The British Council has designated 2017 as the ‘UK India Year of Culture’, and there are loads of ways to celebrate, but many of them involve a trip to find India in London – perfect if you can’t afford a flight to Delhi just yet. Here are the key happenings to put on your itinerary, without leaving the UK.
Guards at the Taj, Bush Theatre, until 20th May
The Taj Mahal hasn’t lost any of its appeal since it was built in the 1600s – it’s still considered one of the world’s greatest buildings, and a must-see for anyone visiting northern India. However, the craftsmen and slaves used to create the Taj paid a high price for their part in the most beautiful building in the world, as Rajiv Joseph’s play reveals.
Incident at Vichy, a one-act play by Arthur Miller, condenses and multiplies his usual sense of foreboding. It’s 1942 in Vichy France and an assorted group of suspected Jews and ‘asocials’ have been detained by Nazis in a makeshift prison. One hysterical young man has had his nose measured. The drip-drip-drip of rumours and panic start to build as the waiting game continues.
Miller’s play is a window into French deportations of Jews, which took place between 27th March 1942 and 17th August 1944. 77,000 deportees from France lost their lives at Nazi death camps or concentration camps, and 1/3 of these were official French citizens.
‘All the world’s a stage’, but let’s remember that not all stages are equal. If you’ve sat through a performance in a cramped or strangely pungent space, you’ll know it can be quite distracting (unless you’re at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, in which case it can be a selling point, and the smell of damp is strangely comforting).
On World Theatre Day, it’s time to take a look at theatre facts: some of the strangest pieces of trivia from theatreland, including the playwright who became President, and the ghost who was used as a mascot.
Half a century after its debut, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead returns to The Old Vic. Things may have changed around these parts in the last fifty years – off the top of my head, there’s a branch of Byron down the road, and the price of theatre tickets has increased dramatically – but this play, just like its venue, remains sharp.
It famously lifts two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who we know end up dead, hence the non-spoiler-alert title, and tries to fathom how they met their fate. Was it just a case of really bad luck? Were they a bit dim? Was everyone out to get them from the start? Stoppard may not have all the answers, but he scrutinises their unfair side-lining by the Danish court, and gives them a chance to voice their side of the story. That is, if they even know what the story is. Or where they are. Or which one is which. In these ever more uncertain times, where we’re bombarded with cries of ‘fake news’, conspiracy theories and 24-hour coverage of distressing events, The Old Vic treats us to lines like ‘We are tied down to a language which makes up in obscurity what it lacks in style’. This could have easily described Donald Trump’s tweets, and not a key character’s philosophy on the language of acting.
Quill London is at the forefront of the local and national calligraphy scene, with a huge social following, a calligraphy workshop programme, pop-up projects and a physical store keeping up with customer demand.
I’ve chosen to test Quill’s entry-level course, the Beginners Modern Calligraphy Workshop (FYI, there’s no apostrophe). This is the perfect class for a novice because it’s only 2.5 hours long, so there’s no big commitment to make. The question is: can you actually pick up a new skill in less than half a day?
London is a museum lover’s dream, but there are always far too many high-profile exhibitions and permanent collections to choose from and, try as I might, I never get to see them all. Hidden London museums, in comparison, are usually cheaper and quieter to visit, yet they’re easily overlooked.
The thing is, those smaller and more obscure attractions don’t get an equal billing, and many tourists miss out on these underrated attractions. I’ve selected six of my favourite hidden London museums to redress the balance.
Yet again, Peruvian influences are spreading across London. It was only a few years ago that London’s food scene bagged itself Peruvian restaurants – all of which continue to draw crowds. One brand, Lima, has recently had a revamp, and two new restaurants have stepped into the fray since August.
Lima, based in Fitzrovia (31 Rathbone Place), added a much-needed extension and redesigned its dining spaces but also launched a new a la carte menu in November. The new dishes come with healthy twists, such as white and purple sweet potato added to main courses and an entire dessert menu free of refined sugar – yes, that is possible!
It had me at ‘free tea and biscuits’. I’ve been to more museums than I can count in my 26 and 3/4 years, but never have I been offered a free cuppa and snacks as part of the deal… until now. Evidently, the Museum of Comedy isn’t your average tourist attraction, but the promise of a good old-fashioned English treat, alongside decades of authentic comedy memorabilia, worked wonders.
Based in a church undercroft between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn, this small but mighty two room venue covers the history of British comedy, from variety acts to TV sketch shows and stadium tours, and all that’s in between.
I’ve seen couples posing for romantic photos at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, and children use it as a playground, leaving sweet wrappers behind; I’ve seen bored teenagers struggling to feign interest at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In those cases it was the visitors, not the attractions, lacking emotional intelligence and leaving me speechless.
London’s Jack the Ripper Museum, in the heart of Whitechapel, has gone one step further in terms of emotional intelligence failures, by actively encouraging tourists to mock murder victims. The appalling serial killings of Victorian prostitutes are offered as the perfect subject for a selfie or two this Halloween weekend. A recent press release, publicising the museum as a Halloween attraction, suggests visitors take “a selfie with the serial killer” (or, at least, a mysterious bloke in a top hat). Fancy “a picture with Jack in Mitre Square together with the body of Catherine Eddowes”? Go ahead. It’s not like Eddowes can complain, right?
“Ah – it seems you’ve found a bit of old sewage pipe,” says Fiona. Perhaps not what you want to hear when you’re seeking buried treasure along the Thames foreshore. Luckily this doesn’t come after hours of searching – Fiona, an inter-tidal archaeologist, is talking to an amateur mudlark, who laughs and heads off to continue scouring the shoreline for more unknown treasures (or unsavoury bits of piping) during the last few minutes of a Thames Beachcombing Walk. This is their idea of fun on a Saturday morning, and it’s contagious, so I’ve come to find out more.