Sunday, 28 December 2014

A year in culture, Dolores Delargo Towers style

As you might tell, I am in a retrospective mood, dear reader. Any summary of any year is bound to be somewhat subjective - so you will forgive, of course, my indulgence in what we experienced of 2014 rather than any wider picture.

In a year when we lost so many of our cultural icons (more of that later, no doubt, in my annual "roll-call" of those who died this year), sport and Strictly Come Dancing were considered serious topics of conversation even in the broadsheets, and the so-called "Culture Minister" Ed Vaizey remarked that he preferred Classic FM to Radio 3, what constitutes a "cultural highlight"? In our world, anything that doesn't involve pop music or politics, I suppose...

Those of you paying attention to my previous "review of the year" will note that references to "music" did not include the "classical" end of that extensive artform. Yet we did have some excellent moments of that kind. The aforementioned Pet Shop Boys Prom was indeed a fully featured part of the prestigious BBC Proms Season - and Vince'n'Neil's A Man From the Future was a masterful symphonic work, worthy of many a composer beloved of the regular denizens of The Royal Albert Hall during that three-month extravaganza. It was sublimely realised, in conjunction with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Dominic Wheeler and the elegant narration of Miss Juliet Stephenson, and a ground-breaking event that I truly appreciated. It was also the only "true Prom" I attended.

The Proms season ends, as it does every year, with the triumphal flag-waving finale encompassing Land of Hope and Glory, Jerusalem and Rule, Britannia! And this year (as every year for along time), we made it to our usual great vantage point in Hyde Park to watch it beamed in on the live screens - and to take part in all its flag-waving adrenalin-pumping grandeur. This year, the "Britannia" part was sung with the fine voice of Roderick Williams, and on stage at Proms in the Park we were also treated to some beautiful operatic singing by Pumeza Matshikiza and Vittorio Grigolo.

I concluded the year with two more classical events: Bach and Wagner at St John's Smith Square and the BBC recording of their tribute to Ron Goodwin - which made for quite a mix in the classical canon.

And what of the theatre? 2014 turned out to be another fine year, with both major and minor productions that we thoroughly enjoyed. Of the latter, there was the thought-provoking and utterly fab Rachael's Café and the masterful one-man performance of Didn't You Used To Be Derek Jacobi?. Simon Callow's Being Shakespeare was magnificent, as was our recent adult panto-substitute Mrs Hudson's Christmas Corker.

Of our major theatrical events during the year, the new - and awe-inspiring - Menier Chocolate Factory production of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins was an absolute highlight. However the big event of the entire year was most definitely our pilgrimage to pay a deferential tribute at the feet of the great Dame Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, never, ever to be forgotten!

Speaking of iconic figures in our cultural landscape, John Waters' This Filthy World, Vol 2: Filthier and Dirtier one-man show wasn't half-bad, either. In complete contrast, we were honoured to see and listen to the venerable Dame Joan Plowright in conversation.

We managed to get a bit of art'n'history-type culture (with a capital "K") in, too. Of course.

Not least of such events were our visit to see the sumptuous Cheapside Hoard, our "Night at the Museum" at the Fin de Siècle Fantasy Egypt open evening in the Petrie Museum of Egyptology, the preview of the British Museum's massive Vikings: life and legend exhibition, or any of the events associated with the cultural milestone that is LGBT History Month.

Every month (well, almost) our literary desires have been sated once again by the wonders of Paul Burston's Polari - "London's peerless gay literary salon". With headliners and guest stars as diverse this year as Christopher Fowler, Maureen Duffy, Ali Smith, Neil Bartlett, Paul Bailey, Mari Hannah, James Maker, Karen McLeod, Sarah Westwood, Alex Marwood, (Sophie Ellis-Bextor's mum) Janet Ellis, Tiffany Murray, VG Lee, Helen Smith, Matt Cain, Diriye Osman, Susie Boyt and Will Davis (and many more) on the bill, it is an utter feast for the brain.

As a personal high point, 2014 was also the year that I was thrilled to get my first ever book review in print in a national publication - that of the wonderful Rupert Smith's Interlude (in Beige gay magazine)!

At the "lower end" of the cultural scale, we are not massive cinema-goers. If we deign to go at all, this usually involves something from vintage Hollywood at the British Film Institute or the like. But there was one "must-see" that drew me and some of our gang out this year - the spectacular cinematic triumph that is The Grand Budapest Hotel. Simply marvellous, daahlings! I also went on my own to see the documentary film of the V&A's ground-breaking David Bowie Is exhibition, but that - including films on telly, of which we catch very few - was about it.

So what about television? Very selective, dear. We don't watch Sherlock, Game of Thrones, Dr Who, soaps or police/crime dramas, for instance. "Reality TV" shows and so-called "talent" competitions are anathema to us. The closest we get to being "hooked" on a serial is - in common with the rest of the world - Downton Abbey, and, for sheer camp entertainment value, Benidorm. Other than that, anything by Sir David Attenborough or Andrew Marr, documentary series fronted by the likes of Michael Portillo, Dr Lucy Worsley, Dr Janina Ramirez, Neil Oliver, Professor Mary Beard, Andrew Graham-Dixon or any of that triumvirate of "factual-programme-totty" presenters Simon Reeve, Dr James Fox or Alastair Sooke, quiz shows such as QI and Only Connect, and Gardeners' World and Antiques Roadshow will do nicely, thank you.

Two TV programmes that we did watch stood out from the rest. In the centenary year of Wales' "Number 1 Son" Dylan Thomas, the magnificently-cast ensemble reading of Under Milk Wood was an absolute joy from beginning to end, and possibly the best tribute the man could have received.

The televisual event of the year, however, must have been the accurate-to-the-last-mannerism portrayal by Sheridan Smith of that [pause for over-used cliché] "National Treasure", Cilla Black! If Miss Smith doesn't win an award for this, then there is no justice.

There's probably loads more I could cover (radio, for instance), but as with all such summaries, one has to stop somewhere.

However, there are more 2014 recollections to come - stay tuned!


  1. somehow had missed the john waters review....he's always entertaining.

    i was the only little boy i knew that knew who cilla black was.

    1. " Oh you are a mucky kid
      Dirty as a dustbin lid.
      When he hears the things that you did
      You’ll get a belt from yer dad.

      Oh, you have your father’s nose
      So crimson in the dark it glows.
      If you’re not asleep when the boozers close
      You’ll get a belt from yer dad."

      Glad you're enjoying the catch-up(s) of the year! It was certainly a busy one... Jx

  2. What a great year! Here's to a wonderful 2015!

    1. I'll drink to that! Happy New Year, darling... Jx


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