With an appearance on Have I Got News for You?, and a forthcoming Soho theatre run, 24-year-old Kiwi Rose Matafeo’s star is in the ascendant. That won’t surprise anyone who witnessed her Edinburgh fringe debut last summer: her show wasn’t the finished article, but Matafeo’s talent hit you like a force-10 gale. Excitable, chaotic and yet supremely in control; great voices, great jokes, both serious and silly; rocket-fuelled forward momentum – the woman has charisma to burn and we should see plenty more of her in 2017.
You’d be forgiven for thinking we’d moved on from high-camp gay comics cracking double entendres, saying “Suit yourself!” and punctuating their jokes with “fabulous” skips in mid-air. That is until you clap eyes on 23-year-old Irish standup Al Porter. Porter can’t quite make the old archetype feel fresh, but he certainly gives it vivacious – and seemingly authentic – life, as great gags, tales of working-class south Dublin, and fey renditions of Irish rebel songs combine to crowd-slaying effect. His life, by his own admission, comes across like a Carry On film, but Porter is skilled enough to remind you why we all (go on, admit it!) loved Carry On films the first time around.
Julie Cunningham has long been one of the great interpreters of contemporary dance. Performing with the Merce Cunningham (no relation) and Michael Clark companies, she brought a preternatural clarity and intelligence to everything she danced. Now, as Cunningham turns choreographer, she brings that same clarity and craft to her work, but it’s at the service of her own distinctive and unexpectedly raw passions. In her forthcoming work To Be Me, which will be at the Barbican in London in March, she immerses herself in the hip-hop furnace of Kate Tempest poetry, exploring images of gender and identity through the myth of the blind prophet Tiresias while the companion piece of that programme is set to the music of Anohni.
When Tamara Lawrance plays Viola in Twelfth Night in February, it will mark her second appearance at the NT. Not bad for someone who graduated from Rada in 2015. Since then it’s been quality all the way. At the NT she was eye-catching as the shimmying, minxy Dussie Mae in Dominic Cooke’s revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, while in Unreachable at the Royal Court she bought an unforgettable matter of fact directness to Natasha, a character capable of summoning the deepest emotion while feeling absolutely nothing at all. If you know the face, it’s probably from Peter Moffat’s BBC thriller Undercover, in which she played the eldest daughter. If you don’t, you will soon.
British theatre is full of bright young directors but few who have made their mark quite as distinctively as Ellen McDougall or with such broad, bold appeal, eye for detail or strong European aesthetic. Reviving Othello at the Sam Wanamaker in February before taking over as artistic director at the often career defining tiny Gate in London in March (Stephen Daldry and Erica Whyman are two previous incumbents), the self-effacing McDougall has applied what she’s learned about audience engagement from directing panto at the Lyric (Aladdin this year) or for kids at the Unicorn, with an impressive roster of contemporary productions that playfully marry content and form.
The London-based five-piece’s debut single and video Stained suggested a dissolute shock-rock troupe in the mould of Fat White Family, but that’s only part of what they do. Their gift is for mixing together different eras of rock history, from points when the underground was pushing towards the overground – glam-era Bowie, punk, the new romantics – into something that feels their own. Which means that when you see them live (which you really should) every song sounds as if it’s being performed by a different band. There’s a compelling, theatrical brilliance about them: no matter that something this artful is only developed by contrivance, they feel beautifully natural. Not so much born to run as born to strut.
Maggie Rogers came to notice last summer when a video surfaced of Pharrell Williams joining her in a university masterclass, as her track Alaska played. She gets into a slightly awkward seated groove, while he looks faintly astonished. “Wow,” he says at the end. “I have no notes for that, because it’s singular.” He may be overstating things a little, but Alaska didn’t sound like something knocked up for an undergraduate project. It turned out she had form – she released two folk albums while in high school in Maryland, but now she’s poised for the next level. She plays her first UK gigs in February, at which we’ll be able to tell if the oddly vulnerable yet freakishly confident songs she’s put out so far are flukes, or whether she’s the real deal.
The young director been catching eyes for several years with productions for Barefoot Opera (which she co-founded), Welsh National Youth Opera and Independent Opera. Last summer’s take on Peter Maxwell Davies’s Kommilitonen! was hailed as brilliant and bold, November’s powerful production of Hartmann’s tricky anti-war rarity Simplicius Simplicissimus for Independent Opera showcased her imagination and confidence. After studying directing at Rada she was mentored by David Pountney as the Genesis assistant director at Welsh National Opera; her final project in that role was an informal performance piece celebrating the unsung heroes of the opera world – the stage crew. Next spring the 32-year-old reaches a wider audience with her debut production for the WNO main stage. She’s directing another rarity, Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Le Vin Herbé, an intimate version of the Tristan and Isolde story that offers a very different take on the legendary lovers to that of Wagner.
• Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, and touring, 16 Feb-25 April.
In Guerrilla, a Showtime-Sky Atlantic four-parter about revolutionary politics in London in the 1970s, Nathaniel Martello-White is again alongside Denise Gough, after both had career-breakthrough roles as rehab patients in Duncan Macmillan’s play People, Places and Things, a National Theatre and West End hit in 2015-16. That role was the highest-profile stage work so far for a south Londoner who, since graduating from Rada in 2006, has built up a varied CV that also includes acting on TV (Silk), movies (Red Tails) and playwriting (Torn was well-received this year at London’s Royal Court).
A six-part drama for streaming on BBC3, Clique is a psychological thriller set on a university campus, a setting that TV has generally used for comedy-drama (A Very Peculiar Practice; Fresh Meat). The 28-year-old Jess Brittain created the show and leads an all-female writing team that also includes Kirstie Swain and Milly Thomas. Jess is the latest product of a TV scriptwriting dynasty, having started on the teen drama Skins in a writers’ room led by her father, Bryan Elsley, that also included her brother, Jamie Brittain. Her first professional writing was Skins scripts and a novelisation.
Child stars more often than not disappear from showbiz, and this seemed to have happened to the Nottinghamshire schoolgirl who made a significant impact as a troubled 11-year-old foster child in Samantha Morton’s 2009 movie The Unloved. After a few more roles, including in the film Oranges and Sunshine, Windsor took time out for academic and acting studies, but is now back on screen in a high-profile role as one of the victims in a BBC docudrama about the nine men who were imprisoned for a combined 77 years for running a paedophile ring in Rochdale between 2008-12.
There’s a quiet tradition of Australian actors masking their accents and making a seamless switch to Hollywood: recent examples include Chris Hemsworth, Mia Wasikowska and Margot Robbie. Angourie Rice is the next one coming down the pipe, and she hasn’t even done a single episode of Neighbours. Instead, Rice, who turned 16 on 1 January, jumped straight to the big league by playing Ryan Gosling’s feisty daughter in The Nice Guys, Shane Black’s attempt to conjure up the sleazy, louche atmosphere of the 70s detective pic. She clearly aced the assignment, so has since been handed a role (as yet unspecified) in the new Spider-Man film; of equal import is a key role in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, where she will play the 12-year-old girl who rescues Union soldier Colin Farrell.
An Indian actor with a middlingly successful background in Bollywood (a sideman role in smash hit 3 Idiots, leads in smaller scale stuff such as Khamoshiyan, Fukrey and Always Kabhi Kabhi), Ali Fazal is shortly to get a career rocket boost from his role opposite Judi Dench in the forthcoming Victoria and Abdul. Directed by Stephen Frears, it’s about the real-life friendship between an elderly Queen Victoria and Abdul Karim, the attendant and clerk she became fond of after he joined her staff in 1887. With Frears’s track record of extracting brilliant performances, Fazal couldn’t be in better hands to show off his range; not something you might have said after his brief appearance in Fast and Furious 7. Expect him to become a major crossover figure in the near future.
Having only returned to London to formally set up their practice last year, after a period working and teaching in Switzerland, Nicholas Lobo Brennan and Astrid Smitham of Apparata have already made their mark as one of the most interesting young architecture firms in the capital. Recent projects include the elegance-on-a-budget conversion of the Old Manor Park Library in Newham into artists’ studios and a community space, as well as the equally sensitive transformation of a derelict farmhouse on the Becontree Estate in Dagenham into a public arts space. They are now working on their first new-build project, with the east London arts agency Create, for a bold new artists’ housing block in Barking, bringing a refreshing Swiss rigour to the plans and a quirky approach to structure and materials.
Often, the strength of Tillie Walden’s comics comes from what is left unsaid (or undrawn); the 20-year-old Texan’s clean, sparse yet detailed illustrations are reminiscent of Astro Boy creator Osama Tezuka (and she is a fan). Her first book, The End of Summer, followed an ill boy and his giant cat as they weather a family drama in their castle. Her second, I Love This Part, was an autobiographical love story between two girls. And coming out in 2017, her third book, Spinning, is a memoir about her teenage years as a figure skater. In another writer, the sheer variety of stories might suggest a creator still finding their voice; with Walden, no matter the story, you’re in safe hands.
Nathan Hill’s alarmingly good debut The Nix is both a Great American Novel as well as a great American novel: his 600-page burglar-thumper deftly teams the life of a bored college teacher and his relationship with his mother with a panoramic, astute commentary on America’s media and the failures of capitalism. Hill is already being compared to Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace and John Irving; Irving himself compares Hill to Dickens. The Nix came out in the US in 2016, and is out in the UK in 2017; reading it when Trump is at the helm will undoubtedly make the novel ache with all-new relevance.
“Artist, stalker, drawer, makeup enthusiast, pervert and video broadcaster,” reads Paul Kindersley’s online profile. His preferred medium is his own body, having posted hundreds of images of himself in innumerable poses, guises and situations (most of which he concocts at home) on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Using paint, make-up and costumes Kindersley’s work is a kind of free-access public sketchbook. His YouTube channel is also full of alarming and often hilarious and impromptu videos. He is the son of a family of traditional and much respected stone-carvers, but his work is an irreverent queering of British modernist tradition. Whenever he deals with reclining figures, he finds it hard not to think of Henry Moore. Moore in drag, now there’s a thought.
Lisa O’Neill’s distinctive voice first came to wider attention on Yorkston/Thorne/Khan’s 2016 album Something Sacred with her guest spot on their delicious cover of Ivor Cutler’s Little Black Buzzer; then, in May, she was a memorable part of the Imagining Ireland tour. She’s already a star in her native Ireland, where her third album, Pothole in the Sky, won rave reviews. It’s a quiet gem, its simplicity complements the rich poetry of her narratives – songs of love, loss and longing that feel rooted in the myths and magic of rural Ireland. There’s a fragility and directness to her delivery that means her intimate songs lodge directly in your heart. Catch her opening for the Divine Comedy touring Europe in January and February, or solo at London’s Slaughtered Lamb on 24 February.
Binker and Moses
They won three breakout act prizes in 2016, but though the gritty sax-and-drums music of Londoners Binker Golding and Moses Boyd has been bubbling under since they started jamming together during downtimes in singer Zara McFarlane’s band, next year they look like rising from best newcomers to the real creative deal. Part of a jazz generation that absorbed hip-hop grooves by osmosis, they also owe plenty to jazz’s classic sax/drums partnerships, notably that of John Coltrane and Elvin Jones. The pair’s upcoming album takes the story further, featuring guests as prestigious as the indefatigable saxophone innovator Evan Parker.
The Bargou valley is an isolated area of north-west Tunisia, hidden away between the mountains and the Algerian border, with its own culture and music. Singer Nidhal Yahyaoui grew up here, listening to the local songs which now provide the music for an intriguing and original north African folk-rock album in which he matches local instruments including the oud-like wtar and gasba flute against synthesisers and percussion. Recorded in his family home in the region, it’s a no-nonsense set dominated by his rousing vocal work. Bargou 08’s debut album, Targ, is released on Glitterbeat on 17 February with live UK dates to follow.