Visit London Blog » Lianne Kolirin Enjoy the very best of London Tue, 17 Mar 2015 16:11:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Celebrate the Tube’s 150th Anniversary with a Book Sat, 22 Dec 2012 10:00:21 +0000 London is one of the largest and most sprawling capitals in the world, but there is one thing that connects us and keeps this wonderful city moving – the Tube.

So get your diaries out and pencil in an important date. On 9 January London Underground will celebrate its 150th anniversary. That’s right, a century and a half since the first underground journey took place between Paddington and Farringdon on the Metropolitan Railway. A range of events are planned for 2013, starting on 13 January with a recreation of that first journey.

But if trainspotting isn’t your thing, consider marking the occasion another way. In fact, what better to way to celebrate the Tube’s big birthday than by burying your head in a book about the Underground?

Penguin is the official publisher for the event and will mark it with the release of several tie-in titles. There are short paperbacks themed on individual lines, with the authors offering a personal reflection or a piece of inspired fiction; a definitive history of the Tube; a new collection of Poems on The Underground and a book charting the evolution of London Underground’s iconic design.

Already out is:

The specially commissioned Penguin Lines are:

  • A Good Parcel of English Soil – The Metropolitan Line by Richard Mabey
  • Drift-The Hammersmith and City Line byPhilippe Parreno
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About The Tube -  The District Line by John Lanchester
  • Heads and Straights – The Circle Line by Lucy Wadham
  • A Northern Line Minute by William Leith
  • Waterloo-City, City-Waterloo byLeanne Shapton
  • The 32 StopsThe Central Line by Danny Dorling
  • The Blue Riband –  The Piccadilly Line by Peter York
  • Earthbound – The Bakerloo Line by Paul Morley
  • Mind The Child – The Victoria Line by Camila Batmanghelidjh
  • A History of Capitalism According to the Jubilee Lineby John O’Farrell
  • Buttoned-up –  the East London Line by Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom

Underground OvergroundThere are of course many other existing books on the subject. Journeys on the Tube offer fantastic people watching opportunities and so make for extremely fertile ground for fiction too. Here are a pick of the many publications already available:

  • Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube by Andrew Martin. The author blends reportage, humour and personal stories in this engaging history. He attempts to untangle the Northern Line, visit every station in a day – and find out which gaps to be especially mindful of.
  • Underground London by Stephen Smith. An alternative tour around London, as seen from below. Stephen Smith uncovers the secrets of the city by walking through sewers and tunnels under such places as Hampton Court, ghost tube stations, and long lost rivers like the Fleet and Tyburn.
  • 253 by Geoff Ryman. This novel tells the stories of the 252 passengers and one driver on a seven-and-a-half minute journey from Embankment to Elephant and Castle. Each character has a page devoted to their stories.
  • Mr Becks’ Underground Map by Ken Garland. This contains illustrated colour diagrams of the various maps issued from 1908 to 1964 and also diagrams from Harry Beck’s original sketch in 1931 until his last diagram in 1964.

What’s your favourite book about the Tube?

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Theatre Review: The Bodyguard at the Adelphi Theatre Thu, 06 Dec 2012 17:15:59 +0000

WHEN Whitney Houston died earlier this year, admirers worldwide mourned her passing. Her hits rang out from every radio station and friends, family and fans paid tribute to one of the most successful female singers of all time.

So it was hardly surprising when just months later it was revealed that a musical version of the film The Bodyguard, in which Houston starred, was to hit the West End.

Last night the production opened at The Adelphi Theatre on the Strand. While one might have expected it to be a rather schmaltzy tribute show, The Bodyguard is anything but.

I never saw the 1992 film and have never considered myself to be a Houstonfan, so my expectations for the evening were not especially high. Yet the truth is that neither is a prerequisite for seeing the show.

The storyline is pretty simple. Rachel Marron is a hugely successful pop singer who has a mystery stalker. Former Secret Service agent Frank Farmer is hired to protect her and try and track down the unsavoury character. The singer and her bodyguard clash at first, then gradually overcome their differences and fall in love.

There are no hidden depths to this tale, so don’t go expecting Shakespeare or Chekhov.

However, that does not stop it from being a thoroughly enjoyable show with something all too often absent from the theatre – the feel-good factor. US actress Heather Headley is outstanding in the lead role. Her powerful voice is magnificent and she glows with charisma.

Rachel’s sister Nicki is played by Debbie Kurup, another female powerhouse. The male lead is played by Lloyd Owen, who is not quite Kevin Costner but comes a pretty good second. Rachel has a son, Fletcher, who is played by one of six different boys. On the night I went, it was the turn of Malaki Paul – who you may recall from the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent last year.

If you’re someone who doesn’t especially like musical theatre, The Bodyguard could be the show to convert you. On the whole, the characters do not spontaneously burst into song. The music is integrated and the story has not been adapted to be told through Whitney’s greatest hits.

I was surprised at how many of Whitney’s songs I actually knew and just how catchy some of them are. By the end of the show, I was up in the aisles with the rest of the audience singing, dancing and – I confess – even whooping, to the sounds of I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

The Bodyguard at The Adelphi Theatre is currently booking until 27 April 2013

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More Than Just a Drinking Hole: London’s Top Activity Bars Tue, 16 Oct 2012 09:00:30 +0000 If you’re looking for a bar that does more than just serve drinks, check out one of these activity bars that offer everything from ping pong to karaoke, golf to bowling.

Situated just a ping pong ball’s throw away from Holborn station, Bounce is built on the same site where table tennis was originally trademarked by J Jaques & Son Ltd in 1901. Complete with blue plaque, the venue is home to a swanky cocktail bar, an up-market pizzeria, a DJ booth and 17 table tennis tables – including an official London 2012 table. Drawing on the success of similar venues stateside, it’s the brainchild of entrepreneur and accomplished table tennis player Dov Penzik and the co-founder of All Star Lanes, Adam Breeden.

Bowling at All Star Lanes
There are no bright lights or flashing arcade games at All Star Lanes – this is boutique bowling! There are four lanes in Holborn, six each in Bayswater and Brick Lane and a whopping 14 at Westfield. Each has a modern American restaurant and cocktail bar, as well as private rooms.

Table Football at Bar Kick
Mostly famous for their many football tables, Bar Kick also offers basement events, lovingly cooked food and cocktails. It is also a great place to watch live football and every 3D match available is shown in the basement.

Snooker and Pool at the Hurricane Room
Open 24/7, the King’s Cross Hurricane Room has recently undergone a £500,000 refurbishment. The swish venue now houses 10 snooker tables, six English pool tables, nine American pool tables and two poker booths. Coaching available.

Karaoke at Lucky Voice
Lucky Voice bills itself as the UK’s Number One karaoke experience. Hire a private karaoke room for you and your friends in either Soho or Islington, choose from thousands of songs to sing and use the “thirsty” button for waitress service. Discounts and special offers available online.

Darts, Pool, Table Football and a Nintendo Wii at The Bell
The Bell is an independently owned Victorian pub on the fringes of the City. But don’t mistake this for just another city pub as it’s far from it, according to management. Traditional pub grub and space available for private hire.

Indoor Golf at Urban Golf
Urban Golf offers a virtual golf experience on simulators, so no matter what the weather you can try your skills on more than 50 of the world’s top courses. Whether you head to the Smithfield, Soho or High Street Kensington branch, you’ll find about seven simulators and a full bar and menu too. Coaching available.

Do you have a favourite bar that does more than serve great drinks? Let us know in the comments below

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What To See and Eat at Chocolate Week 2012 Tue, 02 Oct 2012 14:00:47 +0000

Chocaholics will be flocking to London next week for Chocolate Week 2012. Running from Monday 8 to Sunday 14 October, the annual event celebrates the work of top chocolatiers and chocolate companies at various venues across the capital. Here are some of the week’s most delectable treats:

Chocolate Unwrapped, 13-14 Oct, London Film Museum Covent Garden, see website for talk and demonstration times
Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in this decadent celebration of chocolate. Marvel at chocolate sculptures, watch chocolate cooking demonstrations and taste a variety of exciting new flavours, unexpected pairings and classic favourites from Britain and around the world. £10 in advance, £12 on the door, children £5.

Chocalligraphy Kids Workshop, 13 Oct, 10.30am-12.30pm, Rococo Chocolates
An innovative children’s workshop at leading London chocolatier, Roccoco Chocolates. Organisers promise plenty of good clean fun – with aprons provided. And the best chocalligrapher wins a prize. Free, but booking is essential

Chocolate Safari: From Virunga Park to Park Lane, 10 and 13 Oct, 3.30-5.30pm
Food writer Sudi Pigott leads an Original Beans chocolate safari  through the “wilds” of Park Lane. Taking in savoury and sweet dishes at three of Mayfair’s leading restaurants, interspersed with a short history of chocolate. Participating restaurants and chefs: Andre Garratt with Fred Sireix, Galvin at Windows; Theo Randall at Theo Randall at The Intercontinental; and Regis Curan at Nobu. £40

Cacao Revolution, 9 Oct, 6.30-9.30pm, Mint Leaf Restaurant & Bar
Great chocolate needs great cacao. Members of the newly formed Direct Cacao organisation and other guests discuss issues facing the chocolate industry and how we can create a revolution to protect the world’s cacao resource. £10

Choc Tales from Dean Street, 11 Oct, 6.30-8.30pm, 68 Dean Street
World-class chocolatiers pair up with talented cocktail makers in this period property to present a unique cocktail and chocolate experience. Damian Allsop, Paul A Young, William Curley, Artisan du Chocolat, Rococo and The Grenada Chocolate Company are all participating. £45

Hotel Chocolat Supper Club, 12 Oct, 7pm, Roast+Conch
The Boucan Supper Club is a delicious introduction to Hotel Chocolat’s exclusive “cacao cuisine” style of cooking. Held at Roast+Conch in Covent Garden, the four-course dinner will feature cocoa throughout and served with matching wine. £75

Mexican Chocolate Feast, available after 5pm throughout Chocolate Week at various branches of Benito’s Hat
This fabulous feast features a main, dessert and cocktail and pays homage to the cocoa bean’s heritage. Dishes include chocolate chicken mole burrito, chocobrownie cake and Mexican chocolate martini. £15.95 per person

Paul A Young at The Folly, launches 8 Oct, The Folly
Master chocolatier Paul A Young has teamed up with bar and restaurant The Folly to run a pop-up shop throughout October. Buy luxurious sweet treats, enrol in a masterclass or drink winter-warming hot chocolate

The Chocolate Dream Package, throughout Chocolate Week, available at The Marylebone Hotel, The Bloomsbury Hotel and The Kensington Hotel.
Three Doyle Collection hotels are offering a chocolate dream package which includes accommodation, chocolate cocktails , chocolate themed dinner, a chocolate gift, breakfast and 20% off Demarquette the chocolatier. From £290 per couple

The East India Company, open Mon-Sat, 10am-7pm and Sun, 11am-5pm Sun
The flagship shop of the historic East India Company will be marking Chocolate Week with some delectable tastings in-store. Try chocolate covered fruits, nuts and coffee beans, or have a sip of the wonderful drinking chocolate made in a stylish hot chocolate kettle. There are also beautiful chocolate boxes, and plenty of unusual chocolate bars, biscuits and even sugar. Free

Will you be indulging this Chocolate Week?

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Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain at the Garrick Theatre Tue, 06 Mar 2012 11:46:20 +0000

One thing to consider when booking tickets for the new West End production by the Birmingham Stage Company is the name. Horrible Histories is every bit as horrible as the title suggests.

There is blood and guts galore in Barmy Britain, now appearing at the Garrick Theatre on Charing Cross Road. Over the course of just one hour, actors Lauryn Redding and Benedict Martin race through the goriest events from Britain’s dark past.

The pair, who have both appeared in previous Horrible Histories’ productions, introduce the audience to the likes of ruthless Romans, vicious Vikings and that most terrible of Tudors, Henry VIII. They bring their subjects to life with quirky takes on hit TV shows like Manky Chef and Who Wants To Blow Up Parliament.

Terry Deary is one of Britain’s best-selling authors and last year was the tenth most borrowed author in British libraries. His Horrible Histories series has instilled a generation of children with a love of history, which their teachers might not have thought possible. He dusts down dreary episodes from the past and appeals to kids with his wicked sense of humour and attention to deathly detail.

The hit series has spawned several productions from the Birmingham Stage Company and an exceedingly popular BBC children’s programme, which is a regular favourite in our house.

My boys were thrilled when I told them I had tickets for Barmy Britain. They loved the actors’ high-energy performances and laughed their way through many of the skits. My eight-year-old considered himself a little too cool for the audience participation, but his six-year-old brother joined in the song about Henry VIII’s worried wives with gusto – happily performing the actions to divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

If I’m being honest, I had my doubts and exchanged a couple of knowing looks with other slightly uneasy parents. But I kept quiet while all around me were laughing and guffawing.

Then it all went a bit too far for my boys as the pair started describing the gruesome executions of tens of thousands of commoners at Tyburn (now Marble Arch). After a particularly grisly explanation of what it meant to be hung, drawn and quartered, the dancing duo moved on to the story of Victorian “baby farmer” Amelia Dyer. If it happened today, would I be happy to let my little ones watch a news story about a prolific murderer of babies?

At this point it became clear that the content wasn’t just washing over my sons’ heads, as I’d initially convinced myself. Separately, they both turned to me saying that the show was “really gross”, and my oldest did so with his bottom lip quivering.

I fully appreciate how clever and popular Horrible Histories is with both children and adults alike and I hate to be the prudish parent. But, based on my children’s reactions, I disagree with the published age recommendation of six years and over. That said, the show is likely to be a great hit and much-loved by older children and teenagers.

Horrible Histories at the Garrick Theatre until 1 September 2012. Book tickets

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Scott’s Last Expedition at the Natural History Museum Mon, 05 Mar 2012 15:06:19 +0000

Scott’s Last Expedition at the Natural History Museum offers a fascinating insight into the explorer’s doomed journey to the South Pole.

The exhibition, which runs until September, promises to go beyond the familiar tales of Robert Falcon Scott’s three-year journey to the South Pole (1910 to 1913) and it doesn’t disappoint.

The focus is on the everyday stories and activities of the people who took part, their scientific work and unforgettable human endurance. Visitors can easily spend a couple of hours in the exhibition, reading about everything from the mammoth task of planning the trip to the heart wrenching words of Scott’s final diary entries.

In planning the Terra Nova expedition, Scott had to approach dozens of sponsors who he hoped would help fund the trip. Some lent financial support, while others provided some of the many tonnes of provisions that were loaded onboard for the epic trip. There are detailed log books of the supplies that were packed onto the crowded vessel, as well as footage of how they unloaded it all on arrival in Antarctica.

The exhibition then moves into a reconstruction of the hut where Scott and his men lived for much of their time in this inhospitable part of the world. Once inside, you get to see exactly where the men slept, ate and passed the many days that they spent there.

In most people’s minds, Scott is known as the ultimate explorer, but perhaps what is less well known is just how much scientific research was done while the men were away. The ambitious programme covered a broad range of specialisms including meteorology, zoology and geography. The exhibition features a lot of this work and emphasizes the significance of the discoveries made, even to this day.

Had Scott lived to tell his tale, his experience would have still been overshadowed by the success of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who beat the British team to the Pole by a month. Curators have compared the two missions, highlighting what might have made the Norwegian efforts more successful.

This extremely moving exhibition, which marks the centenary of Scott reaching the pole and his tragic death, features over 200 rare specimens and original artefacts. Many items, such as clothing, skis, food, tools and diaries are being shown together for the first time.

Scott’s Last Expedition at the Natural History Museum until 1 September 2012. Book tickets

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Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre Mon, 20 Feb 2012 10:51:36 +0000

School was out and fun was in, especially along London’s South Bank.

The Southbank Centre has been playing host to the ever popular Imagine Children’s Festival, which returns this year with even more attractions than usual. The good news is that although half-term may be over for most, the action-packed festival continues to run until Sunday 26 February.

I have never braved the Tube on my own with all three of my young men. Yet I felt compelled to conquer my fear of excitable little ones on busy platforms and venture up to Waterloo. I packed a bag with activity books, sharpened pencils and a delectable array of goodies. There was no moaning, no crying and the journey went remarkably smoothly.  

But when we arrived at the Royal Festival Hall, my heart sank. For there in the foyer was a lengthy queue of fed up parents, all surrounded by kids and similarly stuffed backpacks. They were all there for the free Become a Superhero workshop. Staff were on hand to help aspiring Supermen and Wonder Women create their very own super hero persona, complete with superpower and dazzling costume. The problem was that you needed to be super patient to stick out the lengthy wait of one hour or more! As patience has never been my super strength, my boys sadly missed out.

Another free attraction, the Imagine craft pavillion, was inundated too. So we went in search of a bespectacled man in a stripy red top called Wally. Yes, that’s right, he of Where’s Wally fame. The kids loved racing around the Royal Festival Hall in search of the popular book character, though they only found two “injured” cardboard cutouts behind the ticket desk. Probably not quite the idea, but they enjoyed themselves all the same.

After a quick pitstop for some ice cream sundaes at nearby Giraffe, we headed over to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for James Campbell’s Comedy 4 Kids. If you’re wondering what Comedy 4 Kids is, it’s exactly as it sounds. Comedian James Campbell performed an hour-long stand up set especially for those aged six and up. James, a father himself, clearly knows what makes kids tick and he really gets down to their level. He made jokes about scooters, school and the double entendre that is the Nintendo Wii! Of course, this led to a good 10 minutes of toilet-related humour, which obviously had the kids tickled pink (there were a many adults chortling away to themselves too).

The packed-out comedy performance was unfortunately a one-off at Imagine, but there is much, much more in store for families this week. Highlights include a chance to meet bestselling author Jacqueline Wilson and the London Book Swap.

Imagine Children’s Festival at the Southbank Centre until 26 February 2012. Read more

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Twinkle Twonkle at the Roundhouse Sat, 24 Dec 2011 14:00:51 +0000

Twinkle Twonkle is the latest production from Tall Stories, they of  The Gruffalo fame. During the two-person show at the Roundhouse in Camden they take on the challenging concept of the Big Bang – or Big Sneeze – Theory and do their best to explain it to kids as young as five.

Stella’s bedroom is her own makeshift version of the universe. Paper lanterns, inflatable globes and a colander all substitutes for the planets she is so fascinated by.

Meanwhile her younger brother Ryan is more interested in the cow that jumped over the moon. Desperate for a playmate, he badgers Stella to take part in his endless renditions of his favourite nursery rhymes.

But Stella just wants her brother to go to sleep so she can stare at the starry night through her telescope.

When Ryan refuses, she does the next best thing and teaches him about the worlds around him.

There are plenty of laughs and songs in the 50 minute performance and we all came out a lot wiser and more informed about the likes of constellations, galaxies and the basics of astrophysics! Even so, I’m still left wondering – what exactly are stars made of…?

Twinkle Twonkle at the Roundhouse until 31 December 2011

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Ring A Ding Ding at the Unicorn Theatre Wed, 21 Dec 2011 12:57:37 +0000 Ring A Ding Ding is described as a “table top voyage of discovery”.

Neither myself nor my kids had any idea of what this might mean, and so we took ourselves down to the lovely Unicorn Theatre by Tower Bridge in the hope of finding out.

Walking in to this intriguing performance for pre-schoolers, we were each handed a weird and wonderful hat. My boys were too shy (or too cool) to wear theirs, but how could I refuse the offer?! Once inside the studio theatre, the children got to meander their way through a walkway of hoops and bells. Then as the doors closed we were asked to take our seats by the… Er… Strange table-type stage.

Specially designed, it is essentially an outsized ring-shaped wooden table. There are actually two concentric rings which move in opposite directions. The actors are inside the ring, while the little ones sit with their elbows on the table – their curious parents right behind them. And so the show began. It is a simple tale of a little girl who goes in search of her beloved lost dog. What makes this production by interactive theatre company Oily Cart so special is that the characters are played both by actors and puppet versions of themselves. The original music is catchy and the set and props are all crafted from a host of recyclables.

As the human girl sings her way through the story, her tiny alter-ego brings the action to life on the moving set. Her journey takes her from home to sea, then out to a desert island and eventually to space. Meanwhile the kids get very involved in the action, helping the puppets to travel faster and faster, heaving on a rope that sends them out to sea, searching for choccy biccies and even teaching the doleful man in the moon how to dance.

Audience participation is always a winner with kids, but Ring A Ding Ding takes this to new heights as the little ones really feel as if they are an integral part of the performance.

Ring A Ding Ding at the Unicorn Theatre until 30 December 2011. Book tickets

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Slava’s Snowshow at Royal Festival Hall Tue, 20 Dec 2011 12:00:26 +0000

Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, one thing’s for sure: you’ll have never seen anything like Slava’s Snowshow before.

And therein lies the problem in trying to blog about it. It’s impossible to do it justice without giving too much away. Still, I’ll give it my best shot. The show is the brainchild of Russian performance artist and clown, Slava Polunin, and has proven to be a box office smash hit in cities around the world, among them New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, Rio and Moscow. The fact that this is a full length show almost exclusively mimed is what makes it so accessible to international audiences. Putting it simply, Slava and his co-stars are a bunch of clowns larking around against the backdrop of a wintery set.

I only took my eldest son as the show is not recommended for under-eights. There is nothing overtly frightening or inappropriate, but darkness and the very loud noises might prove somewhat scary for little ones. Even my eight-year-old took a while to get to grips with it, repeatedly asking “what’s happening?” and “what’s it about?” I did my best to explain that it wasn’t really about anything other than clowns being silly in the snow. Once he accepted that, he loved it.

And what’s not to love? Madness and mayhem ensues when Slava and his fleet of floppy-hatted clowns take over the massive auditorium at the Royal Festival Hall. This is a venue accustomed to hosting orchestras and world-famous artistes. Audiences tend to be respectful and restrained. But not during Slava’s Snowshow. In this production, the actors clamber over your seats, spray you with water and throw your coats on top of your heads. A giant web descends over the stalls, trapping the bewitched spectators until well into the intermission. There’s a blizzard, a storm and lots and lots of snow.

Nevertheless it is the finale, which I won’t spoil, that is the best thing about this magnificent spectacle. My son sat beside me, holding on to me, eyes wide with amazement. He and the rest of us were under the spell of Slava’s pure Christmas magic.

Slava’s Snowshow at Royal Festival Hall until 8 January 2012. Book tickets

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