Arts Diary of 1998: our guide to the cultural year ahead

january

"It's a play about changes," said Kevin Elyot of his 1994 smash My Night With Reg and the award-winning playwright doesn't look like he's done with the corrosive effects of time quite yet. Premiering at the National, Elyot's eagerly anticipated The Day I Stood Still brings together three friends from the Sixties to see how life's treated them in the meantime (opens 15 Jan).

Having flirted with the new BritArtists in Sensation, the Royal Academy catches up with a few old friends of its own. More than 100 of the Academy's country cousins have handed over the pride of their collections for Art Treasures of England, billed as a celebration of the strength and diversity of England's regional galleries and museums (22 Jan-13 Apr).

January could well be the last time you get to see The Verve play anywhere as small as the Brixton Academy. Quite how the one-time Oasis support act will cope with mega-stardom in 1998 is another matter, so make certain you catch Ashcroft & Co while they're on the up (16, 17 Jan).

The Barbican's mammoth, year-long festival of American culture, Inventing America, gets going this month. There are continually running programmes of literature, theatre, visual art, music and film events; but, without doubt, January's highlight is the long-awaited London premiere (albeit in concert only) of John Adams's headline-grabbing opera, Nixon in China (25 Jan).

This month will also see Phyllis (Disappeared) Nagy's star continue in the ascendant. Her new play at the Royal Court, Never Land, stars Pip Donaghy - who has emerged intact from the carnage of Blasted - and Sheila Gish, fresh from Playhouse Creatures and with an Olivier to show for her performance in the triumphant Company (opens 8 Jan).

At the cinema, James Cameron's $250m fx fest, Titanic, hoves into view and Twentieth Century Fox will be praying that they don't go down with all hands - Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio (pictured above left) included - on board the most expensive movie ever made (opens 23 Jan). Meanwhile, Wim Wenders fans will be hoping The End of Violence - a near- future media violence polemic and the pick of the New Year's non-multiplex fare - marks a return to form for an art-house auteur who's been off kilter for over a decade (opens 9 Jan).

Stand by too for a first national tour by 1997 Perrier Award winner Johnny Vegas - big man, big laughs, big pots (from 30 Jan).

february

B-boys dominate the visual arts this month: Bonnard at the Tate, Bacon and Cartier-Bresson at the Hayward. Late in his life, the French painter turned his attention from the rich landscapes and interiors for which he's best known to more private scenes of his wife. Sarah Whitfield, in putting together the first major Bonnard retrospective in Britain since the Sixties, argues that both the great Marthe-in-the-bath paintings (detail above) and the self-portraits represent the conclusion of Bonnard's life- long artistic investigation into the familiar and the everyday (from 12 Feb).

Of a piece, though altogether more extreme, is the late Francis Bacon's vision of the human body at its most vulnerable. Surprisingly for one of the country's greatest post-war painters, this Hayward exhibition, curated by David Sylvester, is the first major showing of Bacon's work in the UK for 10 years (from 5 Feb).

Be they film adaptations, novels, short stories or plays, Irvine Welsh unlocks twenty-somethings' wallets faster than you can say "smack". The West Yorkshire Playhouse must therefore be grateful that it's premiering You'll Have Had Your Hole, in which, apparently, two inner-city low-lifes seek retribution in a recording studio. Sounds about par for the course (19 Feb-21 Mar).

Corin Redgrave takes the role of the warden in the National's world premiere of Not About Nightingales, an early Tennessee Williams prison drama. Which is only fair since his sister, Vanessa, re-discovered the play. If, as is reckoned, Williams wrote the play before his breakthrough with The Glass Menagerie, Nightingales will hopefully anticipate his classic body of work rather than - as recent late-Williams revivals have unfortunately tended to do - reveal a once-great playwright fading into senescence (from 27 Feb).

It's Madame Butterfly's turn for the Royal Albert Hall stadium treatment this year. Following Raymond Gubbay's stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap opera- in-the-round versions of La Boheme and Carmen, Aussie director David Freeman is planning to flood the arena and give Puccini's poor little geisha girl a soaking (from 19 Feb).

Up on the big screen, black America gets the Steven Spielberg makeover in Amistad. The director's very personal take on the plight of a group of slaves recaptured after a shipboard revolt is already kicking up a race storm in the States (opens 27 Feb).

march

1997's Wilde fever continues with The Judas Kiss, David Hare's new play (adapted from an unshot filmscript) opening at the Playhouse and offering us the first chance to see how Richard Eyre copes with life after the National Theatre. Big-screen swoon boy Liam Neeson (left) - no stranger to playing Irish icons - is lined up for the part of Oscar, with Tom Hollander booked as Bosie (opens 19 March).

We all know what happened the last time Ralph Fiennes starred in an adaptation of a Booker Prize-winning novel, so great things are expected of Oscar and Lucinda, a screen adaptation of the Peter Carey novel that finds Fiennes cast as a 19th-century gambling preacher challenged, with his twin sister (Cate Blanchett), to build a glass church in the Australian outback (opens 6 March).

Massive Attack's Blue Lines opened the decade of dance music, Protection re-emphasised their dominance and now everyone holds their breath for the Bristolian collective's third album, which they are scheduled to tour this month (stopping off at the Shepherd's Bush Empire on 20 March).

The Dulwich Picture Gallery's new exhibition Italy in the Age of Turner hopes to show there was a generation of artists - Turner, Samuel Palmer and John Ruskin among them - for whom Italy was more than picturesque classical ruins (4 March-24 May).

`Two questions hang over a Rolling Stones concert as inevitably as the pair of 200ft inflatable nudes framing the stage,' wrote David Lister when the Stones kicked off their latest world tour in Soldier Field, Chicago, last September. `Can they cut it? Should they cut it?' And the answer our critic came up with was: `Well, yes. Just...' UK fans can seek satisfaction for themselves when the Stones roll into Wembley in August

april

Spice Girls, remember them? The Christmas No 1s (right) - assuming they're still all as one - are playing Wembley Arena (18-19, 21-22, 25- 26).

The National Gallery marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henry Moore: maquettes of Moore's sculptures will be set alongside works from the gallery's collection that inspired him (3 April-31 May).

Placido Domingo joins Royal Opera forces in search of the Holy Grail for three concert performances of Wagner's final Parsifal at the RFH (23, 28 April, 1 May), while Aida marches into Earls Court complete with orchestra (RPO), choir (London Philharmonic) and a cast of thousands - well, 600 to be more exact (23-25 April).

Howard Davies directs Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh at the Almeida with Kevin Spacey, Rupert Graves and Clark Peters, who will no doubt be aware what befell one member of the cast the last time Davies staged this marathon in the 1970s - Ian Holm succumbed to a bout of stage fright that lasted 15 years (opens 14 April).

may

Following their seminal Seventies music-theatre collaboration Einstein on the Beach, more po-mo high-jinks from American director/designer Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass (right) in Monsters of Grace, a multi-media animation treatment of the spiritual love poetry of the 13th-century Persian mystic Jelaluddin Rumi - 3D specs supplied (19-23 May).

Glyndebourne's 1998 summer season offers new stagings of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte (from 21 May) and Handel's Rodelinda (from 13 June), while the Royal Opera follows where Garsington last year led with two concert performances of Richard Strauss's whimsical mussel-singing romp, Die Aegyptische Helena (22, 25 May).

Meanwhile, Jonathan Larson's Broadway musical sensation Rent - the one where the plot of Puccini's La Boheme tests HIV positive - takes over London's Shaftesbury Theatre from the outgoing Royal Opera-tors (opens 12 May).

june

Her salty debunkings of Disney stole the show at the Hayward's Spellbound exhibition a couple of years ago: now painter Paula Rego (right) reveals her latest works - "costume dramas" based on 19th-century Portuguese literature - at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (17 June-19 July).

Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical, Whistle Down the Wind, gives Mary Hayley Bell's touching (and unforgettably filmed) tale of simple children who mistake an escaped convict for Christ a transatlantic shift from the glum North to the deep South. A pre-Broadway flop in the USA, it arrives in London this month at a venue yet to be confirmed (not the Old Vic - Lord Webber wouldn't stump up the readies).

Movie director Atom Egoyan makes his British opera debut with the ENO premiere of Gavin (Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet) Bryars's long-awaited, Jules Verne-based and Blake Morrison-scripted Doctor Ox's Experiment (from 15 June).

July to December

What will Rex Harrison, Phillip Schofield and Eddie Murphy have in common by the end of July? They'll all have played Dr Dolittle. For the one-time sidekick of Gordon the Gopher, the Labatt's Apollo staging of Leslie Bricusse's film is a natural progression, while Murphy needs to make talking to the animals a big-screen summer-smash to confirm his return to the Hollywood A-list.

Following the so-so reception of her triple bill at the 1997 Edinburgh Festival, a return to the peerless best of Twyla Tharp (right) is expected with the UK premiere of the legendary choreographer's Roy's Joys (as in Roy Eldridge, the jazz trumpeter) at the Barbican (28 July-8 Aug).

August sees The Stones roll into town - well, Wembley (20 Aug) - as well as the start of the 1998 Edinburgh International Festival (16 Aug-5 Sept), but be warned, the Fringe Fest is threatening to kick off a whole week earlier than the official bash.

In September, the Barbican hosts the first major UK showing of American artist Cindy Sherman (10 Sept-13 Dec), while the Dulwich Picture Gallery awards Pieter de Hooch what it claims (remarkably for a painter whose eye for space and light is second only to Vermeer's) to be the 17th-century Dutchman's first one-man show (3 Sept-15 Nov). Edward Albee's latest, The Play about the Baby, arrives at the Almeida.

October highlights include a Barbican recital by the veteran American mezzo Marilyn Horne, once the voice of Carmen Jones (9 Oct), and a Tate Gallery exhibition devoted to John Singer Sargent, the 19th-century artist hailed by Rodin as "the Van Dyck of his time" (15 Oct-17 Jan).

Come November, the Barbican's Inventing America season concludes its film diary with Jazz in the Movies - a season of early "juke box" films, straight jazz flicks such as Pete Kelly's Blues, and classic concert films such as Jazz on a Summer's Day.

Then, as winter nights draw in, Leonard Bernstein's gaily glittering, best of all possible musicals, Candide, is guaranteed to bring the Barbican a little pre-Christmas cheer (18, 19 Dec), while December also dangles the possibility of an Emma Thompson Rosalind in a Sam Mendes As You Like It.

Guide compiled by Mike Higgins. All information subject to change.

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