The 50 best: Book your seat for the best of 1999

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The arts world is waking up after the long Christmas lay-off - so it's a good time to round up the pick of what the new season has to offer, from Robbie Williams to Terrence Malick, and Cate Blanchett to Claude Monet. And if it turns out to be half as exciting as it sounds, 1999 may be a vintage year ...



Hollywood pundits have already started calling Titanic the second-biggest- grossing film of all time. This new Star Wars instalment marks George Lucas's only outing in the director's chair since Darth Vader was first unleashed on the world back in 1977. And, thanks largely to Internet-fuelled hype, nothing short of a Death Star attack on Earth is likely to halt its march into box-office history.

Where & when: opens 1 Jul.

In short: George Lucas strikes back. MW



Like last year's outstanding Our Mutual Friend, this promises to be a more modern reading of Dickens, helped no end by an adaptation from Tony Marchant (author of the contemporary drama Holding On). Ioan Gruffudd (Hornblower) is Pip, while, in a casting coup, Charlotte Rampling plays Miss Haversham.

Where & when: BBC2, Mar.

In short: Tony Marchant's vision of the enduring Dickens classic. JR


"There will be days and days and days like this..." With rumours of an Oscar nomination for her role in Elizabeth, Cate Blanchett (above) is particularly hot casting for Jonathan Kent's revival of David Hare's heartbreaking study of passion and politics, idealism and identity.

Where & when: Albery Theatre, London WC2 (0171-369 1740) 15 Apr to 10 Jul.

In short: forget the flat film, and book now. DB



On the back of Jonathan Creek, the genial, shaggy-haired comedian has become something of a telly star, but he remains a class live-act, too. In his rambling observational routines, Davies radiates so much amiability that he hardly needs artificial lighting on stage.

Where & when: tour begins at New Theatre, Hull (01482 226655) 1 Feb.

In short: lovable, bushy-tailed comedy of shared experience. JR



A year ago it seemed Williams' post-Take That career was spent, but along came a hit with "Angels", and a legendary performance at Glastonbury, and he's now the hottest of tickets. Most shows are sold out, but there's still a possibility of new dates.

Where & when: Int'l Arena, Cardiff (01222 224 488) 4 & 5 Feb; Westpoint, Exeter (0990 321321) 7 Feb; Centre, Brighton (0870 900 9100) 8 Feb; NEC, Birmingham (0121-780 4133) 22 & 23 Feb; Wembley Arena (0181-902 0902) 26 & 27 Feb.

In short: Eurovision meets Loaded magazine. TP



The BBC devotes its January exploration weekend to a thorough examination of this Frenchman's consummate output. Most of Messiaen's large-scale orchestral masterpieces are programmed: Des Canyons aux Etoiles, the Turangalila Symphony, plus his final opus, the massive Eclairs Sur l'Au Dela. Plus there are solo organ and piano recitals, a chamber concert, film screenings and lectures.

Where & when: Westminster Cathedral, London SW1 & Barbican Centre, London EC2 (0171-638 8891) 15 to 17 Jan. In short: vivid colours, rhythms and expressive force aplenty. DH



The world's favourite Impressionist lived on until 1926. As his eyesight started going, his painting entered a world of its own. The gardens and lily ponds at Giverny dissolve into elemental visions: fiery lights, flickering haze, liquid reflections, voids and depths.

Where & when: Royal Academy, London W1 (0171-300 8000) 23 Jan to 18 Apr.

In short: the strange last works of Impressionism.




Pina Bausch is Germany's mistress of dance theatre, world-famous for 25 years for her mixture of words, dance, music and monumental settings that add up to gripping drama. Back in London after 16 years, she brings her acclaimed early work Viktor.

Where & when: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London EC1 (0171-836 8000) 27 to 30 Jan.

In short: unforgettable - don't miss. JP



Now in his sixties, Canadian Wheeler boasts an enviable reputation as a trumpeter and composer. The live combination of Wheeler, bassist Dave Holland, altoist Lee Konitz and guitar-player John Abercrombie, should be arresting.

Where & when: touring 24 to 30 Jan, starting at Turner Sims, Southampton (01703 595151); then QEH, London SE1 (0171-960 4242); St Georges, Bristol (0117-923 0359); Irish Centre, Leeds (0113-242 5019); Arts Centre, Darlington (01325 486 555); Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham (0121-236 5622).

In short: a union of distinctive talents. RT



Long-distance information brings word of an evening devoted to Memphis, Tennessee. Quiffed-quipper Mark Lamarr presents, paying personal homage to the birthplace of the blues and getting a rare interview with BB King about the inspiration the living legend has drawn from the city since moving there in 1947. Inevitably, much attention will be devoted to Memphis's other famous King, but unsung heroes are also promised a look-in.

Where & when: R2 (FM 88.0-90.2) 4 Feb.

In short: a welcome pilgrimage to a musical Mecca. `THE THIN RED LINE'

This year should see the return of two great directors, if Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) finally gets a release date. While they're waiting, audiences can make do with enigmatic auteur Terrence Malick (by now a mystery figure of Loch Ness proportions), who returns 20 years after his last film with this swathed-in-secrecy adaptation of James Jones' war book. Sean Penn, John Cusack and George Clooney are the in-vogue stars adrift in battle-torn Guadacanal; though The Thin Red Line has its work cut out if it is to equal the director's bygone, blistering Badlands.

Where & when: opens 5 Mar.

In short: the Return of Terry Malick. XB



Who says ITV is dumbing down? Despite the widely criticised shifting of News at Ten, the main commercial channel still has enough campaigning zeal to produce this painstaking dramatisation. It centres on the tireless quest for justice of the murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence's parents, Neville (Hugh Quarshie) and Doreen (Marianne Jean-Baptiste).

Where & when: ITV, Apr.

In short: drama about the poignant search for the killers of Stephen Lawrence. JR



Like Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus - recently revived at this address - CP Taylor's compelling 1981 drama is so, well, good that you wonder why on earth no one has revived it before. The director is rising star Michael Grandage, hot on the heels of his outstanding Twelfth Night at Sheffield.

Where & when: Donmar Warehouse, London WC2 (0171-369 1732) 18 Mar to 22 May.

In short: a tragedy written as a comedy. DB



You may be initially baffled by Hill's culty references to Savlon and Zeinab Badawi, but if you give in to his peculiar tidal wave of daftness, you quickly find yourself being swept along by it. As much as anything else, you are won over by the sheer panache with which he weaves together his bizarre tapestry of catchphrases.

Where & when: tour begins Cambridge Corn Exchange (01223 357 851) 4 May.

In short: engaging surrealism purveyed by comedian in unfeasibly large collars. JR



A week-long fest of leftfield pop, pitching established favourites with some of the hottest new names. Four bands play each night; dance is represented by the excellent UNKLE (24 Jan), and there's also the best in underground American sounds with Sebadoh plus Elliott Smith (19 Jan) and Mercury Rev (21 Jan). The pick of the Brits are Mogwai on 23 Jan with diverse support from Bonnie Prince Billy and Clinic, while the Bluetones and Mansun headline on 20 and 22 Jan respectively.

Where & when: Astoria, London W1 (0171-434 0403) 18 to 24 Jan.

In short: book now for Sebadoh and Rev! TP



Wagner's last opera, the all-too-rarely-staged sacred-music drama Parsifal, receives a brand-new production from English National Opera, directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, to set designs by Raimund Bauer and lighting from Wolfgang Gobbel. Wagner's medieval allegory of innocence as a redeeming force also comes handsomely cast, with Kim Begley in the title role, Gwynne Howell as Gurnemanz and Kathryn Harries as Kundry, with Mark Elder conducting.

Where & when: Coliseum, London WC2 (0171-632 8300) 13 Feb to 19 Mar.

In short: Holy Grail of operas; a great staging can mesmerise. DH



In the first half of the 19th century, Ingres produced some of the smartest, most intense portraiture ever. His men, icons of power; his women, dreamy melanges of flesh and fabric, luxurious in every sense; sex and money in perfect harmony.

Where & when: National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2 (0171-839 3321) 27 Jan to Apr.

In short: images of triumphant, bourgeois luxury. TL



The London premiere of David Bintley's powerful Edward II opens a varied spring season for Birmingham Royal Ballet, including company premieres by Twyla Tharp and William Forsythe, plus the return to Sadler's Wells of Ninette de Valois's long-lost Prospect Before Us.

Where & when: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London EC1 (0171-863 8000) 2-6, 10-13 Feb; Birmingham Hippodrome (0121-622 7486) 24 to 27 Feb, 3 to 6 Mar, 5 to 10 & 13 to 15 May.

In short: ballet that packs a punch. JP



Blind pianist Roberts is blessed with a staggering technique allied to a deep love for the traditions of jazz. As such, he was a natural soulmate for the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, whose band he joined in 1985. After recording seven albums with the group he began a prolific career as a leader, culminating in the current Columbia releases The Joy of Joplin and Cole After Midnight. This first appearance in Britain as a leader sees him joined by his regular accompanists, Wynton's brother Jason on drums and Roland Guerin on bass.

Where & when: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1 (0171-960 4242) 24 Jan.

In short: a piano version of Wynton Marsalis. RT



Radio 3's mega three-year retrospective series "Sounding the Century" begins the run-up to its millennial climax with a strand entitled "Endless Parade", focusing on post-1945 Britain. As well as three major commissions by contemporary composers, there will be the chance to hear a special recording of Benjamin Britten's last opera, based on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, and Michael Tippett's operatic take on Homer, King Priam.

Where & when: Radio 3 (FM 90.2-92.4) 31 Mar to 7 May.

In short: an invaluable stock-take of postwar British composition. DC



The first film released under Denmark's infamous Dogme manifesto (hand- held camera, natural light, amateur aesthetic), Festen follows the nose-diving trajectory of a plush family get-together gone hideously awry. Writer-director Thomas Vinterberg brings off a shotgun-wedding of cathartic drama with absurdist comedy in this groundbreaking debut.

Where & when: opens 5 Mar.

In short: Four Rape Cases and a Murder. XB



Caroline Aherne, Craig Cash and Henry Normal proved themselves more than capable of writing a sitcom with The Royle Family, the best new comedy of last year. Now they turn their attention to the homelife of the superannuated chatshow hostess (Aherne) and her mollycoddled son (Cash).

Where & when: BBC1, Feb.

In short: Caroline Aherne's deceptively sweet presenter transposed to her home setting. JR `CERTAIN YOUNG MEN', ALMEIDA

"What are two grown men doing living together faking all the stupidities of a straight relationship?" Peter Gill, a distinguished director/playwright of considerable finesse, on his new play - a sharp, poignant comedy of contemporary manners starring Jeremy Northam, Sean Chapman and Andrew Woodall.

Where & when: Almeida, London N1 (0171-359 4404) 21 Jan to 20 Feb.

In short: men behaving sadly. DB



One of BBC2's big recent comedy hits - they have the British Comedy Award to prove it - follows in the footsteps of The Fast Show and Shooting Stars by transferring to the live arena. Expect to see such culty favourites as the Bhangramuffins and the Guru Maharishi Yogi.

Where & when: tour begins at Leicester's De Montford Hall (0116-233 3111) 20 Feb.

In short: high-quality, catchphrase-driven sketches. JR



The Hartnoll brothers go out on a UK tour for the first time in two years to coincide with the release of the Middle of Nowhere album. You can also expect new treatments of older material plus some superb lighting and effects.

Where & when: University, Exeter (0990 321321) 14 Mar; Colston Hall, Bristol (01179 223686) 15 Mar; Civic Hall, Wolverhampton (01902 552121) 22 Mar; Corn Exchange, Cambridge (01223 357851) 23 Mar; Guildhall, Southampton (01703 632601) 24 Mar; Centre, Brighton (0870 900 9100) 26 Mar; Brixton Academy, London SW9 (0171-771 2000) 27 Mar.

In short: techno's brightest act returns. TP



The second half of this rapturously acclaimed and pioneering series, under the baton of maestro Christoph von Dohnanyi, gets underway with Schoenberg's Expressionist monodrama Erwartung and Beethoven's Symphony No 7. Dohnanyi returns to the RFH podium on 9 Mar in Berg's valedictory Violin Concerto, with Kyung Wha Chung as soloist, and Schubert's Symphony No 9. And the final concert of this series, subtitled "Beginnings and Endings", is aptly given over to another 9th symphony, Mahler's own.

Where & when: Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (0171-960 4242) 27 Feb, 9 & 13 Mar.

In short: world-class musicianship in a repertoire Dohnanyi relishes. DH



The British painter of modern still lifes and interiors is a virtuoso of many styles. This survey of nearly 50 years' work reveals his full range - notably, those bold and laconic outlines blocked in with translucent floods of colour.

Where & when: Hayward Gallery, South Bank, London SE1 (0171-928 3144) 4 Feb to 11 Apr.

In short: the modern object world made luminous. TL



America's greatest choreographer, George Balanchine, features in the London debut of Pacific North-West Ballet from Seattle. His highly original treatment of A Midsummer Night's Dream provides one programme, and his masterly Four Temperaments joins company creations on the other.

Where & when: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London EC1 (0171-863 8000) 22 to 27 Feb.

In short: masterworks with American accents. JP



Possessed of staggering virtuosity, the Romanian gypsy troupe Taraf De Haidouks threaten to do for central-European traditional music what Ruben Gonzalez and friends have for Cuban sounds. Highly eclectic on a trio of CDs and in performance, this violin- and accordion-led outfit has a repertoire that includes medieval ballads and Middle Eastern-flavoured dance tunes, and has played to great acclaim with the Kronos Quartet. The music is at once highly complex and beautifully simple.

Where & when: Ronnie Scott's, Frith Street, London W1 (0171-439 0747) 18 to 23 Jan.

In short: Gypsy Kings for the new millennium. RT



Professor Anthony Giddens joins the illustrious ranks of Reith lecturers with his five-part series on the societal effects of globalisation. Fittingly, the talks will be delivered from various locations worldwide, including Hong Kong, Delhi and Washington, and will be accessible online. The prolific sociologist, currently director of the LSE, is seen as the brains behind the Third Way, so his arguments will be of interest to anyone concerned about the latest thinking - or lack of it - at No 10.

Where & when: Radio 4 (FM 92.4-94.6; 7 Apr to 5 May.

In short: the world according to Giddens; take notes. DC



It is a fact of cinema-going life, as the film students in Scream 2 self-referentially point out, that no sequel is ever as good as the original. But then this west-London-shot movie isn't strictly a sequel to Four Weddings and a Funeral, even though it has the same producer (Duncan Kenworthy), writer (Richard Curtis) and leading man (Hugh Grant). And Julia Roberts should make a popular replacement for the dull Andie MacDowell. Plus approval ratings in recent test-screenings of an early edit were as high as 92 per cent - and, as those same Scream 2 film students say, "What about The Godfather: Part II then?"

Where & when: currently due out July, but could open earlier.

In short: Grant's last chance to save his career. IL



The always excellent Ray Winstone (Nil By Mouth) heads the cast in this ensemble drama from Tony Grounds (Sex and Chocolate). It focuses on a group of former schoolfriends, now pushing 40, whose lives are torn apart after a drunken stag party.

Where & when: BBC2, Mar.

In short: Ray Winstone in a serial about sex and death. JR



Ian McKellen brings his much-vaunted three-play season in Leeds to a triumphant conclusion by playing Prospero in his return to Shakespeare, a playwright he hasn't touched since playing Richard III - and look what happened there. Jude Kelly directs her strong ensemble company.

Where & when: West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (0113-213 7700) 28 Jan to 27 Feb.

In short: the promise of theatrical magic. DB



The eternally optimistic but ultimately doomed entertainer returns with more of his wry comments on the fickle nature of fame. In Ken's Karvery, the world's most underrated Yamaha organ-player promises "satisfaction without leaving a nasty taste in the mouth".

Where & when: tour begins at Harrogate Theatre (01423 502116) 16 Jan.

In short: clever spoof of a showbiz nobody. JR FAITHLESS

In touring their Sunday 8pm album at the end of 1998, Faithless further enhanced their reputation as one of the very best live dance acts. Their gigs mix up the club-land anthems with more blissed-out, slow-burning moments.

Where & when: Rock City, Nottingham (0115-912 9122) 26 Jan; University, Bristol (0117-929 9008) 27 Jan; Pyramid, Portsmouth (01705 358608) 29 Jan; Junction, Cambridge (01223 511511) 31 Jan; Brookes Uni, Oxford (01865 420042) 1 Feb; Brixton Academy, London SW9 (0171-771 2000) 10 Apr.

In short: getting bigger and better. TP



The LSO celebrates its Conductor Laureate's 70th birthday with a triptych of concerts. In the first, Previn accompanies Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in a richly varied song recital. Then, he conducts the LSO in two great 20th- century British works: Vaughan Williams's Symphony No 5 and Britten's Spring Symphony. The celebrations culminate in a Gala Concert, featuring Anne-Sophie Mutter in the Beethoven Violin Concerto and Dame Kiri in the closing scene of Strauss's Capriccio.

Where & when: Barbican Hall, London EC2 (0171-638 8891) 7, 10 & 15 Mar.

In short: glittering tribute to an ever-popular maestro. DH



The wild hero of Abstract Expressionism, who died in 1956, is famed for his name and drip-painting. But there's now a generation for whom his actual work is mostly unknown. With this major retrospective, we'll be seeing posterity in action.

Where & when: Tate Gallery, Millbank, London SW1 (0171-887 8000) 11 Mar to 6 Jun.

In short: Jack the Dripper, 40 years on. TL



An additional London season for Rambert Dance Company meets popular demand with extra performances of the recently sold-out Lorca ballet Cruel Garden. It also introduces a drastic change of pace for the dancers with Twyla Tharp's immensely demanding pure-dance The Golden Section.

Where & when: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London EC1 (0171-863 8000) 19 to 29 May.

In short: contrasts on a high level. JP



Pianist Walton seems destined to be one of the unsung heroes of modern jazz. A true musician's musician, who was accompanist of choice for such Blue Note luminaries as Lee Morgan, Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard during the label's golden years of the late 1950s and early 1960s, he is also a fine writer - contributing notable tunes to the Jazz Messengers, in particular - and an inventive leader of small groups. His latest appearance at Ronnie Scott's sees him leading a quartet fronted by rising young tenor Javon Jackson.

Where & when: Ronnie Scott's, Frith Street, London W1 (0171-439 0747) 25 Jan to 6 Feb.

In short: a classy bop stylist. RT



This is the year in which radio producers hurry to deliver their centennial round-ups. In among such predictable potted delights as "100 years of country", this six-parter about the celluloid triumphs of the 20th century, presented by Sir David Puttnam, has a perverse appeal. The award-winning producer (and part-time lecturer) promises to display a particularly healthy scepticism when it comes to assessing Hollywood's contribution.

Where & when: Radio 2 (FM 88.0-90.2) 4 May, 9pm

In short: the world according to Giddens; take notes. DC



Celebrity makes for a surprisingly hip and youth-centric offering from the increasingly curmudgeonly Woody Allen. Its self-referential, art-imitating-life plotline casts Winona Ryder as a vain, skittish actress and Leonardo DiCaprio as a boorish, hotel-trashing movie star. Only Ken Branagh's awkward Allen impression as a showbiz journo hits a flat note.

Where & when: opens 18 June

In short: Deconstructing Leo. XB



Russell T Davies' (The Grand) groundbreaking new series has already got the tabloids foaming at the mouth. It frankly portrays the life and loves of three young men who are active on the gay scene in Manchester.

Where & when: Channel 4, Feb.

In short: controversial drama about young gay men. JR



Corneille is like Racine - a 17th-century dramatist everyone shies away from. But Racine has just had not one but two West End hits, so fingers are crossed for this staging. Directed by the exacting, exhilarating Declan Donnellan, it arrives garlanded with praise from the Avignon Festival.

Where & when: Riverside Studios, London W6 (0181-237 1111) 13 Feb to 26 Feb.

In short: high drama and high style. DB



Audiences warm to the former star of They Think It's All Over as though he were that funny bloke from down the pub who's just happened to wander on stage. He gets big whoops of recognition with such observations as: "every bloke in this room will agree that buying a kebab on a Saturday night is the final admission that you're not going to pull."

Where & when: tour begins at the White Rock Theatre, Hastings (01424 781000) 22 Jan.

In short: likable, if laddish, stand-up. JR



After last year's tiff with the Inland Revenue, the men that make even Aerosmith seem positively youthful have re-organised the UK leg of their world tour. Nothing much changes, with Jagger dancing around and a set made up mostly from their four decades of hits. Sheryl Crow supports.

Where & when: Wembley Stadium (0181-902 0902) 11 & 12 Jun.

In short: will they ever stop? TP



The new Glyndebourne season gets underway with an eagerly anticipated revival of Nicholas Hytner's production of Mozart's last opera, La Clemenza di Tito. Then comes a no-less-awaited new production of Debussy's only opera, Pelleas et Melisande, directed by Graham Vick, with Andrew Davis conducting the London Philharmonic. The third show of the summer's six is a re-run for last year's acclaimed view of Handel's Rodelinda by Jean- Marie Villegier. This time round Sir Charles Mackerras conducts the period- instrument Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Where & when: Glyndebourne (01273 812321); Tito from 19 May; Pelleas from 21 May; Rodelinda from 13 June. In short: apply for tickets now! DH



Russian avant-garde paintings from the 1920s. During that rare, brief moment of collaboration between an artistic and a political revolution, the artist Malevich himself was commissioned to establish an official modern-art collection - from which this exhibition is drawn.

Where & when: Barbican Gallery, Barbican Centre, London EC2 (0171-588 9023) 28 Apr to 27 Jun.

In short: masterpieces of the Russian art revolution. TL



Ushio Amagatsu, master practitioner of Japan's unique dance style Butoh, performs with the other men of his group, Sankai Juku, in a blaze of light (costumes, bodies, faces, shaven heads all white), making slow images of enigmatic poetry in movement.

Where & when: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London EC1 (0171-863 8000) 18 to 22 Jan.

In short: mystery and magic from Japan. JP



A highly distinctive singer who emerged from New York's M-BASE movement, Wilson has moved beyond the traditional confines of jazz to explore country blues, rap, funk and other styles. Having devoted much of one recent record to interpreting Robert Johnson, she has turned to Miles Davis for her current Blue Note release, Travelling Miles. Though her vocal-improvisation approach owes something to Betty Carter, she has put entirely her own mark on material ranging from show tunes to Van Morrison rock songs, creating interesting jazz while attracting a large audience.

Where & when: Barbican Centre, London EC2 (0171-638 8891) 22 Mar. In short: captivating stretcher of jazz's boundaries. RT



Although ostensibly disadvantaged by being performed unseen, BBC radio productions of Shakespeare concentrate their audiences' attention on the richness of the language. Given some poor recent showings at the National and RSC, new recordings of Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, the first batch in a 17-strong series, will serve as an invaluable back-to-basics function. Starry casts are promised.

Where & when: Radio 3 (90.2-92.4MHz) 12 Sept to 30 Oct.

In short: a series to reload Shakespeare's canon with meaning. DC This week's 50 best was compiled by The Independent's stable of arts critics: Xan Brooks, Maxton Walker and Isabel Lloyd (Film); James Rampton (TV Shows and Comedy Tours); David Benedict (Plays); Tim Perry (Pop); Duncan Hadfield (Concerts & Operas); Tom Lubbock (Art Exhibitions); John Percival (Dance); Roger Trapp (Jazz); and Dominic Cavendish (Radio)