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Book Review – London Theatres by Michael Coveney and Peter Dazeley (Frances Lincoln)

Few would argue that London is the undisputed theatre capital of the world. However most theatregoers focus on the action on the stage and often pay scant regard to their surroundings. This new book ‘London Theatres’ takes readers on a tour of forty-six London theatres with stories of the architecture, the people and the productions by leading theatre critic Michael Coveney and a series of stunning photographs of the public areas, auditorium and backstage by acclaimed photographer Peter Dazeley.

Award winning actor Mark Rylance writes the foreword for the book, describing the interaction between the actor and the theatre space. One of the first actions he takes when entering a theatre is to look up at the ceiling, if there is some kind of circular device, he is convinced that the theatre experience will be fine.

The book considers 46 London Theatres as they stand in the 21st Century, ranging from the grand Royal Opera House to the lesser known delights of Wilton’s Music Hall. The theatres are divided into chapters that illustrate some of the remarkable diversity of London Theatres, these include  Grandes Dames, Palaces of Pleasure, Popular Landmarks, Informal Delights, Legends Alive, Hidden Gems, Eastward Ho! and West End Jewels.

Michael Coveney in the book’s introduction considers that to understand many of London’s theatres development, it is important to study the architectural and cultural context. Although for centuries, theatre was a favourite British national pastime, by the 1980s thousands of theatres around the country have been lost. Remarkably, the West End of London has been resilient and constantly reinventing itself, even new theatres have sprung up to provide a platform for different types of drama. Although many of the large theatres are owned by large concerns, they have often spent millions of pounds to restore the decaying fabric of many old theatres.

The book begins with the opulence of the Royal Opera House, Theatre Royal Haymarket and Theatre Royal Drury Lane, these ‘Grand Dames’ provide evidence of intriguing history, decorative splendour and more rustic back stage. One of the themes of the book is the contrast between the front and back of house with grandiose design schemes and often Heath Robinson contraptions that create the atmospheric magic from back stage.  Peter Dazeley’s remarkable range of photographs take us on a journey in the theatres where often things are not what they seem to be and the glitz and glamour is often a mere façade.

One theatre that has redefined the theatre going experience is Shakespeare’s Globe, the wooden recreation of one of the famous theatres from the time of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson illustrate that the connection between actors and audience was not always as clearly defined as modern theatres and the more basic seating or standing can provide a wonderfully different theatrical experience.

The connection between audience and actors has been one of the guiding lights of the more modern theatres which have often gone back to basics, Donmar Warehouse, the Young Vic and the Almeida Theatre suggest that it is important to concentrate on the quality of the drama rather than worrying too much about ornate splendour of the surroundings.

The book is full of wonderful stories and anecdotes from the theatrical world with the Theatre Royal Drury Lane holding the record for the number of ghosts stalking the building. Often it is the ghosts of the past that make a meaningful connection between theatre and theatregoer. Many of the great actors and actresses of the past have trod the London theatre boards and it often is considered their presence is still there in the memories of the audience and fellow actors.

This fascinating and important book puts the selected London Theatres centre stage with the illuminating photographs by Peter Dazeley  and intelligent commentary by Michael Cloveley. Generally, because so much time is focused on the action upon the stage, relatively little is written or shown about the part the actual theatre plays in creating the right environment for a successful performance.  The nature of theatre and drama is often about illusion and make-believe and this book illustrates the interesting part the theatre plays in this process. Walking into an opulent building indulges the fantasy that you are entering something extraordinary and amazing things will happen on stage. Even the theatres that have gone back to basics are creating a different kind of illusion that draws the audience into the make-believe world of theatre. This intriguing book provides plenty of evidence that the whole structure of a theatre is often as much part of the performance as the action on the stage.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information or buy a copy of the book, visit the Publishers website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Book Review : The Street of Wonderful Possibilities by Devon Cox ( Frances Lincoln )

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Devon Cox’s book, The Street of Wonderful Possibilities focuses on Tite Street in Chelsea which became one of the most influential artistic quarters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Famous residents including James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Oscar Wilde and John Singer Sargent helped to forge the street’s reputation for a sanctuary for those who followed a bohemian lifestyle.

Even before Tite Street had been created, Chelsea had developed a reputation as a haven for writers and artists. In the 1830s, Thomas Carlyle became the ‘Sage of Chelsea’ and in the 1840s, the mysterious ‘Mr Booth’ who lived in a small Chelsea cottage was none other than J.M.W Turner. The 1860s saw Dante Gabriel Rossetti after the death of his wife relocate to Cheyne Walk on the Chelsea riverfront with poet Algernon Swinburne. It was also at this time American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler began his long association with the area. Both Rossetti and Whistler developed their own social gatherings and led to the idea that the area was becoming more bohemian. However, by the 1870s, the bohemian clique was beginning to relocate and even Whistler left Chelsea.

It was not only residents that were changing, Chelsea had been a small village in the first part of the 19th century but by the 1860s and 1870s it had become a part of the expanding metropolis. It was part of this development that led to the creation of Tite Street. The whole Chelsea riverfront was developed with a new embankment and Tite Street was developed to create a link between the Royal Hospital Road and the new embankment.

Whistler was looking for custom-built house with a studio and employed his friend and architect E. W. Godwin to create his dream house in Tite Street. For Godwin it was to be a more difficult task than he considered with Whistler often battling with the Metropolitan  board of works over the finer details of the house. Eventually The White House was completed in 1878 and become the first of an artist colony in Tite street, others followed including the young aristocrat artist Archibald Stuart Wortley, Carlo ‘Ape’ Pellegrini, Frank Miles and a certain Oscar Wilde. Whistler fresh from his success against the Board of Works began an ill-advised case against the respected critic John Ruskin. This case bought Tite Street into the public domain and although Whistler won his case, it was a hollow victory, he was given only a farthing damages. The building of the White House  and the court costs had financially ruined Whistler and he was declared bankrupt in 1879. Although he had lost everything, it proved only a temporary setback for the American who returned to Tite Street after a time in Venice and rented a studio at number 33. To improve his financial position, Whistler resolved to paint ‘ all the fashionables ‘.
This was the beginning of the golden age of Tite Street, the Prince of Wales and Lillie Langtry were amongst the first to visit Whistler’s new studio and soon the street was full of the carriages of the wealthy. It was not just the sitters, Whistler became a hero to a younger generation of painters who flocked to his studio, Mortimer Menpes and Walter Sickert were just two of his ‘pupils’. It was not just Whistler whose star was rising , Oscar Wilde was making his reputation with his plays, books and wit.
The book documents this period in detail, it was a time when the two ‘Titans’ dominated an area that had become the most important artistic enclave in London, but for all the success, there were clouds on the horizon which would envelope Tite Street.
The rise of fall of Oscar Wilde is well documented, however the photograph in the book of Whistler’s coffin being carried through a sparsely populated street is an indication that at the end, the artist’s ability to make enemies had surpassed his ability to make friends.

By 1903, two of the greatest ‘Titans’ of Tite Street had died and a number of the supporting cast had bought the curtain down on their careers. It was left to the more stable and popular Sargent to carry the flag for the bohemian enclave.  Following his illustrious compatriot Whistler, he began to paint the ‘fashionables’ and acquired  considerable wealth. When he died in 1925, the golden age of the street was over, other artists took on the baton but none reached the dizzy heights of Whistler, Wilde and Sargent. Augustus John bought some elements of bohemia but when he left in 1950, the world and the street had changed beyond all recognition from its glory days.

Although on the surface, the story of a street would not set the pulse racing, but this was no ordinary street. The author has bought together many of the interactions between the residents that often get lost in single biographies. Oscar Wilde watching Ellen Terry coming away from a Sargent sitting, costumed as Lady Macbeth and writing Tite Street “must always be full of wonderful possibilities” is a fine example of how the residents interaction provided inspiration for their work.

This is a fascinating, entertaining, well researched book with a number of illustrations which highlight some of the incredible pieces of art and writing produced behind the brick facades of Tite Street. Although the three ‘Titans’ dominate the book, the author acknowledges the parts played by a large supporting cast that included other artists, writers, models, mistresses, lovers, sitters, residents, pupils and critics. He also gives a voice to some of the women of Tite Street who tried to challenge the male dominated society, such as painter Anna Lea Merritt and the Welsh sculptor Edith Elizabeth Downing, who supported the suffragettes cause.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information or buy a copy of the book, visit the Frances Lincoln website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Book Review : Drink London by Euan Ferguson (Frances Lincoln Publishing)

drink london

London is famous for its pubs and bars, but with over 7,ooo drinking establishments it can be a daunting task to visit more than  a small selection.

However the author of this book Drink London published by Frances Lincoln has impeccable credentials for the task, Euan Ferguson has been for the last four years, the principal bars and pubs writer for Time Out London. Even before this enviable post he had worked in the licensed trade for many years.

Out of the large number of drinking establishments he has visited, he has selected the 100 best  based on following criteria ‘each one unique, memorable or simply unrivalled at what they do.’

The sections of the book reflect the huge variety available, therefore we have Cocktails, Legendary Locals, Craft Beer, Ale & Cider, Liquid History, Wine & Spirits Specialists, and finally With a Twist.

Within the last few years, London has become one of the Cocktail capitals of the world.  This  transformation is remarkable due to cocktails being once considered  exclusively reserved for the rich and wealthy in the more swanky hotel bars and upmarket clubs. Cocktail bars are popping up all over London in all kind of venues and locations, part of the appeal of the cocktail craze is that bars have developed their own speciality cocktails using techniques what are commonly called ‘molecular mixology.’

Bartenders  can achieve legendary status with their concoctions, Tony Conigliaro  at the Zetter Townhouse has developed the Flintlock which literally goes off with a bang. Many of the new bars tend to cultivate an informal but trendy environment in the new ‘happening places’ like 69 Colebrook Row in Islington and Happiness Forgets  in Hoxton. But the author is keen to point out that the hotel bars still have a lot to offer , the Coburg Bar at the Connaught  is one that is highly recommended.

From a recent development in London ‘s drinking culture, the book then moves to the search for Legendary Locals, pubs that have built up considerable reputations over a period of time.
Their reputations are usually based on the quality of the beer or the friendly and comfortable ambience, but they often have a magic ingredient that makes them special.

The Queen’s Head in King’s Cross has preserved many of its Victorian features but there is nothing old-fashioned about its use of quality beer and cider. The Charles Lamb offers an intriguing mix of English and French beers and cider. The Wenlock Arms in Hoxton causes the author to wax lyrically and state it is ‘quite possibly the best pub in London’.

Legendary Locals are followed by another recent movement that has revolutionised drinking in London . Although a new movement, the growth of  Craft Beer, Ale and Cider has its origins in the past.

London brewers in the past provided beer and ale to the home population  and the British Empire, however the growth of the massive conglomerates reduced the number of brewers and many would say the quality and variety of beer. The growth of the microbreweries  especially in London has sought to redress the balance by favouring quality over quantity.

More and more pubs and bars are using the new craft beers as a way to distinguish them from the crowd.  Based in a historic coffee shop , the Jerusalem Tavern only became a pub in 1996 owned by Suffolk brewery St Peter’s. It has quickly gained a reputation for good beer and a pleasant atmosphere. Some of the microbreweries have developed their own pubs and bars, Camden Town Brewery Bar is one such example .

However for one of the best examples of the mix of old and new is the Euston Tap and Cider Tap, located in the old gatehouses of Euston station  they  provide commuters and locals with quality Craft beer and cider.

In the next section we find those pubs that have Liquid History meaning they are tied up with the history of London itself. Often world-famous due to their associations with some of London’s great movers and shakers, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese built just after the Fire of London is associated with literary giants Dr Johnson, Mark Twain and others. The French House was home to many of the writers, artists and thinkers in bohemian Soho of the 60s. The George Inn in Southwark is one of London’s last galleried pubs and in the past counted  Charles Dickens as one of its customers.

Of course , drinking in London is not confined to Beers and Cocktails, the next section  Wine & Spirits Specialists offer an altogether different drinking experience. You can try orange wine at Terriors, Japanese Whisky at Mizuwari, Rum at the Artesian and Gin at the Portobello Star. This is just a small section of the enormous variety on offer.

The final section is With a Twist that describes those establishments which do not fit into any other category because they have developed their own unusual quality.  Irish pubs are not unusual in London but a genuine authentic  Irish pub is more of a rarity , however the Auld Shillelagh in Hackney is probably the nearest you will find. At the other end of the spectrum is the Aqua Shard on level 31 of London’s tallest building, tea based cocktails are a speciality. In the deepest Fulham we have the Harwood Arms, a country pub with a reputation for good food and stag’s heads on the wall.

In a every changing London drinking landscape , Drink London offers a taste of the old and the new which reflects some of the incredible diversity on offer.  Drink London  is  an invaluable companion to those who wish to find some of London’s best bars and pubs.  This informative, well written book with plenty of attractive photographs really does offer something for everyone whether a Londoner or a visitor, as well as  practical information , there is a checklist and a map to help you on your way.  There are a large number of books that offer advice on drinking in London, this book is without doubt is one of the best with its insider knowledge and authoritative but friendly approach.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

 If you would like to find out more about the book or buy a copy , visit the Frances Lincoln website here

Special Offer exclusive to Visiting London Guide readers

To order Drink London at the discounted price of £7.99 including p&p* (RRP: £9.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG219.

*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas

 London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

Book Review: London Quiz by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison (Frances Lincoln)

london quiz

London Quiz offers a wide range of questions about London’s history, monuments, architecture, famous residents, place names, notable events and much more.

Compiled by well known writers of London histories, Travis Elborough  and Nick Rennison , the London Quiz book explores many of the stories and curiosities of the capital city.

Over 400 questions are posed, each of which has three possible answers in twenty themed sections.

Starting with Crime and Punishment, the twenty questions in each section  explore all aspects of each theme.

Other sections include London in the Movies, Musical London, Theatrical London , Royal London, Drinkers’ London, London Transport and London Firsts.

Some of my favourite questions include :

Which legendary London bogeyman made his first appearance in print in a story of 1846 entitled The String of Pearls ?

Who supposedly lies buried beneath one of the platforms at King’s Cross railway station ?

What creature sits on top of the weathervane on the Royal Exchange?

In the 1930s Christina Foyle , the famously eccentric owner of Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross cabled to Adolf Hitler to ask him what ?

What was the first London monument to be damaged in an enemy air attack ?

However what sets this book apart from its competitors is the well written answers that provide full explanations.

Therefore the book acts as a normal quiz but also offers a large number of reference points about London that encourage further investigation.

This interesting, entertaining and amusing book would appeal  to a wide range  of readers who want to find out more of the often strange and bizarre history of London.

It is a well known trait in many Londoners that they like to have a number of obscure and interesting London facts to amuse and entertain their friends, acquaintances and visitors. This book offers a wide range of nuggets of London information that would allow you beat them at their own game.

Visiting London Guide – Highly Recommended

For further information or to buy a copy of the book , visit the Frances Lincoln website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.

We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here