Week 24

It is the hottest week of the year (so far!), and I chose to go open-air, with mixed results. I went to the Globe theatre for the first time, travelling by boat. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Sadly, I didn’t get to go home on the boat, because I was taken ill at the end of the performance. All praise to the first-aiders at the Globe, the paramedics and the wonderful staff at St Thomas’s hospital. Luckily, it was nothing serious and I got to home later the same night.

IMG_0231

Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe

Knee-high Theatre: Tristan and Yseult

IMG_0242

This was wonderful. The theatre was everything I had hoped for. The production was modern, costumes very simple, acting excellent. The music was well-chosen- everything from Wagner to Daft Punk, and the actor-musicians were excellent. My favourite character was Yseult’s maid, played in panto-drag, but producing one of the deepest, saddest moments of the play. I loved this.

Exhibitions

Barbican Centre: Into the Unknown

IMG_0430

Getting into and out of the Barbican is always a nightmare for me. It is extraordinarily difficult for a less than perfectly mobile pedestrian. But once inside, what a wonderful exhibition this was. A perfect few hours for any science fiction lover. There were books, including a whole lot of Russian versions of classics; there were classic film extracts running at various points through the curved exhibition space; there were actual film props and costumes. There were robots! There were Stargate Goa’uld helmets! There was a new and strange film. There were video games.  There was everything, really. I liked this very much.

Public art

Anthony Gormley: Quantum Cloud

IMG_0435

I have a fondness for a Gormley, and Quantum Cloud is one of my favourites. It is right next to the Thames Clipper pier at North Greenwich. From the right viewpoint, you can see the figure inside clearly, but I didn’t quite get it this time.

Books

IMG_0449

I didn’t actually finish anything, but Bloomsday fell this week, and so I proudly proclaim That almost exactly a year ago, I  actually read Ulysses for the first, and most likely the last time.

Week 19

Another “exhibitions” week.

The Wellcome Collection

Electricity: The Spark of Life

FullSizeRender 3

This was surprisingly comprehensive for a free exhibition. The exhibits spanned the whole of human history, from lightning to modern power generation, and included art as well as artefacts. “Pure” science was well-represented, and Galvani loomed large. The film of a frog in zero gravity was oddly sad, but it was an interesting inclusion. The exhibition itself was well laid out, following a timeline from ancient to modern. Well worth seeing, even if you are not science-minded.

The British Library

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

FullSizeRender 4

This is the second Russian-revolution-themed exhibition I have visited in this centenary year, and despite it having no Kandinskys for me to drool over, it was by far the better experience. Obviously, as a library exhibition, the main focus was on text and illustration, but there was enough archive footage, flags and realia to make this really interesting and worth the admission fee. The layout was exemplary. It was not possible to miss anything, there was ample seating for those who, like me, need a rest now and then, and the exhibits were very well chosen. My only gripe is  the prohibitive cost of even the paperback version of the catalogue.

Public art

Eduardo Paolozzi: Newton

FullSizeRender

This is one of my favourite pieces of public art. I do like a big bronze, and this one has a sense of gravity (heh). It sits on a huge plinth outside the British Library, and I couldn’t walk past it without taking a snap.

J C F Rossi: The New St Pancras Church Caryatids

FullSizeRender 2

Another favourite of mine. I was surprised to discover that they are made of terracotta, around a steel core. They look very much like ancient stone. The church faces on to the Euston Road, and is grade 1 listed, so these ladies will be around for a while.

Books

Only one book this week, and it was a disappointment.

IMG_0250

I like Inspector Montalbano a great deal, in both his TV incarnations, and I expected to like this. Sadly, the book does not read well. It feels like a caricature of the TV programme, rather than a “proper” crime novel in its own right. I know the books came first, so I imagine this must be a poor translation.  Catarella comes off particularly badly, and that is a shame. Even the food descriptions are poor. I don’t recommend this.

Week 14

I was battling a bad cold this week, and nearly didn’t make the effort to get out of the house, but in the end, I’m glad I did.

Theatre

Yellow Earth Theatre at the Arcola

Christopher Marlowe: Tamburlaine 

IMG_0082

This was a very pared-back production. No set, apart from a white backdrop used to project text, and at one point a bizarre inclusion of negative film of a saxophonist accompanying Billie Holliday singing “My Baby”. I didn’t “get” that, and I haven’t seen any other reviews that have explained it at all. The cast were very good, swapping in and out of roles seamlessly, and the costuming and very few props were well-chosen. The lead female actor played a male tyrant believably and with great strength.  The play was accompanied throughout by excellent Taiko drumming, and I would have happily sat through this separately as a gig.

Exhibitions

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 (Royal Academy)

IMG_0050

I won’t deny that my main reason for going to this was to see Kandinsky’s Blue Crest. 

IMG_0094

I was  surprised at how small it was – I had somehow expected it to be an epic piece. But never mind, it was still a highlight of the exhibition for me.

I found the rest of the extensive exhibition somewhat less than inspiring, although I did like the ceramics. This was another expensive gig where no photography was allowed, and only a very limited set of postcards were available. The catalogue was weighty, but too pricey for me. I bought a copy of the Soviet cook book, which will doubtless be reviewed here in the near future.

The life drawing room, Royal Academy Schools

Cathie Pilkington: Anatomy of a Doll

IMG_0096

This was a delightful bonus addition to my visit to the RA. I found out about it, by chance, five minutes before the tour started, and was able to join the group on a trek through the back alleys of the RA site where the public is only rarely allowed. The artwork was very interesting – Pilkington’s installation filled the entire life drawing studio, and incorporated a number of the RA’s own casts (a giant head of Homer and a flayed crucifix being the most “obvious”).  Crucifixes keep popping up on my travels just lately. Maybe it’s the proximity to Easter that is making me aware of them…

The installation is transferring to Brighton soon, but the RA casts and shelving will not travel with it, so it would be interesting to see how different it looks there. One obvious difference will be the student benches (as old as the Academy itself), which will be reproduced in pink plastic foam.

Public Art

St James’s Market Pavilion

The Paper Aviary

E6756EAC-50ED-4C36-8C9E-DE76664225F8

This was quite lovely- a tiny installation of paper birds hidden away behind the Haymarket. I heard it before I saw it- the sound of birdsong isn’t often heard among the treeless streets in this part of London.

Picadilly Circus Underground Station

The Frank Pick memorial

A0AD4CF2-1DAD-48AF-A49B-94BE1535AACD

I really like this. The simplicity and appropriateness of it appeals to me. Pick first commissioned the London Transport “roundel”, and it is fitting that he is commemorated with one.

Dalson Junction

The Peace Mural

0FBA3BDA-DB6B-4B47-A478-4FDCB4A79372

This was painted in the 1980s, and has become quite important, apparently. I must admit that I wouldn’t want it painted on the side of my house, but it is better than a lot of other murals that I have seen. If you look carefully towards the top of the painting, you will see the words “Nuclear Free Zone”. I find that faintly amusing, if meaningless. Does it mean “no nuclear reactors in Dalston”? I can’t imagine where anyone would fit one in, anyway. Perhaps it means that if a nuclear war started, Dalson would be a magically safe place…

Books

FullSizeRender

Two crime novels this week.

Wild Chamber is number 15 in the Bryant and May series, and it is as good as ever. I love Fowler’s London, love the Peculiar Crimes Unit and I am very fond of the creaky old Arthur Bryant.

Cockroaches is the second of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, set in Thailand, and as convoluted as ever. I like this flawed detective, even if he is a trope. Once again, the love interest doesn’t last out the book. I wonder if this will continue as a theme?

Week 13

Theatre

Lazarus Theatre Company

Bertold Brecht: The Caucasian Chalk Circle

IMG_0037

I had never seen this play before, and on reflection, I think I would probably have preferred a more traditional rendering. Lazarus are a company that try to involve and encourage new, young, multi-ethnic theatregoers, and there was a lot of noise and flashing lights to accompany Arkadi’s singing. The set and props looked almost exactly like the interior of a school hall or gym, and the production tried hard to be a bit hip-hop. There were clear parallels drawn between political events in the play and in the world, but sadly, despite the company’s efforts, I think it failed to really engage the coachloads of school pupils that filled the auditorium, and it alienated the half-dozen or so stalwart matinee-goers who were dotted here and there at the ends of rows. There was quite a lot of swearing, and a gratuitous nude scene. I had to look up a synopsis later to make sure that this was actually Brecht’s play.

Opera

Live screening from the Royal Opera House

Puccini: Madama Butterfly

IMG_0035

Butterfly is a deeply problematic story. Pinkerton’s seduction and abandonment of a fifteen year old child made me angry, and I cried with her as she waited for him. I had actually forgotten about the humming chorus, and found it very moving. Ermonela Jaho’s voice was glorious, and she acted the part convincingly. I liked the set, and the costumes had a pleasant authenticity. If this were anything but opera, I feel there would be outcry over the designer’s decision to go for full Japanese-style make-up and hair; however, here the voices are the thing. I imagine it might be difficult to find a cast of Japanese opera singers.

Exhibition

Francis Bacon: Crucifixions

IMG_0036

The very old church of St Stephen Walbrook, in the City of London might seem a strange place for an exhibition of very modern art, but it worked quite well. The paintings were all much smaller than I expected, and framed with glass. This meant that odd reflections from the church clerestory interfered with the view from anything more than five or six feet away, which was a pity. While I was there, I was treated to a recital of Bach fugues on the organ. A lovely way to spend a lunchtime.

 

 

 

 

 

Week 12

A shocking week. Everyone will remember it for the act of terrorism outside Parliament. I wasn’t in central London on the day it happened, but I shudder to remember that I was in the exact spot just the day before. The day after, I made the same decision as most other Londoners, and carried on as normal (or as near as possible, given bus diversions and other necessary disruptions.)

 

Theatre

Jermyn Street Theatre

Stephen Sondheim: The Frogs (adapted by Nathan Lane)

IMG_0007

Jermyn Street is such a tiny theatre that you wouldn’t think they could fit in a cast of more than two or three, but for this quite wonderful production, they managed a four piece band, a chorus of six really good singers, and three principals. The set was minimal- looked like the inside of a copper tank, with visible rivets and pipe work, and minimalist lighting supplied by those fancy light bulbs with the coppery glowing filaments. Costumes were all-black “found items” with copper highlights (copper spectacle frames for one character, copper belt for another etc). The chorus were given a Greek half-mask effect with metallic copper face paint. The change from human chorus to frog chorus was effected by putting them all in tailcoats. Altogether, this was a very clever production, with wonderful music and voices,  and I am really glad I made the decision to go on the day after terrorist action a few streets away. I wasn’t alone. The theatre was sold out, and deserved to be.

 

Exhibition

Westminster Cathedral 

Cross the World- Building Bridges with Wood

IMG_0010

An exhibition of wooden crosses and crucifixes from around the world, exhibited here in advance of their eventual permanent installation in the Museum of the Cross in Lorraine, France. Highlights for me were mother-of-pearl inlaid crosses from China, and a cross made from  the wreckage of a boat washed up at Lampedusa. This was a small exhibition, hidden away in a side chapel (note: this was the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, not the nearby Westminster Abbey), and was poorly signposted. Coincidentally, while I was there, children were rehearsing their version of the passion play at the main Cathedral altar-told with the POV of various trees (e.g. a tree in the garden of Gethsemane), and it was quite lovely to listen in.

 

Pop culture icons

IMG_0012

(RED) is a charity set up to help combat AIDS. A variety of manufacturing companies produce “special” red variants of their popular items and donate part of the sales price to the charity. Apple is one of the participating companies.I upgraded my iPhone ( itself now a cultural icon) and got the red one, which I love.

Books

Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go

IMG_0006

A bleak, dystopian novel set in a pretty near future England. Another first-person POV, which I don’t really like, although I do understand why it is written that way, as it allows the author to bypass a lot of explanation of the world they have imagined. This is a science-based future, rather than an ideology-based one, which makes it slightly less scary just now.