On my radar: Toby Jones’s cultural highlights

The actor on Dragons’ Den, the jazz improvisations of Brad Mehldau, the Cinema Museum, a south London bus garage, and more…

Born in Hammersmith, London, Toby Jones studied at the University of Manchester and at the École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. He has starred in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and Dad’s Army (2016); he also appears in The Hunger Games and voiced Dobby the house elf in the Harry Potter film series. He won an Olivier award for best supporting actor in The Play What I Wrote (Wyndham’s theatre, 2001) and was nominated for Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe and Emmy awards for playing Alfred Hitchcock in the television film The Girl (2012). Toby Jones stars in indie thriller Kaleidoscope (out now), Michael Haneke’s Happy End (1 December), and The Birthday Party at the Harold Pinter theatre (from 9 January 2018).

1 | Installation

James Turrell: Skyspace – Seldom Seen

james turrell installation seldom seen
James Turrell’s Seldom Seen: ‘I was entranced … everything else seemed rather irrelevant.’ Photograph: Peter Huggins

I enjoy sculpture parks: sometimes a weird giddiness overtakes you as you start figuring out where to find the sculptures, like a treasure hunt. I went to Houghton Hall in Norfolk to see the Richard Long exhibition, and came across this extraordinary piece. We climbed a ramp into a hut in the middle of a forest, and found ourselves in a square space with a hole in the ceiling so all you could see was the sky. There was a patch of cloud and just this bright blue sky: I was staring up at it and after about 20 minutes I realised I hadn’t moved. I was entranced – it was so fascinating that everything else seemed rather irrelevant. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

2 | Book

Lampedusa: Gateway to Europe by Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta

pietro bartolo holds favour a baby who survived a shipwreck
Pietro Bartolo with Favour, a nine-month-old shipwreck survivor. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

This is about the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, which is one of the main entry points that migrants take from north Africa into Europe. Pietro Bartolo is a doctor – he appears in Fire at Sea, the documentary by Gianfranco Rosi correctthat won the Golden Bear in Berlin – and in the book he details growing up on this tiny island, interspersed with his current life treating migrants. They often arrive in horrific condition: in medical distress, frozen, starving. And this very gentle, generous man is their first point of call. The book is very short, but it’s very clearly written and translated. It took me an awful long time to read because the pictures he conjured are so beautiful and devastating.

3 | Architecture

Stockwell Bus Garage, London

stockwell bus garage interior with parked buses
Stockwell Bus Garage: ‘It looks like the buses are being penned for the evening.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The Stockwell Bus Garage sounds like one of the most unlikely sites for beauty: it was built in 1952, it’s not a particularly glamorous building and it is made entirely of concrete. But there’s something about it. I realised I was making detours on my bike ride home just to go past it. The proportions are very satisfying, and in winter, when it’s all lit up by these beautiful old lamps, there is a kind of glow, a warmth, as if you are peering into a world in which buses are being rested for the evening. It looks like the buses are being penned and fed and hosed down inside the building.

4 | Museum

Cinema Museum, Lambeth

commissionaire morris hardcastle at the cinema museum in lambeth
‘A treasure trove’: commissionaire Morris Hardcastle AKA Robert Holden at the Cinema Museum. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

I wasn’t prepared for the damn magical treasure trove that exists here. It’s clearly the collection of people who are passionate not just about film but about the social function that cinema has played in the past 120 years. In addition to a vast collection of stills, there are carpets, cigarette trays, furniture, screens, projectors, old-style usher uniforms – anything you’d associate with the lived experience of going to the cinema. I was completely transported back to my childhood. The museum is in the workhouse that Charlie Chaplin and his family were condemned to in his childhood, so the building has crucial historical significance. But the lease runs out in March next year, so there’s a campaign for people to help save it.

5 | TV

Dragons’ Den

the businesspeople from dragons den
Dragons’ Den: ‘Something mythical is being invoked.’ Photograph: Andrew Farrington/BBC

This was introduced to me by my brother. It’s not television I would go out of my way to watch, but if I catch it by chance I have to watch the whole of it. I am trying to understand why that is. There is something camp about it: the set and the whole theatricality of going up in a lift and the ominous voiceover and that they are referred to as dragons – there’s something mythical being invoked. There’s the great joy of really ingenious ideas, and of really terrible ideas. And best of all there’s the performance of the dragons themselves: the tiny micro-gestures and status plays and weird reptilian glances and smirking and snarling.

6 | Music

Brad Mehldau

brad mehldau seated at a grand piano
Brad Mehldau: ‘He is opening up a tune for you.’ Photograph: http://www.bradmehldau.com

Brad Mehldau is an American jazz and classical pianist. I first heard a couple of his albums where he was playing his versions of Radiohead and Beatles tracks, and they were so witty – he adapts the tunes while respecting the original. I’ve been seeing him play live regularly for five or six years now. I don’t read music but I find there is something in the quality of his playing: he is opening up a tune for you and responding to the other musicians in ways that allow you to understand the music and melody in an accessible way. There’s something about his persona on the stage; he sits and quite deliberately listens to whoever he is improvising with. It’s fascinating.

7 | Painter

Elizabeth Merriman

thinking about vincents yellow by elizabeth merriman
‘An amazing range of emotions’: Thinking About Vincent’s Yellow by Elizabeth Merriman. Photograph: Instagram @elizabethmerrimanartist

Elizabeth Merriman is a still life painter, and I have known her work for years and years. She often paints vases with flowers in, or leaves in a jug, placed on the corner of a table. These paintings are both figurative and abstract, but the degree to which they are is controlled by the artist’s emotional response. The colours are so bold and translucent and beautifully worked. They can be hugely joyful or melancholic, and these deceptively simple still lifes have a very mysterious effect on me. They often have extraordinary juxtapositions of bright greens and purples and oranges, and it’s amazing the range of emotions they can generate – the colours can make me euphoric.


Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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