Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Stroll Into Summer At Kew!

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, popularly known as Kew Gardens, is a sprawling expanse of green in Southwest London that comes alive in the spring and summer, welcoming throngs of people to its serene locale housing a huge variety of flora. I visited the gardens on a sunny and cool day in June. The weather was perfect for exploring the place on foot. Though, at the end of the day I was left with sore, aching feet, missing several sites that I had meant to go to, but didn't have the time for. Nevertheless, what I could manage to see was wonderfully refreshing and very enjoyable indeed. 

What began as gardens surrounding royal residences several centuries ago is a United Nations World Heritage Site today. Spread over 326 acres, the site has 40 historically important buildings and a collection of over 40, 000 species of plants. It houses an internationally important institute for botanical research too.

Easily accessible by the London Underground, it provides an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life to Londoners and tourists alike. With instructions, maps and directions, the place is very easy to reach for a first-time visitor like me. Having bought my ticket for Pounds 15, I am all set to take in the Gardens. Here are some pictures giving a glimpse of my visit. They are not necessarily in any order, just enjoy them!

The Gardens are a short walk away from this lovely little station. A signboard at the station invites visitors to "Stroll into summer" at Kew. Outside, the street is lined with beautiful houses on both sides. Each house has a pretty garden in front, with colourful flowers and pleasant landscaping.

One of the several splendid paths in the Gardens. One can walk to one's heart's content breathing in fresh air and then take a break on a bench like the one in the picture below, thoughtfully provided all over the park.

I loved the light and the shadows in this picture!

The Treetop Walkway is fun, allowing one to climb 18 metres high into a canopy of lime, sweet chestnut and oak trees for a bird's eye view of the Gardens. There is a staircase and a lift as well.

The elegant Palm House is an icon of the Gardens. You step into the warm and moist interiors to take a look at the tropical plants being nurtured there. The plants look fresh and full of life, in spite of being grown in an artificially maintained atmosphere. Outside, the rose shrubs are in full bloom, adding colour, beauty and a mild fragrance to the surroundings.

Warmer and more moist than the Palm House is the Waterlily House!

Lake and the Sackler Crossing! This is one of the most tranquil sites in the Gardens. The crossing, seen at a distance in the above picture offers stunning views of the lake, trees, sky, and ducks and swans gliding playfully in the waters.

The shapely curve of the Sackler Crossing!

The Rock Garden is aesthetically landscaped. It features mountain plants from six different regions of the world. One can see plants and flowers in abundance that one may never have seen before. 

Photos by Lata
These lovely orchids are on display at the Princess of Wales Conservatory. This large glasshouse contains ten climatic zones. It is home to a huge variety of plant life including ferns, cacti, orchids, waterlilies and carnivorous plants. The sheer variety and arrangement of plants takes your breath away!

There is much more to see and do at the Gardens. This post and these pictures are just a sampler!

Friday, June 16, 2017

"42nd Street" In London's West End!

West End is the Mecca of theatre lovers in London. This beautiful and fashionable area in Central and West London is home to about forty or more theatres that are steeped in the culture and art of this historic city. The impressive buildings with their imposing facades stand with pride, inviting people to experience quality theatre.

I watched a musical, "42nd Street" in Theatre Royal, Drury Lane just a few days ago. Commonly known as Drury Lane, the building is the most recent of four theatres which stood at the same location, the earliest of which was built in 1663. This makes it the oldest theatre site in London still in use.

The building that we see today opened in 1812. It has of course undergone renovations since then. It is a grand structure with opulent interiors. Spread over four tiers, it seats over 2,000 people. It has been hosting long runs of prominent musicals over last several decades. It is owned by noted composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

I caught an afternoon show. The time of the day on a weekday meant that senior citizens formed a major part of the audience. I saw many couples, and single women in groups alighting from their cabs in front of the theatre. Many of them were having a tough time negotiating the steps in the auditorium, but I guess their love for theatre overpowered their discomfort. A large group of schoolgirls was there too, clapping and cheering throughout the performance. 

"42nd Street" is a 1980 Broadway production, based on a 1933 film which in turn was based on a 1932 novel of the same name by Bradford Ropes. The show was a hit, winning several awards in different categories. It is a spectacular offering, with a large cast and energetic dance and music sequences. The opening scene sets the tone for the visual and musical treat that is to follow. First, the curtain opens just enough to reveal a long line of tapping feet and then it rises to show about 50 men and women dressed in bright colours dancing and singing joyously.

The story is about a musical "Pretty Lady" for which auditions are going on. The personal relations between the director, writer, lead performers, new entrant Peggy Sawyer and ageing Prima Donna Dorothy Brock come to the forefront as the story unfolds. Along with the music and dance, there is drama, humour and wit as the extravaganza takes us through the next 120 minutes (150 minutes with the intermission).

The costumes with their feathers and spangles are absolutely awesome. The stage is mostly bare, with very few or no props on it. Backdrops have been used generously to convey change of scene and location. I liked the idea of a small room being wheeled in onto the stage and wheeled out into the darkness in the blink of an eye. Once, a part of a house on two levels was brought in, complete with a working staircase. At another time, the whole stage was taken over by a giant staircase with members of the cast jumping and dancing on it. And the performance is absolutely flawless. Of course nothing less is expected from a long-running and award-winning Broadway show being staged at a prominent theatre in the West End.

It is a delight watching well-known British-American singer, recording artist, and stage and screen actress Sheena Easton play the role of Dorothy Brock, who was a lead star once, but now past her prime. She is domineering, bad-tempered, pampered and tough; but shows her softer side by recognising talent when she sees it. Rest of the cast have done a wonderful job too. 

Photos by Lata

The show features lovely songs. In addition to the songs that appeared in the original film, it includes many other songs that the lyricist and the composer wrote for other films around the same time. I liked "About A Quarter To Nine", "Forty-Second Street", " There's a Sunny Side to Every Situation", and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" a lot. The last one was added especially for Sheena Easton in the 2017 West End revival.

Being part of an appreciative audience is always exciting. But I wonder how much more exciting and fulfilling it must have been for those on the stage who were greeted with loud rounds of applause several times during the show. That indeed is the best part of theatre!