Creative Sensemaker #1

A man holding a ladder for a woman.

Introducing Creative Sensemaker, a new cultural series by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d’Ancona  Friday 22 May, 2020   Short read

Welcome to the first Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise. These are strange times for those with a cultural appetite. All the theatres, movie houses, venues and galleries that we love are shuttered and, in many cases, fearful for their future.

One by one, the world’s great cultural gatherings have been cancelled: the Tribeca Film Festival, Coachella, SXSW, The London Book Fair, the Hay Literary Festival, Glastonbury…
Staying in has become the new going out (in fact, staying in has become more or less the new everything). The peak of the pandemic may have passed, but the road ahead is long and uncertain. So, in this weekly despatch, we’ll be letting you know what’s going on, what’s worth seeing and – as time passes – what’s starting up again.
This is a great time to catch up on all those classic movies and prestige TV series that you’ve never got round to. To find what’s available where, go to JustWatch, a very handy map of the streaming universe.

For the best library of classic Blu-ray and DVD movies, try the Criterion Collection, which always has great deals, and this month features such gems as Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales (1963-72) and Dorothy Arzner’s Dance, Girl, Dance (1935).

If you want to watch something simultaneously with friends who are hundreds of miles away and chat about it online, try Netflix Party – a Chrome extension.
Two men standing outside a lighthouse.
A basketball player holding a trophy with lots of people and cameras around him.

For your to-watch list…
The Lighthouse (iTunes, 25 May) 

As seriously strange as it is visually compelling, this Jungian hallucination set on a New England island in the 1890s, directed by Robert Eggers, brings together Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in a primal dance of death.

The Last Dance (Netflix) 

A 10-part documentary about the Chicago Bulls’ bid in 1997 to 1998 for a sixth NBA title in eight seasons might sound like niche content for basketball obsessives. In fact, Jason Hehir’s series is a lyrical and often moving exploration of genius (Michael Jordan’s), what makes it possible, and the price it exacts.

Dead To Me (Netflix) 

Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini excel in season two of this screwball noir comic saga of two women brought together by grief and then increasingly frenetic plot twists. Applegate’s expressions of exhausted incredulity alone make the series worthy of your time.

The Public Image Is Rotten (Vimeo)

Dogged by distribution problems since its initial release in 2017, this definitive documentary on the life and times of John Lydon (AKA the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten) is at last available for streaming and does not disappoint.

People Just Do Nothing (BBC iPlayer) 

All five seasons of the Kurupt FM story are now bingeably available. Who can resist the genius of Brentford pirate radio heroes, MC Grindah, DJ Beats, DJ Steves and their sensationally useless manager, Chabuddy G?
A woman with a spotlight on her wearing sunglasses.


The houses may be dark but there is still so much to enjoy. For instance:

Digital Theatre: 

for £9.99 a month, you get access to hundreds of streamed plays. A bargain when you consider the price of a regular theatre ticket.

Broadway HD: 

now offering a seven-day free trial, access to its huge catalogue of Broadway musicals and plays.


 check out the Globe Theatre’s channel, especially its wonderful free production of Macbeth.

A Streetcar Named Desire: 

newly available on the National Theatre’s channel, the Young Vic’s production starring Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois is a must-see.

...and poetry. Actress Lisa Dwan, famed for her Beckett performances and, more recently, for her collaboration on the Antigone myth with Colm Toibin, has been reading poems daily on her Instagram page. Don’t miss.
A woman bouncing silver balloons in the air in an art gallery.


The J. Paul Getty Museum:

 experience the museum’s stunning Michelangelo exhibition online. The next best thing to seeing it in Malibu.

Warhol at the Tate Modern: 

a curator’s tour, without the crowds.

Museo del Prado: 

the gallery’s online service is world class. Don’t miss Goya’s ‘black paintings’. 
… and go to festivals and debates without stirring from your sofa. There’s virtual Hay, online SXSW, and (of course) Tortoise’s award-winning ThinkIns.
A pink album cover with a heart on it.
A woman in denim hot pants looking over a wall.


You know what music you like. Here’s my pick for late May:


 ‘It Was Good Until It Wasn’t’ – long-liberated from her beginnings in the teen group PopLyfe, the 25-year-old achieves a new eclecticism and emotional resonance on her second studio album.

Charles Lloyd: 

‘8 Kindred Spirits Live From The Lobero’ – an 80th birthday celebration recorded at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theatre that encapsulates all that is wondrous about this jazz legend.

Jess Young:

 ‘I Don’t Need You To Love Me’ – the rising singer-songwriter’s second single showcases her remarkable vocal and lyrical talent, and bodes well for her third, ‘Holding On & Letting Go’ (12 June), produced by legendary Black Sabbath producer Tom Allom.

Virtual Wagner At The Met:

just watch this astonishing performance of the prelude to Act III of ‘Lohengrin’ – musicians in their homes, miraculously playing as one. 

London Symphony Orchestra:

the LSO is offering a whole range of performances online. 
Two book covers on a grey background.
A book cover on a grey background.

Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (Bloomsbury)

Bregman’s second book challenges the notion that human beings are essentially governed by self-interest and marshals impressive evidence to suggest that the better angels of our nature often have the upper hand.

Come Again by Robert Webb (Canongate)

This debut novel by the best-selling author and comedian is a beautifully crafted, funny and moving exploration of grief, time travel and the difference between a pyjama top and a grandad shirt.

Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir And Me – A Memoir, by Deirdre Bair (Atlantic Books)

A Pulitzer Prize finalist, this remarkable memoir recounts, in page-turning detail, Bair’s life as a biographer of two of the great intellectuals of the last century. Highly recommended.
And, finally, a reality check. Ensuring that the cultural venues of the world, great and small, start up at all is going to be a heavy lift. According to Americans for the Arts, the impact of the pandemic on cultural organisations has already topped $5.5bn. One of the UK’s most prominent theatrical producers, Sonia Friedman, warns that British theatre is on the ‘brink of total collapse’ and predicts that ‘without an urgent government rescue package, 70 per cent of our performing arts companies will be out of business before the end of the year’. 
Unable to meet the requirements of social distancing, even the mightiest institutions in the UK cultural firmament, such as the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House, face what one cabinet minister concedes is ‘an existential threat’. The British government has appointed a cultural renewal task force to address the financial crisis that the sector will face when the initial rescue package of loans and government support for jobs – furloughing – is wound down in the autumn. Watch this space.

Here’s what you can do

If you’ve booked tickets, and you can afford it, don’t ask for a refund. Your movie house or theatre needs your cash now more than ever.

Subscribe to a theatre, gallery, museum, or cinema chain (Picturehouse, Curzon, or – best of all – your local indie movie house). Subs don’t just provide much-needed cash: they are the best evidence on business plans of future consumer commitment and guaranteed footfall when the crisis is over.

Look out for pop-up online performances on Facebook, paid for by your PayPal donations.

Crowdfund passion projects: the obvious example (in publishing) is Unbound, but Kickstarter, Crowdfunder and JustGiving also let you search by category and sector. If ever there was a time to throw £50 at a mime artist in Nottingham called ‘Alternative Carpark’, this is it. Consider it penance for all that loo roll you bought in week one of the lockdown. Yes, you.
That’s all for now. Tell us what you’re thinking, reading and enjoying at We’d love to hear your recommendations. 
Meanwhile, ‘Ars gratia artis’ – or (as Soul II Soul put it first and best), keep on movin’. 
Best wishes
Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner 
Tortoise Media
The Tortoise logo on a white background.
Interested in becoming a member?