Five of the best … films
The Personal History of David Copperfield (PG)
(Armando Iannucci, 2019, UK) 119 mins
After his savage political satires In the Loop and The Death of Stalin, Armando Iannucci’s third feature is a more straightforward proposition: an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s most personal novel. Dev Patel is on winning form as Copperfield, surrounded by a strong cast including Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie and Peter Capaldi.
Uncut Gems (15)
(Josh and Benny Safdie, 2019, US) 135 mins
Still in cinemas – just – prior to reappearing on Netflix next week, this sees Adam Sandler on never-better form as the jewellery dealer Howard Ratner. He’s brokering a deal for a rare opal while fending off heavies aiming to collect on his debts, in an indie effort that has seen its directors the Safdie brothers lever themselves into the big league.
(Sam Mendes, 2019, UK/US) 119 mins
Mendes’s first world war nailbiter is still going strong on the back of a raft of Oscar and Bafta nominations. Most of the attention, inevitably, is being paid to the virtuoso long-take visuals, but the story itself is about the strength of ordinariness in the face of the greatest of adversities, in the shape of George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman’s charge across no man’s land to deliver a vital message.
The Holy Mountain (18)
(Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973, Mex) 115 mins
A reissue for the definitively berserk parable from the Chilean underground-movie maestro. His 1970 counterculture hit El Topo had found favour with the likes of John Lennon, who instructed his manager Allen Klein to fund this follow-up. Like that film, it follows an allegorical journey towards enlightenment, with themes and images drawn largely from tarot.
Everything: The Real Thing Story (15)
(Simon Sheridan, 2019, UK) 94 mins
The boundary-breaking Liverpudlian soul act get their own documentary, and what a story it is. From supporting the Beatles at the Cavern club, to scoring a massive mid-70s hit with You to Me Are Everything, to the ignominy of playing Sun City during the apartheid era, this is an underheard area in the multivaried crosscurrents of British music.
Five of the best … rock, pop & jazz
As mutable as a chameleon on a light-up disco dancefloor, Madonna’s career is built on deconstructing and reconstructing herself. In her latest guise she is Madame X, a character inspired by the fado culture of Madge’s current home city, Lisbon. Accordingly, these theatre shows feature baroque costumes (a glittery eyepatch! Medieval chic!) and even more dramatic writhing than usual. Splendid.
London Palladium, W1, Monday 27, Wednesday 29 & Thursday 30 January; to 16 February
The video to new single What a Man Gotta Do finds the JoBros at their relentlessly cheery best, an 80s movie pastiche that has each sibling dancing with his famous spouse: Nick with Priyanka Chopra, Joe with Sophie Turner, and the Other One with the Other One. It is a perfect match for the band’s catchy powerpop, as on 2019’s comeback album Happiness Begins.
Arena Birmingham, Wednesday 29 January; touring to 6 February
Les Amazones d’Afrique
“Girl power” always sounded a bit lame; instead, immerse yourself in Amazones Power, the bold, beautiful and deeply groovesome new album from Les Amazones d’Afrique. This mighty collective from Bamako, Mali, has been endorsed by Barack Obama (he listed an Amazones track among his favourite songs of 2017). Addressing corruption in African countries in a recent video, they note: “We’re screwed! But we won’t give up.”
Tramway, Glasgow, Saturday 25; The Jazz Cafe, NW1, Wednesday 29 January
Written by US folk singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, the mythological musical Hadestown proved a revelation, illuminating Mitchell’s talents and expanding on the possibilities of the form itself. Here, she plays a pair of Celtic Connections shows in Glasgow, and an intimate in-the-round set in London.
Glasgow, Wednesday 29 & Thursday 30; London, Friday 31 January
Throughout its century-plus history, jazz has injected the contrariness of improvisation into the conviviality of popular dance forms, and Kokoroko – the soulful, Afrobeat-rooted London eight-piece led by young jazz trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey – are a popular example. They meld the edgy harmonies of 21st-century urban mashups to long-burnished traditions.
London, Tuesday 28; Bristol, Wednesday 29; Manchester, Thursday 30 January
Three of the best … classical concerts
Igor Levit Plays Shostakovich
Igor Levit has already shown that he finds some of the most massive pianistic challenges irresistible. In London, he has already performed Ronald Stevenson’s Passacaglia on DSCH, and Frederic Rzewski’s Variations on The People United Will Never Be Defeated!, and now he takes on another of the great monuments of the 20th-century repertoire – Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues Op 87. With pieces in each of the major and minor keys, the set is consciously modelled on Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier, and takes around two-and-a-half hours to perform complete; by Levit’s standards, though, that’s nothing.
Barbican Hall, EC2, Sunday 26 January
Co-commissioned by the CBSO as part of its centenary celebrations, Unsuk Chin’s Spira is subtitled “a concerto for orchestra”. But given the virtuosity of her scoring and fabulous ear for instrumental sonority and colour, almost every one of Chin’s orchestral scores is a showpiece. The music borrows the mathematical idea of fractals and the spirals they generate; everything in her piece grows from the sound of a pair of vibraphones heard at the opening of the 19-minute work.
Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Thursday 30 January
The Songs of Clara Schumann
The Royal Academy of Music Song Circle adds an appendix to the bicentenary of Clara Schumann’s birth last year. As well as chamber music and piano pieces, Schumann composed some 30 songs, most of them after her marriage to Robert Schumann in 1840; this afternoon concert will include all of them.
Wigmore Hall, W1, Sunday 26 January
Five of the best … exhibitions
Picasso and Paper
The infinite fecundity of the modern world’s greatest artist folds and pastes reality into new forms in a survey of just one aspect of his art. Pablo Picasso did not merely use paper to draw on but pasted it into paintings to invent collage, constructed guitars with it, and etched some of the most compelling images in history.
Royal Academy of Arts, W1, Saturday 25 January to 13 April
Whether you are walking through nature or seeing it on a gallery wall, landscape is often a redemptive pool of calm and tranquility. It must be all the more welcome for Don McCullin, whose work as a photojournalist has taken him to so many war zones. Here he captures pastoral and sublime scenes in Somerset and beyond.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, Saturday 25 January to 4 May
William Blake: The Bard
Tate Britain’s current survey of William Blake has revealed his prophecies to a new generation; now see how his art inspires and interacts with contemporary culture. Blake’s illustrated edition of the early romantic poem The Bard, by Thomas Gray, is shown in the curious home of conceptual artist John Latham. Revered urban bard Iain Sinclair is among the 21st-century poets and artists responding to Blake’s vision.
Flat Time House, SE15, Thursday 30 January to 8 March
The great Renaissance thinker Thomas More gave the modern world one of its most beguiling and tormenting ideas: a perfect society. More may actually have been joking in his 1516 book Utopia, an account of a state that supposedly exists in the new world but that is also a satire on Plato’s Republic. That has not stopped his classic inspiring utopian speculations right up to our own time, as this exhibition shows.
The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, Friday 31 January to 27 September
Can art get any more Hollywood? All artists who work in California face the gaudy competition of the movie industry but Israel takes this blaze of mass culture as a challenge. His art embraces Hollywood and its history, from making a replica of the Maltese Falcon from the John Huston classic to portraying himself with his head literally full of glossy cinematic views of California dreamin’.
Gagosian Gallery, Grosvenor Hill, W1, to 14 March
Five of the best … theatre shows
Samuel Beckett’s follow-up to Waiting for Godot is one of his strangest plays. It tells the weirdly beguiling and darkly funny story of a blind old man, Hamm, and his servant, Clov; not to mention his parents, who live in dustbins (I said it was strange). There is a cracking cast, too: Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe are joined by Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson.
Old Vic, SE1, Monday 27 January to 28 March
Kunene and the King
Antony Sher and John Kani star in this probing play set in South Africa. Kani wrote the drama to mark the 25th anniversary of the end of apartheid and observe the tensions that remained. It is about an ailing actor, Jack (Sher), and his carer, Lunga (Kani), divided by politics but with a shared love for the bard.
Ambassadors Theatre, WC2, to 28 March
Asking for It
Following the recent headlines about a controversial rape trial in Cyprus, this piece is depressingly relevant. It is an adaptation of Louise O’Neill’s novel about sexual consent, set in small-town County Cork. When a young woman is raped, rumours arise, suspicion swirls and the victim’s life is changed for ever. This haunting play premiered in Dublin, is directed by Annabelle Comyn and stars Lauren Coe.
Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Wednesday 29 January to 15 February
This underground theatre festival (the main venue is literally beneath Waterloo station) is always worth a visit. There is so much to see: endless theatre, comedy, immersive experiences, cabaret and late-night parties. You can buy a ticket on the night but if you want to plan ahead: Tarot (tarot meets music-infused circus), First Time (an autobiographical play about HIV) and Santi & Naz (female friendship in pre-partition India) all sound fab.
The Vaults, SE1, Tuesday 28 January to 22 March
The Sugar Syndrome
Written when she was just 22, this is the 2003 debut play from Lucy Prebble, who went on to create the very brilliant Enron, The Effect and A Very Expensive Poison. This probing work about teenage life and love follows an online relationship between 17-year-old Dani and a man twice her age – and it still feels bang up to date. It is directed by Oscar Toeman and designed by Rebecca Bower, both runners-up for last year’s prestigious JK Award.
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, to 22 February
Three of the best … dance shows
Touted as a world first, this is an evening fusing grime music and contemporary dance. The centrepiece is the premiere of a collaboration between south London MC Lioness and contemporary choreographer Alexander Whitley. Plus there is a solo set from Lioness, and Whitley’s company performs the interactive installation Strange Stranger.
Boxpark, Wembley, Thursday 30 January
Mark Bruce Company: Return to Heaven
After three dance-theatre adaptations – Dracula, The Odyssey and Macbeth – Mark Bruce returns to original material in Return to Heaven. Two intrepid explorers journey through a world inspired by Egyptian mythology and Lynchian noir.
Merlin Theatre, Frome, Thursday 30 January to 1 February; touring to 29 April
Birmingham Royal Ballet: Swan Lake
BRB sets out on tour with Peter Wright’s first-rate production of Swan Lake and Tchaikovsky’s enchanting score played live. Céline Gittens and Momoko Hirata take turns with the dual leading role of Odette/Odile.
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, Wednesday 29 January to 1 February; touring to 4 April