New year arts: Observer critics pick the culture to get us through to spring | Culture

Theatre: big names on stage

Kathryn Hunter appears in The Chairs, Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist apocalypse drama, translated, adapted and directed by Omar Elerian at the Almeida in London from 5 February. One of the great reimaginings of the past decade, Martin Crimp’s version of Cyrano de Bergerac, in which the fights are rap battles, returns with the incandescent James McAvoy; Jamie Lloyd’s fiery production is at London’s Harold Pinter from 3 February, before moving to Glasgow. At London’s Donmar Warehouse from 11 February, Kit Harington stars in Max Webster’s modern staging of Henry V, which sets out to investigate England’s relationship with Europe and asks if we get the leaders we deserve. Also in London, from 10 March at the Gielgud, Rafe Spall becomes Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel is directed by Bartlett Sher and designed by the mighty Miriam Buether. Susannah Clapp

Music: pioneering solo females go from strength to strength

A clutch of female auteurs are readying new albums, edging their way out of left field or heading straight for the mainstream. Japanese-American one-woman show Mitski follows up her breakout 2018 LP, Be the Cowboy, with the 80s-influenced Laurel Hell, due in February. Hurray for the Riff Raff, the vehicle for singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra (pictured above), promises a manual for Life on Earth, a “nature punk” album for tough times (February). Fresh from a slew of awards for her Broadway musical, Hadestown, cult figure Anaïs Mitchell steps into the spotlight with a self-titled album this month, with Aaron Dessner and Nico Muhly guesting. There’s more to come too, with projects expected from talents as diverse as Spanish pop sensation Rosalía and Korean multi-instrumentalist Park Jiha. Kitty Empire

Art: blockbuster solo shows

Surveillance Camera with Plinth by Ai Weiwei, 2014. Photograph: Courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio.

The new year offers a great resurgence of solo shows, starting in January with the Royal Academy in London’s Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, already postponed by a year, but in this case better late than never. Dogs, hawks, monkeys, baboons: Bacon painted them like people and people as if they were creatures. Eventually, as the show reveals, the two became savagely indistinguishable. In February, Louise Bourgeois’s eerie stitched and stuffed figures get an overdue outing in The Woven Child at London’s Hayward Gallery, while Ai Weiwei juxtaposes new works against ancient Chinese objects to acute political effect at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge. The Ikon Gallery in Birmingham has what promises to be a riveting show of paintings by Carlo Crivelli, arguing that the Italian Renaissance master was as radically outlandish as Magritte. And in March, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge focuses on David Hockney’s interactions with the different technologies of viewing, old and new, and with past art from Fra Angelico to Ingres and Manet. Laura Cumming

Film: stories of complex, complicated women

Milena Smit and Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers.
Milena Smit and Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

A welcome addition to cinemas in the coming months is a collection of stroppy, unpredictable, unreliable and thoroughly difficult women. And the movie landscape is a whole lot more satisfying for it. Depictions of women have been freed up by a rejection of the traditional good versus bad mother binary, in films such as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter (now on Netflix) and Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers (28 January). In the former, Olivia Colman’s self-described “unnatural mother” abandons her children for several years to pursue her career; in the latter, Penélope Cruz’s character, facing an impossible situation, makes all the wrong choices. But, crucially, neither is portrayed as a villain. Meanwhile, Harry Wootliff’s True Things (11 March) and Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World (25 March) embrace the chaos of relationships and the car crash of career ambitions. Both are formally bold, bracingly unconventional films giving praise to the messy bitch, someone we can all relate to, one way or another. Wendy Ide

Classical: three opera firsts

Eric Greene (left) as Rigoletto and Roman Arndt as the Duke of Mantua in rehearsal for Rigoletto.
Eric Greene (left) as Rigoletto with Roman Arndt as the Duke of Mantua in rehearsal for Opera North’s Rigoletto. Photograph: Tom Arber

British Nigerian actor-director Femi Elufowoju Jr makes his operatic debut directing Verdi’s tragedy Rigoletto (opens 22 January), conducted by Opera North’s music director, Garry Walker. The American baritone Eric Greene sings the title role, with American soprano Jasmine Habersham and Russian tenor Roman Arndt. On 5 February, the company launches its first ever staging of Alcina, Handel’s opera of witchery, deception and disguise, conducted by world-class Handelian Laurence Cummings, directed by Tim Albery. There’s more Handel at the Royal Opera House in London: a new staging of Theodora, the first at Covent Garden since 1750, directed by Katie Mitchell with an all-star cast (opens 31 January). Fiona Maddocks

TV: literary adaptations

Theo James and Rose Leslie in Steven Moffat’s adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Theo James and Rose Leslie in Steven Moffat’s adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Photograph: HBO

A quirk of pandemic production delays was that literary adaptations were unusually thin on the ground during 2021. Happily, that means there’s a backlog waiting for broadcast this year. Indeed, the TV drama slate will begin to resemble your bookshelf come to life. First out of the blocks this month is Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File on ITV, with Joe Cole taking on the role of bespectacled spy Harry Palmer. This will be followed in February/March by Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends, from the same BBC team that brought us lockdown hit Normal People. Coming in early spring, screenwriter Steven Moffat has adapted Audrey Niffenegger’s romance The Time Traveler’s Wife for HBO/Sky, with Rose Leslie and Theo James as the magical lovers. Keeley Hawes stars in Sky’s modern-day reimagining of John Wyndham’s sci-fi classic The Midwich Cuckoos. On Netflix, Benedict Cumberbatch leads a reboot of John Buchan’s conspiracy thriller The 39 Steps, while Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss tackle Richard Powers’s sweeping eco-epic The Overstory. Later in the year, Fleishman Is in Trouble will air on Disney+ and Anatomy of a Scandal on Netflix. Phew. Our page-to-screen cups overfloweth. Michael Hogan

Music: post-punk is evergreen

Yard Act.
Yard Act. Photograph: James Brown

Here’s a growth industry: less a genre than a state of mind, the post-punk tendency continues to throw out apposite sounds for straitened times. Kicking off the year with a polemic are hotly tipped Leeds underground heroes Yard Act, whose debut album, The Overload, is out 21 January. From atonal, jazz-strewn beginnings, Black County, New Road’s second album, Ants from Up There, dials up the tunefulness on 4 February. Indie sensations Wet Leg crown their dizzying rise with their debut album, expected in the spring. Meanwhile, you can see Bristol guitar powerhouses Idles playing their very recent album, Crawler, through big PA systems starting on 16 January. KE

Theatre: reappraising famous men

Mark Rylance will appear as Dr Semmelweis at the Bristol Old Vic.
Mark Rylance will appear as Dr Semmelweis at the Bristol Old Vic. Photograph: Bristol Old Vic

Two reputations with opposite trajectories. In Dr Semmelweis, Mark Rylance appears as the doctor who, in 19th-century Vienna, introduced antisepsis into medical practice. He now appears self-evidently a pioneer, but died reviled and self-doubting. Based on an idea by Rylance, developed with Stephen Brown and Tom Morris, the play is at Bristol Old Vic from 20 January to 12 February. At the Bridge theatre in London from 16 March to 18 June, Ralph Fiennes stars in David Hare’s Straight Line Crazy, a portrait of Robert Moses, “for 40 years the most powerful man in New York”, at first regarded as an idealist, later as an intimidating manipulator with a divisive vision of city life. SC

Architecture: three brilliant new buildings

The Burrell Collection, Glasgow.
The Burrell Collection, Glasgow. Photograph: Hufton + Crow

The Burrell Collection in Glasgow is a quirky but brilliant building designed around both its parkland setting and a personal, magnificent and eclectic array of objects – a Romanesque arch, for example, is built into its fabric. In March, 39 years after the building was completed, it will reopen with a revamp by John McAslan + Partners. The challenge is to update it without losing its soul. Also due in March is the new campus for the Royal College of Art in Battersea in south London, composed of rugged-looking brickwork, by the Swiss architectural powerhouse Herzog & de Meuron (authors of Tate Modern, the Beijing Olympic stadium). In February, a brand new theatre will open (not something you see every day): the Brixton House in south London. Its architects, Foster Wilson Size, a practice with a number of performance spaces under their belt, promise a “purposefully robust” and adaptable building, “in keeping with the spirit of studio theatre”. Rowan Moore

Film: Tilda Swinton double feature

Tilda Swinton in Memoria.
Tilda Swinton in Memoria. Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

We only saw Tilda Swinton in one film (one-and-a-half, counting Almodóvar’s short The Human Voice) in 2021, making it a fallow year by the prolific star’s standards. The year 2022, however, is serving us a double scoop of Swinton genius straight off the bat. As a woman journeying into the Colombian jungle to seek the origin of a psychological disturbance, she’s on mesmerising, minimalist form in Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s dreamy experiment Memoria (14 January), while she tenderly supports her real-life daughter Honor Swinton Byrne in Joanna Hogg’s exquisite autofiction follow-up, The Souvenir Part II (4 February). Guy Lodge

Art: contemporary art

The Cockfather by Allison Katz, 2021.
The Cockfather by Allison Katz, 2021. Photograph: Plastiques/© Allison Katz, courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Contemporary art shows include the witty and spatially complex figurative paintings of Canadian artist Allison Katz at Camden Art Centre in north London (from 14 January), alongside poetic multimedia installations by French-Caribbean rising star Julien Creuzet. Goldsmith’s CCA in London devotes its whole space to the evergreen question of monuments and what they are for, with works by 50 artists (from 21 January). Sculptors in glass, at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds (from 18 February), includes Alexandra Engelfriet, Mona Hatoum and the Guyanese-British artist Hew Locke, who also undertakes the latest Tate Britain Commission in March. Look out, too, for US artist Howardena Pindell’s beautiful abstract paintings at the Fruitmarket in Edinburgh (now showing), and Chinese installation artist Wang Gongxin at White Cube Mason’s Yard in London (from 19 January), with his response to the ubiquitous presence of shadows. LC

Theatre: Our Generation

The cast of Our Generation.
The cast of Our Generation. Photograph: National Theatre

Alecky Blythe, author of London Road, has opened the ears of theatregoers with her verbatim dramas. Her new play, Our Generation, is based on interviews gathered over a period of five years. It follows the lives of 12 young people growing into adulthood, and is directed by Daniel Evans, artistic director of Chichester Festival theatre, where the production will move after playing at the National Theatre in London from 10 February to 9 April. SC

TV: returning gangsters

Sope Dirisu in Gangs of London.
Sope Dirisu in Gangs of London. Photograph: Nick Briggs/Sky/AMC

Cue Nick Cave and don your flat cap because Peaky Blinders is back to start 2022 with a Brummie bang. This will be the BBC period epic’s sixth and final series, although a film spin-off is also in the works. Down the M6, three stylish returning dramas portray different strata of London’s contemporary criminal underworld. In February/March, Netflix’s Top Boy continues the battle for drug-dealing supremacy on Hackney’s fictional Summerhouse estate. BBC One’s McMafia finds James Norton reprising his role as the ruthless British son of a Russian mafioso. And Sky Atlantic’s swaggering Gangs of London sees turf wars erupt as rival syndicates fight to fill the power void left by the debut season’s corpse-littered carnage. MH

Podcasts: The Sweat 7 and Blip Blip

Georgie Okell, host of The Sweat 7.
Georgie Okell, host of The Sweat 7. Photograph: Elizabeth Jamieson

From the producers of The Smart 7 , a hugely successful daily podcast that packages news, both serious and light, into seven stories in seven minutes, come two new audio offerings. First up is The Sweat 7 (10 January), a daily keep-fit show with, you guessed it, seven HIIT exercises to bash through in seven minutes. Hosted by personal trainer Georgie Okell, there’ll be accompanying explanatory animations on Instagram to show how the exercises should be done.

More innovative is Blip Blip (17 January), a super-short podcast for a scrolling, visual generation who find seven minutes an eternity. Just 90 seconds long, Blip Blip will pop up on TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube Shorts and WhatsApp three times a day, offering all the showbiz news that gen Z needs to know. An interesting experiment that, if it does well, could herald one way of enticing young people into listening as well as looking. Miranda Sawyer

Classical: Voices Unwrapped

Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis is an artist-in-focus at Voices Unwrapped.
Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis is an artist-in-focus at Voices Unwrapped. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

The year-long Voices Unwrapped at London’s Kings Place celebrates everything that’s singable, from Renaissance and baroque masterworks to jazz, gospel and folk, close harmony and performance poetry. The baritone Roderick Williams and Gaelic/Hebridean singer Julie Fowlis are artists-in-focus. The opening event (13 January) features top ensemble Voces8, with composer-conductor Eric Whitacre. Expect to hear singers from Denmark, Estonia, Australia and the African diaspora, plus the Tallis Scholars, Black Voices and the evergreen Swingles. FM

Film: unusual queer love stories

Great Freedom.
Great Freedom. Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

The year is kicking off with a rich seam of LGBTQ+ cinema, with a number of films granting new political and historical dimensions to queer relationship stories. Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Oscar-tipped animated documentary Flee (11 February) weaves a gay love story into its powerful study of an Afghan immigrant in Europe reflecting on his harrowing refugee childhood. Meanwhile, Sebastian Meise’s wonderful, Cannes-awarded drama Great Freedom (4 March) examines the history of Germany’s anti-gay Paragraph 175 law through the long-term bond between a repeatedly incarcerated gay man (the superb Franz Rogowski) and his initially homophobic cellmate. GL

Theatre: Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City

The Burnt City by Punchdrunk previews from 22 March.
The Burnt City by Punchdrunk previews from 22 March. Photograph: Julian Abrams

Immersive theatre maestros Punchdrunk return to their home town of London after an absence of seven years. In their lofty new quarters at Woolwich Works – three Grade II-listed buildings stretching over 100,000 sq ft – the company will tell the story of the fall of Troy, transposing the tragedy to a future parallel world. Palaces and a “pulsating underworld” are promised. The Burnt City is booking from 22 March to 28 August. SC

Music: the tome of their lives

Vashti Bunyan.
Vashti Bunyan. Photograph: Rob Ball/Redferns/Getty

There will always be blockbuster music memoirs. Often, though, the good stuff is in the margins. In 1969, Vashti Bunyan set out in a horse-drawn wagon from London to Scotland, writing a cult folk album, Just Another Diamond Day, as she went. Her reminiscences, Wayward (out 31 March), capture the times with great poignancy. Former punk Kathy Valentine was in the Go-Gos, the first all-female band to get to No 1 in the US playing their own instruments; therein lies a tale (All I Ever Wanted, out March). However well we feel we know the Wainwright clan, the forthcoming memoir, Stories I Might Regret Telling You (March), by Martha Wainwright looks set to supply new insights into the folk dynasty. KE

Radio/podcast: Now You’re Asking With Marian Keyes and Tara Flynn

Marian Keyes, co-host of Now You’re Asking.
Marian Keyes, co-host of Now You’re Asking. Photograph: IBL/Rex/Shutterstock

The hilarious writer Marian Keyes and actor Tara Flynn return to Radio 4 next Sunday with a new problem-solving show. Having asked people to email in their dilemmas, the dynamic duo set out to solve them at their “virtual kitchen table”. A neighbour’s garden ornaments, a daughter’s messy house and a difficulty with a father’s will are all tackled in the first episode. “Most things are survivable,” insists Keyes, while Flynn confesses that, actually, her “three favourite words are ‘I don’t know’”. Both are warm and kind enough to not only be funny but also offer genuinely thoughtful, if left-field, advice. MS

TV: screen stars in game-changing roles

Jamie-Lee O’Donnell in Screw.
Jamie-Lee O’Donnell in Screw. Photograph: Anne Binckebanck

Prepare to do a double take as three scene-stealing young actors tackle starkly contrasting roles. Erin Doherty, who won admirers as Princess Anne in The Crown, drops the plummy accent to star in BBC Three’s Chloe, a psychological thriller about social media and identity. Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, AKA wild child Michelle in Derry Girls, embraces her dark side in gritty Channel 4 prison drama Screw. And in Disney+ bio-drama Pam & Tommy, yes, that is Britain’s own Lily James beneath that peroxide wig in the true story of Pamela Anderson’s scandalous sex tape with Tommy Lee, arguably the first ever viral video. MH

Music: live music is back*

(*unless it isn’t)

Stormzy. Photograph: Lesley Martin/PA

At the time of writing, the prospect of live music is very much still on for 2022. Some much-missed big beasts are due back in arenas early this year and there are few more major than Stormzy, who has yet to tour his 2019 hit, Heavy Is the Head. Fingers crossed, from 13 March, the rapper will play his rescheduled 2021 dates, bringing some of his Glastonbury-headlining gravitas to arenas countrywide. Fellow national UK hip-hop treasure Dave takes his lauded second album, We’re Alone in This Together, out to audiences starved of togetherness from 15 February. KE

Art: surrealists take over

Landru in the Hotel, Paris, by Antonio Berni, 1932.
Landru in the Hotel, Paris, by Antonio Berni, 1932. Photograph: Courtesy Galería Sur

From 24 February, Tate Modern’s Surrealism Beyond Borders goes further than so many previous shows by expanding its survey to 45 countries across five decades. A fresh appraisal of the eye-popping, mind-boggling, ID-twisting art that now includes wild and weird objects and paintings from nations as far apart as Syria, Thailand and Romania. Arriving from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the show has already been hailed as startling, chaotic and glorious. LC

Classical: Britten’s got talent

One of the visuals by Mark Murphy which will be featured in the performance of Ghosts in the Ruins by Nitin Sawhney at Coventry Cathedral.
One of the visuals by Mark Murphy which will be featured in the performance of Ghosts in the Ruins by Nitin Sawhney at Coventry Cathedral. Photograph: Mark Murphy

For Coventry’s year as city of culture, and the 60th anniversary since the consecration of the city’s cathedral, composer-performer Nitin Sawhney has written Ghosts in the Ruins, a site-specific “war requiem” in response to Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, premiered at Basil Spence’s new cathedral in the 1962 Coventry festival. Exploring themes of refugees, migrants and asylum, Ghosts will include singers and musicians moving around the building and out into the bombed ruins of the old cathedral (28 and 29 January).

Two other Britten masterpieces head the operatic season. At Scottish Opera, Dominic Hill, artistic director of Glasgow’s Citizens theatre, directs Britten’s dazzling take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, conducted by Stuart Stratford (opens Glasgow, 22 February, Edinburgh, 1 March). At London’s Royal Opera House, Deborah Warner directs Peter Grimes, starring Allan Clayton as the anguished fisherman, with a top cast conducted by Mark Elder (opens 17 March). FM

Film: the return of Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper in Licorice Pizza.
Bradley Cooper in Licorice Pizza. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

There’s an interesting paradox regarding the casting of Bradley Cooper. As a hero, he can be bland – a synthetic shiny smile pasted on to wholesome catalogue-model good looks. But in the role of a villain, that glittering charm takes on a devilish quality. He’s thrilling and dangerous and utterly compelling. The good news for fans of bad Bradley is that he’s back after a career hiatus and, for the next two films at least, Cooper has taken up residence on the dark side. In Guillermo del Toro’s neo-noir Nightmare Alley, he’s a magician with blood on his hands; in Paul Thomas Anderson’s just released Licorice Pizza, he plays a monstrous Hollywood producer. WI

Radio: channel hopping

Andrew Marr makes his move to LBC.
Andrew Marr makes his move to LBC. Photograph: Jeff Moore/Global/PA

Andrew Marr will make his big move from the BBC in early 2022, taking up new slots at LBC and Classic FM. His Radio 4 Start the Week hosting duties appear to have been taken up by the three remaining hosts, Tom Sutcliffe, Amol Rajan and Kirsty Wark, though, if a headliner is needed, Wark would seem the obvious choice. Reportedly, Marr moved because he wanted the freedom to express his climate emergency opinions. At LBC, he will find ex-BBC compatriots Eddie Mair and Shelagh Fogarty; at Classic FM, he’ll be joining Moira Stewart. On Heart, a personnel shift means that another ex-BBC host, Dev Griffin, will be on weekday afternoons, while Yasmin Evans, who left 1Xtra late last year, is taking up a weekend slot on the same station. Clearly, commercial radio’s dynamism and editorial freedom are tempting some BBC long-termers away from the mothership. MS

Theatre: Anna Karenina

Helen Edmundson will write a new stage version of Anna Karenina for Sheffield Theatres.
Helen Edmundson has written a new stage version of Anna Karenina for Sheffield Theatres. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

Tolstoy’s novel takes to the stage in a version by Helen Edmundson, scriptwriter of Mary Magdalene, whose plays include adaptations of Small Island and Coram Boy for the National and, for Bristol Old Vic, the musical Swallows and Amazons. Anna Karenina (how will they do the train?) will be directed by Anthony Lau, associate artistic director at Sheffield Theatres, and can be seen at the Crucible, Sheffield, from 5 to 26 February. SC

Photography: a trio of treats

Afternoon, 2021, by Alex Prager.
Afternoon, 2021, by Alex Prager. Photograph: Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

The photography year kicks off with the surreal and extravagantly staged scenarios of the LA-based artist Alex Prager, known for her genre-crossing images of raw contemporary Hollywood shot through with old movie glamour. At London’s Lehmann Maupin (from 21 January), her new works insert present reality into a cinematic past. The annual Deutsche Börse shortlist is on show at London’s Photographer’s Gallery from 25 March, with very strong contenders including Jo Ratcliffe’s celebrated geopolitical landscapes of South Africa and Deana Lawson’s exacting tableaux of America’s black diaspora. Also in March, Milton Keynes Gallery has a retrospective of Ingrid Pollard’s poetic photo-meditations on racial displacement and identity, from 12 March, travelling to the Turner Margate in July. LC

TV: This Is Going to Hurt

Ben Whishaw in BBC One’s adaptation of This Is Going To Hurt.
Ben Whishaw in BBC One’s adaptation of This Is Going To Hurt. Photograph: PA

Ben Whishaw hasn’t done any homegrown TV since his Emmy-winning 2018 turn in A Very English Scandal. In February/March he makes his BBC comeback in this anarchic, visceral adaptation of Adam Kay’s bestselling memoir about working on an NHS labour ward. Expect exhaustingly long hours, life-or-death decisions, battles with the hospital hierarchy, “a constant tsunami of bodily fluids” and plenty of gallows humour. MH

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