Fewer superhero movies – but only just – made for less tedious year in the cinema. Much to my surprise as someone who hates horror, Get Out was a treat. Smart, original, funny, and nicely subversive, Jordan Peele's reinvention of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner also gave birth to a star in Daniel Kaluuya, who will be appearing next year in Widows, the keenly awaited crime drama from Steve McQueen (Hunger, 12 Years a Slave). Otherwise, some of the best films were on the small screen, with Bong Joon Ho's animal rights drama Okja and Noah Baumbach's family yarn The Meyerowitz Stories, both Netflix originals, making me think movies really might have found a place to call a second home.

With the day job involving screens, screens, and more screens, gallery visits abroad and plain old reading at home were luxuries. I spent a blissful afternoon in Venice at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Housed in her former home in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, there were Picassos, Pollocks, Mondrians, and Ernsts galore, but the photograph I took home was of the sun spot in the garden where her beloved dogs are buried. Best book of the year was one that had been hanging round for a while, John le Carre's The Pigeon Tunnel. Though subtitled Stories from My Life, it seemed to recount much while revealing hardly anything about the man himself. Despite his protestations throughout the book, he must have been a bloody good spy.


The year had barely opened its doors before Karine Polwart stole the show. The singer and writer took Wind Resistance to Celtic Connections in January, and blew us away. Her touring production (and album with Pippa Murphy) explores motherhood, migration, medicine and local landscape – and its messages of collaboration and hope have withstood the unsettling seasons since.

At the heart of Wind Resistance is a sense of gentle solidarity, and this has resounded through the year. It was a joy to see tropical-indie duo Sacred Paws – a band founded on friendship – lift 2017's Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award, and similarly heartening to see their fellow Glasgow pop diviner Ela Orleans shortlisted for the accolade. (Here's hoping R&B harlequins and best pals Bdy Prts make 2018's cut, thanks to their magical debut, Fly Invisible Hero, released last month.)

Former SAY Award winner Kathryn Joseph made one of 2017's most sublime and affecting albums, thanks to Conflats from Out Lines, her musical union with Marcus Mackay and James Graham (The Twilight Sad). It documents the lives of the residents of Easterhouse, and reminds us at the year's close of play – as Wind Resistance did in its early days – that we all need someone to lean on.


THE celebrations of the Edinburgh International Festival's 70th year brought us a bumper programme of opera that is likely to the benchmark for a few years to come, but at least quietened those who are always moaning that Scotland's premier cultural event fails to serve up a menu like the old days. Teatro Regio Torino brought Macbeth and Boheme to the Festival Theatre, and anyone who missed the revival of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Greek, a 1988 EIF Commission, by Scottish Opera and Opera Ventures have another chance to catch it in Glasgow's Theatre Royal at the start of February.

Less lavishly-staged, but no less memorable musically, were Usher Hall concerts of Die Walkure (conducted by Sir Andrew Davis), Peter Grimes (Edward Gardner), and all three of Monteverdi's operas that have come down to us (Sir John Eliot Gardiner).

Scottish Opera's own season, with music director Stuart Stratford now well established, was packed with highlights too, including Sir David McVicar's new Pelleas & Melisande and a fine revival of his production of La traviata, as well as Karen Cargill in Bluebeard's Castle and Charlotte Hoather in Lliam Paterson's excellent BambinO opera for babies. A new Boheme provoked a healthy debate in the letters pages of The Herald, while the company's Sunday afternoon concert performance series scaled new heights, culminating in this month's collaboration with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel.


It takes a lot to move me to tears in a room full of strangers. In broad daylight. This happened to me in May at The Old Ropeworks in Montrose watching Alexandra Mathie inhabit the spirit of that most singular of artists Joan Eardley in a play called Joan Eardley: A Private View.

Eardley created some of her finest paintings just a few miles up the coast from Montrose in the village of Catterline and the "Ropie", with its exposed rafters and scuffed wooden floorboards, provided the perfect setting for this touring production written by Anna Carlisle.

As the audience traversed from one end of this long drawn-out space to the other following Mathie and her fellow actors, John Kielty and Ashley Smith, around, we were taken on an odyssey around the private inner life of Eardley. Musical accompaniment provided by Kielty and Smith took on a vital fourth role.

Eardley's life was overshadowed by her own demons and cut cruelly short by cancer. Mathie's performance and Carlisle's script worked together in pitch perfect harmony to offer up fresh insight into Eardley more than 50 years after her death. It was a privilege to bear witness to it.


Theatre has the power to surprise, to shock and hopefully to entertain and one of the highlights of 2017 has to be Andy Paterson's Sex Offence.

The Renfrewshire-based writer clearly has a crystal ball for a brain because he anticipated the flood of sex abuse claims before the avalanche.

Sex Offence is the story of a corrupt cabinet minister and a ruthless tabloid editor who cross swords over a historic abuse allegation.

The play, which ran at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, was stark and revealing, it was nuanced and bold. It examined the questions of complicity and responsibility.

It looked hard at amorality, about the abuses of power and the impact it can have, not simply in the moment but for years to come.

Now, many people can write about death and loss, but few can take an audience on a journey that's both poignant and funny. Rab C. Nesbitt writer Ian Pattison managed to hit both marks repeatedly with his autumn play, Love and Death In Govan and Hyndland.

Can you find the comedy in cancer? Pattison did. This Oran Mor-staged play, which was semi-autobiographical, offered a tremendous shared experience. And insight.


Rachel Maclean's Spite Your Face at the Venice Biennale 2017 was a highlight in several ways: a magnificent piece of work, beautifully presented, and although it's venue, the Chiesa di Santa Caterina, was a little off the beaten track, it filled the dark and voluminous space with something special. It took on Trumpism, advertising, violence against women, consumerism and the Pinocchio story all in one epic art video. Seeing it for the first time (a lucky part of my job) was an excellent moment. Maclean is an exceptional talent.

Flight, by Vox Motus, at the Edinburgh International Festival was a remarkable achievement. A series of toy-like model dioramas rotating in front of you as you sat alone in a booth in the Church Hill theatre. With static figures, the piece told the tale of two young orphaned boys on their desperate journey from Afghanistan to the UK. Profoundly moving, I have never seen anything like it before. A fragile, miniature world that said so much about the brutal, real-sized world all around us. Who knew little toy figures could make you cry?


This year was Monteverdi year — his 450th birthday gave us an excuse to dine out on his glorious music. How vivid and intensely emotional it still sounds. John Eliot Gardiner brought his three operas to the Edinburgh International Festival; lucky me, I got to hear them in Venice, where Monteverdi himself spent much of his career.

It was high summer and swelteringly hot. I'd been allocated a seat so close to the stage of the Teatro La Fenice that I was basically in the wings — I could see every twitch, hear every sigh, and it was captivating. Lucile Richardot's splendid Penelope was dressed in a simple brown tunic, just her body language (dignified) and voice (magnificently shaded) to communicate the hurt and stoicism of two decades' faithful waiting.

This was the moment of messy revelation in Monteverdi's 1640 opera Il ritornello d'Ulisse in Patria: after 20 years, our hero Ulysses (though arguably Penelope is the true hero of the drama) has returned to Ithaca disguised as a beggar. When Penelope challenges her suitors to prove their strength by using her husband's bow, not one can even hold it. Only the gentle beggar can lift the weapon, then he proceeds to slaughter the lot of them to the sound of triumphant thunderclaps from Jupiter. Do we rejoice?

There's no easy narrative here, no tidy take-home narrative, and the performances in Venice and Edinburgh were incredibly confrontational because they were so very human. "No props," Gardiner had stressed. "Nothing literal. These operas speak to us most directly if we allow our imaginations free rein to listen and make up our own cinematic images."


"I'm waiting for it, that green light, I want it."

A year of voices. In January in Dunfermline Barbara Dickson sang MacCrimmon's Lament unaccompanied. Watching it, I felt sure time had stopped. Six months later Becky Unthank managed to at least slow the second hand at the Edinburgh International Book Festival when she gave us her take on Nick Drake's River Man.

Other voices on record. All female. Aldous Harding, Nadine Shah, Bjork (of course), Marry Waterson and Lorde, whose Green Light was my single of 2017. The awkward elegance of her dance moves on Saturday Night Live were the icing on the cake.

Which reminds me, this has been a year of bodies too. Those of the dancers of Nederlands Dans Theater at the Edinburgh International Festival who managed the impossible with grace. And that of Charlize Theron in my not-so-guilty cinematic pleasure of the year, David Leitch's spy thriller Atomic Blonde. Forget the plot. It's all about that brutal fight scene at the heart of it which left Theron bloodied but unbowed.

Two other highlights. In May Emma Pollock, Karine Polwart, Kathryn Joseph and many more paid tribute to Kate Bush at the 02 ABC in Glasgow. Running Up That Hill was a (mostly) Scottish celebration of a profoundly English artist. The whole night switched constantly between the joyous and the utterly ecstatic.

And the year ended with Mackenzie Crook's gentle sitcom Detectorists. The final episode sweetly offered grace notes to the entire cast. The result was one of the year's quieter pleasures. But then who says great art needs to shout?