To London, to London

Well, actually, I’m back now. I’ve still a bit of my post-Christmas break to enjoy before I properly get back to work on Thursday, but I’m back in Glasgow after three nights in London.

Want to know what I was up to?

Sure you do.

Well London has tended to be a kind city to me through the years and I tend to hit it hard when I’m there. Planning one of my trips is a bit of a military operation. This time I was lucky to be staying right in Westminster, which makes it much easier to buzz about.

The main reason I go to London is to go to the theatre. I do that here of course too but there is nothing quite like the choice in London and it is one of the things that I’ve always missed since I lived down there for a couple of years.

This time I managed to see five (count ’em) shows.

  1. The first night I was there I caught the Comedy of Errors at the National. It was good but not quite as good as I was hoping for. Lenny Henry was the headline actor but it was essentially an ensemble piece. I like the spectacle of a big National production and this certainly had that though somehow it just wasn’t quite enough for me.  I was surprised to see some members of the audience standing at the end. Good but not nearly that good was my verdict.
  2. Then the next thing I saw was another Royal National Theatre piece – The Pitmen Painters by Stewart (Billy Eliot) Lee. I loved this – wonderfully committed left wing theatre. Was worried that we might be treated to a noble savage kind of story but no – this was the real thing. I’d missed it when it was touring so really pleased to see it at the very bijou Duchess Theatre.
  3. Next up was a bit of a mistake. I saw the Gershwin confection Crazy for You. Lots of leggy dancing, complete absence of plot. It was all done very well indeed if that’s what you want, but it began to make me depressed. Something about the whole boy meets girl inevitability started to get me down somehow. Five star routines, one star satisfaction. I sat there thinking that perhaps I should have gone to see the English National Ballet Gershwin show starring our own, our very own Ross Sharkey. On reflection, I think that would have been a better idea.
  4. Then to the wonderfully underground Criterion Theatre for The 39 Steps. Now I can’t be bothered with Hitchcock  or Buchan as a rule, but this was Hitchcock as a farce with four actors playing over 200 parts. Wonderfully funny.
  5. Finally it was across the river (I know!) to Southwark to see something that was a bit of a punt. I’d heard of Pippin before and the basic show was recommended by Mother Kimberly. This was a Pippin on acid though. Of all the theatre that I’ve seen in recent years, this is the one show that has pushed the digital envelope further than anything else. The entire staging was projected and changing mesmerisingly throughout. The show had been updated so that each of the parts was a different actor in a cyberspace gaming landscape. It was completely bonkers, had received some very poor reviews and I loved it. I’ve not seen anything like it and it raised all kinds of issues about liturgy (regular and the online variety), reality and myth. Completely compelling, glorious theatre.

In addition to all that, I managed to get to services in Westminster Abbey, St Matthew’s Westminster and St Bartholomew the Great. St Bart’s has Benediction once a month and it is a simply extraordinary experience. The earth moves. No kidding. Well, the earth moved for me. It is also the church that I belonged to for a while when I lived in London quite a while ago.

Oh, and Tate Britain, Tate Modern and an exhibition on William Morris.

In three days.

As I said, I do get around.

I go to the theatre like that, by the way, because what I see and hear and feel there makes it possible to do what I do the rest of the time.

And yes, there is a place for glitter canons in the liturgy of the church.


  1. That may be so, but I bet you can’t find a place in the liturgy for the weeks and weeks of post-glitter canon sweeping.

  2. Oh, and whilst I am on the topic, in answer to a question that was asked of me off-blog, I went to all these theatre outings on my own. (And church too for that matter).

    Though I would quite enjoy travelling with someone, it did not occur to me whilst at the theatre that I was doing anything very odd in going on my own. This is not so for all of God’s people. Of that, I am aware.

  3. Rosemary Hannah says

    I quite like going to the theatre in suitable company, so I can enjoy a cut-and-thrust dissection afterwards. The same would only apply to church for very particular services in very very carefully selected company. I have gone to church alone for so very long it would not occur to me it was in any way unusual. Indeed the last church of which I was a member for any time had a great many single women in the congregation. Also some single men. A minority of couples. Honestly? I think that it is usually very prosperous churches with a very particular kind of member that has mostly couples.

  4. Steven says

    Where did you eat? I’m off to London for my birthday (31) this weekend with family, including a 6 year old and a 4 year old…so our options might be slightly restricted…

    Also can you recommend any particular church to attend on Sunday – St Barts?


  5. I was mostly self catering – quicker and cheaper than going in for meals when you are doing what I was doing.

    Of the three churches that I was in, St Matthew’s Westminster would be more enjoyable to 6 and 4 year old than the others. They had other children that age and there is a lot to look at.

    I’d recommend St Bart’s for someone seeking a mystical experience, but only really when they’ve got Benediction on, which is only once a month.

    Much depends on where you are staying in London.

    • Delores King says

      There aren’t that many children at St Matthew’s despite being a church school. Try St Saviour’s in Pimlico. Mass at 10am on Sundays.

  6. Steven says

    Thanks Kelvin, I think we are staying near Westminster.

    I will probably be going without children so London is my oyster (card).

    I’m sorry I keep missing the EP online – I will get there eventually!


    • Well, I don’t know the London church scene as well as I once did. However….

      Of the larger places, Southwark Cathedral has the ethos most similar to St Mary’s.
      St James’s, Picadilly if you want liberal, inclusive, gay-friendly but not particularly catholic
      St Matthew’s Westmninster if you want high but fairly intimate. (No choir but good organ). Modern Catholic – lovely sanctuary.
      Westminster Abbey for the choir if for no other reason.
      St Bart’s if they’ve got Benediction. (Prayer Book).

      Others may have other suggestions.
      I used to quite like dipping into All Saints, Margaret Street but the last time I was there I found myself wondering why I was there.
      I tried St Mary’s, Bourne Street sometime a while ago and that was very odd. Baroque with a small, quite good choir in the balcony. Seemed to be doing quite well but it is certainly an acquired taste. I got it on their AGM Sunday in Lent just after a new Rector had arrived, which was not perhaps the best Sunday to be there.

      I have to admit that I can’t recommend any of the London churches that I know (and bear in mind that the ones I know are all either vaguely high, vaguely liberal or vaguely liberal catholic) to be particularly friendly. Indeed, I was quite struck by the lack of welcome on offer this weekend. Westminster Abbey wasn’t terrible in that regard, once you’d got past the man trying to stop the tourists getting in…

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