On my radar: Russell Tovey's cultural highlights

The actor on David Byrne’s kooky show, the joy of mountain walks and a moving memoir by a gay Muslim

Actor Russell Tovey was born in Essex in 1981. He had his big break in 2004 as one of The History Boys in Alan Bennett’s award-winning stage play and subsequent film. He has since appeared in a number of acclaimed TV shows including Being Human and Him & Her, and was nominated for a 2020 Critics’ Choice award for best supporting actor in Years and Years. Tovey is also an art lover, and in 2018 launched the podcast Talk Art with gallerist Robert Diament co-hosting. He stars in Neil Cross’s drama The Sister on ITV later this month.

1. TV

I Hate Suzie, Sky Atlantic

Billie Piper in I Hate Suzie: ‘As a piece of art, it’s really brilliant’
Billie Piper in I Hate Suzie: ‘As a piece of art, it’s really brilliant.’ Photograph: Photographer: Ollie Upton/Sky

I found this new show from Billie Piper and Lucy Prebble adventurous and risk-taking. It had an added theatricality because of their stage backgrounds. It’s about an unhappy woman [played by Piper] in an unhappy marriage. She’s a mother and wife on paper, but has been fighting herself to become this person she thinks she’s supposed to be, which isn’t traditional at all. It’s also about enabling toxic masculinity and how fame affects not only the person who is famous, but the people around them. There are bits I found hard to watch and conversations I found quite painful, but as a piece of art, it’s really brilliant.

2. Place

Pyg track, Snowdon, Wales

The Pyg track
The Pyg track. Photograph: Vincent Lowe/Alamy

I recently climbed the Pyg track with a group of people. It wasn’t easy. We all started off a bit jolly at the bottom, and thought it would be a jaunty uphill walk. But it felt really nice to challenge ourselves and appreciate what we have in this country. I’m so excited about exploring the Lake District and the Cotswolds, and I’m always down by the coast now. I don’t know if it’s an age thing – you get older and you start thinking: “That’s a really nice tree”, or “I like that hill”. When you’re a kid, it’s boring, but now, I take time to appreciate it. I would like to climb Ben Nevis next.

3. Stage

American Utopia by David Byrne

David Byrne in American Utopia: ‘It takes you through so many emotions’
David Byrne in American Utopia: ‘It takes you through so many emotions.’ Photograph: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Before lockdown, I was in a play in New York, and during rehearsals, I went to see American Utopia on Broadway, by David Byrne of Talking Heads. It’s basically like a concert. The music from the original album is heaven, but the Broadway version is so brilliant and kooky and eccentric and fun, and takes you through so many emotions. The show has been filmed, with Spike Lee directing, and you should watch the trailer on YouTube to get a sense of it visually. It’s like an art performance, which is something I really connect with. It’s genius.

Octavia E Butler’s Mind of My Mind

4. Fiction

Mind of My Mind by Octavia Butler

While interviewing artists for my podcast Talk Art, the works of Octavia Butler come up so many times. I am not a regular sci-fi reader, but I was totally immersed in this book. It’s about a superhuman immortal’s obsession with creating the most genius and perfect telepath, 4,000 years in the making. If you ever saw Sense8 on Netflix, this book was a huge inspiration for that drama. I have never read anything like it and now I’m excited to discover more of Octavia Butler’s worlds.

5. Art

Toyin Ojih Odutola, A Countervailing Theory, the Barbican

A Countervailing Theory at the Barbican, London.
A Countervailing Theory at the Barbican, London. Photograph: James Veysey/REX/Shutterstock

This show is not just images that are beautifully rendered; it has this other layer rooted in writing and narrative. It’s like the storyboarding of a movie. The storyline here is that the world is run by women who are partnered with other women. Men are their servants and are in same-gendered relationships, so when a woman falls in love with a man, what that does is invert gender norms. It challenges and threatens to dismantle the fundamentals of how this world is constructed. It’s just a love story, but the norm is to be with the same gender and the risk is to step outside of that. It’s really interesting.

A Dutiful Boy: A memoir of a gay Muslim’s journey to acceptance Paperback – 20 Aug. 2020

6. Nonfiction

A Dutiful Boy: A Memoir of a Gay Muslim’s Journey to Acceptance by Mohsin Zaidi

This memoir is so heartfelt, emotional and really funny. I picked it up because I wanted to know about different cultural experiences of what it is to be queer, especially when religion is involved. If you’re Muslim and you’re gay, I can’t fathom what that entails – how you corroborate that in your head, how you approach your family, friends and community for acceptance. This book is very candid and it really educated and entertained me.


Kadish Morris

The GuardianTramp

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