Don McCullin

Tate Britain

Don McCullin gets you thinking, he also doesn’t hold back.

You’re forced to examine. Question why. Be confronted. Ask how the hell. And recognise that though we are humans and surely share traits like compassion – we are also humans who can clearly turn our backs on compassion.

We also have a tremendous ability to allow suffering.

McCullin has an extraordinary talent for capturing the moment. He’s not preaching at you, rather providing you with the teaching material and you do the independent learning.

It’s a cleverly drawn together retrospective (I hope I’ve used the term correctly…). Starting with his early works in the late 50s and early 60s, with I believe the last shot of the exhibition being one taken in Homs in 2018.

The shots are sobering and at times harrowing. And the subject matter varied.

Even with nine days distance from viewing to posting, the images are still crystal clear and I continue thinking about the Homeless; the Malnourished; the Tormented; the Impoverished; those seeking forgiveness; the destruction; the former grandeur of Palymra; and the respite and beauty of the landscapes.

It’s on until 6 May 2019 and important.


Kunene and the King

by John Kani
at The Swan Theatre
Royal Shakespeare Company
Stratford upon Avon

Since last reporting in on my theatre adventures, I’ve seen some great plays and I’ve left some un-great plays.

Kunene and the King is an exceptional play. The kind you know will be discussed in decades to come. Like when someone brings up Jess Butterworth’s Jerusalem with Mark Rylance, that you (okay maybe I), disappointedly missed. Thankfully dear reader, this one is still playing.

It ticks all the boxes. There’s no interval (thank you); two actors; shown in a small theatre; the chemistry between the actors supreme, the dialogue – authentic, accessible, as if you’d said/thought it yourself (but you didn’t), and perfectly character pitched…but I think I already said that.

The relationship between the two is loving and uncomfortable and thoughtful and at times prejudiced and constructed by their unshared/shared history.

This is twenty five years since the end of apartheid but there’s still so much undiscussed, unexplored, and unresolved. There are also some beautiful high moments, like when they are discussing King Lear. Not only reading and practising the text, but talking about it – in everyday terms, placing it very much in our understanding of it in society today.

If I could present every young person with a seat in the audience I would. Shakespeare is not just honoured, but also understood.  But I think my enjoyment of the play was more than this.

It was listening to the experience of being in a ‘taxi’ in Soweto; it was the gratefulness to the playwright (John Kani, who is also one of the actors) for gifting us with such a thoughtful representation of South Africa today; it was watching two great actors – perform; it was the triggering of memories of visiting such a tough and strong nation in my younger and not so younger years.

My pleasure also came from attempting to understand the issues from a distance, even with my own perceptions and ideas of older age, illness and politics.

Did I mention the actors?….The dynamic between both John Kani and Antony Sher is feast-filled.  They are not just great actors, but together sublime.

It’s playing in Stratford until 23 April and then in Cape Town from 30 April

Rubyfruit Jungle

By Rita Mae Brown

This book is an absolute joy.

Molly Bolt is not just a gift to the reader, but a bequest to women and men globally.

She’s forthright, sharp, uncompromising, unwavering and chock-full of integrity. Sexually active and aware, I couldn’t stop admiring her determination and resolve in every aspect of her life.

From page one, I was laughing in-loud for the best part of novel. She’s bright and learning as she grows. At times, she might be a little more outspoken to her elders then you’d wish your own children to be, but she does have a point.

Published in 1973, the subject matter rings true 46 years later.

It’s a great exploration into relationships, not just Molly’s; social expectations (sorry I should have written ‘sad, foolish, ridiculously narrow-minded social expectations’); and the role of women in the bedroom and beyond.

It’s also so much more than that. It’s a social narrative, a credit to Ms Brown, a serious examination of how we see others and our prejudices and a novel that if I was a Novel Physician, I’d prescribe to all my patients.

As we are dragged towards disaster – we find our feet

Today I shan’t be saying much, but sharing some pretty great footage. Not my photos, I lack the skill, however thankfully I married someone who is accomplished. He not only knows how to use a smartphone, but moonlights as a photo journalist…of family adventures.

Yesterday, People’s Vote March was a force and a call.

The clever slogans; the community; the standing for what you believe in and the chanting. A throng of optimism even though we’re unwillingly being driven at top speed towards stupid.

And not just the people who were there, I’ve been reading the feed – so many others, who couldn’t make it, showing support…and their feet.

I love being European and having a huge mass of brothers and sisters and it’s great to see how many other people feel the same.

Girls & Boys

by Dennis Kelly
at the Royal Court Theatre, London

I’m hoping that this doesn’t sound creepy…but I have a thing for Carey Mulligan.

I’m no stalker – rather super fan, so when opportunity knocked in the guise of a new play she was performing in at the Royal Court Theatre, I pounced on it.

It’s roughly 18 hours since I abandoned my seat, however I’m still entirely consumed by it.

Sadly I’d be exposing you to a clear injustice by examining the plot, for this is key to the performance, however I can screech this, CAREY MULLIGAN WAS CLEARLY BORN TO PERFORM. I can’t honestly remember a time in my life that I haven’t been so captivated by a single performance, something she maintains for approximately 90 minutes, with no other actors to spar with, it’s just you the audience (whom she knows how to work), and her phenomenal talents.

She confides in you; she shares with a glint, scandalously amusing encounters; and she shows you her parental side. She keeps you so close. You trust her, you’re with her, her emotions and shock and pain become yours. And then the play is over and you are left with her experience and this needs to be processed, that’s where I am now. I’m disturbed but also elated.

Dennis Kelly gives you the material: the words, the laughs, the story, the terror, he doesn’t hold back. He forces you sit up and take note. Mulligan makes it terrifyingly real.

The War on Women: And The Brave Ones Who Fight Back

By Sue Lloyd-Roberts

Nine days ago I wrote to my dearling friend Chrissie that I never wished to pick up another book after completing the outstanding The Standing Chandelier by Lionel Shriver, so I’m rather relieved I caved in on this decision and headed off to collect an offering from my non-fiction pile.

The War on Women: And The Brave Ones Who Fight Back is tough and informative. An education, a challenge and a book that demands reading. It’s not enjoyable, but it’s very good.

Blowing my cover of naïvety, I wasn’t familiar with Sue Lloyd-Roberts’s work. I could plead not having a TV (but I did when her work was being aired), or I lived in another solar system (yet another fabrication), but the truth is…I have a sick preference for brain numbing on-demand itvBe programmes, so hard hitting truths I’ve tended to tread softly around.

You’ll be delighted to note – that’s about to change.

I’m not going on a crusade, rather thanks to a Blackwell’s event on the 6 February which acquainted me with this book and her daughter (as sadly the multi award winning journalist who authored this publication died in 2015), my comprehension of the injustices that the female of the species confront globally has been increased ten-fold.  It’s poo, putting it mildly for my junior readers, but by no means should we feel defeated.

From ‘The Cruellest Cut’, Chapter 1, you know that it’s not going to be light and fluffy, but knowledge and discussing the dreadful, the uncomfortable, the unjust, help address the issue.

I really learnt. Ashamed by my lack of knowledge as I turned the pages. I’m now not just better informed and alarmed, I can also appreciate that horrid cruelty needs to be ‘outed’ and become part of our everyday conversation. We need to be outraged and have it as front page news. The more people made aware of the issue, the greater the likelihood that people will fight for what’s right and protect those whom have no voice. We need to teach respect. Not just of women, but of all people, so it becomes part of our nature.

The book couldn’t have been assembled better. Each chapter has a different focus. You’ll learn about the laundries run by the nuns in Ireland; the Dirty Wars in Argentina, the sexual abuse of women protestors in Egypt; Forced Marriages; Sex Trafficking; and the sad reality that where the UN Peacekeepers head, the sex trade follows. But that’s not all. Sue Lloyd-Roberts provides you with the facts, she interviews both the abused and the perpetuators and it’s up to us to decide what we’ll do with the information.


Abstract Expressionism

At the Royal Academy


When the Oxford English Dictionary defined perfect they clearly had this exhibition in mind.  From the pieces, to who’s on show, to the fabulous assembling of the collection, this latest offering from the RA doesn’t just delight, it excites and gets you re-thinking the decorating at home.

I struggled to even leave the first room because of its eye-popping pleasures, and there are approximately thirteen rooms exhibiting, so I’m not downplaying the value of your investment in a ticket. Even if you don’t think this is your thing…it’s your thing. It’s huge, happy and educationally perfect.


Educational you ask…well, I was familiar with Pollock and de Kooning but wasn’t acquainted with Clyfford Still, but WOW spend just four minutes with his work, (though I’d suggest at least ten), and you get the drift.  He’s talented too and perhaps you’ll make a note to google him later and if you are anything like me, you’ll also think seriously about moving in and turning Room 11 into your new, better living room. Oh and Sam Francis, another chap I wasn’t aware of and upon arriving in Room 4, I was considering taking-out a couple of floors at home just so I could re-home Untitled, painted in 1956.


Not only will you experience room enjoyment, you’ll also marvel at the way that you can glimpse through the rooms and spy masterpieces, making the impact bonus-fold. For you can absorb a magnificent Rothko, look to your left beyond Rothko room and see another equally talented artist and this somehow breaks it up, anchors you and also provides with a fix (all simultaneously), enabling you to return and admire Rothko for a little longer.


There are just so many pieces I could rave on about…or steal, but it’s probably best I leave you with a treasure hunt instead.

Head to the exhibition and find The Hero, a sculpture by David Smith and imagine where it would fit best in your home (or garden). Check out Pollock and find the pieces that look a little ‘Pollock Dreaming’. And find the Rothko in the first room.

It’s on until 2 January 2017

My Name is Leon

By Kit de Waal


There are so many reasons why you should head on down to your local library or bookseller and get your hands on this.

For one, it’s not your conventional first person narrative. Instead, the story is told by the nine (and then ten) year old Leon, in the third person, where the narrator is Leon’s mind and it’s his take on the events.

Secondly, the so simple sentences provide you with such honest, innocent and sometimes complicated emotions.

Thirdly, de Waal is outstanding.  She doesn’t just write from a child’s point of view – using their descriptions, dialogue, ways of looking at the world – as a vehicle to gift you with the story, she goes deeper. She gives you a real child. The kind that make stupid and dangerous decisions. Not because they are bad, but because they are human and they haven’t experienced. Leon is immature, and that’s what he should be. He has also had to face a lot.

Furthermore, Leon is a glorious, thoughtful child. His intentions are so good and though his reading of situations may not be spot on, you’ll find yourself thinking about him and sometimes worrying, even when you’re doing the washing up and haven’t picked up the story since last night’s Book at Bedtime.

This story is so many things. It’s touchy; beautiful; upsetting; authentic. It explores loss and love. It’s sweet and unfair. It also explores intense love and desire to protect those closest to you.

And it’s not just Leon that will stay with you, but you’ll come into contact with (and if you’re anything like me will spend long moments thinking about), the others that Leon encounters. Like Tufty, Maureen, Jake’s new family…even The Zebra.

This is a powerful book – simply written, but by no means simple.

Hepworth Wakefield

West Yorkshire


When on route, take a detour or make it a destination, for this gallery is not only visually tasty from an architectural point of view, but also holds some fabulous pieces that you can inspect closely without having to peer around others to gain an appreciation of the art.

Also, what’s on offer is diverse and bound to appeal to a range of tastes; the pieces are displayed to their best advantage – with the clever use of natural light and shadow; and the shop’s a little treasure trove as well.


There are a few things you may not know about me, so before I go further….

  1. And this is a biggy…I didn’t really know anything about Barbara Hepworth (sorry…) until roughly 16mths ago. Now, by no means an expert, rather a huge admirer, I spend enormous amounts of time plotting and dreaming and devising the best place to position my own Single Form on our terrace which struggles to house even the ferns.
  2. For six weeks, Team Family minus one (but plus a super lovely extra-family addition), attended fortnightly (just two hours each go), a course on the London Group. So I managed to have further knowledge gaps filled and was introduced to some spectacularly talented painters and sculptors. From a very huge list, three really stood out for me, Spencer Gore, Harold Gilman and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
  3. And…I might not really understand what I’m looking at, but I’m happy to give it a try.


So why mention all this.

Well…as the name would suggest, you get a lot of Barbara Hepworth. Not just sculptures, but history, explanation of the process of casting and photographs. You also get a lot of ‘Please don’t touch’, which is really difficult not to when you are standing half an arm’s distance from the most glorious wooden beauty softly calling ‘Touch me, touch me, I know you want to’.


And bonus time, it was as if someone wished to do me a favour, for no more London Group on PowerPoint, it was there staring straight back at me.  All three of my favs are represented here and seeing them in the raw really does make for happy.


By now you are obviously itching to get off up the M1 and take a look, which is wise, however keep in mind, if you can’t leave that operating theatre or that court room just yet, try and visit before 19 March 2017 – as the first of the two exhibits/shows I enjoyed the most Anthea Hamilton reimagines Kettle’s yard finishes then and my other, The contemporary collection will end Autumn 2017.


The Vertical Hour

by David Hare
Theatre by the Lake, Keswick


Life’s pretty great when you go out for a walk, well a couple of walks in the Lake District and find they have a theatre in town, and not just any theatre, it’s two theatres in one spot – with the smaller, the Studio, staging a David Hare play, and there are hardly any tickets left, but you and your best mate (read Husband), get two…yes, I said it…Life is pretty great.

So great in fact, we spent the rest of mini break spotting the actors (OK one), around town, driving his car, smoking a pipe and knowing, knowing what he really does and feeling pretty blessed that we’d seen it.

In case you haven’t just rushed off and read up about The Vertical Hour or you saw it in your distant past and it’s now a little less vivid in detail, this play looks at some fundamental issues which though first performed in 2006 are super current today.  In particular – opposing views.  When is it or isn’t it right to invade foreign countries and kill in an attempt to bring about regime change?

Additionally, it examines tension in relationships, either that being with your dad, child, lover or confidant. It explores how one deals with a public persona and their private feelings.  But that’s not all it does, it gets you thinking about the big issues, discussing them and exploring your own thoughts and opinions.

And…it throws a great conversation starter for the next day’s walk – ‘If Oliver and Nadia had stayed talking for five minutes more, do you think something would have happened?’


Oh and the cast – though only five in size – have just been added to my list of need to see more of. And that’s not just around town, driving, smoking pipes, but on stage – which brings me to my one regret…I didn’t get to see them treading the boards in their other plays run during the Summer Season 2016, however maybe you will.

Also, dare I forget, the theatre itself was ideal for the production. Doing my mental maths, it only sits eighty, evenly distributed on either side of the stage, so yes intimate…though good intimate, not creepy intimate…and thankfully no need for those teeny microphones that manage not to be sufficiently discreet and you spend considerable amounts of time being distracted by the funny growth on the actors’ foreheads and not entirely focused on the play.

Season ends super shortly, so hurry.