Keeping warm in the Capital this winter doesn’t have to be about wrapping up and staying in. London offers many activities that get people out on the street in all conditions and in all contexts. From keeping pace with the dancing dragons of Chinatown to sipping hot beverages on a trendy roof terrace, Londoners don’t let low temperatures deter them. Valentine’s Day provides the perfect excuse to disregard the weather and attend either a fabulous flower exhibition or a 360 degree viewing of the beauty of our fair city.
When it became possible to cross the Atlantic non-stop, a trip on an ocean liner became a must-do for moguls, celebrities and world leaders. This set the tone for what was to come – the construction of luxurious floating palaces that would shield the rich and famous from the travails of sea travel.
This exhibition charts the way these prestigious vessels evolved in the 20th Century. The Beau-Arts columns of the Titanic’s ballroom were succeeded by the Art Deco railings of the Queen Mary which in turn gave way to the modernism of the QE2. Posters, recovered artefacts and film footage all tell the marvellous design journey of the glamorous Atlantic Crossing. www.vam.ac.uk
One of Shakespeare’s most gory tragedies, Macbeth is a study of how thirst for power can corrupt and corrode the soul and how perceived “destiny” fuels the motivation of tyrants. Lord and Lady Macbeth usurp the throne in a whirlwind of assassinations and betrayal before descending into paranoia and madness as the reckoning approaches.
The supernatural elements of the king’s fall are what makes the play so invigorating and Rory Kinnear plays the role with feverish intensity. But it is Anne Marie Duff’s Lady Macbeth that will live long in the memory; the almost alien-like gaze boring into her husband as she steers him into the murder and madness. www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Floral sculptures are given a completely new sense of vibrancy when they contain that essential tropical component that is the orchid. Their dazzling presence softens the outlines of temples, weddings and canalboats all over the Thai peninsula and a slice of that culture has now come to West London.
Apart from the exhibits, there are discussions by expert botanists and behind the scenes tours and half term competitions for the children. Seeing this event has an Indochinese flavour, it’s probably wise to visit the on-site restaurant for a sample of red curry and other spicy treats. www.kew.org
It’s easy to see why this Shakespearean epic didn’t get the full ballet treatment until the 21st Century. Unlike Romeo & Juliet, The Winter’s Tale doesn’t celebrate the giddy heights of young romance, preferring to express love in terms of loss, regret and even death.
The Royal Ballet are experts in crafting performances of great emotional depth and their principal dancers exhibit a full range of techniques and story craft as they bring the complex plot to life. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon with new music by Joby Talbot, The Winter’s Tale is destined to become an indispensable part of the company’s exhaustive repertoire. www.roh.org.uk
The traditional riot of colour, music and food kicks off in London’s West End as the Chinese community usher in the Year of the Dog. Those born under this sign are considered to be straight-talking, yet humorous individuals so expect plenty of knockabout comedy on the streets of the West End.
As usual there will be plenty of dragon dancing as the procession winds its way up the narrow streets around Leicester Square before ending up in Trafalgar Square. Once there, crowds can get on with eating Chinese delicacies while watching thrilling martial arts demonstrations. www.visitlondon.com
It’s the mid 17th Century and Europe is undergoing something of an upheaval with Protestant and Catholic countries at each other’s throats. The Catholic Church commissions an army of artists to promote the religious profile of the Vatican and to boost morale with Bartolome Murillo chief among them.
Murillo’s vivid portrayals of New Testament events made him a prominent artist in his native Spain and beyond but it’s his lesser known self portraits that reveal a subtler sense of his formidable technique. This exhibition brings all these relatively rare examples under one roof and is therefore well worth a visit. www.nationalgallery.org.uk
Over the past half century, the meaning of what constitutes a minority has evolved and expanded and this exhibition charts how photography has affected this transition. Twenty photographers provide glimpses into various subcultures dotted around the globe and the activities of rebels, outlaws and the repressed.
Telling their stories through the most immediate visual medium available, various photographers document the struggles of those you don’t conform to the culture around them. They do this by embedding into families, clans and peer groups and by shedding light on the injustice and prejudice that they witness on film and in this event. www.barbican.org.uk
“I want the paint to work as flesh does”. This 2009 quote from Lucien Freud encapsulates the struggle and triumphs that he and other 20th Century masters went through in post-war London as they threw off the shackles of austerity in order to break new ground. Famous for their searingly honest depiction of the human body, they also attempted to peer into the mind and soul of both su/jest and viewer.
Together with Francis Bacon and others, Freud put the Capital on the global arts map with their confrontational paintings and irascible public personas. Tate Britain pays homage to these fertile decades with an exhaustive look at the techniques, inspiration and cultural context that continue to draw audiences to events like these. www.tate.org.uk
Being part of the Firmdale group of boutique hotels means that you can host the kind of event that attracts the knowledgeable connoisseur and the casual consumer alike. Ham Yard Hotel’s latest partnership with Sipsmith is back by popular demand and promises to be a heady combination of discovery, socialising and the appreciation of excellent gin.
Hosted on the roof terrace, the focus will be on drinks that make use of a unique method of warming up the spirits. Back in the day, red hot pokers were used to transform gin into winter warmers and were so popular that special concoctions were invented. These pocked gin recipes will be revived by expert mixologists and include the intriguing “Hangman’s Blood” which has a porter base and dates back to 1929. www.firmdalehotels.com
If you’ve both promised each other that your love is “As high as the highest mountain” then sipping cocktails a thousand feet above sea level might go some way towards fulfilling those extravagant claims. The Shard Skydeck is expanding access on the days leading up to Valentine’s Day and gaze at the London skyline (and each other) until late in the evening.
The 72nd floor will be fitted out decorated for the occasion and there’s even a Marriage Proposal Concierge Service available to help you set the scene as you prepare to pop the question (The Shard actually has a 100% success rate so far). Sunset is the most popular time as the fading light makes everything and everyone look Hollywood-beautiful. As always, the city lights form a spectacular backdrop to any romantic evening. www.the-shard.com
Despite the presence in the Capital of a large sub-Saharan population, West African cuisine has been something of a hard sell, especially outside certain inner London boroughs. Known for its reliance on fiery chillis and starchy main courses, Nigerian food in, particular, can be somewhat challenging to non-African tastebuds. Ikoyi gets its name from a suburb in Lagos that once housed the colonial elite and became a byword for westernised living, so it’s no surprise that the philosophy here is one of inclusion and experimentation.
Non-traditional ingredients like cuttlefish and turbot are paired with tried and trusted cooking methods and the result is delicious. Jollof rice is an across-the-board favourite as is the lunchtime suya. There’s a well stocked bar and the atmosphere is friendly and welcome, so for those looking for a change from overpriced steak or identikit noodle bars, Ikoyi presents a good alternative. www.ikoyilondon.com
This imaginative look at social engineering in the near future features Matt Damon in his “everyday joe” persona as one Paul Safranek. When he and his wife (played by Kirsten Wiig) decide to shrink themselves in order to help the authorities conserve resources, they are promised a lifestyle of idyllic prosperity. They are assured that their meagre possessions will be converted into great wealth in the micro community that they’ve agreed to move to.
However, when his wife chickens out, Paul is left impoverished in his shrunken state and only able to socialise with crooks, immigrants and manual labourers. Even when his wife joins him, Paul finds that this new world has even more problems than the one he left behind. Downsizing might sound pessimistic, but it contains a vast amount of comic material that is well written and superbly acted.
View all posts by Benham & Reeves