In 2011, the sublime was a popular topic of discussion. At the National Theatre there was Frankenstein and  in the John Martin exhibition at the Tate, the sublime was on show in a spectacular way. The John Martin exhibition was my favourite exhibition of the year. The epic was presented on grand canvases, but what I loved was getting really close to the paintings to see the detail. Earthly worlds melted into fantastical worlds and where one started and the other finished it was really hard to see.  I missed out on seeing Jonny Lee Miller as the creature, but glad I got to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the role in April.

Though I was delighted by the great John Martin exhibition on a trip to Manchester, I was also impressed by the Ford Maddox Brown exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. It was good to see other works alongside Work.

The Royal Shakespeare Company came home to perform in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in February.  Some of the productions that I liked  in 2011 were at the end of the long ensemble’s run, but I also looked forward to what the new company arriving.  In Stratford, there seemed to be so many ‘opening’  nights that every time I went to Stratford was some kind of event – the first night, the press night, and the queen opening the new theatre.  I was lucky to get tickets to see Katy Stephen play Cleopatra in a much more stripped down emotional version of the long ensemble’s Antony and Cleopatra  in the Swan theatre.  When the opening nights were over, the last night of the long ensemble seemed to happen so quickly.  The last day  that the long ensemble performed in Stratford was a great occasion because I saw three plays in a day and the last time I would see Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet.  The long ensembles’ last work in Britain was three new plays at Hampstead Theatre.

Kathryn Hunter’s Cleopatra got mixed reviews. It was a performance I had grown to like, and I was so pleased I got to see her in Kafka’s Monkey in July. This was a polished and extraordinary piece of physical theatre.

The new company arrived at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with a Macbeth and a thought-provoking Merchant of Venice. The critics seemed to prefer A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but out of the three main house Shakespeare productions, I thought this was the least inventive and exciting.  This was a production with Bottom wearing his packed lunch in inventive ways as he sleeps with the fairy queen and which the real world transformed into the woods in such a way, we were meant to feel that elements of the court world were seeping into the dream world.  Michael Boyd’s Macbeth played with time and the souls of the dead haunting the stage.  Rupert Goold’s Merchant of Venice gave Portia a central role in a production set in Las Vegas.   However, the joy for me was the Homecoming at the Swan.  This was a beautifully nuanced piece of work and for me beautifully captured the tone and mood of play.

Beauty was on show in the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Galley and in Eddie Redmayne’s Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Unlike the John Martin exhibition it was so hard to get up clue to anything in the popular National Gallery show. It was so nice to be directed through the gallery past the other Renaissance pairings to the exhibition around the Last Supper.  I really enjoyed Redmayne’s performance as Richard falling apart in from to me.

In other Shakespearean productions, Kevin Spacey’s Richard III which was fantastic and brutal and The Tempest at the Haymarket was a little plodding with a nice performance from Nicholas Lyndhust.

I found the Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum) fascinating, and  I felt that I should have enjoyed the Grayson Perry at the British Museum more than I did.  I was drawn to the Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery, which is always a great place to visit before a matinée.

I saw five different production of Hamlet in 2011, starting the year with the wonderful production at the National Theatre, and finishing with Michael Sheen’s performance in the Young Vic’s production  which was set in a mental hospital.   The other Hamlets were the Northern Broadsides, the RSC Young Person’s wonderful production and the Globe’s touring production.

I saw three different Comedy of Errors.  The year with the magnificent all male Propeller  Company production in Sheffield and finished the year with the National’s lively production. Lenny Henry was spot on with the verse and the set really worked on the large Olivier stage. Though both these productions were superb, I also really liked the RSC Young Person’s version which I saw for the first time when it was last performed  in April.

Not all the cultural events have been memorable. In thinking about the past year, I’d totally forgotten about seeing Twelfth Night at the National Theatre until I heard someone on the radio saying that Charles Edwards was their choice for actor of the year. They reminded me that not only had he been a superb Benedick, but he’d also been a decent Sir Andrew in a dull production at the National Theatre.

Much Ado About Nothing scaffolded the year for me personally . It had been a long time since I’d seen a production, nd then two excellent, but very different productions came along. I loved the Globe’s detailed production and Eve Best’s wonderful performance as Beatrice. I was so surprised when she played the ‘Kill Claudio’ line for laughs. Over the river at the Wyndham’s Theatre was the commercial 1980’s concept production which I saw many times starting with the first night. It was great fun and the performances from David Tennant and  Catherine Tate were great and totally in context in this production. There was some comment that the audience only laughed because they saw David Tennant on stage, but when Alex Beckett took over from David Tennant for two nights the laughs came in the same places and it seemed the audience enjoyed the production and still gave it a standing ovation.

…..and my highlight of 2011 was Adam James’ Don Pedro in the Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing. It was a wonderful performance that seemed to catch the character so well.  James made everything look so easy, but actually it was his supporting performance that made it possible for Tate and Tennant to give great comic performances.

Best of 2011

Here is my best of.. lists. The following post discusses what I thought about the year.

Shakespeare in the Theatre

1. Romeo and Juliet (RSC at the RST)

2. Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)

3. Hamlet (The National Theatre)

4. Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s)

5.The Comedy of Errors (Propeller at Sheffield)

6. Antony and Cleopatra with Katy Stephens and Darrell D’Silva (RSC at the RST)

7. Macbeth (RSC)

8. The Merchant of Venice (RSC)

9. King Lear (RSC at the RST and Roundhouse)

10. Hamlet (Young Vic)

11. Othello (The Crucible, Sheffield)

12. As You Like It (RSC at Roundhouse)

13. Macbeth (Liverpool Everyman)

14. All Well That End’s Well (The Globe)

15. The Comedy of Errors (Young Person’s at RSC)

16. Hamlet (Northern Broadsides at West Yorkshire Playhouse)

17. Hamlet (Globe touring)

18. The Comedy of Errors (National Theatre)

19. Richard III (Old Vic)

20. Richard II (Donmar)

21. Hamlet (Young Person’s at RSC)

22.  King Lear (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

23.  The Tempest (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)

24.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC, RST)

25. Twelfth Night (National Theatre)

Other Theatre

1. Jerusalem (Apollo)

2. The Homecoming (RSC at the Swan)

3. Frankenstein (The National)

4. One Man, Two Guvnors (The Lowry)

5. Anna Christie (Donmar)

6. The City Madam (RSC, The Swan)

7. Dr Faustus (The Globe)

8. Betrayal (Harold Pinter/Comedy)

9. Inadmissible Evidence (Donmar)

10. Cardenio (RSC, The Swan)

11. Rosencrantz and Guldenstern are Dead (Haymarket)

12. Grief (The National)

13. 13 (The National)

14. Silence (RSC at Hampstead)

15. Little Eagles (RSC at Hampstead)

16. Season’s Greetings (National Theatre)

17. Juno and the Paycock (National)

18. Cause Célèbre (Old Vic)

19. Deep Blue Sea (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

20. Moonlight (Donmar)

21. The Crucible (York Theatre Royal)

22. The Heretic (Royal Court)

23. Forty Years On (York Theatre Royal)

24. American Trade (RSC at Hampstead)

25. Beggar’s Opera (Belt Up at York Theatre Royal)

Note: Forty Years On is here for proud Mum reasons.


1. John Martin (Tate Britain)

2. Ford Maddox Brown (Manchester City Art Gallery)

3. Degas (Royal Academy)

4. Leonardo da Vinci (National Gallery)

5. Juma Plensa (Yorkshire Sculpture Park)

6. Glamour of the Gods (National Portrait Gallery)

7. Gerhard Ritcher (Tate Modern)

8. First Actresses (National Portrait Gallery)

9. Miro (Tate Modern)

10. Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum)

11. Gabriel Orozco (Tate Modern)

12. Watteau (Royal Academy)

13. Hokusai’s Great wave (British Museum)

14. Treasures of Heaven (British Museum)

15. Devotion by Design (National Gallery)

16. Royal Academy Summer Show 2012

17. Building the Revolution (Royal Academy )

18. Barry Flanagan (Tate Britain)

19. Grayson Perry (British Museum)

20. Tacita Dean (Tate Modern)

My great cultural moments of 2011

Meeting Sir Alan and Lady Ayckbourn

First night of Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing

Last night of Long Ensemble (2009-11) at Royal Shakespeare Theatre – Romeo and Juliet

First night of Long Ensemble (2009-11) at the opening of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – King Lear

The performance of the year – Adam James as Don Pedro in Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing – just wonderful.

Edinburgh Festival

The RSC Ensemble Revealed at the Swan Theatre.

Best actor and actress

Best Actor – Adam James in Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s)

Best Actress – Eve Best in Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe)

Best of 2010

Theatre: Shakespeare

1. Romeo and Juliet (RSC).

2. King Lear (RSC).

3. As You Like It (West Yorkshire Playhouse).

4. Measure for Measure (Almeida).

5. The Winter’s Tale (RSC/Roundhouse).

6. Henry IV part 2 (Globe).

7. Macbeth (Globe).

8. Antony and Cleopatra (RSC).

9. Antony and Cleopatra (Liverpool Playhouse).

10. Hamlet (The Crucible, Sheffield).

11. King Lear (Donmar).

12. Henry VIII (The Globe).

13. The Tempest (Old Vic).

14. As You Like It (Old Vic)

15. Macbeth (Belt Up/York Theatre Royal).

Theatre: Not Shakespeare

1. Jerusalem (Apollo).

2. After the Dance (National).

3. An Enemy of the People (Sheffield Crucible).

4. Women Beware Women (National).

5. London Assurance (National).

6. Enron (Theatre Royal, Newcastle)

7. The Habit of Art (National Theatre).

8. Corrie! (Lowry, Salford)

9. The Real Thing (Old Vic).

10. Canterbury Tales (West Yorkshire Playhouse/Northern Broadsides).

11. La Bete (Comedy Theatre).

12. Death of a Salesman (West Yorkshire Playhouse).

13. Three Sisters (Lyric, Hammersmith).

14. The Misanthrope (Comedy Theatre)

15. Beating Berlusconi. (York Theatre Royal).



1. Gauguin (Tate Modern).

2. Van Gogh (Royal Academy).

3. Renaissance drawings (The British Museum).

4. The Book of the Dead (British Museum).

5. Venice. Canaletto and his rivals. (The National Gallery).

6. Sargent and the Sea (Royal Academy).

7. Rude Britannia (Tate Britain).

8. Summer Show (Royal Academy).

9. Beatles to Bowie (National Portrait Gallery).

10. Chris Ofili (Tate Britain).



1. Andrea Levy The Long Song.

2. Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall.

3. AS Byatt – The Children’s Book.

4. Rose Tremain – Trespass.

5. Colm Toibin Brooklyn.

6. Ian McEwan  Solar.

7. Paul Magrs Diary of a Doctor Who Addict.

8. Tony Blair The Journey.

9. Kate Atkinson Started Early, Took My Dog.

10. Alexander McCall Smith The Double Comfort Safari Club.


1. Coronation Street –  especially for Jack’s Death and the Live episode (ITV).

3. Ashes to Ashes (BBC1).

4. Doctor Who – The End of Time part 2 (BBC1).

5. Doctor Who – especially for the eleventh hour (BBC1).

6. Downton Abbey (ITV1)

7. I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (ITV1).

8. Macbeth (BBC 4).

9. Luther (BBC1).

10. Silent Witness (BBC 1).

and my guilty pleasure of the year

Peter Kay at the Studio, Lowry (and again at the Manchester Evening News Arena).

Beatles to Bowie (The National Portrait Gallery, 12th December 2009 and 16th January 2009)

The Sixties as a decade isn’t really my era, but I did grow up with the music, because I played my parent’s vinyls as much as I could when I was a teenager.  This is why I found this exhibition so interesting and went back for a second visit.  I heard of many of the artists, but didn’t always have an image of them in my mind.   It just felt that as you walked into the exhibition that images capture their subjects as  if they are  forever young.  These are the images of people who are pensioners now, such as Roger Daltrey, Cilla Black and Mick Jagger, and here they are starting out.

As you enter the exhibition, the first image that you meet is a young Elvis. Take a second look, this is actually Cliff Richard.  Later in the exhibition there is also an image of Billy Fury resembling Elvis (by David Wedgbury). It shows how much Elvis has an influence on style in the early Sixties, with this stylised slicked back dark hair look.

The exhibition is set up in chronological order displaying examples from each year of the decade.  There is a clear transition as you walk through the exhibition from the polished posed black and white images which consists very much of straight edges to the later more softer focused colour images.  There is also a focus on the role of women and a wonderful image of the Poppets (Millon Dollar Poppets by John French) as well as a display of some of the clothes worn by female singers.  Women are also portrayed in such a way that they cut across the men, such as the intriguing photograph of The Rolling Stones with Pattie Boyd, where Boyd is in white in contrast to the male members of the group,  and is positioned as a diagonal at odds with them.  Her feet are off the ground.  This is a device used in several images in the exhibition.

Clothes and fashion are very important in the photographs, but many of the images focus on the face and  bring the subject’s faces right to the front of the photograph.  It is as if their face is in your face.  One of the most striking images is an early Terry O’Neill image of The Rolling Stones, where it is not just Jagger’s lips which are highlighed but all the lips of every member of the band.  There are lots of other images of The Rolling Stones and The Who which focus on the face, and which demonstrate how important these two groups were in the sixties.

Of course the images are posed, but in many there is a sense of theatricality about them, such as Angus Bean’s Johnny Kidd dressed as a pirate looking as if he is holding on to the rigging of a ship.  Michael Joseph’s 1968 image of The Rolling Stones makes a comment on class, showing the Rolling Stones as tramps at a banquet in a country house.  The irony for me was that The Rolling Stones themselves at this point were in a sense paving the way for a new aristocracy, the future inhabitants of the houses lived in by the landed gentry.

Photographers place their subjects in the landscape with very interesting results.  There is a mixture of those in urban setting and those in the countryside.  One of the most fascinating  is Tom Jones Overlooking Pontypridd (Tony Frank, 1966).  The photograph is very ambiguous drawing on Caspar David Friedrich’s painting The Wanderer. It is as if Jones was part of, and not part of, this landscape at the same time.  Portrayed as a solitary figure looking back at the town, he could be going home, or leaving.  Another image is The  Rolling Stones in Mason’s Yard by Gered Mankowitz.  Here we see a building, either half built, or half derelict.  The men are posed against the diagonal lines of the building site.  Buildings in decay are used a lot in the images.   For example, Beatles, Euston Road portrays the group leaping in the air against vast white space and below them is the derelict landscape of the Euston Road framing the bottom of the image. In contrast to this is a country landscape, The Beatles, Perthshire by Robert Whitaker, which places the subjects right at the front of the image with umbrellas and present a strange contrast with the sublime landscape in the background.

The delight for me was the images of Adam Faith. He was enormously handsome as a young man.  My parents owned many of his songs.   I also remember him in the film Stardust, which was my era, the Seventies.  The Sixties are presented as a progression from one image to another.   We see glimpses of Bowie and T Rex who were to embody the sense of the Seventies.  Will the Seventies be one of the next exhibitions?

I wanted to revisit this exhibition before it closed.  I found it a really fascinating and engaging exhibition.  I heard one visitor next to me, say this will be the last time we’ll be really interested in the Sixties as each generation grows up.  For me it was the narratives around the images themselves and why a photographer took a creative decision to produce the image in a certain way.   I felt it was really relevant, in this exhibition, to include images of the photographers who produced the images.  The labels at the side of each image said a little about the subject of the photograph,  rather the story behind the photographs themselves.  Without these narratives in the exhibition, though the catalogue does provide this background, I found myself viewing and thinking about why and how the images were produced.


Pepper, Terence (2009) Beatles to Bowie. The 60s Exposed.  London: The National Portrait Galley

Thoughts on Neil and Glenys Kinnock (National Portrait Gallery)

Andrew Tift’s portrait of Neil and Glenys Kinnock, exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery, is clearly within the tradition of portrait painting going back to the eighteenth century. In the background are objects that tell us about the sitter. The bust of Bevin leaning towards us, and the bust of Nelson Mandela next to the one of Neil Kinnock. A comic book on the table is titled Too Much and might be a comment on aspects of Neil Kinnock’s political life. On the shelf is a row of classic novels representing culture and learning, which contrast with the decorated cups n the coffee table depicting the modern and the domestic.

Glenys Kinnock is at ease, which is represented by her casual clothing and she looks with pride and tenderness at her husband. In contrast, Neil Kinnock looks at the viewer with a slight regret and puzzlement and wearing a red jumper reminder of his socialist roots. At the side is a fragment of a picture which shows Neil and Glenys under the words people and the rose which symbolised Kinnock’s years with the Labour party. Is it significant that the image is in black and white symbolising the past and what the Labour Party was?

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