Big Day Out In London


When you’re a tourist to a new city, you tend to cram in a spectacular amount of walking and sightseeing. At the moment London seems to have more tourists than I can ever remember being here at one time. What would it be like to use their busy day-long schedule on a bunch of things you wanted to see in your own city?

There were several things I wanted to do, so taking a leaf from their book I somehow decided to do them in a single day. The London weather was to be typical, with a dazzling start, clouds, rain, and a bright end.

Starting quite late on Saturday morning we headed into the West End, where a protest march was in Trafalgar Square featuring, for some unearthly reason, hundreds of Morris Dancers, emblazoned with their team symbols and colours, their bells jangling, their tankards cemented to their hands. The ship in the bottle is still on the fourth plinth, but hard to see in detail from the ground.

We hit the Royal Opera House for three dance pieces climaxing in Michael Nyman’s ‘Danse A Grand Vitesse’, a hurtling, thrilling drumming piece perfect for anyone who’s allergic to classical dance.

At the crypt of St-Martins-In-The-Fields there was an exhibition of photographs from 21 years of The Big Issue, for whom I’ve written in the past. The pictures showed homeless men and women who have managed to turn their lives around, and who are now off the streets – which remain written in their faces. The new crypt has been beautifully restored, even if it now comes with the inevitable shop.

Then it was time to queue for a one-courser in Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in St Martin’s Lane – you can leave the building because they give you a bleeper to let you know when the table’s ready. Great Italian food, terrific service, not expensive. Here we met a couple from Boston on their honeymoon, arriving to do the same things in London as tourists.

Then off to the English National Opera for Terry Gilliam’s astonishing ‘The Damnation Of Faust’, which he imagines set against the 20th century history of Germany, from rural romanticism to the Expressionist cabaret of the Weimar Republic, to Fascism via the Berlin Olympic Games, Kristallnacht and the concentration camps. The piece (never really an opera) feels filmic, with some of the most striking visual imagery I’ve ever seen on stage, including the sight of Faust racing through the woods on a motorbike and being stretched and twisted into a giant swastika. It’s excessive and will anger Berlioz fans, but it was a problem piece to begin with and Gilliam has made something fresh of it.

At the opera we met a lovely Swedish lady who was visiting all the great opera houses of Europe by herself. It was now heading toward 10pm but there was still time to catch an ‘adult’ version of ‘HMS Pinafore’ at the King’s Head Theatre which, despite featuring nudity and some risque jokes, was really very tame and silly. By this time we’d hooked up with an old friend, Carol, and went for a drink with her to round off the evening until 1:00am.

The only expensive part of the day had been Faust, staged for a very limited season. I’ve found that you can’t do the same packed day via art galleries without a rapid drop-off in your art appreciation, so the mix was perfect.

It would be a fun thing to do in the winter.

5 comments on “Big Day Out In London”

  1. I don’t know about Berlioz fan. The Damnation calls for imaginative staging, if only to manage the episodic nature of the narrative. Saw it at La Bastille a few years ago, with an important video installation. The Race at the end was quite spectacular, video horses gradually galloping toward the stake.

  2. Leigh Bellinger says:

    What a fantastic day. Very jealous.

  3. stephen groves says:

    You did all that in one fucking day! Me thinks this took some planning.

    All Best

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Like Waldemar Januschek (Don’t remember how it’s spelled, but that looked like the way to pronounce it) who tried running past as many Wren churches as possible in 15 minutes (5) and then stood gasping for breath in front of St. Paul’s. He directed this series (this episode was the Baroque in London)and he should never be allowed to control a production unit of any kind. When I look at a painting I don’t want to peep at it through a crack in a doorway or at a steep angle from the side, nor do I want the music of the period to be relegated to a faint background to a commentator’s highly opinionated remarks about something else. He despises Tudor buildings, too, and is glad there was a fire to clear London of them. At least you could live in a Tudor building but I can’t imagine living in something like Blenheim palace. That’s a stage on which to posture, not a family home. Hrumph, hrumph.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, and is the ship in a bottle going to stay on the fourth plinth? I thought that was one of the wittiest pieces they had.

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