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Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

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Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

    Life in the first person

    Life in the first person

    The neuroscientist Anil Seth is a leading researcher into consciousness. In his book, Being You, he explores why we experience life in the first person. He tells Tom Sutcliffe how our perceptual experiences are less a reflection of an objective external reality, and more a kind of controlled hallucination. He argues that perception is a brain-based ‘best guess’ – including our core sense of self – designed by evolution to keep the body alive.

    Tiffany Watt Smith is interested in how the individual self can feel swept up and subsumed in crowds, and the tension between ‘feeling yourself’ and ‘losing yourself’. This has taken on added significance during a pandemic when collective experience has become tinged with anxiety. As Director of the Centre of the History of Emotions at Queen Mary University of London, she has also looked at how far being able to name an emotion makes it more real.

    Emotional turmoil, from revenge to love, are writ large in Rigoletto – the season opener at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. It’s the first production by the company’s Director, Oliver Mears, and the first new show since the opera house closed because of Covid-19. Mears sees Verdi’s masterpiece as a modern morality play that pits power against innocence, in a pitiless world of decadence, corruption and decay.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    (Photo: Gilda) Lisette Oropesa (c) ROH 2021. Rigoletto Studio Rehearsal. Photograph by Ellie Kurttz.)

    • 41분
    Ali Smith

    Ali Smith

    Ali Smith talks to Andrew Marr about Summer, the finale to her ambitious, ground-breaking Seasonal quartet of novels. Since 2016, the prize-winning writer has been working on a cycle of novels that not only explore the changing seasons, but reflect the times we are living in. With the tightest turnaround from manuscript to book, Smith’s ambition was to create real contemporaneous ‘state of the nation’ works. She reflects on a country voting on its future, people and families on the brink of change, and now living through a pandemic, while also understanding how art, nature and landscape speak of a deeper truth.

    Producer: Katy Hickman
    Photograph by Sarah Wood

    • 41분
    Jackie Kay on Bessie Smith

    Jackie Kay on Bessie Smith

    Scotland’s former National Poet Jackie Kay celebrates the tempestuous life of the great blues singer, Bessie Smith. Born in Tennessee in 1894 Bessie was a street singer before she made it big at a time of racial violence and segregation. Jackie Kay remembers growing up as a young black girl in Glasgow and she tells Kirsty Wark how she idolised this iconic singer.

    In Time’s Witness the historian Rosemary Hill explores the historical shift in focus from the grand sweeping narratives of kings and statesmen to a new interest in the lives of ordinary people. She argues that the turn of the 19th century and the age of the Romantics ushered in a more vibrant and serious debate about the importance of oral history, clothes, music, food and art.

    The artist Michael Armitage is exhibiting his latest work at the Royal Academy in London until September. Born in Kenya in 1984 but based between Nairobi and London, Armitage is influenced by contemporary East African art and politics, as well as drawing on European art history from Titian to Gauguin. His exhibition Paradise Edict showcases 15 of his large scale works painted on lubugo bark cloth, a material traditionally made in Uganda.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 42분
    London - villain and victim?

    London - villain and victim?

    Love it or hate it, London dominates the UK politically, economically and culturally. It’s nearly 200 years since one critic famously described the capital as ‘the Great Wen’ a monstrous cyst sucking the life blood from the rest of the country. And for many that belief still stands. In The London Problem: What Britain Gets Wrong About Its Capital City the academic, and Londoner, Jack Brown untangles the complex strands of anti-London rhetoric, separating hyperbole from fact.

    In 2019 the former special advisor Dominic Cummings told journalists to ‘get out of London. Go and talk to people who are not rich Remainers’, feeding into another perception of the capital. But the city is far from homogenous: 40% of Londoners voted for Brexit, and the population is the most ethnically and religiously diverse and has the greatest levels of poverty, compared to the rest of the country. The writer Jennifer Kavanagh spent two years getting out and talking to people on the streets of London – from beggars, to stall owners, to entertainers to thieves. Let Me Take You By The Hand tells the stories in their own words, of those who work and live in the capital.

    The German composer George Frideric Handel moved to London in 1712 and made it his home. The countertenor Iestyn Davies celebrates Handel’s life in the capital, following his footsteps from his operatic triumphs in Covent Garden, past his local church in Hanover Square, to his Mayfair home. In Handel’s London Altos, at King’s Place on 24th June, Davies will perform a series of pieces showcasing his best work.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 41분
    Lionel Shriver on life and death decisions

    Lionel Shriver on life and death decisions

    In a year when Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on families, with loved ones dying sometimes alone in hospital or without the usual funeral rites, Tom Sutcliffe and guests discuss mortality and what it means to have ‘a good death’.

    In her latest book, Should We Stay Or Should We Go, the writer Lionel Shriver explores a number of alternative endings. The couple at the centre of her novel make a pact to end their lives when they hit 80, to avoid a slow decline either physically or mentally. As Shriver looks at how that decision might play out in reality, she’s arguing for a more open discussion about the end of life.

    It’s a view shared by the consultant geriatrician David Jarrett. In 33 Meditations on Death – Notes from the Wrong End of Medicine he draws on family stories and case histories from his three decades treating those who become old and frail. Jarret’s book is an impassioned plea for everyone – old and young – to engage and make plans for the end.

    The playwright Jack Thorne is part of the collaborative team (with designer Bunny Christie and director Jeremy Herrin) behind the National Theatre’s new play, After Life, based on Hirokazu Kore-eda's award-winning film. It follows a group of strangers as they grapple with the question: if you could spend eternity with just one precious memory, what would it be? Although all the characters are deceased, the play is a celebration of life, and about what matters to us most.

    Photo credit: Mark Kohn
    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 41분
    DH Lawrence: life and work

    DH Lawrence: life and work

    DH Lawrence was once a towering figure in literature in the 20th century but his reputation has taken a battering, with accusations of nostalgia, self-indulgence and misogyny. But Frances Wilson tells Andrew Marr that it’s time to look again at this complex and courageous man, and the full spectrum of work he produced – from his novels, poetry, criticism and letters. In Burning Man Wilson focuses on a decade in his life from the suppression of The Rainbow in 1915 through his years of travelling to his diagnosis of tuberculosis.

    Lawrence mined his own life in his novels, populating them with the people he met, pioneering the genre of ‘auto-fiction'. The award-winning writer Salman Rushdie rejected that form in his own novels, preferring ‘magic realism’. In his latest collection of essays Languages of Truth Rushdie explores the power of storytelling, and the relationship between reality and fantasy.

    The poet Simon Armitage – an admirer of DH Lawrence – looks to rescue glorious poetry from pretention and obscurity, arguing the form offers ‘the best opportunity for reflection and scrutiny’. A Vertical Art brings together the public lectures he gave during his tenure as Oxford University Professor of Poetry. In them he offers his personal reflections of the work and lives of poets from Ted Hughes to Elizabeth Bishop and Douglas Dunn.

    Producer: Katy Hickman

    • 42분

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