Thalissa Teixeira was hoping not to die in 2020. But she’s playing Bianca in Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, so sadly she will cop it at the end (no great spoiler – it is a Jacobean tragedy after all). She laughs. “At the audition I said: ‘Do we have to see another woman die?’ So many plays I’ve done, women die: in Yerma, Billie died; in Julie, Vanessa died; in Blood Wedding, Aoife died…”
Teixira has a point, but this bloody litany also serves as a handy summary of the 27-year-old’s impressive CV. Since graduating from the Royal Welsh College in 2014, she’s played opposite Vanessa Kirby in Polly Stenham’s Miss Julie at the National Theatre, and with Billie Piper and Aoife Duffin in the Lorca plays Yerma and Blood Wedding at the Young Vic.
Teixeira is a memorable performer, even in supporting roles – but this looks to be a break-out year. She stars opposite Maisie Williams in Sky’s crime caper Two Weeks to Live, playing a “stone-cold” cop, and in Trigonometry – a BBC Two comedy written by Duncan Macmillan and Effie Woods about a flatshare that turns into a polyamorous relationship.
“It’s nothing to do with maths – thank God, because I would not be able to act that!” says Teixeira. She was so desperate to get the part, she wrote a pleading letter to the director Athina Tsangari after her audition. “It’s funny: so many people are wanting to use the term ‘controversial’ because it’s about three people falling in love together, but it’s never been a word we used,” says Teixeira.
Live performance is still her main love, however: Teixeira is part of storytelling group the Embers Collective. “It’s one of the most terrifying performances: you’re retelling an ancient story that’s been told millions of times before, in your own words, no one’s directed you, you have nowhere to hide. It’s so revealing – which is probably why I love it. I’m a bit addicted to it.”
She links this urge to perform to her heritage: born in Bradford to a black Brazilian father and white British mother, she was raised in El Salvador, returning to the UK when she was eight. “It’s probably why I became an actor, because in Brazil everyone is performing all the time.”
Teixeira considers herself lucky that she’s rarely been cast because of her race – but adds that she “hates” the term “colourblind casting”. That change needs to be seen in the writing, she says. “Why are we putting on plays written by long-dead, white, fascist, racist men, and then putting some black people in it? Why don’t we put more money into plays about people Ian McKellen would never be able to perform?”
Big names return
It promises to be a tremendous year for fiction, with an embarrassment of big-name novelists returning to the fray. There will be new novels from Anne Tyler, Isabel Allende, Lionel Shriver, Roddy Doyle, Sebastian Barry and JM Coetzee, but it will be hardest to miss Hilary Mantel, who will publish the third and final book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy in March – an event looked forward to with as much feverish longing as the follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale last year. The first two books in the series, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both won the Man Booker prize (a unique achievement for successive novels), so it’s a good bet that The Mirror and the Light will make for a triumphant finale. Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet (March) marks a departure for a much-loved and acclaimed author as she too takes on historical fiction. “Dazzling. Devastating,” says Kamila Shamsie of the novel, which was inspired by the family tragedy of Shakespeare’s son, who died aged 11. Also eagerly awaited is the debut novel by US nonfiction author Ta-Nehisi Coates. The Water Dancer merges historical and fantasy fiction in a slavery story that Oprah Winfrey says is one of the best books she has read in her life. Phew!
Cats arrived to widespread derision last month, but hopes remain high for several splashy, stage-derived musicals in 2020. While the world waits for a Hamilton movie, Lin-Manuel Miranda fans will be tided over with the film of his earlier Broadway smash In the Heights, a vibrant ensemble piece set within New York’s Latin American community, with a score encompassing salsa and hip-hop. It’ll make for an interesting contrast to Steven Spielberg’s Ansel Elgort-starring remake of the beloved West Side Story, adapted by Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner. Here in Britain, meanwhile, surprise West End hit Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is coming to the screen with a cast of bright young things and stalwarts including Richard E Grant; this feelgood story of a teenage drag queen could be the next Billy Elliot.
The plot of Sally Rooney’s phenomenally successful second novel presents no obvious barriers to adaptation: this story of two young people negotiating the pitfalls of love and tertiary education in post-crash Ireland is ripe for onscreen drama. Whether the new 12-part TV version of Normal People for the BBC and Hulu (airing this spring) can match Rooney’s razor-sharp psychological observations and weightless narrative flow is another question. But the talent behind it bodes well, with Lenny Abrahamson, the Irish director of Room, Frank and Garage, overseeing the series alongside Hettie Macdonald (Doctor Who, Fortitude). Cold Feet actor Daisy Edgar-Jones and newcomer Paul Mescal play Marianne and Connell.
It’s often said that change in British theatre will only come about when you change who’s in charge. And a new trend in 2019 has proved quietly progressive: job shares. The artistic directorship of Manchester Royal Exchange is now split between two rising directing talents: Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise. They join other recent appointments – Charlotte Bennett and Katie Posner at Paines Plough; Debbie Hannan and Gareth Nicholls at the Traverse – in opening up possibilities for more collaborative arts leadership.
“Who we are and what we look like and the point at which we are in our careers is maybe a bit different,” Shanahan says. She met Weise in 2013, when they both had a BBC theatre fellowship; in 2016, each won emerging director awards, resulting in shows at the Young Vic – Trade by Debbie Tucker Green for Shanahan and Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop for Weise. Shanahan has since directed Queens of the Coal Age at the Royal Exchange, while Weise has directed Nine Night and Master Harold and the Boys at the National Theatre.
“I don’t think theatres should be run by just one person,” says Weise. “Especially theatres of this size and ambition,” adds Shanahan. “It’s a huge job.” They’ve yet to announce their first season, but Shanahan directs Wuthering Heights and Let the Right One In in 2020, as programmed by former artistic director Sarah Frankcom. They’re keen to broaden the stories that get staged. “The world I live in doesn’t look like what I see on stage sometimes,” says Weise. “We have to try 150% to make that happen.”
That they have an easygoing friendship is evident when we meet, but their differing styles complement each other too: Shanahan is softly spoken, a little more cautious, while Weise tends to jump into answers, all beaming grins and belly laughs. When he says she’ll be looking after all the spreadsheets, he’s joking – but she might just be the more practical one. On the day Weise moved house from his native London to Didsbury, just outside Manchester, she turned up at his doorstep with bags of groceries.
The job share came about because they are mates – a friendship that really developed when Weise stayed with Shanahan in Manchester, where she’s lived and worked for four years (she grew up in Staffordshire). “Bryony was coming home every day with this great passion for the theatre and what it could be,” Weise recalls.
And Shanahan does believe the theatre’s in-the-round space is rather special. “It’s a democratic arena – it doesn’t let you be dishonest, audiences can sniff it out. So there’s a really healthy lack of pretension here.”
“A lot like Manchester,” laughs Weise. “People tell you how it is!”
If nothing else, 2020 looks as if it’s going to be a vintage year for live music, with a number of major tours on the horizon. Kicking off proceedings – injuries permitting – Madonna plays a run of London dates from 27 January to 15 February, touring her latest album Madame X.
Next, purveyor of swooning melodies Lana Del Rey brings Sad Girl winter to our shores (25 Feb, London to 29 Feb, Birmingham); a new album, White Hot Forever, is in the works.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (2 May, Birmingham to 15 May, London) tour their latest double album, Ghosteen, which is largely about the death of Cave’s teenage son. Its tender, intimate songs may not feel like obvious arena fillers, but the tour is set to be an emotional experience for everyone involved.
Dressed like a Soundcloud rapper and murmuring vaguely threatening lines about teenage hormones and death, Billie Eilish returns with her genre-shredding ASMR bangers (21 July, Manchester to 30 July, London).
He set trends, dem man copy: Michael Omari, AKA Stormzy, AKA Big Michael, returns to live music after his victorious Glastonbury headline set with a powerful second album, Heavy Is the Head (2 Sept, London to 22 Sept, Bournemouth).
Finally, the Rocketman himself. After a mammoth run of dates around the world, the UK leg of Elton John’s widely anticipated Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour starts and ends in London (2 Nov to 17 Dec), via various other cities, before he retires from live performance. So long, tiny dancer.
A jubilant ensemble drama about a group of Hackney teenagers, Rocks was a hit on the festival circuit last year. The film’s title may allude to something rough and grey but the movie is anything but – each performance is its own shimmering, incandescent diamond. Newcomer Bukky Bakray is Shola, aka Rocks, an enterprising sixth former who makes quick cash perfecting her classmates’ makeup on her lunch break. When her depressed mother disappears, Rocks must temporarily assume the role of caretaker for younger brother Emmanuel (D’Angelou Osei Kissiedu), simultaneously juggling lessons, friendship dramas, and the looming threat of social services. It’s unclear when – or if – her mum will return.
Authored by award-winning Nigerian-British playwright Theresa Ikoko, who co-wrote the screenplay with Claire Wilson, the film is directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, Suffragette). Gavron is adamant that the film must not be referred to as Sarah Gavron’s Rocks. “I was a kind of facilitator,” she insists, explaining that it was Ikoko who developed the story, drawing on her own experiences of growing up on an estate in Hackney. The team workshopped the film with the actors for a year before Ikoko and Wilson started writing the script. Made with a crew that skewed 75% female, the intention was to uplift and include young women from similar backgrounds as the central characters wherever possible. “We live around these girls but we don’t often see them on our screens – we don’t hear their stories,” says Gavron. “We thought, how about building a film with them? We wanted the girls to look behind the camera and think: ‘I could be a director, a writer, a cameraperson, a sound engineer, a production designer.’”
Among the film’s more experienced female crew members are casting director Lucy Pardee, who has worked with Andrea Arnold, and cinematographer Hélène Louvart (who shot Happy as Lazzaro and Beach Rats). Even more moving than its background though is the film itself, which despite its courageous, downbeat ending is thrillingly alive in its depictions of adolescent joy.
Hollywood stars on the stage
London theatre holds a perennial appeal for the A-lister who wants to prove their acting credentials – but by any standards, 2020 is a bonanza year for big names. The Old Vic kicks off with Daniel Radcliffe in Beckett’s Endgame in January, with Timothée Chalamet arriving for Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles in April. In the West End, Jessica Chastain stars in a production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the Playhouse in June, while in March, Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke will make her West End debut there in Chekhov’s The Seagull, adapted by Anya Reiss and directed by Jamie Lloyd. Jake Gyllenhaal brings his acclaimed performance in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George to the Savoy come June. At the Young Vic, Cush Jumbo takes on the big one: see her Hamlet from July. In the same month, the actual Whoopi Goldberg really does get back in the habit as Sister Act hits the Hammersmith Apollo. And it’s not just Hollywood actors: West Wing screenwriter Aaron Sorkin brings his Broadway-conquering adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird to the Gielgud theatre from May.
Comedy sketch duo Freya Parker and Celeste Dring, AKA Lazy Susan, are describing their feelings about being named rising stars in 2020 by this paper. “We’re glowing,” deadpans Dring. “Buoyant. It’s tricky to get things done because we keep floating up off the floor.”
Trying to interview the pair involves separating fact from their flights of fancy. “We’re both from showbiz dynasties,” claims Dring. “Our parents are clowns.”
Parker picks up the baton: “And we met at Eton. It’s a heartwarming riches-to-riches story.”
They’ve actually been writing and performing together for five years, after being introduced by a mutual friend when they’d left university and were “doing bits and bobs” in fringe theatre. “We started off trying to write a play together but it was so bleak and awful, I shudder when I think of it,” cringes Parker. “We kept dicking around doing characters instead, so we accidentally began writing comedy.”
Last year, the duo released a well-received sketch show pilot on BBC iPlayer, which then got a terrestrial airing on BBC2. It was based on their sellout Edinburgh run, which sent up post-#MeToo sexual anxiety and saw them greet the audience with: “Good afternoon, ladies and predators!” This year, more TV projects beckon, but they’re currently top secret. “You’ll definitely be seeing more of us in 2020,” says Parker.
Parker grew up in Teesside, worshipping Vic and Bob (“They were like gods in the north east”). Dring comes from Wolverhampton, where her early comedic influences were Nickelodeon cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life and 1999 beauty pageant comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous: “It’s got a dynamite cast and was the first time I saw lots of women being funny together, so it was an important film for me.”
The Lazy Susan name can be a bit of a liability when it comes to the opposite sex. “It’s a joke that lame men make,” explains Parker. “Which one’s lazy and which one’s Susan? Hur-hur-hur.”
“And I’m like, Are you single?” trills Dring sweetly. “But I like it because it’s both an object and sounds like a description of a woman.” Parker chips in: “I like the fact that it’s got a Z in it.”
“You’re not playing Scrabble, mate,” says Dring.
As well as having projects together in the pipeline, they’ll both be popping up elsewhere in TV comedy this year. Parker is among the ensemble cast of BBC Two’s The Mash Report. “It’s coming back in spring and I’m chuffed to be part of it,” she grins. “These are dark times, so we need satire more than ever at the moment.”
Dring plays Princess Eugenie in royal sitcom The Windsors. “We just shot the new series, which airs next month,” she says. “You’ll have to watch it to see if there are any scenes set in Pizza Express in Woking.” No sweat.
The Dante Project
With Woolf Works (2015), Wayne McGregor pioneered a new form of full-length narrative ballet that yoked together three contrasting acts under one banner. His latest epic piece for the Royal Ballet, where he is resident choreographer, sounds even more ambitious: a journey inspired by Dante’s The Divine Comedy, moving from Inferno, through Purgatorio to Paradiso, with a newly commissioned score by Thomas Adès that is symphonic in scale, and designs by the artist Tacita Dean. McGregor’s muse Edward Watson stars, alongside Francesca Hayward and Matthew Ball at the Royal Opera House (6 May – 1 June). Inferno premiered in Los Angeles in 2019, where it was warmly received; much anticipation surrounds the completed piece.
Life kits podcasts
“Life kit” podcasts have been around for a bit – think Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast, or all those shows on how to become better at business/being mindful/noticing how crappy your life is – but there will be even more coming in 2020. Such podcasts have tended to be American (NPR even launched a specific “life kit” strand around a year ago), but now the UK is joining in. Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke, authors of the best-selling Slay in Your Lane, are launching Slay: How to Succeed in Your Career; Alex Holder, whose book Open Up: Why Talking About Money Will Change Your Life was another hit this year, will be bringing out Awkward Conversations About Money. (Both of these will be on Audible.) Money 101, presented by Bea Duncan, another “how to manage your finances” show, this time aimed at young adults, will be coming out in January on BBC Sounds. Expect a plethora of career and life management podcasts, so you can listen and feel as though you’re actually doing something about that crappy life of yours.
Director Fyzal Boulifa
Fyzal Boulifa is a hard man to pin down for an interview. When his schedule finally permits a moment on the phone, he’s up in the mountains at France’s Les Arcs film festival, the latest stop in a crammed festival tour. The Paris-based Brit arrived directly from Marrakech, following visits to Macao and London, for the British independent film awards, where he was nominated for best debut director. “I haven’t been home in a couple of weeks,” he says, sounding sprightlier than you might expect. “I’m honestly excited to get back tomorrow and do laundry.”
Boulifa is busy promoting his first feature, Lynn + Lucy, a shattering study of female friendship riven by tragedy and community gossip. An exercise in subtly stylised social realism set in a working-class, predominantly white pocket of Essex, it’s not the breakthrough film many people expected Boulifa – the gay, Leicester-born son of Moroccan parents – to make after his last two shorts won top prizes in Cannes.
But Boulifa delights in surprising people. “Diversity can be a poisoned chalice,” he says. “Identity politics are very primary right now: people in the industry have ideas of who you are and where you come from, and expect the stories you tell to directly use that cultural currency. We’re in a progressive moment, but there can be a regressive side to that.”
He sees Lynn + Lucy, inspired by a real-life Bristol case that made tabloid headlines, as his lateral way of processing the society he grew up in, but he has no interest in declaratively personal or autobiographical work. He describes the late German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder as his greatest inspiration, “because none of his films were definitive – each was its own strange object”.
With that in mind, he’s developing two very different follow-up projects: the first a Moroccan-set drama drawn loosely from family lore, the second a teen horror film based on a Junji Ito manga. Having dropped out of film school to take a more self-taught route into the business – “I needed to make my own mistakes,” he laughs – he’s been mostly settled in Paris since attending a film-makers’ residence and meeting his boyfriend there in 2013. The French film world, he says, is less gatekeeper-oriented than the British industry. “And with Brexit…” his voice trails off, no follow-up needed. He is, as I said, not a man to be pinned down.
Big hitters coming back
Shiny new shows often steal the limelight, but plenty of our favourite series will also be returning like long-lost friends. First out of the blocks is the second season of bawdy Netflix teen comedy Sex Education, which arrives on 17 January.
This will be followed by the eighth and final season of CIA saga Homeland on Channel 4 on 16 February. We’ll also see Sky Atlantic’s Save Me too, a sequel to Lennie James’s down and dirty southeast London thriller, and a BBC1 return for JK Rowling’s sleuth Cormoran Strike in Lethal White.
Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar return in ITV’s cold case whodunit Unforgotten, as does Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale season four. Finally, after leaving on a killer cliffhanger, HBO’s Succession sails its super-yacht back on to our screens this summer and it won’t be plain sailing for the rich but deeply dysfunctional Roy dynasty. We can’t wait.
Revolutionary, visionary, genius, Beethoven made a colossal impact on the history of music. Already the most performed composer, in the 250th anniversary of his birth he’ll reach new ubiquity, but with 650 known compositions there’s much to discover. Worldwide celebrations will centre on Bonn, city of his birth, and Vienna, where he made his name. In the UK, hear all nine symphonies in a blockbuster weekend at the Barbican or follow the LSO’s series with Simon Rattle. Check out Southbank Centre and Wigmore Hall too.
Manchester’s Hallé, Birmingham’s CBSO, Liverpool’s RLPO and Poole’s BSO all have big events planned. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are busy too. BBC Radio 3’s Donald Macleod will explore Beethoven’s life throughout the year on Composer of the Week: an epic 125 hours in total.
Classy action movies
For fans of super-luxe lifestyle porn and extravagant stunts featuring (and frequently damaging) the world’s most beautiful travel destinations, a new James Bond movie is always a cause for celebration. The latest in the series, No Time to Die, out 3 April, sees Bond stepping back from active service, only to clash with a new breed of 00 agent and a heavily armed, tech savvy villain. Locations include Italy, Norway and the Scottish Highlands; and Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) directs.
Another class act in the world of action is Tom Cruise, who gets to pull on his flying jacket and aviator shades once more in a sequel to Top Gun. Not much is known about Top Gun: Maverick (out 17 July), which is set 34 years after the original. But expect plenty of breathtaking aerial stunts, numerous shots of Tom Cruise grinning devilishly while driving recklessly fast, and an acknowledgment that, in the age of drones, pilots like Maverick are a dying breed.
For sheer spectacle, however, action fans should put 27 March in their diaries: that’s the release date for Whale Rider director Niki Caro’s lavish remake of Mulan, which promises to be a martial arts extravaganza of staggering scale and ambition. More serious in tone than other Disney live-action remakes, so think Crouching Tiger rather than Little Mermaid.
Black Country, New Road
Traditional guitar bands are dead: in 2020, long live the raucous, provocative, sprawling collective. Black Country, New Road are the latest in a wave of interesting groups in this mould, following the Mercury-nominated Black Midi, Squid and Working Men’s Club. Mixing sounds from post-punk and post-rock with new ideas, the seven-piece, who met at school in Cambridge, have only released two singles so far, but their live shows have been thrilling, packed affairs.
The songs help. Dark, twisting creatures powered by saxophone and violin, as well as guitar, bass, drums and synths, they’re taken in peculiar directions by frontman Isaac Wood’s constantly bifurcating lyrics. Sex, pop culture and gloomier matters are their primary subjects. “She flies to Paris, France, I come down in her childhood bed,” begins first single, Athen’s France (the misplaced apostrophe is deliberate). “Leave Kanye out of this/Leave your Sertraline in the cabinet/And fuck me like you mean it this time, Isaac,” wails the insistent Sunglasses.
Wood doesn’t always do interviews, which suits BC, NR’s collective spirit: saxophonist Lewis Evans and bassist Tyler Hyde speak today from their adopted home of London. Both are 21, sparky and brightly polite. “Isaac didn’t write lyrics before 2018,” Evans starts. “He was brilliant out of nowhere. It’s bizarre he’s so good.” Hyde agrees. “We like how what he writes feels so honest – he’s not hiding behind anything. Also, they say a lot literally and texturally. They’re part of the overall ensemble.”
The band’s obvious musical fluency comes from most of them having played together since they were 15 (apart from new recruit, guitarist Luke Mark); they “gravitated towards each other” at school, Evans says. “The music department there was amazing,” he is at pains to point out. “Properly funded, with brilliant teachers. It absolutely paved the way for us to do what we do now.”
They were another band, Nervous Conditions, until January 2018, driven by the principles of free improvisation. Regrouping later that year with a new frontman and name (which Wood has described as meaning “a good way out of a bad place”) they released their first single on influential south London label Speedy Wunderground in April. Sunglasses followed in August. Both quickly sold out.
Feverishly received gigs at Brixton’s Windmill Club and summer festivals also helped cement who the new band were. “We were interacting, developing and even doing a lot of songwriting live – and that helped us feel confident together,” says Hyde, excitedly. The new material will be released soon, she hopes. So does the whole indie scene. That dark tarmac’s glistening brightly.
Black Country, New Road are on tour in the UK until 4 February
Books about motherhood
If 2019 was the year of the single-girl memoir, with confessional writing by the likes of Dolly Alderton (All I Know About Love) and Elizabeth Day (How to Fail) flying off the shelves, 2020 looks set to be a year of memoirs exploring a very different aspect of women’s lives: motherhood.
Motherwell by the late Deborah Orr is a story about her girlhood in the shadow of the Ravenscraig steelworks she both loved and hated and her escape to university. But more than that, it is a tender, unflinching account of her relationship with her difficult, controlling mother, made all the more poignant by the fact that Orr did not live to see it published (it will be out later this month).
Nell Frizzell’s The Panic Years, out in May, explores how she grappled with that “mother of all decisions” that looms over almost every woman in their 30s: whether or not to have a baby. And in The Hungover Games, coming in March, Sophie Heawood describes how it feels to have an “accidental” baby on your own at the same life-stage – two contrasting experiences of becoming a mother that nonetheless share universal truths.
Candice Brathwaite highlights another far less talked-about aspect of becoming a mother in I Am Not Your Baby Mother, out in May. Her book is an account of how, finding herself pregnant, she began to notice the way motherhood is portrayed in the British media. Where, she wondered, are all the black mothers? The experience led her to start blogging about the subject and found the initiative Make Motherhood Diverse, which aims to encourage a more inclusive depiction of motherhood in the media.
True crime dramatisations
Whatever happened to fictional detectives cracking imaginary cases? The TV trend for true crime dramas will continue with a vengeance this year, starting with this week’s White House Farm on ITV, which finds Freddie Fox playing gunman Jeremy Bamber.
This will be followed by Quiz from playwright James Graham and director Stephen Frears, telling the story of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire “cough-gate” cheating scandal. Its mouthwatering cast includes Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant, Matthew Macfadyen as Major Charles Ingram and Fleabag’s Sian Clifford as his wife, Diana.
David Tennant will play Muswell Hill murderer Dennis Nilsen in ITV drama Des, while Stephen Merchant plays so-called “Grindr killer” Stephen Port in BBC1’s The Barking Murders. There’s also Salisbury, about the 2018 novichok poisonings; The Serpent, about backpacker killer Charles Sobhraj; and Honour, about the real-life “honour killing” of 20-year-old Londoner Banaz Mahmod.
Step inside Aria Wells’s incense-smoked flat in south London and you immediately get a waft of her character: there are mini-shrines of candles and trinkets from her travels to Mexico, India and Peru on practically every surface; one wall is plastered with posters of Hindu gods to match the Om symbol tattooed between her eyebrows; a tiny kitten named after the dancehall musician Buju Banton skitters across the floor. “Everything I do, I need to find a ritual in it,” she says, lighting a nub of palo santo. “It’s got to be magic.”
There is certainly something cosmic about her ascent. The 25-year-old singer performs as Greentea Peng, so named because she’s a fan of green tea and the word “peng” (peng is slang for something that’s attractive, or a type of “high-grade weed”), and her rise to hot tip for 2020 has been swift yet effortless. In just one year, she has gone from working behind the bar of an east London club to supporting Neneh Cherry on tour and working with Goldie and Mike Skinner.
Her tracks Mr Sun (Miss da Sun) and Downers seem to capture a mood: sad summertime soul that suggests a more bohemian Amy Winehouse and a Lahndahn Lauryn Hill. “I definitely feel like a London artist,” she says, having moved back to the capital from Kent in her late teens. “The bleakness of it in the winter brings out something in me.” Downers, in particular, evokes the isolation of the city and how you can “numb yourself to your surroundings too much”.
When we meet, it’s UK election day and Wells had just put a spoken-word “rant” called Bun Boris on YouTube. She says the next song she releases will be political, too, aiming to “spark questions in people’s brains” – though her lyrics tend to be searching and introspective rather than didactic. “A lot of music is all materialistic,” she says. “One of the reasons why we’re in such a crisis with our young people is that our priorities are warped.”
Some have called her music spiritual, which Wells doesn’t necessarily agree with, but it’s clear that she is looking for a higher purpose. Her latest ink is a spiral on her cheek, representing “the journey from ignorance to enlightenment” and an eye on her “throat chakra”, so placed “to make sure I always sing and remind me to communicate truthfully”. Which is handy, as she’ll be doing far more of it in 2020. Magical, indeed.
Exhibitions to look out for
2020 is another sensational year for art. Three cult artists get their full due at London’s Royal Academy – shadowy night painter Léon Spilliaert, fantastical illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, charismatic performance artist Marina Abramović, filling the entire RA with her provocations and spells. Dürer, Raphael and Titian all get huge surveys at London’s National Gallery, along with Cézanne (RA) and Warhol (Tate Modern). The balance continues to adjust with much-anticipated retrospectives of the artists Angelica Kauffman (RA), Magdalena Abakanowicz (Tate Modern), Zanele Muholi (Tate Modern) and Haegue Yang (Tate St Ives).
But the show of the year, at the National Gallery, has to be the greatest heroine of them all – Artemisia Gentileschi, Italian baroque painter, precocious successor to Caravaggio, self-reliant traveller and sometime visitor to London. Courageous witness against her rapist in court, Gentileschi painted some of the strongest women in art – defiant victims, fiery warriors, and herself in different guises. Her speciality was the story of Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes, who was about to destroy her city. This will be a lightning strike of a show – and, amazingly, our first in this country.
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