A Margaret Atwood puppet show and much much more to be expected from the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine festival

The broadcaster has announced a schedule of programming “rooted in the experience of national lockdown” plus an emergency fund to support artists.

26 March 2020

Culture in Quarantine is a new so-called virtual festival of the arts from the BBC, that the broadcaster says is “rooted in the experience of national lockdown” featuring a book festival curated by My Name is Leon author Kit de Waal and a puppet show by Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood. The programme gives access to exhibitions, performances and museums that would otherwise been closed during the Covid-19 crisis, giving the nation “access to the arts at a time when we need it the most,” and support artists and creative organisations in the process.

Front Row Late will be hosted by Mary Beard from her home, and feature special guests including Atwood, who has created a puppet show in isolation to accompany her narration of a story by Edgar Allan Poe.

Museums in Quarantine will be a four-part series for BBC Four by Swan Films, exploring national collections virtually and with new footage. These will focus on the Tate Modern’s Andy Warhol show, the Ashmolean’s Young Rembrandt exhibition, and a curated look at the collections in the British Museum and Tate Britain.

In Scandal and Beauty, Mark Gatiss explores the life and career of controversial illustrator and artist Aubrey Beardsley, with contributions from Stephen Fry, who discusses Beardsley’s illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s banned play, Salome. This programme is in association with the Tate Britain’s exhibition on Beardsley, which opened 4 March.

The Big Book Weekend co-founded by Kit de Waal and journalist Molly Flatt aims to bring together the best of the cancelled British literary festivals with video interviews, panel discussions, performances and interactive sessions, broadcast as live over three days.

A broad programme of filmed theatrical performances will also be broadcast including six productions chosen by the Royal Shakespeare Company, a new play by David Greig called Adventures with the Painted People, and Scenes for Survival, a responsive programme by National Theatre Scotland's engaging writers, actors and directors to create short scenes from isolation on current events. The latter will also act as a fundraising platform for the theatre industry.

The BBC has also launched a collaborative Culture in Quarantine Fund with Arts Council England that will aid around 25 established England-based artists of any discipline to produce new works. They don’t need to be about the current emergency, but they do need to “adhere imaginatively and lawfully to the principles of self-isolation”. Winning work will be hosted by the BBC online and/or on air. More information can be found here.

On the festival as a whole, Tony Hall, director-general of the BBC said it was important that we “maintain access not just to news and information, but to the arts and culture. For many people they are a valuable part of their lives and a way of stimulating imagination, thought, and escapism. It’s a vital part of who we are as individuals and part of our identity as a nation.”

“By working together,” he added, “we can still have a vibrant period of culture to brighten our lives."

GalleryBBC: Culture in Quarantine


Margaret Atwood and Mary Beard


RSC: Othello


RSC: Macbeth


Kit de Waal

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Aubrey Beardsley: The Climax from Salome. Courtesy Stephen Calloway.

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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