London In Autumn: Now The Fun Begins
Autumn in the countryside means the arrival of mud, the less enjoyable vegetables (turnips, anyone?) and the countryside’s only advantage, scenery, being obscured by freezing rain. Mercifully for Londoners it’s the start of the Season – sport, theatre, music, literature, all the arts burst into bloom from the Tate to the V&A, the West End to the fringe, in pop-ups all over the capital. I’ve made my list – now I just need to finance it…
David Hare’s searing play ‘The Permanent Way’, about the chaos of breaking up the railways, is currently playing in a railway tunnel, which appeals to me. I have tickets for the new version of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s ‘The Visit: Or the Old Lady Comes To Call’, a play that has always disturbed me.
This is a timely new version by Tony Kushner, starring one of my favourite actors, Leslie Manville (there’s an eerie musical adaptation that has never played in London; perhaps that will come next). Let’s hope it’s better than the disappointing ‘The Man in the White Suit’, which eschews the darker Ealing original for a crowd-pleasing slapstick approach. I’m all for fan service, but unlike the brilliant stage version of ‘The Ladykillers’ this is end-of-the-pier stuff, although Stephen Mangan works himself to the bone for laughs.
Meanwhile, pubs are hosting vegetable markets in the mornings and screenings at night, the ever-delightful Sohemians are staging their modern-day magic lantern shows on a host of esoteric subjects, it’s Diwali, Bonfire Night, Oktoberfest and (to a lesser extent) Hallowe’en, with as many single-use plastics that can be sold to children. Ian McKellen is doing his one-man show in as many locations as years of his life (good stamina!), museums are hosting special nights and of course it’s Oscar contender season so there’s a lot of incredible world cinema about.
I went to see ‘Monos’, Alejandro Landes’ strange, surreal cross between ‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘Apocalypse Now’. Easier to digest was the delightful ‘The Aeronauts’, which has Felicity Jones as the daredevil pilot Amelia Wren, taking a hot air balloon higher than anyone in the world has ever ventured in 1862. Although it’s a visual treat it is also historical nonsense, as the stunt was actually performed by a male scientist, Henry Coxwell, who here is denied his right to the achievement. Still, the message of female empowerment is not to be begrudged, and it’s exciting stuff.
At this time of the year it’s important to keep a visual record too, although I’m not an inveterate photo-taker, so I’ll be taking ‘ordinary’ shots of London life and architecture as I plod about town between downpours, trying to unravel the nots in my upcoming thriller (I say upcoming, I haven’t actually written it yet but it’s in my head).
Sometimes the most mundane streets appear delightful when you’ve been away for a while – these houses off Amwell Street are similar to the one I grew up in. They look nicer, probably because they’re now owned by wealthy residents instead of ordinary families who used to leave motorbikes in their front gardens and had screaming kids running in and out all day. I preferred those rowdy, messy neighbourhoods to the strange perfect deadness we have now.
So, I’ll be observing and making notes in the city, which will find their way into novels or perhaps ‘Bryant & May’s Guide to London’, which I may have to get around to writing one day!