A to Z of the year ahead

Scotland on Sunday’s experts reveal what 2012 has in store in arts and entertainment, from Alan Cumming to Zach Braff

A IS FOR ALAN CUMMING

When Robert Lepage brought Elsinore to Glasgow’s Tramway in 1996, he proved it was possible to perform a Shakespeare play (in this case, Hamlet) single-handedly. That should give some solace to Alan Cumming when he premieres his one-man version of Macbeth in the same venue (14-30 June). “This is going to be hi-tech, with a lot of multimedia,” says the Aberfeldy-born star, who developed the idea behind the National Theatre of Scotland production while thinking about the play’s sexual politics. “I’d originally wanted to do a production where we swapped around Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and Macduff and Lady Macduff, to explore ideas about gender. Now I’m just doing the whole thing.” The show is co-directed by Black Watch’s John Tiffany and New York’s Andrew Goldberg.

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Mark Fisher

B IS FOR BRAVE

Set in “the mystical Scottish Highlands”, Pixar’s new film combines Scots myths with a bid for the lucrative Disney Princess market. Kelly Macdonald voices Titian-tressed Princess Merida, the unlikely offspring of a union between Emma Thompson and Billy Connolly.

Despite a troubled history with both the original leading lady (Reese Witherspoon) and director (Brenda Chapman) departing the project, hopes are high for the animation studio’s first lead heroine, who has the voluminous hair of a Rapunzel yet is also as handy with a bow as Hawkeye. Other Scots accents are contributed by Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson and, er, Julie Walters. The film is out on 17 August.

Siobhan Synnot

C IS FOR CELTIC CONNECTIONS

The 19th edition of Glasgow’s world-renowned roots music extravaganza kicks off the year in typically sumptuous and genre-spanning style, featuring more than 2,000 performers in 300-plus shows over 18 heady days and nights. In chronological order, here’s our top ten must-sees:

1. Carolina Chocolate Drops/Punch Brothers, 20 January, O2 ABC. Two contrasting top Americana acts, respectively revitalising black string-band music and reinventing bluegrass.

2. Le Vent du Nord 10th Anniversary with Breabach & Väsen, 21 January, Main Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Stunning Québécois four-piece celebrate in style with fiery Scottish outfit Breabach and sublime Swedish trio Väsen.

3. Bring It All Home, Gerry Rafferty Remembered, 22 and 23 January, Main Auditorium, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. A galaxy of stars including The Proclaimers, Jack Bruce, Ron Sexsmith and Maria Muldaur pay tribute to the late Paisley bard.

4. Jack Bruce with Lau & Friends/Domini Màgic, 25 January, Old Fruitmarket. Ex-Cream vocalist/bassist teams up with top avant-folk trio, plus strong Catalan support.

5. Cissokho Solo and Fidil/Fatoumata Diawara & Michael McGoldrick Quartet, 26 January, St Andrews in the Square. Mouthwatering dual encounter between the traditional and contemporary sounds of Senegal and Donegal, Mali and Manchester.

6. Peatbog Faeries/Stanley Odd, 29 January, O2 ABC. Mighty Celtic dance/trance majesty meets cutting-edge Scottish hip-hop.

7. Damien Dempsey/Kitty the Lion/ Eoin Glackin, 1 February, O2 ABC. Probably Ireland’s most compellingly eloquent singer-songwriter, with excellent young Scottish/Irish support.

8. Blues of the World, 2 February, O2 ABC. Blues as it’s lived and sung in Occitan, southern France, Native American tradition and modern-day Brixton.

9. Meschiya Lake and The Little Big Horns/The Wiyos, 4 February, Old Fruitmarket. Depression-era dance music minted anew, with two sizzling-hot combos out of New Orleans and New York.

10. Floating Palace, 5 February, O2 ABC. Stellar singer-songwriters’ circle uniting KT Tunstall, Martin and Eliza Carthy, Abigail Washburn, Howe Gelb and Robyn Hitchcock.

Sue Wilson

D IS FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Christopher Nolan directs Christian Bale in another instalment of brooding and killer abs. Their third and final act, released on 20 July, also includes Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy as the villains Catwoman and Bane – but can the DC comic’s Dark Knight conquer his true movie nemesis, Marvel? Despite a mixed reception for Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Hulk, the superhero all-stars are banding together this year as The Avengers, armed with thunderbolts and wisecracks. For those who are still not allergic to spandex soap operas, Andrew Garfield also reboots The Amazing Spider-Man this year. A showcase for Ant Man cannot be far behind.

Siobhan Synnot

E IS FOR ELAINE C SMITH AS SUSAN BOYLE

The woman known to millions as Mary Doll in Rab C Nesbitt remembers the moment Susan Boyle entered the nation’s consciousness. She was appearing in a West End run of Calendar Girls when, during the interval, her co-stars emerged from the dressing room in tears. They’d just seen an unknown middle-aged Scottish woman bring Britain’s Got Talent to a stand still singing I Dreamed A Dream. Now Elaine C Smith is starring as SuBo in a show named after the song. Co-written with her panto colleague Alan McHugh, it has every likelihood of going global. The first leg of the tour takes in His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen (3-7 April), and Eden Court, Inverness (11-16 June), with Boyle making a nightly cameo appearance. Hankies at the ready.

Mark Fisher

F IS FOR FOR ONCE

Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre spent the autumn without an artistic director after Dominic Hill moved west to Glasgow (see King Lear, below), so the arrival of Orla McLoughlin will be especially welcome. Her work is generally unknown in Scotland, so audiences will be intrigued to see For Once (4-14 April), a play she directed last year at London’s Hampstead Theatre, where it was praised for being “a small quiet cracker of a family drama”. Written by Tim Price, it arrives in Edinburgh as part of a spring season that includes repeat runs of recent hits by Grid Iron (Barflies), Catherine Wheels (White) and Magnetic North (Pass The Spoon).

Mark Fisher

G IS FOR GLASGOW INTERNATIONAL

We may now live in an increasingly virtual world; but visual artists, ever the contrarians, are keeping it real. Thus this year’s Glasgow International Festival has an emphasis on performance, real time and lived experiences: from the chance to have your lunch made by artists John Shankie and Andrew Miller in a tenement in the city’s Hill Street (they are damn good cooks) to a group show, Dialogue Of The Hands, where the work is designed to be directly handled and in some cases climbed upon.

If Glasgow now has an unrivalled reputation for contemporary art, then GI is the time to catch the city at its best in an event that combines its art scene’s stellar international status with its collaborative ethos and unfailing ability to hold a damn good party. The programme – 130 artists in more than 50 venues over 18 days, beginning on 20 April – will include a major new show from Karla Black at GoMA and works on paper by Turner Prize-winner Richard Wright in the grand surroundings of Kelvingrove. At Tramway, artist Graham Fagen and theatre-maker Graham Eatough will collaborate with Michael McDonough, the Scottish cinematographer whose US movie resume includes Winter’s Bone. The three have created a new work that is part installation, part live and filmed performance.

GI director Katrina Brown has set the bar high for her second edition of this biannual festival. Back in 2010, she commissioned the artist Susan Philipsz to make a new work. The artist chose the atmospheric railway bridge over the Clyde to sight her haunting soundpiece Lowlands and it went on to win the Turner Prize. Expect to have lots of fun at this year’s GI, but also to see history in the making.

Moira Jeffrey

H IS FOR HUNGER GAMES

If you’re unfamiliar with The Hunger Games, you’re probably just the wrong age. Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of sci-fi novels for teenagers has been hugely successful, particularly in America, and translated into 26 languages. Set in a post-apocalyptic America where children are forced to take part in a televised battle to the death, the story’s heroine is Katniss, who volunteers for the brutal games to save her younger sister. The book has now been made into a movie by Lionsgate, who must be hoping for another Twilight-sized franchise. Jennifer Lawrence – who made a big impression in the 2010 film Winter’s Bone – stars. It’s in cinemas from 23 March.

Andrew Eaton-Lewis

I IS FOR JOHN IRVING

And also for In One Person, the next novel from the American novelist who has topped the bestseller charts ever since The World According To Garp. It is narrated by Billy, a bisexual man, looking back on friends and lovers from half a century – a motley collection of convention-defying characters. The hypemasters at Bloomsbury promise that “this is a novel that makes you proud to be human”. It will hit bookshelves in May.

David Robinson

J IS FOR JAMES BOND

After a long delay due to MGM’s financial problems, Daniel Craig is back as 007 on 26 October.

Craig’s presence is probably enough, even without Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem and, a special 007 treat, Ola Rapace, the father of the other Dragon Tattoo’s Noomi Rapace. Sadly Scotland’s special cameo as the ancestral home of Bond has been ditched in favour of (closer, cheaper) Wales, but this third outing promises to reveal more about the private life of Dame Judi Dench’s unflappable M and gadgets galore seem guaranteed with Ben Whishaw joining the cast as Q.

Siobhan Synnot

K IS FOR KING LEAR

Dominic Hill made his name in Scotland at Dundee Rep, where he directed classics by Henrik Ibsen, Howard Barker and William Shakespeare. After a spell working with new plays at Edinburgh’s Traverse, Hill is now returning to the classics as new artistic director of the Citizens in Glasgow. His inaugural three-play season will kick off with Harold Pinter’s Betrayal (2-24 March), before Shakespeare’s King Lear (20 April-12 May) and Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (30 May-2 June).

David Hayman, who cut his teeth at the Citizens in the 1970s, plays the title role in King Lear in a modern-dress production that promises to bring out the social impact of the tragedy. “It’s a bleak and brutal play that takes on the whole of humanity,” says Hill.

Mark Fisher

L IS FOR LONG JOHN SILVER

He’s back. The last time we heard of him, in Treasure Island, Jim Hawkins was musing that with all the money he’d brought home, the one-legged pirate probably was going to have a comfortable retirement. “It is to be hoped so,” he added, “for his chances of comfort in another world are very small.”

And who is this bringing him back? Sir Andrew Motion, no less, with a 432-page follow-up to Stevenson’s Treasure Island due out in April from Cape. As Catherine Tate used to say, “How very dare he?”

In his defence, Motion says that had Stevenson lived longer, he might well have returned to his 1883 novel himself and that writing his book Silver has been the most enjoyable project on which he has ever worked. In Motion’s tale, Silver sails back to Treasure Island in search of a cache of silver that had been left behind, but it’s his daughter Natty and Hawkins’ son Jim Jnr who are the main protagonists. Treasure Island: The Next Generation, in other words. Am I bovvered? As Catherine Tate also used to say. On this occasion, probably not.

David Robinson

M IS FOR MADONNA

At 53, Madonna is gearing up for her most comprehensive assault on the world of pop music to date. An internet leak of a partially complete song, Give Me All Your Love, started the wheels of hype rolling. In February, she has landed the most prestigious slot on American television with the viewing figures to match. The former Mrs Ritchie will be seen by millions providing the half-time entertainment at the Super Bowl final, reminding everyone of her back catalogue and previewing the much-anticipated new album. Will it be better than her last, Hard Candy? You would have to hope so.

Colin Somerville

N IS FOR NAOMI WOLF

The leading American feminist publishes her Vagina: A New Biography in June, in Virago. Any embarrassment at the use of the word is, she argues, a relatively modern phenomenon (well, the last 120 years anyway); before then, slang terms for the vagina were often rather cuddly and affectionate. Wolf’s cultural history of the female sexual organ, Virago promises, “completely reframes how we understand the vagina – and hence how we understand women.”

David Robinson

O IS FOR OLYMPICS

There will, of course, be a fair bit of running, jumping and throwing stuff going on in London this summer. The Cultural Olympiad that was meant to go with it was notably slower off the blocks, but under Ruth Mackenzie, the London 2012 Festival has become a nationwide arts programme that finally promises to meet the occasion.

The whole shebang kicks off not in some fancy gilded hall in the Metropolis but at an outdoor midsummer concert in the Stirling housing estate of Raploch, where the Simón Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela will perform under their charismatic conductor Gustavo Dudamel. The orchestra is a pioneer of La Sistema, the intensive music training system which has transformed the lives of thousands of deprived children including young Scots.

It’s a similar theme of aspiration and perspiration which has inspired Scottish artist Craig Coulthard’s ambitious Forest Pitch which will see a site on a mundane spruce plantation outside Selkirk transformed firstly into a hidden football field and subsequently into a wildlife friendly habitat planted with native species. On 21 July, Forest Pitch will be hosting football matches for men and women who have recently become British citizens.

UK highlights include Cate Blanchett on stage at the Barbican from 13 April and Picasso and Modern British Art at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art from 4 August.

For three weeks in August, Scottish environmental arts charity NVA will set Salisbury Crags alight with people power; their volunteer runners generating enough energy to illuminate the landscape for their project Speed Of Light. But if there is a single project that has captured the imagination that a world-class sporting event ought to arouse, it’s Martin Creed’s simple proposal for mass participation on the Olympic opening morning of 27 July. Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and as loudly as possible for three minutes.

Moira Jeffrey

P IS FOR PROMETHEUS

First described as a prequel to Alien, Sir Ridley’s Scott’s return to science fiction has since gone through several iterations and is now being pitched as an original film “with DNA” culled from the earlier project. Scott has gone to extraordinary lengths to plug script leaks; his stars, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace and Scotland’s Kate Dickie not only had to sign secrecy clauses, they were only allowed to read the story at the film’s production office. The new trailer leaves us none the wiser but with six film stages involved, including the gigantic Bond stage in Pinewood, it promises to be extravagant guignol. It’s in cinemas from 1 June.

Siobhan Synnot

Q IS FOR QUEEN

She has been a media star since the age of three. But this year, the Queen will also have been on the throne for 60 years – something which, apart from Queen Victoria, no-one else in British, Scottish or English history has ever done. The Diamond Jubilee celebrations mean we all get an extra day off in June (Tuesday the 5th) and it provides the theme for this year’s Edinburgh Tattoo and the excuse for royal biographers either to update, rewrite or condense their past efforts. More interesting perhaps will be Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s Jubilee Lines, which Faber publishes on 5 April, in which she and 59 other poets will each write a poem about a different one of those 60 years in which the Queen has reigned over us. Buy a copy to read aloud at your local Diamond Jubilee street party.

David Robinson

R IS FOR REUNION

Of all the reunions in recent rock history, the Stone Roses getting back together has been greeted with the most credible tears.

It could be argued that only bass player Mani has covered himself in any kind of glory since their demise, with guitarist John Squire forming the clodhopping Seahorses and releasing a couple of unremarkable solo albums. Ian Brown’s vocal uncertainties have been exposed in the course of his own solo career. Drummer Reni has kept a decidedly low profile.

Mani has of course been a member of Primal Scream for 15 years, and significantly says he will be rejoining Bobby Gillespie and company once the Roses’ latest race is run.

Meanwhile, the band have sold an incredible number of concert tickets, and are the main attraction on the festival circuit throughout the summer, including T in the Park.

There were five years between their first and second albums, the impressive former perhaps containing all the finest moments, with The Second Coming walking the walk but not talking the talk.

The faithful still believe, but it would take a remarkable leap of faith to imagine that the third album would not be an embarrassment compared with what has gone before.

Colin Somerville

S IS FOR SACHA BARON COHEN

Ali G made him famous, Borat made him notorious but no-one wanted to see Bruno. What next for Sacha Baron Cohen? Dictators, of course. In The Dictator, in cinemas from 18 May, Cohen plays the fictional North African despot General Aladeen, who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed. Will supporters of Gaddafi or Kim Jong Il call this out as being too soon?

Baron Cohen has also joined the enormous cast of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, in which former slave Jamie Foxx is on a mission to free his wife. Baron Cohen is a gambler who buys Django’s wife as a female companion.

Siobhan Synnot

T IS FOR TITANIC

Having successfully fastened sumptuous Edwardiana to the bosom of the nation with Downton Abbey, writer Julian Fellowes focuses on one of the era’s greatest tragedies with his new four-part mini-series for ITV. Marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic, and due to air in spring, it promises to spend more time with the oft overlooked second-class passengers and crew rather than the usual officers and toffs seen in previous dramatisations. A blue-blooded Tory peer showing concern for the little people; that’s your Big Society in action right there. Comparisons with James Cameron’s 1997 epic are inevitable, although it sounds more like a Downton-at-sea character piece than a CGI-infested romantic melodrama. Inevitably, Cameron has converted his blockbuster into 3D for a theatrical re-release this year, giving fans the opportunity to spend their money on it all over again.

Paul Whitelaw

U IS FOR UP AND COMING

What bands should you be keeping an eye on this year? Here are five suggestions.

1. The Law. Having put the groundwork in, the Dundee band could be set to clean up most towns at home and abroad with their new album Trigger in February. They’re an old-fashioned rock combo with values to match – hard work and constant gigging building up a solid following. And toe-tapping tunes by the fistful.

2. Trailer Trash Tracys. This band should make waves this year on the strength of their wonderfully alliterative name alone. Happily they have the guitar twang thang and breathless female vocals to match. The album Ester is out this month, giving a taste of the coolness to come.

3. Beth Jeans Houghton. The singer makes her debut with the album Yours Truly Cellophane Nose on Mute. Psych rock, nu folk – call it what you want, it is interesting and intelligent. She is touring in February, when the album is released, with her band the Hooves Of Destiny.

4. Black Snowflake. The Edinburgh post punks make their live debut in February, bringing their electro music with a human pulse to a wider audience, with recordings following later in the year.

5. The Twilight Sad. The Scottish band do what they have threatened to do for years with the new album, No One Can Ever Know, as dark and dangerous as February needs to get.

Colin Somerville

V IS FOR VEEP

One of the most eagerly anticipated comedies of 2012, the HBO-produced US offshoot of Armando Iannucci’s scalding political satire The Thick Of It stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld renown as a US senator who becomes vice president (or “veep” for short). Most of the writers involved in The Thick Of It are on board, with Iannucci acting as executive producer, head writer and director, so it’s unlikely to be some point-missing US remake. It also finds Iannucci collaborating with the infamous Chris Morris (Brass Eye; The Day Today) for the first time in years, with the latter directing at least one episode. But the team haven’t abandoned British politics altogether: a fourth series of The Thick Of It, rumoured to be based around an uneasy coalition government, begins shooting in March. Will there be any room for Peter Capaldi’s monstrous spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker? We certainly hope so.

Paul Whitelaw

W IS FOR WAR HORSE

Steven Spielberg adapts Michael Morpurgo’s young adult novel and the National Theatre’s powerhouse production into something akin to Black Beauty with bullets. And perhaps it needs a Spielberg to gallop towards rather than shying away from the emotional uplift and heartbreak of a horse whose idyllic colthood on a Devonshire farm is interrupted by four years of the First World War.

The action sequences are stunning and the equine actors eloquent. For better or for worse, this is how Hollywood used to make them. It’s in cinemas from 13 January.

Siobhan Synnot

X IS FOR X FACTOR

After suffering a ratings dip during the most recent series, what does the future hold for this ITV behemoth? Some have suggested that the absence of Simon Cowell from the judging panel was to blame, with bland Gary Barlow making for an ill-fitting substitute, but it seems more likely that – like Big Brother before it – many viewers have simply tired of this cynical product after so many formulaic years. So how will they take to BBC1’s blatant rival effort, The Voice, which debuts this spring? Following a successful run in the US, this Dutch-born franchise – which barely deviates from the standard formula anyway - arrives in the UK with mentor Jessie J, Will.i.am from The Black Eyed Peas, Danny O’Donoghue from The Script, and The Voice himself, Tom Jones. But with this followed – presumably – by another series of The X Factor in the autumn, won’t that be fatal overkill as far as viewers are concerned?

Paul Whitelaw

Y IS FOR THE YEAR OF MAKING LOVE

This is the longest episode of Blind Date ever. BBC3 are recruiting single people for a compatibility testing experiment which will match-make 500 couples, then follow them for the next 12 months. Presumably a good number won’t make it past the first date, others might last a few months, but some could go the distance (or the show will presumably peter out). The declared aim is to see whether relationships are more durable if they’re based on shared interests and values rather than alcohol and lust, but it could be the new wave of reality TV.

Andrea Mullaney

Z IS FOR ZACH BRAFF

It’s not every day you get a major American film star appearing in a play at Glasgow’s King’s Theatre, which is why there was an instant buzz around the announcement of Zach Braff’s pre-London dates in All New People (14-18 February). The star of Scrubs and Garden State is also the writer of this comedy about a depressed 35-year-old whose attempt to end it all in his friend’s luxury beach house is foiled by a stream of similarly depressive misfits. Having enjoyed an Off-Broadway run, where it was described as “morbidly funny”, the play calls into Glasgow before a ten-week run in the West End.

Mark Fisher