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Another visit to Masterpiece London, an extraordinary art and antique fair with museum quality exhibits in a stunning temporary structure in Chelsea. This year’s art crop included Canaletto, Picasso, Chagall, Warhol and Banksy, all for sale. It’s hard to believe people come to a marquee, albeit a luxury one, to buy things like this, but they do.

I didn’t think the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition lived up to recent years, but the bonus was seeing an excellent painting of a friend, and it’s always worth a punt. Upstairs, Painter of Disquiet, an exhibition by relatively unknown late 19th century Swiss-French painter Felix Vallotton, proved a treat. An extraordinarily diverse range of subjects and styles, but all rather lovely.

I love seeing the work of artists I’ve never heard of, and after my second time at Van Gogh & Britain at Tate Britain, I took in the Frank Bowling retrospective. Not all of his experiments with paint caught my imagination, but much did, so he was a welcome find.

The Michael Rakowitz exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery was more interesting than aesthetically pleasing. The best installation linked the break-up of The Beatles with events in the Middle East at that time and included footage of them discussing playing live again, possibly in North African amphitheatres. They ended up playing on the Apple building roof, of course, and the installation included film of a recreation of that on a Jerusalem rooftop!

Two treats at the NPG starting with the queen of the selfie, Cindy Sherman, who only photographs herself, but in all sorts of guises, mostly satirising society and fashion. Sometimes spooky, but strangely compelling. I followed this with the BP Portrait Award exhibition, which is of an astonishingly high standard this year.

Lee Krasner at the Barbican Art Gallery proves she was much more than Jackson Pollock’s wife, having lived her life in his shadow. The abstracts weren’t all to my taste, but it was a comprehensive and worthwhile retrospective.

The AI: more than human exhibition at the Barbican was a bit hit-and-miss. In the first part, the background, in The Curve Gallery, there was too much in a small space with too many people, but some of the interactive stuff, like the all-around projections in The Pit, were great – and the cocktail making robots were huge fun.

Beyond the Road at the Saatchi was a very creative immersive exhibition which combined art, film, sound, light and original music to create a hugely atmospheric space to explore. Two of the Punchdrunk boys and musician James Lavelle were behind it. Whilst there I took in two small exhibitions by Chinese artist Mao Jianhua and Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, both interesting, but neither particularly striking.

Initially I thought my first visit to the Zabludowicz Collection for Rachel Rossin’s video & VR work Stalking the Trace was going to be another of Time Out’s wild goose chases, but there was also a quirky mixed show and an artist showcase and the converted chapel proved to be an interesting space for art.

Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking at Dulwich Picture Gallery was simply stunning. The work of people from the Grosvenor School of Art in the 1920s-40s, there wasn’t one item that didn’t please in some way. One of the best exhibitions of the year in what is fast becoming one of my favourite galleries.

Manga at the British Museum surprised me. Its traditions go back to the 19th century, and influences beyond that, and the BM has been collecting it for 10 years. It’s a very broad review, very informative, a real showcase for the skills of its proponents.

Kiss My Genders at the Hayward Gallery sets out to explore gender fluidity but goes off-piste quite a bit. It’s way off-the-wall and only occasionally engaging. In the Project Space at the same venue, Hicham Berrada’s Dreamscapes were rather fascinating, using scientific processes like chemical reactions to create art.

A visit to the newly, beautifully restored Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing was a double treat because of the Anish Kapoor exhibition, 10 new ‘mirror’ works, in their gallery next door to the house, which itself is a peach of classical architecture and design. To justify the long schlep West, I also visited the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner, also a double treat with a small exhibition of Tim Lewis’ automata, Post Nature, alongside the small permanent exhibition of Heath Robinson’s work and displays about him and his family.

My companion described the V&A’s Food: Bigger than the Plate exhibition as a bit like a school project. It certainly started out like that, but there were interesting sections on recycling and sustainability, a terrific silent movie showing mass food production and a tasting bar where they made you something on the basis of the three words you chose from the fifteen available, so worth a visit, if not wholly successful.

A fascinating triple bill at Tate Modern, starting with the playful Olafur Eliasson retrospective In Real Life. Coloured shadows, a 13 metre tunnel of haze and colour, a wall of lichen and all sorts of reflective stuff. Great fun. Natalia Goncharova’s retrospective proved how diverse her paintings are, both in terms of style and subject, and how beautiful her use of colour. The ballet sets and costumes were a bonus. Takis: Sculptor of Magnetism, Light & Sound was just that, mostly metal pieces that moved or made sounds which I liked more than I thought I was going to. All three added up to a bit of a quirky art fest.

I went into town to take in two exhibitions, but as is often the case walking between galleries in Mayfair leads you into others – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. My first planned destination was Gagosian for Francis Bacon: Couplings, fourteen double-figure paintings. I felt it was just more Bacon, with the curatorial coupling idea adding nothing. The first distraction, at Halcyon, was Bob Dylan’s surprisingly good paintings of American life, painted whilst on tour. I’m sure they wouldn’t get such a showcase if he wasn’t Bob Dylan, but he is a talented painter. The less said about his gates made of recycled iron items the better, though. At Camden Arts Centre’s pop-up in Cork Street, I wandered into Time Out recommended Wong Ping: Heart Digger, which is a combination of subtitled Chinese animations and inflatables; I yawned a lot, but the youngsters seemed to enjoy bouncing on the inflatables. Art. My second planned destination was the treat of the day. Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) is virtually unknown here, but when you see her sixty-five pictures at the Royal Academy you can’t help wondering why. Perhaps the fact her work changed and evolved meant she didn’t have one style, at a time when artists were known for and by their style. Mostly portraits, including a whole room of seventeen self-portraits spanning sixty years of both her ageing and her art, I found it captivating. Popping into Pace, a commercial gallery in the RA building, passed five minutes just by the walk through, as there was little need to stop and look at the mainly white ‘abstractions’ of At the Edge of Things: Baer, Corse, Martin, three artists I don’t think I’ve seen before and have little desire to see again.

I’d never heard of the BJP (British Journal of Photography) Award, or been to the T J Boulting Gallery in Fitzrovia, and it was Time Out again that sent me to see this year’s winning project, Jack Latham’s Parliament of Owls. It tells the story of the highly secretive Bohemian Club’s summer camp in Northern California, through photos from the outside. Its members have included nine presidents – five republican ones from the last fifty years! – and it’s a magnet for conspiracy theorists. The photos are well taken ones of dull places and subjects, but I did get caught up in the story.

At the Serpentine Galleries, the Faith Ringgold retrospective was a brilliantly uncompromising selection of paintings, quilts and embroideries which seemed to shout ‘black lives matter’, even though most were made well before that phrase came into general use. Luchita Hurtado: I Live I Die I Will Be Reborn was less fascinating, but with enough interesting pictures to make the short detour worthwhile

The annual Freize open air sculpture show in Regent’s Park was way better than last year, with quite a lot of treats amongst its 20 or so sculptures. Particularly enjoyable on a sunny afternoon in the park.

I’ve seen a lot of Dale Chihuly‘s glass works in the US (Denver, Tacoma & Seattle), at a selling exhibition in London, and once before at Kew Gardens. This time, though, it was at night walking through the gardens and in one of the greenhouses, where live music accompanied them. A lovely experience, though now I need to see them in daylight to appreciate the difference. A great way to end my summer of art in London.

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I hadn’t got to London when this first hit the West End in 1979, but I did get to see it at the Tricycle Theatre in 1995, on it’s way to a West End revival. It’s a surprise we’ve had to wait 24 years for this second revival, at Southwark Playhouse.

It’s a revue subtitled ‘The Fats Waller Musical’, conceived by Richard Maltby Jr, which celebrates black American jazz performers of the 20’s and 30’s, and Waller in particular, taking its title from one of his songs. There’s no story as such, just a feast of song and dance, most of the songs mini-stories in themselves. I was surprised at how many of them were familiar to me, thirty packed into ninety frenetic minutes.

Designer takis has turned Southwark Playhouse into a period club, with a glittering gold multi-level bandstand (no room for the drummer, who’s relegated offstage!) and a shiny gold dance-floor. Tyrone Huntley’s direction and Oti Mabuse’s choreography make great use of the space, though the use of the entrances brought sightline issues. Mark Dickman’s arrangements make it sound much more than a five-piece band, who play very well. Sadly, the Southwark sound gremlins were at it again, and we missed too many lyrics.

Overall, despite a talented, hard-working cast – Adrian Hansel, Renee Lamb, Carly Mercedes Dyer, Landi Oshinowo & Wayne Robinson – it didn’t fully take off for me, but given the enthusiasm of the rest of the audience, I put this down to our front row seats and associated sound issues, though I did wonder if the space was too small for it to breathe fully.

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So this month’s musicals concern immigration & racism in the early 20th century, men replaced by machines in the 20’s, revenge against a whale, refugees in Africa in the present day, living with cancer, two American sisters intent on showbiz success in the 50’s and this, conjoined twins in a freak show. Well, you can’t say musical theatre doesn’t provide variety.

This show by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger (whose Dreamgirls is about to get it’s long overdue London premiere) is apparently the true story of the Hilton sisters. We first meet them in a freak show, with a fortune teller, tattooed girl, bearded lady, half man half woman, lizard man, three legged man, dog boy and human pin cushion! The boss owns them; they aren’t paid. Talent scout Terry and his side-kick Buddy, an entertainer, turn up and seek to woo them away from the freak show, promising a more reputable career in showbiz as a song and dance act.

Things go well in their new world until romance gets in the way, Violet becoming infatuated with Buddy and Daisy with Terry. Buddy proposes to Violet on New Years Eve, but Terry makes it clear he wants them separated first. They decide to go ahead with one wedding (the mind boggles), a big occasion in public in front of 60,000 people, when it all becomes clear it’s just a different kind of freak show. It’s not a stand-out score, but its good enough. I just couldn’t get comfortable with the subject matter. The trouble for me was that watching a musical about the sisters sometimes seemed like a freak show in itself.

It is an excellent production by Hannah Chissick. takis’ design is terrific. The band under MD Jo Cichonska sounds great. Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford are both superb as Daisy and Violet respectively, looking like twins in identical costumes and wigs, with one in higher heels to even them out, and sounding great together. Haydn Oakley and Dominic Hodson are fine romantic leads, and there’s an excellent supporting performance from Jay Marsh as the twins friend and protector Jake. I just wish I could feel the same about the show.

 

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This anti-war satire packs as much of a punch in 2010 as it must have on its first outing in 1963. Created at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in Stratford East, it frames its scenes telling the history of the first world war inside a Pierrot show (which is probably the only dated thing about it) interspersed with the songs of that war.

Director Nona Shepherd and designer Takis have done an excellent job staging it in RADA’s Vanburgh Theatre with a canvas ‘roof’ to the stage suggesting a big top, side entrances from the auditorium and a stage platform coming forward the full length of the (albeit tiny) stalls. The Pierrot costumes are a little too pristine and the production does need a bit more edge, but it still does the job of presenting us with the horrors of war.

I’m a regular attendee at most of London’s drama schools and conservatoires and I have to say the RADA musical standards lag significantly behind The Guildhall and the Royal Academy – there was some dodgy singing and playing here – but the acting is, as you’d expect, first class.

I’ve seen the show a number of times before but I don’t recall the ending I saw here. After the curtain call, the cast turn their backs on the audience and quietly & slowly sing the satirical title song whilst watching images of all of the wars in the 92 years since this most brutal of all wards ended; it was impossible not to be moved and impossible to applaud once more. I broke down at the final image of an African boy soldier.

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This is the third production in these tunnels under Waterloo Station, but the first under the auspices of the Old Vic. It explores similar territory as the second – a dystopian future world – but not as a promenade performance this time; there’s new (old) raked cinema seating in one of the arches. 

Beth Steel’s play takes us to the north of England in a future world where man-made catastrophes have led to the decline of society. An encampment of ‘security’ is hunting ‘illegals’. They receive regular but limited supplies and news of civil unrest which unnerves them, thinking they might too be attacked. Much more is revealed in the second act, which is the play’s downfall as it provides an imbalance and an irritating obtuseness to the first act which prevents you from fully engaging with the story and the characters. 

However, the staging by Richard Twyman and design by takis are stunning, and there are six fine performances from Gethin Anthony, Sam Hazeldine, Matti Houghton, Dearbhla Molloy, Paul Rattray and Danny Webb. The relentless rumble of trains overhead and the dark dampness of the venue seem part of the experience. 

It confirms this an exciting new venue (though I suspect better for promenade performances than a more conventional seating as here) . On this occasion, installations around the performance space create an appropriate atmosphere and there’s now a cool and quirky bar (though we still have the portaloos!). 

It’s much better than the reviews would have you believe and well worth checking out.

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