17 October 2011


London is the home to hundreds of theatres from large and glitzy famous West End ones like the Palladium and the Palace Theatre (long time home of Priscilla Queen of the Desert) to the very smallest room at the back of a pub.  In between you will find the National Theatre ,a home fine productions both new writing and revivals, as well as the excellent range of 'off West End' theatres such as the Old Vic, the Royal Court and the Donmar.

The Donmar Warehouse deserves special mention as it is a wonderful small space with just 250 seats where you can see the big stars of stage and screen - currently Jude Law is in a sell out production. As with many of the small theatres, its entrance is easily missed on the street and if you are lucky you can get hang around these doors and get close to the stars - here's my favourite photo of me and Dominic West!

What about the 'hidden theatres' then? Well there is an amazingly well hidden small theatre in Notting Hill called The Print Room which is down an alleyway, through to a welcoming reception area and is a converted 1950s warehouse.  From these unexpected premises they put on great plays and if you like to meet the cast, they are usually in the bar opposite, the Commander! Their staging is amazing, one production was set inside a disused tennis court and another on a huge mound of soil which actors had to climb across (well the play was called 'Kingdom of Earth'!

Another very small theatre well worth a visit is the Gate just off Notting Hill Gate. They have a really small room, with about 70 seats, above the Prince Albert pub but manage to pull off the most imaginative use of space and I hardly recognise the room from one production to another.  New writing is on show and it specialises in international work. Their last production, Wittenberg, was fun, challenging, incredibly well staged

Much grander and more famous is The Old Vic which currently has a wonderful artistic director - Kevin Spacey!  He often stars in plays there and most recently was Richard 111 and previously in Speed the Plow with Jeff Goldblum and Inherit the Wind. It is a treat to have him regularly on stage, but the Old Vic was great before him and will be great when he leaves.

So many more theatres worthy of mention but hopefully this has given you as taster for some of London's less well known off West End delights.

Bye for now,

10 October 2011

Looking for a weekend away from London? Try Rome!

I love London, it's my favourite place but sometimes it's good to go away for a weekend. London is a great transport hub so getting away couldn't be easier whether it's to somewhere else in the UK or to Europe.  So this weekend it was Rome!
So you leave London early (very early!)  on Friday and are back in time for Downton Abbey on Sunday, how much can you squeeze into an action packed few days?  Here goes:

The Colosseum and Constantine Arch. We walked around these, felt the grandeur and imagined the gladiator fights inside - helped my numerous men dressed up in gladiator gear.No time on this trip to go inside but it's pretty good from the outside. Nearby is Trajan's Forum, Market and Column which you can walk by, again saving time on a tour but leaving plenty of time for photos.  There are ruins everywhere and every corner and turn is a delight. Rome is compact and easy to walk around especially as many sights are very close to each other.  Also located just by the Colosseum is the Vittorio Emanuele monument which is absolutely huge, very white  not universally popular with Romans, it goes by the nickname of 'the typewriter' and they say the best view of Rome is from the top as you can't see it!

Another good batch of sightseeing delights is the area around St Peter's which gives you the church itself, the wonderful piazza in front of it and the Vatican. Together these would fill a good half day but the friends we were with had booked a Vatican tour for after we had to leave and I'd been already on a previous whistle stop visit. I still remember the sheer scale of the Vatican City and was awe struck by the Sistine Chapel.  We had every intention of having a look inside St Peter's but the queue was at least an hour long so we wandered along the Tiber and enjoyed the wonderful October sunshine instead.

I love the Pantheon, built by the ancient Romans, it's their most complete building in the city and is still used as a church despite the hoards of camera clicking tourists that flock in. It is an architectural wonder with its height (43m) being the same as its diameter and has a domed roof with no visible support.  Nearby is the Trevi Fountain which is enormous and takes up most of the square where it is squeezed in along with tons of tourists, many throwing a coin in the fountain which is supposed to ensure their return to the eternal city. From this iconic sight, it's not far to another, the Spanish Steps which we reached at sun down giving it a mellow feel.

What else did we manage to fit in?  Several drinks stops, lunches, dinners and ice creams!  A visit to the Botticelli and Lippi exhibition,  several churches,some window shopping and some great catching up with long missed friends. Could we have stayed longer - definitely? Did we fit in as much as possible - absolutely!

One final sight to leave you with - in Rome, even gladiators need to do their shopping!

The next blog will be back in London so bye for now.