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BBC Arts announces new programmes for Culture In Quarantine


BBC Arts today announced further programming for Culture In Quarantine, a virtual festival of the arts rooted in the experience of national lockdown, with more to be announced over the coming weeks.

Virtual Festival of the Arts includes:

  • Extraordinary access to shuttered exhibitions and performances around the country
  • Emergency fund with Arts Council England to support independent artists
  • A virtual book festival curated with Kit de Waal
  • A puppet show from Margaret Atwood for Front Row Late
  • Bac Beatbox Academy’s hit show Frankenstein
  • Classic Shakespeares with the RSC
  • A brand new play from David Greig

Beginning this month, Culture In Quarantine across television, radio and online, will give the nation access to the arts at a time when we need it the most. Providing extraordinary access to shuttered exhibitions, performances and museums, a virtual book festival and much more besides. The BBC mission is to increase access to the arts, at a time when the buildings that support them are closed, and to support artists and arts organisations in the process.

Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, says: “It’s important during this period that we maintain access not just to news and information, but to the arts and culture. For many people they are a valuable part of their lives and a way of stimulating imagination, thought, and escapism. It’s a vital part of who we are as individuals and part of our identity as a nation.

”So I’m delighted that we have been able to work with organisations up and down the country to deliver everything from virtual access to exhibitions and book festivals, through to performances. There is something for everyone. By working together, we can still have a vibrant period of culture to brighten our lives"

Culture In Quarantine features innovative ways to connect with the country, including:

Culture In Quarantine Fund

As part of a wider collaboration between BBC Arts and Arts Council England, a new fund will be launched to commission and distribute around 25 new works by independent artists, in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. This will be reflected throughout the nations.

Access to Exhibitions
Audiences will get extraordinary access to shuttered exhibitions and closed museums in a four part series, Museum In Quarantine.

The Big Book Weekend
A three-day virtual books festival co-founded by the authors Kit de Waal and Molly Flatt, with support from BBC Arts and publishing start-up MyVLF, The Big Book Weekend is a virtual festival that brings together the best of the cancelled British literary festivals. Video interviews, panel discussions, and in conversation sessions will be broadcast as live across three days over the first bank holiday weekend in May.

A repertory theatre service across platforms, with productions from the best of the BBC and the UK dance and theatre scene’s recent output; including a brand new play by David Greig on Radio 3 and new work from the Balletboyz on BBC Four, alongside six classical Shakespeares with the RSC as part of an education initiative for BBC Four, featuring stars like Christopher Eccleston and Hugh Quarshie, and with educational tools online for children learning these plays on the school syllabus.

Online Culture Resource
BBC Arts digital will be repurposed as Culture In Quarantine to support and showcase the work of the wider culture sector.

Front Row Late
Playing the part of presenter and chief engineer, Mary Beard will host the new series of Front Row Late on BBC Two from her study. Special guests include Margaret Atwood, who has created her own puppet show, in isolation, to accompany her narration of a story by Edgar Allan Poe.

Jonty Claypole, Director for BBC Arts, has written a blog further outlining Culture In Quarantine, available to read here.

Culture In Quarantine Fund

As part of a wider collaboration between BBC Arts with Arts Council England for Culture In Quarantine, a fund for around 25 established England-based artists of any discipline to produce new works in creative media - video, audio and interactive - is launching.

Commissions do not need to be about the current emergency, but they do need to adhere imaginatively and lawfully to the principles of self-isolation. Depending on their nature, each work will be hosted by the BBC online and/or on air.

We will be inviting brief expressions of interest explaining your idea, how it could be made, and a ballpark budget by Wednesday 8 April. Ideas can be submitted by artists or by the organisations that represent them. Collaborations between artists of different disciplines are welcome.

The online application form, terms and conditions, and FAQs will be live by end of the week.

Please send an email with the subject line ’Please update me’ to and we will email you as soon as the guidance and application form are published. More information here.

Online Culture Resource

As of today, BBC Arts Digital has been repurposed as a platform where the UK Creative industries can come together to share content and ideas. There will also be brand new blog with regular updates from the curator and director of all BBC Arts content, Jonty Claypole, to guide audiences around the newest discoveries as part of Culture in Quarantine. Visit BBC Arts.


Access To Exhibitions

Scandal And Beauty: Mark Gatiss On Aubrey Beardsley
BBC Four (1 x 60’)

Mark Gatiss (pictured above) explores the life and career of Aubrey Beardsley, an artist who wielded outrage as adroitly as his pen. A lifelong fan, Mark shows how Beardsley was more than just a genius of self-promotion who scandalised the art world of the 1890s, but a technological innovator whose uncompromising attitude still feels remarkably modern.

Scandal And Beauty... follows Beardsley’s fevered footsteps from his childhood in Brighton, via notoriety among the decadents of London’s fin de siècle, to his early death in France in 1898 at the age of just 25. Contributors to the programme include Stephen Fry, who discusses Beardsley’s illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s banned play, Salome.

The programme is in association with the major exhibition of Aubrey Beardsley’s work at Tate Britain, which opened 4 March 2020.

Museums In Quarantine
BBC Four (4 x 30’)

Museums in Quarantine is a four-part series for BBC Four made by Swan Films that will explore national collections - whether virtually or with new footage - at a time of enforced closure. In the first programme, Alastair Sooke gains privileged access to Tate Modern for a last look at the Warhol exhibition with its curators.

In ensuing programmes, Dr James Fox will present individual works from Tate Britain that speak to our times, Dr Janina Ramirez will bring to life personal and public favourites from the British Museum, and Simon Schama will present a guide to the critically-acclaimed Young Rembrandt exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford. All titles are subject to rapidly changing events in the UK.

Titian: Behind Closed Doors 
BBC Two (1 x 60’)
In the winter of 1549 the most famous painter in Europe came face to face with the most powerful man on earth. What emerged from this encounter between King Philip of Spain and the Renaissance master Titian is seen as one of the most extraordinary commissions in all of Western art history.

Given almost total creative freedom, Titian was free to explore any subject he pleased. He returned with a set of increasingly dark and explicit images about sexual pursuit, assault and violence. Known as The Poesie, these pictures are admired for their groundbreaking brushwork and innovative composition - yet they remain Titian’s most disturbing and puzzling creations.

Now, coinciding with the National Gallery’s exhibition, which brought the paintings together for the first time in 300 years, we ask why this illusive, dark and often disturbing set of paintings has come to be seen as Titian’s greatest work.

This film includes scenes showing Gabriel Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, closing the exhibition shortly after opening.

Virtual Book Festival

The Big Book Weekend
(BBC Arts Digital / Culture In Quarantine)

The Big Book Weekend, co-founded by the authors Kit de Waal (pictured) and Molly Flatt, with support from the BBC and publishing start-up MyVLF, is a three-day virtual festival that brings together the best of the cancelled British literary festivals.

Video interviews, panel discussions in conversation debates, performances and interactive sessions will be broadcast as live across three days over the first bank holiday weekend in May. As well as keeping book lovers in touch with the artists they love during lockdown, the event - which will feature big names alongside unknown debut authors and rising talents - is aimed at readers of all ages who may have previously been unable to attend a literary festival due to geography, access or cost.

Archive interviews with authors and film adaptations of books will be broadcast during the The Big Book Weekend.


BBC iPlayer and BBC Four will create a theatre in rep for the nation, with filmed live theatre and dance available on demand from the BBC Archive, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Northern Ballet, Sadler’s Wells and in collaboration with The Space new filmed recordings of Mike Bartlett’s Albion, Emma Rice’s Wise Children and Battersea Arts Centre’s Frankenstein. And we are thrilled to debut a brand new play from David Greig, on Radio 3. More titles will be made available online over the coming weeks.

Balletboyz: Deluxe
BBC Four and BBC iPlayer (2 x 30’)

Following Government advice on Monday 16 March and to protect the safety of audiences, artists and workforce, BalletBoyz cancelled the remaining performances of its 20th anniversary UK Spring Tour, but is now able to share the production with audiences watching from home. Deluxe features two new works choreographed by an all-female team: Ripple, the UK debut of renowned shanghai-based choreographer Xie Xin with music by electronic composer Jiang Shaofeng; Bradley 4:18, by Punchdrunk choreographer Maxine Doyle in a collaboration with Mercury Prize-nominated jazz musician Cassie Kinoshi, and inspired by the Kate Tempest track Pictures On A Screen

Northern Ballet: Dracula
BBC Four and BBC iPlayer (1 x 100’)
Northern Ballet’s Dracula brings one of literature’s most sinister creatures to the stage. Choreographed by David Nixon OBE, and based on the Bram Stoker novel that has seduced countless generations, this timeless adaptation is a gothic ballet with dramatic bite.

Starring Javier Torres in the title role, Northern Ballet’s adaptation of this enthralling tale sees the famous vampire travel to England after becoming transfixed on a vision of the innocent Mina. Unable to curb his dangerous desires, Dracula terrorises the town as his tortuous yearning for the young woman grows. But, as Mina realises she is powerless to resist Dracula’s lure, the pair succumb to their mysterious lust, and the hunter becomes the hunted.

Dracula is performed to a score compiled of music by Alfred Schnittke, Sergei Rachmaninov, Arvo Pärt and Michael Daugherty, orchestrated by John Longstaff. The gothic set is designed by Ali Allen, with costumes designed by David Nixon OBE and lighting by Tim Mitchell.

Further dance programmes will also be available as part of a previously announced BBC Dance Season feature works by Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young, Sadler’s Wells Danceworks films with Sharon Eyal, Maria Pages, Ballet Black and Firedance, and a documentary inside the Royal Ballet with their all-star line-up of male dancers.

The Royal Shakespeare Company
BBC Four and BBC iPlayer

The six productions chosen by the Royal Shakespeare Company to be included in Culture In Quarantine are all currently part of the UK education syllabus and form part of a BBC Four focus on educational programming at this time.

They are:

  • Hamlet - 2016, directed by Simon Godwin, with Paapa Essiedu in the title role
  • Macbeth - 2018, directed by Polly Findlay, with Christopher Eccleston in the title role and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth
  • Much Ado About Nothing - 2014, directed by Christopher Luscombe, with Edward Bennett as Benedick and Michelle Terry as Beatrice
  • Othello - 2015, directed by Iqbal Khan, with Hugh Quarshie in the title role and Lucian Msamati as Iago
  • Romeo and Juliet - 2018, directed by Erica Whyman, RSC Deputy Artistic Director, with Bally Gill as Romeo and Karen Fishwick as Juliet
  • The Merchant of Venice - 2015, directed by Polly Findlay, with Makram J. Khoury as Shylock

Alongside these productions, RSC Education is creating activities to support students as they watch the plays in their homes.

In addition to these productions, as announced yesterday, there will also be repeats of much loved previous BBC programmes from Russell T Davies: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, originally broadcast as part of the Shakespeare Season in 2016, and Anthony Hopkins’ King Lear, more information here.

Along with the RSC productions this will offer a suite of eight classic Shakespeares for audiences at home to indulge in during this period of quarantine.

  • Pictured above: Christopher Eccleston in Macbeth

Adventures With The Painted People - a new play by David Greig
BBC Radio 3

Originally commissioned by Pitlochry Festival Theatre, in association with Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, David Greig’s new play adventures with the painted people will now be premiered by Radio 3.

Set in the vicinity of Pitlochry 2,000 years ago, the play follows the adventures of Eithne and Lucius, a Pictish woman and a Roman architect from Tunis, when their paths cross following a military skirmish. The creative team, led by director Elizabeth Newman, are producing it remotely in keeping with the parameters of national lockdown.

Almeida Theatre: Albion 
BBC Four and BBC iPlayer (1 x 165’)

Mike Bartlett’s (Dr Foster) play Albion, directed by Rupert Goold, is a tragicomic drama about national identity, family, mourning and the disappointment of personal dreams. It was filmed in February 2020, during its run at London’s Almeida Theatre.

The play is set in a garden (known as Albion) attached to an English country house. The house has been bought by successful businesswoman Audrey Walters, who intends to restore the garden, now in ruins, to its former glory, and to use it to memorialise the son she recently lost in a foreign war. Richly comic and punctuated by the cultural splits that have characterised Britain over the last years, the play features an award-winning performance form Victoria Hamilton.

Wise Children
BBC Four and BBC iPlayer (1 x 165’)

Director Emma Rice brings her unique, musical and exuberantly impish vision to Angela Carter’s great last novel, in a production that has been seen at theatres across the UK.

A big, bawdy tangle of theatrical joy and pain, Wise Children is a celebration of show business, family, forgiveness and hope. Expect show girls and Shakespeare, sex and scandal, mischief and mistaken identity - and butterflies galore.

Loved by audiences and critics since its premiere, Wise Children has been seen by theatregoers across the UK. It was filmed live at York Theatre Royal in 2019.

Battersea Arts Centre: Frankenstein - How To Make A Monster 
(1 x 60’)

In BAC Beatbox Academy’s hit show, six talented performers interpret Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein from their own perspective as young people growing up in 21st-century Britain.

Two hundred years after the 18 year-old Mary Shelley wrote the text, these young artists explore how modern monsters are created in today’s society. This musical film is part performance, part documentary, with the cast’s voices as the only instruments.

Bringing their own interpretation of the Frankenstein story to life with a dazzling array of vocal talents including rap, beatboxing and song, the cast create a breath-taking musical soundscape filled with memorable original tracks. Originally devised for the stage, the live show, Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster, was a huge hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Scenes For Survival
A responsive digital programme of work that will be created and unveiled online over the coming month, Scenes For Survival will see National Theatre Scotland engage writers, actors, and directors to create and deliver short scenes that will be created from isolation on the themes currently being navigated by the creative sector and beyond.

The programme of work will not only offer free artistic content to audiences, but it will also act as a fundraising platform to raise money for a hardship fund for all those in the theatre industry severely impacted by the perilous current economic situation that many workers and artists find themselves in.

All the National Theatre of Scotland’s digital offering during this time will be free for audiences and available via the Company’s online platforms and social media channels with Scenes for Survival content shared with BBC Arts, BBC Scotland and associate theatre organisations.

We are also supporting Tinderbox Theatre’s Solo Art project in Northern Ireland and there will be more announced soon as part of further updates.

Bryony Kimmings: Opera Mums With Bryony Kimmings
BBC Four and BBC iPlayer

A Performance Live strand in collaboration with Arts Council England, this programme is an hour-long film for BBC Four in which performance artist, activist, musician and single mum Bryony Kimmings explores her feelings about opera, challenging and confronting the aspects of this high art form she finds problematic, and celebrating the aspects she falls in love with.

Inspired by the lives of single mums she meets along the way, and informed by a range of people she meets at the English National Opera, will Bryony pull off the task she’s set herself of writing, casting and rehearsing and then finally performing an operetta in front of an audience?

BBC Four

Beethoven’s only opera Fidelio will be broadcast on BBC Four as recorded at the Royal Opera House in its latest, brand new staging by Tobias Kratzer and days before the recent Covid-19 rulings saw the closure of major institutions.

Widely recognised as a masterpiece, Fidelio is an uplifting story of risk and triumph, here set by Kratzer in the dark reality of the French Revolutionary Terror, and in our own time, to highlight a message of shared hope for humanity. Sir Antonio Pappano conducts a stellar cast including tenor David Butt Philip and soprano Lise Davidsen as Leonore (disguised as ‘Fidelio’).

In addition to these productions, BBC Radio and BBC classical Music Television are working with artists to bring special performances to audiences in their living rooms. More information on the classical music programming will be announced in due course.

Front Row Late

(BBC Two)

Produced by BBC Studios, the late-night topical arts discussion show hosted by Mary Beard returns, but with a twist: Mary will present the programme from her home study and her guests will appear via video link.

The programme will also feature a specially devised performance for Front Row Late: an exclusive response by Margaret Atwood to the present times. The author has chosen a classic tale by Edgar Allan Poe about a fictional plague which Atwood illustrates with her own puppet creations and narrates herself whilst in isolation.

Radio 4

The Poet Laureate Has Gone to His Shed 
BBC Sounds, coming to Radio 4 soon (12 eps)

In this new Radio 4 podcast Poet Laureate Simon Armitage is joined by guests Kate Tempest, Antony Gormley, Lily Cole, Maxine Peake, Guy Garvey and more. Listen in on BBC Sounds as some of the best creative talents share their writing secrets and life lessons with Simon, nestled at the bottom of his garden, surrounded to all sides by the Pennine hills.

His guests offer talk of music, art, sheds, sherry, and his latest poetic undertaking: a translation of the Middle English poem The Owl And The Nightingale.

Front Row
Each night the programme brings live performance, arts news and in depth conversations with performers, critics and creators into the listeners’ homes.

Front Row will take listeners into artists’ homes - Stephen Hough, Samuel West and many others have already performed from their own living rooms. Tonight it’s Eliza Carthy and her musical household as radio does what it does best: keeping people connected and providing companionship through shared experience.

Upcoming interviews will include James Graham, Martin Scorcese, Nitin Sawhney, Dua Lipa, Anoushka Shankar, Marc Almond, and others - John Mullan on Jane Austen and Kit De Waal making the case for the classic novels.

The programme is running regular Culture Clinics where a panel of experts will answer listeners’ cultural needs – how do I learn to play the guitar? How do I keep my 13 year old son reading? Which is the best Leonardo collection to look at?
Front Row also reports on the arts sector, how it is coping with the lockdown and what chances it has of survival after the current crisis.

The Today Programme
With the theatres, museums, galleries and concert halls going dark because of the coronavirus crisis, the Today programme has begun a daily item called: The Show Must Go On. Each day the programme is featuring actors or musicians giving us a glimpse of what they would have performed if they had been able to.

How To Play (4 x 28’)
How do you play Elgar’s Cello Concerto? Brunch’s Violin Concerto No. 1? Or any of the host of classical pieces which are played by star performers to full houses around the world? In this series we take one piece of music each week and spend some time with performers including cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, violinist Nicola Benedetti and other talents who are in the midst of taking on the challenge of performing it for a new audience somewhere in 21st century Britain.

The Reith Lectures: Grayson’s Perry’s Playing To The Gallery
(4 x 42’)
From this coming Saturday, Saturday Review is paused as theatres, cinemas and galleries are themselves shut. In its place for the next four weeks we will rerun The Reith Lectures 2013, Grayson Perry’s Playing To The Gallery. We will have other similar opportunities to broadcast some treasures from our arts and cultural archive over the coming weeks and months.

Black Music In Europe
(3 x 28’)
Clarke Peters embarks on a third series uncovering a surprising history of Black music in Europe, from the aftermath of the Second World War through to the late 1970s.

Word Of Mouth
The series exploring the world of words and the ways in which we use them dips into the archive to select highlights from interviews with leading writers for children. Featured authors include Phillip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Jacqueline Wilson and David Walliams.

Open Book, Book Club, The Film Programme
Elsewhere on Radio 4, programmes showcasing culture - via an array of guests, debates, discussions and performances - continue to bring the arts into our homes at a time when they are much needed.

Radio 3

Free Thinking
The programme will be showcasing it’s collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council with special editions discussing the latest scholarship on subjects as varied as poetry, science fiction and religious history.

The Essay
The Essay continues each weekday night to provide thought-provoking reflections on ideas and culture. Forthcoming editions include the life of Paul Robeson in five songs, including one essay from his granddaughter, and poet Kenneth Stevens in a five-part journey through the Scottish Islands.

Between The Ears
Radio 3’s programme for adventurous audio features visits the Mojave Desert in the company of the Mojave American poet Natalie Diaz, and explores the work of controversial Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson.

The Sunday Feature explores cultural story in depth - with new editions from biographer Jenny Uglow on her vision of Wordsworth as a true radical, and the surprising story of electronic music in India.

Ian McMillan’s The Verb will be providing its weekly cabaret of literary guests and new commissions.

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