Tag Archives: Theatre

London Slant: What’s inside London’s three new cultural caskets?

It’s a year since a red inverted table called The Shed appeared at London’s Southbank. This temporary theatre’s first play, appropriately set around a table passed down through generations of a family, kicked off a string of full-house hits. Now this rough timber building with a fringe vibe has had its planning licence extended until 2017. Could it end up a permanent landmark alongside its neighbouring once-temporary structure, the London Eye? As a showcase for edgy works that are tapping a new, younger audience, there seems no reason why it shouldn’t run and run.

The Shed, National Theatre, London's South Bank

Extended run: The Shed at London’s Southbank Centre frames St Paul’s.

It’s just one of three timber boxes that have freshly sprouted in London’s cultural hubs. A short amble along the Thames leads to another fizzing theatre: the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s also been packing ’em in since Bond girl Gemma Arterton took to the stage as the Duchess of Malfi a few months back.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

The gorgeous candlelit interior of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe.

This intimate “jewel box” is a real feast for the senses. You don’t just wander in and sit down. You wait until invited to make your entrance: just stepping inside is a piece of theatre in itself. The scent of the hand-crafted oak auditorium wafts over you as you step among flickering beeswax candles, the only source of light. Then, as your eyes adjust to the dim glow they wander from the richly patterned backdrop up to the ceiling, a celestial scene of cherubs among clouds.

On the occasion of my audience with The Duchess, I took my seat as strolling minstrels in Elizabethan garb appeared onstage playing viols and lutes. Then came figures in fabulous ruffs and pantaloons bearing tapers. Chandeliers came spiralling down from the ceiling which they lit with great bravura to enthusiastic applause. Now it was time for the performance to begin.

Sam Wanamaker ceiling

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse ceiling, lit by candles in revolving chandeliers.

If the Sam Wanamaker has been designed to reflect a true Jacobean-era night out, right down to its bum-numbing benches, the opposite is true at the high-tech Milton Court Concert Hall. The Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s new performance space boasts indulgently bum-hugging seats. From its light-flooded glass lobby with a Martin Creed artwork to its white ceiling and walls, this 600-capacity hall feels fresh yet surprisingly intimate. And yes, it too features masses of wood—in this case sapele, a native African cousin of mahogany often used to make musical instruments. The acoustics are superb.

Milton Court Concert Hall, London

The intimate Milton Court Concert Hall.

The Hall hosts concerts by the school’s musicians alongside performances by the Academy of Ancient Music and the Britten Sinfonia, bookable through the adjacent Barbican Centre. It’s part of a complex that also include two new theatres, which I’ve yet to sample but could well take my tally of beautiful new boxes to five.


Photography: Sam Wanamaker Playhouse by Pete Le May; Milton Court Concert Hall by Morley von Sternberg



The Barbican in London has a long-standing reputation as somewhere you can never find your way around. The route between the tube station and concert hall is so hard to fathom that a yellow line is painted on the pavement, an Ariadne’s thread to lead you to your show. But should you think you’re grappling with a labyrinth, spare a thought for the actors and stage hands. I’ve just been on the fascinating Hidden Barbican tour and discovered that the backstage area is even more maze-like than front of house.

Hidden Barbican

Welcome to London’s Barbican Centre, and the Hidden Barbican tour.

We set off  with our guide, the well-informed and charming Olga, who began by leading us through a door marked “Gentlemen’s Showers”. As someone who is used to ending up in the Barbican chair store when I’m aiming for the bar, it came as no surprise Continue reading


Four centuries after Shakespeare wrote it, the eye-gouging scene in King Lear remains one of the most horrifying moments you’ll ever see on a stage. How many people over all those years have been shocked and repulsed as a loyal old man is tied down and blinded. How many, like me, have braced themselves for it from the moment the first actors have come on stage. Going to the theatre is something you approach with the expectation of enjoyment but as I arrived at the Almeida on Monday I was dreading this, and several other aspects of the play.

It didn’t disappoint.

The set was a bare brick wall. The actors wore dun, medieval-style clothing. A howling wind was matched by the chill of soured relationships in a dysfunctional court. And Jonathan Pryce did a brilliant portrayal of an aged autocrat descending into madness.

The awful scene came and went, to be followed by more senseless terror. I thought of other random acts of cruelty happening now, like Malala being shot in Afghanistan. How amazing that this great play is as powerful and relevant as it was when it first appeared.



Join me on a journey that I’m not allowed to write about. When I boarded the Bum Bum Train in a disused building near the Stratford Olympic site I promised not to tell a soul what happened. And I won’t. If I did it would spoil the absolute thrill and amazement for you, and anyone else who might go too.

What I can say is that this interactive theatre experience will have you doing wonderful things you’ve never done before, and probably never will again. You are the single audience member surrounded by dozens of actors, who entice you through a series of crazy experiences that have your head (and body) spinning. You hurtle along through physically and mentally stimulating situations, all custom-built with appropriate sights, sounds and smells. Then you’re spat out into a bar at the end where everyone’s wildly chattering and saying it’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever done in their lives. You Me Bum Bum Train has been rolling into London since every year 2004. Each time its new schedule is announced it sells out immediately. Get onto the mailing list now so you don’t miss the next departure. bumbumtrain.co.uk