Live arts correspondent Bella Todd on the hottest happenings in the global cultural calendar this week, including festivals where the mind matters, and Alan Rickman and Mikhail Bulgakov on the stage.

The Main Event: Crunch art and music festival

Time was, a festival experience wasn’t a festival experience unless it involved leaving an important part of your brain somewhere, somewhere in a field in Hampshire. But in recent years a new sort of festival has emerged that’s less about getting out of your mind than developing it. At the front of the pack in the UK is Crunch, an annual art and music festival in the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye that combines brilliant bands, late night parties and art from the hippest contemporary galleries with an intensely thought-provoking debate programme. After all, if you’re going to bring together over 500 of our most forward-thinking actors, artists, writers and musicians in one small market town, you might as well throw them a few questions.

Crunch being the product of the Institute of Art and Ideas, the focus of these debates is never less than the role and responsibilities of art itself. Last year the headliner was folk-inflected Brit Award winner Laura Marling, and the theme ‘what is the point of art?’ This year twig-brandishing pastoral post-punk heroes British Sea Power take the lead slot with a specially arranged semi-acoustic set, while conversation will be on the topic ‘Awake in the Universe’, from art’s ability to raise us from our emotional and intellectual slumbers to which complacent elements of the contemporary art world that could do with a wake-up call.

Contributing to the conversation will be the likes of Brit Art provocateur (and brother of Dinos) Jake Chapman, Don’t Look Now director Nicolas Roeg, theatre directors John McGrath and Adrian Noble and Patrick Brill aka Bob and Roberta on the subject of America’s art parties.

Meanwhile there’s music from up and coming dreamy drum-pop quartet Beaty Heart, beautifully brittle, sharply funny and sweetly switched-on songwriter Chris TT, and Aussie chamber-folk starlets (and furnishers du jour of theme tunes for gloomy TV detective dramas) Emily Barker And The Red Clay Halo.

This year’s Crunch has doubled in size (with three new venues including an impressive sounding ‘art pavilion’), proving there’s a real appetite out there for thought-provoking festivals. To pinch another Pulp lyric, all this has to start to mean something (-ing-ing-ing).

Best Of The Rest

  • And here’s another… One of the most innovative live literature festivals in the world, Holland’s Crossing Border turns the age-old act of storytelling into a cutting edge performance event via the involvement of artists and musicians (this year including Tom Smith of Editors and Andy Burrows ex-Razorlight with their new Christmas songs project, which admittedly does rather undermine our use of the phrase ‘cutting edge’…). This year’s programme includes True Stories, an event in which artists and writers appearing elsewhere in the festival will tell stories about or by groupies; and Achievers, a collaboration between Lebowski, a Dutch publisher with an emphasis on urban culture, and hip hop label TopNotch in which authors and musicians will perform together in five minute slots.
  • Alan Rickman merely curling his lip in the bathroom mirror would be a major theatrical event for his fans. This week the newly liberated Harry Potter star is also opening on Broadway in Theresa Rebeck’s new comedy Seminar, about the vicious world of literary criticism, before he turns himself over to the Coen brothers for work on their remake of Gambit.
  • Cult Soviet Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov is behind two of the UK’s most talked about theatre productions this week. At the National Theatre, Collaborators, by Trainspotting, Shallow Grave and The Beach screenwriter John Hodge, is a historically-inspired play about the author’s complex relationship with Stalin. Meanwhile Bulgakov’s own devilishly surreal satire, The Master And Margarita, is being newly adapted for the stage at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal by Complicité, an always visually inventive theatre company – which you’ve got to be when you’re dealing with cadaverous balls and gherkin-eating cats.

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