Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Film

Returning to Oz. BFI, Southbank, London SE1, 1-14 March 

In anticipation of Sam Raimi’s soon-to-be-released Oz: The Great and Powerful, the BFI will be screening Victor Fleming’s 1939 classic film The wizard of Oz as well as two early film adaptations: The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914) with live piano on 1 and 3 March, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910) which is the earliest surviving film of the Oz story.

Dance

Mise en Scene.  Barbican Centre, London EC2, until 9 June

Leading contemporary artist Philippe Parreno has devised this performance in conjunction with the Barbican’s featured exhibition- The Bride and Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns. Inspired by the choreography of Cunningham and the music of John Cage, two Yamaha Disklavier pianos will be playing his scores during the dancers’ performances. Due to Cage’s fervent interest in soundscapes, Parreno has devised his own interpretation of Cage’s 4’33”

Live dance "Events"  will be performed on Thursday evenings and weekends throughout the duration of the exhibition by dancers from Richard Alston Dance Company and by students and graduates from London Contemporary Dance School
 

Theatre

The Captain of Kopenick. National Theatre, London SE1, until 4 April

“I used to think all the trouble in the world was caused by people giving orders. Now I reckon that it’s people being so willing to take them.”

Petty criminal Wilhelm Voigt has just been released from prison. He wanders 1910 Berlin in pursuit of his identity papers. When he picks up an abandoned military uniform in a fancy-dress shop, he finds the city ready to obey his every command. At the head of six soldiers, he heads to the Mayor’s office and confiscates the treasury with ease on the grounds of speculated corruption. However, what he seeks is official recognition of his existence. Ron Hutchinson’s humourous take on Carl Zuckmayer’s The Captain of Köpenick, first staged in Germany in 1931, sees Antony Sher starring in the title role.

 

Art

Art13 London. Olympia Grand Hall, London W14, 1–3 March

Art13 London is the capital’s brand new art fair for modern and contemporary art. The first edition will showcase 129 leading galleries from 30  countries and will exhibit thousands of artworks, including painting, sculpture, photography, prints and editions or multimedia, with prices ranging from £100- £500, 000. Sculptures by emerging and established sculptors will be on display outside the fair and a series of free tours, performances, talks and high-profile panel discussions will take place. In addition, 21 large scale sculptures by contemporary sculptors will be exhibited as "Art 13 Projects".

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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What Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who tells the rest of the world about Britain

If any silly kids’ show can say something about the country's changing view of itself, it’s this one. 

Over the past 54 years, the hero of the TV series Doctor Who has been to the end of the universe, where the stars are going out and civilisation is all but dead. He has seen the Earth die in a ball of flame, and he has been propositioned by Kylie Minogue while standing on the deck of a starship called Titanic.

But next year, he will go somewhere he has never been before: the ladies loo. This Christmas, Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor will die and regenerate into Jodie Whittaker, a 35-year-old whose most high-profile role to date was as the mother of a murdered child in the ITV crime drama Broadchurch.

On Sunday 16 July, both social media and the old-fashioned kind were flooded with discussion about the Doctor’s new gender. Inevitably many non-fans were also abroad, demanding to know why anyone should care about the casting in a silly kids’ show. The obvious answer is that, after half a century, this show means a great deal to some of us. But there’s a more practical reason why the decision matters, too: Doctor Who is one of the BBC’s most valuable brands.

The original version of the show, which ran from 1963 to 1989, may have been known for its wobbly sets and aliens made of painted bubble wrap. Since Russell T Davies brought the programme back in 2005, however, it has picked up a global following. In the past few years, it has finally broken America; in 2014, the cast and crew went on a publicity tour, including stops in Australia, South Korea and Brazil. In Mexico, the show is broadcast under the frankly superior name of Doctor Mysterio. All this means that Doctor Who is an opportunity to present a view of Britishness that isn’t based on imperial history, or class politics, or cricket, or cake.

Because of the flexibility of the programme’s format, if any silly kids’ show can say something about Britain’s changing view of itself, it’s this one. And what it has just said is that it’s time men stopped dominating everything.

Regeneration – the process by which one Doctor dies and the next is born, enabling the show to recast its lead – seems so baked into the Doctor Who formula now that it’s strange to think that it wasn’t there all along. Yet, for his three years in the role, William Hartnell was never the first Doctor: he was simply the Doctor.

Hartnell played the character as irascible, patrician and grandfatherly (literally, in the case of his first companion, Susan). He was also imbued with a certain imperial self-confidence. In one early episode, he hit a Frenchman round the head with a spade.

In 1966, however, a new producer decided to recast the role. The standard narrative is that Hartnell was too ill to continue; more likely, since he was both expensive and difficult to work with, he was pushed out. The replacement, Patrick Troughton, made no attempt to impersonate Hartnell. Instead, he played the Doctor as an entirely new man, less grumpy and more funny.

Over the following decades, each new Doctor added something to the character. Jon Pertwee brought action, Tom Baker bohemian silliness, Peter Davison youth. Colin Baker brought a hint of menace and almost got the show cancelled. Sylvester McCoy brought a sense of mystery. In the half-American-funded 1996 TV movie, Paul McGann became the first Doctor – and this seemed quaintly shocking at the time – to kiss a girl.

Most of these men were either great character actors (Hartnell, Troughton, Davison) or flamboyant showmen (Pertwee, Tom Baker). While the show was off the air, though, stories speculating about its return generally attached names from the latter category, such as – and here are two men you rarely find mentioned together – Alan Davies or David Hasselhoff.

It was a statement of intent, then, when Russell T Davies cast Christopher Eccleston as his Time Lord: the show may seem silly but we’re taking it seriously. Since then, playing the Doctor catapulted both David Tennant and Matt Smith to fame and work in Hollywood. In 2013, when we met a previously unseen incarnation of the Doctor, it wasn’t a guest turn for a comedian but the last major role for the late John Hurt.

So what does the choice of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor say? For one thing, it marks her out as one of the great actors of her generation, capable of comedy and tragedy and delivering convincing technobabble, often in a single line. Perhaps it also suggests that the new lead writer, Chris Chibnall, feels under pressure to shake things up a bit.

But it also says something about how our heroes should look. The box-office and critical success of Wonder Woman has highlighted both the huge appetite for female leads and the shocking lack of them. As a result of Whittaker’s casting, for the first time in Doctor Who, a woman will play the lead, not just his (or her!) companion.

Both Capaldi and Tennant were fans of the programme before they were its star; both became actors in part because they wanted to play the Doctor. It’s a lovely idea that, somewhere out there right now, there’s a little girl who might do the same. 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder

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