The 50 Best autumn arts

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The days may be getting shorter but there are lots of exciting cultural events to brighten them up, from opera and exhibitions to big movies and classic TV. Let our panel of critics be your guide...

The critics:

Ben Walsh - Film and TV

Elisa Bray - Pop and rock

Adrian Hamilton - Visual Arts

Paul Taylor - Theatre

Michael Church - Classical

Zoe Anderson - Dance




John Mark Ainsley will sing the title role in Monteverdi’s opera – still regarded as one of the greatest in the repertoire – with Sophie Bevan as Euridice, Thomas Hobbs as Apollo and Richard Egarr directing from the harpsichord. This is the first of several concerts by the Academy of Ancient Music.

Barbican, 28 September – 2 November (

The Wasp Factory

It’s sad that the courageous Iain Banks did not live to see Ben Frost’s operatic transformation of his cult novel brought to British shores. The disturbing world of a psychopathic teenager who is left isolated is brought to life by just three performers.

Royal Opera House, 2 October (

Anna Bolena

The talented Alesandro Talevi directs a new production of Donizetti’s opera about the final days of Henry VIII’s most celebrated victim. Serena Farnocchia and Linda Richardson share the title role, with Alastair Miles as the king.

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 7 September (


A welcome revival of Phelim McDermott’s mesmerising production of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, which focuses on Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa and his development of non-violent protest as a political tool. Alan Oke plays Gandhi.

London Coliseum, from 20 November (

Stockhausen and Boulez

Franck Ollu will conduct Gesang der Junglinge and Le Marteau Sans Maître, two classic works by these modern masters as part of The Rest Is Noise festival, which is attracting audiences for Modernist works who would never otherwise come near a concert hall. This autumn, its dominant themes will be the Holocaust and the dawn of the nuclear age.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, 5 October (

Glyndebourne on tour

Here is the chance for those who can’t afford the seat prices of Glyndebourne itself – or for whom the journey is too far – to catch three of its shows. Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia is a rarity, and Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore a delight, while Hansel und Gretel has a provocatively contemporary slant.

Glyndebourne On Tour, from 29 October, to Woking, Milton Keynes, and Stoke-on-Trent (

A Festival of Britten

A nice title for Opera North’s centenary tribute, which kicks off with a revival of its stunning 2006 production of Peter Grimes. Jeffrey Lloyd- Roberts plays the protagonist, with Giselle Allen as Ellen Orford. There follows A Midsummer Night’s Dream and then Death in Venice. Leeds Grand Theatre,

14 September – 25 October (


Rock and pop:

Festival No 6

The appeal lies not only in its location in Portmeirion but also in its top-drawer line-up. The Manic Street Preachers and My Bloody Valentine play festival exclusives, and Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, Johnny Marr and Lianne La Havas, are also on the bill.

Portmeirion, Gwynedd, 13 – 15 September (

iTunes Festival

This year’s iTunes month of free gigs for competition winners offers Elton John, (happily recovered from appendicitis), Vampire Weekend, Primal Scream, Phoenix, Tom Odell and John Legend. Other highlights are the Pixies with their first UK show for some time.

Roundhouse, London, 1-30 September (

Leonard Cohen

With five-star reviews across the board for his O2 Arena show in June, 78-year-old Leonard Cohen is at the height of his game. Expect a three-and-a-half hour show featuring Cohen’s best loved songs such as “I’m Your Man”, “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah” alongside a handful of newer material from his excellent 2012 album, Old Ideas. The UK tour culminates at the O2 Arena.

UK tour 3 – 15 September (

Roger Waters’ The Wall

You’re unlikely to see another concert as ambitious and impressive this year. The Pink Floyd founder brings his band’s famous album The Wall to life with thought-provoking animations and graphics. He has also redesigned and scaled up the show to take account of the vast stadium space.

Wembley Stadium, London, 14 September (

Laura Mvula

The classically trained 26-year-old stormed this summer’s festivals with intricate, layered songs fusing jazz, gospel, pop and flourishes of orchestral music. On stage, she impresses with assured performances.

On tour 13 September – 9 October (


The American indie-rock band celebrate 20 years since their inception – during which time there have been nine studio albums, film scores (the latest, for French director Claire Denis, is up for imminent release), played with orchestras, split up and reformed.

Barbican, London, 25 October (


The Icelandic star’s first UK appearance since she launched her Biophilia world tour at the 2011 Manchester Festival. Biophilia Live sees her accompanied by a 24-piece Icelandic female choir.

Alexandra Palace, London, 3 September (


About Time (12A)

Richard Curtis returns with a… wait for it… romantic comedy. Only this one has a sci-fi element. Domhnall Gleeson’s Tim, like his father (Bill Nighy, of course), can time travel. He can’t change history, but he can alter occurrences in his own life. On one of his time sorties, he falls for insecure Mary (Rachel McAdams), but their love can’t run smooth…

Released 4 September

Hawking (U)

The planet’s most famous living scientist is documented here. Stephen Finnigan’s film tells the story of the boyhood underachiever who became a PhD genius diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

20 September

Gravity (12A)

Clooney and Bullock trapped in space. Who’d want more? Gorgeous George and sassy Sandra play astronauts desperate to return to earth after debris hits their shuttle. The crash sequence is spectacular in Alfonso Cuaron’s claustrophobic sci-fi thriller.

11 October

The Fifth Estate (PG)

“We took down a billion dollar bank, this is crazy,” maintains Daniel Domscheit- Berg (Daniel Brühl) to his friend, Julian Assange. Bill Condon’s drama follows the giddy early days of WikiLeaks. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Assange.

11 October

Captain Phillips (12A)

Paul Greengrass tackles the true story of Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), who, along with his crew of the MV Maersk Alabama, was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. It was the first US cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years.

18 October

Ender’s Game (TBA)

“They’ve learned our weaknesses,” Harrison Ford’s colonel intones. Those pesky aliens. Orson Scott Card’s bestselling science-fiction novel centres around a boy genius, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), tasked by the government to fight aliens. Ben Kingsley and Abigail Breslin also star. Gavin Hood directs.

1 November

The Counselor (TBA)

“Have you been bad?” whispers Penélope Cruz to a smirking Michael Fassbender. Probably. Fassbender, who excelled in Shame, plays a lawyer corrupted into joining the perilous world of big-dollar drug deals in this Cormac McCarthy-scripted thriller. Brad Pitt and the always-compelling Javier Bardem star as underworld heavies, while Cruz and Cameron Diaz play their pampered girlfriends. Ridley Scott directs.

15 November

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (TBA)

Jennifer Lawrence, an Oscar winner for Silver Linings Playbook, is plucky Katniss in this adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s potent bestseller. A rebellion has begun on the back of Katniss’s bold actions in the last hunger games and the government is starting to unravel. The teenage heroine and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are forced into a special edition of the deadly diversion.

22 November




The much-missed Merlin has a replacement in this lavish fantasy drama series written by Howard Overman and set on the mythical lost island. The 13-parter follows the young Greek hero Jason. The robust cast includes Mark Addy, Juliet Stevenson, Jemima Roper and the excellent Sarah Parish.

BBC1, September/October

Peaky Blinders

Britain’s answer to Boardwalk Empire is a gangster saga set in the slums of a post-war Birmingham and featuring the Peaky Blinder gang. Cillian Murphy leads the naughty mob as ruthless Tommy Shelby, who is faced with a serious challenge when Sam Neill’s hardnut police chief appears on the scene.

BBC2, October

The Great Train Robbery

A Robber’s Tale and A Copper’s Tale convey the two sides of the notorious 1963 robbery, with Luke Evans as Bruce Reynolds, the mastermind behind the audacious crime, and the always reliable Jim Broadbent as Tommy Butler, who led the hunt for the robbers.

BBC1, October


Jonathan Rhys Meyers takes on the grand poobah of neckbiters in this 10-part version of Bram Stoker’s horror. The Prince of Darkness is posing as an American entrepreneur in order to convince Victorian London society of the merits of modern science. Oliver Jackson-Cohen plays journalist Jonathan Harker.

Sky Living, October

The Bridge: Series 2

The welcome return of The Bridge’s ill-matched duo, Kim Bodnia’s bulky, scruffy Copenhagen cop and Sofia Helin’s slim, emotionally vacant detective in Malmö. The pair have a case involving five people who have been chained, cold and exhausted, on a ship that has careered into a bridge.

BBC4, November


After 25 years of accurate sleuthing, David Suchet’s Belgian detective is reaching the end of his career, with Agatha Christie’s final four Poirot stories.

ITV, November

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special

It’s the 50th anniversary and Matt Smith is about to pass on the sonic screwdriver to Peter Capaldi. There’s a lot to be excited about for Whovians. The BBC’s Saturday night ratings-winner has been flagging recently and rather a great deal hinges on this special, with David Tennant and Matt Smith’s Time Lords battling the Daleks. With Billie Piper as Rose and Jenna Coleman playing Clare Oswald.

BBC1, 23 November



Much Ado About Nothing

Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones (respectively 76 and 82) play Shakespeare’s sparring, reluctant (and usually middle-aged) lovers. Directed by Mark Rylance. Old Vic, London,

7 September – 23 November (

The Scottsboro Boys

The European premiere of the final musical collaboration by Kander & Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago) is directed by Susan Stroman. The neo-Brechtian framework of a minstrel show is a stinging metaphor for the racist injustice experienced by the nine African Americans falsely accused of rape in 1930s Alabama.

Young Vic, London, 18 October – 23 November (

Richard II

David Tennant joins forces again with director Greg Doran to portray the petulant and poetic Shakespearean king. Tickets are gold dust for the Stratford run. It transfers to the Barbican in December and there’s another chance to see it when it is filmed and relayed to 100 UK cinemas on 17 November.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 10 October – 16 November (; Barbican Theatre, London, 9 December – 25 January 2014 (

Eat Pray Laugh!

Dame Edna Everage and her creator Barry Humphries bid farewell to live performances with a UK tour. Following a warm-up by Sir Les Patterson, the inimitable star promises to “empower” us with her views on climate change, gay marriage and ethnicity.

London Palladium; 13 November – 5 January; (; the UK tour begins at Milton Keynes Theatre on 23 October and ends at Manchester Opera House on 8 March 2014


Jez Butterworth shot to fame in 1995 with this bravura black comedy of gang warfare in 1950s Soho. “The overall effect is of an English David Mamet rewriting Guys and Dolls in real blood and guts,” wrote one critic, and the names of Pinter and Tarantino were often invoked. Director Ian Rickson has assembled a crack cast (including Ben Whishaw and Rupert Grint) for this revival.

Harold Pinter Theatre, London, from 26 October (

Stephen Ward

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical homes in on the Profumo scandal of 1963 through the story of Stephen Ward, the society osteopath and friend of Christine Keeler. Ward became the scapegoat for a hypocritical “establishment” and the show (with a book by Christopher Hampton) is set to present his trial as being on a par, for its emblematic injustice, with that of the great Oscar Wilde.

Aldwych Theatre, London, from 3 December, (


Tom Hiddleston returns to the stage at the Donmar Warehouse where he first caught our eyes playing Cassio in Othello five year ago. He is likely to excel as Shakespeare’s lonely arrogant martial hero who remains inflexible until it is too late. Josie Rourke’s revival of the bard’s famous Roman tragedy also boasts Mark Gatiss in the role of Menenius, the patrician fixer.

Donmar Warehouse, London, 6 December – 8 February 2014 (


Visual arts:


It’s a sign of the British sense of cultural superiority that we pay so little attention to the art of our former colonies. However, The Royal Academy is attempting to make up for all that with the most comprehensive survey yet of art from Down Under. Go and be amazed, and perhaps not a little ashamed, at its sheer depth and vitality.

Royal Academy, London, 21 September – 8 December (

An American in London: Whistler and the Thames

Whistler was to painting what TS Eliot was to poetry: the American who arrived in the capital, fell in love with it and proceeded to overturn its artistic conventions. It’s all here in his views of London’s river Thames in all its moodiness, fog and mystery in prints, drawings, engravings and  “Nocturnes”.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, (

The EY Exhibition – Paul Klee: Making Visible

Modernism’s most playful and elusive master, Klee started out as a musician. The exhibition aims to show the sweat and the preparation behind his apparent spontaneity.

Tate Modern, London, 16 October – 9 March 2014 (

Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art/ The night of longing: love and desire in Japanese prints

Often explicit in their content and erotic in their intention, (they portray the act of lovemaking real or in prospect) these pieces attracted the very best Japanese artists.

The British Museum, London, 3 October – 5 January (; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1 October – 12 February 2014 (

Francis Bacon/Henry Moore: Flesh and Bone

Bacon once asked Moore to give him lessons in making sculpture. It didn’t happen but this show of the two greats of British 20th century art is really fascinating.

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 12 September – 5 January 2014 (

Adrian Villar Rojas

An exhibtion by the young Argentinian sculptor opens the gallery’s new wing – set in a former gunpowder store. Designed by Zaha Hadid, it’s bound to be exciting in architectural terms. It will also enable the Serpentine to provide badly needed space for contemporary sculpture.

Serpentine Sackler Gallery, opens 28 September (

Bruce Munro at Waddesdon

This is an opportunity to see the work of a leading British light sculptor in the conditions where the concept works best: out in the open and in winter. Five separate installations will fill the manor’s grounds with radiating circles, illuminated columns, flashing birds and wafting spheres.

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, 13 November – 1 January 2014 (



Le Corsaire, English National Ballet

With the announcement that ballerina Alina Cojocaru was leaving the Royal Ballet and joining English National Ballet, ENB’s new production of Le Corsaire gained a new star. It’s already an ambitious choice by director Tamara Rojo, making ENB the first British company to stage the 19th-century swashbuckling ballet. Anna-Marie Holmes’ staging promises pirates, shipwrecks and designs by Bob Ringwood.

Various venues nationwide, from 17 October (

Romeo and Juliet, Royal Ballet

Natalia Osipova, one of the most exciting dancers in the world, has just joined The Royal Ballet. She will make her debut as a new member of the company in Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Romeo and Juliet on 21 November, alongside the brilliant dancer that is Carlos Acosta. With her soaring jump and powerful stage presence, Osipova should make an absolutely superb Juliet.

Royal Opera House, London, 19 October to 7 December (

Mark Morris Dance Group

Mark Morris is one of the world’s leading choreographers. His company returns this autumn with seven UK premieres, including Socrates, danced to music by Erik Satie, and A Wooden Tree, set to recordings by Scottish poet and humourist Ivor Cutler.

Sadler’s Wells, London, 27 November to 1 December (

Boy Blue Entertainment

The hip-hop company behind the award winning Pied Piper production joins Japanese manga artist Akio Tanaka for The Five & the Prophecy of Prana. This new work combines martial arts, manga and hip-hop dance in a comic book narrative of secret warriors and good versus evil.

Barbican Theatre, London, 22 October – 2 November (

Barbican Britten: Phaedra

Choreographer Richard Alston has created two new works for Benjamin Britten’s centenary. Phaedra will feature mezzo-soprano Allison Cook alongside dancers, expressing Phaedra’s repressed passion. The new Holderlin Fragments will be danced to music sung by Robin Tritschler.

Barbican Theatre, London, 6-9 November (

Don Quixote, Royal Ballet

Don Quixote is one of ballet’s 19th-century warhorses, a Spanish romp that has very little to do with Cervantes but no shortage of whizzing pirouettes and huge jumps. Carlos Acosta means to tailor it to the company’s fine dramatic instincts – and will be dancing the hero, Basilio, himself.

Royal Opera House, London, 30 September – 6 November


With a shiny new home on the South Bank, Rambert’s fine dancers should be in confident form. They’ll be dancing The Castaways, by American-born choreographer Barak Marshall, and a new work by Ashley Page, set to music by composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and electronic musician Aphex Twin. You can also catch Rambert’s staging of Nijinsky’s L’Aprèsmidi d’un Faune and the return of Christopher Bruce’s much-loved Rooster, to music by the Rolling Stones.

Various venues nationwide, from 9 October (


Best for... Modern opera

Hansel und Gretel is just one of the provocatively contemporary operas being staged in Woking, Milton Keynes and Stoke-on-Trent as part of Glyndebourne’s new “on tour” series

Best for... Australian art

Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly, on loan from the Australian National Gallery in Canberra, takes a key place in The Royal Academy’s upcoming 200-piece Australia exhibition

Best for... New sculpture

My Dead Family is a site-specific work from the monumental sculptor Adrian Villar Rojas whose exhibition opens the Serpentine Gallery’s new wing designed by Zaha Hadid

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