30 autumn arts highlights, chosen by Observer critics

1. Film

Heavyweight directors return

Let it never be said that major-league Hollywood directing is a young man’s game: aged 80 and 85 respectively, Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott are both preparing to unveil some of the most ambitious, vastly scaled film-making of their careers. Scorsese’s film is already a known quantity: Killers of the Flower Moon (20 October), his immense, three-and-a-half-hour period crime epic, premiered to rave reviews at Cannes in the spring. Adopting a similarly luxuriant, slow-burn storytelling style to 2019’s The Irishman, its fact-based inquiry into a series of murders in Native American Osage country in the 1920s bristles with tension and political rage, plus full-steam performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and the remarkable Lily Gladstone. As for Scott’s Napoleon (22 November), a lavish biopic starring Joaquin Phoenix as the French military commander, we currently only have one dazzling trailer to go on – but it promises all the director’s signature visual spectacle. Guy Lodge

2. Music

Madonna
The O2, London SE10; 14-18 October and 5-6 December

Madonna’s career-spanning greatest hits tour was due to have kicked off in North America last month, until a “serious bacterial infection” put her in hospital in June. Recent birthday celebrations in Portugal saw the star declaring “It’s great to be alive!” – auguring well for her forthcoming London dates, which now kick off the Celebration world tour. No running order has been released, although various outlets have published dream set lists; Madonna has requested fan input on her socials. With even more eras to draw on than Taylor Swift’s Eras tour, Celebration can’t help but be a party for the ages. Kitty Empire

Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma in a ruined house

3. Theatre

Macbeth
Ralph Fiennes: The Depot, Liverpool; 18 November to 20 December; then touring. David Tennant: Donmar, London WC2; 8 December to 10 February 2024

The Scottish play is the Shakespeare of the season. Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma, last seen together in Man and Superman, star in a new adaptation by Emily Burns, directed by Simon Godwin, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC. Fiennes, while regarding Macbeth as powered by its “brilliant and terrifying focus” on its characters’ minds, thinks the wars in Ukraine and Sudan give the tragedy a “particularly current” resonance. Aiming to “break free of the confines of traditional theatre”, Godwin’s production will be intimately staged in warehouses in four cities.

David Tennant and Cush Jumbo – who both have tremendous Shakespearean form, not least as extraordinary Hamlets – will appear as the blood-crazed couple in Max Webster’s production at the Donmar, where Webster staged Henry V. Though already sold out, £15 standing tickets will be released online from 12pm on the day of each performance. Susannah Clapp

4. Art

Marina Abramović
Royal Academy, London W1; 23 September to 1 January

Serbian-born art star Marina Abramović has been mesmerising (or bamboozling) crowds of international admirers for almost 50 years. This long-awaited retrospective runs all the way back to 1974’s Rhythm O, where the pioneer of performance art invited her audience to interact so freely with her that one member actually held a loaded gun to her head. Sculpture, installation and video of spectacular events – Abramović with skeleton, with nude bodies, living in full view in a public gallery – will be accompanied by restagings of live performances by artists trained in the “Abramović method”. The limits of endurance, empathy, exhaustion and in some cases oppressive rules and methods will be tested by the audience too. Don’t just listen to the hype: go and find out for yourself. Laura Cumming

5. Classical

7 Deaths of Maria Callas
ENO, London WC2; 3-11 November

Opera heroines tend to die tragically. The title of this new production at English National Opera, to a libretto by the performance artist Marina Abramović with music arranged by Marko Nikodijević, refers to the deaths of seven of the most famous, in operas by Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, Giacomo Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi. All are roles sung by the renowned American-Greek soprano Maria Callas (1923-1977): Violetta from La traviata, Tosca, Desdemona from Othello, Cio-Cio-San from Madama Butterfly, Carmen, Lucia di Lammermoor and Norma. First seen in Munich in 2020, ENO’s staging features the singers Sarah Tynan, Elbenita Kajtazi, Nadine Benjamin, Eri Nakamura, Aigul Akhmetshina, Karah Son and Sophie Bevan. Fiona Maddocks

6. Dance

Free Your Mind
Aviva Studios, Manchester; 13 October to 5 November

The launch of the controversially renamed Aviva Studios, Manchester’s glitzy new performance space (formerly called the Factory), comes care of safe hands for making a spectacular splash. Director Danny Boyle and producer Tracey Seaward, the team behind the opening ceremony of London 2012, are reimagining the themes of the Matrix movies as an immersive dance performance. Their creative team includes composer Michael “Mikey J” Asante and choreographer Kenrick “H2O” Sandy (the powers behind hip-hop dance group Boy Blue), plus designer Es Devlin and storyteller Sabrina Mahfouz. The performance will spill across all the spaces in the building, showcasing its flexibility, and explore the digital journey from 1999, when The Matrix was first released, to today, with the metaverse about to engulf the world. What is reality? We are about to find out. Sarah Crompton

Little Simz performing in Rotterdam.

7. Music

Little Simz
Touring 5-11 November

Fresh from her 2022 Mercury prize win for fourth album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, powerhouse British rapper Little Simz is embarking on her biggest UK tour, culminating in two dates at London’s Alexandra Palace. Celebrating the most creatively rewarding period of her almost decade-long career, expect groove-laden cuts from Introvert, as well as from last year’s Ivor Novello-nominated No Thank You. Eschewing the usual DJ backing, Simz’s performances are an instrumental spectacle, whether she’s spitting dexterous bars to a backing band or slinging on an electric guitar. Ammar Kalia

8. Theatre

Stars on stage
The Score: Theatre Royal Bath; 12-28 October. King Lear: Wyndham’s, London WC2; 21 October to 9 December. The House of Bernarda Alba: Lyttelton, London SE1; 16 November to 6 January

Powerful actors tackle hefty roles this autumn. At Bath’s Theatre Royal, Brian Cox follows up Succession’s Logan Roy with Johann Sebastian Bach in the world premiere of Oliver Cotton’s The Score, set in Prussia in 1747 and featuring a visit by Bach to the court of Frederick II. Trevor Nunn directs. At Wyndham’s, for 50 performances only, Kenneth Branagh directs himself in one of the most challenging of all roles, King Lear, with a speedy running time of two hours (and no interval). In the Lyttelton, Harriet Walter (also ex-Succession) is the madre in Alice Birch’s version of The House of Bernarda Alba, described as being “after Federico García Lorca”. Rebecca Frecknall – fresh from the triumph of A Streetcar Named Desire – makes her directorial debut at the National. SCl

9. Film

Past Lives

There’s not a superfluous moment in Celine Song’s sublime feature debut picture, the lithe, looping and loosely autobiographical Past Lives (8 September). It’s so elegantly structured and balanced as a piece of storytelling, it’s hard to believe that Song has no previous filmmaking experience (she cut her teeth in theatre). At its core, the film is an achingly lovely musing on what might have been – close childhood friends in Korea, Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Teo Yoo) are separated when Nora’s family emigrates to Canada. A connection endures, however, and 20 years later Hae Sung visits the now married Nora in New York. But the simplicity of the premise belies the beguiling intricacy and intimacy of the storytelling. Wendy Ide

Melissa Toogood and Zachary Gonder dancing

10. Dance

Song of Songs
Barbican, London EC2; 11-14 October

Choreographer Pam Tanowitz uses her appreciation of the history of dance to create shimmering new works full of grace and possibility. Song of Songs, inspired by her study of Jewish dance, is the third large-scale work as artist in residence at the Fisher Center at Bard College, New York State. It sees her collaborate with the Pulitzer-prize winning composer David Lang to create a setting of the Old Testament text, thought by many to be the greatest love poem ever written, that reimagines ancient rituals of love and courtship, at once sacred and profane. In recent years, Tanowitz’s reputation has soared with work for companies including New York City Ballet and the Royal Ballet. But as Four Quartets (seen at the Barbican in 2019) showed, her work for her own dancers reveals her unique talent in a different light. SCr

11. Art

Black Atlantic: Power, People, Resistance
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; 8 September to 7 January

Featuring works made in West Africa, the Caribbean, South America and Europe, this major exhibition will narrate stories of exploitation, resilience and liberation through images, centring on the culture of resistance known as the Black Atlantic. Historic paintings and objects will be presented in dialogue with works by Donald Locke, Alberta Whittle, Barbara Walker and other contemporary Black artists to reveal untold stories and acts of courage. From the earliest western portrait of a Black person, painted around 1525, to the work made by Black artists from Africa to the Americas, this exhibition shows how Atlantic enslavement influenced Europe too, even the landlocked city of Cambridge itself. LC

12. Classical

Ainadamar
Welsh National Opera; touring from 9 September to 22 November

The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, executed in 1936, is the subject of Osvaldo Golijov’s opera Ainadamar – the title means “fountain of tears” – a hit last season at Scottish Opera and now opening at WNO as the centrepiece of its autumn tour. Directed and choreographed by Deborah Colker and conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren, it mixes music, dance, theatre, flamenco, traditional Spanish singing and opera: irresistible Latin heat from this Argentine composer as the nights grow colder. FM

Kanagawa, 1967, by Daido Moriyama.

13. Photography

Daido Moriyama: A Retrospective; Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine
Photographers’ Gallery, London W1; from 6 October. Hayward Gallery, London SE1; from 11 October

Two giants of Japanese photography receive long-overdue British retrospectives this autumn. For 60 years, Moriyama has photographed, and transformed, the world around him through his grainy, monochrome style and constantly re-editing of his images through cropping, enlarging and experimental printing. A rare chance to also see how he helped revolutionise the photobook, making it the most vibrant medium for his relentlessly restless imagination. In contrast, the conceptualism of Sugimoto is still, reflective and quietly contemplative, drawing on, and reworking, the techniques of 19th-century photographic pioneers. His famous monochrome seascapes, whether created in the English Channel or the Arctic Ocean, are exercises in technical skill, patience and sustained attentiveness. The two could not be further apart in terms of approach, but they oddly complement each other if only in their dedication to the craft of photography. Sean O’Hagan

14. Film

Saltburn

Emerald Fennell won an Academy Award for best screenplay for her debut, Promising Young Woman. Her follow-up is a comedy-drama set within a world of rarefied privilege at Oxford University. Oliver (Barry Keoghan) is struggling to assimilate. Until, that is, he is invited to spend an eventful summer at a sprawling country estate called Saltburn, the country pile of his aristocratic friend Felix (Jacob Elordi). The film reunites Fennell with her Promising Young Woman star Carey Mulligan, and also stars Rosamund Pike and Richard E Grant. It premieres as the opening gala of the BFI London film festival (4 October). WI

15. Music

The Streets
Touring 7 September to 16 November

One of the reasons that Mike “the Streets” Skinner was such a huge star in the 00s was the cinematic luminosity of his storytelling. He’s finally made his debut feature film, The Darker the Shadow, the Brighter the Light, a “tripped-out neo-noir” murder mystery set in London clubs, where Skinner has long DJed. A companion album of the same name, the Streets’ first since 2011, comes out a month later (20 October). The Streets hit the road too, bringing Skinner’s banging everyman poetry to big bass bins near you. KE

16. Dance

Death Trap
Theatre Royal, York, 3 and 4 October; then touring

Rambert devote their autumn tour to two works from Ben Duke, co-founder of Lost Dog, and increasingly one of the UK’s most interesting choreographers. The 95-minute bill brings together Cerberus (from last year), a sassy updating of Greek myth that reconfigures the underworld as a stylish nightclub, and Goat (from 2017), an emotional piece of dance theatre that explores the boundaries between reality and performance to the music of Nina Simone. Both pieces hold the clever balance between seriousness and humour that is Duke’s trademark. SCr

Rambert dancer Aishwarya Raut performing in Ben Duke’s Cerberus.

17. Theatre

Pandemonium
Soho theatre, London W1; 1 December to 6 January

Armando Iannucci’s first play for the theatre tells “how our great leaders grappled first with the pandemic and then with each other”. In putting on stage “the Johnson-Truss-Sunak years in all their horrible glory”, the creator of The Thick of It and Alan Partridge aims to create “a funny, wild ongoing history play”. His “caustic entertainment for the winter months” is directed by playwright Patrick Marber, author of Closer and director of Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt; the cast is yet to be announced. SCl

18. Art

Frans Hals
National Gallery, London WC2; 30 September to 21 January

A once-in-a-lifetime exhibition of this unique master of Golden Age Dutch art, whose canvases vibrate with the flash-and-dash of his revolutionary paint. Fifty of his greatest portraits will be united from around the globe, from the Metropolitan Museum’s magnificent Dutch brewer in silver satin to the Wallace Collection’s The Laughing Cavalier and some of Hals’s most tender portraits of newlywed couples, mirthful children and beaming teenagers. A marvellous opportunity to see paint used in the most rebellious way, and portraits that crackle with empathy, in a show jointly organised by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. LC

19. Film

Eileen

William Oldroyd’s debut, Lady Macbeth, made a star of Florence Pugh and promised big things from the director himself – but it’s taken seven years for his follow-up to arrive (1 December). Luckily, this tart, nasty adaptation of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Booker-shortlisted 2015 novel (co-scripted by the author herself) makes up for lost time, building on Oldroyd’s knack for icy atmospherics and psychosexual intensity. Starring Thomasin McKenzie and a never-better Anne Hathaway as two prison employees drawn into an obsessive, unstable relationship, it’s taut and startling even for those acquainted with the book. GL

20. Music

Landmark albums by solo female artists

A slew of exciting female solo artists across a rich range of genres drop landmark albums this autumn. Gen Z pop superstar Olivia Rodrigo looks set to repeat the runaway success of her 2021 debut Sour with Guts (8 September), her direct and effervescent follow-up. Japanese-American auteur Mitski continues to release groundbreaking music about place and belonging. Recorded partly in Nashville, her seventh LP The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We (15 September) is her “most American album’’ yet, reflecting on pain and love in the company of pedal steel guitars. Country music is also a major touchstone for Ireland’s breakout indie star CMAT, whose new “abstract break-up album”, Crazymad, for Me (13 October) is set to cement her reputation as a fresh, frank and witty voice in matters of the heart; a November tour of the UK is also in the offing. Zimbabwean-born, Australian-raised, LA-based singer and rapper Tkay Maidza is set to release her most assured bops yet. A-list producers such as Flume and Kaytranada grace her forthcoming album, Sweet Justice (3 November), as hard-hitting as it is smooth. KE

a person with bat wings behind a gauzy red curtain

21. Theatre

Dracula: Mina’s Reckoning
His Majesty’s theatre, Aberdeen; 2-9 September, then touring Scotland and to Coventry and Liverpool

Bram Stoker’s horror story is reimagined through the eyes of Mina, one of Dracula’s victims, who in 1897 has taken refuge in a psychiatric hospital in Aberdeenshire, the area now thought to have partly inspired Stoker’s work. Written by Morna Pearson and directed by Sally Cookson, the production stars Danielle Jam as Mina and Liz Kettle as Dracula, with an all-women and non-binary ensemble. Featuring a sinister score by Benji Bower and gothic-inspired set and costumes by Kenneth MacLeod, it promises comedy, trauma, contemporary resonance, addiction, intoxication and empowerment. SCl

22. Classical

Joan Armatrading symphony no 1
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1; 24 November

The great singer-songwriter, 72, born in St Kitts and brought up in Birmingham, has written her first classical symphony, which will have its world premiere at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, performed by Chineke! Orchestra. Armatrading has said she always wanted to write a classical piece, and started, out of the blue, with the melodic second movement, before writing the rest over the course of five months: “It has no theme as such, but aims to be uplifting. As usual I stayed in the way of composing that I have done when I write pop songs. I’m just myself. I didn’t write the symphony thinking I would like it to be like anyone but Joan.” The concert also includes Tchaikovsky’s symphony no 5. FM

23. Art

Philip Guston
Tate Modern, London SE1; 5 October to 25 February 2024

This notoriously delayed show, postponed because of supposed concerns over the content of American artist Philip Guston’s tremendously mordant paintings of the so-called Hoods, in their dumb Klansmen outfits, at last arrives in London from the US. Running from early surrealist works, through the beautiful abstract impressionist paintings to the breakthrough into those great, wild, comical nearly-cartoons that shocked the art world in the 60s but are now everywhere regarded as Guston’s masterpieces, the entire career of this Canada-born, New York-based painter will be represented at Tate Modern. This is a show for anyone with the smallest interest in American art. But it is also for anyone who felt as angry as the artist himself about the cruelty and horror of the modern world. LC

24. Film

Cannes winners

Women triumphed in both major competitions at this year’s Cannes film festival, both with films worth getting excited about. French writer-director Justine Triet became the third female director to lift the coveted Palme d’Or with Anatomy of a Fall (10 November), her riveting blend of courtroom procedural and forensic marital postmortem. Starring Sandra Hüller (Toni Erdmann) in a tour de force as a writer and mother on trial for the suspected murder of her husband – after his mysterious tumble from a high window in their Alpine chalet – it’s a film that plays fast and loose with your instincts, expectations and sympathies. British newcomer Molly Manning Walker, meanwhile, won the Un Certain Regard award for her jolting, alcopop-fluorescent debut How to Have Sex (3 November), a study of teenage sexual mores and misdeeds on a wild Mediterranean girls’ trip that starts out hot and horny, before settling chillingly under your skin. GL

Mia McKenna-Bruce in Molly Manning-Walker’s How to Have Sex.

25. Music

Armand Hammer
Manchester, 2 November; London, 4 November

Prolific US rapper Billy Woods is an eloquent leftfield hip-hop artist who can’t stop putting out killer albums. His second full-length outing this year (We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, out 29 September) is a duo offering with fellow NYC operator Elucid as Armand Hammer, their sixth overall. Accompanied by a dizzying set of collaborators, this is an album as sonically unpredictable as it is impressionistic, with Woods and Elucid trading analytical wisecracks and angry profundities. You can see them live in November. KE

26. Theatre

Stranger Things: The First Shadow
Phoenix, London WC2; 17 November to 25 August

Stephen Daldry, who has galvanised the stage (Billy Elliot) and television (The Crown) with his startling productions, directs Kate Trefry’s musical, based on the Duffer brothers’ Netflix chiller series. The show will go back to the beginning of the Stranger Things story – “and may hold the key to the end”. It will have sets by the mighty Miriam Buether, lighting by Jon Clark and sound design by Paul Arditti; 59 Productions provide video and visual effects. Tantalisingly, fans will have to wait till nearer opening night for casting news. SCl

27. Art

The Printmaker’s Art: Rembrandt to Rego
National Galleries of Scotland (RSA Building), Edinburgh; 2 December to 25 February

Everyone who has ever made a linocut or even printed with a cut potato will know the amazement of seeing a three-dimensional object create a two-dimensional image. This most accessible and ubiquitous of art forms is celebrated in Scotland with 500 years of printmakers, from Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts in the 15th century all the way through to the etchings of Goya and the lithographs of Chris Ofili. See the techniques, tools and materials close up, learn the methods, witness the masterpiece results and you might want to start printmaking too. LC

Meshell Ndegeocello

28. Music

Meshell Ndegeocello
Ronnie Scott’s, London W1; 7 and 8 September

Bassist and vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello has long been a formidable musician, and since the 1990s has collaborated with everyone from Madonna to Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock to Alanis Morissette. Following the release of her debut album for historic jazz label Blue Note earlier this year, The Omnichord Real Book, Ndegeocello now highlights her role as a bandleader with two live shows. With exciting young drummer Abe Rounds behind the kit, the evenings promise to be a rhythmic delight. AK

29. Film

Wonka

The advisability of a Willy Wonka prequel (15 December) featuring an extravagantly mannered performance by Timothée Chalamet is still a matter for debate. But there’s no arguing with the talent of the team behind the picture: Paul King directs from a screenplay he co-wrote with Simon Farnaby, his close collaborator on both of the glorious (and enormously successful) Paddington films. Early indications suggest that Hugh Grant, playing an Oompa Loompa, might prove to be the film’s secret weapon. WI

30. Dance

Black Sabbath – The Ballet
Birmingham Hippodrome, 23-30 September; then touring

Before anyone has danced a step, this commission by artistic director Carlos Acosta for Birmingham Royal Ballet is already a hit. The fan base of Birmingham’s loudest band, Black Sabbath, has ensured that this tribute to their work has almost sold out around the country. In truth, the collision of headbanging and pirouettes is an intriguing one and the production will feature choreography by Pontus Lidberg among others, to newly orchestrated versions of songs such as Paranoid and Ironman, played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Richard Thomas, the man behind Jerry Springer: The Opera, is charged with providing a narrative line. SCr

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