Darling buds: books, music, theatre and more with spring in their hearts

From Chaucer’s elemental epic to Gnarls Barkley’s alternative take on gospel, our critics suggest popular culture inspired by the season’s sense of renewal


Van Gogh painted Almond Blossom in 1890, the last year of his life, but even as he struggled with mental illness, the powerful colours of spring set his brush fizzing. Two years earlier, he had painted the fierce spring colours of Provence with intoxicated joy. Now he recaptures that happiness in a brilliant display of white blossoms studded like stars on to the smoother blue void of the sky. Even so, the blooms are sporadic and spaced apart, the branches of the tree green with lichen and moss. The spring is here but you can feel his pain and sadness among the new buds. Jonathan Jones



Gnarls Barkley.
Song of praise … Gnarls Barkley. Photograph: Music PR handout

As a Christian, I tend to find religious inspiration in the strangest of places. One of these is in what is quite firmly not a gospel track: Go-Go Gadget Gospel from Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 epic St Elsewhere. The essence of redemption is communicated through Black American gospel and go-go music by way of Danger Mouse’s hectic, buffering production. With CeeLo Green’s church choir-honed vocals the ideal vessel to blast out messages of self-belief and awakening, perfect themes for spring, it’s a song that hits you like the most jolting, cheering sermon on renascence. Christine Ochefu



Playwright Alistair McDowall.
Glow up … playwright Alistair McDowall. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

Bear with me. Alistair McDowall’s latest play The Glow doesn’t exactly contain blooming daffodils and gambolling lambs but it does encompass great leaps of fantasy and a woman who will not, or cannot, die. It’s about the awe-inspiring expansiveness of the world and the persistence of hope, as well as the way that prejudice, ignorance, violence and loneliness hold tight across the eras. Perhaps above all, The Glow celebrates the wonderful alchemy that happens when words and the stage combine to bring to life vivid new worlds; there for just a moment and then, like magic, gone for ever. Miriam Gillinson



The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Even its long history as an exam set text hasn’t been able to drain the joy and sunshine from The Canterbury Tales. It may be ancient, but Chaucer’s poem remains unsurpassed in its evocation of the delights of spring, the rising sap and the simple pleasure of feeling the west wind on your face. It makes you long to get out there to experience our own world anew – not to mention the fact that it also tells us so much about the lost world of 14th-century England. And yes, there are also excellent fart jokes. All life is in there. Sam Jordison



Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait.
New life … Heaven Can Wait. Photograph: Moviestore Collection/Alamy

The American football season runs through autumn and winter, so most of 1978 frolic Heaven Can Wait, starring Warren Beatty as an LA Rams quarterback taken to heaven too soon, does not actually take place in spring. Whatever. Its eternally pleasant California weather, its fresh, spiky script (co-written by Beatty and Elaine May), perfectly delivered by a stellar cast including Charles Grodin and Dyan Cannon as a hilariously hapless murderous couple, and its themes of rebirth, second chances and blossoming romance, make it spiritually springlike in every way. It even ends with a post-Super Bowl first date – one we know will lead to new love blooming right alongside the first daffodils. Jessica Kiang


Miriam Gillinson, Jonathan Jones, Sam Jordison, Jessica Kiang and Christine Ochefu

The GuardianTramp

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