The Theatre on the Coast goes ‘global’

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In July last year I was delighted to be at the opening night of ‘The end of the Line‘ – the first production in the 2019 Summer Season of the Theatre on The Coast (TOTC).  It was a wonderful evening that went a long way to ‘making’ my holiday in Southwold. So, I was sad to realise some months ago that this year social distancing measures would mean that there would be no Theatre on the Coast.  What a joy it was then to discover then that the TOTC were joining the virtual revolution and offering a season of productions broadcast live from Southwold Arts Centre

The first of these took to the stage on 22nd August. The premiere of ‘All 4 One’, a new play written especially for the season.  This explores the events of the meeting at Sandringham in January this year, between the Queen, and princes Charles, William and Harry, to discuss Harry and Meghan’s plans for their future. From the opening moments – featuring Camillia (yes really) in full apron and gloves, joining in with the household cleaning to the soundtrack of Springteen’s ‘Born to Run’, the tone is set for an at times shockingly hilarious journey through the events of that afternoon. Topical references abound, from the then very recent Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special to the Duke of Edinburgh’s driving skills and Harry and Meghan ‘doing veganuary’.

Given that none of us were privy to the events at Sandringham on that day, artistic licence is rightfully given full reign in imagining the exchanges between a hurt and somewhat bewildered grandmother, her son, and grandsons. The father who doesn’t want to alienate his son, the brothers whose relationship will be changed forever by diverging paths and the desire of one to leave the family ‘firm’,  and the claustrophobia of a family that loves each other dearly but for all that can’t quite reach understanding. I suspect these are themes many of us will recognize.  And herein lies the strength at the heart of ‘All 4 One’.  While it is irreverent and pokes fun at the traits and mishaps of the royals, both supposed and real, it does so with empathy and warmth. There are also moments of real poignancy, not least towards the end of the play, when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh fondly reminisce about their own time as a young couple living abroad. In a strong cast James Thorne as Harry and Hilary Greatorex as the Queen stand out, delivering performances that are unnervingly believable.

There were one or two odd camera angles and slightly patchy sound at one point. But these are minor concerns and easily addressed for the remaining productions.  This is a pioneering moment for the Theatre on the Coast and Matthew Townsend Productions.  In seizing the moment and broadcasting from Southwold, they are following in the footsteps of national institutions, that added ‘live from’ to their portfolios some years ago, long before we could imagine the constraints of today. Many regional venues have recently begun to follow suit with one-off productions principally as fundraisers. For the Theatre on the Coast to deliver an entire season on consecutive weekends is a considerable achievement.  

It is also undeniably a significant contribution to an English cultural tradition – coastal repertory theatre. Once, a night at a play or show would have been the highlight of most annual seaside holidays.  In recent decades the tradition has ebbed away across much of England, in the face of rising costs and diverse travel and entertainment choices. However, it has, against the odds, remained resolutely strong in East Anglia.  Established theatres have continued to thrive at Frinton-on-Sea, Aldeburgh, and Cromer. And in 2019 Townsend productions re-launched the long established Southwold summer season as the Theatre on the Coast.

Whether you are new to theatre or a long time fan, I can recommend the ‘Theatre on the Virtual Coast’.  It’s great fun and a wonderful introduction into the delights of Southwold and, Suffolk.  We can’t yet return to our theatres quite as we would like, but now, and for some time to come I suspect, they need us to be there for them, in whatever way possible. The Southwold season is already attracting audience members from around the world. Do join them if you can to keep this amazing part of our cultural heritage alive.


Visit the Theatre on the Virtual Coast to view productions and book

Check out the Frinton Summer Theatre

and the 

Cromer Pier Show

Re-opening – The National Gallery

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It is fitting that our national collection of art to should be the first of the major galleries to re-open, and having been a visitor to the National for decades, I was keen to do so again at the earliest opportunity.  It did not disappoint.

I have written elsewhere about my relationship with the arts in general, and some of the paintings in the National’s collection specifically (There is Art. There is Hope).  I was lucky to be taken to London’s museums and galleries as a child.  But often it is those places that give us our first taste of independence that stay with us, and so it has been for me and the National Gallery.  Having first visited as a 15 year old, I have continued to do so ever since. It became somewhere I would ‘pop into’ when passing and would always try and include in visits to London when I lived elsewhere.  These last few months may be the longest time I have been away from the National, ever.

Pre-booked timed slots are now required for all visitors, irrespective of whether you are taking in the current ‘Titian: Love, Desire, Death’ (currently fully booked until sometime in August I believe), or the permanent collection, or both. To facilitate social distancing the Gallery is divided into three one-way routes, A, B and C.  On arrival in room 9 at the start of route C, the first painting I encountered was ‘The Dream of Saint Helena’ by Veronese.  An image new to me and one which somehow captured my feelings, on returning to this place.  Having engaged with art online(1) as much as  possible during the weeks of Lockdown, I was unprepared for the visceral experience of witnessing it in person again.  A wave of emotion, and something akin to relief washed over me, It was still there, and I was still able to be there.

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The Dream of Saint Helena, Paolo Veronese

As well as pictures I often visit, it was wonderful to be able to view The Fighting Temeraire up close so soon after learning more about the work courtesy of TV’s ‘Greatest Paintings’, and to be able to recognise, at a distance, Turner’s signature use of light elsewhere in the Gallery.  Also to view in person Klimt’s Portrait of Hermine Gallia 1904, which was recently the subject of an ‘Art with the Experts’ event I attended online.

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The Fighting Temeraire, JMW Turner

A highlight of any visit now is the opportunity to see the newly restored Julia and Hans Rausing Room.  The largest room in the Gallery, has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and is something of an artwork in itself.  The current Nicolas Maes exhibition is well worth a detour from route C.  In particular as this pupil of Rembrandt who later influenced Vermeer had an aptitude for capturing domestic scenes with wit and empathy– somewhat topical for our current times.

A friend asked me whether I had felt that I couldn’t linger in the Gallery as I would wish.  Reassuringly this is not the case.  While there is a requirement to progress around the building in a given route or routes and direction, once inside you are free to move at your own pace.  Outside of the obviously popular rooms (as ever Van Gogh, Gauguin and Monet draw the crowds), it was not, and did not feel ‘crowded’   I would be interested to know how busy the most popular rooms will be allowed to get.(I believe the Gallery is currently expecting to welcome between a quarter and a third of its usual 15,000 visitors daily).  The requirement to use defined routes did mean that I could not head straight to my favourite rooms and pictures as I would normally do. But the positive consequence of this is that I discovered pictures new to me.

A map showing the routes and facilities is downloadable in advance though frustratingly doesn’t include room numbers, which would have helped to maintain a sense of direction, while in progress.  It can also be a little confusing.  Having decided to do routes B and C (which overlap slightly), I was advised on arrival, for logistical reasons, to tackle them in reverse order and also encouraged to divert to the Nicolas Maes exhibition downstairs enroute.  This worked well until, having entered the Maes rooms from route B, I exited and found myself part way through route C.  Staff were however very helpful, in literally pointing me in the right direction, and I was soon back on track. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the new (normal) visitor experience, and these are minor quibbles, to experience, not least on only the second day of re-opening (9th July).

So if like me you have missed the National, or have never been, this is a great time to go. Right now it will be less crowded, both in the Gallery and on the journey, and once there, there are new joys to discover.   Some of us were reminded during Lockdown how much we needed art.  As our Galleries re-open, they have never needed us more.


All text © Later Than You Think 2020

  1. A huge thank-you goes to the artist Lydia Bauman and the excellent lectures she has delivered several times a week through the Art with the Experts Meet-Up Group.  Totalling 50 at the time of writing, these have provided the opportunity to learn more about an artist or theme, in short sessions, in early evening, several times per week.  An ideal ‘after work’ and ‘social’ art fix for these times, and one which has enabled me to continue to feel connected to art and my artistic life.

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

 

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.