28 Aug, 2009

What to see this autumn

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

A new play from Alan Bennett, Pixar in 3D, Turner v the Masters and fresh squid from David Attenborough … our critics pick this autumn’s hottest arts events


(500) Days of Summer

This comedy is being hailed in the US as an Annie Hall for a new generation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a heartbroken guy looking back at the 500 days of his relationship – now over – with the evocatively named Summer (Zooey Deschanel). 2 September.

The September Issue

We’ve had Ugly Betty and The Devil Wears Prada; now here’s the real thing. RJ Cutler’s documentary follows Vogue editor Anna Wintour as she prepares an issue of the magazine. The film also examines her complex relationship with her mercurial creative director, Grace Coddington. 11 September.

Katalin Varga

The sensational success of this debut feature at the Berlin film festival alerted us to a serious new talent: British director Peter Strickland. His film, shot in central Europe, is a compelling rural tragedy with a tinge of thriller and noir. Katalin Varga and her young son are on the run from a vengeful husband, for reasons that are gradually revealed. 9 October.


This charming and funny 3D animated adventure is about a cranky old guy with a strange resemblance to Spencer Tracy, who attaches hundreds of balloons to his house to float up, up and away. But there’s a cheeky young stowaway aboard … 9 October.

An Education

Nick Hornby adapts Lynn Barber’s gripping, painfully funny memoir of her suburban teenage years in the 1960s. She is befriended and seduced by a charming yet dodgy older man, who persuades her similarly bedazzled parents to let him take her away for a weekend’s canoodling. 30 October.

Bright Star

Abbie Cornish gives a lovely performance as Keats’s doomed love, Fanny Brawne, in this high-minded and beautifully composed film from Jane Campion. Ben Whishaw plays the poet, agonised by a false choice between love and art. 6 November.

The White Ribbon

Directed in icily exact black and white, Michael Haneke’s eerie parable is set in 1913, and lays out the foundations on which Germany was to build the Nazi nightmare. In a secluded rural community, an unknown person is committing vicious crimes, and a local religious tradition is revived: to wear the “white ribbon” of purity until your innocence is proved. 13 November.


The House of Bernarda Alba

An edgy reimagining of Lorca’s tragedy by Rona Munro. Siobhan Redmond plays the matriarch whose recently deceased husband was the victim of a gangland execution, and who is determined to salvage the family honour. Directed by John Tiffany. Citizens, Glasgow (0141-429 0022), 15 September – 3 October. Then touring Scotland.

The Drunks/The Grain Store

As a welcome relief from endless Chekhov revivals, the Royal Shakespeare Company brings us two new large-scale Russian plays. One, by the Durnenkov brothers, is about a shell-shocked soldier returning from Chechnya; the other, by Natal’ia Vorozhbit, takes us into the 1929 Ukraine countryside. The Drunks is currently in rep at the Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon (0844 800 1110); The Grain Store begins previews on 10 September.

Gospels of Childhood

Miracles and possessions by angels feature in this triptych from Polish theatre collective Teatr Zar. Performed over three sites in one evening, the plays draw on ancient ritualistic songs and chants, aiming to induce a trance-like state in audiences. Barbican, London (020-7638 8891), 24 September – 2 October.

The Caretaker

Jonathan Pryce began his career at the Everyman – he was its artistic director. Now he returns in the first major revival of The Caretaker since Harold Pinter’s death. Pryce plays the tramp, Davies, in a production directed by Christopher Morahan. Everyman, Liverpool (0151-709 4776), 2 October – 31 October.

The Power of Yes

The crisis in capitalism is theatre’s big autumn story. Alongside Lucy Prebble’s Enron (opening next month at the Royal Court), David Hare brings us a new docudrama based on interviews with key players from the financial world. Jasper Britton and Malcolm Sinclair head a strong cast in a piece that shows theatre’s capacity for rapid reaction. In rep at the Lyttelton, London (020-7452 3000), 6 October – 10 January.

Annie Get Your Gun

The blazingly imaginative Richard Jones brings a fresh eye to the old Irving Berlin musical about the battle of wits between the tomboyish Annie Oakley and the sharpshooting Frank Butler. Jane Horrocks and Julian Ovenden pack the pistols. Young Vic, London (020-7922 2922), 16 October – 2 January.

The Habit of Art

It sounds an archetypal Alan Bennett project: an imagined encounter between WH Auden and Benjamin Britten, 25 years after their relationship had distinctly cooled. Michael Gambon and Alex Jennings star as the pugnacious poet and the pacifist composer; Nicholas Hytner, who turned The History Boys into a global hit, directs. In rep at the Lyttelton, London (020-7452 3000), 17 November – 24 January.



Their prog-rocking last album established them as one of Britain’s biggest bands, giving Muse the confidence to be even more florid on their follow-up. Inspired by world events of the last 18 months, their new album, The Resistance, boasts pomp-rock, a three-part symphony and even a song inspired by Zbigniew Brzezinski’s treatise on US foreign policy, The Grand Chessboard. 14 September

Imelda May

Dublin-born and partial to leopardskin, May performs rockabilly and blues like someone who has lived through everything she sings about. Touring to promote her album Love Tattoo, she is great fun and refreshingly unfashionable. Opera House, Buxton (0845 127 2190), on 18 September, then touring.


San Francisco duo Girls are, inevitably, boys, and the quirkiness doesn’t stop there. Their debut album (as yet untitled) is one of the most hotly anticipated indie releases of the autumn, because of the band’s ability to meld a battered, lo-fi aesthetic with the sort of carefree sunniness the Beach Boys once magicked up. 28 September.

The Maccabees

Here’s the chance for these south London boys to prove they merit the praise they’ve received for their impressive second album, Wall of Arms. If the tour, which visits their biggest venues yet, goes well, their epic art-rock could be inescapable in 2010. O2 Academy, Bristol (0844 477 2000), on 30 September. Then touring.

Lil Wayne

American rappers, especially those of Lil Wayne’s stature, don’t have much time for the small-fry British market, so two London dates – postponed from July – are all his UK fans are getting. Acclaimed as one of the best MCs of his generation, Wayne has recently been sidetracked by an interest in emo, so anything could happen. Hammersmith Apollo, London (08448 444 748), 7-8 October.

Spandau Ballet

The kilts, the haircuts, the unapologetically grandiose tunes – one of the definitive pop bands of the 80s generated great excitement when its feuding former members agreed to reunite this spring. Most dates sold out instantly; this could be the most successful reformation since Take That. O2 Arena, Dublin (0818-719 300), on 13 October. Then touring.

Robbie Williams

It’s crunch time for Robbie: can the most successful British pop singer of recent times regain his crown? He has teamed up with revered producer Trevor Horn on his new record, Reality Killed the Video Star, and describes the result as sounding “very, very big”. No preview copies are available, so we’ll have to take his word for it – for the time being. 9 November



This 10-part natural history odyssey chronicles the “daily life-or-death challenges” undertaken by the animal kingdom’s most intriguing denizens. Suitably bloody/brilliant footage is supplied by the likes of vengeful Humboldt squid and brooding fruit bats, while David Attenborough provides the gravitas. BBC1, October.

In Treatment

Sky Arts continues to impress with its purchase of this HBO hit. Broadcast every weeknight, the series follows psychoanalyst Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) as he ministers to his clients’ emotional needs. Sky Arts, October.

Synth Britannia

The latest instalment in this superlative series of music documentaries explores the genesis and legacy of British electronica. Expect contributions from the likes of Depeche Mode and OMD, and Noel Edmonds patronising Gary Numan on Swap Shop. BBC4, October.


Created and co-written by Anthony “Foyle’s War” Horowitz, this five-part drama examines the impact of a road accident on a group of strangers. With Douglas Henshall and Phil Davis. ITV1, October.


Another of BBC4’s squints into the parlours of the rich and troubled, the Women We Loved season promises revelatory takes on Enid Blyton, Margot Fonteyn and Gracie Fields. Inspired casting (Helena Bonham Carter as Blyton, Jane Horrocks as Fields, Anne-Marie Duff as Fonteyn) should bring actorly heft to the party. BBC4, November.

Visual art

Turner and the Masters

Some of the greatest European artists, including Titian and Rembrandt, make a rare visit to Tate Britain, with their works shown alongside JMW Turner’s cocksure attempts to outdo them. It will be a good fight, and I wouldn’t place overconfident bets on the Europeans. Tate Britain, London (020-7887 8888), 23 September – 31 January.

Moctezuma, Aztec Ruler

Murdered by the conquistadors, the last ruler of the Aztec empire is remembered in European history as a passive figure. This exhibition sets out to explore his plundered world, and promises to be a riot of turquoise and gold. British Museum, London (020-7323 8181), 24 September – 24 January.

Angels of Anarchy

Frida Kahlo, Méret Oppenheim and Lee Miller are among the stars of this survey of women artists and surrealism. The surrealists’ interest in psychoanalysis highlighted issues around gender; women responded with works such as Eileen Agar’s Angel of Anarchy. Manchester Art Gallery (0161-235 8888), 26 September – 10 January.

Pop Life

According to this provocative exhibition, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons are the most important artists alive. It explores the legacy of Andy Warhol’s idea of “business art” and celebrates the ways contemporary artists have invaded pop culture and made it their own. Tate Modern, London (020-7887 8888), 1 October – 17 January.

The Heart of the Great Alone

The frozen world of the Antarctic has generated some of the strangest and most beautiful photographs ever taken. Grotto in an Iceberg, Herbert Ponting’s unforgettable 1911 view through an icy aperture, is one of the works in this show from the expeditions of Scott and Shackleton. Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh (0131-556 5100), 2 October – 11 April.

Turner prize

The controversial award for contemporary British artists returns. Expect dangerous chemicals, sexual explicitness, film and drawing in the works of shortlisted artists Lucy Skaer, Roger Hiorns, Richard Wright and Enrico David. The winner is announced in December. Tate Britain, London (020-788l7 8888), 6 October – 3 January.

The Sacred Made Real

The first exhibition to reflect National Gallery director Nicholas Penny’s interest in sculpture shows spooky 17th-century Spanish religious paintings alongside lifelike wooden statues, blood-spattered and macabre. National Gallery, London (020-7747 2885), 21 October – 24 January.

Jazz, world and folk music

Topic 70

The label that has done the most to promote folk music in the UK celebrates its 70th birthday with a series of London shows. At the Southbank Centre (0871 663 2500), there’s the Waterson Family on 11 September; Martin Simpson on 17 September; and June Tabor on 18 September. Then there’s Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick’s reunion at the Union Chapel (020-7226 1686) on 25 September.

Birmingham Jazz

There’s a storming programme in the Birmingham area in September, with bands such as Empirical, Outhouse Ruhabi and Portico Quartet. The jazz season kicks off on 16 September with a free party featuring the trio of Hans Koller at Fazeley Studios, Digbeth (0121-224 7380).

Beyond the Loop

John Metcalfe, one of the people behind the Factory Classical label, has devised a mini-festival, ranging from postmodern classical (Duke Quartet) to rock (Durutti Column) to a breathtaking collaboration between the Bays, the Heritage Orchestra, Simon Hale and Metcalfe himself. Kings Place, London (020-7520 1490), 7-10 October.

The Legendary Gypsy Queens and Kings

Some of the most rousing music of recent years has come from the Gypsies of eastern Europe, and this show brings together many of their finest musicians. From Romania come Mahala Rai Banda and members of Fanfare Ciocarlia; from Macedonia, Esma Redzepova; and from Bulgaria, Jony Iliev. Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (0161-907 9000) on 11 October. Then touring.

Staff Benda Bilili

The first UK tour from one of the most extraordinary bands on the planet. This group of Congolese polio survivors and abandoned children used to work as street musicians while living in the grounds of Kinshasa zoo. Their debut album is a remarkably joyful blend of rumba and funk. Barbican, London (020-7638 8891), on 10 November. Then touring.

London jazz festival

Now in its 17th year, the London jazz festival boasts a guest list including Sonny Rollins, Cleo Laine with John Dankworth, Marcus Miller and Carla Bley – possibly the world’s best jazz composer. There’s also an unusual collaboration between the BBCSO, Zimbabwean composer-arranger Mike Gibbs and guitar hero Bill Frisell. World-flavoured treats include Roberto Fonseca and John Scofield’s gospelly Piety Street band. Various London venues, 13-22 November.


The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

Atwood returns to the post-apocalyptic world of Oryx and Crake, where a global pandemic – or “waterless flood” – has wiped out most of humanity. Survivors include Adam One, the leader of God’s Gardeners, a religion devoted to preserving all species, and Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked into a high-end sex club. Bloomsbury, 7 September.

Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger

First it was time travel; now it’s ghosts for Niffenegger, who is back with a new novel six years after her debut, The Time Traveler’s Wife, shot to the top of the bestseller charts. This is the story of identical twins from the US who inherit their estranged aunt’s London flat, which overlooks Highgate cemetery. Much to their surprise, however, they find she may not have departed for the next world quite yet. Jonathan Cape, 1 October.

The Book of Genesis Illustrated, by Robert Crumb

He gave us Fritz the Cat and Devil Girl, and now the master of the subversive is tackling what may be his biggest project yet: all 50 chapters of the first book of the Bible, from Sodom and Gomorrah to Noah’s Ark. Expect fire and brimstone – and a creepy, two-legged serpent in Eden. Jonathan Cape, 19 October.

The Wild Things, by Dave Eggers

Based loosely on Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, this novel transports seven-year-old Max into the 21st century, where his penchant for noise, dirt and howling like a wolf means he is seen as a problem child. Dave Eggers has also co-written Spike Jonze’s forth-coming film adaptation. Let the rumpus start. Hamish Hamilton, 29 October.

The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver’s first novel since The Poisonwood Bible, published a decade ago, is told through the diaries and letters of Harrison Shepherd, born in the US but raised in Mexico. There, he meets the muralist Diego Rivera, his wife Frida Kahlo and their guest, Leon Trotsky. He returns to the US after Trotsky’s assassination, where he becomes a bestselling author before being investigated as a subversive. Faber & Faber, 5 November.

The Humbling, by Philip Roth

Ageing stage actor Simon Axler has lost confidence in his talent: even as he struts the boards, he imagines people laughing at him. But as he slips quietly towards his end, bereft of talent, hope and love, an unusual erotic desire promises an even darker conclusion. Only 112 pages long, Roth’s 30th novel is another meditation on mortality from the author of Exit Ghost and Everyman. Jonathan Cape, 5 November.

The Original of Laura, by Vladimir Nabokov

This is the controversial book that Nabokov told his heirs to burn, but which his son Dmitri has nevertheless decided to publish. It has Lolita-esque elements: a character called Hubert H Hubert molests a young girl, according to an early review. But it is largely the story of Philip Wild, married to a very promiscuous woman, as he meditates on death. Penguin’s publication will include reproductions of the index cards Nabokov used to write the book. Penguin, 17 November.


Open Days

Grab the chance to get inside the locked doors of a number of buildings around the country, from the Willis Building in Ipswich to Morecambe’s Winter Gardens, closed since 1977. You’ll need to book. English Heritage’s nationwide Open Days, 10-13 September. Open House London, 19-20 September.

Ashmolean Museum

Oxford’s magnificent Graeco-Roman museum reopens with 39 new galleries, and the city’s first rooftop restaurant, housed in an ingenious extension. Britain’s oldest public museum will fuse Victorian classical and modern architecture with intelligence and panache. 7 November.

Dubai Burj

Imagine two Empire State Buildings standing on top of one another, and you’ll have some idea of just how skyscraping the Burj Dubai will be. At 2,684ft (818m), the tower, due to be finished at the end of the year, is the planet’s highest structure.

Classical and opera

Le Grand Macabre

Ligeti’s darkly comic meditation on the end of the world returns to English National Opera after more than a quarter of a century, in a new production by La Fura dels Baus, the Catalan masters of total theatre. In rep at the Coliseum, London (020-7632 8300), 17 September – 9 October.


Esa-Pekka Salonen launches his second season as the Philharmonia’s principal conductor with the world premiere of the first major choral work by his Finnish contemporary and close friend Magnus Lindberg, which sets Latin inscriptions found among the ruins of Pompeii. Royal Festival Hall, London (0871 663 2500), 1 October.

The Adventures of Mr Broucek

Janácek’s only comic opera gets its first British production outside London. Opera North’s staging is directed by John Fulljames, with John Graham-Hall as the time-travelling hero. At the Grand Theatre, Leeds (0844 848 2706), 10-23 October. Then touring.

The Mariinsky and the CBSO

Valery Gergiev and his St Petersburg company sometimes spread themselves too thin, but their latest British venture promises to be special. Here, they join forces with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and its chorus for performances of two of the largest-scale works in the choral repertory: Prokofiev’s October Cantata and Berlioz’s monumental Requiem. Symphony Hall, Birmingham (0121-780 3333), 14-15 October.

Takács Quartet

The peerless Takács Quartet’s Beethoven cycle, which is touring Europe, promises to be one of the highlights of the 2009-10 season. It’s packaged as three pairs of programmes, with an early, middle-period and late quartet in each concert; the first two include the Opp 130 and 131 works. John Innes Institute, Norwich (01603 628319), 7-8 November; Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (0871 663 2500), 10-11 November; Assembly Rooms, Bath (01225 463 362), 13-14 November. Full details: www.takacsquartet.com


Comedy of Change

The legacy of Charles Darwin is celebrated in one of Rambert Dance Company’s most ambitious collaborations to date. Choreographer Mark Baldwin is joined by composer Julian Anderson and artist Kader Attia to ponder theories of natural selection and the evolution of intelligence. Theatre Royal, Plymouth (01752 267222), 16-19 September. Then touring.

Spirit of Diaghilev

The creative genius behind the Ballets Russes, and arguably the founder of modern ballet, is honoured in a programme of specially commissioned dance. Four new works include Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s reimagining of L’Après-midi d’un Faune, and Javier de Frutos channelling the spirit of Jean Cocteau. Sadler’s Wells, London (0844 871 0090), 13-17 October.

Mark Morris

Two shows encompassing classics from Morris’s back catalogue (pictured) and the UK premieres of two works: Visitation, set to music by Beethoven, and Empire Garden, set to Charles Ives. Heaven. Sadler’s Wells, London (0844 871 0090), 27-31 October. Then touring.

Wayne McGregor

A new work from the Royal Ballet’s radical golden boy combines the music of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho with the intricate digital installations of Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima. Also in the programme is Balanchine’s Agon – still blastingly modern, 50 years after it was created. In rep at the Royal Opera House, London (020-7304 4000), 4-18 November.

Chosen by Michael Billington, Peter Bradshaw, Andrew Clements, Sarah Dempster, Robin Denselow, Alison Flood, Lyn Gardner, Jonathan Glancey, Jonathan Jones, Judith Mackrell, Caroline Sullivan and John L Walters.

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