a money launderer for the second biggest drugs cartel in Mexico. When the series opens, he and his wife Wendy (Linney) and their two children are living in Chicago, where he nominally works as a financial advisor.

By the end of the first episode, however, they’re on their way to the Lake of the Ozarks in rural Missouri. Marty’s partner, Bruce, has been on the fiddle, and the cartel, having summarily executed him, now wants Marty both to pay back the cash, and to establish a few new businesses in which future income may be cleaned far from the prying eyes of the law enforcement agencies. If this sounds derivative, it is. We’re in the realm of Breaking Bad, only where that show gave us out-of-control Bunsen burners and flesh-eating chemicals, this one is more preoccupied with percentages and margins.

Where’s the friction? Well, not only is the FBI on Marty’s tail, his wife has been cheating on him, with the result that their marriage is now just another of his business arrangements. The locals (think Trump supporters with beards as big as pine trees) have proved thus far to be on the unfriendly side, and having paid off their debts, the only house Marty can afford has a cliché – sorry, crotchety old guy – living in the basement. On paper, admittedly, this all sounds moderately promising. But hilarity does not ensue. As dull as the Lake of the Ozarks when the tourist season is over, not even Linney can make Bill Dubuque’s dialogue come alive. Her character should be traumatised: before they left Chicago, the cartel, for reasons I do not completely understand, pushed her podgy lover – splat! – off his balcony. Instead, she’s fussing about the crotchety old guy’s sexism.

Ozark is overstuffed and tonally weird, so I won’t be binge-watching this one. This completes rather a bad run for me and Netflix; after the lame new series of House of Cards and the egregious Gypsy, this is the third of its shows on the trot to bore me rigid. Could the channel use a hit? Every time my subscription leaves my bank account, I think again that it could.

And now to The Sweet Makers: A Tudor Treat (19 July, 8pm), in which we hear the sound of the “living history” barrel being scraped so loudly, those attending the meeting at which it was commissioned must surely have worn ear defenders. Basically, this is a series in which four confectioners “go back in time” to discover how their forebears used sugar (first, the Tudors; next week, the Georgians).

What it means in practice is lots of Generation Game-style faffing with candied roses and coriander comfits by people in long skirts and silly hats – a hey-nonny-nonny fiesta of pointlessness that is itself a sugar coating for those nasty things called facts (ie a bit of tokenism about slavery and our ancestors’ trouble with their teeth).

Resident expert, food historian Dr Annie Gray, strained to give the proceedings urgency, sternly reminding the confectioners that the sugar house they’d spent hours building did not yet have a roof. But who cared if it didn’t? Destined to be eaten by fake Tudor guests at a fake Tudor banquet, it wasn’t as if anyone was going to lose their head for it – not even, alas, at Broadcasting House. 

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 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder

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