Having rejoined the National Film Theatre after abandoning it about twenty years ago, I went back for the first time last night for part of the Ken Russell season.
The South Bank Centre is still a labyrinthine confusion of tunnels, staircases and awkward corridors that kettle audiences through tiny doors, but at least it now looks attractive, and the severity of the building has been softened with clever lighting.
The scratchy, screechy celluloid prints make you appreciate digital remastering. Trying to dismiss a blob of flickering celluloid burn on one side of a screen for two hours plus of ‘The Boy Friend’ would have been hard work, if not for the charming exuberance of the film.
The audiences are older now. The ticket seller (receptionist? Why is there no appropriate word?) told me it’s mainly mature audiences who like repertory cinema, partly because ‘the young don’t like black and white’.
There are now many places to eat around the former wasteland of Waterloo Bridge. We opted for one of my favourites and one of London’s best-kept secrets, The Swan, a Modern English restaurant with such sensational views of St Paul’s, the Globe Theatre and the Thames that you’d think it would be Tourist Hell – except it’s not at all. The exterior is so unassuming that people walk past it without realising that it houses a quirky independent brasserie and restaurant. The food and service are terrific, and there are frequent performances and garden events. It’s closed New Year’s Eve for a private party. ‘Whose?’ we ask. ‘We’re unable to say’, says the waiter, intriguingly.
This year, the Globe will be performed the 37 Shakespeare plays in multiple languages in productions from around the world, and lots of special events are planned for this special part of London – IMHO the best place to walk late at night.