One long June day, with plans afoot, we drove under clouded skies to the north of London. The weather slowly improving with every mile south, and with a promise of better yet to come, we parked up near Golders Green, on the Northern Line, to begin what could prove to be our last visit to London for at least a few years.
With no real route in mind, we hopped off the tube at Goodge Street, near the BT tower, and walked through leafy parks and beautiful Georgian squares to the British Museum. Not wanting to be inside too long, we did a quick loop of the foyer under the spectacular roof and visited a part of the European history display on the third floor (Sutton Hoo) before heading on our way again.
Wandering south we next reached Covent Garden, loud and lively with bustling crowds, live music and street performers. We paused briefly for a small injection of culture, to watch a lively string quintet play rousing pieces in the covered market.
Our next stop was Somerset House, home of the Courtauld Gallery, an important collection of impressionist paintings. We sat in the neo-classical courtyard, watching kids (and adults) play boisterously in the vertical jets of the fountain display.
We walked slowly along the embankment to Blackfriar’s Bridge, before cutting left to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral. A quick explore here then onward south, across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern gallery on the south bank. Unfortunately the main hall was between installations, so with nothing new to see we wandered on.
We passed by the Globe theatre (more of this later) before stopping in the Anchor pub for a relaxing shandy on the roof terrace. Suitably refreshed, we passed the Clink Prison museum and Drake’s Golden Hinde (a ship I first boarded over 30 years ago now), before rounding Southwark cathedral and passing under London bridge.
Hay’s galleria was next where more live music greeted us, this time in the form of a duet playing Eastern European accordion music. The tunes were pleasantly apt in the iron-framed ambiance of the large space housing Kemp’s impressive bronze sculpture ‘The Navigators’. The views of London’s north bank skyline were nicely framed from here, showing off new targets to aim for in our rambling explore.
HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy light cruiser permanently moored just beyond the galleria, is now a successful and popular museum. With its dazzle camouflage patterns and impressive armoury it provides a stark contrast to the glitz of the southbank. Next on our walk we reached the ‘Scoop’ adjacent to the City Hall, where some festivities were undeway, not least the attempt to bring a Jamaican vibe to the Thames. Maybe with a few more cocktails and we could have embraced it.
A quick ice cream and we climbed to cross Tower Bridge, heading north side again in the direction of the Tower of London. We walked along the Thames promenade, enjoying views of the southside again with the Shard behind, to Tower pier then north to Trinity Square gardens. Zigzagging north and a little west, we arrived at the Gherkin and the Leadenhall building, before crossing to Threadneedle street and the Bank of England. Here I tried to explain the merits of no.1 Poultry (James Stirling’s last completed building) but I failed to convince my dubious audience (Nicky) of the values of Post Modernism.
With time now pressing, we found a pub for a quick bite to eat and wandered back across Southwark bridge to our main goal for this trip – a night at Shakesphere’s Globe theatre. We were here to see Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummers Nights Dream’, a fantastical tale of interwoven lives, lovers and fairies with hilarious confusion and mayhem.
“The course of true love never did run smooth…“
The Globe theatre was a visual treat, helped greatly by the muggy summer weather and a light cooling breeze. The building was rebuilt in 1997 to replicate the original 1599 design; three storey with a circular (actually a 20-sided polygon) plan. The Globe has no roof over the performance stage and spectator standing area, with only a short thatch cover to the edge tiered seating; an arrangement similar to a football stadium. If it rains, the players get wet but the show goes on. We had seats on the uppermost level of the East Tower, on the front row of the balcony. This offered great views of the action and the crowd below, and a comfortable resting position throughout the performance. The warm night air also assisted our comfort as it afforded the use of coats as makeshift cushions on the hard wooden benches.
“Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind…”
The performance was terrific- a modern interpretation of the classic Shakespeare comedy; high energy with quick humour, contemporary musical interludes and naughty sexual overtones. It even concluded with a Bollywood dance number.
The players, especially Katy Owen as Robin Goodfellow, fully interacted with the standing audience, rubbing, squirting, holding, hugging and even kissing audience members during her energetic and mischievous portrayal of the naughty Puck. The directorial change of Helena (female) to Helenus (male) added another layer of spicy complication to the lovers’ confused infatuations when enchanted by fairie magic. The physical humour and high-energy slapstick farce of it was most admirably played by all, although purists beware.
The play, the performances, the weather and the glorious setting in the historic Globe theatre all combined to provide a night’s entertainment of magical proportions and a very worthy finale to a great day spent in the capital; well met, all.