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Matthew d’Ancona’s Culture: An Enemy of the People is political drama of the highest calibre

Our editor-at-large’s new rundown of the pick of the week’s theatre, film and TV

Matt Smith stars in Thomas Ostermeier’s bold reimagining of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 classic An Enemy of the People, at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London. Photo: Wessex Grove

Welcome to this new weekly round-up of the best in culture and the arts.

In addition to my own picks, your favourite TNE writers will chip in with their recommendations from time to time. And we’d love to hear what you’re enjoying: please send your tips to



Duke of York’s Theatre, London, until April 6

This adaptation by Thomas Ostermeier and Florian Borchmeyer of Ibsen’s 1882 classic feels bracingly contemporary; true to the spirit of the original, but radically reconfigured to fit its 21st-century setting. Thomas Stockmann (Matt Smith, superb) is the medical officer of a town spa, who discovers that its water is contaminated. This pits him against his brother Peter (Paul Hilton), who is also mayor, and the civic establishment that regards him as a narcissistic troublemaker.

In this version, Stockmann and his wife Katharina (Jessica Brown Findlay) are also members of an indie group, trying their hand at Bowie’s Changes and the Oasis anthem, Stand By Me. Chalk graffiti covers the walls of the set (“If you happen to run into Buddha in the street kill him”).

This edge of irreverent modernity sets up the production for a post-intermission dramatic shift that I would not dream of spoiling. Suffice it to say that Stockmann’s famous speech at a city council meeting becomes a raging rhetorical assault upon the sickness of our own society. Covid, the Post Office scandal, Amazon, Elon Musk, Taylor Swift’s love life, post-truth, climate change, Rishi Sunak’s wealth: all are drawn into the seething mix.
I suspect Ostermeier’s audacity will rile some theatre critics, which is another reason to applaud it. Political drama of the highest calibre.



Sky Comedy/NOW

He’s back; and, tragically, for the last time. When the first season of Curb began to circulate in DVD box sets on this side of the Atlantic in 2000, it had the aura of samizdat magic, strictly for those in the know. A quarter of a century later, it is a global comedy phenomenon.

Yet, in this 12th and final season, its genius is precisely what it was at the start: namely, Larry David’s fixation with the minutiae and absurdities of modern etiquette and his unfiltered fury at what he regards as irrationality (which is a lot). Whether he is screaming obscenities at Siri in his car, querying the right of a waiter to put personal bereavement before speedy service, or confronting the risks of “dick dialling” on his phone, he says explicitly what nobody else will.

The brilliant paradox is that his very obnoxiousness is what makes him a tribune for the rest of us and is the reason that we love him. So long, Larry, and thanks for all the bile.



British Museum, London, until June 23

Not since the awe-inspiring Troy: Myth and Reality (2019-20) has the BM mounted such a blockbuster exhibition. Superbly curated by Richard Abdy, “Legion” dramatises not only the might of the Roman army but – to compelling effect – the daily life of those who served in its ranks.
Among more than 200 artefacts, we see the grandeur of tombstones, busts and magnificent armour. But it is the intimacy of the exhibition – humanity calling down the centuries – that sticks in the memory. Not to be missed.



In cinemas

Steve McQueen’s latest work is in no sense a conventional movie; based on Atlas of an Occupied City: Amsterdam 1940-1945, by his wife Bianca Stigter, it is a 262-minute masterpiece of psychogeography and historical exploration.
Covering 130 locations, McQueen depicts the modern city in all its kaleidoscopic variety. In vivid contrast, a narrative voiceover by Melanie Hyams records the horrors of wartime persecution, hideouts, starvation and the extermination of the Jews. At many sites, we hear the chilling refrain: “Demolished”.

The chasm between the film’s visual path and the spoken word is, of course, the point, and much more arresting than the traditional use of archive images. The voiceover is a ghostly subversion of day-to-day normality in a beautiful European city.


You might recall that the brewing company Anheuser-Busch found itself at the heart of the culture wars last April over a Bud Light promotion campaign with trans TikTok performer Dylan Mulvaney.

In a shameless U-turn, the brewer has now signed up UFC boss Dana White, who spoke in support of Trump at the 2016 and 2020 Republican conventions; rapper Post Malone, often described as the “Donald Trump of hip hop”; and anti-woke comedian Shane Gillis, whose impression of the former president is unsurpassed. Trump himself has called upon his tribe to give Anheuser-Busch a “Second Chance”. If you think that MAGA is just about elections, think again.

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