The Trip to Spain review: Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden get stuck into food and death

Coogan is a libidinous loner with few interests beyond himself. “It’s grotesque that we talk about death,” he says later in the series. Here in San Sebastian, dining al fresco on grilled fresh fish, Brydon already envisages mercifully executing his comrade. It’s why watching the show feels like such a gorgeous escape, and why, you feel, you should really be planning a holiday. And yet there is such substance in the show. Who else would have them? Coogan’s… Brydon’s Brydon, on the other hand, is too eager to impress, hiding behind so many impersonations it’s as though he alone leaves no impression. In the first two series, the pair followed the journeys of Wordsworth and Coleridge in the north of England, and Byron and Shelley in Italy, for which Winterbottom found wry (usually undercutting) parallels of creation, mortality, posterity and raging appetites. But such dark undercurrents make happiness – sometimes as fleeting as “life-affirming butter” – taste all the sweeter. oh… Between some hilarious goofing (mostly improvised; it’s a delight to see Brydon geting Coogan to crack up) and constant ribbing, they are frequently led towards mordant reflections on mortality. In series two, they held skulls and quoted Hamlet. In series one, Coogan imagined giving Brydon’s eulogy. This time, literary allusions are more muted, although Coogan is fascinated with the tragic arc of Laurie Lee’s return journey, and Brydon with the comic double act of Cervantes’s Don Quixote – their first attempt to see another country from a perspective that is not British. “How nice to hear your voice,” his wife says in this series, with no apparent irony, when he phones in the style of David Frost. But for all that sharp mimicry, the slyest impersonations that Coogan and Brydon give are of themselves: a petty narcissist and an excitable chatterbox, bickering about their careers, dining in style, consumed with death and singing all the way. Their conversation, always prickly and often hilarious, is interrupted by Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins, shouted down by an eruptive Al Pacino or a wheezy Michael Caine, moped over by Alan Bennett, and interrogated by almost all of the Bonds. “Well, my people will be in touch with… oh… you.” “Great,” he says, with light laceration when Brydon agrees yet again. The Trip to Spain (Sky Atlantic, Thursday, 10pm), the third iteration of director Michael Winterbottom’s deceptively simple comedy, is initiated, as ever, …

Cunning subversion and sly black humour: the Czech New Wave comes to the IFI

Half a century after the movement swelled, the Irish Film Institute, in co-operation with the Embassy of the Czech Republic, is hosting an excellent season in tribute to the New Wave. Titled Intimate Lighting, the selection focuses on those film-makers who graduated from the Film and TV School of The Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU) towards the middle of the last century. The IFI have also dug up a few rarely seen treasures: Juraj Herz’s The Cremator (1969) is a notable effusion of the Prague Spring. These works are worth cherishing for the purity of their vision and canniness of their construction. The event will welcome contributions from Jaromír Sofr, cinematographer on many of the films featured. Detailing a musician’s journey to a rural town, the picture was the only feature that Passer – who co-wrote most of Forman’s features – directed in Czechoslovakia. Hanging round a party held to celebrate the retirement of a fire chief, the picture features unmistakable digs at the corruption, inefficiency and inhumanity of the Soviet system. The work is characterised by cunning subversion and a sly black humour. Two durable classics make a welcome appearance. The IFI season takes its title from Passer’s remarkable 1965 film Intimate Lighting. It says something about Forman’s independence of mind that his first American film, Taking Off, was equally savage about the complacency of western bourgeoisie. Worth investigating in depth. Central Europe was a very different place to the swinging west, but we still see youth in revolt and a yearning for social change. Jirí Menzel’s Closely Observed Trains (1967) Forman’s The Fireman’s Ball, released the same year, had just as big an impact. Jirí Menzel’s Closely Observed Trains (1967), based on a much-loved novel by Bohumil Hrabal, follows a student as he endures life as a signalman during the German occupation. The festival also helps remind us of a creative mood that, altering in flavour as it swept across the globe, continues to affect cultural cinema to this day. Intimate Lighting runs at The Irish Film Institute from April 8th The mix of fatalistic humour and sideways tragedy is characteristic of a movement that was more at home to discipline that its French counterpart. The subsequent suppression ended the movement and propelled some participants to the west. Ivan Passer directed the cult classic Cutters Way in the US. As television began to close its grip, …

Weekly gig guide: Craig David, Tigran Hamasayan, Samantha Crain and more

Galway-born, Ní Bhriain studied in Cork (where she lectures now at the Crawford College of Art) and in the UK. Highly respected by enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike, after an extended period of time off-grid Escovedo returned with a bang last year with Burn Something Beautiful, an album that features former REM members Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey. Mermaid Arts Centre, Main St, Bray, Co Wicklow Until April 22 mermaidartscentre.ie In this collaborative commission, Sarah Tynan has made a disintegrating gallery-within-a-gallery, diagnosed by Rebecca O’Dwyer in her accompanying essay as exemplifying the decay of utopian modernism in its empty, postmodernist incarnation. (Pictured below is a still from Report to an Academy, four-screen installation, 2015). Away from Fachwerk, Dehnert has released the How Close EP of pristine streamlined house on the DJ Koze co-founded Pampa label. Part upbeat gig, part DJ rave show – proof positive that you can’t keep a good man, and a terrific R&B singer, down and out for long. It takes the form of work by 18 contemporary artists working in many disciplines plus selected drawings sourced from several collections, including IMMA. Begley’s no stranger to the errant tale or two either, so expect a rich tapestry of song and story to celebrate his first solo excursion into the deep blue of the tradition. This week’s concert, the third last, sees them pairing the expansive first quartet by Sergei Taneyev (pupil of Nikolai Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky, teacher of Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Medtner and Glière) with the compact Quartet No 7 that Shostakovich wrote in 1960 in memory of his first wife, Nina, who had died in 1954. In a real display of community, homeless musician Danny Bracken will perform, and will be accompanied by, among others, Paul Brady and Dave Fleming. Tamsin Snow’s video Showroom is “a CGI walk-through of a speculative autopsy facility”, a sleek promotional pitch in which glossy technology replaces the messy scalpel. Five albums in and the Oklahoma tunesmith has developed into as fine a folk/pop songwriter as you would have hoped for. With this Abbey transfer comes an opportunity to get The Train back on track. Ireland features but he also travelled extensively, visiting 14 countries in all, from the US to Poland. Halferty’s score mixes jazz improv with some strongly melodic writing for a talent-rich, cosmopolitan ensemble that includes saxophonist Michael Buckley, pianist Izumi Kimura, vocalist Aleka Potinga, and violinist Cora Venus Lunny, …

Kilmainham Gaol: my No 1 prison as a ‘dark travel’ writer

I have toured prisons throughout the world, but none has ever moved me in the way this prison did. Travel provided not only the setting for these books, but my reason for writing them. But as a writer, travel often provided much more practical benefits. I would not have written A Dancer in the Dust had I not gone to Ghana, nor The Quest for Anna Klein had I not gone to Belgium, nor The Anguish of Ghosts, the novel I am working on now, had I not gone to Indo-China. On my first trip to London, I stayed in a tiny room with a bath down the hall, one that combined shower and water closet in such a way that the cracked toilet seat was regularly sprayed. The day my late wife and I came there, the entire history of the prison was related in story form. Hiroshima memorial Travel also deepens a writer’s connection to the rest of humanity. For a writer, Kilmainham provided a remarkable illustration of the sheer power of story-telling, itself, the depths its can reach, the emotions it can summon, the past lives it can restore to life. Kilmainham is revealed by its stories. Surely a writer needs to know that. I had been struggling with this issue for weeks, increasingly uncertain, and getting a little desperate since a novel does, in fact, require an ending. They had seen cathedrals and museums, but they had not seen the life that swirled beyond such places, the crowded trains and creaking buses, the noise and dust of ordinary life, the universal struggle to make do. In later life, I met many people who’d toured the world in luxury. In Albi, a small village in France, I suddenly discovered how one of my novels should end. You are too often helped by strangers, too often the beneficiary of unexpected kindness, too often lost, only to be shown the way by someone you will never see again, to remain scornful of our kind. No place has ever encapsulated all the foregoing benefits of travel for a writer more than Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin But for me, no place has ever encapsulated all the foregoing benefits of travel for a writer more than Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. The grave of Saint Damien of Molokai in Hawaii I also did a lot of what is called “dark travel”. I went to …

‘Just five more minutes …’: the joy of writing for children

Fun because they get to read the stories before any of their friends and even to influence me on what happens next. I’ve written for teenagers before, and for younger children, but there’s no denying that this new series has been my most personal experience of writing for the child I once was. For them, having immediate access to what I’ve written is a strange mixture of fun and torture. Remembering how I devoured Noel Streatfeild’s books, wishing I could go to a fancy London theatre school like the Fossil sisters in Ballet Shoes or be an ice skater like Harriet and Lalla in White Boots, kept the inspiration coming. At that age I already knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also harboured dreams of being on stage, so writing about four girls with similar aspirations gave me the chance to explore those feelings once again. “I could never get her interested in fiction, but when I gave her your book she wouldn’t stop reading, and when she finished it she told me she was going to be so lonely without it,” another told me. But I can’t just write for myself, and I’m conscious when I’m writing of what will make young readers want to read on. But the best review of all is hearing that children couldn’t put it down. “She never wants to read on her own, but she can’t put down your book,” said another. And that, for me, is what it’s all about. Getting caught with a novel under my desk in school because I was bored by the class and just had to find out what happened next. It’s the age when you first discover the joys of reading by torchlight under your duvet, the rest of the house quiet, hoping you won’t be caught before your hero escapes from the bad guys. I was in a dungeon with the Famous Five, I was planning a midnight feast at St Clare’s, I was fleeing from the Nazis with the Chalet School girls, I was waiting in the wings with Pauline, Petrova and Posy, ready to go onstage. It helps that my daughters are just the right age for Star Club, and that they have loved it from the first time I showed them a few early chapters. Creating characters, making up storylines and dressing up – memories of doing just the …

Seamus Deane the poet: coming to terms with the past

“If poetry has any enhancing powers for the poet,” Deane wonders aloud, “they surely must include the belief that you must make the effort to break from what formed you, even though this itself is part of an almost predetermined formation.” (Brown, 102). Rumours, his second collection, seems comparatively more secure in its revisiting the past. The 1980s saw publication of the highly influential collection Celtic Revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature 1880 -1980, A Short History of Irish Literature and The French Enlightenment and Revolution in England. If the narrator of the poems in Gradual Wars is “snared in my past” there is an ongoing sense of danger in even the most familiar atmosphere: I fear more the ghost that comes by the wall, The patterned face upon the curtain The sight that can unhinge The stable doors of the sty And maraud for revenge. In addition, I am particularly interested in re-approaching his criticism of the 1970s and ’80s now – mindful of its original provocations, and of the very particular climate in which it was produced – and considering the place it claims both in our increasingly historicised understanding of that period, and in contemporary cultural debates.” So maybe we are beginning to see a wider reassessment of the creative and scholarly writing from contemporary Ireland and a much-needed widening out of the critical franchise. It was a salutary lesson.” Reading Paradise Lost in Protestant Ulster 1984 presents us (in this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, no less!) with a very powerful sense of Seamus Deane’s own coming to terms with the past at the very point his poetry was questioning whether or not history really has any “lessons” we can learn from or if we can ever really let “go”: A maiden city’s burning on the plain; Rebels surround us, Lord, whence arose This dark damnation, this hot unrainbowed rain? But old Con, he’s down there roasting with all the other atheists. “Aye, God rest him in his wee suit of fire, reading his fancy French book.” (Reading in the Dark, p.117-118) Language really is a matter of life and death and possibly, if there’s autobiographical truth in the incident, maybe no surprise that Deane’s interest in some thinkers of the French enlightenment should form part of his own intellectual development. Dedicated in memoriam to Frank Deane, the poet’s father, there is an achieved balance between …

Catherine Walker: the best Irish actress you never heard of?

Yet she’ll be shooting until November “Well, yes. She can’t let go of it. When we got back from that, I felt that I had to get back to the sea. But I was just so focused on drama.” She appears to have lived a fecund life during the English years. But it is Paris!” she sparkles. The virus was unshakable. She went to speech and drama classes. My mother had a great love of theatre. “I had about a year. Interestingly, so did a lot of the actors who were with me. Or does she? “It was incredible, but there was a period of unemployment after that,” she says. “I didn’t do any child acting,” she says. “I wish I was one of those actors who can just switch it on, but I’m not,” she says. So it was a short courtship. She won’t even let herself cry.” Walker is clearly somebody who invests a lot of emotion in every performance. I didn’t know what I was going to do.” By then she was married. “But it was a sort of given that I was going to do that. I coasted my way through school knowing that’s what I wanted to do and I regret that now. I carried that with me. “And we got married in the holidays from that. It’s grief that is solidified. She is about to head for Europe to shoot the third season of the lavish costume drama Versailles. Walker laughs as she recalls crying when first arriving at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. She enjoyed the theatre. That’s where all the actors rest these days. I do occasionally think: I wish I had that degree.” Did she become a dosser at school? “My way into the character was staying with the grief. There are many, many worse things. It comes as no great surprise to learn that she has been committed to the profession from an early age. And that was a weight. Her time at the RSC seems to have been deliciously exciting. Such are the demands of the business that Walker finds herself forever reaching for the suitcase and the travel adapter. Maybe that was the start of theatre actors not being quite trusted with film and TV. “I met my husband at my second season at Stratford,” she says. “Ah, I think I was. Some of my closest friends are …

Mayte Garcia on life with and without mercurial Prince

I was 19. When she was 17, he flew her to Paisley Park to sing on a record. He was born with severe genetic defects and lived for only one week. I never thought that I wouldn’t be around.” There was a new woman in Paisley Park, Manuela Testolini, who would become Prince’s second wife. Garcia refers to a power balance several times in the book. I overcame it. Was it Amir’s death or Prince’s new interest in becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, encouraged by Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone, that caused its deterioration? “I don’t think you can separate the two. Everybody that he works with, he’s made them feel special.” Prince was a harsh taskmaster and always immaculate. With the band if they messed up a song or messed up a cue, they’d get docked. Her parents were unfazed. I was ready.” She giggles, remembering. It was just a great connection between the two of us.” Prince proposed in 1995. I respect their love that they had for him and that he had for them.” Garcia says in her book that some of the other women may act like his widows, but Prince is really with her. And he’s sitting there, just smiling and looking at it. She refutes any notion that she was vulnerable. If anyone even picks up a guitar, I’m just gonna be like, put it down, put it down.”  The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince by Mayte Garcia is published by Orion Books Photograph: Randee St. She doesn’t think she was too young. We just got along great.”  Mayte Garcia and Prince. My mom was a stage mom so she was immediately thinking, we can put that in her resume”. We were gonna bring this angel back.” Garcia got pregnant again but miscarried. ‘I think it’s time,’ he said to her. Photograph: Steve Parke One day, Prince saw some whipped cream and cookies at Garcia’s makeup station. I was hoping he’d snap out of it for sure.  “When he passed, I remember getting calls from all this press. My belief is when something happens so tragic in your life, you can become very vulnerable and you can be open to many things, and I’m not saying religion is bad – in the book I tried to be as loving as possible – but it is what it is.” In 1998, Prince announced …