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42nd Street

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Tonight 42nd Street – the epitome of a great West End show – ends its run at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Having promised myself I would go since it’s arrival in 2017, on New Year’s Eve, I finally made it.  It was a wonderful way to end 2018, reminding me of everything I love about theatre.  I was lucky enough to see the 1980s production (also at Drury Lane) – as well as the Broadway revival in 2003 (at the then Ford Center for the Performing Arts – ironically on 42nd Street itself).  And the current London production is – by a very long way – the best.

At the heart of 42nd Street is a universal story.  Peggy Sawyer – the girl from the chorus line, who with hard work and some lucky breaks overcomes setbacks to become a star.  There is a Peggy Sawyer somewhere in all of us – striving to get on in life and looking for the opportunity that will make our dreams come true.  There are also contemporary edges – Peggy’s search is for professional success (rather than love).  When stardom does arrive she stays true to herself and chooses to go to ‘the kid’s party’ instead of the Ritz – an authenticity that also resonates with contemporary concerns.

It is said that great musicals are those that send you home humming the show tunes.  I found myself on the way to the theatre mentally singing ‘We’re in the Money’ and ‘Lullaby of Broadway’.  A good story, and memorable show tunes are however, not enough alone for a bona fide hit.  This one has the other key ingredients in spades.  The production values are faultless.  A chorus line of 50 is rare in the contemporary west end and it is breathtaking to witness.  With a choreography that is both coherent and fluid, from the iconic opening number and sight of those tap dancing feet as the curtain rises, to tapping through ‘we’re in the money’ atop giant coins. 42nd Street is also a visual delight with a glittering range of costume changes from pastel to sequin as we join Peggy on her journey.

The Theatre Royal’s vast stage is well utilised. Spectacular dance numbers with a large toe tapping chorus line, reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood musicals, were made for a stage this size.  Indeed it is hard to imagine 42nd street anywhere else.  That life imitated art during the original London production (when a teenaged Catherine Zeta Jones became a real-life Peggy Sawyer. Finding herself, by chance, propelled from the chorus line and second understudy to stardom when both the lead and understudy were unable to go on) has only added to the mythology.  The rest, is as they say, history.

The cast are outstanding with the chorus line both technically faultless and demonstrating an easy exuberance and genuinely believable love for this show.  They deliver an electric and uplifting atmosphere – that makes us root for them all from the start. Clare Halse is an excellent Peggy – but the star of the show is Bonnie Langford who delivers an assured but emotionally nuanced – and sympathetic -Dorothy Brock.

A light goes out in London’s West End tonight.  I hope its not long before we see the like again.

Writeidea Festival 2018

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Attending the Writeidea Festival this year for the first time in a while, I was reassured to see how strong it is.  The programme is eclectic, mixing some big names (Chris Difford, Viv Albertine, the Gentle Author), with the less well known.

 

Most of my writing tends to be longer, or as one recent review recipient tactfully put it, ‘very detailed’.  So in the interests of brevity this is a very brief taster of Writeidea 2018, reflecting both my interests and heritage – and what I could logistically fit into a visit on Saturday 17th.November.

 

Like Melanie McGrath, I come from the second generation east end diaspora of Essex, and having enjoyed her talk a few years back on the writing of ‘Silvertown’, ‘Pie and Mash down the Roman Road’ was a must. Readings from her latest work, brought the Roman Road and its inhabitants – from eel magnate George Kelly to ‘Auntie Ginger’ – vividly to life.   McGrath also treated us to a history of the truly global dish that is Pie and Mash via the ancient history of Bow and Stratford.  A palpable affection for the east end life of old (not that old actually) as it was lived, is the essence of McGrath’s work.  Her public acknowledgement of the debt to those whose experiences contributed to the book, was a salutary reminder that many of the last witnesses to a way of life largely still to be documented are leaving us, and time is of the essence in ensuring their history is known.

 

Three of my grandparents carried Huguenot surnames of varying lineage and I am always interested to learn more about my Huguenot heritage.  Joyce Hampton’s ‘The Story of the Huguenots: A unique legacy’ did not disappoint. Hampton describes the persecution suffered by the Huguenots in France, their emigration and determination to overcome subsequent challenges with an emotion that is quite raw.  She is also passionate in her belief that their wide ranging legacy for contemporary life (including everything from annuity calculations to Reading Glasses) deserves wider recognition.  As the first ‘refugees’, we still have much to learn from the Huguenot experience, and Joyce Hampton’s work is a valuable contribution to this.

 

Rounding off the day with ‘The Life and Times of Mr Pussy’, couldn’t have been better.  In a departure from his established work on the life of the East End, the Gentle Author shared an intimate portrayal of his life with a loved feline companion.  The Gentle Author understands cats, and their world.  But beyond this he also demonstrates true insight into the complex relationships between human and animal and the extent to which these underpin, mark and define the milestones of our lives, carrying us through everything from the everyday to bereavement.  Mr Pussy, would I think be proud.

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In the last decade Writeidea has, grown in scope and reputation, but retains at its heart a direct relationship with the historical context and multilayered cultural heritage of east London.  This is its core strength.  Embedding the festival in a location not known for literary activity, and (through Arts Council Sponsorship) maintaining free entry, delivers an inclusivity which is both welcome, and sadly far from the norm.

Here’s to the next 10 years.


© All text and images – Later Than You Think/ A Sense of Place

Writeidea Festival 2018 continues on Sunday 18th November at the Whitechapel Idea Store.

See here for further information

 

Remembrance Art Trail – Canary Wharf

In these final days of the World War I Centenary, Canary Wharf is again staging a Remembrance Art Trail produced by the artist Mark Humphrey in collaboration with the Royal British Legion (RBL).  Returning to the Wharf for the first time since 2014 the Trail includes six of the previous works, with five others seen together for the first time.

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Every One Remembered – Jubilee Plaza

On exiting Canary Wharf tube station into Jubilee Plaza one is immediately confronted with ‘Every One Remembered’ – a 7m high Perspex box containing a bronze sculpture of the centenary soldier.  A thoughtful figure periodically surrounded by swirling poppies symbolising his comrades remembered. Being both imposing and yet simultaneously quite personal, this sets the tone for the Trail.

Nearby, in Montgomery Square ‘Lost Soldiers’ is the only major work to incorporate personal items that were used in battle. The positioning of helmets on top of poles mirroring the WWI practice of staking the rifles of badly injured soldiers in the ground near where they lay, and placing their helmet on top to advise others of their presence amidst the chaos. Including as it does helmets worn in all major conflicts from WWI to Mosul in 2016, this is an entirely sobering work, in particular the decimated helmet from the Somme, and the pole with no helmet, signifying conflict to come.

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Lost Soldiers (Montgomery Square)

The 2018 Trail demonstrates effective use of contrasting scale to evoke emotion.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in ‘Lost Armies’.  The positioning of a pristine pre-battle army, and its dismembered post-engagement remains – either side of a path in Jubilee Park, is all the more effective for the fact that the armies are in miniature against the backdrop of a giant tree species. Behind the ‘battle scene’, two large heads (by implication belonging to leaders) appear to argue, as if oblivious to the destruction around them.

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 Lost Armies (Jubilee Park)

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Fallen Soldier (Cabot Square) occupies one of this year’s most iconic backdrops (One Canada Square), and within the context of the trail can be read in two ways.  From tubes almost full with poppies to those containing almost none, representing successive loss, and in the other direction from less to more, representing the journey of the injured towards rehabilitation and hope.

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Fallen Soldier (Cabot Square)

The Canary Wharf Estate being both relatively compact and accessible, lends itself to art on a grand scale. Yet the inclusion of photographs of members of Mark Humphrey’s family who served, together with the polished and engraved (Somme 1916) shell case carved at the frontline by his Great Grandfather, bring a very personal and human element to this exhibition.

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Brass Shell Case carved by Mark Humphrey’s Great Grandfather

These items are exhibited in the foyer of One Canada Square, appropriately shown together with Humphrey’s two collaborations with former serviceman Nick Beighton, which are also deeply personal in nature. These chronicle Beighton’s journey from the attack in Afghanistan 2009 in which he lost his legs, through pain and the darkness of depression to his success as a Para-canoeist in the 2016 Paralympics.  Panel 4 of ‘Trauma to Champion’ entitled ‘Darkness’ is almost completely black with a singular pinpoint of light – and by association – hope.

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Nick Beighton Part 1 (Trauma to Champion:Windows of the Soul)

Positioned across the Wharf in strategic locations with some iconic backdrops, the Trail has a slightly epic quality. Like much of the other work produced for the centenary, these exhibits are gifts to the ‘Instagram age’.  They are also designed to provoke response, and to encourage all of us – whether rushing to or from work – or making a special visit – to stop and reflect on the nature of sacrifice.  However it is also a thoughtful collection which serves to both remind us of what we owe to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, while also considering the nature of recovery and redemption – a distinctive feature of the 2018 Trail.

Canary Wharf is a particularly (and perhaps to some surprisingly) apt, location for remembrance.  The docks on which the estate stands took the full force of London’s Blitz. Their location as both a supply hub and site of manufacturing (key components of the Mulberry Harbours for D-Day were made nearby) making them an obvious target. But there is also a more contemporary resonance – over 50% of the current security staff in the Wharf are former members of the armed forces, and the 2018 Trail successfully takes its focus beyond remembrance and the honour of sacrifice, to encompass the redemption of a life beyond injury and loss.

The Wharf also lends itself to remembrance in other ways.  Its squares and gardens are carefully designed and themselves encourage personal reflection – indeed Mark Humphrey has spoken of creating ‘a destination’ at which visitors can pay their respects.

During the last four years there has rightly been an intense focus on the Centenary of WWI.  With the veterans of that war already gone and those of WWII fast leaving us, there is an urgency to ensure that successive generations understand the events and personal sacrifices that continue to shape the contemporary world.  There have been some truly innovative and engaging artistic responses to the Centenary (see ‘At the going down of the sun’   for ‘A Sense of Place’ in 2017 for thoughts on the contemporary relationship between remembrance and art). Humphrey’s work for the Canary Wharf Trails easily stands with the best of this, and may indicate how our national relationship with remembrance could evolve as we move beyond the centenary.


The Remembrance Art Trail Canary Wharf is on until 11th November 2018

Find further information, including a downloadable map and details of walks here.

 

Rhythm and Reaction

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Marking the centenary of the arrival of Jazz in Britain, Rhythm and Reaction offers an eclectic overview of the effect on British society, of this most controversial of musical genres. In particular social and cultural effects and the extent to which the very existence and evolution of Jazz, was driven in no small part by the technological developments of the day.

 

Jazz is a visual music and lends itself to display, yet this remains a largely neglected area for UK galleries. And the few exhibitions with Jazz as a theme have tended to focus on a single aspect.1 The remit of the 2018 exhibition at Two Temple Place is considerably wider and consequently much more ambitious.

 

The exhibition space is intuitively curated with the ground floor room devoted to pre- and early-jazz, and the first floor concentrating on the music of British and American dance bands in the 1920s and 30s. The chronological context is supplemented by a number of sub-themes including; art and design, dance, race, technology, and transport. If I have a criticism it is that each sub ‘theme’ felt like a tantalising taster and some could have been an exhibition in their own right.

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Brightest London and Home by Underground 1924, © TfL
The expansion of public transport in the interwar years (in particular the London underground) enabled wider access to some of Britain’s existing clubs and newly built dancehalls, in which dance itself was radically changed by the arrival of Jazz – colourfully illustrated here through costume, sculpture and iconic London Transport marketing posters of the era. Improvements in recording technology and radio also increased the accessibility of Jazz beyond those able to enjoy live music, while artists from the conventional to the surreal embraced the genre.

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Dancing, M Hartley 1929

Many of these ‘developments’ are represented in the objects on display (sourced from a wide range of lenders including major galleries, the National Jazz Archive and private collections, some of which may be displayed for the first time). These include early examples of; the gramophone, 78rpm records, the radio – and the modern drum ‘kit’ and saxophone, both of which were essential for the Jazz ‘sound’.

Console Drum Kit c.1938                              Tenor sax c 1938

Jazz has long been associated with subversion. And in this context Rhythm and Reaction reflects on its role in developing a sense of freedom for some (especially the young) while simultaneously threatening the establishment, at a time when existing social norms had inevitably been disrupted by war. It also acknowledges the extent to which the development of Jazz in Britain was influenced by attitudes to race, and for a period of time, – the implicit operation of dual culture – within which Jazz was ‘sanitised’ into dance music for (among others) the BBC, while African American Jazz thrived in ‘underground’ clubs.

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Detail from the Breakdown, J B Souter, 1926
Rhythm and Reaction is likely to have a wide appeal encompassing as it does social and cultural history, the development of popular music and leisure, and art and design. However I am often struck by the extent to which Jazz is one of the most contested of musical genres. What is loved by one enthusiast can be detested by another, and vice-versa, and debates on what even constitutes ‘Jazz’ can be some of the fiercest amongst fans. I suspect purists may wonder (as I overheard a murmur) ‘but what have ceramics to do with Jazz?’ (or similar).

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Detail from Royal Winton Jazz Coffee set. (Private collection)

But this is to miss the point. The strength of Rhythm and Reaction is precisely in this breadth of approach. That the influence of Jazz was so pervasive – as well as producing an iconography that gave its name to an entire ‘age’ – only serves to underline its potential for both freedom and subversion. Rhythm and Reaction captures this well, and I suspect Two Temple Place has a major hit on its hands.
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About Two Temple Place
For those new to it, Two Temple Place will be a delight. Completed in 1895 (by John Loughborough Pearson) as the estate office for William Waldorf Astor, the building and in particular it’s interior, is a stunning exhibit in its own right. Highlights include substantial wood panelling, carving and stained glass windows.
Visiting Rhythm and Reaction provides a rare opportunity to enjoy this building which closed to the public for most of the year). Since 2011 Two Temple Place has been London’s first exhibition space dedicated to raising national awareness of collections around the UK in collaboration with regional partners, and has treated us to everything from William Morris to Sussex Modernism.

© text and images Later Than You Think (unless otherwise specified)

1 A recent example being the Fashion and Textile Museum’s 2016-17 exhibition ‘The 1920’s Jazz Age – Fashion and Photographs’.


Further Information
Dates: now – until 22nd April 2018

Times: daily 10-4.30 EXCEPT:

• Closed on Tuesdays
• opens at 11am on Sundays
• closes at 9pm on Wednesdays

Travel: Temple tube station (Circle and District lines) less than 5 minutes walk

Two Temple Place
https://twotempleplace.org/exhibitions/rhythm-and-reaction/

Winter Lights

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Now in its fourth year Winter Lights at Canary Wharf has gone from strength to strength and as apparent by the numbers viewing on the opening night earlier this week, it has become a fixture in the calendar for many Londoners. Expectations were high following, last year’s success at the darc architectural awards (Winter Lights won for ‘Best Creative Lighting Event’ in 2017), and 2018’s offering does not disappoint.

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The programme includes over 30 installations, across the Canary Wharf Estate, ranging from Tom Dekyvere’s Apparatus Florius which is literally woven into the flora of Westferry Circus Park, to the selection of smaller works by Amber Stefani (Amberlights) which give an impression of art deco influence, at Crossrail Place. Most installations are sited outdoors in the Wharf’s parks and public spaces. However 2018 has seen the inclusion of a greater number of indoor works. A welcome development, given the inevitable annual timing of Winter Lights, and an innovative use of some spaces.

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This is particularly true of Level -3 at Crossrail place. This is the location of a new yet-to-be-occupied shopping mall, which will in the near future no doubt be a constant blaze of light and activity. Yet descending into this subterranean space in its current state, which aside from the installation spaces themselves is only dimly lit, encourages a sense of trespass. As though these light creations have quietly inhabited this other world to which we are not (yet) invited, and we observe or participate as intruders. Level -3 shows a wide range of work from the mesmerising and aptly named ‘On Your Wavelength’ (by Marcus Lyall) in which a massive into-infinity light sculpture is controlled by your thoughts via a headset, to the beautiful ‘Reflecting Holons’ (Michiel Martens and Jeske Visser) which has an ethereal almost unsettling feel.

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Another development this year was the inclusion of more individual interactive installations, though I suspect that the queues for those that offer a one-to-one interactive experience – especially Sunlight Graffiti in Jubilee Place and Luma Paint Light Graffiti at the Crossrail Roof Garden, will grow considerably through the run. I only had time to try Sunlight Graffiti which was great fun. Directed where to stand and handed a ‘little sun’ with which to produce my ‘art’ – the photographic evidence of this creation had arrived by email by the time I returned home.
It is impossible with limited time and space to describe in detail all the installations but here are some of my favourites this year…

Polaris (Laurent Font) at Cabot Place, inspired by the northern lights is deceptively simple yet compelling. Luminous green light moves around the small space in constant change and evolution. A peaceful and calming experience.

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Approaching Westferry Circus I expected to view an installation on the green in the middle of the park. It took a minute or two to realise that Apparatus Florius was all around us. Weaving organically through the trees and shrubbery light combined with sound to deliver an ethereal experience reminiscent of walking within a forest at dusk. With added magic.

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I also particularly enjoyed Halo (Venividmultiplex and FosFor Design). The suspension of an apparent giant halo above the fountain in Cabot Square is another great example of Winter Lights working with the existing landscape of the Wharf. When the fountain pool is still the reflection can be mesmerising, and viewed by approaching Cabot Square up the steps from West India Avenue the halo appears to cradle the One Canada Square Tower.

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While Winter Lights has no overall theme a number of this year’s works (Sunlight Graffiti, Polaris, Halo, Apparatus Florius, and Intrude) are inspired by, or reference the natural world and environment, in particular the presence of the sun. A timely reminder of its role in our lives, not least at the stage of the year when we see it least.
Canary Wharf has a growing and well-loved arts scene, with the summer theatre and concerts season drawing large crowds. The Wharf is also home to one of the UK’s largest public art collections – from which several permanent works – Bit.Fall, Lightbenches, and Coup de Foudre II – feature in Winter Lights.

See Winter Lights if you can. Rarely is technology so beautiful. It’s a welcome antidote to the dark post-festive days and many of the works lift the spirits and soothe the soul in ways that are unexpected and endure beyond the evening visit.

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© all text and images – copyright Later Than You Think


Additional information

Dates: Now until 27th January 2018
Cost: Free
Time: Available 5-10pm.
Travel : Canary Wharf (Jubilee Line, DLR), several bus routes pass through the Wharf, Thames Clippers stop at Canary Riverside (very close to Apparatus Florius)
As far as I am aware all works are accessible to visitors with restricted mobility, though visitors should be prepared for the amount of travel required between (some) sites. Sound is also a feature of many.
Download a map in advance here (hard copies can also be collected from installation locations). Personally I would allow a good 2-3 hours to visit all the sites (not allowing for queuing for some). Warm clothes and comfortable footwear (expect a reasonable amount of walking between locations) are advised, and it can be helpful to plan a route beforehand to ensure viewing as many as possible. Of course the ‘Lights’ are ideally placed to enable viewing a few here and there as you enjoy other activities – and there is no shortage of places (to suit all budgets) across the Wharf for food and drink.