I have to thank Tim Miller and his podcast “Human voices wake us” for bringing this great London poem to my attention.
Pressed with conflicting thoughts of love and fear I parted from thee, Friend, and took my way Through the great City, pacing with an eye Downcast, ear sleeping, and feet masterless That were sufficient guide unto themselves, And step by step went pensively. Now, mark! Not how my trouble was entirely hushed, (That might not be) but how, by sudden gift, Gift of Imagination’s holy power, My Soul in her uneasiness received An anchor of stability. — It chanced That while I thus was pacing, I raised up My heavy eyes and instantly beheld, Saw at a glance in that familiar spot A visionary scene—a length of street Laid open in its morning quietness, Deep, hollow, unobstructed, vacant, smooth, And white with winter’s purest white, as fair, As fresh and spotless as he ever sheds On field or mountain. Moving Form was none Save here and there a shadowy Passenger Slow, shadowy, silent, dusky, and beyond And high above this winding length of street, This moveless and unpeopled avenue, Pure, silent, solemn, beautiful, was seen The huge, majestic Temple of St Paul In awful sequestration, through a veil, Through its own sacred veil of falling snow.
The V&A calls itself “The world’s leading museum of Art and Design”, a bold claim. In a city that has many of the greatest museums in the world, the Victoria and Albert is among the best of them. It is certainly my favourite. The permanent collection is vast, with almost 3 million objects and the variety of displays is huge, in terms of time -from antiquity to the present day, geography – literally all over the world and, ideas – ancient Japanese art, through early 20th century arts and craft, to current video game design.
London is very lucky in that most of its museums and galleries are free. The V&A charge for some of their exhibitions but the permanent collection is always free. There are lunchtime lectures most Thursdays, which are free, and these are on a wide variety of topics, recent examples range from “The Christmas Story in Late Medieval and Renaissance Paintings” (I admit that sounded a bit dry, but it wasn’t!), to “Beatrix Potter” and “Hallyu” about popular culture in South Korea.
They have free music concerts – the last time I went, there was a pianist, Ivan Moshchuk, playing Schubert, in Gallery 87. There are also tours of different parts of the collection, varying in subject from Female Voices, through African Heritage, Fashion, and Theatre and Performance.
The collection is far too big to do in one day. So, you will probably need to choose the areas that you are most interested in and save the rest for another day. They have a really good theatre area, very hands on with costumes to dress up in, excellent if you bring children. Their gold and silver collection is remarkable, there is a solid gold door from a Kyiv cathedral, that had been given to them by Catherine the Great. I’m not sure how it managed to get to be in the collection of the V&A, but it is remarkable nonetheless.
There is a huge room dedicated to jewelry. The windows of one side of the second floor are covered inside with stained glass. There is a collection of ancient Chinese ceramics and of Philip Treacy hats. They are strong on fashion, from 16th century underwear to Alexander McQueen evening dresses. There is a display on the history of the mobile phone, it is surprising to see things that you have owned in a museum collection. It made me think “Have I still got one of those in a drawer somewhere?” There is a room of 1960s and 1970s futuristic furniture, which is truly amazing.
The cafe is fantastic, both in terms of the food it sells and its decor. The central seating area is the earliest ever museum cafe, decorated in the bright colorful style of a Parisian Cafe, but with English tin glazed majolica tiles. It is still in remarkably good condition. There are two slightly smaller seating rooms, one decorated by Edward John Poynter and one by William Morris off to either side. The food ordering area is late 20th Century with the sharp clean lines and muted colours of the time. Even if you are not intending to eat you should certainly walk through.
As you may have guessed, I really like this museum and if you are only going to visit one museum in London (but don’t only visit one – see The Wallace Collection, The Science Museum and Natural History Museum too, if you can) then this should be the one. I am certainly not going to dispute their claim to be “The world’s leading museum of art and design”. If you get the opportunity, you should definitely go.
This Gallery holds the art collection of The City of London. Not only is it free to visit, but most weekdays it has a free guided tour of the gallery at 12.15pm and 1.15pm. The collection on display is small compared to the National Gallery or the Tates but it certainly worth a visit.
The original gallery was destroyed in the Blitz and not rebuilt until 1999. When it was rebuilt, it was designed around holding the painting above, which is huge, around 5.4m by 7.5m, as there was no other gallery in the UK with a space large enough to hold it. The gallery was actually commissioned to be built in 1985, but they discovered that it was being built on the site of a Roman amphitheater. It is possible to visit these remains in the basement of the gallery.
The remains are well laid out with some pieces still in the floor but covered in glass and other areas cleared for you to walk around with a light show imagining where the seats and auditorium would have been.
The most famous work is possibly “La Ghirlandata” by Rossetti which has been recently restored and is now on display on the first floor. It has many commissioned works from the 18th Century to the modern day and there are a couple of the Lord Mayors parade, one from the 1880s and another from the 1960s. It is interesting to compare what has changed and what has remained the same in the intervening years.
Just in case all this was not enough, they have The City of London’s actual copy of the Magna Carta on display on the lower ground floor. Apparently, this is not on permanent show though, so if this would be your main reason for attending, check before you go. It was very quiet on the afternoon I went and there are plenty of seats for you to sit and appreciate the art. All in all, I would say that The Guildhall Gallery is a much overlooked and underrated London Gallery.
The World Reimagined is an exhibition of 103 individual, artist decorated globes, set out in 10 trails, in 7 different cities throughout the UK. I walked the City of London trail, which has 10 globes.
The Globes are designed to make us think about our history in an honest way and they hope to inspire us to look toward a fairer future.
The city of London trail was a little over 3km and took around 2 hours. Some of the globes were hard to find and if I’m honest the map wasn’t great. If anyone does the trail and finds the first globe, I would be grateful if they could give me a hint as to where it is. I used the app after the map was less than helpful and when it said “you have reached the globe” it was nowhere to be seen!
The globes on the City of London trail are a lot about slavery, which I guess is actually where a lot of its wealth came from. The stories they tell are interesting and informative. The trail takes you through a part of London that is rich in history and that is also fascinating to walk through today. You will see St Paul’s Cathedral, Bank, Bow Bells, The Gherkin and much more.
The exhibition runs until the end of October, there are 4 different trails in London, as well as trails in other cities including Swansea, Leeds, Liverpool, Leicester and Birmingham.
The world reimagined has a big online element too, with many YouTube videos, and each globe has QR codes that can be scanned so you can “collect” the globes and read information about them, such as the artist and what they represent.
All in all, an ambitious project – the globes and trail are only a part of it. I found it an entertaining morning out, so if you are in any of the cities taking part and you fancy a walk, I would recommend looking up “The World Reimagined”
A company called “Life You Deserve” – A website which hosts curated activities for the over 55s in London, has asked me to create content for their website. They suggest an activity, they pay for my ticket and travel and in return I have to review the event and say how suitable I believe it would be for their client base. I send them some photos and video clips and they will edit it all into a short video that they put onto their website.
This all sounded interesting so I have agreed to do it. It fits in well with the idea behind the London Lark and with a little luck it will inspire me to reignite the blog which I had left lying dormant over the past couple of years.
This is the first one I did. It was The Van Gogh Immersive Experience.
It takes place in a huge old building in Commercial Street, just across from Spitalfields Market. They try to immerse you in his life from the moment you enter – offering you perfumed tea to drink while you read about his life and works. They have many recreations of his works throughout the exhibition, some converted into moving images. It is very interactive too you are encouraged to try his techniques and then post them on the walls just before you leave. There is an ingenious room where you get to sit under his starry night and amongst his flowers, I really enjoyed it and found it very relaxing.
The Virtual Reality section of the exhibition costs an extra £5, but do not miss it, for me it was the absolute highlight. You walk through his life and paintings at Arles. Virtual Reality has come on so far since I last tried it a few years ago – it really did feel like I was walking through his paintings.
Of course they do not have any of his actual paintings at this exhibition, they are all recreations, so it is perhaps not one for the purists among us, but it was hugely enjoyable. I loved it, I stayed about an hour and a half and when I left I felt that I had learnt so much about Van Gogh his life and his painting and whenever I go into a traditional gallery, I will certainly make sure that I see the Van Gogh if they have one in their collection.
My intention is to continue blogging about London things and occasionally add these Life You Deserve videos when they are kind enough to make a video for me. I am looking forward to being back in the world of blogging! Also, I’m surprised at how much practical stuff I’ve forgotten about tags, categories and how the blog looks – so if you spot something that need improving, I will be grateful for the feedback. Cheers!
Kensington Palace has been a place of residence of the British Royal family since 1689. It was bought as a completed building by William and Mary when they ascended to the throne. Those parts not being lived in are open to the public. Currently they contain four exhibitions, one ticket allows entry to all four. Entrance to the Palace gardens, including the attractive sunken gardens is free and these are certainly worth the time it takes to walk round them on days when the weather is clement. The first two exhibitions are about Queen Victoria and Princess Diana’s dresses. They are both interesting in different ways, I have a blog post about them here: Kensington Palace, London W8. Part 1. Victoria Revealed & Diana, her fashion story.
The next two exhibitions are The Queens’ State Apartments, which has the rooms decorated as they were in the 1690s, during the reign of William and Mary, and The King’s State Apartments, which has the rooms restored in the way they were in the early 1700s, during the reign of Georges I and II.
These are arranged in reverse chronological order, entry is through the sumptuous King’s Grand Staircase. Decorated in the time of George II, this is broad and spacious, we are overlooked by painted figures as we ascend. The staircase is certainly grand, immediately we can tell that we are in an era when conspicuous wealth was expected of the monarchy. The mural was painted by William Kent in 1724 and contains depictions of many actual members of the royal court at the time. Kent even included himself in the painting, he is the man wearing a brown turban and holding an artist’s palette, and the lady looking over his shoulder was reportedly his mistress.
The rooms in the King’s State Apartments have many wonderful Georgian features. The fireplaces and ceilings are spectacular. One ceiling is decorated with shields representing the members of the Order of the Garter, with its insignia making the centrepiece. The King’s Gallery has a mantelpiece with a map of the British Isles and Western Europe. This is linked to a weather vane on the roof, so that King George could see how the wind was affecting his fleet. It is still working today. The drawing room has some interesting examples of gaming tables from the era and the best perspective of the gardens, down to the lake.
The Queen’s State Apartments are 17th Century and this exhibition is more intimate, showing their bedrooms, their dining room and gives a little more of an insight into how they went about their, still opulent, daily lives. The furniture and delft is remarkable and the tapestries and bed coverings are extravagant. It is interesting to see the shortness of the four poster bed, it was thought at that time to be beneficial to health to sleep in a sitting position.
The exhibitions also contain lovely examples of the fashions at the time, there are some wonderful farthingale supported embroidered skirts, which look spectacular but must have been completely impractical to wear.
Between all four of the shows here, it would be difficult to do it justice in less than a couple of hours, there is almost too much to see in one visit. Perhaps it would be worth viewing the Palace on one day and the Gardens, Park and Orangery, which are free to enter, on another. This way you could spread the visit over a couple of days and only have to pay the, not inconsiderable, entry fee once. Kensington Palace and Gardens is one of the most historic visitor attractions in London, the exhibitions are well stocked and informative, although it is not cheap to visit, it should be among the sights that you consider when in London. It is free to enter with an Art Pass, if you have one of these you should not miss it, Kensington Palace is a highlight of their offer.
I have restricted the list to those shows that I have seen myself. There are a number of shows that I am sure will be wonderful but that I have not yet seen. Hamilton, which is on at the Victoria Palace appears to be universally loved. I am really looking forward to seeing Company at The Geilgud Theatre. The Inheritance at The Noel Coward Theatre looks like it will be fantastic too.
This list is obviously based on personal taste too. People who love Bat Out Of Hell, seem to really adore it and return regularly, although I have to say that I found the new songs less good than the originals and the story is poor. I do have to admit, though that some of the special effects are spectacular.
A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter might appeal, if you like your theatre to be a bit more off kilter. It is brim full of weird and unusual ideas, but it is not an easy watch and the realisation is not as polished as Martin McDonagh’s usual fare. You also need to be quick, as it is due to finish in early January.
So, if you are thinking of booking theatre tickets for London anytime this month, there is a show for you somewhere in this list. Enjoy!
Summer and Smoke had a successful run at the Almeida theatre earlier in the year. The reviews at the time were ecstatic but tickets were impossible to get, so it was great news to hear that it had been given a West End transfer. When it was first produced, in 1948, it was the follow up to “A Streetcar Named Desire” but it did not match that play’s success. There have been revivals in the intervening years, but the only successful one has been the off Broadway version, with Geraldine Page as Alma, that was eventually made into the film with Laurence Harvey as John. Geraldine Page received an Oscar nomination for that part.
The set is a bare brick wall with seven pianos set in a semi circle facing it. These are played at the start, finish and at dramatic moments through the play. The rest of the stage is basically empty, save a few chairs brought on and removed as they are needed. The setting is the American deep south in the early 20th Century, classic Tennessee Williams territory. The story is too, a tale of unrequited love struggling against unbridled lust, set in a small American town in the sweltering heat of summer’s sultry climate.
Director, Rebecca Frecknall, has taken the decision to make this production revolve totally around Alma Winemiller. She is almost always on stage and on the rare occasions when she is not central, we are thinking about how this will affect her state of mind. This is a bold directing decision, but perfectly vindicated by Patsy Ferran’s performance as Alma. She is phenomenal, it is a career defining role and she drags us through every high and low. One of the toughest things for an actor to do is bring the audience with them when they have a life changing epiphany which totally reverses their world view, Patsy Ferran does this remarkably well, and if she does not win awards for her acting in this play, then I cannot wait to see the performance that beats it.
The rest of the cast are excellent too and provide brilliant support. There are a couple of moments where music is used to heighten the drama. Both of these are chillingly good. Anjana Vasan has a beautiful blues voice, when she sings in the casino. The slow motion sequence during the shooting, which I think used a Portishead track, has an ethereal, poetic quality that raises the production to a more abstract, surreal vision than we are used to seeing in a Tennessee Williams play, and this worked very well.
I enjoyed this production, it was brave enough to approach Tennessee Williams in a more lyrical manner than usual, the added musical dimension, although lightly used was very effective and it will endure in the memory for the amazing performance of Patsy Ferran in the leading role.
This is the third of the National Youth Theatre’s West End season that I have seen, after Consensual and Victoria’s Knickers, which were on last month at the Soho Theatre. I am pleased to say that Macbeth maintains the high standard set by the first two.
This is a contemporary and stylish version of the play. It was interesting to see Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Duncan, all as women, it was good to see how little it changed the dynamic of the piece. Of course, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are both ambitious, determined characters and this setup underlines that each has their own portion of the guilt to bear. Isabel Adomakoh Young as Lady Macbeth does a fantastic job of displaying her ambition when strengthening her partner’s resolve at the start, and then showing her despair when she feels it has gone too far. Olivia Dowd as Macbeth makes us see how difficult it is to carry out the first undefended murder and then shows us that each successive one becomes more easy, until by the end she doesn’t care how many lives it costs as long as she keeps her power.
The witches in this Macbeth are fantastic. They look both dramatic and other worldly. Their movement and utterances are chilling, perhaps the best realisation of the witches I have seen, in a perfect combination of costume and delivery. The direction with regard to the apparitions is masterful too, they appear as though spawned by an archfiend that the witches have conjured up. This is a Macbeth where the effects of the supernatural world are strongly felt.
Back in Scotland, Jay Mailer is good as Ross, Oseloka Obi is a strong and sturdy Macduff and Jamie Ankrah is great as a soldierly Banquo. This is a very accessible Macbeth, Natasha Nixon as director has been clever in managing to convey the horror of the tale while minimising the blood and the gore. I really enjoyed this stripped down, stylized telling of the Scottish play. Its on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons at the Garrick Theatre until the 7th December.
It has been most enjoyable to see 3 of the NYT West End shows this winter, the standard of acting has been very high and I am looking forward to seeing many of the actors on stage or screen again in the near future. If you are in town when the next year’s season is announced, it is worth looking up – the tickets are such good value for a west end show and the productions are excellent quality. I have to say that, for me, The National Youth Theatre Rep Company’s West End seasons are a highlight of the theatre year.
Kensington Palace has been a place of residence of the British Royal family since 1689. It was bought as a completed building by William and Mary when they ascended to the throne and it has been expended and improved since, by both Christopher Wren and by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Part of the palace is still used as living accommodation by the Dukes and Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex.
Those parts not being lived in are open to the public. Currently they contain four exhibitions, one ticket allows entry to all four. Entrance to the Palace gardens, including the attractive sunken gardens is free and these are certainly worth the time it takes to walk round them on days when the weather is clement.
Victoria Revealed is an exhibition about the life of Queen Victoria. She was born in Kensington Palace and lived here until she became monarch in 1837. It consists of eight rooms detailing her life in, mainly chronological, order. It does contain some interesting personal items such as the dolls with which she played as a child. The portrait of her at the time of her coronation, shows why she was considered a beauty in her youth.
It has the uniform that her husband Albert wore on their wedding day. This has embroidered messages, such as “dearly loved” and “Oh my Angel Albert”, on the cuffs collar and pockets. It also has a garter, tied visibly, just below the left knee. It also has the gilt bassinet which held many of her nine children, as babies.
The rooms are relatively sparsely decorated, but have some nice busts and a few interesting paintings, including a couple of the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, in which it took place. The Great Exhibition was opened in in 1851 by Queen Victoria herself. In the gardens of the palace, stands “The Queen Victoria Statue” designed, in marble, by her own daughter Louise, who was a celebrated artist of the time.
The presentation contains a moving memorial to Albert. Victoria was strongly affected by his death, she wore mourning clothes and withdrew from public life for many years after. Victoria Revealed is a fascinating show, the items on display are sympathetically exhibited and give a nice insight into her personal life.
Also on the first floor is “Diana, her fashion story”. This is a collection of Princess Diana’s most famous suits and dresses. There are about 20 of her outfits on show here, along with notes about the designers and details of the occasions on which she wore them. They are interesting in that they mark the fashions of the time as well as well as being beautifully designed. It is surprising how many of them are recognizable, it seems that time has proven that Diana really was a fashion icon of the 1980s and 90s.