“Paws on the Wharf” – 06/04/24

So this might be an unusual post for me because I’ve got lots of pictures and not too much to say whereas I normally rabbit on for pages about complete nonsense. This time though, the story is simple – we went to Canary Wharf, we found some fake dogs, we petted some fake dogs. What more is there to say? You wanna get a load of the fake good boys and girls dontcha?

Wish granted! We only got round two of the areas on the “Paws on the Wharf” trail as they’re quite spread out but we picked up all the ones in Jubilee Park and outside the Elizabeth Line tube. At one point, we found a roof garden on top of the Elizabeth Line station, where the map had said they would be two doggos. We never found them but it was a pleasant spot to hang out in for a bit anyway:

And on the way, we also found this wall of mirrors outside the “Illusionaries” exhibition:

There is a lot of public art around the Wharf   – permanent pieces as well as the dogs. Like this giant shiny teardrop:

And this water feature which might be mistaken for a bench if you weren’t looking:

I always think of Canary Wharf as being a slightly soulless, very shiny wind tunnel but there are pockets of green pleasantness – I mentioned Jubilee Park earlier as home to four of the dogs but it’s also a nice place to just wander through and – if you’re Eva – channel Fraulein Maria at the horse fountain. I didn’t get a picture of her water-flicking but here’s the fountain in question:

Jubilee Park also has a shopping centre right next to it, with toilets, a Pret and a Five Guys….all very handy although we tried to get out through the back door and couldn’t so nearly had to live off Pret and Five Guys for the rest of our lives. I don’t think we’d notice a difference tbh.

We did eventually escape back into the fresh air and even had time to pick up bubble tea for Eva from T4 and an armful of random stuff from Flying Tiger (picture frame, pretzels, fake tictacs, ivy-string lights). And don’t worry if this is all sounding a bit too bohemian. There are still plenty of shiny buildings around the place:

See, wasn’t that snappy by my standards? Don’t worry – normal service will soon be resumed…

“Paws on the Wharf” is on until 17th May. For more info, click here.

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“Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank: Romeo and Juliet” at The Globe – 03/04/24

A scene from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare @ Shakespeare’s Globe. Directed by Lucy Cuthbertson.
©Tristram Kenton 02-24

It’s funny – when someone mentions a modern-day adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet”, a  lot of people my age will automatically think of the 1996 Baz Luhrmann version. I even saw it mentioned on Facebook just the other day. But it’s depressing to think that 1996 was almost 30 years ago and even that film probably looks dated to today’s teens. So it’s time to reboot the reboot and that’s where this gritty, urban production comes in. The language is (nearly) all Shakespeare’s own but the setting is bang up to date and set in a world that will be sadly familiar to many watching – that of teen-on-teen violence and floral tributes piled up on street corners, decorated with teddy bears and blown-up versions of the victim’s profile pic.

The production notes for this said it was aimed at 13+ kids so I decided to take Reuben with me instead of Eva for this one. He’s studying GCSE Drama so any theatrical input he can get is valuable and he’d never been to the Globe before, unlike Eva who was there exactly a year ago. We had a small diversion to Canary Wharf along the way but timed it perfectly so not only could we swing by Leon for waffle fries and nuggets but we could also bump into the friend who we always seem to see at these kinds of things.

Just a note to say that evening performances do get a little chilly in the open air, even though we were in the sheltered bit. I had packed an extra jumper and was grateful for it by the end. The cushions for the wooden benches are also much appreciated. The show is abridged, so a 90 minute running time but even so, that might feel a long time if it weren’t for the cushions.

©Tristram Kenton 02-24

So, we all know how Romeo and Juliet starts, don’t we? Two households both alike in dignity etc….it’s essentially a synopsis of the whole play spoken from (presumably) a narrator who has seen the ending. What this production quite cleverly did was to frame it as a vigil for the young people lost during the course of the play. Ladies Capulet and Montague held up those larger-than-life size profile pictures while spitting out those classic lines with something approaching bitterness. It put a new spin on something that’s been seen so many times before. And the cyclist doing wheelies in the middle of the audience was entertaining but also set the scene….this was going to be about how real teenagers act and the impetuous things they do. A bike can be used as a weapon when it’s trapping a victim in place and the tricks weren’t just impressive – they were ominous too. The character is listed in the programme as “Fate” and he appears every time a significant moment is about to happen, like a harbinger of doom but in a hoody. It’s unsettling but effective.

©Tristram Kenton 02-24

Right from the first scene, the violence feels real and dangerous. The police have to break up the fight and it’s down to the Prince to implore all concerned to “Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground” – a slogan that adorns the lecturn in almost an electioneering style. Safe to say it falls on pretty deaf ears – if it didn’t, there wouldn’t be much of a story really.

As it’s abridged, there are chunks of dialogue cut out – the characters still bite their thumbs at each other but don’t talk at length about it – and the plot moves on rapidly. Via the medium of phone-snatching, the Montague gang gain their invite to the Capulet party and Romeo evens finds a gold tracksuit for the occasion. The most stylish character is, of course, Mercutio (Ashley Byam) who matches his “dancing shoes with nimble soles” with a pretty groovy gold shirt. In fact, everyone in the party scene is in gold which makes for some spectacular visuals when they’re dancing.

It’s always interesting to see how the Capulets and the Montagues are differentiated from each other, especially when they’re dressed to match. I noticed that Capulet and the Nurse both had Welsh accents and Tybalt had a Scottish accent – I don’t know whether that was deliberate casting to contrast with the London accents of the Montagues or whether it was just coincidental.

If you’ve noticed I’ve skimmed over Juliet’s introduction don’t worry. I’ll tell you about her now. Juliet is a really tricky character to get right as she’s so very young but has to do all the heavy lifting of the plot and much of the verse. So it needs experience but also naivety, which is a difficult balance to pull off. Looking at her acting CV, I’d say that Felixe Forde was a little older than 14 but she does a great job of portraying a young teenager, with all the flippancy and impulsivity that has the character dancing one minute and committing to a lifelong relationship the next. I mean, that lifetime is only another few days but she’s not to know that. She has the teenage attitude and speech patterns but is confident and fluent with Shakespeare’s words. She’s well matched with Hayden Mampasi, who plays Romeo as wide eyed and optimistic almost right to the end. They are a very convincing couple, with good energy and a balance between the tragic and the flippant – just look at them taking selfies in bed when Tybalt’s blood is probably still under Romeo’s fingernails:

©Tristram Kenton 02-24

Speaking of Tybalt, his was another character that felt convincingly teenage with all the anger and damaged pride that comes with your enemies seeming to mock you. Played by Liam King, Tybalt is aggressive and reactive and is beaten into submission by Capulet (Gethin Alderman) to stop him ruining the party. Capulet is certainly played a lot harder in this scene than in other productions I’ve watched – there’s always a suggestion that he’s abusive towards Juliet (forced marriage when she’s still grieving, anyone?) but in this version he’s also abusive towards not only Tybalt but also his wife. The whole family seems to walk on eggshells around him and it’s not surprising that Tybalt then takes his own anger out on Mercutio.

The fight between the two of them is my favourite scene  – isn’t it everyone’s favourite scene? – and it’s well executed with plenty of realistic-looking stage blood. I think this might be where the 13+ rating comes in. Mercutio is cocky right up to the point of being stabbed and even afterwards while Tybalt and his friends are cold-blooded and furious. It is almost too realistic and can be challenging to watch, knowing that it’s being played out on a regular basis not far from here. But it’s an important message and a good illustration of how destructive and wasteful knife crime can be. The only thing that jarred slightly for me is that all the teens still seemed to come from quite privileged families and the reality is that it’s often poverty that forces young people into gang warfare. But there’s no real good way to change that without hugely altering the text so I can understand why it had to be that way.

©Tristram Kenton 02-24

There were a few alterations, like several characters being played by women (Benvolio, the Prince and the Friar). That worked fine for me though as those characters represent the voices of reason in the midst of all the male aggression so it makes total sense for them to be female. I think a few lines were tweaked to accommodate these changes but it was fairly seamless. Roo and I debated the role of the Friar on the walk home because they really make some poor decisions towards the end but they are certainly well-meaning to start with and not the last person to make a crazy decision in the hope of bringing about peace.

While we’re talking about deviations from the script, it would be remiss of me not to mention the hallucinatory sequence while Juliet is taking the draught of living death. I won’t say too much in case of spoilers but if you ever wondered how you’d add a hen party vibe to this scene, there’s no need to wonder any more….it was an interesting addition and in a play that’s so well known anything fresh is to be welcomed. Definitely a touch surreal though.

So definitely a 21st century take on a classic and some purists might find it uncomfortable in parts but I’d encourage you all to go with an open mind. This is a teenage story and it only makes sense through a crazy hormonal filter, which is definitely evident in both the romance and the violence. It’s relatable for teens and young adults and would make a great first Shakespeare for anyone who finds it hard to connect to the more traditional versions. It’s only on for another ten days so be quick though. Booking details are at the bottom.

On the way home, we walked over the wobbly bridge as is fast becoming traditional post-Globe. You just can’t beat these night-time views:

What you can beat is a signal failure at Hackney Downs, which meant no trains home and an interesting diversion on the Stansted Express via Stratford to Tottenham Hale and then a bus home from Walthamstow. What with that and the Canary Wharf trip, my Google Maps timeline for yesterday looked like a toddler had been let loose with a sharpie on my phone. Happily though, we bumped into a friend at Liverpool Street so had company for the crazy adventure. But if you’re wondering why this review is both late and a little vague, that probably explains it. I’m a bit tired. It was a great night out though.

“Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank: Romeo and Juliet” is on at the Globe until 13th April. For tickets and more info, click here.

Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. 

©Tristram Kenton 02-24

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The LWAT Guide to “The LWAT Guide to Completing the London Metro Memory Game…Kinda”

So on Friday night I took an unwanted diversion on the Central Line and stood outside Leytonstone tube for 35 minutes waiting for a bus. Instead of relaxing when I got in and never thinking about the tube again, I instead spent an hour twenty recording the video above, which includes all of what I laughingly call “hacks”. Most of them just involve spending a lot of time on the tube but seeing as I’ve documented some of my wildest tube wanderings, I thought I’d link to them here so if anything in the video sounds in any way intriguing, you can see what me and the kids got up to in West London on that day in 2015. Aren’t you lucky?

I realise as I’ve gone through this that I’ve excluded most of the Zone 1 stations from the links. I guess that’s because they’re the kind of places that loads of bloggers visit so not much to boast about. Whereas making it to Amersham or Roding Valley is a bit more interesting. Still, I’ve included some which have sentimental value…like Coram’s Fields or the Science Museum.

So timestamps for the visits I mention start with the Central line I think as I rattle/warble through the Bakerloo pretty quickly. Here you go:

6:40 Holland Park

11:11 Debden

11:33 Epping

11:54 Roding Valley/Buckhurst Hill

12:48 Fairlop

13:00 Barkingside

14:35 Latimer Road

16:24 Barbican

18:59 South Kensington/Gloucester Road

20:21 Richmond Park

20:24 Kew Garden

30:05 Canary Wharf

30:34 North Greenwich

30:50 Canning Town

32:15 Amersham

34:10 Pinner

36:01 Ruislip

36:24 Battersea Power Station

36:38 Morden

36:45 South Wimbledon

37:32 Clapham Common

44:28 Cockfosters

44:33 Southgate

46:42 Finsbury Park

47:21 Russell Square

53:20 Highbury and Islington

53:40 Pimlico

53:54 Brixton

55:08 Westferry

56:00 Mudchute

56:29 Greenwich

59:16 Beckton

1:00:06 Woolwich

1:00:59 Custom House

1:08:38 Gospel Oak

1:08:59 Peckham Rye

1:11:32 Crystal Palace

1:11:46 Forest Hill

1:15:08 Chingford

1:15:16 Highams Park

1:15:49 Maryland

1:18:58 Hanwell

There are many, many other tube stops mentioned on the blog but hopefully that’d given you some context for all this station-memorising. And as I say repeatedly in the video, the best way to learn these places is just to get out on the tube a LOT. There’s plenty to see…so happy adventuring!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Love From Carmen” at Chickenshed – 07/03/24

First things first – happy birthday to Chickenshed! 50 years is an incredible time to be in operation in the arts world and especially so when you’re sticking unwaveringly to your principles of inclusivity and diversity. A quick glance at the interactive timeline in the cafe area shows the sheer amount of love there is for the ‘Shed. And deservedly so.

So congratulations from LWAT and let’s hope that Eva at least is still around to celebrate your centenary. i’m not promising to be there myself.

For such a landmark, you need a spectacular show and “Love From Carmen” was certainly spectacular. It was ambitious – the first time I’ve seen a Chickenshed production almost without any spoken dialogue. There was a lot of rapping and singing but it was operatic in that everything was set to music, often at a frantic pace befitting the urgency and desperation of Carmen’s situation.

I wasn’t overly familiar with the story of Carmen tho I knew the main musical themes from my “keyboard classics” songbook of the 90s. So I could have hummed you “Habanera” or “Toreador Song” before tonight but I couldn’t have told you the context. So I had no idea how faithful to the story this production was but having read the synopsis now, it does seem quite a faithful retelling. And the music is treated with respect as well. At times, I felt like I could have been watching the original opera albeit with updated lyrics. Other times it was a much grittier vibe, with lyrics being spat out by the narrators with that urgency I mentioned earlier. I wasn’t sure how rap would blend with the classical music but it works remarkably well. Transplanting the story into a refugee camp not only made it topical but also gave it that sense of edge and danger that complemented the rap. Being a choir girl, my favourite moments were probably when the whole cast were singing in harmony but I liked the contrast between that and the more dissonant bits.

The lynchpin of the whole story and this show is, of course, Carmen herself and Bethany Hamlin was perfectly cast with just the right amounts of rebellion and romance. I mentioned Bethany in my last review for  – I believe – making us care about a singing alligator and she shines again here. Not only can she sing but she can also rap, dance, act and perform ariel gymnastics.

Oh yes, the ariel work was amazing. Even before the show started, there was a performer doing hoop and silks work and Eva was just gawping. She leant over to me and said “if this was the entire show, I’d be quite happy”. The hoops appeared a number of times during the show and it was impressive every time. It really adds authenticity to the circus setting and I know from Holly’s hooping that it’s blimming hard work. So if these performers learnt these skills just for this show, they did amazingly well.

Michael Bossisse took the other lead role – the narcissistic Escamillo – and he pulled it off well with mostly arrogance but occasional vulnerability. And some of his own circus skills as well. I think I’ve seen him in a lot of Chickenshed productions and he’s always an assured actor. Here, he worked well with Bethany, creating some tangible chemistry but also letting her take centre stage. The other two leads were Cerys Lambert as Micaela and Will Laurence as Don Jose. In some ways, they had less to work with characterwise – Micaela certainly doesn’t seem to get much of her own back story except being a childhood sweetheart of Don Jose. It’s never explained why she wants to be a soldier’s wife – which I believe is also blimming hard work. But Cerys Lambert makes the character sympathetic and her singing voice is perfect, with just the right amount of fragility. When she and Carmen duet on one of the versions of “Habanera” it’s magic – their voices go so well together.

Copyright Chickenshed

Will Laurence really comes into his own in the second act. While Don Jose doesn’t have much to him apart from “soldier” at first, he becomes a lot more interesting once he’s spiralling into a jealous rage. Will portrays that well, taking us with him on the journey from good solder to potential murderer. I also loved the performance of his boss – Jonny Morton oozing evil as the sinister General X.

Copyright Chickenshed

If this all sounds very intense and emotional then let me tell you – it was. This is rated age 11 plus and it really is a more mature side of Chickenshed. There is violence at the end and some language that you probably wouldn’t want your toddler learning. I don’t think Eva would have coped well with this a few years ago but she’s nearly 12 now and she loved it. It reminded me of “West Side Story” at times, with the aggression between the two groups  – the soldiers and the circus people – and it had that same intensity. This story needs passion because it would be flat without it but trust me, this production had passion and danger in spades.

At the same time, there is still lightness and fun sprinkled throughout, with plenty of the trademark Chickenshed high-energy dances where you don’t know where to look because so much is going on. There is still a mixed-ability ensemble who work flawlessly together to create the crowd scenes and there is joyfulness. But this is opera – of course it’s going to end with tragedy. Which is another reason why it reminded me of “West Side Story”. There is an inevitability as soon as Carmen draws the death card that things are going to spiral. The violent scene that is mentioned in the trigger warning is very effectively done and jangled my nerves almost as much as “Stranger Things” did last week. And, as per that same trigger warning, there was nothing graphic in it.

Copyright Chickenshed

I have two special mentions  – one  for the quartet who sang two songs in the second half in beautiful harmony – I think they were “Midnight Song” and “Early Morning Song”. In the midst of all the intensity, those were two very peaceful moments which provided some relief and contrast. The second special mention is for the trio of rappers who acted as narrators throughout. All the rapping in this was right on point but they especially had some heavy lifting to do and were always bang on cue. Nothing about this score could have been easy to master  – fusing rap with Bizet is challenging – but these three made it look effortless.

So a show that’s visually pleasing, musically eclectic and emotionally draining – this is an awesome achievement for Chickenshed’s half century. Do heed the age rating as it is a powerful piece and we wouldn’t want any sobbing three year-olds on the way home. But it’s perfect for your music-loving tweens and teens. Oh, and try the mango and lime ice cream during the interval. It is incredible.

“Love from Carmen” runs until 23rd March. For tickets and more info, click here.

Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. 

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Dreaming of Spires

Writing about our childfree jaunt to see “Stranger Things” reminded me that I haven’t yet blogged about our last childfree jaunt –  a couple of rainy days in Oxford over half term. It was two weeks ago so I can’t remember all of the details but hopefully I’ve got the highlights.

We were staying at Voco – Oxford Spires, which was lovely. There was free access to the pool and spa (jacuzzi, sauna and steam room) and the breakfast buffet was extensive. They even had rollmops, which I haven’t seen since living with my Polish friend Rob while at uni. I have not missed them.

Weirdly, we did not go for the pickled fish for breakfast but the fruit, pastries and cooked breakfast were all good.

Plus the hotel had pictures of dogs everywhere:

We were within walking distance of the city centre and there was a route from the back of the hotel along the river but it looked a little…soggy. After the recent storms, it seemed that the Thames River Walk might involve actually walking in the river.

There was a lot of this. What we thought was a lake turned out to be playing fields. It was the rugby posts that gave it away:

The centre of the city was less waterlogged although we did have to cross a river to get there:

And then we wandered around Christchurch a bit:

One of the first things we like to do when we go somewhere new is climb up a tower and look at the views. I don’t know why we do this because I don’t like heights and Eva reallly doesn’t like heights nowadays but we’ve done this in Copenhagen, Alanya and Calais. So Oxford’s version was the Carfax Tower:

And here’s the view from the top:

It wasn’t a huge climb but it was tricky as the spiral stairs were very tight and with little headroom. If Reuben had been there, he would have banged his head multiple times for sure:

Luckily we didn’t get any head injuries but I did get my bag stuck in those railings a few times.

Talking of Reuben, although he wasn’t there it felt like he had a prescence in Oxford:

While we were in that corner of town, we decided to pop into the Natural History Museum to use the loos and also see some impressive dinos:

There was a lot of taxidermy that visitors were encouraged to touch, which I haven’t seen in the London version of this museum. I’m not sure how I felt about stroking the bear who did indeed look very floofy but also very dead.

I’m not sure how Eva would feel about this fox either   – I’m sure she would find it adorable but I don’t know whether she’d want to pet it:

The all-male statues who looked on at the half term hubbub seemed quite appalled at it all:

But really, what do they know?

On the way back through the city centre we found the most ancient branch of Pret I’ve ever visited:

Being from Winchester, I’m not easily impressed by historical stuff but Oxford did have a lot of  nice quirky old buildings hanging around the place:

In the evening, we went out for a romantic Valentines meal at Nandos, seizing the opportunity to aggressively promote chicken-eating while Eva wasn’t looking:

The first night we were there, we’d been too tired from travelling to do much but we did grab a tasty stonebaked pizza at the White House on the same road as the hotel:

There was a very highbrow pub quiz going on but we didn’t get involved because we didn’t want to commit to staying awake once we’d finished our pizzas. That’s middle age right there.

On Valentines Day though, we had a big night planned. Not just Nandos but also a showing of a Rogers and Hammerstein concert at the Odeon. When I say that *we* planned it, I mean that I did. Nathan put up with it.

It was fun! Being a cinema there was no singing along but you can’t argue with a couple of hours listening to songs from “The King and I”, “South Pacific” and – of course  – “The Sound of Music”. I naturally had a few nitpicks around timings for some of the SoM songs but overall, it was very well done. At the end, the cast took their bows to an instrumental version of “Oklahoma” and so naturally that’s been stuck in my head ever since. Which made it very gratifying when that exact bit (“you know we belong to the land”) popped up in the Stranger Things show.

And that was almost it for our Oxford adventure. The next day we had the hotel room until 1pm but Nathan had to work so I spent the time doing more swimming, jacuzzing and lounging around as well as nipping back into town on the bus for another Pret coffee and some spicy chicken from Kokoro. We’d had a massive breakfast so I wasn’t really hungry enough for spicy chicken but it just looked sooooo good. We could have happily spent another couple of days wandering around and checking out the other museums but it was a pretty good use of a couple of days’ annual leave. We didn’t get as far as we did last February half term – the aforementioned Copenhagen and also Malmo – but we didn’t come back with Covid this time either. Win win!

 

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“Stranger Things: The First Shadow” at the Phoenix Theatre – 01/03/24

What to say about Stranger Things on stage that won’t constitute spoilers? And if I do spill any spoilers, will a shady government organisation come and make me disappear? It seems likely.

What I can say is that the queuing system was a little chaotic. For reasons best known to myself, we cut through Outernet from Tottenham Court Road and then around the back of Denmark Street, past the stage door of the Phoenix and ended up in this rainy alleyway, where there was a substantial queue already.

I’m always wary about joining queues unless I know what they’re for but a quick recee to the front suggested that yes, this was a queue for all parts of the theatre. Then a guy came past and told us that there was other entrances in Phoenix Street that had no queue so a number of people left ours and went round there. At which point, our started moving quickly but then they closed the entrance. All very confusing but the take-home point is this: If you go to see “Stranger Things” use the entrance on Phoenix Street and not the random alleyway queue.

And that’s all I can tell you. There is already ominous knocking on the door.

You want more? Oh, go on then. I’ll turn up the static on the radio and hopefully we won’t get found out.

 

(Incidentally, if this photo looks odd to you, it’s because I manually rotated it. Ever since Wes Anderson last week I’ve had an urge to photograph things dead on and rotate them if they’re not. Nathan apparently has the same urge)

It is an incredible show. I didn’t know how it was possible to make a theatre show have the same “feel” as a much-loved TV show but they managed it. At times, I forgot that we were watching live theatre because the special effects (moving smoke, slow motion) didn’t seem physically possible. I can usually tell how a play works – even with Totoro, the staging was incredible but you could see the backstage area where the house went to and how it came apart. Here, things just appeared and disappeared with seemingly no movement. I can’t get my head around it at all. Right from the opening – set on a wartime ship – it was hard to believe what we were seeing and hearing, to the extnet that it was almost physically painful at times and certainly nerve-jangling. It wholly pulled you in to the eerie world of Hawkins, Indiana but this time in a 1950s setting rather than the 1980s setting we know so well.

I would highly recommend re-watching Season Four before you go because the story of the Creel family is central to this plot. I didn’t know much about the show before going and thought it was just going to be a standalone story about Joyce, Hopper and Bob getting up to supernatural high jinx at supernatural high school. But the Vecna storyline was very much part of this and although I remembered it, it would have been better if I’d done my homework. I also missed a few subtleties around who the characters were – Alan Munson being the father of Eddie, for example – so pre-immersion is recommended. I also missed that the cat-obsessed Claudia goes on to be Dustin’s mother. I did twig who Ted and Karen were tho, unlike Nathan.

You can totally enjoy this show without having any prior knowledge of the Things verse as it works on its own as a self-contained storyline but I’m not sure why anyone would go to this without having ever watched the show. The big motifs of Stranger Things – the demigorgons and the mind flayer – appear only briefly so if you only had a passing interest, you probably would be a bit disappointed. But for fans, it is very recognisable as the same universe  – from the red lighting to the incidental music to the familiar “teens being disbelieved by the grown ups” scene in the police station. The casting is spot-on  – Joyce (Isabella Pappas) is a dead ringer for a young Winona Ryder, Hopper (Oscar Lloyd) looks like Steve and Bob (Christopher Buckley) does have a real Sean Astin vibe going on and no, we are still not over that scene where he met his end.The casting directors are lucky in a way because if you need to know how Winona Ryder or Sean Astin looked and spoke when they were teens, there is a whole host of source material. But also that’s a lot of pressure to find actors who can play such iconic parts. They did an amazing job.

The actor who played Henry Creel (Louis McCartney) is especially good. If you haven’t watched Season Four and are planning to, skip over this cause…yknow…major spoilers but this is a very complex character and going through all those emotional shifts night after night must be exhausting. It’s never clear in the show whether Henry is inherently evil or just possessed and this play doesn’t really clarify that  – although the implication is that something happened to make him this way. It’s an intense internal struggle but here it’s pulled off immaculately.

I did have a nitpick at the midway point but I retracted it by the end. I wondered how Hopper, Joyce and Bob could possibly be unaware of the Upside Down after the events of 1959 but actually, their characters never stumble on the truth behind the Creel house happenings and so for them it would be just an unpleasant episode caused by a war veteran with PTSD. So that leaves them fresh and sceptical for when things stay going screwy again in 1983.

Just to touch on the age rating…the website says 12+ which our kids are in the ballpark for (Eva is nearly 12 and Roo is nearly 15) but neither of them have watched the show, so this was a parents-only trip out. We were lucky enough to have booked on the same night as some friends of ours and they did have a 12-year-old with them, who seemed unphased by the edgier moments. In fact, she seemed less strung out by it than Nathan was. It is an intense experience and gets very loud at times, so if you have a kid with sensory issues it might not be the best environment for them. There was some “adult” humour at times but nothing that 12-year-olds don’t already know about from school so while that might cause some awkward conversations, it wasn’t age-inappropriate. So I would think less around whether your child is teenage enough and more around their sensitivities. A calm 12-year-old will be happier with this than an anxious 15-year-old I reckon.

That’s about as much as I’m going to say as I don’t want to spoil it any more for anyone who’s planning to see it. But if you love the TV show, you will almost certainly love this. Go while you can!

No disclaimer needed as we paid for this one but all opinions remain honest and my own anyway

 

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Accidentally Wes Anderson – 24/02/24

It was my birthday this week and, as a serial complainer about birthdays, I decided to organise a few things to try and make this one go well. But seeing as my birthdays have been serially bad, I didn’t want to book anything until the last minute in case of illness or natural disaster. Which is why we ended up with a 17:00 entry ticket to “Accidentally Wes Anderson”. Luckily tho, it wasn’t too late in the day for a visit to the Petit Pret inside South Kensington station.

I’d been wanting to go to this for ages, as I am a fan of Wes Anderson films, but it’s not something the kids are into so that’s why it had to wait until my birthday, which is when I get to call at least some of the shots. I tried to explain the concept to the kids but it’s a hard one to describe….if you’ve watched a lot of the films, you instinctively know what a Wes Anderson shot looks like but how to pin that down? Stylised? Retro? Colourful but maybe pastel or monochrome? Manmade but also nature? You see, it’s a toughie. In the end, I told them to enjoy it at face value and not worry too much about the concept.

Luckily, one of the first pictures was of a dog, so it got their buy-in straight away:

In case you’re wondering, yes  – it was very much OK to take photos of the photos:

The rooms are all themed – so the entrance was, appropriately enough, around “doors”. You wouldn’t think there would be too much to look at with doors but you’d be wrong.

The next room was something like “Facades” and was filled with pictures of buildings that were all different but equally Andersonian. Again, I tried to define to the kids what we were looking at. It’s tricky but there’s something around faded grandeur a la “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The buildings were all splendid but had peeling paint here and there or just had a look of places that had once had glory days:

Eva identified the building she’d most like to live in  – the Hungarian Parliament:

Although this one came a close second, as she deemed it just elaborate enough and not too tall:

My favourite was probably this branch of BNP Paribas:

The next room was themed around “Maritime”, which all felt very “Life Aquatic”. I don’t remember whether this one was maritime or “Transport” but I liked it:

I also like this bus, which I thought looked a lot like the one from the Sound of Music, where Maria is singing “I Have Confidence”.

And I was right! It was a 1930s bus from Salzburg:

Eva pointed out this plane, which she described as “very colourful”:

And she also enjoyed this “very fancy swimming pool”:

The exhibition space is the same one that Roo and Nathan had visited for a Star Wars pop up last year. Apparently there was a point at which they weren’t sure which direction they should go in. But not at AWA – that same point was quite clearly signposted:

And in “Nature” we found the first interactive photo opportunity:

They haven’t quite mastered the look of indifference that Wes Anderson characters normally have. Eva unknowingly does a very good impression of Margot Tenenbaum tho. It’s when she is mooching around looking for a bedtime snack before choosing something delicious with a sigh of resignation….it drove me crazy for ages trying to think who she reminded me of before recalling this line:

I'll have a butterscotch sundae, I guess.

This photo is definitely moving towards that look:

But I’ve skipped over a lovely little room, which was themed around “Hotels”. Hotels seem to feature in a few different Wes Anderson films – not just the Budapest but also heavily in the Tenenbaums. This room had a selection of keys and a curtain to walk through:

The curtain led to the last main room, which was dedicated to Wes Anderson sites around London. There is a map of how to find them all but do read this disclaimer first:

I mean, you don’t need to be a Metro Memory 100%er to know that this map is nonsense but it helps…

It doesn’t detract from the gorgeousness of the photos in that room though, some of which were very familiar. Like this one, which we always walked past on our way to Trash:

And some of our favourite toddler-era hangouts, like the Transport Museum:

And the conservatory at the Horniman:

We also visited the Aquatic Centre once but I don’t remember it looking like this:

There was also a second photo opportunity in this room:

After that, we went to the cinema room and watched two short films about the AWA team’s excursions to Switzerland and Antarctica. Both locations had lots of opportunity for Andersonesque shots and the team clearly had a feel for how to narrate in the Anderson style.

The films don’t take long to watch but it was nice to sit down for 10 minutes or so:

After that, there was a photobooth and postbox-shaped consoles where you could send yourself an e-postcard:

You can guess what Reuben wrote. No? Well, don’t blame me for telling you:

We skipped the photobooth as there was a bit of a queue so had a quick browse around the gift shop and then headed back towards the tube. Once you’ve spent a while looking at these photos, you start to think that everything looks a bit like a Wes Anderson movie:

Even Eva’s choice of dinner place:

I tell ya, it’s all in the framing.

So, a fun afternoon out in South Ken. We were only in the exhibition for under an hour so it might seem pricey for that…but the kids do tend to speed through things a but so you may well find you spend longer. They enjoyed it though, so I would recommend for the tween/teen age. Just maybe make them do a bit of Anderson-homework first as mine had only seen “Isle of Dogs” and “Fantastic Mr Fox”. Some of the films probably have moments that are a bit too dark for 12-year-olds – like the suicide attempt in Tenenbaums – but Netflix have some Anderson/Dahl shorts which Nathan and I are watching tonight and the “Henry Sugar” one seems like it’d be alright for that age. “The Swan” was a bit disturbing tho…! So tread carefully…

“Actually Wes Anderson” is on until 14th April. For tickets and more info, click here. 

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“The Everywhere Bear” at Little Angel Theatre – 10/02/24

Credit Steve Gregson

This is the second time I’ve been to see “The Everywhere Bear” so please forgive me if I repeat myself. I feel like I do that a lot anyway. The first time was during a particularly traumatic week in 2018 when Eva had just had some bad news the day before, so she and I sobbed through the whole thing pretty much. This time, Eva didn’t make it as she’s been a bit under the weather so I was missing my empathy buddy but also, I think I was a bit more stoic on the second viewing. Hey, even Toy Story 3 stopped making me cry after the 36th time of watching.

So by all of that you might discern that this is a bit of a heartwrenching tale. And it is – the themes of loss and reunion are particularly poignant if you are going through tricky times but it will pull on pretty much everyone’s heartstrings. I think I said in the 2018 version that smaller kids may not be quite so emotionally invested as the older ones and I stand by this….the show is aimed at 3-8-year-olds and I certainly didn’t see any preschoolers bawling about the fragility of life so I think it works on different levels. If you do happen to be the parent of kids who are no longer of Class 1 age and you’re feeling nostalgic, then you might find it hits differently to watching the same show with a 6-year-old. That might all be specific to me.

Credit Steve Gregson

Don’t let me trick you into thinking this is a dark or overly ponderous show tho – there is plenty of light and fun to be had, from the copious fish puns to the rhyming librarian. The songs are mostly upbeat and cheerful with a few more poignant numbers thrown in there too. The scene where the stage is transformed into an ocean is particularly moving, as the shimmering material across the front of the stage gives a lovely watery illusion and it’s accompanied by a song which I think is called “Lost!”. It is a strangely calm moment in the middle of a busy 45 minutes and there was a hush across the audience, even from the smallest members.

Credit Steve Gregson

If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s a very realistic one about a class bear who goes missing. I say realistic because I think that happens to a lot of class bears – we certainly dropped the class dog at the bus stop in Hackney Downs and had to go back from him. When I say “class dog”, I should clarify that it was a toy dog. Not even Eva could leave a real dog at a bus stop. But every parent knows that feeling of dread when a beloved toy goes missing (“Mater lost!”) and this play captures that feeling across a whole class who all love the same toy. Of course, the less realistic bit is that the toy returns of its own accord and isn’t just replaced with a lookalike from Amazon but that is the magic of the theatre.

Credit Steve Gregson

There is – naturally – a bit of peril that the kids have to deal with but it’s interspersed with all those lighter moments I mentioned earlier and it never gets overly scary. The actors –  Lottie Johnson and Calum Bruce – keep the show flowing with a lot of energy and are a reassuring presence any time the bear is in trouble. I think I mentioned last time as well that the two actors have a lot of work to do during those 45 minutes. As well as acting and advanced puppeteering (have you ever seen a puppet iceskate?), they also sing all the songs and act as stagehands, transforming the set from a classroom to a set of roadworks to the aforementioned ocean to a boat to a fish shop and…you get the idea. Like all Little Angel productions, the set design is impeccable and uses different sides of the same pieces to create all these scenes, which makes the best use of the small stage. It’s an intimate space but it’s incredible how much can be done with some Little Angel ingenuity.

Credit Steve Gregson

So the performers have a lot to juggle but never seem to miss a beat. They transition seamlessly from character to character, blending into the background when the puppets take centre stage. A small child behind me kept demanding to know “what’s that lady’s name?” but I couldn’t tell her. She was Mrs McAllister a moment ago but now she’s a fisherwoman.

Overall then, a sweet and poignant story with a lot of heart and plenty of comedy along the way. I’d say the age recommendation is about right – its short run time means that 3-year-olds will probably be able to stay engaged but the deeper themes have something to offer the older kids as well.

“The Everywhere Bear” runs until 14th April. For tickets and more info, click here.

Disclaimer: I received free tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own. 

Credit Steve Gregson

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Natural History Museum and “My Neighbour Totoro” at the Barbican – 27/01/24

If you think that title is long, then let me assure you that the day that went with it was every bit as long. I’m still recovering from it now…or not, as the case may be. The Yorkshire Folk were down to visit and, just like last time, they wanted to go to a Kensington museum on a Saturday. Those Yorkshire folk sure are crazy. There was a twist this time but we’ll get to that.

We’d booked entry for 2pm as some of the party are not exactly keen on mornings. Others in the party were up with 8 hours to spare but it takes all sorts, doesn’t it? The tube wasn’t too horrendously crowded and we didn’t even need to queue cause we’d booked so we got straight through and in just before 2.

One of the first things I noticed is that there is now an Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures clock in the entrance hall. Since I posted about attending the premiere almost a decade ago, I’ve had a steady trickle of questions asking where the clock is and my search terms and post views suggest that Andy is as popular as ever. Well now, I can stop disappointing people….there is a clock! To the left of the main stairs, almost exactly where it is in the TV show.

Our first main stop was Dinosaurs, which hasn’t changed much over the years although the walkway seemed to be closed and there was a slightly different route in the T Rex bit. Oh, and these furry new animatronics:

Things have changed since I was a nipper but Eva assures me these are more accurate than the older models…and cuter as well. There was also a greenscreen photo booth, which was newish. It was almost certainly a bit of a ripoff, as these things always are but Eva persuaded us to do it at the Sea Life Centre and she was equally persuasive again. In recognition of her efforts to get to West London by 2PM on a Saturday, I decided to yield and we gained a photobook of not quite the photos we asked for and a video of some of the better ones. So here’s one I screenshot earlier:

Coming out of Dinos, we headed towards the Darwin Centre which I don’t remember being there before but Google tells me it definitely was. The main attraction – Cocoon – was closed and I couldn’t see much else that was open to the public but it might well be that I’m missing something. Cocoon is impressive from the outside tho:

Plus there were toilets that are slightly bigger than the more vintage ones in the rest of the museum, and a milkshake bar that Eva clocked as a place to come back to. First though, we had some climbing to do. In fact we made it all the way to the top and this giant bit of tree:

From there, Roo was keen to visit the Red Zone where the earthquake room was but it was a bit of a maze to get there and we went down some stairs that didn’t feel like we should be going down them. Halfway down, there was a staff member standing guard over a spillage which reassured me that at least we weren’t totally lost but still, it was a relief to touch the ground again. We passed back through the Green Zone, which had a newish cafe in it (although again, Google tells me it’s been there since 2017) and more furry animatronics!

We squeezed through the birds gallery, which is always a mixture of fascinating and disturbing….if you’re a fan of owls, you might not enjoy seeing their heads pinned to a board. Then onto the Red Zone and the “From the Beginning” gallery, which was disturbing in its own way:

And this confusingly-orientated map of Britain:

I don’t remember how we got back up to the first floor…usually we’d take this escalator straight to volcanoes but it was closed:

But it meant that we walked through a gallery I don’t think I’ve seen before – Earth’s Treasury. It was full of super pretty rocks like this one:

And a glass display case of jewellery which made me wonder if someone there was planning a heist. Heist movies always start with someone leaning over a glass display case in a museum, don’t they? Reuben assures me it’s not him making any elaborate plans but I’m starting to think I shouldn’t have put the idea in his head.

Eva was flagging a bit at this point, so we took a quick seat on these entirely unergonomic benches, unless you’re one of those conebum people:

I got her moving again by promising a snack at the next pitstop and it did seem like the NHM had more cafes than ever before although the Red Zone one – the Coffee House – was closed. There was a bit of a pop up on the one of the mezzanines but there wasn’t much space to sit so we kept moving and visited the old favourites on the top floor – the earthquake room, the volcano models and this masterpiece of illusion where a bunch of rocks turns into a model of their habitat. Roo tells me it’s done with mirrors but I still don’t understand it:

We also found some obsidian on the way, which will bring joy to the hearts of your little Minecrafters:

And this model, which we visited in 2014, is still as shiny as it was in the 80s:

It was definitely time for a snack break, although some of us were keeping an eye on the time for reasons which will become apparent. There was some confusion over Eva’s milkshake but eventually we were all re-sugared. Which is kinda vital for some of us, so it’s probably good that there are so many pit stops nowadays.

We wanted to see one last gallery – Human Evolution, which was on the other side of the museum back in the Red Zone. I was keen to get us out of the museum by 5pm but couldn’t exactly tell my sister why. I mean, you’ll know why cause it’s in the title of this post but my brother-in-law had planned the Totoro bit as a surprise and I wasn’t sure when he was planning to spill the beans. I still feel like I should be keeping this secret now and it’s four days later.

So we rushed a bit through Human Evolution, which is a shame as Eva seemed to be enjoying it more than I’d expected. “Hey Mum” she’d say “Remember that time in evolution when we didn’t have a torso?” Oh how we laughed

I also spotted this bit of Found Art, which looks like someone deliberately left a piece of single use plastic there to highlight the plight of the rhino:

I then shuffled us all out and through Five Guys while honing the cover story that would somehow get us from South Kensington to the Barbican without my sister knowing what was happening and also without Nathan and Roo. We eventually left the boys in Five Guys while I garbled some excuse about having to retrieve a lost hat on the way home. I mean, you know Eva. She loses hats all the time so this was highly plausible. How I kept the fiction going through an excruciatingly slow ride on the Circle Line, I don’t know. We left Five Guys at 6 and the show started at 7 and there was the usual post-museum crush getting through the ticket barriers. By the time it was 6:30 and we were at Cannon Street, I was weighing up the benefits of making Eva do a half mile brisk walk through the City versus holding my nerve and staying on the Circle line round to Moorgate. I held my nerve and we arrived at the Barbican with 15 minutes to spare. I’m not sure how but I’m pretty sure I didn’t really breathe again until we were safely in our seats. The mastermind behind this whole plan seemed unperturbed throughout.

Of course, I do not have pictures of the show itself as security is tight around the actual staging details. Not even the official press pics seem to feature the eponymous hero. I also wasn’t there on a reviewing trip so this won’t be a proper review.

But it was fun! Studio Ghibli is always difficult to characterise because some aspects feel like it’s aimed and children and, in this case, the main characters are children. But I’ve seen a lot of children’s theatre in my time and this definitely wasn’t that – it is somehow all-age theatre despite being about kids and a big furry monster. I guess the themes are quite adult and there are some dark moments. There are also some terrible parenting decisions (take a day off Professor!) but in those days it was fine to leave a 4-year-old pretty much to her own devices.

The staging is amazing. Again, I won’t give away too many spoilers but it was so complex and detailed…like nothing I’ve really seen before. There were life size sets that came apart and became different settings and there were props that only appeared for one scene but were still intricate and, in some cases, movable. The plot is….minimal but there is a lot of joy in it and, at its heart, it’s all about the strength of family love which is a pretty universal theme. Even if that family makes some bad choices and one of them is a Jubilee-level liability.

Somehow it is like watching anime in real life. The character move like their animated counterparts and their exaggerated facial expressions are very Studio Ghibli. It takes some getting used to and could be jarring but after a while, you get sucked right into this weird world and just accept that that is how people move and talk and emote in this reality. And it’s a reality where a bus turns up when it’s meant to so anything could happen.

Talking of which:

Although top tip – this bit is outside the theatre so if you go at the right time, you could probably take the photo without paying for the show.

It’s recommended for ages 6 plus and it’s a substantial length – 2 hours 45 mins – so I definitely would say pay heed to that. Eva enjoyed it and I imagine Reuben will too when he goes with his school but younger kids might get a bit restless. There are some moments that children of all ages would love but they’re in between some longer stretches of dialogue that might be more challenging.

Still, we all enjoyed it and I’m relieved I no longer have to keep a secret. I think the rest of the run may be sold out but just in case it isn’t, here’s the ticket link. And you know where to find the Natural History Museum but if you don’t, just look here.

Phew, I told you it was a long day didn’t I? Almost as long as this post…

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“Christmas at Kew” – 06/01/24

Happy New Year! I realise it’s in no way Christmas any more – although Eva tells me that “Fishmas” carries on until February – but yesterday we went for one last shot of Christmas joy before settling into dreary January. Truth is, I told Eva I’d take her to Christmas at Kew but then didn’t think it about it again until we were driving home from Winchester on 28th Dec. As we went past Kew Gardens, she piped up with a “hey, weren’t we going to go to that?” At which point I started looking for tickets on my phone. And that, my friend, is how you end up with a 19:20 entry at an unpopular gate on a day that’s so far after Christmas that it’s a whole separate holy day. But, for all that, it still worked well as a trip out for the most part so I wouldn’t be against the idea of doing Epiphany at Kew again. After all, what else is there to do?

If you live near us, you might observe that Kew Gardens is in no way near to North-East London. Just because we drive past it on the way home doesn’t mean that it’s close to the end of the journey. In fact, it’s probably about halfway between here and Winchester time-wise. So it was gonna be a bit of a trek and there were various ways Eva and I could tackle it. The decision was pretty made for me when Eva googled and found a Five Guys near Richmond station that we could go to for a quick dinner before we went in. Richmond requires the District Line, so we went for the Victoria Line to Victoria and a long walk through the corridors.

Gargh, I always forget what a pain the District Line is. I probably should have learnt from my last attempt at West London and just taken the first green train to anywhere…but there was a Richmond train coming in 14 minutes (!) so we just waited….and waited. The platform filled up as a Hamilton matinee kicked out but luckily a lot of the crowd took the Ealing Broadway train and we got onto the Richmond train with relative ease, even if there weren’t any seats.

But yes, the District Line is indeed a pain. Being right behind the Ealing train meant that we had to stop constantly to wait for a platform, including a lengthy pause outside Earls Court. Google Maps tells me it took 49 minutes from Victoria to Richmond but it felt longer, especially the bits around Kensington where we kept stopping at stations that I swear are close together in real life. We probably could have walked from South Ken to Barons Court quicker than we travelled but, on the upside, there was a tiny dachshund on the train that kept Eva amused by doing complex tricks like yawning or sniffing. I know all dachshunds are tiny but this one was even smaller than usual. Plus, there were some cool stone sculptures at Gloucester Road that looked like giant fossils but I didn’t get a picture but it’s tricky on a crowded train. Neither did I get a picture of the “heavenly ghost train” we saw around Gunnersbury-ish. It was probably just a different tube line (Piccadilly) that was on a track higher up the hill than us but in the dark it did look a bit like it was flying through the sky. Which caused Eva to reflect that we probably looked like some kind of “demonic hell train” to them.

She wasn’t far off, especially when we had yet another delay just outside Richmond. But eventually we were free and strolling through the streets of this very pretty bit of London:

By the way, other restaurants are available – I spotted a Wagamama and a fun-looking Hawaiian place with swings – but Eva only wanted one thing., We sped-ate our fries and made it back up the street to the bus stop just in time for our entry slot. It was going to be a substantial walk from Richmond but the 65 bus got us to the base of Kew Bridge very speedily. And the bus stop had this combination of “Omega” and “Flowey” that made Eva laugh a lot. I think it’s some kind of Undertale reference?

Our tickets were for the Elizabeth Gate, as the other gates had sold out. That’s why we went to the bus stop at Kew Bridge – it is a bit disconcerting going past all the other gates and what seems to be the whole of Kew Gardens but I held my nerve and it was only a few minutes’ walk once we got off the bus.

I feel like I know the area reasonably well from driving through but if you’re not familiar, look out for the bit of Kew that looks like the England of story books – a cricket green next to a church and a half-timbered pub. It’s what Americans would probably draw if they were asked to sketch “England”:

Walk alongside the green, past the Cricketers pub and the Elizabeth Gate is at the bottom of the road. Try not to troll your child too much about their fear of cricket bats as you go.

I suppose you want to hear about Kew Gardens itself now, right? Well, the Elizabeth Gate isn’t the ideal entry for the light trail as there’s a bit of a walk before you get to the start. If you want the razzle-dazzle and “Welcome to Kew” then the Victoria Gate is probably the best bet. But that’s for people who book before 28th Dec, I guess.

Still, it doesn’t take too long to get to the trail and there was a small photo opportunity right by the gate:

There were also toilets and a couple of food vendors but the trail proper started with this “Little Shop of Horrors” piece I think:

And these glasshouses:

And a path that led to a lake installation which was the first truly mesmerising point of our journey. We spent a while there before realising that the song (“Once Upon a December”) was both eerie and on loop. There was no actual lake but a smoke and light show created a very convincing illusion. It was only when you look really hard that you realise there’s a leaf-strewn concrete bottom rather than water. It was very beautiful though:

Beyond the was a spotlit road that I only got the blurriest photos of:

And then the light show on the actual water outside the greenhouses. I remember this being pretty awesome in the daylight a couple of years ago but it was much better at night. The lights were synched to songs – “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (nb he isn’t….at least not for another 11 months) and something that Eva identified as “John Williamsy”. She’s learnt from last week. I think it was the theme from “Home Alone”, in which case she’s right. It was all very atmospheric and Eva was enjoying it so much that I could leave her watching while I went to join a substantial loo queue.

We were nearing the Victoria Gate and I was a bit confused by some signage that made me think that’s where we needed to exit at 9pm. I realise now that I misread it and it was just warning us that if we weren’t as far as the Victoria Gate by 9 then we wouldn’t have time to complete the trail before kick-out at 10. We were there at almost exactly 8 so we had time either way but it was reassuring to see other people heading off down the trail at the same time as us which mean we probably didn’t need to be back there at 9.

All of which meant we had time to stop for doughnuts at this place:

Hooray! They were hot and delicious, even if the sauce was a bit runny to eat well in the dark. I think we both probably have chocolate sauce all over out coats and scarves still and we just haven’t found it yet. Worth it tho.

The next bit of the trail was these very pretty icicles:

Eva said it looked like the kind of path where the Fey would appear and drag you into the forest but luckily that didn’t happen. I could still see the buildings on the main road so I knew we were safe but it did have an unsettling feeling. We saw a few other pretty things along the way:

And then got to this very popular tunnel:

As with all these ‘grammable things, the experience would be better if they weren’t overrun with influencers. I know I sound hypocritical because bloggers are the forerunners of influencers but there’s a distinct difference….bloggers like taking pictures of things whereas influencers like having pictures taken of themselves with things. Which makes for a lot of queuing while they’re posing. We’ve seen it at Delight and even in the park near Embankment but it can be a bit intrusive on everyone’s experience if there’s someone taking endless reshoots of that peace sign pose. Anyway, I managed to get a picture of the tunnel with the influencers cropped out so you get the idea. It would have been quite magical if we could just wander through it without queuing.

The next bit was more atmospheric, for sure – the field of fire was roped off so actually you could get the sense of the whole exhibit without any people in view. This was another eerie and unsettling one – there was a melancholy version of “Silent Night” playing and Eva suggested it was depicting Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. I mean, that is Christmassy in a way….but whatever it was depicting, it was impressive and moving to walk through.

Which made the jollity of Electric Avenue and the fairground slightly jarring. Again, I failed to get a good picture of the avenue because of the crowds but you get the idea. It was a stark contrast from the fire field but also effective in a jazzier way:

I was hoping we could bypass the fairground but Eva wanted a go on the carousel so we had to queue a bit for fairground tokens so she could get on. There was a blue chicken with “Eva” written on it but she eschewed that for some reason:

And ended up on a very similar-looking one called “Natalie”. Make of that what you will.

The food village was right next to the fairground and Eva wanted yet more fries so we had a quick food and loo break. There were lots of tasty-looking options (Lebanese, Caribbean, Indian) but I wasn’t hungry enough to get anything even tho I was very tempted. Also, I was still paranoid about running out of time so we pressed on.

Soon enough, we stumbled on what seemed to be a rock concert, with The Darkness blasting out over the treetop walk with more smoke and strobe lights. You really do get a variety of cultural influences on this walk.

Then through some arches that were one of the more explicitly-Christmassy parts of the walk. Oh, and there was a real live Santa but the fairground but it being Epiphany we didn’t pause to discuss what Eva might want in her stocking last year.

The next bit of the walk was so magical that Eva asked me how you say “Wow” in German. Think the Great Hall at Hogwarts:

We sped up a bit after that as it was getting very cold and I had an eye on the time all the time. There were some cool things along the way such as this very impressive oak:

And a tunnel of “heavenly trapeziums” as I think they were called:

Before the last big set piece of the walk (from our perspective of leaving where we started). This was built to look like a cathedral and had “Ave Maria” playing as you walked through. It was weirdly serene, even though it was also super crowded. Again, I pretty much failed to capture the majesty of it:

And again, a slight jarring sensation to go straight from that to these extremely sparkly birds with “Rockin’ Robin” blasting out. It felt a bit like being in a Hitchcock film:

Then a pause to take in the always impressive Hive:

And then we were back in the land of toilet breaks and looking for the exit. It was 9:40ish by the time we left so you’ll be pleased to know that we did not get locked in but I’m glad we didn’t linger too much longer at some of our favourites. An earlier timeslot would have been better I think but then that’s another perk for people who book in advance and not on impulse three days after Christmas. You live and learn.

Having said that, it was a perfectly jolly January thing to do and I didn’t regret it. It wasn’t so Christmassy that it was unworkable after the new year. We might even do the same again next time, albeit it with a better gate and time slot.

We left by the Elizabeth Gate and I was keen to avoid the District Line so we walked over the bridge to Kew Bridge station and were just in time for the Waterloo train. The signage is somewhat ambiguous as you walk in but you need to cross to the far platform for Central London – the nearer one is for Windsor. We almost got this very wrong.

But we got it right in the end and were in Vauxhall within 22 minutes. A quick snack stop at Sainsburys and then a hop on the Vic line saw us home 1 hr 30 after leaving Kew. Impressive, I think.

In case you hadn’t discerned so far, “Christmas at Kew” is now finished for the season so I won’t include a booking link but definitely look out for it next year!

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