25 spring culture highlights – The Guardian


1. FILM: Coming-of-age gems

Hollywood hardly wants for quirky coming-of-age comedies, and nor are people crying out for more actors to realise their dream of sitting in the director’s chair. Yet three films in cinemas this spring tick both boxes, and all are fresh, surprising and free of vanity-project vapours. Olivia Wilde, an actor who consistently seems sharper than the films she finds herself in, proves that in Booksmart, a riotous, unconventional study of the sisterly friendship between two high-school misfits that rocked the South By Southwest festival last month, and features a star-making performance by Beanie Feldstein. She just happens to be the sister of Jonah Hill, who sheds his smarmy Hollywood persona in his own sensitive directorial debut, Mid90s, a part-nostalgic, part-rueful reflection on growing up in the decade of skater-boi cool. Best of all is Eighth Grade, a smashing arrival from 28-year-old comic Bo Burnham, which unpicks the social pressures and classroom politics facing a gawky 13-year-old girl with aching, uncanny detail. It wowed US critics last year, and won Burnham the Directors’ Guild of America prize for best debut – felling Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born. The new generation is here and hungry. GL

2. FILM: Support the Girls





Haley Lu Richardson and Regina Hall as Maci and Lisa.



Haley Lu Richardson and Regina Hall as Maci and Lisa. Photograph: Allstar/Magnolia Pictures

Double Whammies may seem like just another low-rent bar servicing its clientele’s twin needs of beer and sport but, through the wry lens of Andrew Bujalski in Support the Girls, it is a microcosm of modern America. Regina Hall is superb as the fiercely supportive manageress and den mother to her “girls”, the employees she protects on a daily basis against an unforgiving labour market and over-familiar punters. A deftly mixed cocktail of comedy, pathos and on-the-nose observation. WI

3. ART: Women first!

Better late than never, Sixty Years of Women Artists opens at Tate Britain on 22 April, bucking long-established tradition by dedicating several permanent (and free) galleries to work entirely by female artists. All the big names will be here. Susan Hiller’s wild and pioneering 60s installations, Bridget Riley’s spectacular abstract paintings, the sculptures of Rachel Whiteread, Phyllida Barlow and Sarah Lucas. A stream of recent Turner prize winners – Tomma Abts, Charlotte Prodger, Lubaina Himid – will appear alongside classic pieces by Mona Hatoum and Gillian Wearing. Tate director Maria Balshaw believes women’s art is so strong we’ll scarcely notice the absence of men, but our museums are still hurrying to right the skewed balance of historical representation. The Barbican has a very long-awaited show of ab-ex art by Lee Krasner, inspirational painter and partner of Jackson Pollock, amazingly her first in this country. Bridget Riley’s monumental survey opens at the National Gallery of Scotland in June, and Tate Modern brings us the Russian genius Natalia Goncharova and the gorgeous abstract canvases of the Lebanese painter Huguette Caland. Sixty years, so far – now how about 600? LC

4. FILM: Music crowd-pleasers

Audience appetites whetted by Bohemian Rhapsody can feast on two more music-powered movies this spring. In May, Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton, follows the journey of a plump nobody called Reginald Dwight who transforms himself into spangly superstar Elton John. Expect extravagant musical numbers, lavish production design and enough sequins to fill a freight container. The following month sees Danny Boyle’s Yesterday released: it’s a high-concept comedy, scripted by Richard Curtis, in which a struggling musician realises that he’s the only person left on the planet who remembers the Beatles. Karaoke-tastic crowd pleasers ahoy! WI

5. THEATRE: Top directors bow out with musicals





Anne-Marie Duff and Arthur Darvill in rehearsals for Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse.



Anne-Marie Duff and Arthur Darvill in rehearsals for Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Two vital artistic directors leave their posts this year, finishing with musical revivals. At London’s Donmar Josie Rourke altered the face of the stage at a stroke when she championed Phyllida Lloyd’s revelatory all-women Shakespeares. She also had a smouldering success with her own production of the Cy Coleman musical City of Angels. Rourke turns to Coleman again for her final show, directing Sweet Charity, first staged on Broadway in 1966. Anne-Marie Duff stars as the dance-hall hostess who “runs her heart like a hotel”, alongside Arthur Darvill, making his Donmar debut. Choreography is by Wayne McGregor. Sarah Frankcom has brought daring and feminist edge to Manchester’s Royal Exchange, not least in collaborations with Maxine Peake ranging from Hamlet to The Skriker. She has also – women can multitask and musicals say more than one thing at a time – pulled off Guys and Dolls, and Sweet Charity. Her penultimate production at Manchester is a staging of West Side Story which reimagines the mighty Bernstein-Sondheim show for the round, with new choreography by Aletta Collins. “Could it be? Yes it could.” Sweet Charity is at the Donmar, London WC2, 6 April-8 June. West Side Story is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester; 6 April-25 May. SCl

6. TV: The return of Killing Eve and Big Little Lies

A pair of outstanding female-led dramas return for their eagerly awaited second series this spring. We last left spy thriller Killing Eve, adapted by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge from Luke Jennings’s novellas, with Sandra Oh’s MI6 agent stabbing assassin Jodie Comer. As the mutually obsessed duo resume their cat-and-mouse game, it’s as darkly witty, fashion-forward and slyly feminist as ever. It’s premiering 7 April in America which means it should hit the BBC here soon. Glossy, award-garlanded school gates saga Big Little Lies revisits the seemingly idyllic suburb of Monterey, California, after that fateful school fundraising night. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz are all back. Most deliciously of all, Meryl Streep arrives as the mother-in-law of Kidman’s character Celeste. Sky Atlantic, June. MH

7. ART: Keith Haring

The artist whose jazzy hieroglyphics live on in T-shirts, badges, CD covers and a million dilute imitations, died of Aids in 1990 at the age of 31. Famous for nimbly outmanoeuvring the police to cover Manhattan in his characteristic repertoire of dancing figures, radiant babies and anthropomorphic appliances, his art was a sign of the times. Book now for his first British retrospective, opening at Tate Liverpool on 14 June: the coolest show of the season. LC

8. OPERA: WNO’s Freedom

Welsh National Opera’s Freedom season (Cardiff, 3-30 June) explores issues of justice and injustice in music through an ambitious programme of opera rare and familiar, including Jake Heggie’s true story Dead Man Walking, Menotti’s tale of a political dissident, The Consul, a double bill of Dallapiccola’s The Prisoner and Beethoven’s Fidelio Act 2 (using a community chorus), and Krása’s opera Brundibár, made famous by children in Theresienstadt concentration camp and here performed by 10-18-year-old members of WNO Youth Opera. Alongside are discussions about anti-slavery, refugees, immigration, the Holocaust, nationalism, minorities and the role of young people in democracy. FM

9. MUSIC: Sounds to broaden horizons





Skinny Pelembe



Skinny Pelembe: ‘dreamy, genre-swerving confidence’. Photograph: Alex Kurunus

Spring albums are due from major hitters including Jack White’s Raconteurs and Madonna (both due in June), but at the other end of the scale, there’s a clutch of releases to please eclectic tastes. Indian hip-hop meets jazz instrumentals on More Arriving, the second album (the Leaf Label, June) from percussionist Sarathy Korwar. Expect songs from the breadth of the south Asian diaspora: Jamaican patois, Hindi rap, and spoken word lyricism. Later in April, Argentinian folk/beats trio Fémina blend Andean grooves with hip-hop on Perlas & Conchas, the band’s third LP, produced by esteemed UK beat-head Quantic and featuring their number one fan, Iggy Pop. Dublin band Fontaines DC follow in the footsteps of Shame and Idles with debut album Dogrel (Partisan Records, )12 April: millennial post-punk with brilliantly sharp gnashers and heavy riffage. Finally, the long-awaited debut album from South African-born, Doncaster-raised Skinny Pelembe drops in May (Brownswood). Its dreamy, genre-swerving confidence belies its title, Dreaming Is Dead.

10. DANCE: Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

After his game changing success reinventing Tchaikovsky’s classical ballets such as The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and above all Swan Lake (which he famously reimagined with male swans), Matthew Bourne turns his attention to Romeo and Juliet, setting his new creation to the terrific, swooning Prokofiev score. His emphasis is very much on youth, with a fresh generation of dancers and associate artists behind the scenes working alongside his established collaborators such as the designer Lez Brotherston. There is no one like Bourne for finding an exciting way into a danced story; this should be terrific. Leicester Curve from 13 May, then touring. SCr

11. FILM: The return of Julianne Moore





Julianne Moore in Gloria Bell.



Julianne Moore in Gloria Bell. Photograph: Allstar/Filmnation Entertainment

Since winning her long-overdue Oscar for Still Alice in 2015, Julianne Moore has kept busy enough, without quite landing on a plum role worthy of her gifts. (Let’s draw a forgiving veil over Kingsman: The Golden Circle.) But she finally has one in Gloria Bell, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s tender American remake of his own 2012 festival smash Gloria. Rather than imitating Paulina García’s lovable turn as a middle-aged divorcee navigating the horrors of the grey-hair dating circuit, a top-form Moore cuts a more fragile, melancholic figure, and the film gains its own emotional tenor as a result. Devout Moore fans can also see her lip-synching to Renée Fleming as an endangered opera diva in the hostage melodrama Bel Canto; she remains as unpredictable as ever. GL

12. TV: The end of Homeland

After seven series of white wine, discordant jazz, incognito headscarves and personal upheaval – plus, of course, copious crying –, bipolar spy Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) embarks on her eighth and final mission. This one is to Afghanistan, where eyes will also be on the beard-bushyness levels of her mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin). For added intrigue, British actor Hugh Dancy joins his wife, Danes, in the cast. C4, June. MH

13. THEATRE: The Half God of Rainfall

Inua Ellams the UK-based Nigerian-born poet, graphic artist and playwright supremo saw his career take off with the hugely popular Barber Shop Chronicles (now on a nationwide tour). He spotted the dramatic potential of his local barber’s shop in Peckham; the play showed the barber’s shop as confessional. Ellams flung his net wider than Peckham – to Harare, Kampala, Johannesburg – and proved a master of involving anecdote. His new play for Birmingham Rep is The Half God of Rainfall, a a boldly ambitious new myth that involves Demi, a hybrid character, half-Nigerian mortal (a basketball playing lad) and half-Greek god. It promises to fuse the secular contemporary with the divine – always aiming high, to Mount Olympus and beyond (13-20 April, then transferring to the Kiln theatre, London, 25 April-17 May). KK





Stockhausen’s Donnerstag Aus Licht.



Photograph: South Bank Centre

Stockhausen’s “Opera in 3 acts, a greeting and farewell”, conducted by Maxime Pascal, returns to the UK for the first time since 1985. The joint forces – vocal, instrumental, dance, tape – of the Paris-based ensemble Le Balcon, London Sinfonietta, New London Chamber Choir and students from the Royal Academy of Music perform a new production directed for the concert hall by Benjamin Lazar. Written between 1977 and 1980, this monumental work is the fourth part of Stockhausen’s seven-part operatic cycle, Licht (Royal Festival Hall, London, 21 and 22 May). FM

15. BOOKS: Hot novels

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape, 18 April). Britain has lost the Falklands war, Margaret Thatcher battles Tony Benn for power and Charlie brings Adam, a “synthetic human”, to live with him and his girlfriend, Miranda. Ian McEwan’s new novel investigates what it is to be human.

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson (Doubleday, 18 June). Atkinson’s much loved former detective Jackson Brodie makes a welcome return in his fifth outing for the multi-award-winning author of Behind the Scenes at the Museum and A God in Ruins .

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak (Viking, 6 June). “In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood… But they did not shut down. Not right away…’’ So begins a new book from the bestselling author of The Bastard of Istanbul.

The Porpoise by Mark Haddon (Chatto & Windus, 9 May). A “stunningly ambitious, fantastical” book based on the epic tale of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Haddon’s first novel in seven years begins with a harrowing plane crash and takes readers from the present day to ancient times and back again.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Jonathan Cape, 20 June). Ocean Vuong is a US poet, novelist and former refugee. His highly anticipated debut novel is a “sweeping and shattering portrait of a family” that takes the form of a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read.

16. MUSIC: Specialist festivals





Virgo music festival.



Virgo music festival. Photograph: Jake Davis

Black Deer
A new Nashville-via-Kent celebration of folk and country headlined by Band of Horses, the Staves and Kris Kristofferson and with an Americana cinema programme curated by Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn. Eridge Park, Kent, 21-23 June.

Cheltenham jazz festival
The Cotswolds festival has recently shed its trad image. 2019’s killer lineup includes new generation stars Nubya Garcia and Alfa Mist as well as veterans Joshua Redman and the Bad Plus, 1-6 May.

The Great Escape
The multi-venue weekender is the UK’s answer to South By Southwest and still one of the best places to cop the new music stars of tomorrow, in a blustery seaside setting. Brighton beach, 9-11 May.

Virgo festival
A magical dance festival (below) for a mere 2,000 people on the 800-year-old Great Fulford estate, with house, techno, d&b and chill alongside live bands, multi-sensory yoga, sex-positivity, performance art and a secret headliner’s new project. Dunsford, Devon, 23-27 May.

Cross the Tracks
A welcome new addition to South London’s festival circuit, this Sunday of soul, funk and jazz finds prestige names such as Chaka Khan and Martha Reeves alongside newer offerings including the Comet Is Coming and Nubya Garcia. Brockwell Park, London, 9 June.

17. THEATRE: Hollywood stars on stage

John Malkovich stars in Bitter Wheat, a new “black farce” by David Mamet about a misbehaving movie mogul (no prizes for guessing: it is ‘inspired’ by Harvey Weinstein). It sounds grotesquely entertaining and unmissable. From 7 June at London’s Garrick theatre. And there is a double helping of Arthur Miller: Wendell Pierce, of The Wire and Suits fame, plays Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman at London’s Young Vic (hot casting includes Sharon D Clarke and Arinze Kene), with Marianne Elliott at the helm (1 May-29 June). Meanwhile, at the Old Vic, Sally Field plays Kate Keller opposite Bill Pullman in All My Sons, directed by Jeremy Herrin (13 April-8 June). Multiple Tony-winner Matthew Broderick is in Kenneth Lonergan’s play The Starry Messenger, as an embattled astronomy professor with Elizabeth McGovern as his potentially star-crossed love interest (Wyndham’s theatre, London, from 16 May). Maggie Smith returns to the stage for the first time in 12 years in Christopher Hampton’s new play A German Life at London’s Bridge theatre, directed by Jonathan Kent. She plays Brunhilde Pomsel (1911-2017), Goebbels’s personal secretary (about as far from Downton Abbey as you can get). KK

18. FILM: Animated classics return





The Secret Life of Pets 2.



The Secret Life of Pets 2. Photograph: Capital Pictures

Both Pixar and Illumination animation studios unveil anticipated sequels this spring. And in both Toy Story 4 and The Secret Life of Pets 2, new cast members take centre stage. In Toy Story, the gang are joined by Forky, a homemade doll crafted from plastic cutlery. Forky, unnerved by his own sentience now he is a toy rather than an eating implement, is plunged into an existential crisis. The Toy Story franchise continues to wrestle with big themes. Meanwhile Tiffany Haddish brings her formidable comic chops to the Pets cast, as Daisy, a dog on a mission. WI

19. POP: Lizzo’s major-label debut

Melissa Jefferson – best known as Lizzo – has been making hits since 2013 with her exuberant brand of pop-rap. In the past year her star has risen in a big way, with uplifting tracks like Boys and Juice seeing the Minneapolis artist propelled into the mainstream (notably gloriously twerking while playing the flute on Ellen DeGeneres’s show). Out on 19 April on Atlantic, Cuz I Love You is her first album on a major label and, suffice to say, the world is excited. TJ

20. POP: New albums from pop maestros

At one point, the long-awaited new Vampire Weekend LP (Father of the Bride, Columbia Records, 3 May) was going to ape the double-helix structure of DNA. But the New York band have whittled it down to a short double: 18 tracks, spanning everything from Balearic country-rock to digital pop scherzos, with fatherhood among its themes.

Another big pop beast, Mark Ronson, is readying Late Night Feelings (Sony, June), a record full of “sad bangers” (he divorced in 2018) in the vein of his recent Miley Cyrus hit, Nothing Breaks Like a Heart. And following a brace of solo albums, Hot Chip prepare for summer with A Bathful of Ecstasy (21 June), which finds the band emboldening their sound with producers Philippe Zdar and Rodaidh McDonald. KE

21. TV: New comedies





Toby Jones in Don’t Forget the Driver.



Toby Jones in Don’t Forget the Driver. Photograph: BBC/Sister Pictures

Don’t Forget The Driver (BBC Two, 9 April) sees the reliably brilliant Toby Jones write and star in a Brexit-themed sitcom about a beleaguered Bognor Regis coach driver, while Year of the Rabbit (Channel 4, early June) stars Matt Berry as a hard-bitten, booze-sodden Victorian detective. Expect surreal laughs and luxuriant sideburns. MH

People of the world! One of the most anticipated pop reunions of the past decade (and since they performed together at the 2012 Olympics), Baby, Ginger, Scary and Sporty are regrouping to, indeed, spice up your life over 13 UK stadium dates between 17 May and 15 June. It’s exactly the high-sheen dose of camp and spectacle we need, although tGeri Halliwell’s iconic union jack dress may not get the same proud cheers it once did unless she sets fire to it. Posh, who won’t be joining her former girl power group, is missing out. KH

From 22 June, Leeds and Wakefield unite for a massive 3D extravaganza, featuring colossal outdoor figures by Huma Bhaba in Wakefield city centre, the great American sculptor David Smith in Yorkshire Sculpture Park and two entire museums – the Henry Moore Institute and Leeds Art Gallery – given over to sculpture. Seven works by Damien Hirst will feature in the park and in Leeds, where he grew up. And look out especially for Sean Lynch’s droll installation concerning the Yorkshire forger Flint Jack, who sold fake megalithic axe heads. LC

24. TV: Gentleman Jack





Sophie Rundle and Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack.



Sophie Rundle and Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack. Photograph: Jay Brooks/BBC/Lookout Point

This BBC One period eight-parter (April/May) is close to its creator Sally Wainwight’s heart and home, telling the story of pioneering 19th-century polymath Anne Lister, dubbed “the first modern lesbian”. Wainwright grew up near Lister’s ancestral seat of Shibden Hall in West Yorkshire and has wanted to dramatise her remarkable life for 20 years. With Suranne Jones heading a formidable female cast, it promises to be a witty, exuberant romp. MH

25. TV: Mum says goodbye

With a recent flurry of awards, writer Stefan Golaszewski’s slow-burning silvery romcom is finally getting the recognition it deserves – just in time for its swansong. The third and final series, expected on BBC Two in May, takes the extended family out of their usual domestic setting. Will Jason and adorably daft Kelly finally move in together? Will monstrous sister-in-law Pauline be nice to long-suffering Derek? Most importantly, will the sweetly faltering romance between widowed Cathy (Lesley Manville) and lifelong friend Michael (Peter Mullan) get the happy ending it deserves? MH

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