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ONLINE CULTURE A cultured cure for cabin fever

You don’t have to miss out on some great art during the lockdown, says LYNNE WALSH, there’s plenty out there online

LYRICIST Alan Jay Lerner once said: “Coughing in the theatre is not a respiratory ailment. It is criticism.”

Sorry, Al, but for the foreseeable future it’s the ailment that has seen theatres go dark, along with galleries, museums, music venues, lecture halls and libraries.

But there is a new and wonderful effect of the lights going out on our cultural lives.

Just as the flurry of apologetic statements from theatre companies and venues started to make my heart sink and I contemplated reviewing only books and radio plays, there is a glimmer in the darkness.

The Royal Court is releasing, free for a month, its film of the excellent Cyprus Avenue, starring the never less than brilliant  Stephen Rea.

Written by David Ireland, it’s bleak, brutal and hilarious and it explores the profound question: “Who are the Irish?” and, even more than that for its protagonist, “Am I Irish?”

It’s not one to watch with your children on the sofa alongside you. The writer eschews trigger warnings — there are, as they say, “adult themes and language” — and you won’t get them within the narrative. But that is part of its tremendous power.

For those entertaining children at home the screening of Wind in the Willows, with Rufus Hound playing Mr Toad in the two-hour romp, could be a godsend. Yes, two hours “in the theatre” but with your own pausing for snacks and loo breaks. Bliss.

You can still pootle around museums and in the company of some great hosts via podcasts created by Art Fund.

Comedian Tez Ilyas takes his dad to the National Football Museum in Manchester, Miles Jupp visits Tredegar House and Kirsty Walk the V&A in Dundee, while Lemn Sissay conducts a tour of the Foundling Museum in London.

Twenty to 30 minutes long, they are all superb, with each giving a sense that the amateur is delighted to be in the company of a curator or volunteer.

These are fascinating locations, stuffed with learning, but the erudition is passed on by way of a very amiable chat.

For those of us who love being part of an audience, whether at a music gig or in the theatre, there are ways of replicating the experience online.

A group of friends who would normally go off to a gig or exhibition together are co-ordinating their online sessions and finding that they’re venturing into new territories.

One such is interpretive dance and the idea of describing anything via that medium would normally fill me with alarm.

But there is a mesmerising piece, thanks to the disability network supported by Tate Britain, in which four dancers choose a piece of art and respond to it, bringing an oblique view along with their own talent.

It’s a bit like meandering around a gallery and overhearing one of those conversations which make you hang around to listen for more.

If the surreal is your thing and especially if you want to examine the emancipation of females from the bourgeois concepts of strict gender stereotypes — and why wouldn’t you? — then the exhibition Fantastic Women at the Schirn gallery in Frankfurt is now a “digitorial,” covering 34 female artists from 11 countries.

While you’re gazing at Frida Kahlo and Dora Maar’s work, don’t miss the soundtrack complementing the art. This takes us from Hildegard Knef to Peggy Lee and on to Laurie Andersen, Bjork and Nico to Lana Del Ray singing: “Norman fucking Rothwell.” Now, that is great curating.

Thousands of actors, musicians and others are finding that they need to improvise in order to find some income. No surprise that a theatre company specialising in improvisation would rise to the challenge.

Hoopla found all their classes shut down virtually overnight and have taken them online, keeping costs to £10 for two-hour sessions, using Zoom.

“I previously thought of video calls as just for awkward job interviews,” director Steve Roe says of the format. “But we have loads of fun with it.

“People can play different characters, students can create costumes using whatever they have in their house, props can be gathered from the kitchen!”

For performer Liz Peters, “as the world begins to isolate, the need for human connection is greater than ever. They’re calling it ‘social distancing’ right now. Let’s change that terminology to ‘physical distancing.’

“We are and always will be social animals. Connection is part of our survival.”


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