Arts Agenda

Our weekend arts and culture picks, from The Flaming Lips to Polite Society

All the best things to read, watch and listen to over the Bank Holiday weekend

Friday 28 April 2023 13:11 BST
(Getty/Channel 4)

The beginning of May marks another Bank Holiday weekend, which means an extra day to sit back and enjoy some quality cultural time.

If you’re stumped for choice, however, The Independent is here to assist you, with our weekly Arts Agenda highlighting the very best from across the worlds of literature, music, theatre, art, film and TV. All the selections are hand-picked by our range of specialist critics and arts editors.

On the cards this week: chief art critic Mark Hudson raves about a new retrospective from artist Isaac Julien. Arts editor Jessie Thompson sings the praises of a genre-savvy new romcom novel from writer Emily Henry, and looks at the – sort of – touring production of Katie Mitchell’s A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction, which might just represent the future of theatre. Features editor Adam White picks out a new Peter Pan adaptation from a revered indie film director, while music editor Roisin O’Connor extolls the virtues of Jessie Ware’s new album. Finishing up the list is TV editor Ellie Harrison, who singles out three fine options for those staying in this weekend – including some much-needed coronation counterprogramming in the form of Harry Enfield’s The Windsors Coronation Special.


Isaac Julien: What Freedom Is To Me

The long-serving activist-artist-filmmaker’s first retrospective is a labyrinth of quasi-sculptural multi-screen environments. Ravishing images carry you bodily into his subjects, from Black British identity to Brazilian Brutalism, with outbursts of uproarious queer eroticism along the way. Whatever the territory, Julien’s theme, first and foremost, is beauty itself. Tate Britain, until 20 Aug

Isaac Julien, ‘In the Life (Iolaus)’, ‘Once Again ... (Statues Never Die)’ (2022), Inkjet print on Hahnemühle
Isaac Julien, ‘In the Life (Iolaus)’, ‘Once Again ... (Statues Never Die)’ (2022), Inkjet print on Hahnemühle (Isaac Julien Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro)

Mike Nelson: Extinction Beckons

There’s just one week left to savour the master installation artist’s creepy, claustrophobic and utterly compelling fictional environments in his biggest exhibition to date. Whether you find yourself under a sand dune, walking in on a black mass or behind the desk in some seedy van-hire office, it’s as though the occupants have only just left the building. Hayward Gallery, until 7 May

Animals: Art, Science and Sound

A fabulous cornucopia of animal images, stories, and bizarre facts, with the voices of the beasts themselves heard in historic recordings. Essentially an homage to human curiosity, the exhibition is as interested in our wildest imaginings of our fellow creatures as our scientific observations – from the cover of Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws to a monkfish looking very like, well, a monk. British Library, until 28 Aug

Mark Hudson, chief art critic


George by Frieda Hughes

When poet and painter Frieda Hughes found a magpie chick at the bottom of her garden, she named him George and decided she’d do all she could to save him. What followed was a high-octane, often hilarious five months of sharing her home with a bird – and its very big personality. A decade on, she’s written a charming memoir about that time, which also touches on her quest to put down roots and find an identity of her own, having lived under the shadow of her famous parents, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Read my interview with her in Sunday’s books section.

Happy Place by Emily Henry

BookTok’s latest obsession is Emily Henry, who knowingly uses timeworn tropes (“the meet-cute”, “enemies to lovers”) to fashion smart, knowing romcoms. Her latest, Happy Place, sees two exes end up on holiday together with their pals – except they’ve not told anyone they’ve broken up yet. Don’t miss Amanda Whiting’s brilliant interview with Henry, in which they discussed how Nora Ephron and Gilmore Girls influence her work, and how she navigates her vocal online fandom.

Jessie Thompson, arts editor


Little Richard: I Am Everything

Mick Jagger and John Waters are among the famous faces who contribute to this heartfelt look at the life of Little Richard, a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer whose staggering influence on music and sexuality in the mainstream is all too often overlooked. In cinemas now

Peter Pan & Wendy

David Lowery, of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints renown, directs a characteristically downbeat live-action reboot of the classic Disney film. Jude Law is Captain Hook this time around, while Ever Anderson – the daughter of Milla Jovovich and director Paul WS Anderson – makes for a sprightly Wendy. Streaming on Disney+

Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya in ‘Polite Society'
Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya in ‘Polite Society' (Focus Features)

Polite Society

This British comedy marks the feature film debut of writer and director Nida Manzoor, who previously brought anarchic spirit to the Channel 4 comedy We Are Lady Parts. Similar levels of chaos reign here, with Priya Kansara playing a martial arts-obsessed young woman desperate to save her older sister from an impending marriage. In cinemas now

Adam White, features editor


Album: Jessie Ware – That! Feels Good

My colleague Adam White describes Jessie Ware’s fifth album as “a feast of camp reverie” that takes its cues from Teena Marie and Minnie Riperton. “I’ve never been a struggling artist,” she told him in an interview this week. “I’ve never wanted people to think I’ve had a tough time in the industry. I’m making celebratory music that’s meant to be enjoyed.” Tune in and have a boogie this weekend. Out now

Live music: The Flaming Lips at Hammersmith Apollo, London

Always up for a good time, The Flaming Lips are currently touring the UK to perform their 2002 masterpiece, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, in full for the first time. In a recent interview with The Guardian, frontman Wayne Coyne explained how they stumbled on the idea of a robot theme, which gave them freedom “to write songs with this other drama or life and death struggle, and a suggestion that something important is being revealed”. For the band, it was less an attempt to what some might deem more “accessible” pop than the Flaming Lips are known for, than just another “fun sonic experiment… we wanted to try out having those types of sounds with our ridiculous songs.” Friday 28 April

The Flaming Lips performing in a bubble in 2011
The Flaming Lips performing in a bubble in 2011 (Getty)

Yard Act at Barrowlands, Glasgow

The Mercury Prize-shortlisted band are a brilliant prospect live, with James Smith their witty, sardonic frontman. While the band themselves play with superb precision, there’s always a sense of tension at their gigs, as though chaos could unfold at any minute. Perhaps it’s a deliberate echoing of the mood in the UK right now, just as their debut album, 2022’s The Overload, was a withering yet poetic collection of timely songs about capitalism, gentrification and class divides. Friday 28 April

Roisin O’Connor, music editor


Dixon and Daughters, National Theatre

Clean Break, a theatre company working with women with experience of the criminal justice system, do crucial work both artistically and behind the scenes. This co-production at the National Theatre, written by Deborah Bruce, is about a woman who returns home to her daughters after being released from prison. Having served time for defending her now late husband’s actions, she must face difficult questions about the imprint that male violence leaves behind. National Theatre, until 10 June

A Play for the Living in a Time of Extinction

Is this the future of theatre? With Katie Mitchell’s eco-conscious new touring model, it is the play that goes on tour – “while the people and materials do not”. Oh, and it’s also powered entirely by bikes. It’s a Sin star Lydia West takes centre stage for Mitchell’s production, in a play written by Miranda Rose Hall and co-produced by Headlong, that sees one woman confront ecological disaster. Barbican Centre, until 29 April

Jessie Thompson, arts editor


The Windsors Coronation Special

To get us all in a silly mood ahead of the coronation on 6 May, Harry Enfield is reprising his role as King Charles III, and in this new special the monarch and his family are even more delusional and dysfunctional than ever. Expect the episode to pull no punches – it will contrast the wealth of the royals with the UK’s crippling cost of living crisis, as Hugh Skinner’s Wills decides that the celebration should reflect the nation’s plight. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. Sunday at 9pm on Channel 4

Harry Enfield as Charles in ‘The Windsors'
Harry Enfield as Charles in ‘The Windsors' (Channel 4)

Fatal Attraction

The bunny boiling! The kitchen sink clinch! The bathroom brawl! The hit 1987 film Fatal Attraction has been rebooted as a Paramount+ series, and it’s expected to more deeply investigate the issues of marriage, infidelity and mental health found in the original. It stars Lizzy Caplan (brilliant in Fleishman is in Trouble) and Joshua Jackson (brilliant in The Affair), so the classic feels like it’s in safe hands.On Paramount+ on Monday and Channel 5 at 10pm on Tuesday

A Small Light

Everyone knows the story of Anne Frank, hidden away from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic with her family. But not many people know about the woman who hid her: Miep Gies, the secretary of Anne’s father Otto. In this dramatisation of her life, which has a punky, modern sensibility, Bel Powley (Everything I Know about Love) plays the hero whose motto was: “Anyone can turn on a small light in a dark room.” On Disney on Tuesday

Ellie Harrison, TV editor

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