If I had to pick any one show, I would go for the marvellous retrospective at Tate Britain of Freud’s friend Francis Bacon, which brought together so many magnificent works by the artist many consider the greatest British painter since Turner. Other highlights of the year included a timely retrospective of paintings and drawings by poet and painter Isaac Rosenberg at the Ben Uri Gallery, which marked the 90th anniversary of his death during the First World War. There were Tate exhibitions dedicated to the work of Mark Rothko and of Man Ray and also the Barbican’s fine exhibition of works by leading photographer Robert Capa and his girlfriend Gerda Taro, who was killed during the Spanish Civil War aged just 26. The images suggest that she was an even better photographer than he was.
The Jewish-interest exhibition of the year was the major blockbuster, Hadrian: Empire and Conflict at the British Museum, which presented different sides to the complex character remembered by Jews, in particular for the brutal way in which he suppressed the revolt led by Simon Bar Kochba. It included loans from the Israel Museum that had never left the country before. Equally unmissable was a small exhibition of early works by our greatest living painter, Lucian Freud.
If I had to pick one performance of the year, it would be The Steel City Tour at the Hammersmith Apollo this month involving ’80s Sheffield bands ABC, The Human League and Heaven 17. The Human League in particular were spectacular and the stage set was fantastic. It made me wonder why every concert isn’t this ambitious. They put in the effort with costume changes and some brilliant visuals. It was arty but entertaining.
The Jewish band of the year was Boy Crisis. They are part of a Brooklyn scene which features a lot of Jewish musicians. Their gig last month at Barfly in Camden was not amazing but I really like the music, which is basically The Strokes-meets-disco. They look all sleazy and emaciated but their sound is more electronic and dancey. Two of them are Jewish — Victor Vazquez and Tal Rozen. In fact, you can’t move for Jews in this new scene.
I saw Elbow at Latitude Festival and wondered what all the fuss was about… Then I wondered why they won the Mercury Music Prize. They are meant to be the thinking man’s Coldplay but I thought they just sounded like Coldplay.
The show of the year has a strong Jewish element. Speed the Plow, which opened at the beginning of the year at The Old Vic, starred Jeff Goldblum and the theatre’s artistic director, Kevin Spacey. I don’t think there was anything more exciting on stage this year.
They played two film producers, and since the play is about what happens behind the scenes in Hollywood, one had a sense that these two actors knew what they were talking about. They are two stellar actors.
Diane Samuels and Tracy-Ann Oberman’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Hampstead Theatre gets the award for biggest row. They argued about who wrote it, but their version, Three Sisters on Hope Street, was an interesting parallel to Chekhov’s original. They relocated the play to Liverpool with a Jewish family which, instead of dreaming of Moscow, dreamed of travelling to New York. They managed to find Jewish connections to Chekhov’s original non-Jewish play.
The biggest clanger was probably Michael Frayn’s Afterlife at the National. His highly anticipated play about the great impresario Max Reinhardt was a disappointing return for Frayn.
The vehicle he used brilliantly in Noises Off, which told the on-stage as well as the off-stage story, worked superbly in the context of farce but not with this biographical play.
The play attempted to address questions about whether you should pay for your bad behaviour, and set all this against the rise of the Nazis, but it did not work dramatically.
Ladino diva Mor Karbasi, star of the UK world music scene, came into her own with a series of stunning live performances, lush arrangements and a wonderfully accomplished band.
Jazz pianist Omer Klein is not a household name yet — but with the delicate, Middle Eastern inflecting melodies of his first album hitting all the right notes, he staked a claim as one of the most exciting newcomers of the year.
Finally, satirical songwriter Jim Marcovitch will be remembered for his delicious wit, brilliant songwriting and great tunes: his trio, called Soup, displayed them all in droves.
The Reader, out this week, is extraordinary and has been nominated for a number of awards. The Golden Globes, in its wisdom, nominated Kate Winslet for Best Supporting Actress in a film in which she is the raison d’etre. She should be given Best Actress. It’s disturbing, provocative, impeccably acted and a film that stays in the memory.
The Changeling, from America’s finest director, Clint Eastwood, elicits an Oscar-winning performance from Angelina Jolie as a mother searching for her abducted son in ’20s LA. Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky was sheer delight from beginning to end.
Lemon Tree, directed by Israeli Eran Riklis, is extraordinary. It’s about a Palestinian widow who inherits a lemon grove on the borders of a house owned by the Israeli defence minister. It was a theme particular to the Middle East but universal in appeal.
I thought The Edge of Love, in which Keira Knightley tried to play steamy and didn’t, was pretty bad. Brideshead Revisited was a fiasco. The lesson is, if you can’t improve on the original, don’t bother.