Book reviews, Comments, Culture, In Focus

Much ado on Southbank

London’s Southbank is one of the city’s locations not to be missed on sunny days or balmy evenings, especially the pedestrianized stretch between Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge.

 

Art Yard’s attractive setting before or after a visit to the Globe.

Sean Sheehan

 

The views up or down the Thames from either of these bridges are memorable and not to be forgotten is the Millennium Bridge facing St Paul’s Cathedral to the north and Tate Modern to the south.

The Globe theatre opened in early 1599, with Shakespeare one of four actors buying a share in it, and for 14 years it thrived until destroyed when a stage cannon ignited the thatched roof. Quickly rebuilt, it was closed for good in 1642 under the country’s Puritan government. Reopened in 1997 as an open-air theatre (and an indoor candlelit playhouse built alongside in 2014), its summer season has launched this year with an ebullient production of Shakespeare’s “Much ado about nothing”.

The actors’ lavish costumes are a blend of highly traditional period dress with fantastic animal shapes for the play’s masked ball and the overall effect is highly colourful and alluring. It blends easily with the sunny and light-filled set design, dominated by espaliered orange trees, and it may have been all the bright colours that attracted a passing pigeon to fly down and stay on the stage for a minute or so on the evening when I was there.

Live music is cleverly integrated into the production by a small group with an accordion, mandolin, drums and guitar. The whole production is so vibrant, transporting audiences to a sun-filled Mediterranean of the imagination, that it becomes difficult to take seriously the motiveless villainy that threatens to destroy the happiness of the loving Hero and Claudio. The relationship that draws more interest is that between a feisty Beatrice and a bombastic Benedick who profess to heartedly dislike each other with their verbal sallies but all the time disavowing the sexual chemistry that draws them to each other.

Ekow Quartey and Amalia Vitale as Beatice and Benedick in “Much ado about nothing”, at Shakespeare’s Globe.

It’s an enthusiastic, feel-good production, focusing on comedy and some pantomime, and it goes down with audiences as easily and enjoyably as a glass or two of vintage champagne.

Southbank’s drawback is its popularity and the influx of tourists during the summer can make it too busy. There are lots of places to eat and drink but finding uncrowded peace and quiet eluded me until wandering off the main drag and finding the Bankside hotel at the south end of Blackfriars Bridge. Just inside to the left, a sequestered line of seating leads to Art Yard, a bar and a restaurant with a three-course ‘Culture Fixe’ menu (‘+ welcome bubbles’) for £38. The drinks list could keep you here longer than anticipated: craft beers, cocktails without/with alcohol and choices of spirits that include an English vodka and Japanese whiskies.

Art Yard’s setting is wonderfully restful and the artwork that surrounds the seating area and the restaurant complements Southbank’s identity as an epicentre of the city’s cultural wealth. The window hangings, says a notice about them, reflects “feeling alive and well, having reached a destination in one piece…[Being] tranquil in a fluid state, surrounded by the blue hues of water and shore”.

The Globe Theatre.

The Globe and Art Yard, between them, live up to this aspiration.

For information on the Glove, visit Shakespeare’s Globe and for the artwork at Art Yard see here.

(Photos authorized for publication.)

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