Michael gives a month by month overview of his favourite cultural events of 2022…
It feels silly writing a very similar introduction each year but I guess I should give context just in case you’re reading this and haven’t devoured my annual round-ups before.
During each Christmas break, one of my great pleasures is gathering my thoughts and memories of the year’s cultural outings. I love doing it and I find it invaluable as an archive of memories.
I ended last year’s review with a hope that 2022 would see a full return to this cultural life.
Did it? Well, almost. I was still trapped behind the two black testing bars well into January.
But almost every venue reopened (and some new ones appeared) and in our island bubble, our attention turned from lock-downs to pandemic party politics.
So… three prime ministers and a new monarch since my last annual review, here’s my cultural look back at the year.
My caveat, as always, is that I know other people needn’t care what I think; I’ve written this for future me and to help present me remember that the past year wasn’t half bad.
Best of Enemies – Young Vic
My cultural kick-start was one of James Graham’s lock-down projects.
Graham had evidently watched the same documentary as I had about televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. at the 1968 presidential election. But whilst I’d barely memorised passable pub quiz knowledge, James had captured a catalyst of societal change and turned it into a pivotal cultural event.
The play had a similar tone to Graham’s This House which I’d enjoyed a lot at the National Theatre, mixing the intimacy of individual conversations with drop-in contextual cameos (in this case Andy Warhol, James Baldwin, and Aretha Franklin) and the odd song.
It was a treat to see David Harewood as Buckley, and Charles Edwards (who’d also starred in This House) was a convincingly spiky Gore Vidal. A great start to the year.
Vanishing Point’s Interiors – Barbican Theatre
My highlight of the month was at Barbican Theatre. Covid cancellations meant I had built up quite a bank of credit so I spent more time at Barbican than any other venue in 2022.
Interiors was part of the London International Mime Festival (which often programmes one of my stand-out events of the year). The play is appropriately set in long, snow-stormy bleak, black nights of winter. We are invited to peer through the bright lit window of an isolated home as guests arrive for a party. It’s a simple conceit, exquisitely crafted.
Tragedy, comedy, pathos and farce, all played out in (almost) wordless wonder as we sit in the cold, watching from a distance.
Museum of Making
In March I was lucky enough to be given a guided tour of the Derby Museum of Making (as the Cog team were taking over their website).
It’s an amazing space, in the converted mill that was the world’s first industrial factory (now Derwent Valley Mills UNESCO World Heritage Site).
The museum was created in collaboration and consultation with local people and industry, and guides visitors through the incredible history of the area.
100% of the collection is on display, ordered by type of material, and you can build and print a personalised tour from ticker-tape machines. Oh, and there’s a jet engine hanging over the entrance atrium.
There are workshops, research facilities and business incubators to support the communities it serves. And a wonderful cafe (where I had a great vegetarian burger) and plenty of space to hire for events.
Plus they have a huge collection of signs and typographic curios – I delighted in those.
Le Bal de Paris – Barbican
Spanish choreographer Blanca Li has created an exceptional VR experience (at least it felt exceptional by the standards of VR in 2022).
I’ve taken part in a full ‘backpack of kit’ VR before, in the also excellent War of the World’s experience. The set-up allows you to walk about and ‘see’ other people’s characters in a restricted virtual space. But this was a different level.
We chose animal heads and couture costumes (presumably sponsored by Chanel), we boarded a tram, crossed a river in a boat, walked through a garden maze, and entered a lavish ball.
Professional dancers moved around us and took us by the hand before we were invited to waltz on a moving platform that swirled above the Parisian ballroom.
It was trippy, disconcerting and more than a little disturbing to imagine where the tech is going to progress. But for now I was happy to revel on the opulence of the evening.
The post-show activity was a dance class with the company choreographers. I made my excuses and slipped away. I’m happy to dance with well-dressed rabbits and antelope but not with strangers in the Barbican basement.
Maybe that lack of human interaction is what Zuckerberg finds so appealing about the Metaverse.
seven methods of killing kylie jenner – Royal Court (online)
I really enjoyed this very modern tale of friendship in a social media frenzy, streamed via CogPlayer. I wrote a review at the time…
It Don’t Worry Me – New Diorama Theatre
This collaboration between the Catalan Company Atresbandes & the UK-based duo Bert and Nasi was both profound and profoundly silly.
For the first few minutes we are watching an entirely empty space whilst amplified voices talked in earnest, academic tone about the meaning of the emptiness.
After a while the commentators appeared but continued to narrate their own actions until they are stripped to pants and socks, performing mechanical acts on each other.
The performance ended and then it all started getting weird…
In the post-show Q&A, audience members dressed in cowboy shirts but pillow cases on their heads and each had ‘not so much a question, more of a statement’ style interjections that became wildly inappropriate.
My colleague, Laura, did a great job of reviewing the show for our monthly Cog Night…
Lorde – Roundhouse
I almost didn’t go to see Lorde. I’d excitedly bought tickets for this show at Roundhouse because she only usually plays huge venues and festivals. But as the date got nearer I worried that I might be out of place in her crowd.
I needn’t have doubted it, I definitely was out of place. I was 30 years older and a foot taller than almost everyone else in the room – it gave me a great perspective on the event.
Lorde brought her full stadium-sized show to this relatively small venue. There were costume changes, momentous moving sets, and set-piece moments for the multiple cameras and video mixers.
And there were intimate moments of semi-staged vulnerability where she stopped the show – just for us, her favourite people in her favourite city.
It was cheesy and contrived and I loved it. I was especially pleased to get the chance to see her perform her perfect angry anthem – Green Light.
Cornelia Parker – Tate Britain
I bloody love Cornelia Parker’s work. It’s clever, accessible, witty, crafted, and packed with layered meaning.
I can remember grumpily walking through Tate Modern, thinking most of the work could just as readily be described in a short paragraph of text, when I first saw her ‘exploded shed’. It upended my view of conceptual art.
This was a wonderful retrospective. There was so much work on display, from small drawings and found objects to huge room-sized installation.
That exploded shed, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View was in one of the first rooms, after we’d shuffled around the perimeter of a room filled with Thirty Pieces of Silver, suspended just off the floor.
I’d seen photos of War Room many times and not understood it. But I was moved close to tears by the experience of standing within the space, swathed with the waste sheets of poppy manufacture.
The show ended with her 2022 work Island (featured in the image above). There is so much going on, about post-Brexit Britain, in that simple, Instagramable installation. I’d encourage you to read about it in Parker’s exhibition guide notes. Or even better go and see it when it’s next on display.
LCD Soundsystem – Brixton Academy
I was so excited when LCD Soundsystem announced their 20th anniversary concerts at Brixton Academy.
It’s unlikely they’ll ever play such a small venue in the UK again.
I booked straight away. They announced more dates and I booked those too, and again, and again – a whole week (with a break on Thursday because the Academy was unavailable).
I thought that maybe I wouldn’t go to them all but I was sure I could find takers for the extra tickets nearer the time.
Covid was still rife. I was fully vaccinated and felt pretty invulnerable but was still testing before going out to events.
The Monday night was incredible so I went on the Tuesday too, and the Wednesday.
The Friday night crowd brought a much more boisterous energy. By Saturday I was shattered but it was the weekend, what’s to lose? That show was great too.
But on Sunday morning… I tested positive for Covid.
I gave away my tickets for the Sunday night, desperately sad not to see through the whole week’s residency. I was also upset that it meant I couldn’t go to Sun & Sea at The Albany, which looked like the cultural event of the year. But not as sad as I was that it meant I also missed my youngest son’s graduation the following week – sorry Aidan.
In the Black Fantastic – Hayward Gallery
My July outing, with the Cog team, was to this excellent celebration of contemporary art by and about people of colour. I wrote a full review of the show at the time…
End of the Road – Larmer Tree Farm
In September I was back at my favourite music festival, in Dorset. I saw so many good (and a few not so good) acts that I wrote a full review of that too…
And, in a year of rescheduled gigs, it was a fun coincidence that these two ended up just four days apart, in the same month at the same venue…
Mono – Electric Ballroom
I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a recording by Mono but I love them live. They were supposed to play the tiny Cafe OTO in 2020 so I booked to see how a noise-based band would perform in such an intimate space. But Covid hit and the tour was cancelled.
They rescheduled to play at Lafayette in March ’22. That was a new venue to me so I booked. As the date approached, that gig was postponed and moved. It was now to be one of the opening gigs at the newly restored Koko – how exciting. But even that changed… at the last minute it was moved down the road to Electric Ballroom.
Of course it was still great. The music isn’t subtle or varied. Each track starts quiet, gently building into ear-splitting, distorted noise and accompanying blinding light. Fantastic stuff.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Electric Ballroom
This gig hadn’t moved venues but this was the third scheduled date. When the gig was rearranged originally, the Canadian anarchist band put out a typically obtuse statement: “after the deluge we’ll see you next to the ocean somewhere, lit by burning megayachts, every star in the sky an asphyxiated billionaire entombed in their vain mars-rockets.”
I’ve seem them many times. This occasion was enhanced (for me) by the small venue and the fact that I could see them. Usually their projections leave them backlit and silhouetted – there’s no singing or any audience interaction.
In the Electric Ballroom, the projected light bounced around enough to actually make out the musicians as they layered guitar over guitar over drums over samples over strings over bagpipes and effects, into a glorious cacophony or aggressive noise.
BFI London Film Festival
As usual, my October was dominated by the Film Festival. I saw 14 films in the 12 days. Looking back, my favourite was EO (about a donkey).
I wrote a little bit about each of the films I saw…
Julia Holter: The Passion of Joan of Arc – Barbican
I was back at the Barbican, this time for what might be the most arty-farty event of my year (and that’s a high bar).
The American indie-folk, singer-songwriter had written a new score for Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, performed by Holter and her band, and the chorus from Opera North.
It was (almost unbelievably) the second time I’d seen the film that year.
This was a chilling performance, with Holter providing vocal screaming via a distorted mic, attached to her throat, as the chorus sang in medieval chants and pleading atonal wails.
The film feels remarkably modern in its styling and of course it is hugely relevant at a time when we are rightly reassessing the role of the English as the ‘bad-guys’ of history.
Hallyu: The Korean Wave – V&A
This exhibition really helped to join the dots, of my patchy understanding, to present the picture of The Korean Wave.
The exhibition announces itself, in a suitably unsubtle way, with Gangnam Style blasting between the multi-coloured, moving signage of the entrance. What follows is enough history to give context without being boring, and enough context to make simple what I suspect is a much more nuanced timeline than is presented.
The central thesis is that the Korean government realised that popular culture could be a much bigger industry than even their popular car brands (Hyundai and Kia) and invested in ways that are now seeing huge global returns.
The show moves from video games to cinema (Oldboy and Parasite) to TV (including Squid Game). But the majority of the space is occupied by K-pop. This musical phenomenon is dominating the world and challenging preconceptions about manufactured music. The show even featured virtual K-pop stars.
I learned a lot and had a lot of fun in the process.
Amongst the outstanding shows above were a fair few other great events…
I travelled to Manchester’s Royal Exchange to see their excellent production of The Glass Menagerie, directed by Atri Banerjee and starring Geraldine Somerville; and I was at Sherman Theatre in Cardiff for their joyously bilingual A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
But most of my theatre-going was in London.
I enjoyed the community theatre feeling of Mohand & Peter‘s journey to Sudan at Southwark Playhouse;
At Soho Theatre I was really pleased to catch Rash Dash’s show Oh Mother, which they describe as ‘a fever dream made in the heat of the love, the exhaustion and the chaos’; and I sang John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads as the end to the strangely titled We were promised honey one-man play by Sam Ward.
Battersea Arts Centre continues to be a favourite venue for challenging and interesting work. Artists and lovers Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill created The Making of Pinocchio alongside and in response to Ivor’s gender transition, it is an extraordinarily good show; and The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes is perhaps the work that has most made me challenge my own preconceptions this year, in its staging by people who might traditionally have been excluded from public forums and discussions about their own life decisions.
At the New Diorama Theatre I really enjoyed being challenged (and asked to contribute by drawing a live portrait on a white board) during Rhum + Clay’s two-part, disturbing and melancholic play, Project Dictator.
On a much bigger stage from much further away I sort of enjoyed My Fair Lady at The Coliseum. I’d love to know more about how they cast Vanessa Redgrave (as Mrs Higgins) and what that must have been like backstage.
I still can’t quite decide if I enjoyed Mike Bartlet’s modern take on restoration comedy, Scandaltown. One of the cast was so strangely wooden they sucked the life out of many scenes. But the rest of the cast and dialogue were very sharp and silly.
Age of Rage (from Internationaal Theater Amsterdam) was astonishing at the Barbican. Director Ivo van Hove seems to be given a free-reign and enough budget for very grand staging, and the music from Bl!ndman was deafeningly contemporary. It was actually a really useful primer to the characters (of Greek tragedy) who appeared in The Burnt City when I saw that a couple of weeks later.
Talking of grand staging, William Kentridge‘s Sibyl (also at the Barbican) was a huge show with projections, operatic music and many performers. It was also, apparently, based on Greek mythology. I didn’t understand any of it, and didn’t care.
And again at the Barbican, I was lucky enough to see Gecko’s The Wedding, another Mime festival highlight.
Immersive things that don’t really belong in other places
I experienced lots of work that crossed disciplines or didn’t feel like it fit neatly under headings…
Dreamachine was one of the Unboxed commissions. It was hi-concept, hi-frequency immersive science with real care taken around the pre, post and in ‘show’ experience.
Punchdrunk’s new show, The Burnt City lived up to expectations. It was thrilling, baffling and left me slightly empty whilst desperately wanting to return. I’m sure I’ll do that sometime this year.
I’m not sure if it counts as culture but I enjoyed dressing in a headset antennae and running around a small room to control Pong and Tetris games at Electric Gamebox.
Immersive Alice from CluedUp Games was lots of fun and very well executed using a phone App that unlocked clues via geo-locators. The experience was enhanced by dozens of fellow participants in wonderful costumes.
Bloomberg New Contemporaries was excellent and made great use of both venues at South London Gallery, although I found some work too rude or too disturbing to even snap for Instagram.
The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition may have lacked the visual punch of previous years but I very much enjoyed the thematic cut-through of the climate emergency.
The Horror Show at Somerset House felt a little like a collective of friends being asked to pick their favourite horror-adjacent work that was then ordered into a kind of sequence. That worked well for me, and there were some real stand-out pieces of work on display.
Daniel Kitson only performed outdoors in 2022. Somehow I still managed to see him three times. I saw a work in progress performance on a rooftop in Peckham, and then the finished routine at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. And then a kind of Halloweeny ghost tale at Shakespeare’s Globe. He’s always excellent value.
I finally got to see the stage show of Upstart Crow which was very funny. It was only partially eclipsed by the hilarious argument between security staff and a woman who refused to part with her snacks on the way in.
Stewart Lee’s new show, Basic Lee was a real return to form at Leicester Square Theatre. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve already booked for when he brings the routine back to the capital after a national tour.
As well as the London Film Festival I saw lots of great films in 2022. I won’t try to remember all the ones I watched on small screen. But I have a list from where my family picked up on an idea we began last year, watching a film per year in reverse date order (when we happen to have time together).
We continued from last year, beginning 2022 in 1960, with the surprisingly incredible La Dolce Vita / 1959 Suddenly Last Summer / 1958 Ice Cold in Alex / 1957 Funny Face & The Admirable Crichton / 1956 Dark Waters (Siraa Fil-Mina) / 1955 Guys & Dolls / 1954 A Star is Born/ 1953 The Big Heat / 1952 Pat and Mike / 1951 Early Summer / 1950 All About Eve / 1949 Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff / 1948 The Red Shoes / 1947 Brighton Rock / 1946 Notorious / 1945 Dead of the Night / 1944 Arsenic and Old Lace / 1943 I Walked With a Zombie / 1942 The Gold Rush / 1941 How Green Was My Valley / 1940 Kitty Foyle / 1939 Mr Smith Goes to Washington / 1938 Vivacious Lady / 1937 What Did The Lady Forget? / 1936 Modern Times / 1935 Bride of Frankenstein / 1934 The Gay Divorcee / 1933 King Kong / 1932 Freaks / 1931 Dracula / 1930 Blue Angel / 1929 Frau im Mond / 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc / 1927 The Unknown / 1926 Faust
At the cinema I enjoyed the artistry and cinematography of See How They Run, and Moonage Daydream was exceptional at the IMAX. I didn’t not enjoy The Matrix Reloaded or The Batman but I can’t remember much about either; maybe that’s telling of something.
My standout filmic experience was the screening of Shogun Assassin with a new score, mixed live by DJ Cheeba. AfroFlux festival director, Juice Aleem introduced the work with some anecdotes about how influential the film had been to Wu-Tang Clan. And was masterful in his handling of a very vocal older white man who kept heckling ‘oh, get on with it and just show the film’.
I had a very odd evening at the O2, in September. My family had booked to see Arcade Fire and were unsure whether to go or not in light of stories of singer Win Butler’s misconduct. Most of us decided we would go but as we arrived at the venue, news emerged of the death of the Queen. The band handled it all impeccably, opening with a New Orleans funeral song. And Butler’s wife, Régine Chassagne seemed to be having a wail of a time. They put on a great show but the atmosphere was very peculiar.
I saw Anna Meredith and her band at a gloriously bonkers concert at the Barbican that ended with a singalong to Elton John.
The Unthanks were of course brilliant, and it was lovely to see them in the gorgeous De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea.
I saw Ride perform their album Going Blank Again in the incredibly swanky new London venue with such an odd name I still can’t work out whether it’s called HERE or Outernet.
And I really enjoyed Stella Donnelly at the Electric in Brixton, especially her cover of Time After Time.
Nothing’s perfect and there were a few events that I was confused, frustrated or upset by…
Amy Adams is a proper Hollywood A-lister, I love her in almost everything. But her understated acting really didn’t work in the West End production of The Glass Menagerie. I left disappointed and underwhelmed.
Also in the West End, expectations were high for Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird. I’d booked when Jeff Daniels was due to bring his Atticus Finch from Broadway. Two years postponed, Rafe Spall was great but lacked Daniels’ heft. And maybe it was because I was there for the previews (I couldn’t justify the prices of later dates) but the play lacked the pace and rhythm I’d expected of a Sorkin production.
I was back at Barbican for the long-postponed show of Damon Albarn’s solo project: The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows. Originally billed as a cinematic experience with guests, it felt like he’d been distracted by other projects. There was no support, no guests and no film, just beautiful songs. Plus an encore that was… out-takes and deep cuts from the session.
Finally, my last planned event of the year (2 Many DJs) was postponed when Brixton Academy lost their license (in awful circumstances) so that was a sad end to the cultural year.
Plans for 2023…
I’ve already got plenty booked for 2023. I’m particularly looking forward to Flaming Lips performing their album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots at The Troxy. And I’ll be back at Edinburgh Fringe for the first time in a long time.