A man, a bicycle, and a flippin’ massive vase: why Londoners should look more

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This morning I saw a middle-aged man speeding on a Boris bike through Covent Garden, one hand on the handlebars, the other clutching a giant ceramic vase.

I was quite impressed that a) he could physically hold the gargantuan urn with one hand, b) that despite being weighed down on one side, he maintained an upright posture and rapid, straight-line cycling, and c) that no one seemed to bat an eyelid, or register that this was quite an unusual thing to see on a Monday morning.

London is so full of bizarre and downright insane sights, people, events and instances that perhaps we are all somewhat immune to the oddities that confront us in our day to day city lives. Were this man to be cycling through, say, the cobbled streets of Cambridge, I expect he would have got a number of odd looks, a couple of comments on the cyclist’s strength and expertise, or an out-loud questioning at what exactly he is doing.

Of course, if we Londoners were to look up and wonder aloud at every out-of -the ordinary sight, we wouldn’t get anything done. Maybe, then, just expecting to see slightly odd things, and learning to ignore them, is the way forward.

But then we do miss an awful lot. Stuck in our city bubbles, head in phone, eyes down, headphones in, so many of the quirky parts of London pass us by. I didn’t see one pedestrian turn to look at Vase Man (as he will be know from now on). Perhaps a cycling coach could have noticed his prowess, and signed him up to the GB team, or maybe an antiques expert would have recognsied the million pound urn in his hand.

Ok – so Vase Man is just one example, but I think it’s about time we all started looking around and absorbing the quirks and features of our incredible capital.

We walk by people and places every day without even noticing them. On Oxford Street, there is a particular Big Issue seller who, in between shouting the name of the paper in attempt to sell a few copies, asks ‘will anyone acknowledge me?’

In my experience, anyone rarely does. They walk by, stuck in their city bubbles, heads in phones, eyes down, headphones in, so that when we could actually make a difference, it passes us by.

King Lear at the Globe: homelessness, madness and mediocrity

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The opening of King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe is less ‘lights, camera, action’ and more a fizzling illumination and gradual realisation that, indeed, the play is starting. Beanie-clad and backpack-carrying folk make their way through the still chattering crowd and onto the stage – a huge ‘Keep Out’ sign at the set’s centre signals a disused and abandoned building that these squatters are about to claim for themselves.

Once it is ascertained that these scruffy-looking individuals must be the cast and the theatre-goers quieten down, the actors begin to tear down dust sheets, force down barricades, and make the stage into a set more fitting for their rendition of King Lear, an almost Brechtian touch. Throughout the production, the initially covered-up set becomes more and more exposed, mirroring the King’s increasing descent into madness.

Kevin McNally, best known perhaps for his roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, is undoubtedly the star of the show, playing a phenomenal Lear. Joshua James as Edgar, and the character’s disguise of Poor Tom is also highly successful – disguise is certainly the order of the day in Lear, with Saskia Reeves’ Kent taking on a male identity with equally dramatic effects.

It has to be said that for such a tragic play, there are a fair few comedic moments, with plenty of laughs – in true Bard fashion there are innuendos dotted throughout, despite the depressing turn of events. Unlike Emma Rice’s previous colourful, fiesta-style version of Much Ado About Nothing however, her latest directorial work for King Lear is a wholly more subdued affair. Colours are duller, with pastel shade costumes only brightened by the odd instance of pillar box red jackets.  With the exception of the theatrical drumming scene to portray the tempestuous storm, the entire three and a half hour production (which at times feels elongated) seems slightly muted – it’s a solid rendition of King Lear but perhaps one that lacks a wow factor.  

Fiesta vibes at Globe’s Much Ado revival

Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s Bankside is known for its alternative takes on the classics. Their new production of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Matthew Dunstar, is no exception, bringing the Bard to revolutionary twentieth century Mexico, and boldly putting a sombrero on Shakespeare.

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Audiences will be transported back to 1914 where political upheaval meets Latin music and desert sands — romance, unsurprisingly, is central, but the strobe lighting and gunshots will remind you that revolution rumbles in the background.

This revival is part of the Globe’s Summer of Love season — Much Ado follows Beatrice and Bendick as they reluctantly realise their feelings for one another, egged on by their outspoken friends.

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Being in the midst of Mexico’s Latino vibes, the play is full of colour and creativity — this is indeed the case with the script, which occasionally veers from the original, but to the effect of much laughter from the crowd. The cast frequently also move into Spanish — whether it is good espanol or not, I cannot comment, but it undoubtedly reaffirms the Mexican setting.

The set is impressive,  featuring a freight train carriage complete with more windows and doors than you can shake a maraca at. Atop the train sits the band — heavy on Spanish guitar — whose soundtrack significantly adds to the fiesta-style atmosphere. Expect much flouncing of skirts, singing, epic one-liners and a ‘so what?’ to tradition. Hardcore Shakey fans may feel shortchanged, but this version is definitely worth witnessing.

Much Ado About Nothing runs until 15 October at Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT.

 

Adapted from original review for Londonist, 

StrEATlife at Alexandra Palace: Music, Food and Epic Views

This summer, Ally Pally is hosting StrEATlife, a craft beer and street food festival, over four weekends. I checked out the first edition (27th and 28th May), which proved to be a roaring success.

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London in summer is a glorious thing, but sometimes the dense city centre can be slightly trapping. When it gets that bit warmer, I like to go in search of some green space, something that, luckily, London has a fair amount of.

If you head to the northern part of the capital, you’ll find  greenery a plenty in the parks surrounding Alexandra Palace — at the same time as feeling completely removed from the city, Ally Pally offers hands down one of the best views of our stunning city you are likely to find.

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Ally Pally is a beautiful place to visit anyway, but what made this the perfect destination on a warm and sunny bank holiday weekend was the fact that the grounds were buzzing with festival vibes.

StrEATlife, a street food, craft beer and live music festival, saw over 30 street food traders, plenty of drinks choices, and a decent range of live music, take over the grounds surrounding one of London’s most iconic buildings. This was the first edition of StrEATlife, which will pop-up another three times over the summer.

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Whether you’re an ice-cream aficionado or craft beer connoisseur, a fried chicken fan or a lover of wholefoods, StrEATlife’s selection would have ticked your box.

To the soundtrack of live acoustic tunes, jugs of Pimms were being shared and churros were being chomped, the masses dressed for the sun with a similar ‘holiday-vibes’ frame of mind. Family friendly and free, StrEATlife is an all-round crowd-pleaser.

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Away from the stage and the street food, the grassy banks were full of Londoners and families picnicking, playing games and enjoying the sun, not to mention taking in the incredible view of the city that Ally Pally offers. I’m pretty sure this is the only place you can see all of London’s landmarks in one fell swoop, without having to pay a premium to get to the top of the Shard — Alexandra Palace is worth visiting if just to see our capital in all its glory.

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StrEATlife didn’t disappoint: there were decent prices all round — a good size meal from most of the vendors will set you back around £6, and the variety means that you can keep everyone happy.

Put the dates of the next StrEATlife festival in your diary — if the sun is shining for the next round (17th and 18th June), I can highly recommend trying a watermelon mojito – served in the melon – to keep you refreshed.

Pack a picnic blanket, have some cash on hand, and get ready for a chilled out mini-festival where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city, yet take in the most instagrammable London view that there is.

StrEATlife takes place at Alexandra Palace on 17th and 18th June, 22nd and 23rd July, and 19th and 20th August.

Freelancing? Studying? These London cafes have fab coffee and super wifi

If you’re on the lookout for somewhere to caffeinate and get productive, check out these wifi offering, coffee brewing locations in central London.

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Ah, the freelancer lifestyle. The freedom to work from the comfort of your bed, donning last night’s PJs with a cuppa in hand. Sometimes, though, that just isn’t productive. As a student and writer, I can work pretty much anywhere (except when ancient tomes and obscure books mean the library is my only choice).

The question that has been dumbfounding London millienials since, well, ever, is where exactly to set up shop and get a few hours decent work done. Wifi is obviously a major factor, as is the quality of the coffee – caffeine is, after all, the fuel to all productivity – and a plug, chilled atmosphere and comfy chairs are all things to consider.

If you’re mooching around central on the lookout for an oasis to open up your laptop in, be it for uni, freelancing, or just inevitable life admin, check out my list of where to get into work mode.

  1. Timberyard

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These guys are the kings when it comes to remote working, even offering up meeting rooms to rent out. Head to their Seven Dials or Soho branches for super-fast wifi, a relaxed environment, and a plethora of other people around you tapping away on their Macs. They also have an impressive selection of teas, as well as a tempting selection of homemade bakes. The Covent Garden café can get pretty busy, but the comfy armchairs downstairs are worth a bit of a wait

2. Covent Garden Grind

Grind have expanded over the last couple of years, recently opening outposts of their much-loved coffee spots in Exmouth Market and Covent Garden. The latter is quite tucked away, behind the Piazza, and pretty much next door to the old-school Rules (you may or may not find yourself having a coffee with the doorman). There’s cracking coffee, service with a smile and not to mention some delicious snacks (think seeded energy balls) and the ultimate avo-toast. The thing which gives Covent Garden Grind the edge has to be the Bowie quote on the wall: I reckon with the inspiration and wifi here, we could all (think we could) be heroes (if just for one day).

3. Hubbard and Bell at The Hoxton Holborn

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An all day café, restaurant, bar and freelancer office, The Hoxton on High Holborn can be anything and everything you want it to be. Stay through from morning coffee to a lunchtime bite, rewarding yourself for the day’s productivity with a sophisticated cocktail come early evening. For the hungover, there are fresh juices and smoothies; for the super hungry there are pancake stacks drenched in maple syrup. Pretty much everyone here in the daytime is working away, which can be a useful source of motivation. Plenty of plugs around, chilled background music and some snazzy toilets with that posh hand stuff mean this place is a winner.

4. Tinderbox

For any fellow stationary geeks and organisation freaks, Paperchase’s flagship store on Tottenham Court Road is heaven. Head upstairs to their Tinderbox café, which as well as being full of light thanks to the huge windows, offers wifi, coffee and is usually relatively quiet. Feeling broke? Get yourself a Paperchase Treat card and you can get a free filter coffee every week (or upgrade to another drink by paying the difference). You can then feel totally justified about forking out a tenner for some uber-cool gel pens and notepads.

5. Planet Organic, Tottenham Court Road

Vegans, veggies, omnivores and carnivores will (I’m fairly sure) be satisfied with the range of yummy options at Planet Organic’s café on Tottenham Court Road. This is the one just by the station, as opposed to the other branch down the road on Torrington Place. Grab a coffee, bar, smoothie or lunch and get to work upstairs in their light and airy seating area. The wifi is good – phone signal a bit iffy. Plugs a plenty, nourishing grub and the opportunity to get a bit crazy with your coffee (coconut oil coffee and superfood coffee – with mushrooms – are on the menu). They also offer student discount with a valid card, which can only ever be a good thing.

6. Waterstones Tottenham Court Road

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This is one for those who like a bit of silence to work in – the basement of this new-ish Waterstones is an oasis of calm and a good place to knuckle down and get stuck in. There’s wifi too, as well as a coffee bar, but unlike other dedicated cafes, you don’t feel any obligation to make a purchase at the shop or café to work there. Obviously the book selection is a massive bonus.

7. Foyles, Charing Cross Road

Another bookish site, but this one, instead of being tucked away underground like the Waterstones option, is high up on the 5th floor of this flagship store. The shop itself is open until 9pm, and the café shuts 45 minutes beforehand, which makes it a great place if you need to crack something out when other places have shut their doors. There are regular events on in the shop too — why not combine a few hours work with an author’s reading, a panel discussion or a music concert?

8. Leon, Brunswick Centre

If you’re a regular at the nearby Senate House Library, or a student at UCL, Russell Square will be your stomping ground. Leon, the chain which prides itself on its healthy fast food, has a pretty big branch in the Brunswick. Their wifi is bang on, food reasonably priced, and they do 15% student discount – if you’re feeling particularly skint, get their filter coffee, which works out at 85p with a student card.

Refugees or Immigrants? Migrant Art at the Ben Uri Gallery

The Ben Uri Gallery have just opened two new exhibitions looking at the contribution of German migrant artists to Britain.

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Credit: Eva Frankfurther Estate

The Ben Uri Gallery may not be on your radar if you’re used to trekking around the likes of the National or the TATE. Naturally, these iconic institutions with their hundreds of masterpieces have their place, but sometimes visiting a smaller, more niche, and often more thought-provoking gallery is worthwhile.

Housed in North London, the Ben Uri Gallery is dedicated to art and migration; a small but perfectly formed gallery with regularly changing exhibitions addressing questions of movement and visual arts. Their latest exhibition, ‘Refugees: The Lives of Others’ looks at the various ways German refugees have contributed to Britain’s 20th century art scene. Of course, these artists did not merely choose to come here for our tea and our incredible weather – the majority of the artists came here because of the Nazi situation in Germany: anti-Semitic laws in 1933 meant many Jewish artists were forbidden to practice, and so they fled abroad in order to continue to do what they loved.

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Ben Uri’s newest exhibition is particularly relevant today, given our current refugee crisis: I attended the opening night of the gallery’s German-centred feature and it is stunning. The ground floor is dedicated to a young lady called Eva Frankfurther, who escaped to London with her Jewish family in 1939. After studying at St. Martin’s School of Art, Eva found that she wasn’t all that excited about the London art scene, and she moved to Whitechapel to work in Lyon’s sugar factory. The East End in the 50’s was a hub of various migrant communities: these West Indian, Cypriot and Pakistani people were the inspiration for Frankfurther’s artwork, which she completed during the day after her night shifts at the factory.

Often dark in colour, Eva Frankfurther’s sketches and paintings depict people at work or rest, going about their daily lives in the smog of the city and interacting with friends, families and fellow refugees.

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Frank Auerbach. Credit: Ben Uri Collection

Downstairs in the basement gallery, a whole host of diverse German artists are on display. There are the more well-known names such as Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach, as well as sculptors, sketchers and painters you’ve probably never heard of. It’s not just the varied works that is inspiring though; the artists’ stories are as  important here as the art on show. Many of the artists were interned, so a lot of the paintings are those which were completed in a camp.

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Rough and unpolished sculpture by Margarete Klopflesich contrasts with the abstract, graphic style of Elisabeth Tomalin’s ‘Head’; Frank Auerbach’s textural images are even more exciting alongside Hans Scheleger’s lithographic prints for London Transport. What brings all these incredible artists and works together is their shared identity as German refugees in our country, a place of safety away from the horrors of Hitler, and one where they could continue to thrive with their artistic talent.

We did it once, and we can do it again. Let’s hope that Britain supports, embraces and nurtures the art of all the diverse people who are coming to call our home theirs.

 

 

 

42nd Street Is A Toe-Tapping Success

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There’s a new show in town, and it comes from the bright lights of Broadway. 42nd Street, the dance-heavy musical set in 30s New York is now showing at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and is the perfect performance for anyone who likes toe-tapping, stunning costumes and a lot of glitter.

42nd Street follows the story of Peggy Sawyer, a young hopeful keen to get a foot in the door of the theatre world. Peggy is played by the talented Clare Halse, a former Hairspray, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Gypsy performer.  She may be small, but she is certainly mighty: indeed what Halse lacks in height, she makes up for with her incredible tap dancing.

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And there is a lot of dancing. Expect fantastic formations, uber-quick footwork and beautiful costumes. All gets messy when we meet Dorothy Brock, Peggy’s rival in terms of nabbing the top spot in the upcoming production. The role of Dorothy is played by the utterly amazing Sheena Easton –she may be best known for her Bond soundtracks (For Your Eyes Only)  but she is stunning as the one-time star and surefire primadonna Brock in 42nd Street.

This is the ultimate ‘lights of Broadway’ spectacular – if you need a bit of glitter in your life, heading to see 42nd Street is a no-brainer. Whilst it may be humanely impossible for your eyes to keep up with the speed of all those feet tapping away, watching the pros at work will definitely make you want to take up dancing. That, or get some really noisy shoes.

Photos thanks to 42nd Street: The Musical’s media.