Now that Spring is here … and with the hope that Summer will follow, time to cast off winter clobber and take advantage of the open air cultural events that are on offer this time of year.
There are a plethora of offerings around London for the next few months, and not just the usual favourites such as Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and The Globe. But that’s not to say that they should be ignored; the programme for the former has been out for a while now, and this year they are kicking off the season with an adaptation of the American classic To Kill A Mockingbird. During the hot (maybe!) summer months they’re putting on The Sound Of Music, which I’m sure will pull in the crowds.
Shakespeare’s Globe is, as usual, concentrating on works by the bard and this year is offering The Tempest, Macbeth and that perennial favourite for outdoor performance, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s also a smattering of modern plays to increase variety at this most interesting of theatres where you can still stand as a groundling for very little cost and often be part of the action.
But don’t forget that London is now home to a number of summer festivals where sometimes the events are free and rarely cost a fortune.
There are four in particular really worth mentioning. First up is the London Festival of Architecture that happens in June – I’ve frequently gone along to their offerings which in the main are geared to non-professionals and which give eye-opening views on all aspects of architecture and related subjects. It really is very varied; last year I particularly enjoyed going to a number of the recently refurbished Cameron Mackintosh theatres in the West End one Saturday morning.
Then there are two music festivals I’d like to mention both of which also run non-music related events. The Spitalfields Festival centres on the market area and beyond and a number of the concerts are held in its beautiful churches.
And The City Of London Festival also avails itself of its churches and guildhalls within the square mile, not to mention venturing further afield to Canada Square in the centre of Docklands.
Finally, the area around City Hall is home to the More London festival, with the Scoop amphitheatre (right next to the London Assembly’s building) hosting all sorts of events, most of which are free.
If I’ve whetted your appetite, then the links below will give you a lot more information. Summers come and go, some shorter than others, some wetter than others, but come rain or shine you’re never short of a cultural treat in London!
Jeannette Nelson, Arts Correspondent
A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.
The new V&A exhibition, David Bowie Is, shows the fantastic imagination and creations of David Bowie spanning five decades.
Exciting, dark and theatrical it is bursting with material, providing an insight into Bowie’s mind through a multitude of collaborations with artists and designers. A spectacular and multi-sensory show bordering on immersive theatre, mirrored and faceted projection, sound installations, videos, preparative drawings, sketches, scribbles, lyrics, and models for his staging and costumes.
The sound-scape is rich and experiential, tuning into zones and exhibits, as we move around the exhibition, designed by the company 59 Productions (of the Olympic opening ceremony) and innovative sound technology from Sennheiser.
Bowie’s clear vision and hands-on approach, is apparent, influenced by a varied host of artists, culture and politics ranging from Marlene Dietrich, Kabuki Theatre, Lindsay Kemp (from whom he mastered the art of theatrical tension), Kubrick, Kraftwerk, Mao, Jung, German Expressionism and Berlin life.
At the beginning we read:
“All art is unstable. Its meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author. There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings” signed David Bowie
Indeed – Bowie is a master in borrowing and deriving art-works from everywhere!
Bowie’s collaborators affirm he was a perfectionist, yet easy to work alongside, confident to entrust his team with creative freedom. His costume designers such as Burretti and Yamamoto were delighted to work on an androgynous model such as Bowie with chiselled features and the ideal tall angular figure to carry avant gard silhouettes and flamboyant suits.
Kathryn Johnson – young assistant curator reveals she was most encouraged and relieved to discover Bowie had been supported by a range of talented individuals, support and teams rather than producing his projects alone and that his creations were not all the product of one mind. The range of characters Bowie creates, explores and plays out to entertain us is amazing. Although the exhibition is densely packed with over 300 exhibits, Kathryn says it was hard to whittle down the content from so much available. Bowie supplied most of it, although he had no wish to be involved in the curating.
BE WHO YOU WANT TO BE !
Of the Bowie movement, many people say “It spoke to me “ - he gave us the license to be ourselves, be individual, be liberated. In the context of the 1960s and 70s he challenged gender convention and gave a voice to gay liberation (which had only been legalised 4 or 5 years prior to Bowie’s emergence onto the pop scene)
I believe Howard Burrell compared Bowie’s influence today, to that of Mozart or to Bach in their time – the bad boy popular appeal.
Bowie deliberately remains elusive and mysterious (very Dietrich) with an edginess and perhaps strategic recklessness derived from Iggy Pop.
The new album is already a best-seller - Bowie at sixty-six in the Sinatra spot … and why not celebrate age?
The exhibition embraces every technology, projection, stills, sound, installation fabric, manuscripts and scraps – small booths and large staged exhibits against black space.
The exhibition is packed with an extensive amount of material, a sensory overload – there is too much to decipher – but yet something for everyone, be you a fashion student, designer, musician, anthropologist, a fan, or a dreamer.
I defy you not be inspired.
“AND THERE HE IS MESSING WITH OUR MINDS AGAIN …” but that is the job of the artist – to evoke otherworldly feelings*.
Curators: Victoria Broach and Geoffrey Marsh
David Bowie Is – at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 23rd March – 11th August 2013
Anne Tilby: Film, tv and theatre production designer and mixed media artist Clients include Julian Clary, Ken Russell, Spitting Image and Father Ted, opera design for Covent Garden Royal Opera House, Chicago Lyric, Moscow, ENO, Madrid … Trash Factory bubbles alongside other activities and is symbiotic – a social enterprise for creative recycling in the community and schools. Trash Factory needs for other interested eco-centrics – so do contact us via www.trashfactory.co.uk
Photography provided by V&A Museum archive
Move forward a couple of centuries and, for the next play, the audience finds itself in 19th century London, bookended by two short scenes that take place in Poland some 30 years later. Red Velvet is currently playing at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Written by Lolita Chakrabarti and starring her husband Adrian Lester (Mickey of Hustle fame) it tells the story when the legendary English actor Edmund Kean is taken ill and his role as Othello is taken over by a black American actor, Ira Aldridge; his style is considerably more avant garde than that of the English cast, with their ‘teapot’ acting techniques (imagine the item and then the comparable actor’s stance), with the majority of the cast using this as a ready-made excuse to display their prejudices. And all this is set against the background of the Abolition of Slavery Act. Despite the efforts of the radical French producer of the play, the English press is clearly not ready for this, and as a result of damning criticism of the play and his acting style, Aldridge never appears on the London stage again. A final note: Lester will be taking on the role of Othello at London’s National Theatre next spring.
The final play I’m writing about is This House at the National Theatre. It’s currently showing at the flexible Cottesloe space with the downstairs seats arranged as in the House of Commons. The play tells of the five years of knife-edge Labour government between 1974 and 1979 – knife-edge because with wafer thin majorities, they only hung on by the skin of their teeth and by ferrying in ‘walking wounded’ and those almost at death’s door for crucial votes. The main focus is on the whips’ office, a topical subject in the ‘pleb-gate’ context, and the wheeler-dealer shennanigans necessary to retain power. As with so many productions at the Cottesloe, it’s currently sold out; however, the good news is that it’s transferring to the large Olivier stage at the National in the new year.
The acting profession has always been a precarious one, but such is the passion for it that many youngsters embark on this career path despite knowing, or perhaps ignoring the fact, that any success at all let alone mega-stardom may never be attained.
I recently attended the launch of the So & So Arts Club, whose aim is to help and support aspiring and established actors and others involved in the theatre business. It’s basically a networking club which for a modest annual fee of £30 also offers free advertising for shows, professional workshops and seminars and concessions on tickets and rehearsal and performance spaces.
But the networking is the main thing and this was clearly manifested at the launch. The room positively buzzed with the ‘hi’s', ‘how are you’s’ and shrieks of recognition as the mostly young crowd met and greeted non-stop. Fuelled by the bar (and a welcoming free drink), the optimism and confidence was palpable. Many were dressed up to the nines and no-one was more enthusiastic than the club’s founder, Sarah Berger. In her welcoming speech she gave the answers to so many dreams, outlining what the club was designed to do and what it already has done.
I engaged in conversation with a few obviously talented members. One, a guy called Nathan, had come from Malta to study at a drama school in West London. He must have had talent at his auditions because he also had been offered a place at a school in New York. Since graduating, he had done some radio work, some adverts and a number of performances, but confessed that to keep body and soul together his main occupation was that of a waiter. This must have been true of so many of the bright young things in the room. Those actors that make it big are such a tiny proportion of the profession, and although acting in modern times is no longer restricted to the stage, with television, radio and the internet offering more outlets for talent, the increase in numbers competing for jobs has probably meant that there is still around 80% out of work at any one time.
Yet how many become disillusioned? Not many, I’ll warrant. There are not many professions where there’s such determination to carry on despite all the knockbacks. And thank goodness for that, as my life like so many others would be much the poorer without theatre and those that create it. Some might argue that in a time of recession the arts are not a top priority. I would disagree with that. When life’s hard, there’s a real need for its more esoteric side, and the pleasure theatre and the related arts give is immeasurable.
I wish Sarah Berger and her new venture, the So & So Arts Club, every success, its aims are laudable and should, in many practical ways, help those struggling to find their way to the top – or even the middle! In a currently rather dreary and pessimistic Britain (with the exception of course of the life-affirming Olympics) it would be nice to think that all the enthusiasm that manifested itself at the club’s launch will continue unabated throughout many of the potential theatrical careers.
Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.
As I type, two major forces are in the frame for affecting traditional summer cultural activities: the Olympics and the Para Olympics, and the good old British weather! Though, of course, the effect up to a million predicted tourists per day in the capital will have on the transport systems is yet to be witnessed and may well show the cries of chaos to be exaggerated. And as for the weather, well, it may be wetter and greyer so far this spring and summer than in living memory, but the resilience of the British character keeps shining through – the rain-sodden Thames Pageant to mark the Queen’s Jubilee showed that!
I first met Christiane Kubrick when she took part in the Open Studio event in 2003 and since then I have made a point of going to her annual Arts Fair at Childwickbury, near St Albans.
Christiane has painted since she was a child, creating theatre sets, some even with electric lighting which nearly killed her!
In 2011 she used backdrops she designed for the set of Hansel and Gretel for the production at the National Theatre, in the area devoted to children working on their own painting. The backdrop included a mysterious eye and a witch that appealed to many children and whose paintings had a mysterious bent.
I interviewed Christiane about her life of art and theatre in 2008 when she spoke of her work, her husband Stanley and her background.
At 80+ she continues working daily on her painting and you will be able to to watch her working on her latest work at the Fair.
Her daughter Katharina is also a prolific artist with a figurative style of her own who will also be painting at the event as will many artists and craftspeople.
I’m looking forward to the next Arts Fair 6-7-8-July 2012 where it will be possible to watch crafts people at work … fascinating for all concerned. And there is a programme of events specially focussed on children’s interests, juggling, felt making, face painting and concerts in the evening. A three day event it is something of a celebration of creativity as well as a great day out.
The times I have driven past Duxford War Museum and thought it would make a great day out but never got around to it. Well we finally managed in the Easter holidays and we loved it. We’ll be making more visits soon – it is so well organised, we all learned a lot and could see there is so much more to find out about.
I would advise using the planner and map ahead of your visit to decide which parts appeal the most. The website very useful and we decided on our route before our visit, planning in the all important potential toilet stops and lunch place.
If you are unable to do any pre-planning don’t worry; the leaflet given out on purchase of your ticket is very useful and includes: a map, planner, a brief description of each main exhibit and other useful information such as; where to find out about tours and the mobility assistance vehicle. I have to say the disabled facilities and assistance were impressive. No worries about finding an appropriate toilet, exhibits were well spaced, lifts were easy to find, staff very helpful, a wheelchair loan scheme and the mobility vehicle to hand. If you wanted to be idealistic then a smoother runway when pushing a wheelchair (where the joins are) and it would have been nice to access the inside of a plane as, from what we experienced, you had to be able to climb stairs to go inside but I feel nit-picky considering how easy and relatively stress free the day trip was.
So, after a friendly greeting we followed the Families with Young Children plan. Airspace was our first visit. The first room/hanger display was pretty much what we’d expected with a few planes and a basic information board. However, once inside the main display room we were surround by planes both on the ground and hanging from the ceiling and the children’s eyes lit up. As the planes and other flying machines eg helicopters and reconnaissance remote controlled planes were all displayed in a similar fashion our youngest child grew restless but it wasn’t long until we arrived at the planes which you could board via free-standing stairs and once again the children’s enthusiasm was ignited.
Approaching the upstairs displays with historical visual programmes and futuristic design ideas I thought at first we were going to be rushing through as it wouldn’t interest the children enough but was pleasantly surprised at the variety of hands-on equipment. There is a range of tasks; from adjusting the fins on the plane making it tilt and turn to completing reaction time tests. The range of activities was not just based on subject but also from very simple (having heart rate monitored) to quite complex (simulation games eg choosing a wing shape and the angle at which to take off) which was great because it meant that there was something for everyone in our party. Eventually we dragged ourselves away as we were in danger of not getting around the whole tour!
We missed out the playground as it was basic (but handy if you need your children to let off some steam) and went for lunch. The different cafes serve varying foods and we chose simple jacket potatoes. The staff were courteous and helpful, the food was quite standard for such places (including the price). A nice touch were the complimentary crème egg with their purchase – it was Easter. There are picnic benches, including a covered area that are not indicated on the map.
In the Battle of Britain hanger there was the offer of a free guided tour which we turned down due to fact that we believed our children wouldn’t maintain enough concentration but others seemed to enjoy it. The use of real war footage on television monitors, audio recordings next to some displays and recreations of scenes (such as an enemy plan shot down and being guarded) all made this area much more real to the children and our eldest was particularly interested and enthused which led to lots of questions. An especially touching moment was the recreation of an Anderson Shelter with actor’s voices playing out a typical scene. What made it very moving was that I explained to my son that his granddad would have been the about the same age as the young boy featured and the same age as my son is now. Seeing him absorb this fact, looking at his granddad, asking thoughtful questions and generally trying to empathise with the situation was truly something that all history teachers would have loved to have seen. You couldn’t ask for a better compliment to an exhibition in my opinion. I know that both my father and I were filled with pride to see the attempt to understand.
On route to our next viewing we enjoyed watching a bi-plane take off on short flights around the area with passengers on board and made a mental note to partake in such a thing in the future. The same can be said for the flight simulator!
The American Air Museum appeared to be displayed in a similar fashion to the Airspace hanger but in an award winning design which was very impressive with its long sweeping slopes and glass frontage. One of the best parts of the day, for the children at least, was in here. The set of complimentary activities was called Whizz, Bang, Wallop! There were plenty of staff/volunteers on hand to supervise the children with additional support from parents if need be. Our children loved each activity. First they folded paper to make aeroplanes (different styles with instructions were available) and aimed at a target (of which a record was kept for who had been the closest). Then they made a rocket to launch along a string, flight path (propelled by compressed air) to see if they could reach the end. Lastly, they had a choice between badge making and Airfix model making. For each activity they proudly collected a stamp on their Activities Passport and later, when at home, couldn’t wait to show any visitors what they had made with lots of detailed description of how and where.
Last but not least we arrived at the Land Warfare which had lots of vehicles on display with a ‘jungle’ themed path through it which added to the atmosphere. The children could see how warfare may have been played out and some of the pros and cons of devices. My husband particularly found the information on The Forgotten War (WW2 Far East) interesting as he was not as familiar with it and even though I was more so there was still plenty to be learnt.
The weather put paid to the tank display but, that said, there is so much to see at Duxford that we will definitely be back there soon so I’m sure we’ll see it in the future … later this year, if my children have anything to do with it!
Karen Fletcher, Guest contributor
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Follow the progress of IWM Duxford’s new exhibition, Historic Duxford, on its blog by going to iwm.org.uk
What’s On at IWM Duxford:
Flying Legends – Saturday 30 June and Sunday 1 July 2012
The Duxford Air Show – Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 September 2012
Autumn Air Show – Sunday 14 October 2012
Tickets for their air shows are now on sale. Book online at www.iwm.org.uk or call the Box Office on 01223 499353.