WITH an exciting year ahead of new theatre, music, TV, film, festivals, book launches and art exhibitions, make a date with Scotland on Sunday’s experts, who have chosen the 13 most significant events to watch out for over the next 12 months
Lessons from the past
Afghanistan, 1838: an 18,000-strong British army invades. Afghanistan, 1842: just one Briton returns. The story of Britain’s First Afghan War – our greatest military disaster in the 19th century – has been told before, but never as brilliantly as by William Dalrymple in Return Of A King (Bloomsbury, February), which astonishingly is also the first general history of the subject to also draw heavily on Afghan and Russian sources.
The problem with Afghanistan has never been that it’s difficult to conquer – it’s not – but that it’s almost impossible to hold. Even at the height of Britain’s imperial power (in 1840, Britain and its empire accounted for 50 per cent of the world’s GDP), the cost still proved too much, so we cut back on our garrisons and slashed funds to the tribal allies of our supported ruler. Sound familiar? It should. As Dalrymple discovered on his increasingly dangerous research trips: “The same tribal rivalries and the same battles were continuing to be fought in the same places 200 years later under the guise of new flags, new ideologies and new political puppeteers. The same cities were garrisoned by foreign troops speaking the same language, and were being attacked from the same ring of hills and the same high passes.”
No Scottish historian writes with as much panache, breaks as much new ground, or brings the past as vividly to life. A superlative achievement.
Spandex at the multiplex
After a series of box-office disasters in 2012 – in particular the epic failure of John Carter – studios are playing it safe by relying on more familiar worlds. Upcoming in 2013 are a third Iron Man, two more helpings of Thor, Wolverine and young Star Trek, yet another Hangover and a sixth opportunity to rev up Fast And Furious.
The nearest thing to new is Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel (on general release from 4 June), an attempt to relaunch the grandpaw of the spandex scene into skies that are already overcrowded with superheroes.
There’s a lot riding on this reboot, but in 2006 Superman Returns got a lukewarm reception and Snyder’s Suckerpunch and Legend Of The Guardians proved to be kryptonite at the box office. No wonder Christopher Nolan has been brought in to supervise the rebirth, with early clips suggesting that the man with the S on his chest will be tormented by the burden of being super. So far two trailers, with Amy Adams glimpsed as Lois Lane and Russell Crowe cast as Superdad, suggest a dour moodiness that make the old Christopher Reeve films feel like romantic comedies.
Will Britain’s Henry Cavill fly as Superman? We’ll find out this summer. But we do know that he’s been persuaded to dispense with the signature red pants. Great Caesar’s ghost!
Vampires on stage
First it was a Morrissey B-side released in 1992. Then it became the title of the debut novel by Swedish writer and stand-up John Ajvide Lindqvist. In turn, Let The Right One In was made into an acclaimed Swedish movie and, as Let Me In, an American remake.
Now in 2013, this unsettling adolescent vampire love story is coming to Dundee Rep (6–29 June) in a production by the National Theatre of Scotland. Set on a housing estate that seems closer to Dundee than Stockholm, this latest incarnation of Let The Right One In is directed by John Tiffany and adapted by Skins writer Jack Thorne.
Together with movement specialist Steven Hoggett, they will be re-telling the bleak tale of Oskar, a 12-year-old boy who is bullied at school and befriended by Eli, an ageless vampire girl. “It was the physicality of Eli that really interested me,” says Tiffany. “I wanted to see someone on stage who was half 13-year-old girl, half 200-year-old killing machine.”
Hoggett agrees: “The film is very understated. For us, it’s about how sophisticated we can be on stage, where you have to amplify the physical storytelling.”
This is just one show in a promising NTS season set in place by artistic director Vicky Featherstone before her recent departure. Among the productions she has left in the care of her replacement, Laurie Sansom, are Ignition, a site-specific show about cars on Shetland (March); A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen in a version by Zinnie Harris at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum (13 April–4 May); and a touring adaptation of The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (May).
There’ll also be more chances to see Dunsinane, Black Watch and Calum’s Road.
T turns 20
From Connect to Gig on the Green, a few Scottish music festivals have come and gone over the past two decades, but T in the Park still leads the field as it celebrates its 20th event. Guests at the birthday bash at Balado on 12-14 July include Rihanna, Mumford and Sons, the Killers, Emeli Sandé and Alt-J – typical of the broad, inclusive approach that sees no contradiction in welcoming everyone from indie guitar bands to teen pop idols.
Looking back, T in the Park seemed to strike this balance right from the start. In 1995, its second year, Kylie Minogue and M People played alongside Paul Weller, The Verve and The Charlatans.
To this day, line-up announcements will be greeted by some grumpy amnesiacs as meaning
the festival has gone
“too pop”. But T in the Park has never seemed much concerned with having hipster credentials (if that’s your bag, off
you go to All Tomorrow’s Parties). It’s a people’s festival, a job it
continues to do spectacularly well.
A comic book caper
Writers like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are often described as “mystics” or “warlocks”, and not just because they namedrop Aleister Crowley and only wear black. It’s their obsessive belief in the power of storytelling and how it can alter our perception of the world. But what if somebody wrote a graphic novel that really did possess a dangerous power?
That’s the weird mystery at the heart of Utopia, a six-part conspiracy drama starting on 15 January on Channel 4, that swirls around a fabled, unpublished follow-up to a cult comic book. When a group of unconnected strangers stumble across some original art from the mythical sequel they are targeted by a shadowy organisation called The Network, whose diabolical agents apparently have no problem with blackmail, torture or murder.
With a cast that includes Scot Paul Higgins – responsible for some superheroic swearing as Jamie in The Thick Of It – Channel 4 is hyping this urban thriller hard, with distinctive, unsettling TV promos and the inevitable web-based marketing campaign. From the mind of Dennis Kelly – who created BBC3 comedy Pulling and co-wrote Matilda The Musical with Tim Minchin – Utopia looks both dark and darkly funny, something Roald Dahl himself might enjoy.
Black magic in the gallery
What’s an exhibition about witches doing in the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art? Didn’t we get over the whole witch thing several hundred years ago? Well, yes and no. While the days when people actually believed in witches are long gone – witchcraft stopped being a criminal offence in Britain in 1735 – artists have continued to be fascinated by the idea of the witch and, latterly, by the various factors that allowed it to become such a powerful disruptive force.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art’s Witches And Wicked Bodies, which opens on 27 July and runs until 3 November, looks at how representations of witches have changed over the last 500 years, from Albrecht Dürer’s fleshy nudes to Francisco de Goya’s grotesques to more modern interpretations by 20th-century artists such as Paula Rego and Kiki Smith.
Including major works from the collections of the British Museum, the Tate, the V&A and the National Gallery in London, and promising to delve deep into the psychological implications of the ugly hag/beautiful sorceress dichotomy, this might just turn out to be one of those rare shows that forces us look at the past – and the present – in a whole new light.
Another Thom Yorke experiment
Thom Yorke’s alternative supergroup, Atoms for Peace, features longtime producer Nigel Godrich, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Joey Waronker on drums and at the end of next month we will get to hear their debut album – as keenly anticipated a collaboration as you might expect. Early signs do not indicate a radical new direction, but a sound more in keeping with cloisters than with concert halls.
Yorke’s vocals almost blend into the restrained electro beats, click-clacking hypnotically beneath a strangely seductive falsetto. Experimental is the key word, with what sounds like a harpsichord prominent in the mix.
At the moment it rather reeks of a vanity project, but it’s strangely fascinating nevertheless. And if it is elevated and amplified to festival proportions, well, that would be quite a proposition… Visit atomsforpeace.info to hear samples.
Celtic Connections celebrates 20th bonanza
Originally conceived to plug a
January programming gap at the then only three-year-old Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Celtic Connections – now approaching its 20th year – has grown into arguably the biggest and most important international fixture in its field.
While no-one could have foreseen the extent of the behemoth it’s become, the festival’s boldness of vision, not least in terms of scale, was a founding hallmark – and just one of the factors, back in 1994, that had Scotland’s folk lovers near unanimously shaking their heads as to its likely success. Its unprecedented size and duration, the Concert Hall itself (perceived as too starchily classical a preserve to welcome the folky crowd) and its January time-slot, when everyone would be skint and partied out, all contributed to this gloomy prognosis. But in that inaugural fortnight, some 35,000 punters laid such preconceptions decisively to rest.
That same boldness, hand in hand with an insistence on quality, has continued to underpin Celtic Connections’ remarkable success. In providing such myriad opportunities for musicians from different countries, cultures and generations to communicate in the language they all know best, the festival consistently replenishes as well as reflects the teeming worldwide hive of roots-based creativity.
After the 20th opening concert’s celebratory array of long-time Celtic Connections favourites such as Cara Dillon, Capercaillie, Flook and Sheena Wellington on 17 January, other highlights this year include flamenco guitar maestro Vicente Amigo, premièring a new collaboration with top Celtic players (18 January); the newly reformed Mavericks’ first UK show (22 January); a superb Scottish double bill matching hip-hop crew Stanley Odd with funk/blues outlaws Mystery Juice (23 January); Malian superstar Salif Keita (1 February) and the unclassifiable Canadian combo Petunia & The Vipers (19 January).
The Magic Realism roundabout
No Kelman, Galloway, Smith (Ali or Zadie), Warner, McEwan, or Amis… and when you scan 2013’s publishers’ catalogues there are precious few new offerings by a whole host of other big beasts of the literary world. So I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that this could well be the year of Patrick Ness.
If you’re already up to speed on young adult fiction, you’ll know his books. They have won practically every award going for children’s writing, and last year his book A Monster Calls became the first to win the top two – the Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Medals. The Crane Wife (published by Canongate in April) is his first book in a long while for adults, and it’s a thing of wonder – literally so, for that’s the emotion that takes over London T-shirt print shop owner George’s life when he removes an arrow from the wing of a crane, then falls in love with an enigmatic artist who walks into his shop soon afterwards.
A beautifully written fable of love and forgiveness, Ness can both rein in his imagination long enough to make his readers care about his central characters and take off the brakes and let his story’s mythic core take wing. A Life Of Pi for a new decade, perhaps?
Darling, it’s a disaster (movie)
You may have been hoping that, after the apocalypse stubbornly refused to happen as “predicted” on 21 December, 2012, we might get a break from the end of the world for a while. If so, nae luck. If there is one theme dominating the films released this year, it’s, well, read on and see if you can spot a pattern.
In Oblivion (released 12 April), Tom Cruise plays one of the last humans living and working on an Earth devastated by war. In Elysium (20 September), Matt Damon is an ex-con living on an overpopulated, polluted planet which the rich have abandoned to live in a spacestation. In M Night Shyamalan’s new film After Earth (7 June), the planet has been abandoned altogether for 1,000 years and evolved to kill off anything human (bad luck for Will and Jaden Smith, who have just crash-landed there). Sound depressing? Try Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s new comedy. Except that The World’s End (14 August) is about a pub crawl interrupted by the end of the world. Oh.
Well then, how about US comedy go-to guys Seth Rogen, Jonah
Hill and James Franco? Except that This Is The End (28 June) is about a party at Franco’s house which is interrupted by the apocalypse.
Aaarrgh! Teen movies then? No reprieve there, whether it’s Warm Bodies (zombie apocalypse teens), The Hunger Games (post-apocalypse teens) or The Host (teens on an Earth taken over by aliens). Oh dear.
Surely Brad Pitt can cheer us up, at least? What’s his new film again?
Oh, it’s World War Z (21 June).
So near, so Marr
Since the demise of The Smiths, Johnny Marr has studiously avoided any accusations of being a guitar for hire, preferring to hitch up with people he admires and respects. This includes Matt Johnson’s The The, Electronic with Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant, Modest Mouse, The Pretenders, and most recently The Cribs.
In The Messenger, his first genuinely solo excursion, released by Warners on 25 February, we hear the real Marr and his guitar for the first time since The Smiths, not to mention a lead vocal which, while not rivalling Steven Morrissey, more than passes muster.
His distinctive lightness of touch and controlled power riffage fires New Town Velocity, while the album’s title track is a glorious guitar-driven jangler, airy but substantial. It also has the kind of strong lyrical ideas which compensate for the literary pretentions of his erstwhile songwriting partner and a memorable riff sparking the
gentlest echo of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper.
If only he had avoided certain of his dalliances and gone it alone sooner, because his first bona fide solo outing could turn out to be one of 2013’s best records.
The Kiss comes to Scotland
The most famous clinch in art history will come to the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh on 2 February for a year-long sojourn. August Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss, (1901-4) is either “a great hymn to love” or “a large sculpted knick-knack following the usual formula”. The latter view, apparently, came from the artist himself.
The Kiss first appeared as a small study for an earlier, much grander commission that was never completed. The Gates Of Hell (1880-6) would have formed the spectacular entry to a new Paris museum that was never built. It is salutary to reflect that the lovers portrayed are Dante’s Paolo and Francesca, engaged in an adulterous affair and shortly to be murdered by her outraged husband.
The Kiss may contain an even sadder back story: that of its reputed female model Camille Claudel, the young artist whom Rodin taught as a 19-year-old. She became his only female apprentice, occasional model and one of a number of lovers. Her own art was overshadowed by Rodin’s fame. Rodin refused to marry her, maintaining a relationship with Rose Beuret whom he would later wed.
Claudel broke off their intimate relationship. Her art flourished but did not always sell. Conditions were hard and she worked herself into exhaustion, penury and carelessness, becoming obsessed with Rodin’s circle to the point of profound paranoia. In 1913 after the death of her supportive father, her brother had her committed to an asylum where, often lucid, she died some 30 years later in 1943.
New writing on the wall
When an audience of 60 gathered in a former brothel near Edinburgh Castle on the icily cold evening of 2 January, 1963, they can have had no idea they were in at the start of one of the great success stories of British theatre. Fifty years after that night’s double-bill of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos and Fernando Arrabal’s Orisons, the Traverse is still going strong.
After its six-year stint in the Lawnmarket, the theatre moved to the Grassmarket and, in 1992, to its present site in Cambridge Street. This is where, throughout 2013, the company will be celebrating its first half-century. Led by artistic director Orla O’Loughlin (above), it will be looking back at the scores of playwrights who made their name here, while talent-spotting the next generation.
Some of those writers are sure to appear on 26 January at a rehearsed reading of 50 Plays for Edinburgh, the fruits of a competition to write a 500-word script with a connection to the city. The 50 winners (whittled down from 630 entries) will participate in workshops and discussions that will culminate in an autumn festival of their work. To see an even fresher generation of writers, check out Class Act 50 (30 and 31 January), featuring plays by Edinburgh school pupils.
In April, there will be a work-in-progress production of Found At Sea (19–23 April), an adaptation by David Greig of poems by Andrew Greig. Once again, the Traverse will contribute to the lunchtime Play, A Pie And A Pint series, this time with pieces by Lesley Hart, Douglas Maxwell, David Ireland and Sabrina Mahfouz (from 19 April). And after the success of Bullet Catch, Rob Drummond will make his mainstage debut with Quiz Show (29 March-20 April), directed by Hamish Pirie.