08 May, 2009

The culture shows

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

The best of the summer’s highbrow festivals, from Aberystwyth to Edinburgh


Meet the Pakistani literati

How quickly things change. Five years ago, Pakistani writers were lucky to avoid being lumped in with their Indian neighbours; now, the liberalisation of media laws in Pakistan, coupled with a surge in interest in a country that’s seldom out of the headlines, sees Pakistani fiction having its moment in the sun. Three of its biggest names – Kamila Shamsie (Orange-shortlisted for her latest novel, Burnt Shadows), Nadeem Aslam and Daniyal Mueenuddin, whose collection of short stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, has earned him comparisons with Chekhov – gather at this year’s Festival of Asian literature to discuss the ways in which the world’s perception of Asia is shifting and the place of politics in fiction, in an event chaired by author Tahmima Anam. An early highlight.

Festival of Asian literature, 18 May, 6.45pm, £10, asiahouse.org

Make Hay in May

If you haven’t been hiding under a stone for the last week, you’ll know Carol Ann Duffy has just become the first female poet laureate in the post’s 400-year history. In one of her first public appearances since her inauguration, Duffy will be talking to Gillian Clarke, the national poet for Wales on Thursday 28 May. This promises to be a fascinating discussion between two poets at the top of their field. Not to be missed.

After making her name with a series of what she herself described as “lesbo Victorian romps”, Sarah Waters moved the action forward to wartime London in her last novel, The Night Watch, and was shortlisted for both the Man Booker and the Orange prizes. Her new book delivers us back to the 1940s; this time it’s the genre that’s changed. The Little Stranger is Waters’ first attempt at a ghost story. She will launch it officially at Hay on Saturday 30 May, in conversation with the Guardian’s literary editor, Claire Armitstead, in another of the festival’s literary highlights.

Guardian Hay festival: Carol Ann Duffy, 28 May, 4pm, £5; Sarah Waters, 30 May, 8.30pm, £7, hayfestival.com

Crime and enjoyment (Harrogate)

In seven short years Harrogate has established itself as the UK’s capital of crime writing. It runs its own crime novel of the year award, which went last year to Stef Penney’s Costa-winning The Tenderness of Wolves, keeps its lineup fresh by appointing an author to head its programming committee (Laura Wilson this year), and maintains a cosily confidential atmosphere by hosting all its events within the walls of the town’s handsome Crown hotel. This year’s unmissable event is Friday’s conversation between crime fiction grandee Reginald Hill (Dalziel and Pascoe) and Benjamin Black – better known, perhaps, as Booker-winning literary novelist John Banville. They’ll be talking about their very different approaches to their craft in a discussion hosted by Mark Lawson.

Theakstons Old Peculiar crime writing festival, 24 July, 8pm, £12, harrogate-festival.org.uk/crime

Legends come to life (Port Eliot)

To single out an individual event at Port Eliot is to miss the point of the festival: people don’t go for the speakers (which isn’t to say the festival doesn’t boast an impressive roster – Mohsin Hamid, William Dalrymple and Hanif Kureishi are just a few of the stars on this year’s bill), but for the intimate atmosphere and downright glory of the setting. Held amid the lawns, groves and walled gardens of the Port Eliot estate in Cornwall, festival goers pitch up, pitch their tents and wander in and out of whichever talks take their fancy (tickets are sold by by the day, rather than by the event). Connoisseurs of the festival’s charms will head for the House of Fairytales, a Port Eliot institution in which artists Gavin Turk and Deborah Curtis bring myth and legend to life.

Port Eliot festival, 24-26 July. Weekend ticket £105, day ticket £30, porteliotfestival.com

Whisky and books (Wigtown)

Wigtown is “Hay-on-Wye with a kilt”, as festival organiser Adrian Turpin puts it. Now in its 11th year, its literary festival is going strong, with a 2009 lineup that features Diana Athill, Louise Welsh and Louis de Bernières, among others. This year, however, it is liquour, not literature, that’s proving the main attraction. Wigtown is playing host to the whisky and books festival-within-a-festival, celebrating the connections between whisky and writing, with appearances from Iain Banks (who took time out from science fiction to pen Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram) and Charles MacLean, author of Whisky: A Liquid History. Festival-goers are promised tastings, talks on the poetry of drink, and a whisky-themed creative writing course.

Stena Line Wigtown book festival, 25 September-4 October, wigtownbookfestival.com

Theatre and performance art

A highbrow stunt show (Battersea festival)

Reasons for living is the theme of this year’s Battersea festival, which features 51 shows over two weeks, taking place in lifts, attics, boats, supermarkets, people’s homes and, of course, BAC’s iconic Lavender Hill building. Ann Liv Young, David Hoyle, David Gale and Graeme Miller are just a few of those taking part alongside Rotozaza, Mel Wilson and Adrian Howells. Look out for Nic Green’s Trilogy – a full-frontal celebration of the female body and spirit with plenty of audience participation, Stan’s Café’s Home of the Wriggler, and Action Hero’s cult hit, Watch Me Fall, a stunt show where failure is often the only possible outcome. Lots of free shows as well as low-cost scratches make this a reason for living all of its own.

Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London SW11. 15-30 May, bac.org.uk

The world’s finest street theatre – for free (Greenwich festival)

Taking the theme of water this year, this brilliant, ground-breaking and totally free festival returns with an impressive lineup of street arts companies from around the globe. French company Ilotopie will be walking on water at Millwall Dock, Close Act will be creating a large scale outdoor spectacular in Pileau and Graeae are collaborating with Strange Fruit for Against the Tide at Greenwich. It’s all family friendly and yet cutting edge.

Venues all over Greenwich and Docklands. 25-28 June. festival.org

Something for everyone (Latitude)

A 21st-century pleasure garden, complete with rainbow sheep, where they take theatre, performance and installation just as seriously as the bands. Where else would you get companies such as the Royal Court, the RSC, the Bush, Paines Plough, Sadlers Wells and the Royal Opera House rubbing shoulders with rising artists and playwrights and Grace Jones? Some have
still not yet recovered from last year’s RSC zombies, but the theatre tent will
undoubtedly be crowded from dawn to dusk. Tips for this year include The Bush’s follow-up to 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Theatre 503, Faulty Optic, Camille O’Sullivan and Ben Moor.

Latitude, Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk. July 16-19, day ticket £60, latitudefestival.co.uk

Back with a bang
(Edinburgh Fringe)

Still reeling from last year’s ticketing fiasco, will this year’s annual theatrical bun-fight – three weeks featuring the sublime to the ridiculous – be hit by the recession? We won’t know for sure until the programme is published in June, but there are good reasons to make the trip north this year. For a start it is a British Council showcase year, which means that there will be plenty of top-quality UK companies who otherwise would not be able to afford to be there.

Secondly, this year sees the return of Forest Fringe, the radical free festival venue that operates as a mini festival beyond the Fringe, and which attracts some of the most interesting artists working in UK theatre today and a lively, engaged audience.

Various venues all over Edinburgh. August 7-31, edfringe.com

Peter Pan reinvented
(Edinburgh festival)

Radical New York iconoclasts Mabou Mines do JM Barrie. But Peter and Wendy is Peter Pan as you’ve never seen him before, from a company whose version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was a controversial Edinburgh hit back in 2007. Other highlights include Romanian theatrical wizard Silviu Purcarete with his promenade Faust, Dublin’s Gate Theatre with a season of Brian Friel plays, and a return visit for Malthouse Melbourne, this time with the Voltaire-inspired Optimism. Scottish work is represented by Rona Munro’s The Last Witch, about the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in Scotland.

Various venues all over Edinburgh.

14 August-6 September, eif.co.uk


Modern masters (Edinburgh festival)

The energy of modern art in Scotland will come together with the historical golden age of the Scottish Enlightenment this summer. In the 18th century, Edinburgh was at the heart of a European intellectual revolution and the city’s international festival has invited visual artists including former Turner prize nominee Nathan Coley to confront this heritage in a city-wide art event. They do so in ways Adam Smith might have found baffling, such as Joshua Mosley’s animated film starring clay morphs of Rousseau and Pascal, and Tacita Dean’s film Presentation Sisters, a loving and jaw-droppingly beautiful portrayal of life in an Irish nunnery that might be understood as a challenge to Enlightenment secularism. By contrast, conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth will meditate on Darwin, in a room where the future theorist of evolution studied when he was at Edinburgh University.

Dean Gallery, Collective Gallery, Talbot Rice gallery and other venues, Edinburgh, 7 August – 27 September, Edinburgh festival.

Info eif.co.uk
or 0131-473 2099.

Acid-house art
(Manchester international festival)

Artist Jeremy Deller has a genius for simultaneously orchestrating and liberating large groups of people. The north-west has been one of his obsessions ever since he staged an early work called The Search for Bez, and got Stockport’s Williams Fairey Brass Band to perform a concert of acid-house anthems. The event he is creating for the Manchester international festival is likely to be a unique celebration of the subcultures and traditions of the city of Tony Wilson, the Buzzcocks and Friedrich Engels. Deller says a good procession is “part self-portrait and part alternative reality”. Expect a thrilling and emotional experience that transcends the formality of art to become an unforgettable human event, the living portrait of a city. This one is definitely worth the trip, as is Manchester’s other festival art event, a furious public sculpture by Gustav Metzger called Flailing Trees.

Deansgate, Manchester City Centre, Sunday

5 July, Manchester international festival, mif.co.uk or call 0844 815 4960.

International Ceramics festival

Ceramicists are no longer the poor relations of “real” visual artists. One of Britain’s best-known artists, Turner prize-winner Grayson Perry, is a potter. Talented ceramicist Edmund de Waal is another artist keeping alive a long tradition in British art, going back to the arts and crafts movement in the 19th century, of taking ceramics seriously. Aberystwyth’s International Ceramics festival, founded in 1987, is no village hall display of amateur curios but a chance to discover what is happening at the cutting edge of one of humanity’s oldest arts. It’s a large-scale masterclass with the opportunity to see leading ceramicists from all over the world at work and to participate in tutored sessions and workshops. Time to put away the playdough and get ambitious.

Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Aberystwyth, 3-5 July, internationalceramicsfestival.orgor call 01970 623 232.

The Big Chill Guide to Summer Living contains all this year’s best events and activities. Published by Guardian Books, it is available for £12.99 (rrp £14.99)

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