Monday, 21 May 2012

Cultural Gems

10 Amazing Places to Visit for Music, Literature and Performing Arts in London

Even if you have lived in London all your life, you’ll find plenty of surprises in this list of interesting cultural places compiled from Reader’s Digest’s aptly named guide, Most Amazing Places to Visit in London. < br />
Selected from areas across the capital, these top picks have been chosen for their special contribution to the cultural fabric of the city. With some hotly anticipated tickets in mind, these places for poetry and performance will have your dance card full for the coming months and beyond.

Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS. Barbican, Moorgate tube.
Home of the London Symphony Orchestra, this is a cultural powerhouse in a concrete ziggurat. There is always a spectacle to behold at the concert hall, two theatres, three cinemas, two art galleries, lakeside terrace, tropical rooftop conservatory, exhibition halls, three restaurants, cafes or food hall. This year, their upcoming London 2012 Festival includes dance, music and theatre with performances from Wynton Marsalis and Pina Bauch’s Tanztheather Wuppertal.

Poetry Cafe, 22 Betteron Street, WC2H 9BX. Covent Garden tube.
Vegetarian cafe by day, haiku hotspot by night, this Covent Garden hideaway is the home of London’s Poetry Society. Events like the ‘Poetry Unplugged’ open mic sessions make this a truly creative atmosphere for budding writers from throughout the city.

Tin Pan Alley and the 12 Bar Club, Denmark Street, WC2H 8NG. Tottenham Court Road tube.
12 Bar Club on Tin Pan Alley is the last remaining music venue on the London street that played a part in the making of some of the UK’s most important musicians. The Clash, David Bowie, Elton John, the Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, to name but a few, all pounded  the pavement of this tiny street over the years. The 12 Bar Club at No 26 has been opening its doors to musical hopefuls since 1978 and continues to support local artists today.

Waterstones Piccadilly, 203-6 Piccadilly, W1J 9LE. Piccadilly Circus tube.
A mecca for book lovers, Waterstones Piccadilly is the largest bookstore in Europe. Though the shop boasts over 150,000 titles, eight floors, and 8½ miles of shelving, the largely intact Art Deco interior and natural wood surfaces, Travertine marble steps and comfortable armchairs make this feel more like a private house than a warehouse. Event space is put to imaginative use for readings, discussions, signings and cookery demonstrations. Indeed, this is a top place for author appearances, the first and sometimes only choice for many big names including Keith Richards, David Beckham and Bill Clinton. Catch Olivia Newton-John signing her new cookbook on April 19 or take in an autobiographical Evening with Tim Burgess on 25 April.

Institut Français, 17 Queensbury Place, SW7 2DT. South Kensington tube.
Entente was never more cordiale than in this place of culture, learning and relaxation. Founded in 1910 by a young French woman, Marie d’Orliac, to introduce Londoners to French artists, writers and culture, the Institut is one of the oldest of 150 worldwide. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful art collection take courses in French language and wine tasting, or view the UK’s largest collection of French language materials – films, documentaries, music, poetry, novels, and children’s books – in the Mediateque. Their event programme is ever active with a mix of film, lectures, music and literature. Events like their second BD & Comics Passion Festival in May, keep the Institut at the fore of French culture in London.

Cinema Museum, The Master’s House, 2 Dugard Way, SE11 4TH. Kennington tube.
Tucked away in a Kennington cul-de-sac, close to Elephant and Castle, this collection is fittingly housed in the Lambeth workhouse where Charlie Chaplin and his half-brother Sidney found themselves in 1896. It was brought together by Ronald Grant, who co-founded the museum with Martin Humphries in 1986. The memorabilia on show encompasses all aspects of cinema-going, including ushers’ uniforms, and exhortations to ‘applaud with hands only’ and, in the interest of public safety, not to spit. Their spring event season sees Monty Python actress Carol Cleveland in conversation with Steve Chibnall on 31 March, a tribute to comic actor Marty Feldman on 12 April and a cinematic tribute to the sinking of the Titanic on Sunday 15 April.

King’s Head Theatre or London’s Little Opera House, 115 Upper Street, N1 1QN. Angel tube.
The first pub theatre in England since Shakespeare’s time, and one of London’s smallest, has nurtured the careers of some of the biggest names in British acting. Founded by American ex-pat Dan Crawford, it has seen the likes of Alan Rickman, Ben Kingsley, Rupert Graves, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley tread its boards since opening in 1970. A new urban adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen gets under way here from 6 April.

Kew Bridge Steam Museum, Green Dragon Lane, TW8 0EN. Kew Gardens tube.
Anybody who has ever doubted the power of steam should stand beneath a working 35-tonne beam engine. Cornish beam engines come no larger than this 40ft leviathan, designed to pump more than 450 gallons of water in a single stroke! From these Victorian buildings, the Grand Junction Waterworks brought water to Londoners for almost half a century, until 1944. Now this southwest London museum houses the largest collection of steam engines in the world. Visit at the weekend to see these steam engines in action. On 21 & 22 April, the Steam Museum will host the Magic of Meccano Show, a mind-boggling exhibition of model making.

South London Gallery, 35 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH. Peckham Rye rail.
In 1995, Tracey Emin pitched her ‘tent’ at the South London Gallery, which had been the first to show her unmade bed installation. Two years later it staged a solo show by the ‘bad girl of Brit Art’, and she cites this exhilarating gallery as the crucible of her success. The interior space is magnificent and a fitting backdrop for the gallery’s vibrant programme of contemporary art exhibitions. The collection of over 6,000 pieces includes works by Emin, Antony Gormley, Sarah Lucas and Anish Kapoor. Current exhibitions from sculptor Alice Channer and multimedia artist Edward Thomasson are open until May 31.

Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Grace’s Alley, E1 8JB. Tower Hill, Aldgate East tube.
The world’s oldest surviving music hall, Wilton’s was originally built in 1850 and has since seen incarnations as a Methodist Church and even a rag-sorting facility. In 1964, John Betjeman led a campaign for its salvation and it was spared the wrecker’s ball, but it wasn’t until 1997 that it reopened. Fiona Shaw’s rendering of The Waste Land was the first performance here in 117 years, a tour de force repeated in 2010 on the theatre’s 150th anniversary. Now part of a thriving community of artists and creatives, they’ll be hosting their 5th Annual Ping Pong tournament here on 30 March, a performance of William Blake’s Fearful Symmetry on 05 April and director Peter Joucla’s vision of The Great Gatsby, with 1920s-dress audience in attendance, will be on from 20 April. More info

Reprinted with permission.

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