Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Favourite Things From 2016

I saw a lot of art in 2016. That's what will stand out I think. I hardly saw a film, went to the theatre and opera a bit & read a lot but I made my way to a lot of art.

Now, my knowledge of art extends pretty much as far as that cliche: "I may not know a lot about art but I know what I like." The amusing thing though is even the stuff I like I couldn't always explain to you why I like it. Especially the more abstract stuff. Perhaps it is simply that there's a mix of colour, shapes & textures that work for me without too much actual thinking being required. Perhaps that line about 'all art aspires to the condition of music' applies. The stuff hits you without being too smacked about by your mind.

So, the only films I saw in an actual cinema in 2016 were: Deadpool, Lawrence of Arabia, Hail, Caesar!, Mustang, Son of Saul, Nice Guys, Our Kind of Traitor & Embrace The Serpent. I enjoyed them all - although I'm not sure 'enjoy' is the correct word for Son of Saul, which is a pretty harrowing film but one I think everyone should see. I'd say similar things about Mustang, but that isn't as bleak. Embrace The Serpent was an astonishing film with an interesting structure. It was brilliant finally seeing Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen, where you can lose yourself in the desert properly. Nice Guys, Hail Caesar! and Deadpool were all highly entertaining whilst Our Kind of Traitor was fine up to a point. And that point was the ending. So, if I'm going to pick a film of 2016 from that list it would have to be Son of Saul.

My friends - Caroline Dunn and Emma Parry in particular - will probably find my selection of a really depressing subtitled film unsurprising. I am nothing if not easy to read.

OK, on the theatre & opera type stuff I saw Guys and Dolls (Savoy Theatre), Macbeth (Young Vic), Hangmen (Wyndhams), Battlefield (Young Vic), The Magic Flute (ENO), The Caretaker (Old Vic), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Globe), Taming of the Shrew (Globe), Madam Butterfly (ENO), The Deep Blue Sea (NT), Tristan & Isolde (ENO), Macbeth (Globe), Imogen (Globe) The Plough & The Stars (NT), Don Giovanni (ENO), No Man's Land (Wyndhams). Annoyingly ill-health (or perhaps my own anxiety related to my ill-health if truth be told) led me to cancel a few other things I was supposed to see. This has been a problem recently and one I'm determined to see the back of in 2017.

The only one of those that I thought was an utter dud was Macbeth at the Globe. I'm not 'in' on arts politics but having seen everything from Emma Rice's 'Wonder Season' I'm a bit baffled as to why the Globe have gone and given her the - polite - boot. A Midsummer Night's Dream was (almost) the best thing I saw in 2016, The Taming of the Shrew was an OK take on a terrible play, Imogen was an interesting attempt to do something with one of Shakespeare's less often performed plays and Macbeth was rubbish but that was more to do with its director than Emma Rice. But The Globe is my favourite place to watch Shakespeare. There's something about feeling part of the production that other theatres don't have.

My favourite things I saw though were: Don Giovanni (ENO), Guys and Dolls (Savoy Theatre), Macbeth (Young Vic) and Hangmen

I would say I enjoyed everything I saw at the ENO, even the five and a half hours of Wagner that was Tristan & Isolde. I love the ENO though, even as they struggle to find a place in the new austerity-driven arts culture of the 21st century. They still have lots of reasonably priced tickets and they seem less pompous than the Royal Opera House, which - and this may be unfair - seems to be home to the wealthy and the snobby but I base that on one visit & feeble attempts to buy tickets that aren't outrageously priced.

I saw two more Pinter plays this year - The Caretaker and No Man's Land - which just reinforce my love of Pinter's black comic verbal hostility where you have to read not just between the lines but between the lines between the lines.

The Deep Blue Sea was a disappointment, The Plough & the Stars interesting and Battlefield though provoking and very, very Peter Brook.

The only live music I saw this year was the magnificent Gretchen Peters who is the finest purveyor of warm melancholy I've seen recently and I'd go see her every time she comes to Britain if I have the money. I did make it to The Cambridge Folk Festival, though, which was fun. This time with my friend Mark and my god-daughter Gemma. There were some great bands on and some great pubs in town to explore but I really enjoyed Lisa O'Neill, Songs of Separation, Sam Outlaw, Kate Rusby, Mary Chapin Carpenter & Baaba Maal. I'd like to see more live music next year (and Depeche Mode are touring so that's already on the list.)

So, now for the arts/museums list. I went to: Alexander Calder : Performing Sculpture (Tate Modern), The World Goes Pop (Tate Modern), Artists & Empire (Tate Britain), Frank Auerbach (Tate Britain), Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize (2015 & 2016) (National Portrait Gallery), Vogue: A Century of Style (National Portrait Gallery), Bletchley Park (with Aya), Painting with the Light (Tate Britain), Russia & The Arts (National Portrait Gallery), Mona Hatoum (Tate Modern), Bhupen Khakhar: You Can't Please All (Tate Modern), Georgia O'Keeffe (Tate Modern), William Egglestone (National Portrait Gallery), Picasso Portraits (National Portrait Gallery), Paul Nash (Tate Britain), Turner Prize 2016 (Tate Britain), Painting The Artist : Van Dyck & Early Self-Portraiture in Britain (National Portrait Gallery), Beyond Caravaggio (National Gallery) & Abstract Expressionism (Royal Academy). So that's not too bad.

I particularly loved Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture (Tate Modern), Vogue: A Century of Style (National Portrait Gallery), Painting with the Light (Tate Britain), Russia & The Arts (National Portrait Gallery), William Egglestone (National Portrait Gallery), Beyond Caravaggio (National Gallery) & Abstract Expressionism (Royal Academy) but Mona Hatoum shook me up & blew my mind in a way that I hadn't been expecting even as I wasn't sure about how much I liked what I was seeing, which makes for an interesting response. I'll probably try to get to Beyond Caravaggio again before it closes and I'm going to pop in to see the Wilfredo Lam (Tate Modern) Exhibition on New Year's Eve so the year isn't closed yet.

If I had to pick one though I'd go for...Mona Hatoum. 

I missed a couple of things because friends wanted to go but we couldn't pin dates down. Next year I'll go regardless.

The best thing is having memberships to various Museums and Galleries, which are funded by generous relatives (mostly). It means that these things are doable even when I'm skint, which as those of you who know me well know that's often. It also helps that I live in a city with such an amazing set of galleries and museums. It's easy in London to get that London mindset that means weirdly you end up not going to all the things you're surrounded by because you just don't. There's no real explanation for it. I've lived in London for about twenty years. For half that time I barely saw a play, went to an art gallery or did anything else but get drunk, sleep and work. Now, I'm more aware of what's out there and more determined to take advantage of it.

It helps that there are people I know who enjoy this stuff as much as I do so here's an end of 2016 thank you list:

To Gemma, for joining me at Don Giovanni in our lucky dip seats & having a whale of a time. As well as The Cambridge Folk Festival.
To Mark, Emma & Chris, for the various plays & trips. To Emma also thanks for being one of the few people to get around art galleries and museums at the same speed as me. To Marky for having a similar taste in music to me also & for making the Cambridge Folk Festival such an excellent combination of beer and music. Maybe we'll get round to Hampton Court this year. ;-)
To Carrie for the continuing education in the world of musicals. More next year as I've been rubbish this.
To Aya for getting me to go the Bletchley Park again & for her help with tickets at the Prince Charles Cinema.
To Mum & Dad for funding a lot of this stuff through Xmas & Birthday presents.

I hope you all had a lovely 2016. And here's to 2017.

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