Tag Archives: V&A

On Shakespeare 400….50/100

IMG_20160422_163427April 23, 2016,  St George’s Day, marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. And the 452nd anniversary of his birth. Because Shakespeare was clever enough to be born and die on the same day, that being the same day that honours the patron saint of England. Can’t make this stuff up. Being a Shakespeare devotee, but no scholar, I was excited to join in as many celebrations as logistically possible. In fact, I made it a long weekend of Shakespeare mania. But being me, it became a bit more.

I started the extravaganza with a day long course at the Victoria & Albert Museum, devoted (mostly) to the study of The Tempest, arguably one of the strangest and most difficult of plays. My children refer to it as “the weird one,” which is an ok description. I have NO formal Shakespeare education whatsoever. I rely on Google, Wikipedia, the knowledge of my English educated children and my own instinct when it comes to understanding the work of the world’s most famous playwright. Turns out, that isn’t always enough. The morning started well with none other than Dame Harriet Walter (saw her in a fantastic all female Henry IV) delivering a great Prospero-esque monologue. She was followed by Dr. Bridget Escolme who spoke eloquently on objects and costumes and sets in various Tempest productions, including the wacky film version starring (then) teenage pop star Toyah Willcox. She used lots of big words I didn’t understand, but her passion was infectious. After her came the American poet AE Stallings. Whose mind is so nimble she can flit from Shakespeare to Ovid to Virgil to Dido to Prospero to Lucretius to the tv show Lost and back again. As someone with NO background in the classics I could only sit in dizzy awe, and feel very uneducated, but in a lovely “tell me more, tell me more,” kind of way. I was mesmerized by them both.

High on these new crushes I wafted off to lunch in the gorgeous William Morris decorated V&A café, where, it being a rainy day, every tabled was packed. So I plunked myself down with two strangers….who were having the most marvelous conversation. I didn’t even try to hide my eavesdropping…. until I could take it no longer and just butted in. Fortunately one was American, so not offended, and the other was British, so too polite to admit offense. A costume historian/ripperologist from Chicago and an English writer. I was in heaven. Serious heaven. Especially when the chat moved to Deadwood, the best television after The Wire. With sadness I left my new best friends and returned to the lectures. I should have stayed and  joined them on their pub crawl.

The afternoon was so over my head I took to scrawling “I have no idea what they are talking about” in my notebook, only to be followed with “now I REALLY have no idea what they are talking about” over and over again. Enthusiasm and a will to learn can only take you so far. Sometimes you do need the basic knowledge. And I didn’t have it. The final presentation was  a Q&A with Toyah herself. As I didn’t grow up with her, I couldn’t join in the giddy excitement of my fellow attendees. That said, she looked great, wore a fabulous skirt and was very funny about the filming of the movie. On balance not a bad day. Actually, my new friends made it a great day. Thank you Alan and Karen.

IMG_20160423_161112Saturday was the Sonnet Walk. I wrote last year of my love for this event (post #24 Reveling with Shakespeare,) walking round London, clutching a rose, waiting for strangers to jump out and quote Shakespeare. This year they held to the name and the actors mostly, but not always, delivered sonnets. The hilarious set up of the play within a play from Midsummer Night’s Dream and a gorgeously sung rendition IMG_20160423_173323of Double, Double, Toil & Trouble (Macbeth) from The Paddock Singers out of East Sussex  being the exceptions.





But never mind all of that. Because. At Middle Temple. Dressed as a barrister. MARK RYLANCE. The Oscar and BAFTA award winning actor. Former Artistic Director of The Globe. Mastermind of the sonnet walks. Yes, that man. Quoted Sonnet 46 and 47. “Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war….” We were like well behaved, non-screaming girls at a 1D concert….just shaking on the inside. With joy.

I have saved the best for last. Sunday. Hamlet. 2 years ago my daughter and I attended the premiere of the Hamlet that was to become Globe-to-Globe Hamlet at Middle Temple. It IMG_20160424_145856_editwas tremendous. What we said at the time is that it proved that Shakespeare doesn’t need updating or fancy sets or gimmicks. A couple of trunks, a clothes line and a few hats is enough. The words. THE WORDS (and some great acting) do the rest. We followed their travels on line. The quest to visit every country was foiled by N Korea. And some of the others had to be accomplished with a degree of inventiveness, if not outright moxy. Theatres, town squares, refugee camp tents….what an adventure. What an experience.

And two years on from our evening at Middle Temple we attended the penultimate Globe-to-Globe performance at, well…. The Globe. Happy for us, the cast was almost exactly the same as the previous. But what a difference. This was a performance that had become more than second nature, it had become owned. It was part of their very being. No lineIMG_20160423_180414_edit_edit didn’t have relevance. No phrase wasn’t wise or funny or thought provoking or advancing. These were words spoken by true believers. Who had been round the world and back. And brought all that beautiful baggage and wisdom and experience with them. Does it get better than this? I don’t know. Does it matter? No. Because, because, because it proves that words matter. They matter very much indeed. And our ability to use these words to reach out over time and culture and language and make a connection….that is certainly something to celebrate!

Is there a lesson to be learned from this weekend! Yes. Yes there is. And here it is: Travel, enjoy Shakespeare (even if you don’t understand it all) and always talk to strangers. Because, to quote the great man himself, “The world is your oyster.”

Instagram & Twitter:  @mylondonpassion


On the pleasure of the Northern Line….34/100

I love the Northern Line. I really do. Ok, it can be a special form of over-crowded hell  during the morning rush-hour, but I rarely  have to travel during rush hour. And it takes me everywhere I want to go. Circus ( Highgate, Old Street) at the top end, museums and theatre (Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Sq, Charing Cross, Embankment) sprinkled throughout the middle, Southbank (Waterloo), home. IMG_0035Pithy “thoughts of the day” and classical music greet me at some of my favourite stations. Books are often free to take at Clapham North. 11728971_1145643748795678_3259608417575703486_oOn an early Sunday morning I watched a man create and then tie balloon animals to the poles in my carriage before leaping out of the doors. A lovely, random act of fun for the Northern Line traveler.

I know that to talk on the Tube is simply not done, but I have had some of my best conversations on the Northern Line. A friend and I once engaged in a spirited discussion on how transvestites are frustrating because they so often leave their hair lanky and unstyled, while drag queens always have fabulous hair. The passengers round us chimed in with agreement. It is also a terrific place for eavesdropping, a serious hobby of mine. The morning-after-the-night-before tales are my favourite, but mostly unprintable. Sometimes everyone is reading, and not just newspapers or on devices, but actual books, many of them classics. Happy to see that Jane Austen remains popular. Of course there was that bizarre fashion, several years back, when women boldly read 50 Shades on the train. Weren’t they embarrassed? I’ve always wondered what would happen if packs of men were seen reading porn in public. There would be a public outcry. Howls for legislation of some sort, no doubt. I did however, overhear two utterly respectable looking older gentlemen calmly discussing their favourite porn films on the Tube, but that was the Bakerloo Line.

IMG_20160219_184608_editAnd where would I be without all those posters with the latest cultural offerings. I depend on them. Some of them I grow very fond of. I loved the V&A poster with the Chohuly chandelier so much I spent years and years trying to get a copy for myself. After much persistence I did it. It hangs, in a gold frame, outside my kitchen.

Last week, a man complimented me on my shoes on the Northern Line, not a sexy, high heeled pair, but some colourful United Nudes. It wasn’t a sleazy come on, but rather a kind comment from one of good taste to another. Because classy people ride the Northern Line.

IMG_6794There is nothing I love more than the random encounter, like the kind I had a week or so ago post theatre. On the Northern Line hurtling home, two young men sat across from me. One was drinking beer from a beer glass. Drinking on the Tube is illegal, by the way, so it is usually done furtively. But he rested his glass boldly on his knee between sips. I couldn’t resist, “I admire that,” I said, nodding at the glass. They looked aghast, an old woman was speaking to them. On the Tube. The horror! Undaunted, I continued, “drinking a beer on the tube, and from a real glass.” They relaxed and smiled. “Yeah,” said the one with the drink, “I brought it from home.” And that was my cue to produce a plastic wine glass from my purse. They were astounded, delighted. Photos were taken (by them!) I didn’t tell them I had just come from one of the theatres with the new, fabulous, plastic wine glass policy, just let them believe that I travel the city prepared for wine at a moment’s notice, including on the Tube. The boys told me they had been to a celebration, “of sorts,” but there was something glum about the way they said it. So maybe the happiness didn’t include them? Like that story line from Love Actually with Keira Knightley and the two friends. Or maybe…well the truth doesn’t really matter because their story is now my story, and I can spin it any way I wish. And that is the generosity of the Northern Line. It not only takes me everywhere I wish to be, but gives me plenty to fire up the imagination as I go.

Passion & Obsession, Alexander McQueen at the V&A, 23/100

IMG_20150416_134735Sometimes I am an idiot. Sometimes I say things that are so stupid, the only recourse is to publically confess and wait for the hostile reaction. So here it goes: years ago, when first in London and dizzy from the choice and variation of the museums, I dismissed (dismissed!!!!) the Victoria & Albert Museum, in its entirety, with a wave of my hand and these moronic words “the V&A is like the attic of a rich, crazy old Aunt. I have no interest in the place.” No interest in the place, indeed. What a fool. The Chihuly chandelier alone….

I have since spent many an afternoon and evening strolling through the rooms of the V&A admiring things I didn’t know I coveted. Silver punch bowls. Stained glass. Groovy furniture. All that jewellry. On a recent visit I noticed that everyone who works there is extremely good looking. Maybe being surrounded by such beautiful objects has that affect on people?

And then there are the special exhibitions. If I wasn’t already regretting my ridiculous statement while oogling boots from Tsarist Russia, several years ago, I definitely knew how wrong I was when I fell under a spell of enchantment at the supurb David Bowie extravaganza, last year.David Bowie

And now Alexander McQueen. Savage Beauty is not so much a show as an experience, an experience that leaves you gasping from the sheer brillance of his work and the dedication with which it is showcased. I won’t embarrass myself further by trying to say something insightful or provacative about McQueen. I simply don’t have the vocabulary. But this show overwhelmed me. With love and fear and awe. How can something so seemingly simple as a dress be beautiful and scary and an object of obsession all at the same time? Because it can. And it isn’t simple. Most things worth wanting aren’t. Instead it creates an invisible, but powerful connection that stays and stays and stays. Such is his work. His work which was his passion. Perhaps that is a great part of the attraction for me. My passion is London. And Alexander McQueen IS London. He is London’s passion. Even more now than when he was still alive. Passion and Obsession. Yes, that is it.

But it is a damn good show as well. The Cupboard of Curiosities is a curatorial triumph. A sensory overload of the most delicious kind. Everything, all the time, everywhere, and a little more too. I could have stayed there for hours and still not taken it all in.

Kate Moss as a hologram instantly made me think of Tinkerbell, as she whorls and twirls in the air. When it finished I wanted to do as JM Barrie instructed and clap my hands and shout “I believe in Fairies,” just to make sure she didn’t fade away for good. Passion and obsession indeed!

mcqueen dressAt the beginning of exhibtion I made notes of all the clothes I think would look particularly good on me. But the list became unwieldly very quickly. For the record, anything from the The Girl who Lived in A Tree (Autumn/Winter 2008) and the Irere (Spring/Summer 2003) collections would suit. And ALL of the shoes. So if any of you out there have your own attic of treasures and wish to share, let me know.

Beg, borrow, steal, tickets to this show. Or better yet, become a member of the V&A, as I am going to do, so the whole ticket problem goes away. If only to see this show. Again and again. With passion. And Obsession. And Awe.