Our weekend arts and culture picks, from Happy Valley to Florence + The Machine

The Independent’s weekend Arts Agenda brings you the best recommendations across the arts (Bloomsbury/V&A/Amblin/Getty/BBC/Royal Court)
The Independent’s weekend Arts Agenda brings you the best recommendations across the arts (Bloomsbury/V&A/Amblin/Getty/BBC/Royal Court)

Wondering what to do this weekend? You’ve come to the right place. Welcome to The Independent’s Arts Agenda, our guide to the very best culture to catch up with across your Saturday and Sunday.

Carefully curated by our critics and editors, this round-up features hot tips across the worlds of art, film, TV, theatre, dance, comedy, opera, books and music. Whether you’re after a must-see new production or an under-the-radar gem you might have overlooked, we’ve got you covered.

This week, TV editor Ellie Harrison gives the thumbs-up to Jason Segel and Harrison Ford’s new psychotherapy sitcom Shrinked, while arts editor Jessie Thompson says she’s discovered the joys of reading Barbara Trapido. Film editor Adam White recommends a deeply moving documentary about Nan Goldin, while our chief art critic Mark Hudson highlights the latest first-rate show from Mohammed Sami. Our music editor Roisin O’Connor, meanwhile, has good things to say about Florence and the Machine’s London O2 gig.


Africa Fashion

An exuberant collision of tradition and innovation in Britain’s biggest African fashion showcase to date, with 250 exhibits highlighting interactions with music and the visual arts. From mid-20th-century pioneers to radical designers of today, this groundbreaking show sees the long-marginalised continent’s creativity exploding on all fronts. V&A, until April 16


Alberta Whittle: Dipping Below a Waxing Moon, the Dance Claims Us for Release

Barbados-born, Glasgow-based Whittle delights in dishing painful home truths. Her hard-hitting film for the Scottish pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale saw an African praise singer declaiming the genealogies of Black men killed in British police custody. This show, meanwhile, delves into the slave-trading heritage of Bath’s beautiful Holburne Museum. Holburne Museum, Bath, until May 7

Mohammed Sami: The Point O

From asylum-seeking refugee to art-world star. This is the biggest show to date for the 38-year-old Baghdad-born artist, who was a revelation in Mixing It Up, the Hayward’s mammoth 2021 British painting survey. Sami’s eerily quiet, exquisitely rendered images of abandoned installations and deserted cities are suffused with the agony of displacement and loss. Camden Art Centre, until May 28

Mark Hudson, chief art critic

‘Ten Siblings’, 2021, by Mohammed Sami (Courtesy of the artist, Modern Art London and Luhring Augustine New York)
‘Ten Siblings’, 2021, by Mohammed Sami (Courtesy of the artist, Modern Art London and Luhring Augustine New York)


The Gospel of Wellness: Gyms, Gurus, Goop and the False Promise of Self-Care, by Rina Raphael

January is usually a mad fever-dream of desperate aspirations to change one’s entire physical being, but this year feels a bit different. Most of the people I’ve spoken to aren’t setting themselves intimidating health or fitness goals – maybe that’s because we’re all finally over the thrall of the bloodsucking wellness trend. Rina Raphael’s new book takes a deep dive into an industry that might actually be making us quite unwell.

Brother of the More Famous Jack, by Barbara Trapido

Barbara Trapido’s hysterical coming-of-age novel was republished last year to mark its 40th anniversary. I’m recommending it simply because I stumbled upon it the other day, tweeted about how much I adored it, and was immediately inundated with messages from superfans. The fact I didn’t know about it honestly feels like some kind of egregious faux pas, so I wanted to share the love – and recruit a few other new Trapido groupies.

For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy on My Little Pain, by Victoria MacKenzie

The inspiration for Victoria MacKenzie’s debut novel is fascinating: set in the 14th century, it’s about Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe – the first known female authors of books in English. It tells the little-known story of how women’s writing began, and is definitely one of the debuts to keep an eye on this year.

Jessie Thompson, arts editor


All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

The work of pioneering photographer Nan Goldin is rooted in its intimacy – the queer joy, the hushed longing, the private pain. This powerful, rousing documentary unpacks her journey from conservative Sixties suburbia to the LGBT+ liberation of Seventies New York. Alongside this, director Laura Poitras follows Goldin in the present day as she wages war against the billionaire Sackler dynasty. The family’s sponsorship of art galleries and museums long served as a pretty smokescreen to conceal darker interests: they financed and profited from the production and marketing of OxyContin, considered the root cause of America’s opioid crisis. In cinemas from Friday 27 Jan

Nan Goldin attending a protest against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, as seen in ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ (Neon)
Nan Goldin attending a protest against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, as seen in ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ (Neon)

The Fabelmans

Calling Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama a “love letter to cinema” – or even a bit of expensive navel-gazing – largely misses the point. This is a moving, beautifully directed film about a family fraying at the seams (Michelle Williams, playing its matriarch, is marvellous), and the teenage son of the clan (Gabriel LaBelle’s Spielberg-surrogate Sammy) finding salvation in creativity. There’s a genuinely funny romcom smuggled in here, too, as Jewish Sammy dates a devout – and adorably daffy – Christian girl (Chloe East). Finally arriving in British cinemas, it’s far more affecting and universal than how it’s been sold. In cinemas from Friday 27 Jan

Shotgun Wedding

Nothing speaks more loudly to the shifting whims of fame than Jennifer Coolidge having far more lines in Shotgun Wedding’s trailer than the film’s actual star, Jennifer Lopez. Fresh from her Golden Globe win for The White Lotus, Coolidge bursts into song and wields a machine gun as Lopez’s mother-in-law, because Prime Video knows what you’re really here to see. Lopez and Josh Duhamel meanwhile play newlyweds whose wedding is hijacked by pirates (!), leading to “handsome couple setting off explosives” hijinks à la last year’s Sandra Bullock/Channing Tatum romcom The Lost City. Streaming on Prime Video from Friday 27 Jan

Adam White, film editor


Live music: Florence and the Machine – O2 Arena, London

Hearing Florence Welch sing is like “watching an Olympic gymnast perform their most complex routine”, said The Independent’s live review of Florence + the Machine in 2018. “It’s quite something to watch her skipping and twirling her way across the stage in bare feet in a diaphanous gown of pale pink, with her vivid red hair flying behind her. In his wildest dreams, Dante Gabriel Rossetti couldn’t have conjured up such a pre-Raphaelite vision.” With plenty of new material from last year’s Dance Fever, Welch and her band are bound to leave you in high spirits. At the O2 on 28 January

Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine (PA Wire)
Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine (PA Wire)

Album: St Louis Blues – Stephane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, Quintette du Hot Club de France

This is one of my favourite records of all time. I have a 1964 pressing on vinyl – do find a copy if you can – but it’s also on streaming services including Spotify. Django Reinhardt – the exuberant Gypsy King, whom the late Jeff Beck once called “the most astonishing guitar player ever” – rewrote the rules of jazz guitar after injuries sustained in a caravan fire left him with two ruined fingers. When he met French-Italian violinist Stephane Grappelli in 1934, a beautiful and lasting friendship was born. Together, they formed le Quintette du Hot Club de France, described by Grappelli as “the first rock band in the world – I don’t know any other group that had three guitars before us”. There are many things to love about St Louis Blues, not least the sheer dexterity and genius behind the band’s playing. But what I love most is the fun of it, the playfulness and chemistry that’s often lacking among contemporary groups. On their rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown” you heard Reinhardt urging Grappelli on: “One more, Steph! ... aww, yeah.” QHCF were irrepressible. Let them take you for a spin.

Roisin O’Connor, music editor


Sound of the Underground

Travis Alabanza’s 2020 play Overflow, about a trans woman under siege in a nightclub toilet, immediately struck me as a future classic. Their latest, which is “part play, part raucous cabaret, part workers’ manifesto”, features eight drag performers and confidently continues that streak of greatness. Read Isobel Lewis’s five-star review in Sunday’s The Week on Stage column – and then nab a ticket before it sells out. Royal Court, until 25 February

‘Sound of the Underground’ is being staged at the Royal Court Theatre in London (Helen Murray)
‘Sound of the Underground’ is being staged at the Royal Court Theatre in London (Helen Murray)

The Boys Are Kissing

Recent cuts to Hampstead Theatre have forced it to close its literary department, prompting fears that new voices would lose an important champion within the theatre ecosystem. Theatre503, then, is a venue very much worth supporting if you value fresh new writing, with a valuable role as a launchpad for emerging talents. Its latest production, by Zak Zarafshan, is about the fallout when two nine-year-old boys kiss in a school playground. Theatre503, until 4 February

Noises Off

Michael Frayn’s comedy about the backstage hijinks of a touring theatre company is the gold standard in farce – so much so, it’s a surprise that it doesn’t just run in the West End for ever. New productions always pop up at regular intervals though, such as this 40th-anniversary revival, which has transferred to London’s Phoenix from Theatre Royal Bath with Tracy-Ann Oberman and Felicity Kendal in the cast. A reliable weekend tonic. Phoenix Theatre, until 11 March

Jessie Thompson, arts editor



After a few years out of the Hollywood spotlight, former romcom king and How I Met Your Mother star Jason Segel fronts this expensive-looking new sitcom about a grieving, pill-popping therapist who has more issues than all his clients combined. It’s worth tuning in – if only to see a gloriously grumpy Harrison Ford in his first major sitcom role. Apple TV+, out now

Jason Segel and Harrison Ford in ‘Shrinking’ (Apple TV+)
Jason Segel and Harrison Ford in ‘Shrinking’ (Apple TV+)

Happy Valley

The penultimate episode of Happy Valley’s last ever season hits screens on Sunday night. Last week’s episode ended with James Norton’s prison escapee Tommy Lee Royce donning his Lycra and cycling off into the Yorkshire sunset. We’ve had a peek at what happens next, and let’s just say there’s a lot more to his master plan. BBC One, 9pm, Sunday 29 January

KSI: In Real Life

Thanks to YouTube, KSI has become one of the biggest stars in the world for Gen Z viewers. This new documentary from Louis Theroux dives into the world of the online icon and rapper, and looks at how a normal kid from Watford built a global media brand from his bedroom. Amazon Prime Video, out now

Ellie Harrison, TV editor