Culture

Barbie, boygenius and King's Coronation: These are the best cultural moments of 2023

We asked some well-known pals of Big Issue to tell us their cultural highlights of 2023

Cultural highlight sof 2023: Barbie

Barbie, cultural moment of 2023. Images: © 2023 Warner Bros.

In a year of outstanding entertainment on screen, stage and airways, these were some of the standout cultural highlights of 2023 – as chosen by the stars who defined the year.

Ncuti Gatwa – Star of Sex Education, Barbie and Doctor Who

Ncuti Gatwa
Ncuti Gatwa. Image: BBC

Oh, my cultural highlight of 2023 was the pink Tardis at the Barbie premiere! My roles in Doctor Who and Barbie are quite linked in my head. I got cast in both of them very close together and was filming Barbie when I was announced as the Doctor. So for the Barbie premiere, there was a pink Tardis floating around. It was amazing. So that’s my cultural moment of the year – because it combines both of my projects, hahaha, it was double Ncuti!  

Mathew Baynton
Mathew Baynton. Image: JEP Celebrity Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

Mathew Baynton – Writer and star of Ghosts and Wonka 

The Accidental Death of an Anarchist was criminally overlooked at the theatre awards. Daniel Rigby gave the funniest performance I’ve ever watched in a play. The adaptation by Tom Basden was incredible. There was a richness to every single line and it was so funny, but also really, righteously angry, bang up to date and full of jaw-dropping statistics about modern policing and the justice system. It was absolutely incredible. 

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Dominic West – The Crown’s Prince Charles, hardened cop in The Wire

Dominic West
Dominic West. Image: Michael Buckner/Shutterstock

I think I’ve got to say the Coronation, haven’t I? I was up in this little town in Yorkshire – there was a little fayre and I was in character as Prince Charles judging a competition for the best looking dog and the best cake. So it was hilarious. A great occasion. The Coronation itself I thought would knock our socks off. And maybe it was the rain or arresting those protesters, but it was a bit of a disappointment.  

The Crown: Does season 5 go too far in dramatising Royal Family trauma?

Time
Time’s second season starred Tamara Lawrence, Jodie Whittaker and Bella Ramsey. Image: BBC Studios/Sally Mais

Lindsay Duncan – Olivier Award-winning stage actor, also seen on TV in A Discovery of Witches

Lindsay Duncan
Lindsay Duncan. Image: dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo

Jimmy McGovern’s recent drama Time delivers, in terms of writing and performances, a really strong social message. It is gripping as a drama, it has got something to say, and it wants you to hear it. The state this country is in now, we need to keep lifting up the carpet and seeing what is buried underneath. Time had something very serious to say and provoked discussion. I loved it.   

Clarke Peters – Actor, writer, producer, hardened cop in The Wire 

Clarke Peters
Clarke Peters. Image: Andy Kropa/Invision/AP

I made sure a lot of my friends and particularly my boys saw For Black Boys… at the theatre. Now there’s the new culture! That’s what we need more of. Because it wasn’t just the stories that they told, but the production allowed the audience to sit quietly, discuss and ruminate over what they had just seen. You don’t want the curtains to come down and then rush off for the train. With something as profound as this, it needs to be digested, it needs to be discussed. 

Lauren Laverne – BBC Radio 6 Music presenter 

Lauren Laverne
Lauren Laverne. Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

I think I will go for Barbie as my cultural highlight of 2023. An astonishing, original cinematic masterpiece that is a paean to childhood play and an examination of what it means to be human – with genuinely hilarious jokes and a leitmotif that became an instant classic (I’m Just Ken). I took both my teenage sons, my goddaughter and husband to see it and we all adored it for completely different reasons. It was such an honour to chat to Greta Gerwig about it for her Desert Island Discs, which airs this month. I hope she, Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera and everyone else involved are SHOWERED with awards when the time comes.

Hozier – Irish award-winning singer-songwriter

Hozier
Hozier. Image: Barry McCall

While on the road it’s been difficult to keep up with new releases so I’m shamefully behind! But I’ve been loving boygenius – that album [the record] is phenomenal. They’re also just really fucking cool. 

Jason Williamson – Sleaford Mods singer

Jason Williamson
Jason Williamson. Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Two things hit me culturally this year. The first two Iron Maiden albums and [early Maiden singer] Paul Di’Anno’s fall into substance abuse, leading to his eventual sacking from the band. This is astounding. I don’t know why. But those first two albums reek of a punk/metal crossover that has proven hard to shake off. Also, Norwegian Black Metal and its historic timeline. I love the minimalist approach that features on a lot of these records whilst obviously sounding very, very distorted and big. Why are you singing about vampires in the most heartfelt way? It’s quite something. It’s as if, rather than addressing the political alienation head-first they combat it with the negativity of fictional horror and biblical doom. 

Cultural highlights of 2023: Peter Capaldi
Peter Capaldi. Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Peter Capaldi – Actor, Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, the 12th Doctor 

I loved Mark Gatiss as John Gielgud in The Motive and The Cue, with Johnny Flynn and Tuppence Middleton as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I just thought Mark was quite brilliant. He could so easily have played it as a caricature, but he played it with such clarity and focus and I found it very moving. I know Mark, he is a friend of mine, but I thought it was a beautiful performance.  

Gruff Rhys – Musician and composer, Super Furry Animals frontman

Gruff Rhys
Gruff Rhys. Image: GL Portrait / Alamy Stock Photo

My favourite album this year is Bolmynydd by Pys Melyn – they hail from North Wales but side one is sung entirely in a peculiar formal 1960s Pembrokeshire dialect which goes with the fuzzy psyched out music. It’s simultaneously unhinged, profound and political – and utterly melodic, so you don’t need to understand all the details at first listen to nod along. 

 

Jason Donovan – Australian actor and singer, Neighbours alumni 

Jason Donovan
Jason Donovan. Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The Rocky Horror Show celebrated its 50th anniversary this year and that was a really special time for me. I did Rocky Horror back in 1998, and came back to do it again this year in Sydney. I really enjoyed my time there. The music is incredible. Going back to it after 25 years is the standout moment of this year. 

Danny Robins – Writer, creator of spooky hit BBC podcast Uncanny

Danny Robins
Danny Robins. Image: supplied

I thought Dear England was a spectacular, moving play, written by the brilliant and prolific James Graham and starring one of this country’s acting gems, Joseph Fiennes. It spoke about our national identity at a time when we are desperately struggling to work out what that is. On a slightly narcissistic note, I’d also give an honourable mention to Cheryl making her West End debut in my play 2:22 – A Ghost Story. As with Dear England, it’s creating exciting, talked-about moments like this that will keep theatre alive and kicking and relevant. 

Danny Dyer
Danny Dyer. Image: LANDMARK MEDIA / Alamy Stock Photo

Danny Dyer – Actor, presenter, former EastEnders landlord

The Beatles bringing out another tune was a beautiful, wonderful thing. John Lennon lives on! 

Femi Koleoso – Drummer and leader of award-winning British jazz group Ezra Collective

Femi Koleoso
Femi Koleoso. Image: lev radin / Alamy Stock Photo

Cultural moment of the year for me has to be Glastonbury Festival. The world’s biggest dance floor. Triumph of music and inclusivity. I love it so much. Danced hard in the fields. Then watched it all over again on iPlayer. Makes me proud to be from the UK.  

Big Zuu – TV chef, presenter and grime artist

Big Zuu
Big Zuu. Image: Doug Peters/EMPICS/Alamy Live News

My cultural highlight of 2023 was when Dave and Central Cee hit number one with Sprinter and stayed there for so long. It became the longest reigning number one rap song in the UK ever, and was the UK’s most-streamed song in 2023. It showed that the culture is in a different place, and being friends with both of them, I was proud to see them at the top of the game. It made me happy to say I’m a rapper. 


Layton Williams – Actor, singer and dancer, known for Bad Education and Strictly Come Dancing  

Layton Williams
Layton Williams. Image:PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

My cultural highlight of 2023 has to be going to see Renaissance. Beyoncé really showcased Black and queer excellence and for me, the show celebrated all things LGBTQ+. There are two dancers I have been a huge fan of since high school – one is called Jonte’, the other is called Honey Balenciaga. They are amazing queer dancers from the ballroom and vogue scene. The fact that they were dancing behind Beyoncé was unbelievable. I just loved that I was seeing people on stage with Beyoncé that looked like me, danced like me and acted like me. It was the best thing ever.  I also went to see the movie of Renaissance recently and felt the same vibes. ‘Uncle Johnny made my dress / That cheap spandex that looks a mess’ – all of that is a shout out to Uncle Johnny who was a queer Black man who she loved dearly. So, thank you Bey for inspiring us and lifting up our voices. 

Louise Brealey – Actor in Sherlock, Such Brave Girls, Chuck Chuck Baby

Louise Brealey
Louise Brealey. Image: Abaca Press / Alamy Stock Photo

A last-minute invite to see Hauschka – the incredible German musician who scored All Quiet on The Western Front – at Milton Court Concert Hall at the Barbican in November. The first half was the astonishing young Polish cellist Dobrawa Czocher. I sat next to the lovely Rob [Judge] Rinder and we basically held hands because it was completely transcendental. It felt like my body was her cello and all the hearts in the concert hall were beating together. I’ll never forget it.  

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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