Wednesday, August 25, 2010

London Bridge: What Could Have Been

Check out these shelved plans for Phase Two of the London Bridge City development. The Powers-That-Were sought THREE different schemes in different styles.

Ultimately unsuccessful but undeniably ambitious, John Simpson and Partners were up first. They dreamt up a sort of Venice-on-the-Thames, complete with piazzas, cloisters and a sort of belltower-type thing. As you can see, I don't know my architectural terms, but I do know OTT elegance when I see it and this has bucketloads.

Admittedly, plonked down in the middle of central London it might have felt a bit like a pre-fab "Fancy Italy!" section from the Epcot Centre, but then people probably would say the same thing about the Covent Garden piazza.

It's a bit Duloc (right) and inauthentic, but it looks OK and would have been sympathetic to Hay's Galleria.

The second offering is bland filler, so let's not talk about that.
The third, from Philip Johnson, was meant to act as a counterpoint to the Palace of Westminster upstream, but looks absolutely massive and stupid and like it was drawn by a Premiership footballer. Opposite the Tower of London and next to Tower Bridge, it would have just looked like a crude, oversized, tacky copycat. So I'm glad that that didn't win.

In the end, Simpson's Anglo-Neo-Venetian offering won, but the commercial developers apparently wanted to build their own conventional buildings and just stick his facades on, so Simpson took his blueprints and hardhat (I imagine he looked like Tom Selleck in Three Men and a Baby) and stomped off home.

And that is how we ended up with City Hall which, all things considered, is pretty cool.

It opened in 2002 and was designed by Norman Foster. It doesn't fit with the Tower of London but the mix-and-match, modern/old thing is very London, and the design is the best of the bunch. Well done, Norman.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Into the Woods

Once upon a time (that was last night), I saw Into the Woods at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. It was one of the best things I have seen in London.

The sylvan setting was breathtaking, enclosed by beautifully lit trees and centred around a treehouse-style series of rickety platforms, spiralling staircases and ladders. The production made full use of the space, with Rapunzel's nesting box of tower positioned halfway up a tree, a staircase of umbrellas popping up to create a beanstalk, and the enormous Giant rearing to life out of undergrowth at the side of the stage. Fantastically whimsical costumes completed the impression and visually, the show was absolutely perfect.
In fact, pretty much everything was spot on. The cast was outstanding, with an assured and hugely charismatic performance from Hannah Waddingham as the Witch, and Michael Xavier excelling as a ravenous and, erm, "charged" Wolf and suavely self-absorbed Cinderella's Prince. Beverly Rudd also delighted as a gleefully greedy Little Red Riding Hood and, with one or two minor exceptions (Giants in the Sky - a Mr Christopher favourite - was less strident and urgent than it could have been), the performances were unimpeachable.

Into the Woods has always come under fire for its second act, which critics say loses its edge, contains weaker songs and gets its preach on. The moralising is undeniable - any show that contains direct instructions on how to parent is going to get on some people' wick. But the plot and songs are fine - they're just different to those of the first act. The first act is the first movement or theme; it sets up shop and could be a neatly contained, simple (if inconsequential) show in itself. The second act then takes the first as its starting point; it plays on it, builds on it, pulls it apart a little and - yes - deviates. But as one article argued this week, it shows Sondheim's genius in forcing contrasts, darkness and dissonance into what can be a saccharine genre.

The reviews have rightly been excellent and it's just a shame that the run, at five weeks, is so short. Get a ticket if you can.
Until 11 September, Open Air Theatre.

UPDATE 16 MARCH 2011: Into the Woods wins Best Musical Revival at the 2011 Olivier Awards.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


- Leaf Me Alone by Anthony Peters
- Simple - Black & White by Seb Lester
- London by Steve Forney
- Tall Bike Poster by Barrel NY

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Stephanie Quayle

Yesterday I saw some startingly wonderful sculptures by Stephanie Quayle in Canary Wharf. Quayle spends a lot of time watching her subjects before rendering them rapidly in clay, resulting in fantastically captured impressions.

The most eyecatching were groups of foxes slinking around the lobby of One Canada Square. It felt like the animals were the underclass in a two-tier city, as suited commuters hurried past and security guards kept a wary eye on them.

Probably the best site-specific public art I have ever seen. Well done Stephanie Quayle.
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