Category Archives: Europe 2016

Sir Patrick and Sir Ian

While in London last October, little bears went to see Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen in Harold Pinter’s 1975 work No Man’s Land, a bleak and paradoxical comedy. The play was at the Wyndham Theatre, the very theatre where, some forty years ago, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson continued to put their brilliantly eccentric stamp on the roles of Spooner and Hirst in the West End transfer of the original 1975 National Theatre production.

Wyndham Theatre
Wyndham Theatre

Sir Patrick and Sir Ian

Over the weekend, they saw it again as part of National Theatre Live showing at Luna Palace Cinemas. While the cinema experience cannot capture the experience of watching Sir Patrick and Sir Ian live on stage, the camera close-ups showed details that we missed at the theatre. I don’t think anybody walked out on the play at the Wyndham Theatre, but people did walk out of the cinema at the interval. The play might be a comedy, but it is a dark comedy and not for the faint-hearted; it is quite unsettling with its scary, mystery or bleak vision of the twilight zone between life and death that is old age. It becomes clear as the play progresses that Hirst is entering a realm of either dementia or death. His disconcerting moments of utter vacancy are a chilling reminder that life can become a living death. And this undiscovered country, to which he knows he is heading with a terror that not even the drink can quite blot out, is evoked with an extraordinary bleak beauty, as a “no man’s land which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent“. It is a slow burning tale and audiences may feel even more confused at the end by the lack of a real conclusion as they are left hanging and wondering as to what happens to the four characters.

In the first half it’s night-time. The imposing, grey rotunda set, with drinks cabinet taking pride of central place, is more mausoleum than living-room. In the second half, the following morning, the plot thickens, melts, thaws, and resolves itself into a dew; the pair now seem to know each other, the questions multiply, the bleakness and enigma persist.

Sir Patrick and Sir Ian

Was Pinter describing his own condition at the time: the suffocating isolation of success, his first marriage entering its death-throes? It has been suggested as much, but we’ll never know for certain. Nobody can claim to fully understand the play, and Pinter crossed the twilight zone in 2008. But not before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. What is certain is the break-through nature of the writing: alcohol loosens tongues, unleashes disconcerting non-sequiturs and much of the sly conversational one-up-manship which Pinter made his own. Harold Pinter’s plays had a recurrent theme of exploring the inability to communicate in relationships. While the dialog is often clear-cut, the expressions of relationships – balances of power, class and gender divisions – lie beneath the words. His plays include dark humour and sometimes they also include violence. Combined with their unpredictability, this makes them frightening.

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are once again the perfect pair, bringing their natural synergy to the stage
Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are the perfect pair, bringing their natural synergy to the stage

On Hampstead Heath, Hirst, a moneyed man of letters and a chronic alcoholic, has just run into Spooner, an elderly, down-at-heel pot boy at a Chalk Farm pub, and invited him back to his imposing home for what proves to be far from just the one drink.

Ian McKellen is side-splitting as the opportunistic and hopeful Spooner
Ian McKellen is side-splitting as the opportunistic and hopeful Spooner

In a rumpled suit that looks as if it hasn’t been to the dry cleaner’s since Suez, with filthy tennis shoes and a little ratty grey pony-tail, McKellen is hilariously tragicomic as Spooner, the seedy intruder who will launch into any flight of fantasy if it helps him in his characteristically Pinteresque mission to plant himself in this household. There’s a predatory edge to his obsequiousness and a lovely disjunction between the pretentious literariness of Spooner’s long arias about, say, the golden evenings with his group of supposed protegé poets at his country house (the dated, self-treasuring note – “what can ail? I mean who can gainsay?” – captured perfectly by the actor) and the constant opportunistic cunning of the vagrant that here makes Spooner cradle a sneaky bottle of whisky to his chest for surreptitious top-ups.

Stewart’s imposing presence makes him perfect for the role of Hirst
Stewart’s imposing presence makes him perfect for the role of Hirst

Patrick Stewart has great presence and gives a splendidly disconcerting portrayal of Hirst as an artistically bankrupt old soak, marooned in his mausoleum of a home. You can see footage of full-leafed branches swaying in the breeze above Stephen Brimson Lewis’s fine design (in the theatre, not so much in the cinema version) – a reminder of the life teeming outside this hermetic, sterile world of male power games. Stewart can run the gamut from arch hospitality to a wintry extreme of desolate insight within the space of a single line. Hence his prowess at conveying the alarming memory lapses and switches of tack of the alcoholic mind.

No Man's Land set model
No Man’s Land set model

The brilliant morning-after-the-night-before scene when a recovered Hirst bounds into the room and greets Spooner as if he were a long-lost friend has some of Pinter’s most virtuosic writing and shows the two actors at their best. Stewart radiates ebullient smugness as he claims to have seduced Spooner’s wife (“I’ll never forget her way with my jonquils”). At first McKellen reacts with slack-jawed dismay but, slowly realising this is some clubman’s fantasy, picks up on the rules of the game. When he reveals he was enthusiastically fellated by one of Hirst’s closest female friends, a smile of triumph spreads across McKellen’s seamed features as he crosses his legs in satisfaction.

Pinter’s play No Man’s Land, in this version directed by Sean Mathias, examines the concepts of ageing, the loss of creativity, the fallibility of the mind and dementia, and the dark place situated between life and death. Despite some of the maudlin themes, there are plenty of light humorous moments to lift the mood. But for a play that was written in the 1970’s, it addresses challenging concepts such as dementia, alcoholism and homosexuality in a unique way. Even though none of these topics are ever mentioned specifically, it’s quite obvious that Hirst is suffering from memory loss. The degradation causing him moments of sadness and frustration as he grasps at fleeting moments, but also brief moments of levity when he does remember.

In Pinter’s play, alcoholism is a tool, a means with which Hirst tries to dull the pain of his anguish. On the other hand, Spooner’s extroverted personality seems to only grow with the more drinks he downs. As the play progresses we also notice how there is a mirror between Hirst and Spooner, both ageing writers with a wonderfully colourful view of the world. Hirst, slowly sinking into depression and darkness, Spooner constantly hopeful and with a romantic view of the world, but their dichotomy is only superficial. These are both men who are almost identical, the only difference being their circumstances, Hirst of wealth, whilst Spooner is struggling to get by.

The inclusion of Briggs and Foster as “servants” to Hirst is both indicative of these younger men trying to steal money away but it could also be suggested that they may have a closer relationship. There are moments where Foster alludes to Briggs taking him in and being particularly bonded and close, they may just be good friends, or possibly something more.

Damien Molony (as Foster), Owen Teale (as Briggs), Patrick Stewart (as Hirst) and Ian McKellan (as Spooner)
Damien Molony (as Foster), Owen Teale (as Briggs), Patrick Stewart (as Hirst) amd Ian McKellan (as Spooner)

Pinter’s play is open to many interpretations. On the surface, it looks simple enough. Spooner, a minor versifier and pub potman, is invited back into the luxurious Hampstead pad of a famous writer, Hirst. But, while the wheedling Spooner seeks to ingratiate himself with his heavy-drinking host, he finds himself blocked by Hirst’s intimidating manservants, Briggs and Foster. Gradually the tone shifts as Spooner seeks to reignite Hirst’s creative imagination and stir his memories. The attempt fails as Hirst seems trapped forever in an unyielding no man’s land which serves as an anteroom to death. By the end of the play, Spooner turns into Hirst’s potential rescuer but is thwarted by the immovable fact of mortality.

The production, by Sean Mathias, opened to acclaim in the US in 2013 — but some references were lost in translation. “We promised one another while we were out there that if we lived long enough we would do the play in London. It’s not just an English play, it’s a London play — and here we are”, said Stewart.

“There is something intimate and familiar about doing it in London. It’s like bringing an old friend back home. So many of the references in the play London audiences get in a shot — such as, ‘Do you often hang about Hampstead Heath?’ But that didn’t get that reaction at all in the US, and neither did all the cricket references.”

McKellen said: “I think it turns out to be a funnier play here than the Americans quite realised.”

The original production starred Sir John Gielgud as Spooner and Sir Ralph Richardson as Hirst. Stewart was there on opening night and returned to see it twice in the same week. Sean Mathias was also there on the opening night. Stewart said: “I worship both of those actors, and they had very distinctive styles and voices. I can hear Sir Ralph’s voice in my head now, and there’s one line that I say exactly as I remember him saying it.”

McKellen found it daunting to follow in Gielgud’s footsteps. He said: “I thought it was impossible for me. That’s why I didn’t want to do the play. It’s taken an awfully long time to forget those intonations.” Ian McKellen has been nominated for the 2017 WhatsOnStage Award for Best Actor in a Play for his role in No Man’s Land. The winners will be announced in February 19. The play has also been nominated for the 2017 WhatsOnStage Award for Best Play Revival, and it has already won the 2016 Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play Revival.

Director Sean Mathias answers questions ahead of the live broadcast and Owen Teale and Damien Molony chat to Talks@Google.

Nine Questions for Director Sean Mathias

Sir Patrick and Sir Ian

Four excellent actors, under Mathias’s direction, exquisitely captured the fluctuations of mood of this remarkable play. Pinter’s No Man’s Land is both desolate and funny and conveys, without peddling any message, the never-ending contrast between the exuberance of memory and the imminence of extinction.

No Man's Land, Wyndham Theatre
No Man’s Land, Wyndham Theatre, 10 October 2016

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham

Little bears have saved the best ’till last…

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham

Afternoon tea at the Langham! Little bears cannot leave London before spending a lovely afternoon at Palm Court, famed as the birthplace of Afternoon Tea. And now also famed for teddy bears!

Hamleys Afternoon Tea at Palm Court
Hamleys Afternoon Tea at Palm Court

One of the Hamleys teddy bears promptly joined Puffles and Honey 🙂

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham

Little bears settled in to enjoy delicious sandwiches…

Classic cucumber, cream cheese and chives Truffled duck egg brioche
Classic cucumber, cream cheese and chives
Truffled duck egg brioche
Smoked salmon, asparagus and rye cracker Corn-fed chicken and golden sultana on carrot bread Peppered beef pastrami and Red Leicester coleslaw on caraway and cocoa bread
Smoked salmon, asparagus and rye cracker
Corn-fed chicken and golden sultana on carrot bread
Peppered beef pastrami and Red Leicester coleslaw on caraway and cocoa bread

Followed by warm plain and fruit scones served with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry preserve…

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham

And the main treat, exquisite chocolate creations created for chocolate week.

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham

Classic opera slice with espresso reduction
Langham chocolate mousseline, chocolate brownies
Dulcey and kalamansi canelle, sesame sable
Macha and white chocolate macaron, lemon jelly
Mango and lime lassi, basil seed

Little bears love chocolate!

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham

Content little bears 🙂

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at the Langham

Girls Night Out

Are you ready?

Girls Night Out

We are ready to play!

Girls Night Out

We are ready to go to the opera to listen to Rossini’s best known work, Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), which premiered in 1816. Rossini had a birthday in 1816 too! Born in a leap year, he enjoyed the idea that he only had a birthday every four years. On his 76th birthday, he invited friends around to celebrate his 18th!

Girls Night Out

“Give me the laundress’ bill and I will even set that to music,” Gioachino Rossini is reported to have joked about his status as one of the most popular composers during his life time. He wrote a variety of instrumental, chamber and sacred music, but he is best known and loved for his 39 operas, most notably Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola (Cinderella), performed all over the globe every year.

2016 marks Il barbiere di Siviglia’s 200th anniversary. Who would have thought it would survive its disastrous première so robustly?

The 23-year-old Gioachino Rossini completed his masterpiece Il barbiere di Siviglia with incredible speed – legend has it in just 13 days – which Rossini attributed to ‘facility and lots of instinct’. He was given short notice, less than 3 weeks, to write an opera for the close of the Carnival in Rome. This was Il barbiere di Siviglia, based on the play by Pierre Caron, known as Beaumarchais. A clockmaker by training, Beaumarchais was an adventurer and chancer and, at one stage, an arms dealer acting for American revolutionaries; he fortunately survived duels and spells in and out of prison and love, to write the play Le Barbier de Séville, part of a dramatic trilogy (The Barber of Seville; The Marriage of Figaro and The Guilty Mother) that also inspired Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, and to concoct a scheme for supplying Paris with water.

The first night of Rossini’s Barber, 20 February 1816, was a fiasco. The Don Basilio tripped over a trapdoor and had a nosebleed; a cat walked onto the stage, and there was an awkward pause while the tenor tuned his guitar before beginning a serenade! The jeering and booing had been compared with the reception of Tannhäuser in Paris and the first night of Carmen. The second performance was a very different story — the opera was a triumph – and within a few decades of its 1816 premiere, Il barbiere di Siviglia had been seen around the world, reaching opera houses in New York, Buenos Aires, Trinidad and Ecuador. At the end of the century, Verdi wrote “Il barbiere di Siviglia, for the abundance of the musical ideas, for its comic verve and the accuracy of its declamation is the most beautiful opera buffa there is.”

The opera contains some of the most familiar opera music in the world today, and the work is the 7th most performed opera around the world. Although the original overture to the opera was lost and Rossini replaced it with one he’d written for an earlier opera. That’s the famous work we know today, which contains none of the music from the actual opera!

If you’re wondering where you heard that before, maybe in Bugs Bunny? The Rabbit of Seville is a classic Bugs Bunny episode 🙂

As well as possessing a simply stunning overture, the opera is a sheer delight throughout, with hit after hit, including Rosina’s aria ‘Una voce poco fa’ and Figaro’s ‘Largo al factotum’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia has all the right ingredients for comic chaos: an imprisoned young woman, her lecherous guardian and a young noble suitor. Skilfully plotting behind the scenes is Figaro – an irrepressible and inventive character in whom many have seen a resemblance to the young Rossini himself. The score fizzes with musical brilliance, from Figaro’s famous entrance aria ‘Largo al factotum’ to the frenzy of the Act I finale, when the five principal voices all pile on top of each other.

Just the opera for little Isabelle! Tremendous mischief and fun.

Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House, Il barbiere di Siviglia Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio, José Fardilha as Don Bartolo, Madeleine Pierard as Berta, Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva, Vito Priante as Figaro and Daniela Mack as Rosina
Royal Opera House, Il barbiere di Siviglia
Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio, José Fardilha as Don Bartolo, Madeleine Pierard as Berta, Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva, Vito Priante as Figaro and Daniela Mack as Rosina
Royal Opera House, Il barbiere di Siviglia Madeleine Pierard as Berta, José Fardilha as Don Bartolo, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio, member of the Royal Opera House Chorus, Javier Camarena  as Count Almaviva, Vito Priante as Figaro and Daniela Mack as Rosina
Royal Opera House, Il barbiere di Siviglia
Madeleine Pierard as Berta, José Fardilha as Don Bartolo, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio, member of the Royal Opera House Chorus, Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva, Vito Priante as Figaro and Daniela Mack as Rosina
Royal Opera House, Il barbiere di Siviglia José Fardilha as Don Bartolo, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio,  Vito Priante as Figaro, Daniela Mack as Rosina and Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva
Royal Opera House, Il barbiere di Siviglia
José Fardilha as Don Bartolo, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio, Vito Priante as Figaro, Daniela Mack as Rosina and Javier Camarena as Count Almaviva
Royal Opera House, Il barbiere di Siviglia
Royal Opera House, Il barbiere di Siviglia

This was the fourth revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s 2005 production of Rossini’s great comedy, and apparently one of the best with a terrific performance from a truly virtuoso ensemble cast.

There are two versions of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia commonly performed and the main difference is whether or not the spectacular and phenomenally difficult tenor aria ‘Cessa di più resistere’ is included close to the end of the opera. Even Rossini tended to omit it, possibly because asking an average tenor to attempt it might constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In recent years almost the only man who could be trusted to perform it has been the wonderful Peruvian Juan Diego Florez. Now there is another.

Javier Camarena, the Mexican tenor who has already taken the New York Met by storm earlier this year (he became only the third tenor allowed to perform an encore – the others being Luciano Pavarotti and Juan Diego Floréz), made his Royal Opera debut as Count Almaviva, stopping the show with his second-act aria, ‘Cessa di più resistere’.

He was a fantastic complement to Daniela Mack’s tempestuous Rosina, also making her Royal Opera debut, all dark tone and formidable coloratura, and lush mezzo, showcased beautifully in “Una voce poco fa”.

Another debut came from José Fardilha, who is an old hand at lecherous guardian Bartolo, having played the role in Paris, Stuttgart, Barcelona and Madrid. His rich baritone was clear and fluid and his comic timing was wonderful, especially in his scenes with the inimitable Ferruccio Furlanetto, whose slimeball Don Basilio is about as good as it gets. Vito Priante’s twinkly-eyed, knowing Figaro, had effortless charm and he clearly enjoyed every moment on the stage.

The girls thought it was all tremendous fun!

Royal Opera House - Il barbiere di Siviglia
Royal Opera House – Il barbiere di Siviglia

The Royal Opera House is home to The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. The present building is actually the third Theatre to have been constructed on the site since 1732.

Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House

An opera and major performing arts venue based in Covent Garden, the building was initially named the Theatre Royal when constructed in 1732, with the exquisite facade fronting Bow Street. The first theatre was built by John Rich, and was one of the only two theatres in London that were allowed to perform drama, in close competition with the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. At first it was purely a playhouse, until the first ballet performance showcased in 1734, with Handel introducing opera not long after in 1735. Several of his operas and oratorios were first performed there, including Alcina and Semele. In 1808, the building was destroyed by a fire, which also took the lives of 23 firemen, Handel’s own Organ and many of his manuscripts. It was reconstructed by Robert Smirke and opened again in 1809. The building was devastated once more by fire in 1856. E. M. Barry designed a new building that opened in 1858 with new a new addition; a Floral Hall that could doubly be used as a wonderful ballroom (now the Paul Hamlyn Hall).

Girls Night Out

Eventually, the building was renamed the Royal Opera House in 1892, but come both World Wars, it was used as a furniture repository and a Mecca Dance Hall respectively. Finally reopening again in 1946, the company was now almost inexistent and had to be put together from scratch. Collaborating with the ballet, both companies were awarded Royal Charters: The Royal Ballet in 1956 and The Royal Opera in 1968. Towards the end of the 20th century, the buildings were completely renovated to become the grand structures they are today, and the Floral Hall was transformed into a large public space housing bars and restaurants.

Girls Night Out

The main auditorium is a Grade I listed building and can seat over 2,200 people. The auditorium was completely restored in the 1990s and looks absolutely fantastic, like walking into a brand new Victorian Theatre. The stalls were re-raked to accommodate the new stage, and the stage itself and fly tower were completely demolished and rebuilt.

Royal Opera House Auditorium
Royal Opera House Auditorium

One of the most striking features of the decor of the auditorium is the pale blue saucer-shaped dome in the ceiling. The use of the colour blue is a tradition in theatre and reflects the open-air amphitheatres of Classical Greece. In the past, a huge gas-lit chandelier hung from the centre of the dome and remained lit during performances, along with gas-lit candelabras along the tiers.

Royal Opera House, Auditorium Ceiling
Royal Opera House, Auditorium Ceiling
Royal Opera House, Auditorium Ceiling
Royal Opera House, Auditorium Ceiling

Honey and Isabelle visited the Crush Room, with its crystal chandeliers said to be made of the original chandelier from the auditorium. Resplendent in reds and golds the Crush room harks back to the 19th century, many of its oil paintings and fittings have been in place since 1858.

Royal Opera House, Crush Room
Royal Opera House, Crush Room
Royal Opera House, Crush Room
Royal Opera House, Crush Room
Royal Opera House, Crush Room
Royal Opera House, Crush Room

The tiny opera lovers left the theatre by the Grand Staircase 🙂

Royal Opera House, Grand Staircase
Royal Opera House, Grand Staircase
Royal Opera House, Grand Staircase
Royal Opera House, Grand Staircase

Looks like everybody had fun this evening!

Girls Night Out

Lazy Morning at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens

Set along the Thames, the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens are the largest collection of living plants in the world, not to mention one of the most historic, having been founded in the mid 1700s. Its 14,000 trees and exotic flower collections are interspersed with elegant domed temples, a striking 19th century glasshouse, a treetop walkway and hidden forest paths that weave around the lake.

It was Henry VIII who, in the 16th century, was crucial in making Kew a desirable place to be.

Lazy Morning at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens

Following his victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field (the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses), Henry Tudor Earl of Richmond became Henry VII and the first English monarch of the Tudor dynasty. He took over the royal residence of Richard III, and rebuilt it after a fire destroyed the mainly wooden palace in 1497. The manor of Sheen had recently been renamed as “Richmond” and the palace became Richmond Palace.

Henry VII moved his court there for the summer months and changed people’s perceptions of the area. Henry VIII liked to stay at Richmond Palace but grew jealous of Thomas Wolsey’s new residence at Hampton Court and at the start of Wolsey’s fall from power forced him to swap homes. Henry VIII reacquired the palace following the death of Wolsey and gave it to his fourth wife Ann of Cleeves as part of their divorce settlement. Both Mary I and Elizabeth I liked to spend time in Richmond Palace.

The presence of the court drew nobles and influential courtiers to the area, and the nearby village of Kew grew rapidly over the next 100 years. By the 17th century Kew’s place as a hub of power and political intrigue was firmly established.

For London, the early 18th century was a time for blossoming culture, with writers, artists and musicians being drawn to the capital for access to aristocratic patronage and a growing commercial market. Some of the aristocracy moved out of the teeming city and Kew became a popular enclave. The Royal Family used Kew Palace, purchased from a wealthy merchant, as their summer residence. Prince Frederick and Princess Augusta, parents of the future George III, started a garden around Kew Palace, adjacent to the Royal Park.

The first botanic garden at Kew was founded in 1759, when William Aiton was recruited from Chelsea Physic Garden to manage the small “Physick Garden” at Kew.

From the 18th to the early 19th century, the property was a place of retreat for the Royal Family. Internationally renowned landscape architects Charles Bridgeman, William Kent, William Chambers and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (appointed Master Gardener at Hampton Court by George III in 1764) re-modelled the earlier baroque gardens in the 18th century to make a pastoral landscape in the English style.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was known as the father of landscape architecture. He was the creative force behind more than 170 of the UK’s most spectacular gardens, including Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Blenheim Palace and Sheffield Park and Garden. Instead of using masonry and other obvious manmade touches in his designs, he focused on keeping landscapes as natural as possible, employing elements like rolling hills, stands of trees and serene lakes that appeared never to be touched by human hands. His gift was to develop gardens and landscapes that looked natural and in harmony with the surrounding countryside. He got his nickname from his ability to point out “great capabilities” in any landscape. Reportedly he refused to work in Ireland as he had not yet finished England. 2016 sees the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Shakespeare of English garden design, Lancelot Brown.

Kew Gardens became the centre for study of native and exotic plants for economic purposes with plant researchers bringing back species from around the world. It was to Kew that Joseph Banks brought all his botanical samples after traveling around the world with Captain Cook and it was Banks who helped establish Kew’s reputation for plant research.

Kew Gardens are also very large, covering 120 hectares, and cannot be fully appreciated in one day. In fact it would take around four days to properly explore the entire site! Little bears explored part of the gardens.

The Hive is a new feature of the gardens, an abstract construction from around 170,000 pieces of aluminium which catch the changing sunlight. There are 1,000 LED lights dotted around its core which glow and fade, while a unique soundtrack hums in response to the activity of real bees in a beehive behind the scenes at Kew. It is immersive, very impressive and really highlights how important bees are to life on earth.

The Hive is the design of UK based artist Wolfgang Buttress. It was originally created as the centrepiece of the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo.

The Hive
The Hive
The Hive
The Hive
The Hive
The Hive

The Tree-Top Walkway is a feature that transports you to that special world only normally inhabited by birds and insects.

The Treetop Walkway stands in the Arboretum, between the Temperate House and the lake. It was designed by Marks Barfield Architects, who also designed the London Eye. The 18-metre high, 200-metre walkway enables visitors to walk around the crowns of lime, sweet chestnut and oak trees. Supported by rusted steel columns that blend in with the natural environment, it provides opportunities for inspecting birds, insects, lichen and fungi at close quarters, as well as seeing blossom emerging and seed pods bursting open in spring. The walkway’s structure is based on a Fibonacci numerical sequence, which is often present in nature’s growth patterns.

Tree-Top Walkway
Tree-Top Walkway
Tree-Top Walkway
Tree-Top Walkway
Tree-Top Walkway
Tree-Top Walkway
Tree-Top Walkway
Tree-Top Walkway

The Rock Garden displays a collection of Mediterranean plants, mountain plants and moisture-loving species from all over the world.

Kew dabbled in creating small rock features in the mid 19th century but only constructed a substantial rock garden in 1882. The decision to build the Rock Garden was hastened by a donation of 3,000 alpine plants, one of the largest collections in the country at the time.

Director William Thistleton-Dyer, wanting to avoid creating something ‘uncouth and obtrusive’, opted to design a 150-metre valley, akin to a Pyrenean mountain habitat. At its centre was a winding path, simulating a natural watercourse. It was fashioned from blocks of cheddar limestone, Bath oolite (also a type of limestone) and rocks salvaged from ruins of former buildings at Kew.

Rock Garden
Rock Garden
Rock Garden
Rock Garden
Rock Garden
Rock Garden

Experts consider Kew’s Palm House to be the most important surviving Victorian iron and glass structure in the world. It was designed by Decimus Burton and engineered by Richard Turner to accommodate the exotic palms being collected and introduced to Europe in early Victorian times. This pioneering project was the first time engineers used wrought iron to span such large widths without supporting columns. This technique was borrowed from the shipbuilding industry and from a distance the glasshouse resembles an upturned hull. The result is a vast, light, lofty space that can easily accommodate the crowns of large palms, while boasting 16,000 panes of glass and the amazing tropical palms.

Victorian Palm House
Victorian Palm House

In the middle of the pond is a statue of Hercules fighting Achelous in the guise of a snake, by Francois Joseph Bosio. The Queen gave the statue to the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens in 1963. It originally stood on the East Terrace at Windsor Castle. This statue was acquired by King George IV in 1826.

Lazy Morning at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens

Paolozzi’s sculpture, “A Maximis Ad Minima” is located at the southern end of the Princess of Wales Conservatory, in front of the Woodland Garden. The sculpture’s title means “From the Greatest to the Least”. Sir Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi was a Scottish sculptor and artist, widely considered to be one of the pioneers of pop art.

A Maximis Ad Minima (From the Greatest to the Least) Created and donated by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 1998
A Maximis Ad Minima (From the Greatest to the Least)
Created and donated by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 1998
A Maximis Ad Minima (From the Greatest to the Least) Created and donated by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 1998
A Maximis Ad Minima (From the Greatest to the Least)
Created and donated by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, 1998

Little bears plan to visit the gardens again in springtime, when the Rhododendron, Magnolia and Cherry Blossoms are apparently breathtaking!

Lazy Morning at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens

ArcelorMittal Orbit

After seeing The Bean (Cloud Gate) in Chicago, little bears decided to check out what Indian-born British artist Sir Anish Kapoor has done in London.

The Orbit!

ArcelorMittal Orbit

ArcelorMittal Orbit

The ArcelorMittal Orbit is the first public artwork by Anish Kapoor to be lit.

ArcelorMittal Orbit

ArcelorMittal Orbit

The ArcelorMittal Orbit (often referred to as the Orbit Tower or simply just the Orbit) is Britain’s largest piece of public art (114.5m tall). Orbit was designed by Turner-Prize winning artist Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond of engineering Group Arup.

Anish Kapoor’s sculpture is often architectural in scale. He is one of the most influential sculptors of his generation. Perhaps most famous for public sculptures that are both adventures in form and feats of engineering, he manoeuvres between vastly different scales, across numerous series of work. Immense PVC skins, stretched or deflated; concave or convex mirrors whose reflections attract and swallow the viewer; recesses carved in stone and pigmented so as to disappear: these voids and protrusions summon up deep-felt metaphysical polarities of presence and absence, concealment and revelation. Forms turn themselves inside out, womb-like, and materials are not painted but impregnated with colour, as if to negate the idea of an outer surface, inviting the viewer to the inner reaches of the imagination.

Kapoor said that one of the influences on his design was the Tower of Babel, the sense of “building the impossible” that “has something mythic about it”, and that the form “straddles Eiffel and Tatlin”. Balmond, working on the metaphor of an orbit, envisaged an electron cloud moving, to create a structure that appears unstable, propping itself up, “never centred, never quite vertical”. Both believe that Orbit represents a new way of thinking, “a radical new piece of structure and architecture and art” that uses non-linearity – the use of “instabilities as stabilities”. The spaces inside the structure, in between the twisting steel, are “cathedral like”, according to Balmond, while according to Kapoor, the intention is that visitors will engage with the piece as they wind “up and up and in on oneself” on the spiral walkway.

You’ll have to engage with the piece of sculpture as you wind down and down, visitors can only use the stairs going down.

ArcelorMittal Orbit

Orbit functions as an observation tower, with two indoor viewing platforms on two levels.

Top viewing platform
Top viewing platform

ArcelorMittal Orbit

Two large concave mirrors turn the horizon on its head – you have to see it to believe it!

ArcelorMittal Orbit

From the lower viewing platform, you can access The Slide! It is London’s newest attraction. At a length of 178m, it is the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide and you’ll experience speeds of 24 kilometers per hour. Kapoor claims plans to install a slide around the Orbit were “foisted” on him by the Mayor of London.

ArcelorMittal Orbit

Dizzy little bears :smile:
Dizzy little bears 🙂

A little rest to recover…

ArcelorMittal Orbit

ArcelorMittal Orbit

Pixel Wall
Pixel Wall

Little Bears Around London

Little Bears Around London

Kew Royal Botanic Gardens
Kew Royal Botanic Gardens
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Queen Victoria Memorial, Buckingham Palace
Queen Victoria Memorial, Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard
Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guard
Harrods Toy World
Harrods Toy World
Harrods World of Bears
Harrods World of Bears
Harrods World of Bears
Harrods World of Bears
Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House
Young Dancer, by Enzo Plazzotta  Covent Garden
Young Dancer, by Enzo Plazzotta
Covent Garden
Covent Garden
Covent Garden
A (pretend) Tardis!
A (pretend) Tardis!
ArcelorMittal Orbit
ArcelorMittal Orbit
Olympic Park
Olympic Park
Brunch at Sketch
Brunch at Sketch
Theatre Royal, waiting for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Theatre Royal, waiting for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square
Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square
Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament

Little Bears Around London

Millennium Bridge
Millennium Bridge
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
Bear trail!
Bear trail!
Tower of London
Tower of London
Statue believed to be of the Roman Emperor Trajan
Statue believed to be of the Roman Emperor Trajan
Section of former London City Wall, ca 200CE
Section of former London City Wall, ca 200CE
High tea at the Langham
High tea at the Langham