Tory conference, sh-mory conference. I have been having the time of my life this week with people who don't know how to pass legislation but have far nicer hair, ie purveyors of the arts and culture.
Barbarians, Tooting Arts Club
What it is: A site-specific revival of Barrie Keeffe's 1970s play about unemployed young men, in the graffiti-laden old Central St Martins building
I really love theatre and sometimes I just don't understand how it can be so good. I always go and think, maybe this will be the day that I find out actually theatre's a bit shit.
This wasn't the day.
BARBARIANS IS THE ABSOLUTE NUTS.
What a piece of writing. What a production.
The fact that Barrie Keeffe's play about disaffected young men on the dole in the 70s retains so much resonance is an upsetting indictment of contemporary life - but it's also a sign that this play is beyond brilliant.
Keeffe shows us, with relentless empathy, what it's like to spend your life on the periphery. In Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy wrote that he was faced with 'only a wall - but what a wall,' and when these lads are stuck outside Wembley Stadium without a ticket to the F.A. Cup final, we are reminded that the wall might change shape or form but its presence never dies. It's also an obvious precursor to Patrick Marber's recent play The Red Lion, when the sense of community given by football was the only thing that could keep one man going - when that is lost, so is his entire sense of identity.
And these three actors are so good I was scared. I don't mean scarily good - I mean I was physically recoiling from them. Thomas Coombes as Paul kicks walls and heads with such violent force that your heart thumps, but he also hints at a deep pain beneath the violent belligerence. As he is laughed at by Louis (played by Josh Williams), you can feel his shame melding into rage, and you are genuinely on edge with dread about what he'll do next. Jake Davies's performance builds to a crescendo with a speech that will make you cry, and Josh Williams provides real humour by his continued insistence that he actually knows a lot about how to work fridges.
Orwell wrote that if you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever. This is about a bigger boot.
The Great British Dream Factory, by Dominic Sandbrook
What it is: A vivid, endlessly fascinating account of the numerous achievements of this country's national imagination
This book is my personal dream factory. The quirks and curiosities of British culture are so loaded with truths about class and society and I think it is one of the most interesting things in the world.
Dominic Sandbrook takes Danny Boyle's visionary Olympics opening ceremony as a jumping off point to talk about how much we as a country have contributed to culture, and it's so invigorating and exciting. We've honestly done so much - and it's stuff like this that I want to celebrate as a person who randomly happened to be born in this country, rather than a really old song about how great the royal family are. I particularly love the discussion about our fascination with the English country house - I basically wrote my undergrad dissertation on why the nostalgia we get from the National Trust and Downton Abbey is classist bullshit, so this is so up my alley it's actually found my house and posted itself through my letter box. (ARE. YOU. STILL. AWAKE.)
I'd take issue with a couple of things: I wish Sandbrook would really interrogate how those who operate and create our culture are now coming from a very limited, privileged sphere, and as such, huge parts of our society - particularly the working class - are becoming invisible (or being portrayed in ways that are insulting and unempathetic). I also think the book loses out by not focusing on theatre more, it being the art form that most obviously engages in a dialogue with the politics of the time.
But those are minor niggles in a book that is written with the same clarity, energy and humour as Alwyn W. Turner's brilliant books on recent history. I'll be lugging it about with me and boring all my friends by reading bits out to them for a very long time ahead.
Macbeth, (15), 113 min
What it is: A stunning new adaptation of a play by that Shakespeare man that your GCSEs conditioned you to hate, but actually he's quite cool
Macbeth, when it's not done to my taste, can be very loud and shout-y. It's such an intense play, containing such complex psychologies, that the brasher approaches can give you a bit of a headache, as well as emotionally exhausting you. There's plenty of emotional exhaustion here, but, fortunately, it's a beautifully made film full of intelligent performances.
The text hints at Macbeth and his wife having lost a child, but here it makes that explicit: the film opens with the couple attending their child's funeral. That understanding of personal loss and trauma sets the tone, and we see the couple as a numb, wounded pair grasping to be able to feel once again. It also makes them emotional equals, and Marion Cotillard completely revises Lady Macbeth, making her a tragic figure, too beset by damage to be the manipulative and ruthless ice queen she's so often portrayed as.
And when Fassbender performs that 'Life's but a walking shadow' speech, you don't feel any doubt that he is heartbroken that his wife has died. I think this is one for the canon.
The Great British Bake Off, BBC One
What it is: The best TV show that the BBC has ever produced
I'm not saying I have a gift but I have correctly predicted the winner of the Great British Bake Off four years in a row. Does this mean I should be given Paul Hollywood's job? They've asked but I told them it was important that the judging maintained its gender balance.
Barbarians is at the old Central St Martins building in Soho, via Tooting Arts Club, until 7 November
The Great British Dream Factory is out now and published by Penguin
Macbeth is in cinemas now
The Great British Bake Off is on iPlayer