Letter from London: keep the flame alive

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

It’s been an extraordinary Olympics. The fairytale began with Danny Boyle’s dazzling opening ceremony and continued with Team GB’s athletes digging out gold after gold, plus a few other medals to boot. But the party needn’t stop when the Olympics do. Taking her cue from the highpoints of London 2012, Jane Egginton runs through London’s forthcoming attractions, in a packed month that would leave even Usain Bolt breathless

Music and drama played a big part in the 2012 opening ceremony, and there is plenty more of that in London’s West End this month, much of it recalling the best moments of the 30th Olympiad. The show-stopping Lion King relates the enduring story of Simba’s epic journey to take his rightful place as king. The Wizard of Oz is full of heart-warming moments and much-loved characters, while Singing in the Rain is perfect for 2012 – one of the wettest summers on record. If you found yourself shedding the odd tear during the Games, you’ll love the emotion of Shrek the Musical where “dreams really do come true”, and there is a rarely a dry eye in the house watching Billy Elliott triumph over adversity in his search to be the best.

The Wizard of Oz

The four-year Cultural Olympiad, which began when the Beijing games ended, has been the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic Movements, with events across the UK showcasing the best of Britain’s creative talent. It reaches its zenith in the London 2012 Festival (http://festival.london2012) which began a week before the Games and will finish on the last day of the Paralympics. A highlight of the Festival is this year’s specially expanded Proms (www.bbc.co.uk/proms) but get in quick if you want tickets: there has been a huge spike in demand for this quintessentially British event, since Danny Boyle’s opening splash.

Also part of the 2012 Festival is Art in Action, at the newly-opened Tanks space at Tate Modern (www.tate.org.uk). Tanks, reminiscent of the ‘rebel lair’ in The Empire Strikes Back is a cavernous new space at the flagship of modern art. It’s also the world’s first museum gallery dedicated permanently to live art, and the 15-week opening extravaganza has attracted some of the world’s best performers, jaw dropping live events and world-class installation art. Undercurrent is part of Art in Action’s live events programme, focusing on youth and counterculture. Involving a range of media and local arts movements in London, it runs until 27 August, with Art in Action continuing through until the end of October.

Tate Modern

Despite all our reservations that the Opening Ceremony would be a very British shambles, Danny Boyle came up trumps, and refreshingly, it was far from lowest-common-denominator stuff. Many of the highlights (including the riotous hospital bed segment) were inspired by British literature, reminding us that when London last hosted the Games in 1948, the arts were an official part of the competitive Olympic programme. And Boyle’s set with its “green and pleasant land” and “dark satanic mill’s” owed much to the poetry of William Blake.

If you were as inspired as I was by the ceremony, try to visit Writing Britain (www.bl.uk/writingbritain) at the British Library, which looks at the powerful effect landscape has had on the best British writers. It runs until 25 September, displaying priceless exhibits rarely seen by the public. These include original artwork from The Hobbit and manuscripts for Harry Potter, Alice’s Adventure’s Underground and Jekyll and Hide. As part of this exhibition, there are also a host of live events (some free, some ticketed) including Out of Bounds where Black and Asian poets present their take on Britain.

Of course, no celebration of British Arts could be complete without a reference to Shakespeare. Danny Boyle came up with Brunel (aka Kenneth Branagh) reading from The Tempest, and I must say it reminded me how much I love the bard. There’s more alfresco Shakespeare in Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (http://openairtheatre.org) – established in 1932 and the country’s only fully professional, permanent outdoor theatre. Its signature, magical performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream could describe the games themselves, and runs until 5 September.

Danny Boyle

While Danny Boyle did a pretty good job with the live segments, we mustn’t forget that his day job is in an entirely different field, and he certainly surprised us all by persuading Her Majesty the Queen to make her big-screen acting debut, starring alongside James Bond. Before she and 007 set off for the stadium, we got to see the extravagant interior of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms, but if you’d like to see them in person, you’ll have to be quick as the summer opening of Buckingham Palace (www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/buckinghampalace) looks set to be a sell out. You may not come face to face with royalty, but you can soak up the sumptuous setting, admire art in the Royal Collection and (for this year only) immerse yourself in the Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration exhibition which will be sure to dazzle just as much as Danny’s show did.

The Great British Beer Festival

The Olympic party may soon be over, but we Londoners will have little time to indulge our hangovers. Already in full swing is the Great British Beer Festival (www.camra.org.uk), our chance to raise a glass to the city with traditional real ales and modern takes on the old. And the last weekend of August sees the granddaddy of London celebrations and Europe’s largest street party: the Notting Hill Carnival (www.thenottinghillcarnival.com) is a truly international and inspirational event with just a healthy dose of competitive spirit that is hosted every year by London.

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