My round-up of 2018
December 28, 2018
2018 has been a year that required urgent distractions from the shambles that passed for political debate in Westminster.
Fortunately it’s been a good year for adventures: exhibitions, travel, theatre, food & drink. Here are just a few of my personal highlights:
Theatre – behind the scenes at The Bridge
In February I wrote about the extraordinary immersive experience of Julius Caesar at The Bridge: https://wp.me/p7AW4i-af
Later in the year I attended a wine tasting in the foyer, with Trevor Gulliver of St John Restaurant who do the catering at The Bridge; to go with the wine they produced some simple snacks, including crispy pigskins….
To browse St John Wine, click here: https://stjohnrestaurant.com/collections/wines
Also my page “And to drink?” https://wp.me/P7AW4i-aV
After the tasting, a member of the theatre management team sat down to ask for feedback. She explained her job as running “everything on the other side of those doors – would you like to see?” Needing no second bidding, I followed her through the double doors to the stage manager’s control desk.
They were taking out the set of Alan Bennett’s “Allelujah”, ready for the next production. It revealed the size of the space behind the scenes. I noticed that the seats were angled towards the stage, and asked if they swivel.
“Yes! Every seat turns”.
Two more stand-out productions in 2018
Girls & Boys with Carey Mulligan at the Royal Court. Outstanding performance of a coruscating play.
The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre, directed by Sam Mendes, with stunning performances from Simon Russell Beale, Ben Miles and Adam Godley as the Lehman brothers, and the many other characters they encounter along the way.
London Film Festival
It’s always worth picking a film or two out of the programme, something that may not get a wider release. These two will probably turn up on Film 4.
Look out for “Nancy”, with an astonishing performance by Andrea Riseborough, and “Out of Blue”, a noir interpretation of Martin Amis’s novel “Night Train”, with James Caan in a role that reminded me of John Huston’s chilling performance in Chinatown.
David Byrne’s American Utopia was a reinvention of the rock concert, so good I saw it twice. The stage set was a box formed of silver chain curtains. As the lights went up, Byrne was sitting at a table, addressing a human brain.
When the music started, the audience were on their feet, and stayed there. A dozen musicians and two dancers joined Byrne on stage, their instruments strapped to them, uninhibited by cables so they were free to move, sometimes individually, sometimes marching or swaying in unison, inhabiting the whole space.
The choreography was outstanding, at its centre the unlikely sight of a grey suited, white haired man in his sixties, dancing barefoot, sometimes playing guitar, sometimes flapping his arms and tripping across the stage.
The set list was a mix of Talking Heads’ greatest hits with newer material; it’s a true ensemble piece which ended with Angie Swan’s blistering guitar solo.
Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith in June. The 02 in October.
Roy Hargrove, the “trumpeter who gave jazz a jolt of youth”.
That’s how The New York Times described him; I first heard trumpeter Roy Hargrove on a Blue Note compilation in the 1990s. Impressed by the purity of his sound, I started to explore his music.
I saw him at work in a tiny upstairs rehearsal room in Tribeca, New York in 2010, and then later in concert at the Union Chapel in London.
He played two dates in October at The Jazz Café in Camden, where he came on stage and started the set by saying “Let’s make some noise!” It was a night of joyous jazz.
The Jazz Café said “witness a true maverick up close and personal in our intimate surroundings for what will be his last shows for the foreseeable future”. I’m so glad I did.
On 2nd November news broke of Hargrove’s premature death, aged 49.
Amsterdam for Orange Day & High Society
I went to see an exhibition of full length portraits at The Rijksmuseum. The entrance involves negotiating a cycle lane that bisects the museum:
Once inside, I encountered Luisa Casati, a dangerous-looking woman who threw notorious parties in the Palazzo Venier, now the Guggenheim Museum in Venice.
It was impossible to miss the fact that my visit happened to coincide with Orange Day, a national holiday in the Netherlands.
Turner’s House re-opened
The artist J. M. W. Turner chose Twickenham to build a house of his own design in 1813. By this time he was achieving success in his career, and it was to be a refuge where he could escape the pressures of the art world in London, to fish in the Thames and entertain his friends. He lived there with William, his “Old Dad,” a retired barber and wig-maker, who looked after the house, and spent most of his time in the warmth of the kitchen.
It was partly William’s declining health that led Turner to sell the house in 1826, and after his time the house was altered significantly, and the surrounding green countryside became a suburb of substantial Edwardian villas.
In the Second World War the house served as a secret factory, manufacturing pilots’ gloves and goggles. After the war it was a private house, and the last owner bequeathed it to the Turner Trust, who opened it to the public for a brief period before restoration commenced in 2016; my overriding memory of a visit then is the smell of damp.
The restoration involved returning the house to as close to its original condition as possible, including the demolition of the later first storey additions to the wings. This entailed removal of the white stucco, which exposed the original brickwork. The unexpected discovery of time-consuming “penny line pointing” led to the decision being taken to leave the house unrendered.
Inside the restoration has created an intimate impression of the house as it would have looked in Turner’s lifetime.
Twickenham High Street is a mostly banal collection of charity shops, coffee shops and estate agents. Look a little deeper and you’ll find evidence of its rich history, and gems of 18th century architecture. Most notable is Marble Hill, a Palladian villa on the riverside, built for George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard. It was used as a location for the recent ITV adaptation of Vanity Fair.
Picking up an English Longbow
While my enthusiasm for archery started on the field of Agincourt, I wasn’t expecting to pick up an English longbow any time soon. This year in Norfolk I tried a more traditional style bow, and it just felt right. To cut a long story short, I had an opportunity to acquire an English longbow in the summer, made by a bowyer who retired a few years ago, and literally “they don’t make them like that anymore”.
A few months on, I’m achieving some success (at sixty yards, I’m confident I could down a French knight or two….)
Pie of the year
And finally, the Pie of the Year award, 2018, goes to….
Rochelle Canteen at The ICA
Guinea fowl, bacon and wild garlic; buttered potatoes, Hispi cabbage, and a glass of Bourgogne Passetoutgrains on the side.
Rochelle Canteen at The ICA
The Mall, St. James’s, London SW1Y 5AH