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Lockdown lifted: The best arts picks for May to July, from live music and theatre to comedy and art exhibitions

As art galleries and performance venues begin to open their doors once more, The Independent’s culture team picks some of the best events taking place in the coming months

Monday 17 May 2021 09:21 BST
Top left clockwise: Nicholas Daley (Slygo), ballet dancer, Anoushka Shankar, Ian McKellen, Emma Stone as Cruella, and Dan from Bastille (David Hockney art background)
Top left clockwise: Nicholas Daley (Slygo), ballet dancer, Anoushka Shankar, Ian McKellen, Emma Stone as Cruella, and Dan from Bastille (David Hockney art background) (Zoe Lower/iStock/Dee McCourt/Disney/Getty/PA)

Many of us have stared wistfully at our diaries and our phone calendars over the last year, crossing off or deleting the cultural events that didn’t happen. The gigs that got moved, the art shows cruelly curtailed. The indefinitely postponed West End play starring Timothée Chalamet, whose poor, gasping fans didn’t get to gasp after all. So it’s blissful, comforting and genuinely joy-making to start filling those diaries up again.

We haven’t yet returned to abject normality, and that’s still a way off, but the next few months will mark a steady and measured resurrection of our pre-Covid lives. There are festivals, exhibitions and films being released in actual cinemas. A future that doesn’t involve permanently looking at our laptop screens is within touching distance. To celebrate, here are our top cultural picks for the months ahead, from Barbara Hepworth and Black Widow to Al Murray and Mozart.


The Hepworth Wakefield will host a Barbara Hepworth retrospective from 21 May to 27 February 2022 (Getty)

The Making of Rodin

The rule-breaking 20th-century sculptor is best known for his work in bronze and marble; The Making of Rodin will instead focus on the role more pliable materials, such as clay and plaster, played in his art. Casts in all sizes demonstrate how his process, involving repetition and fragmentation, influenced the process for those best-known works. Tate Modern, London, 17 May-31 October

Degas to Picasso: International Modern Masters

Pallant House Gallery will present an exhibition drawing on its remarkable collection of international paintings, prints and drawings, featuring 40 internationally celebrated artists including Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Édouard Vuillard, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Henri Matisse and Le Corbusier. Spanning the major modern art movements of the 20th century, from French Impressionism to American Abstract Expressionism, the exhibition will also recognise the key individuals whose collections were donated to Pallant House. Pallant House, Chichester, 18 May-13 June

Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life

The celebrated sculptor will have her life, interests and legacy explored in this new exhibition, which includes her strung sculptures of the Forties and Fifties, her later bronze sculptures, and her career-launching abstract carvings. Visitors will get to see works that haven’t been displayed to the public since the Seventies, along with brand new art commissioned by contemporary artists Tacita Dean and Veronica Ryan. Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire, 21 May-27 February 2022

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020

David Hockney’s new work will be shown from 23 May to 26 September at the Royal Academy, London (Getty)

The unfailingly prolific artist continues to surprise, now with a new body of 116 works that were “painted” on an iPad before being printed onto paper. Created in spring 2020 at his home in Normandy, these new paintings chart the progression of the seasons. Curators at the Royal Academy hope they will remind visitors of the beauty and renewal of spring. Royal Academy, London, 23 May-26 September

Masterpieces in Miniature: The 2021 Model Art Gallery

This charmingly inventive exhibition will present a microcosm of British art within a model art gallery, featuring original works from more than 30 leading contemporary artists. These include Tacita Dean, Magdalene Odundo, Michael Armitage and John Akomfrah; the intricate new paintings range from the size of a pound coin to no bigger than 20cm. Among them is an expressive nude by Maggi Hambling, a spin painting by Damien Hirst, and a collage by Lubaina Himid. Pallant House, Chichester, 26 June-Spring 2021

Picks by Roisin O’Connor


Richard Jones is directing a performance of Mozart’s final opera (Getty)

La clemenza di Tito

The red-letter day of Monday 17 May is being marked by performances from every company in the musical world, and Covent Garden’s contribution sounds very promising. Mozart’s final opera – an emotional maelstrom which resolves into a hymn to forgiveness – will be directed by Richard Jones and designed by Ultz; the cast will include Nicole Chevalier, Emily D’Angelo, Joshua Bloom and Edgaras Montvidas. Royal Opera House, 17-23 May; the show will be live-streamed on 21 May

Kát’a Kabanova

Glyndebourne are relaunching themselves with a star-studded production of an opera they have long made their own, this time directed by Damiano Michieletto, whose work often provokes extreme reactions. The title role will be sung by soprano Kateřina Kněžíková, with the sweet-toned tenor David Butt Philip as her lover and Katarina Dalayman as the domineering Kabanicha. Glyndebourne Festival Opera, from 20 May

Picks by Michael Church


Nish Kumar will be performing in Bristol’s Comedy Garden, 2-6 June (Getty)

Pleasance Comedy Comeback Season

For many stand-up comedians, the past year has meant short spots at virtual gigs, but little opportunity to put their longer shows in front of an audience. Thankfully, The Pleasance in Islington’s Comedy Comeback season will see them flex that muscle again, with double-billed work-in-progress shows from the likes of Joe Thomas, Sophie Duker and Joel Dommett. Pleasance Theatre, London, 17 May-14 July

Bristol Comedy Garden

Trading in a big top tent for The Downs, Bristol’s comedy festival is returning this year with an al fresco event. With Sara Pascoe, Nish Kumar, Simon Amstell and Ed Gamble on the seriously impressive line-up, there’ll be large screens to make sure every member of the socially distanced audience can have the best view possible. The Downs, Bristol, 2-6 June

Comedy in the Park

Another outdoor event, this travelling show will see some of the biggest comedians in the game – John Bishop, Katherine Ryan, James Acaster, Al Murray – perform at venues across the country. They have shows on in Kettering, Lincoln, Southport, Gloucester, Leeds, Exeter and Norwich from June to September; just cross your fingers and hope it doesn’t rain. Various venues, nationwide, 26 June-12 September

Picks by Isobel Lewis


Within the Golden Hour at the Royal Ballet (Royal Ballet)

21st Century Choreographers, The Royal Ballet

The Royal Ballet dance Crystal Pite’s The Statement, an unnerving dark comedy about guilt and wriggling out of it. It’s performed with a brand new duet by American choreographer Kyle Abraham, and Christopher Wheeldon’s glossy Within the Golden Hour. Royal Opera House, London, 18-30 May

Curated by Carlos, Birmingham Royal Ballet

A love letter to Birmingham, Miguel Altunaga’s City of a Thousand Trades celebrates the city’s heritage from industry to heavy metal. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s triple bill, chosen by new director Carlos Acosta, includes Daniela Cardim’s new Imminent and Goyo Montero’s Chacona, danced to Bach. Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 10-12 June

Picks by Zoe Anderson


An image featured in the Nicholas Daley – Return to Slygo exhibition (Piczo)

Return to Slygo – Nicholas Daley

Scottish-Jamaican designer Nicholas Daley’s fierce and fascinating celebration of his roots will arrive at the NOW gallery from 18 May. Offering an insight into how his upbringing has impacted his approach to fashion, Daley has provided key imagery, family photos and reggae club T-shirts for display, along with two exclusive films by Joseph Dunn and Akinola Davies Jr. The first film, A Knitted History, is a deep dive into the traditions and skills Daley inherited from his mother. The second, Return to Slygo, pays tribute to the musical interchange among Black British artists from across the generations. It includes music by Sons of Kemet and Nubya Garcia, plus a score by Dennis Bovell and poetry by Roger Robinson. Sound systems dotted around the exhibition will add an appropriate – and fun – carnival atmosphere. NOW gallery, London, 18 May-4 July

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser

Originally scheduled for June last year, the V&A’s major Alice in Wonderland exhibition – exploring the influence Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel has had on popular culture – is finally going ahead. It promises “theatrical staging” that will lead visitors in “an immersive and mind-mending journey down the rabbit hole”. Once there, guests will be shown the huge impact Alice in Wonderland has had across music, theatre, film and TV. V&A, London, 22 May-24 October

Picks by Roisin O’Connor


Chris Rock stars in Spiral, from 17 May (Lionsgate )

Spiral: From the Book of Saw

Covid-19 may have put a stop to many things, but it appears nothing – even a pandemic – can impede this never-ending horror franchise. Spiral is a new take on the now-old story, though, with events set years after Jigsaw’s reign of terror. Chris Rock plays a detective tracking down a Jigsaw copycat called Spiral, with the investigation bringing him closer to his father (Samuel L Jackson). While Spiral is unlikely to break new ground for the calcified torture genre, watching the film’s inevitable gore on the big screen will help shake any post-lockdown ennui. In cinemas 17 May

Rare Beasts

Billie Piper directs and stars in Rare Beasts (Getty for BFI)

Billie Piper’s directorial debut is a romantic exorcism that viewers will either embrace wholeheartedly or actively despise. She also stars in it, playing a chaotic single mum in a budding relationship with an abysmal man. Between this and her 2020 series I Hate Suzie, Piper has found a powerful niche – work that is vaguely autobiographical and always brimming with provocative ideas. In cinemas 21 May


Emma Stone in Cruella, available on Premier Access and in cinemas (Laurie Sparham)

Emma Stone stars in the latest of Disney’s villain origin stories. This time, the camera turns to the dognapping, fur-loving antiheroine of 101 Dalmatians: Cruella de Vil. Reimagined as an ambitious fashion designer in the punk-rock era of 1970s London, Stone's Cruella has big shoes to fill in an iconic role famously portrayed by Glenn Close. In cinemas 28 May

A Quiet Place Part II

Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place Part II (YouTube/Paramount Pictures)

Following a string of delays, the sequel to Jim Krasinski’s 2018 thriller will finally be in theatres come 28 May. Over the past year, we’ve placated ourselves with at-home viewing experiences, but A Quiet Place Part II deserves more than a shoddy TV sound system. Set within a world where a plague of vicious blind monsters forces humans into a fragile life of silence, this sensory horror film is deserving of a trip to the flicks. In cinemas 28 May

Black Widow

Scarlett Johansson returns as Black Widow in July (Marvel Studios)

Marvel’s blockbuster spotlighting Scarlett Johansson as trained-assassin-turned-superhero Natasha Romanova is one of the studio’s most eagerly anticipated features to date. Set before you-know-what happened in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, the tentpole movie explores Natasha’s past life in the USSR, together with her “family”, played by Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and Stranger Things’s David Harbour. Fans will be waiting slightly longer for Black Widow to hit the cinemas, but given all the hype, you’re going to want to book your tickets extra early. In cinemas 9 July


Pixar journeys to the Italian Riviera for this lush animation about adolescence, discovery, and sea monsters. Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer voice underwater creatures who venture ashore and find themselves in a dreamy seaside town. It looks a little like the inverse of Finding Nemo, and is just as likely to take your breath away. In cinemas 18 June


Filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond declares herself one of the most exciting new voices of her generation with this murky and disquieting Eighties-set thriller. Niamh Algar stars as a film censor in the age of Mary Whitehouse and mass hysteria over “video nasties”. In among the various violent horror movies she has to grade, she views one that bears an uncanny resemblance to a traumatic incident from her past… In cinemas 25 June

Another Round

The winner of the Best International Film award at last month’s Oscars, Another Round drains its intriguing premise for all its bittersweet potential. Mads Mikkelsen is one of four men, sleepwalking into middle age, who are inspired by a pseudo-scientific study to consistently experience the world a tiny bit drunk. Things spiral from there. In cinemas 2 July

Picks by Adam White and Annabel Nugent


Nadine Shah is to perform at the Barbican in July (PA)

This is the Kit

As lockdown restrictions for indoor venues begin to lift from 17 May, a number of music venues are opening their doors for the first time in a year. This includes the Barbican, which from 23 May will host a limited number of in-person audience members. This Is The Kit are performing on 30 May, and you can also catch the brilliant Nadine Shah on 18 July. Barbican Centre, London, from 23 May

The Estate Festival

Music festivals have been hit hard during the pandemic, so it’s lovely to see new events emerging even with all the struggles the live industry has faced. The Estate Festival is being launched in partnership with glamping brand The Pop-Up Hotel (which also has partnerships with Glastonbury and Wilderness festivals), and offers a boutique experience with individual bubbles for groups of six. It’s being held at Turvey House, a gorgeous Grade II-listed estate in Bedford, just a 35-minute train ride from King’s Cross in London, over five weeks from 27 May (so you can pick and choose which dates you want to attend).

With a swimming pool, a luxury spa and access to The Boathouse restaurant that serves locally-sourced menus, The Estate Festival sounds like a great opportunity to get away from it all and enjoy some much-needed pampering, even if we can’t travel abroad this summer.

Oh, and of course there’s the music. Confirmed to perform are dance acts including Jonas Blue, Joel Corry, Sam Divine, The Shapeshifters, Fat Tony and more. Tickets are on sale now. Turvey House, Bedford, 27 May - 27 June.

Standon Calling Festival

Bastille are one of the headliners for Standon Calling 2021 (Getty)

The Independent has teamed up with Standon Calling for another year, this time celebrating the festival’s 15th birthday. Headlining are Bastille, Hot Chip and Primal Scream, with other acts on the billing including Craig David, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Everything Everything, Akala, Greentea Peng and Poppy Ajudha. The festival is scheduled to coincide with the final step in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, which will lift all restrictions on social distancing. We’ll obviously keep you updated with any news and further announcements. Standon, Hertfordshire, 22-25 July

WOMAD festival

Anoushka Shankar is performing at WOMAD festival (Press)

The situation for music festivals is still incredibly tenuous. A recent report suggested around 25 per cent of UK music festivals have been forced to cancel in 2021 due to the lack of insurance available. However, the government is currently running a number of tests that, hopefully, will mean enough measures can be put in place for at least some small- to mid-sized outdoor festivals to go ahead. Among these is WOMAD, known for its typically eclectic and diverse line-up which this year includes Anoushka Shankar, Jordan Rakei, Nitin Sawhney, Greentea Peng and Jordan Rakei. Charlton Park House, Wiltshire, 22-25 July

Picks by Roisin O’Connor


The Globe Theatre in London (AFP via Getty)

You Are Here

It’s 1969, and a Chicago housewife sees man walk on the moon for the first time and walks out of her suburban home for good. This is the premise of You Are Here, a new musical from Neil Bartram and Brian Hill about the power of the human spirit. The show runs in person at the Southwark Playhouse for four weeks, while performances on 22 May will also be live-streamed. Southwark Playhouse, London, 17 May-12 June

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Partner-swapping and dressing up as a donkey are among the carnage we can expect as social contact limits lift this summer, but they also happen to be the plot of one of Shakespeare’s silliest plays. Yes, The Globe’s critically acclaimed 2019 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is returning to the stage this May, with the cast doubling up for its July production of Twelfth Night. Globe Theatre, London, 19 May-30 October

Four Quartets

Ralph Fiennes will direct and star in an adaptation of TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (Getty)

It’s pretty rare for a play’s star to direct himself, but if anyone’s up for the challenge, Ralph Fiennes is. He’s taking the reins in this solo theatrical adaptation of TS Eliot’s “Four Quartets” poems – existential meditations published towards the end of the Second World War. Theatre Royal, Bath, 25 May-5 June; Royal & Dernage, Northampton, 8-12 June; Oxford Playhouse, 14-26 June; Cambridge Arts Theatre, 28 June-10 July; other venues TBC

After Life

Jack Thorne, a doyen in the world of theatre, adapts Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 1998 film for the stage – an intriguing and appealing combination. “If you could spend eternity with just one precious memory, what would it be?” reads the tagline on the National Theatre’s website. It doesn’t get more intriguing than that. National Theatre, London, 2 June-24 July


The second play in the Harold Pinter Theatre’s Re:Emerge season (alongside Walden and Anna X), J’Ouvert uses the lens of Notting Hill Carnival to look at the experience of Black British women and the history of Caribbean resistance throughout time. The debut of writer Yasmin Joseph, this is one not to miss. Harold Pinter Theatre, London, 16 June-13 July


Quantum physics and beekeeping may seem like an unlikely pairing, but they’re perfectly matched in Nick Payne’s two-hander. A show about love and friendship, this heartbreaking, hilarious play will be performed by four different duos, with Anna Maxwell Martin, Peter Capaldi and It’s a Sin’s Omari Douglas among the cast members. Vaudeville Theatre, London, 18 June-12 September


Ian McKellen will be playing Hamlet again (Theatre Royal Windsor)

Yes, Ian McKellen is about 50 years older than Shakespeare’s conflicted hero is written to be – but that’s part of the appeal of this age-, colour-, and gender-blind production. The Theatre Royal Windsor is boasting a “new format never seen before”, but the chance to see one of the world’s greatest actors perform one of the world’s greatest plays is reason enough to seek out tickets for this. Theatre Royal Windsor, London, 21 June-4 September

Anna X

Emma Corrin stars in Anna X (Gareth Cattermole/Getty)

One of three plays in the Harold Pinter Theatre’s starry reopening season, Anna X is based on the true story of Anna Delvey, who schemed and scammed her way to the top of New York’s elite. Emma Corrin, so uncannily good as Princess Diana in the most recent series of The Crown, is set to star, while Nabhaan Rizwan (from BBC One thriller Informer) will play her partner in crime Ariel. Harold Pinter Theatre, London, 9 July-4 August

Picks by Alexandra Pollard and Isobel Lewis

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