THE EVENTS THAT; SAY BE HERE NOW

From The Prodigy to Anthony Powell, and Maggie Smith to Ewan McGregor, IoS critics offer their guide to the best in the arts in Britain this autumn

THOSE who consider British theatre insular will be cheered by this autumn's eclectic French Theatre Season. This pounds 1m season runs for three months and ranges in venues from the National Theatre, where the Comedie-Francaise makes its first appearance in Britain since 1973 with Marivaux's Les Fausses Confidences (30 Sept to 1 Oct, 0171 928 2252), to the Orange Tree, Richmond where Sam Walters directs three plays by the leading contemporary playwright Michel Vinaver, including his best- known play Overboard (Par-dessus bord) with a cast of 20 playing 40 parts (2 Oct to 1 Nov, 0181 940 3633).

Peter Brook's highly regarded production of a Samuel Beckett's Oh Les Beaux Jours plays at the Riverside Studios (27 Nov to 6 Dec, 0181 741 2255), starring Brook's wife, Natasha Parry. There's more Beckett at Stratford with Katie Mitchell directing Juliet Stevenson in six Beckett Shorts -the first time these plays have been performed together (22 Oct to 13 Nov, 01789 295623). The RSC also presents Roberto Zucco by Bernard- Marie Koltes, a young playwright in the Eighties who recently died from Aids (in rep from 20 Nov to Feb 1998). At the Royal Court (at the Duke of York's), Theatre de Complicite's Simon McBurney directs Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan in a new translation by Martin Crimp of Ionesco's The Chairs (from 19 Nov). And Robert Wilson directs La Maladie de la Mort at the Peacock (0171 314 8800).

In the non-French season, Tom Stoppard's new play The Invention of Love, directed by Richard Eyre, deals with the life of the poet AE Housman and shifts between the older Housman (played by John Wood) and younger Housman (Paul Rhys) as it looks at the impact of his life of the unrequited love he had for a fellow student (previews from 25 Sept, opens 1 Oct). Also at the National, Ian McKellen returns to play Dr Stockmann in An Enemy of the People (now previewing, opens Fri) and Captain Hook in Peter Pan (opens 16 Dec). Both productions are by Trevor Nunn, the incoming Director, who also directs the new Frank McGuinness, Mutabilitie (opens 20 Nov). After her success with Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, Maggie Smith teams up in the West End with Eileen Atkins and John Standing for Albee's A Delicate Balance (Theatre Royal Haymarket, 0171 930 8800, opens 21 Oct). The big musical will be the acclaimed Broadway production of Kander and Ebb's Chicago with Ruthie Hensall and Ute Lemper (Adelphi, 0171 344 0055, opens 18 Nov).

THE T-SHIRT, if not the movie of autumn 1997 is likely to be A Life Less Ordinary (15; 24 Oct), the third collaboration between director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge, producer Andrew MacDonald and actor Ewan McGregor. If you don't know what the first two were, then you'd better check with nurse if you've had your pills yet. Again, there's a suitcase of money and a sexy soundtrack (Beck, Ash, Sneaker Pimps), but the action takes place in the States, there are two angels in the dramatis personae, and a starry cast boasts Cameron Diaz, Ian Holm and Holly Hunter.

Stephen Fry was surely born to be Wilde (15; 17 Oct) and makes his long- awaited post-traumatic comeback in Brian Gilbert's biopic. Sigourney Weaver makes a less probable return in Alien: Resurrection (28 Nov), again doing battle with those gob-smothered crustaceans. And Kevin Smith, director of the filthy, grungy, brilliantly observed Clerks, returns with Chasing Amy (14 Nov), a sex comedy starring Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams. Reviews in the States have been uniformly good ("All the hallmarks of a classic ... it blows away the competition," whooped the LA Times).

Newer directing talents include Alain Berliner, whose Ma Vie en Rose (15) was a hit at last month's Edinburgh Festival, and Julian Richards, whose pagan horror Darklands promises to do for post-industrial Wales what The Wicker Man did for the Hebrides (NFT premiere: 24 Oct). Others to look forward to include Temptress Moon (15) from Chen Kaige, Welcome to Sarajevo (15) from Michael Winterbottom, The Winter Guest from Alan Rickman (with Emma Thompson and her mother Phyllida Law), and a pair of novelties: actor-turned-director Gary Oldman's Nil By Mouth (18) and director-turned actress Sally Potter's The Tango Lesson (PG).

More seasonally, the re-release of a bright new print of It's a Wonderful Life (U; 5 Dec) will prove a welcome distraction from the dreadful prospect of Mortal Kombat 2, Free Willy 3, Home Alone 3, and Spice: the Movie, a whole brace of potential Christmas turkeys.

BETWEEN NOW and Christmas you can expect the Royal Opera to cause chaos, confusion and the odd marital breakdown as it jumps from venue to venue leaving trails of lonely opera-goers to predictable recriminations ("I know you said outside the theatre, but WHICH bloody theatre?").

So take careful note that its new Deborah Warner production of Britten's Turn of the Screw, starring Ian Bostridge, opens at the Barbican on 2 Oct; its revived Otello is at the Albert Hall from 17 Nov; and its first ever production of Britten's Paul Bunyan (virtuoso libretto by Auden) opens at Snape Maltings (Suffolk) on 5 Dec, transferring to London's Shaftesbury Theatre on 10 Dec. The only thing that doesn't move is the ROH booking number: 0171 304 4000.

Other opera highlights should be ENO's new Janacek, From the House of the Dead, conducted by their incoming music director Paul Daniel (Coliseum, WC2, from 20 Oct, 0171 632 8300), and Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle conducted by Simon Rattle (Birmingham Symphony Hall, 0121 212 3333, 23 & 25 Sept), with John Tomlinson in the title role. Collectors of obscurity can indulge themselves at Wexford from 16 Oct with Mercadante's Elena da Feltre, Dargomimizhsky's Rusalka, and Respighi's La Fiamma (00 353 532 2144). They might also like Vaughan Williams's Pilgrim's Progress, playing at the Barbican on 20 Oct as the highlight of a grand VW series under Richard Hickox (0171 638 8891, from 2 Oct).

Alongside Vaughan Williams, there are series devoted to Prokofiev, from the LPO (South Bank, 0171 960 4242, from 25 Nov), Schumann (John Eliot Gardiner at the Barbican, from 3 Oct), and the young Scot James MacMillan (South Bank, from 2 Oct).

As for glamour, there are three big glitter-dates. On 8 Oct, Nigel Kennedy plays the Elgar Violin Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall (0171 960 4242). On 14 Oct, Paul McCartney's first symphony has its premiere, by the LSO, at the Albert Hall (0171 589 8212). And on 17 Dec, Pavarotti wrings his hankie out for Verdi's Requiem at the South Bank.

AFTER THE Royal Academy's publicity-led show of younger-to-middle- aged British artists, "Sensation", a showcase display of work bought by the advertising mogul Charles Saatchi (18 Sept, 0171 494 5615), the autumn art season has a steadier look when the Hayward examines the fortunes of 20th-century still-life in "Objects of Desire", with paintings and sculptures from Cubism to the present day (9 Oct to Jan 1998, 0171 928 3144).

Then the Tate, from 16 Oct, examines the legacy of Rossetti and Watts in "The Age of Symbolism" (0181 887 8000). Contemporary British painting of all sorts will be in the John Moores Liverpool exhibition (Walker Art Gallery, 0151 478 4614, 6 Nov).

From 28 Oct, the Royal College of Art (0171 960 4242) examines anatomical drawing through the ages in "The Quick and the Dead" - fortuitously contrasted with the first Christmas exhibition (from 13 Nov), the RA's "Victorian Fairy Painting", for fairies have no anatomy and cannot be dissected. Another seasonal show: the Turner Prize contenders - this year, Cornelia Parker, Christine Borland, Angela Bullock and Gillian Wearing - exhibit at the Tate (from 29 Oct).

"FOLLOW Darcey", said the posters, beckoning ballet lovers to the Royal Ballet's less-than-gorgeous temporary venue in Hammersmith. But the campaign has been left high and dry with the news that star-attraction Bussell has withdrawn from the start of the new season owing to injury. Still, there is Sylvie Guillem opening Romeo & Juliet (24 Sept), and the delicious Viviana Durante in Giselle (6 Oct). She replaces Bussell in The Sleeping Beauty (from 13 Oct). (All at Labatt's Apollo, W6, 0171 416 6082).

Following the stupendous success of his "male" Swan Lake, Matthew Bourne unveils his reworking of Prokofiev's Cinderella (Piccadilly, W1, 0171 369 1734, opens 7 Oct), again starring Adam Cooper. The equally imaginative Christopher Gable has redrawn the landscape of Giselle as a striking drama of betrayal and revenge under a military dictatorship (Sheffield Lyceum, 0114 276 9922, from 29 Sept, then touring). It's not often that ballet comes with a health warning, but David Bintley's bloody Edward II, based on the play by Marlowe and given its British premiere by Birmingham Royal Ballet, promises very strong stuff indeed (Hippodrome, 0121 622 7486, from 9 Oct).

From abroad, expectations are high for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (Peacock, 14-18 Oct, 0171 314 8800; Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 21-25 Oct, 0131 529 6000) which brings two triple bills and a classic Giselle. And the brilliant Paco Pena Flamenco Company returns to the Peacock from 18-22 Nov.

THE BIG event of the autumn calendar is the Oris London Jazz Festival (various venues, 7-16 Nov, 0171 405 5974) which includes the great Coltrane quartet pianist McCoy Tyner, the off-the-wall Art Ensemble of Chicago, guitarists Larry Coryell and Bireli Lagrene, Nikki Yeoh's Infinitum, New York pianist Fred Hersch and the famous piano-phobic Ornette Coleman in a duo with German pianist Joachim Kuhn, among a host of other attractions.

At Ronnie Scott's another ex-Coltrane sideman, drummer Elvin Jones, takes up residence for two weeks from 22 Sept (0171 439 0747). Two of Miles Davis's most famous alumni, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, play the Barbican on 13 Oct (0171 638 8891), while another, guitarist John McClaughlin - together with Zakir Hussain - tours for the Contemporary Music Network from 24-27 Sept (RFH, 0171 960 4242) and yet another, pianist Joe Zawinul, plays Blackheath Concert Halls on 19 Oct (0181 463 0100). OASIS set off on tour last night, but, if you're clutching a ticket for one of their shows, you'll already know that, and if you aren't ... there's not much you can do about it. You're probably sick of Be Here Now, anyway. If not, the Burnage Boot Boys are right up your street, knocking over dustbins, ringing doorbells and running away and generally having a bit of a shout. They're accompanied on some dates by Travis, the Glaswegian coming things created in their image, and on others by their floaty chums The Verve.

If you prefer guitar rock emanating from darker corners, Radiohead have just kicked off a short tour in the wake of the rich and enigmatic OK Computer. Then come those dancefloor roaring boys The Prodigy, who in America are bigger than Oasis. They'll be starting their fires and smacking their bitches up in December. The other big-league highlight is Blur, fresh from showing well at V97. They bully off their first full tour for years, playing mainly ice-hockey venues, at the Hull Ice Arena in Nov.

Out on left-field there are such exotic attractions as Bentley Rhythm Ace, who tour next month - big beats (which less savvy pop pickers, is a genre as well as a description) shot through with cheesy samples. Other dance delights are Gallic Groovers Daft Punk, a hit on on the festival run this summer, now playing their first headline shows here, and the psychedelic soul of Spiritualized (Oct). More tangential but highly recommended are Morcheeba, described by erstwhile collaborator David Byrne as "dark, dreamy and deep".

COMPARED with its rivals, Channel 4 seems daring with its four-part adaptation (by Hugh Whitemore) of Anthony Powell's acerbic and witty modern novel- cycle, A Dance to the Music of Time (Oct); a terrific cast includes Alan Bennett, Edward Fox, Miranda Richardson, and John Gielgud. On BBC1, Simon Burke has adapted Fielding's rumbustious comic novel Tom Jones (with Brian Blessed as Squire Allworthy; Nov); and on ITV, from Granada, there's Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. Both novels made landmark films in the 1960s, so it will be interesting to see how views of them have changed in the past 30 years. Otherwise, it is mostly a case of finding new slants on crime and punishment: C4 has a police drama set in India, Bombay Blue, and a black comedy, Underworld (Nov), while ITV will be showing Lynda La Plante's police procedural, Trial and Retribution, Alan Cubitt's Painted Lady (murder in the art world, with Helen Mirren), and a series starring Helen Baxendale as PD James's female detective Cordelia Gray, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.

In the factual field, there's historian David Starkey on Henry VIII (C4, Nov) and a history of The Crimean War (C4, Oct). C4 is also making a fresh attempt to cover the arts scene with Art House, Oct). On BBC2, National Gallery director Neil MacGregor studies painting techniques in Making Masterpieces (Oct).

A FINE new adaption of War and Peace starts on Radio 4 in Nov, starring Emily Mortimer and Simon Russell Beale: compulsive listening. At the same time Melvyn Bragg begins a series discussing heroes of scientific invention - who have, as Newton said, stood on Giant's Shoulders.

R3 promises us a grand new season of Saturday opera in Live from the Met, starting in December, and an evening of "postcards" about life in St. Petersburg on 24 Oct, The Night of the Russian Revolution. Gibson's Dali - readings from a provocative new biography of the surrealist by the great Lorca authority, Ian Gibson - start on 20 Oct.

There's scandal from Matthew Parris on R5 in The Politician, the Actress and the Bishop. From 8 Oct for five weeks, R2 will broadcast Alistair Maclean's The Guns of Navarone, starring Toby Stephens and Michael Williams, while, on 11 Oct, R1 will be on the move for its Euro Dance Weekend. Starting in Nov, there's a new soap on the World Service: Westway, about a London health clinic.

TWO December dates in London are about to be added to the Frank Skinner tour that has just begun, while Eddie Izzard begins a 31-date tour at the Labatt's Apollo (0171 416 6080) on 20 Oct. Sean Hughes (0891 455488) tours from 28 Sept to 16 Dec, and the Perrier Pick of the Fringe festival brings together Edinburgh luminaries The League of Gentlemen, Al Murray, Johnny Vegas, Graham Norton, Milton Jones, Arj Barker and Boothby Graffoe in a series of London dates from late Sept to late Oct (0171 494 5558). !

THEATRE

BY ROBERT BUTLER

CINEMA

BY MATTHEW SWEET

MUSIC

BY MICHAEL WHITE

ART

BY TIM HILTON

DANCE

BY JENNY GILBERT

JAZZ

BY PHIL JOHNSON

ROCK

BY CHRIS MAUME

TELEVISION

BY ROBIN BUSS

RADIO

BY SUE GAISFORD

COMEDY

BY CINDY LYALL

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