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Reviews

Cultural highlights of 2014

Third Way Reviewers

Last year we reviewed exhibitions, films, videogames, music and a wide range of books. But we can't do everything, so here are some things that slipped through the gaps from some of our friends old and new.

 

The Imitation Game, Cert 12A, Directed by Morten Tyldum
The Imitation Game is a challenge to Britain. For all its emotional restraint, it tells the story of a hero betrayed and destroyed by the nation he saved. In celebrating the genius of Alan Turing, whose thankless work was a decisive factor in the defeat of Hitler, and who, as if winning the war wasn't enough, invented the computer too, the film confronts us with the truth of how recently mainstream attitudes to gay people have destroyed lives. The story demands this man join our national pantheon, as an emblem both of genius and of how self-destructive our phobias are.  Stephen Tomkins

 

The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland
2014 was a rich year, from the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition, to hearing Fidelio at Garsington, to finally visiting the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and The Hepworth Wakefield, to putting on my own first humble art exhibition in Exeter. But my highlight was discovering The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, a cornucopia of quirky delights. It is one of those deceptive spaces that opens up nooks and crannies to entice the unsuspecting shopper into discovering a pair of armchairs by a fireplace, a suspended violin-playing skeleton, a vintage bicycle, or a ladder to a platform. There's even a cosy-looking mattress. It also sells second-hand books. Clare Bryden

 

Turfed, LIFT Theatre Group, Hackney Downs Studio
My unexpected cultural highlight of the year turned out to be a theatre production called Turfed. Those who know me will be surprised and shocked at the football theme! It took place in Hackney Downs Studio in June 2014. I had recently been in Brazil for the Street Child World Cup and this production was inspired by that event. Its Director, Renato Rocha, was Artistic Director for the opening and closing ceremonies at Street Child World Cup.

Turfed was put on by LIFT - in conjunction with Street Child World Cup - a pioneering theatre company bringing new forms of theatre and global stories to London. Using spoken word, choreography and visuals, Turfed put a spotlight on homelessness whether on the streets of London, streetchildren in Tanzania, the Philippines or Brazil - Crystal, a member of the Philippines team for SCWC, was in the production.

The setting was an industrial hanger in Hackney Down Studios with the theme of people being turfed out of home and the double meaning of the turf of a football pitch. The audience participates, wandering amongst the actors - the hanger is transformed into a football pitch so we all ended up lying on the turf. I found Turfed strangely uplifting. I wasn't expecting that - my spirits were lifted. Garth Hewitt

 

Lochs Agricultural Show, Isle of Lewis
My cultural highlight in 2014 was opening the Lochs Agricultural Show. That's the parish that raised me on the Isle of Lewis. It felt strangely peaceful as folks kept coming up, reminding me of who they were and reminiscing over days of long ago. My brief few words rounded on the way a traditional show runs deeper than displays of farming skills and rural produce. Here we find expressed the 'works of Creation and Providence.' Scratch the surface, and here depth of community still rests upon a bed of prayer. 'O taste and see' the carrots and potatoes too. Alastair MacIntosh

 

Greenbelt, Boughton Hall
In August at the Greenbelt festival I gave a talk on Woodbine Willie, a chaplain in the First World War. I'm not much of a speaker, I even have to type out 'Good afternoon.' There were a few questions afterwards and then someone asked about my involvement with poor people in Glasgow. Soon the whole tent was buzzing with others telling of their experiences. I was thrilled that so many Christians are alongside the poor. Afterwards, one listener sent me £350 to pay off a debt (no thanks wanted). Exactly the amount owed by a disabled father in our church. I don't know if this is culture but I loved it. Bob Holman

 

The Shepherds' Meet, Wasdale Head, Cumbria
Morning rain moved away, across the mountains. Sunlight polished crags, and silvered becks as field gates opened to flocks of Land Rovers at the Shepherds' Meet. Tradition suggests Norse settlers first brought Herdwick sheep here, 1,000 years ago. The Meet is their Cruft's.

Jenni moved attentively along the pens, taking photographs that she could translate into pastel portraits of resilient rams. She'd work in red tones of haematite, no longer mined for steel production, but given new life as artists' colouring. From industrial declinehas come artistic potential; from annual cultural gathering, fresh creativity. On dark days we watch one wise and ancient face she drew: almost an icon; almost a prayer. Martyn Halsall

 

The Babadook, Cert 15, Directed by Jennifer Kent
Jennifer Kent's terrifying and beautiful debut film The Babadook will stay with me forever. It is a true word of mouth hit, and with good reason. Essie Davis gives a remarkable performance as a widowed mother whose son grows obsessed with Mister Babadook, a top-hatted ghoul in a children's book he thinks has come alive. It's shot largely in daylight with a beautiful but creepy palette of soft greys, and toys with themes of martyred motherhood and grief. Like the Turn of the Screw, it's impossible to say whether the terror is imagined or supernatural - and which would be worse. Sarah Perry

 

Ida, Cert 12A, Directed by Pawel Pawlikowskie
I've been telling anyone who will listen to see Ida, a film by Pavel Pawlikowski about an orphan nun who, on the verge of taking holy orders, visits her only known relative and is taken on a journey to discover what happened to her parents. The throwing together of world weary aunt and Vermeer-serene niece make for an extraordinarily subtle and tender film where what is said and unsaid are given equal care. Perfection in art has the inexplicable quality of a miracle. This film is a miracle. (Honourable mention must go to enigmatic band The Mogs last seen live at The Halfway House, Barnes. Their instrumental psychedelic, thrumbing wig-outs render music with singers and lyrics totally redundant). Rhidian Brook

 

Henri Matisse: The cut-outs, Tate Modern
When ill-heath prevented Matisse from painting, he turned to paper and scissors, cutting painted sheets into varying shapes and sizes - 'painting with scissors', as he called it - inaugurating a fresh phase in his career. From dancers and clowns to snow flowers and stainedglass, to see so many in one place was a treat. For me, it was a combination of factors: simplicity coupled with sophistication, the involvement of others in his work, its accessibility to all ages. Above all, perhaps, it represented triumph over adversity, the strength of the human spirit to create beauty out of brokenness. Antony Billington

 

Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere, Hampshire
At the start of 2014 a visit to the exhibition Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War at Somerset House prompted a pilgrimage in the autumn to see the artist's war murals back in situ at Sandham Memorial Chapel. From Stanley Spencer's experience as a war orderly during the First World War, the artist focuses on the down to earth details of everyday life in his paintings rather than the horrors of warfare. He celebrates the simple pleasures of jam sandwiches and soft beds in warm, dry rooms, and he sees and captures the holy in and through the mundane acts of scrubbing, laundering and making beds. The altarpiece, The Resurrection of the Soldiers which depicts the soldiers rising out of their graves, with the altar table playing an integral part in the work of art, is the focal point and most uplifting feature of the chapel - a chapel, which still holds remembrance services throughout the year. The murals are currently on tour at the Manchester Art Gallery. The chapel reopens on 28 March 2015. Sally Fraser

 

UK Sacred Harp Convention, Stannington, Sheffield
The Sacred Harp is a hymnbook first compiled in the US in 1841. Its tunes are written in shape notes, a kind of diagrammed tonic sol-fa, and were created as a means of teaching four-part harmonies to singers who couldn't read music. Its rich and strange tones - this is entirely acapella - became popular in the rural US south but in the 1990s was discovered by punk and folk singers in the metropolitan east. It is also sung in the UK - I sing weekly in London - but at the national convention this year we were joined by singers from around the world. Standing in 'the hollow square' had never sounded so raw and profound. Simon Jones