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Five things to do this month

By Prospect   206


Olivier Assaya’s Something in the Air explores the legacy of May 1968


Film
Something in the Air
On release from 24th May

In French the title is Après Mai; for Anglophones it’s the July 1969 hit of Thunderclap Newman. Olivier Assayas’s film
concerns a group of middle-class teenagers in 1971, growing up in the shadow of the May 1968 protests. Like the song, the film is melancholy, ephemeral and curiously memorable.

Assayas previously made a gripping four hour study of Carlos the Jackal and the roots of 1970s terrorism. The relatively unknown young cast here make this a prettier prospect, almost too pretty at times; yet for all the characters’ foibles and hypocrisies, Something in the Air remains engaging. The film depicts the squabbles between left, far left and round the bend, and the absurd middle-class pretensions of some of the post-’68ers, but there’s real loss, too, as utopian ideals fizzle out in the pursuit of love, work and art. Unlike most recreations of the period the film is neither cynical nor sappy. Assayas (who was 16 in 1971) has taken particular care with the soundtrack from Amazing Blondel to Tangerine Dream—a personal mixtape of a distant revolution.

Francine Stock


Classical
Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem
Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 28th May

Wagner and Verdi may be headlining this major anniversary year for classical music, but 2013 also marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten. In a clamorous schedule of celebratory events across the country, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s  War Requiem is a standout.

Premiered by the CBSO in the newly-rebuilt Coventry Cathedral some 50 years ago, Britten’s War Requiem paired the ritual text of the Requiem Mass with Wilfred Owen’s sardonic poetry to create a lament for our time.

Listeners will be summoned to Judgement Day by one of the country’s most virtuosic brass sections, and English tenor Mark Padmore—surely the natural heir to Britten’s own soloist Peter Pears—will be joined by soprano Kristine Opolais and the excellent CBSO chorus. It may not be long before the CBSO’s music director Andris Nelsons moves on to bigger things, so don’t miss an opportunity to see perhaps the finest conductor of his generation tackle a contemporary English masterwork with the orchestra for which it was written.

Alexandra Coghlan


Theatre
Chimerica
Almeida Theatre, from 20th May

What happened to that man who stood in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square? In the new play by Lucy Kirkwood, an American photo-journalist who was in Beijing in 1989 is now covering the 2012 US presidential elections. In the middle of a debate on the outsourcing of jobs to Chinese factories, he reads a cryptic newspaper message that reawakens his curiosity and he sets out to discover the fate of the man in the photo.

Lucy Kirkwood’s last play, NSFW, was a savvy survey of pornography and celebrity journalism, so hopes are high for her new piece for the theatre company Headlong, which invariably lives up to its name in tackling issues such as climate change, drugs and terrorism. Kirkwood’s text is taken on by director Lyndsey Turner and designer Es Devlin, looking to follow such notable Headlong hits as Lucy Prebble’s ENRON and last year’s The Effect.

Michael Coveney


Art
Ellen Gallagher: AxME
Tate Modern, from 1st May

Ellen Gallagher is one of the most significant American artists to have come to maturity in the last 20 years. This will be her first major solo exhibition in this country. Born in 1965, the daughter of African-American and Irish parents, she divides her life between Rotterdam and New York. Her paintings, drawings, reliefs, collages, sculptures, films and animations, constructed from a wide variety of materials, including plasticine and gold leaf, maintain a constant tension between the figurative and abstract, subject and surface. Much influenced by minimalist artists, with a fondness for grids and repeated series, her imagery draws from a wide range of influences. Black vaudeville minstrels, whale-bone carving, vintage advertisements for afro hair styles, the transatlantic slave trade, all converge in her imagination. On display will be key works, such as Tate’s own fantastical Bird in Hand (2006) and the film installation Murmur (2004), alongside more recent pieces.
Emma Crichton-Miller


Opera
Wozzeck
ENO, 11th to 25th May

For an unfinished play, Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck (1836) has inspired more adaptations than almost any other German drama.  But it is Alban Berg’s 1925 opera, Wozzeck, which has had the deepest impact. The combination of Buchner’s dark, inflammatory themes and Berg’s atonal score resulted in what is generally regarded as the first avant-garde opera.

The story of an impoverished soldier driven to hallucinatory madness, murder and self-destruction by a series of humiliations, it is a complex critique of the professional classes—including the military and medicine—that equated wealth and privilege with moral probity.

The ENO production is directed by the theatrical wunderkind Carrie Cracknell. Cracknell’s recent production of A Doll’s House at the Young Vic had critics trying to outgun each other with superlatives. While her youth and inexperience in opera has driven doubters to question her suitability for the task, the 33 year old has assembled a sterling cast which includes US bass-baritone James Morris, bringing his imposing Wagnerian presence to the UK stage for the first time in 17 years.
Neil Norman

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