Red Dust Road @ HOME



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Red Dust Road

Written by Jackie Kay and adapted by Tanika Gupta

HOME and the National Theatre of Scotland

HOME, 12 September 2019

Elaine C. Smith, Lewis Howden, and Sasha Frost in Red Dust Road. Photograph by Richard Davenport.

Elaine C. Smith, Lewis Howden, and Sasha Frost in Red Dust Road. Photograph by Richard Davenport.

A portrait of a poet who is always on pilgrimage.

This play is a heartwarming, sometimes humorous adaptation of Jackie Kay’s fine memoir. At the close, you come away happy, though you feel that Kay’s life wasn’t always like that. She has had a lot to contend with. There was the racism of ’70s Scotland and, as a black child adopted by white parents, her identity was always going to be conflicted. Mind, it is clear here that she could always depend on the love of her parents. Later, at university, she came out as a lesbian (cue disco music).

There are strong performances throughout the play. From Sasha Frost as Kay herself, even though she isn’t quite able to capture the full-throated warmth of Kay’s own voice, and from Elaine C. Smith and Lewis Howden as Kay’s parents. Irene Allan plays Elizabeth, Kay’s birth mother, and there is a moment where she sings a harrowing, heartfelt Scots ballad (during a sequence where the play quotes from The Adoption Papers, and we hear the voices of the two mothers). It is the still, standout moment in the play.

If Red Dust Road has a flaw it is that there is a slightly precious, over-reverential attitude to Africa and Kay’s Ibo identity. As though this might offer a final answer, a true key to unlocking what makes her who she is. An authentic end to all her searching. Yet even this notion is undercut. In modern Nigeria, on the journey to her ‘ancestral village’, Kay is pestered by policemen demanding kickbacks.

Red Dust Road is a multi-layered play about a woman with a multi-layered identity. It is showing at HOME until 21 September, details here.




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Directed by Benjamín Naishtat

Argentina, 2018

HOME, 7 September 2019


This disconcerting, disquieting film is set in Argentina prior to mid-’70s coup.

The protagonist is Claudio (Darío Grandinetti), a successful lawyer who is at the edge of violence. He is a moral agent who chooses not to act. Is it complicit in murder? Well, not if he can be later implicated. Does he stand up to injustice and profiteering? There would be a danger in that, wouldn’t there, so no. He is reluctant, yet willing to turn a blind eye.

The import of the film seems to be that state acts – and here one thinks of Latin America’s ‘Disappeared’ – are preceded by individual acts of violence, theft, jealousy, a desire to profit from others’ misfortune. We see the shadows – an eclipse even – before the darkness falls. At the film’s end, anyway, darkness does fall.

In one scene a mother goes into a church because her son is missing. He has not returned home, has disappeared. A priest is nowhere to be seen. The response of man in prayer, an avowed Christian (Alfredo Castro, who plays a private detective, brilliantly), is along the lines of: ‘I am not your son’s keeper.’

A very impressive accomplishment.


Pain and Glory



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Pain and Glory

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Spain, 2019

HOME, 8 September 2019

Pain and Glory

It is an autobiographical film, but an artful one too.

There is an elegance and a restraint to it all, a tenderness even, not least Antonio Banderas’s central performance as Salvador, a film director suffering from a prolonged creative block. He is frail and vulnerable and I like the authenticity of his small movements. The reluctance to bend his back (perhaps he cannot) when putting on his clothes. The way he walks, cautious and slow. The way he gets up after sitting down. He is a man who knows what pain is, who manages it as he can.

The story is captivating and humorous, uplifting at the end, yet throughout it is studded with moments of poignancy and pain. There is one great line, so desperately sad and honest that it must be true. That is when Salvador says that, while his mother and the people in their village made him who he is, he failed his mother as a son ‘by being who I am’.

I like also the allusions to Spain and its hinterlands. Argentina, Cuba and Mexico are places of significance. Salvador reads Roberto Bolano, underlines passages in one of his novels. And his drama samples a song by the tumultuous Chavela Vargas, a trans/gay pioneer long admired by Almodóvar.

A late masterpiece.

Arik Brauer: All of My Arts @ Jewish Museum Vienna



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Arik Brauer: All of My Arts

Curated by Danielle Spera and Daniela Pscheiden

3 April 2019 – 20 October 2019

Jewish Museum Vienna

Arik Brauer, um 1965 (c) Brigitte Lüttge-Dauth.jpg

Arik Brauer, um 1965 (c) Brigitte Lüttge-Dauth

At the Jewish Museum Vienna there are two exhibitions, each very different from the other, each in its own unique way compelling.

Arik Brauer: All of My Arts is a survey of the great Austrian artist’s life and work. His paintings are much in evidence. Yes, the Fantastic Realism masterpieces but also, as well, a Bosch pastiche that he completed whilst a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (unlike Hitler, he got in) and a number of coloured drawings he did  even earlier, when a child: beautiful, prodigiously accomplished drawings.

You get to hear as well many of his most famous songs. For those unfamiliar with Brauer’s music, imagine Dylan writing not in an American idiom a la Woody Guthrie but in a contemporary update of Johann Nestroy’s Viennese Deutsch. You will have a pretty good sense of why Brauer is admired  as a singer-songwriter.

Also in the exhibition there is a chess set , I think though set up wrong (on the board, the white square is not on the right hand side, unless I have read it wrong); a clip from a French film, Les distractions (English title: Trapped by Fear), with Jean-Paul Belmondo’s Parisian cool playing off against Brauer’s passionate song. Another section of the exhibition explores Brauer’s buildings: architecture became an interest for him in his mid-late career. And much else besides.

Arik Brauer: All of My Arts is an exhibition that does full justice to the great artist’s’s fecund creativity.

As it happens, the other exhibition, Café As. The Survival of Simon Wiesenthal, is also about architecture. It is curated by Michaela Vocelka and runs until January 2020.

When Simon Wiesenthal was at the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945, he made friends with a fellow prisoner named Edmund Staniszewski. Staniszewski had an ambition to start a café after the war (if he survived, that is) and Wiesenthal, who had trained as an architect, designed some plans for him. He made sketches and drawings of the premises, its outside and interior, and even thought about staff uniforms. Here is Wiesenthal’s design of a chess room within the cafe. Note the chequered floor and seat coverings, the rook depicted as a tank turret in the painting on the wall, where we see as well a pawn being carried away on a stretcher. No doubt it has been sacrificed for the greater good…

Schachzimmer des Café As (c) Jüdisches Museum Wien

Schachzimmer des Café As (c) Jüdisches Museum Wien

This project was a hinterland for both men, you sense, a shared dream that likely helped them to survive the dire situation that they found themselves in. In planning the future of the Cafe As, they projected themselves into the future and reaffirmed their resolve to survive.

You see a slue of Wiesenthal’s designs in this exhibition, along with letters and photos and other archival materials. It is a valuable contribution to our understanding of this fierce warrior for justice.

Further details of Arik Brauer: All of My Arts can be found here.

Further details of Café As. The Survival of Simon Wiesenthal can be found here.

The Pointe Dances @ Theatremuseum Wien



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The Pointe Dances: 150 Years of Ballet at the Wiener Staatsoper

Curated by Andrea Amort

16 May 2019 – 13 January 2020

Theatremuseum Wien


Side-stage view at the Wiener Staatsoper, during a rehearsal of Swan Lake.
© Wiener Staatsballett/Ashley Taylor

At the minute, at the Theatermuseum in Vienna, you can see two dance-related exhibitions: The Pointe Dances and Everybody Dances, both curated by Andrea Amort.

The Pointe Dances looks at the history of ballet in Vienna, from the early seventeenth century to the present day, with the focus firmly on ballet at (what is now) the Wiener Staatsoper. In the middle of the nineteenth century the Ringstrasse was built, and in 1869 Vienna’s main ballet company moved into (what was then) the Hofoper am Ring building. Ballet performances have been taking place there (and elsewhere too, mind: I saw a wonderful production of Coppelia earlier this year at the Volksoper out past the Wahringer Strasse) virtually ever since.

Notable historical highlights include Richard Strauss’s reign, from the end of World War One to the early ‘20s, so right at the birth of Austria as a republic, and Rudolf Nureyev’s tenure in the 1960s, where he famously devised a new way of doing Swan Lake. His version is still in production at the Wiener Staatsoper, incidentally; I saw one such performance in February. In this exhibition there are myriad photographs of dancers and productions, together with related films and video clips and diverse archival materials such as posters, postcards and letters. A treasure trove for fans of ballet.

With Everybody Dances, also curated by Andrea Amort, you get something different: a history of modern dance in Vienna (and Greater Vienna and, to some extent, Austria itself) from about 1900 to now. And it is still very much a vital tradition, what with the flagship ImPulsTanz festival taking place in Vienna each Summer. Bestriding this exhibition you have the gigantic presence of Rosalia Chladek (1905-1995) – charismatic dancer, inventive choreographer and influential dance theorist – although, as the title implies, it covers popular dance as well as the avant-garde. In Vienna, especially Rote Wien, dance was not an exclusively elitist pursuit.

I was surprised to learn that Isadora Duncan had once danced in Vienna, at the Secession no less, in 1902, and that Klimt (amongst other artists) was in the audience on that occasion. And here is a weird and wonderful photograph of an avant-garde dance troupe, captured in mid-1930s Vienna:


Theatermuseum © KHM-Museumsverband

Also at the Theatremuseum, for the last couple of years and for a few years more one hopes, you can see masterpieces by Bosch, Cranach, Titian, Rubens and others. The Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts, much of it anyway, has been installed at the Theatremuseum while the Academy of Fine Arts building is being refurbished. You can also see Lifelines, an exhibition of drawings by Rembrandt, there at the moment until 22 September 2019.

The Theatermuseum has always been one of Vienna’s hidden gems, and just now there is an awful lot worth seeing. So check it out.

Further details of The Pointe Dances: 150 Years of Ballet at the Wiener Staatsoper can be found here.

Further details of Everybody Dances: The Cosmos of Viennese Dance Modernism can be found here.

Further details of the Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts, including the Lifelines exhibition, can be found here.

Details of current and forthcoming exhibitions at the Theatremuseum Wien can be found here.

The Last Day @ Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien



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The Last Day

Photographs by Helmut Wimmer

2 March 2018 – 15 August 2019

Bassano Saal, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Fotoserie „The Last Day“ © Foto: Helmut Wimmer

Fotoserie „The Last Day“
© Foto: Helmut Wimmer

In the Bassano Saal at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, there was an exhibition of a dozen photographs by Helmut Wimmer, going by the collective title of The Last Day.

Now ended, alas, it was an exhibition with an apocalyptic, revenge of nature flavour, but we can certainly expect to see more work like this as the reality, the overwhelming presence of climate change, hits home. Here we have the grand staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum – a Greek warrior raising his sword, the scene of myriad selfies – exposed to the elements, looking for all the world as though it is overgrown with earth and twigs and moss. We see, in one photograph, cranes – at least, I think they are cranes: they are birds with a stately, distinguished plumage at any rate – wandering through a room adorned with one of Velasquez’s portraits of an infant Hapsburg prince. A courtly scene that would not look out of place in a Werner Herzog movie.

In the Bruegel room (see below), the artist’s painting of a winter journey (or of a return from a hunt, I forget which) is visible on one wall – and you can spy others, the peasant not looking where he is going, say – snow is encroaching. Winter is coming.

Fotoserie „The Last Day“ © Foto: Helmut Wimmer

Fotoserie „The Last Day“
© Foto: Helmut Wimmer

In other photographs there are rooms that contain rocky cliffs, petrified trees, a lake reflecting (Monet-like) Renaissance masterpieces. And a few rooms are flooded with water, the waves crashing and swirling. There are a typical museum-goers in many of these photographs too, doing the usual museum-goer things. Such as looking at paintings intently, consulting catalogs and explanatory text, fiddling with their phones. Being alternately hyper-attentive and impervious to their surroundings. All of which, perfectly captured by Helmut Wimmer, seems about right. For wouldn’t that be what you would expect to happen?

For about the end of the world, they were never wrong, the Old Masters. How well they understood that the end of civilization (like Christ carrying the cross to Calvary in Bruegel’s great painting) would take place while people were doing ordinary, everyday things. Like, in a modern museum setting, looking at a picture or taking a selfie or – in the cafe on the first floor – mashing whipped cream into a Sachertorte.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien is a wonderful museum which is not unlike the National Gallery in London. In that it has ramshackle charm and is organised in quite an hackneyed way, but you can forgive all that – and even the cafe located slap-bang in the middle of it, which the National Gallery has not yet thought of, thank God – because it is piled to the rafters with masterpieces. A treasure trove of great art, in fact.

Further details of The Last Day can be found here.

Helmut Wimmer’s website is here.

Details of current and forthcoming exhibitions at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien can be found here.

MELTDOWN @ Naturhistorisches Museum Wien



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MELTDOWN: A Visualization of Climate Change by Project Pressure

Curated by Lina Aastrup

5 June 2019 – 8 September 2019

Naturhistorisches Museum Wien

MELTDOWN: A Visualization of Climate Change by Project Pressure

Certainly this was the most challenging and topical exhibition in Vienna this summer, and it is at the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien for only a fortnight more.

MELTDOWN: A Visualization of Climate Change by Project Pressure aims to visually represent the effect of climate change, at times by showing glaciers before (using historic photos taken from various archives, etc.) and after: that is to say now, today. And the change, the loss of a precious planetary resource (and natural beauty as well, of course) was often startling.

Curiously, one effect of the loss of glaciers – as one clump within the exhibition explained – is that borders between countries will need to be re-calibrated and (maybe) redrawn. A process whereby the rightful ownership of assets is called into question and can become, perhaps, a matter of controversy and conflict. So Austria and Italy had a bit of a kerfuffle recently over the discovery of a well preserved prehistoric man. He was found in what was not so long ago Austria, but is now Italy. This case was settled amicably, by all accounts, but we can expect these sort of disputes to multiply in the future.

Another issue is that the loss of glaciers, the dissolution of snow, will make it easier to access natural gas and precious metals and minerals. Already countries are making robust claims over areas of the Arctic, pushing these more seriously than they have done hitherto. And Trump’s supposed offer to buy Greenland, which I read about after visiting this exhibition, belongs in this playbook too. Here is a vision of our future: countries squabbling over the planet’s dwindling resources, rather than trying to stem their loss, with leaders of the most vociferous countries even denying that climate change is taking place at all.

There is another exhibition at the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien that is well worth your time as well. FLORA PHOTOGRAPHICA: The Time Between, an exhibition of photographs by Petra Lutnyk, runs until 6 October 2019. These are wonderful photographs, mainly of flowers, with a few English roses thrown in the mix. She has  an extraordinary eye for nature’s fragility; with each ethereal image you see blossom and decay.

Further details of MELTDOWN can be found here.

Further details of FLORA PHOTOGRAPHICA can be found here.

Tree @ MIF19



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Created by Idris Elba & Kwame Kwei-Armah

Campfield Market Hall, 4 July 2019


Sinead Cusack and Alfred Enoch in Tree @ MIF19. Photo by Marc Brenner

A brutalist sculpture of contemporary South Africa.

Following his mother’s death, Kaelo (Alfred Enoch) journeys to South Africa. Both his parents were from there – though he never knew his father, he died before his birth – and he wants to place her ashes on his fathers grave. Problem is, though, that his father was abducted, ‘disappeared’, by some white supremacist hit squad back in the day, and his grave (if, in fact, he had been buried) is not known.

Kaelo lodges with his grandmother (Sinead-Cusack), a farmer, and also makes contact with his sister or half-sister, who is involved in current protests about land reclamation and restitution (which target his grandmother’s estate). She leads a noisy, violent, righteous faction. And with that Kaelo’s quest for his father’s resting place crashes into South Africa’s present political disputes big-time.

This is a decent drama, inspired in part by Idris Elba’s recent album. Alfred Enoch plays Kaelo as a slightly prissy London liberal, looking very dapper in his carrot-shaped pants, and prone to take offence and start arguments over very little. He idolises Nelson Mandela, whereas his sister sees him as just another politician who didn’t deliver. This is a South Africa where peace and reconciliation seem a long way off.

The space of Campfield Market Hall is used well: the audience stand during the performance, and seem themselves like a forest of trees. Enoch traverses the audience as he tours his grandmother’s estate. And the protestors are dispersed throughout the audience, placards going up at certain points. Also, you always had a good view of the stage.

Tree, a brutalist sculpture of contemporary South Africa, is showing at the Campfield Market Hall as part of the Manchester International Festival 2019. Further details can be found here.

Unquiet Graves




Unquiet Graves

Directed by Sean A Murray

UK, 2018

HOME, 12 June 2019

Unquiet Graves

This documentary is a difficult watch, and that for a host of reasons.

One reason is because the grief, still, is all too real. And the testimony of families affected is overwhelming. So you hear from grown men and women, who as children lost a father or mother, still perplexed by their absence. You see an old woman who, as a young wife and mother, watched her husband die and later had to identify one of his killers (she had answered the door to his killers). The grief and sorrow is palpable and, you know for sure, will remain with them after you have watched the film.

Another reason is that it makes a compelling case for collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) – and therefore the British state – in over a hundred murders. Indeed, in some instances serving police officers took part in killings. There is the further claim that this involvement ‘came right from the very top’, which would be at prime ministerial or cabinet level, not merely the activities of MI5 or MI6, and entailed a colonial policy of ‘divide and rule’ aimed at the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland. I am unsure whether to accept this entirely; after all, these two communities were pretty divided anyway. But the evidence may be found in the minutes of a key meeting held at Chequers during Harold Wilson’s tenure as PM. Those minutes should be investigated and disclosed.

Further details of the film can be had here.

Halle Orchestra: Ravel’s Bolero



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Halle Orchestra: Ravel’s Bolero

The Bridgewater Hall, 9 May 2019

Sir Mark Elder and the Halle

This was an impromptu concert, so an unexpected bonus, and all the better for that.

Sir Mark Elder conducted the Halle and the orchestra played these three wonderful works:

  • Debussy: Images for Orchestra
  • Mussorgsky (in an orchestration by Ravel): Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Ravel: Bolero

You could see how the works, although in many respects very different in tone and texture, were interlinked. Debussy’s Images for Orchestra aimed to evoke scenes from memory – it is focussed around various countries – and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition attempted a similar feat: it was about a painter and his pictures. There is a difference, mind, between memories, psychological images as it were, and external vision: pictures, things seen in the world.

Ravel orchestrated the version of Mussorgsky’s work performed here and he composed the final work, Bolero. There is also a further connection: the most elaborate of Debussy’s Images focuses on Spain, the country from which Bolero takes its inspiration.

In Bolero just the one theme is repeated again and again, with more colour and orchestration gradually added with each repetition. But the underlying theme is always present, never obscured. It is thrilling – the way it builds up to a climax, the uncertainty as to how it will all end – but a bit gimmicky, in truth: you are pleased that Ravel wrote it because that means that no one else now has to. Here, though, a visual analogy occurred to me. That Bolero is like one of those Warhol silkscreen prints where the same image (say: Marilyn pouting, Elvis drawing a gun) is repeated over and over, with slight variations in colouring, say.

An evening of vital music and visual culture. A lot to hear, a lot to see.

Details of future Halle concerts can be found here.

The Wild Pear Tree


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The Wild Pear Tree

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Turkey, 2018

HOME, 5 December 2018
The Wild Pear Tree

A portrait of the artist as a young man.

Ceylan’s protagonist is a young man who returns home from university. A graduate, he is considering teaching as a career but has aspirations to become a writer. There is a troubled relationship with his father, who is a gambler and a bit of an all-round chancer. It is his father who gives him the image of the wild pear tree: a tree whose fruit are misshapen and (Turkey being beyond the EU’s ambit) unregulated. Strange fruit, as human beings are strange.

It is a heartfelt and reflective film with a vivid sense of place. There are discussions of literature, Islam, fate and time; and these are serious, penetrating discussions too. Earnest examinations of matters of importance.

Ceylan has made a fine film.

Re:Creating Europe @ MIF19


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Re:Creating Europe

By MIF, De Balie and Internationaal Theater Amsterdam

Lyric Theatre, The Lowry

12 July 2019


7. Juliet Stevenson and Halina Reijn in ReCreating Europe at Manchester International Festival 2019 Credit Joel Fildes.jpg

‘Please do not waste this time.’

Re:Creating Europe must be classed as an opportunity missed, unfortunately. What you were led to expect from the billing was an interrogation, which would be both nuanced and rigorous, of the idea of Europe (which would naturally include but would not be limited to the EU). What you got instead was a few quotes from European writers (for example, Goethe, Shakespeare and Donne: unsurprisingly that ‘No man is an island’ line cropped up) together with video clips and speeches (read aloud) from various grotesque, intellectually enfeebled politicians and even a couple of spillover speeches taken from The Fountainhead (the Internationaal Theater Amsterdam’s production of a couple of nights before) which were not in fact about Europe at all. It was cobbled together to no particular purpose. Just another Brexitfest.

To be fair, the opener was a considered, coherent effort. Michael Morpurgo gave a speech entitled Phoenix of Peace. His thesis here was that there had been peace in Europe for about 75 years and we should thank the EU for it, despite its faults, and we should aim to stay in or stay close to it. Remain and reform, the usual shtick. There is something to be said for this point of view, but he misses a fair few points.

For one thing, there was a cold war in Europe from 1945 – which is not peace exactly, certainly not from the point of view of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. For another thing, what prevented the cold war becoming a full blown affair was not the EU but NATO (an organisation not mentioned at all by Morpurgo): American tanks in Berlin, the nuclear deterrent. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was war in Europe, in the former Yugoslavia and Kosovo, and the EU (and, to be fair, the UN too) were ineffectual in bringing about peace. It was left to NATO to do the job. You are drawn to the conclusion that the best way for European nations to ensure peace in Europe is to meet their NATO commitment of spending 2% of GDP on defence. Britain does this, yet many others (Germany, France and Italy among them) do not. And so on…

Certain good, even great European writers have made the case for the unification of Europe. For example, Stefan Zweig thought that Switzerland – a peaceful country with Italian, French and German communities – would make a good model. Switzerland has never shown any desire to actually join the EU, and in recent months the EU seems to be becoming quite antagonistic toward it  Zweig was not quoted in this show, unfortunately.

Re:Creating Europe was showing at The Lowry as part of the Manchester International Festival 2019. Further details can be found here.

In Fabric


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In Fabric

Directed by Peter Strickland

UK, 2018

HOME, 11 July 2019

In Fabric

A weird, wonderful witches’ brew of a film.

First ingredient, it references and echoes those British portmanteau horror films of yesteryear. Here we have an accursed red dress that one person buys in a sale (Marianne Jean-Baptiste, a woman coming out of a divorce and wanting to dress to impress a date), another picks up for cheap in a charity shop (intending to give it to a bridegroom on a stag night). The dress is bad news for anyone who buys wears it. And it doesn’t like to be washed.

Second, there is the fetishism. Whilst not as explicit as in Peter Strickland’s previous film, The Duke of Burgundy, which peeped at the inner workings of a sadomasochistic relationship, it is explicit enough. One character is called Gwen, perhaps a nod to John Willie’s graphic novel.

Third ingredient is the black humour, which puts you in mind often of Chris Morris. Then (fourth) there is the atmospheric, unsettling soundtrack courtesy of Cavern of Anti-Matter.

Altogether, it is a potent mix and In Fabric is a film that probably won’t work for everyone. Mind, I would say there is enough to interest and intrigue, if not always entertain.