Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton star as a married couple caught in conflict in Half of a Yellow Sun. Photograph: Slate Films
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Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Film

Half of a Yellow Sun, dir: BiyiBandele, cinemas nationwide, Friday 11th April

The film adaptation of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2006 novel is released today. The screenplay (adapted by director Biyi Bandele) tells the story of the Nigerian-Biafran War in 1967-1970, from the perspectives of four different people whose lives were torn apart by the conflict. The story is a rare example of an African struggle being presented to a Western audience by African voices, although the legacy of colonialism, from all perspectives, is by no means ignored. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton follow up their respective Oscar and BAFTA successes by taking on starring roles which explore the social, political and ethnic tensions of this often overlooked conflict.

Television

True Detective, Sky Atlantic, 9pm, Saturday 12th April

The first series of another one of the "greatest things to happen to television" finishes tonight (that is if you were patient enough to avoid the HBO Go website a few weeks ago, which crashed due to huge amount of traffic the finale garnered). The final episode is both thrilling and poignant, although some critics have said that it lets down the "meticulous mystery" of the previous seven episodes. Nevertheless, it is sure to still draw in viewers and cement Matthew McConaughey’s status as a heavy-duty actor; his performance as Detective Rust Cohle has been credited with lifting the sometimes laboured dialogue into cinematic profundity. How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days seems long lost indeed.

Performance

Soul Trip: Funk Da Cirque, Camden Roundhouse, Friday 11th-Sunday 13th April

Following on from its hugely successful 2012 debut, CircusFest returns to the Roundhouse this weekend. Soul Trip displays the talents of some of the best young street dancers and acrobats from across London, who have recently taken to the stage at the National Theatre and Camp Bestival 2013. The dancers, all aged 11-25, fuse street dance and ground-based acrobatics to test the limits of human rhythm and flexibility. A combination of boogaloo, house, waakin’ and b-boying with theatre, acrobatics, human pyramids and body percussion is sure to tire out the audience, let alone the performers.

Concert

Gary Barlow, Manchester Phones 4U Arena, Monday 14th April

Gary Barlow is back on the road, promoting his new album, Since I Saw You Last (jokes about seeing the last of Barlow can wait outside the door, thank you). Although his re-launched solo career certainly lacks the ammo of Take That’s stratospheric comeback, Barlow has cultivated a strong and loyal fan base. His status as a national icon, if not quite treasure, was confirmed with his OBE in 2012 for services to music and charity. This latest tour, which will surely feature many of the band’s classic hits, will draw in many middle-aged fans, but his appeal to young and old will see him through many more future tours.

Comedy

Russell Howard: Wonderbox, Royal Albert Hall, Monday 14th-Thursday 17th April

Firmly established as a household name, Russell Howard returns for his first live stand-up tour in three years. Fans of his boyish charm may be surprised to learn that he is in fact now 34, but nonetheless, Howard's energetic and enthused routine makes him the boyish antithesis to the Jack Whitehall’s public school breed of rugger humour. His Wonderbox tour has already been called "juvenile" and "smutty", but combined with searing observations about English parochial life ("Some families in England have to wait two weeks for their wheelie bins to be collected. Their suffering is unimaginable"), Howard has managed to tread carefully the line between middle England and its discreetly base sense of humour.

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Bertie Carvel's diary: What would the French think about infidelity to Doctor Foster?

The joy of debuting a new series, Rupert Murdoch's squeamishness and a sting in the tail.

According to the adage, the first thing an actor does when he gets a job is to go on holiday. And so, having finished our sold-out run of James Graham’s Ink at the Almeida and with the show (in which I play a young Rupert Murdoch) about to transfer into the West End, I’m packing my bags.

But before I can skip town, I’ve one more professional engagement: the press launch of series two of the BBC drama Doctor Foster, which we finished filming at Christmas. I’ve now seen the final cut of all five episodes, and I’m excited to share it with an audience. There’s no substitute for seeing other people’s reactions at first hand, especially with a show that got people talking so much first time around, and it’s electric to sit in a cinema full of expectant journalists and commentators and feel the room respond. Nothing beats this: to put so much into making a thing and then experience an audience’s unmediated, reflexive reaction. When it goes well, you feel that you’ve shared something, that you’ve all recognised something together about how things are. It’s a unifying feeling. A sort of bond.

Cheating spouses

Handling the interviews has been tricky, when there’s so little one can say without giving the plot away. (The first series began with Suranne Jones’s character Gemma, a GP, suspecting her husband Simon of having an affair.) What’s more, lots of the questions invite moral judgements that I’ve tried my best to avoid; I always think it’s really important not to judge the characters I play from outside, but simply to work out how they feel about themselves, to zero in on their point of view. There’s a sort of moral bloodlust around this show: it’s extraordinary. People seem to want to hear that I’ve been pilloried in the street, or expect me to put distance between myself and my character, to hang him out to dry as a pariah.

While I’m not in the business of defending Simon Foster any more than I’m in the business of attacking him, I am intrigued by this queer mixture of sensationalism and prurience that seems to surface again and again.

Shock horror

Oddly enough, it’s something that comes up in Ink: many people have been surprised to find that, in a story about the re-launch of the Sun newspaper in 1969 as a buccaneering tabloid, it’s the proprietor who considers dropping anchor when the spirit of free enterprise threatens to set his moral compass spinning.

I’ve never given it much thought before, but I suppose that sensationalism relies on a fairly rigid worldview for its oxygen – the SHOCKERS! that scream at us in tabloid headlines are deviations from a conventional idea of the norm. But what’s behind the appetite for this sort of story? Do we tell tales of transgression to reinforce our collective boundaries or to challenge them?

For me there’s a close kinship between good journalism and good drama. I’m reminded of the words of John Galsworthy, who wrote Strife, the play I directed last summer, and who felt that the writer should aim “to set before the public no cut-and-dried codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist’s outlook, set down without fear, favour, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may afford”.

So when it comes to promoting the thing we’ve made, I’m faced with a real conundrum: on the one hand I want it to reach a wide audience, and I’m flattered that there’s an appetite to hear about my contribution to the process of making it; but on the other hand I think the really interesting thing about the work is contained in the work itself. I’m always struck, in art galleries, by how much more time people spend reading the notes next to the paintings than looking at the paintings themselves. I’m sure that’s the wrong way around.

Insouciant remake

En route to the airport the next morning I read that Doctor Foster is to be adapted into a new French version. It’s a cliché verging on racism, but I can’t help wondering whether the French will have a different attitude to a story about marital infidelity, and whether the tone of the press coverage will differ. I wonder, too, whether, in the home of Roland Barthes, there is as much space given to artists to talk about what they’ve made – in his 1967 essay, “The Death of the Author”, Barthes wrote that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”.

No stone unturned

Touring the villages of Gigondas, Sablet and Séguret later that evening, I’m struck by the provision of espaces culturels in seemingly every commune, however small. The French certainly give space to the work itself. But I also notice a sign warning of a chat lunatique, so decide to beat a hasty retreat. Arriving at the house where I’m staying, I’ve been told that the key will be under a flowerpot. Lifting each tub in turn, and finally a large flat stone by the door, I find a small scorpion, but no key. I’m writing this at a table less than a yard away so let’s hope there won’t be a sting in this tale.

Ink opens at the Duke of York Theatre, London, on 9 September. More details: almeida.co.uk

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear