You may go anywhere you wish in the castle, except where the doors are locked, where of course you will not wish to go.

I’ve never been a fan of the whole “date night” concept (Or phrase. Sounds so icky.). But if we were to have a date night, last night would have been pretty much the perfect one. We started with dinner in Tayyabs – if you live in London and you haven’t yet had the lamb chops from Tayyabs, then shame on you. What have you been doing with your life? Once we’d eaten so much we couldn’t move, we rolled ourselves and our curry-stained fingers over to Wilton’s Music Hall to watch the performance of Mark Bruce’s Dracula.

I’m quite obsessed with learning about the rich history of East London, and Wilton’s Music Hall is one of the gems of the area. It originally opened in the 18th Century as an alehouse, becoming known as “The Mahogany Bar” from around 1826 – apparently because the landlord was the first to install a mahogany bar and fittings in his pub. From around 1850, when it was bought by John Wilton, The Mahogany Bar became a Music Hall – with a large concert room in the back, entertaining punters with stars such as George Ware, and Champagne Charlie – and even, according to some sources, was the location of the first performance of the Can-Can in London (after which it was promptly banned).

Following its incarnation as a music hall, it then passed into the hands of the East London Methodist Mission in 1888, and it remained as a mission hall for the next 70 years. After another reincarnation as a rag sorting depot – and surviving war, fire and floods – the building is now seeing a new life as a performance and arts venue – you may have seen its recent appearance starring alongside Robert Downey Junior in Sherlock Holmes 2 –  and you can even get married here!

This visit was the first time I had seen a performance at Wilton’s – although I have previously joined one of their fantastic and informative free tours – and the show I was seeing fitted in perfectly with the general atmosphere of stylish Victorian era dereliction (unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the hall due to my phone battery giving up at the first sign of actual use, but there are plenty on the website here)

The show we saw was Mark Bruce’s modern dance retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Which is probably the only modern dance performance I can realistically get my boyfriend to come along to, seeing as it’s got Vampires in it. It was an absolutely stunning show – really atmospheric, with smoke, candlelight, and shadowy figures appearing suddenly out of the dimly lit corners of the room. Bruce Goddard – who played Dracula himself – completely blew me away with his performance, completely inhabiting the character, and even eliciting some laughs, and a little sympathy by the end. And I’ll never forget his eyes.

I also thought Kristin McGuire, who played Lucy Westenra, was excellent – particularly in the second half as she portrayed Lucy’s (SPOILER ALERT) change, following her visits from Dracula. To accompany the dancing, the music was pleasingly eclectic, with some proper old school music hall classics, and a soft-shoe shuffle to boot.

I couldn’t fault this show at all – even as someone who doesn’t know much about modern dance, I could completely follow the story (although admittedly, I am familiar with it), and the emotions portrayed were very real and the atmosphere was utterly thrilling – at several points during the show I felt something move across my neck – it was literally the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, as the creepy ambience took hold of me. I’d recommend it to everyone – although I think it’s completely sold out at Wilton’s, unfortunately, it is going to Oxford and Frome following its stint in London. See here for more details.

And if you can’t get to see Dracula, then do pay a visit to Wilton’s if you can, and have a drink in The Mahogany Bar – it’s a fantastic venue, and there’s nowhere quite like it.

Today’s quote is from Dracula, by Bram Stoker 

 

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the daring (scared) young(ish) man (woman) on the flying trapeze

Last Friday, I had the day off work. Good times. Instead of just relaxing, taking the air, or getting my “jobs” out of the way before the long weekend started proper, I thought I’d take the opportunity to throw myself off a high platform in Regent’s Park.

I should add that I was at all times safely attached with strong wires with a net beneath me, and at all times I was watched over by the experienced people at Gorilla Circus.

The two hour lesson started with a gentle warm up, before heading over to a low practise bar where we were shown the trick we would be learning. In summary, the trick was – hang on for dear life, go upside down and stick your legs over the bar, let go (!!) so you’re hanging by your knees, scream a little, then reach back up, swing your legs back over, then drop down. Then breathe a sigh of relief it’s all over and you can go to the pub safe in the knowledge you can impress your friends with tales of the fancy new trapeze trick you learnt.

But wait.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. We then headed over – some more eagerly than others – to the hactual trapeze. Full size, high up, scare-inducing…

…where Debs proceeded to demostrate (without wires!) what we were about to do. She looked so graceful, so confident, and so… high up in the air.

And that’s when it hit me: I hate heights, I’m scared of jumping off things, and I’m not a particular fan of being upside down. The holy trinity of reasons to get the hell out of there. Luckily, I wasn’t first on the list of people to try this, so I had time to take some deep breaths and see how the others did before having to climb up that very tall ladder to the very tall platform (did I mention it was high?).

Having been safely (I hoped) attached to the ladder, I proceeded to climb, and climb, and climb. About halfway up I realised how much further I had to go and promptly forgot how to climb a ladder. No matter, I made it in the end, safely reaching Sean at the top despite my shaky limbs. After some more safety clipping (which I watched intently, as it was infinitely preferable to the other option of looking down), it was then time to lean out and reach for the bar. And reach some more – with Sean reassuring me that he was strong enough to hold onto my safety belt whilst I leant out – practically horizontally – to stretch my fingers and grab onto the bar. It’s at times like this that I curse my short stature.

Then, Debs on the ground shouted her instructions:

“Ready!” (Bend your knees)
“Hop!” (Hop)

I was off and flying. That was enough, surely? I mean, hello! I’m on a fricking trapeze, people! But no –

“Legs up!”

“Legs up!”

“Legs up!”

Oh I tried, I really did. But I just seemed to hit a ceiling, and my knees wouldn’t obey me and hook over the bar. So then it was, “Bend your knees!” “Let go!” (I know, right? Took me a couple of goes to trust that instruction), and a somersault in the air and down.

The next go was slightly easier to get to the top of the ladder – or at least, that’s what I told Sean, as there was a certain amount of bravado (aka lying) involved, but I still didn’t quite manage the trick.

Third time lucky. This time I spent less of my brain power swearing uncontrollably, and just followed the instructions. And I did it. I even let go and hung upside down – despite one half of my brain frantically asking of the other half “You’re not actually going to let go are you??”

What a feeling. I felt so graceful up there (although I doubt I looked it – am glad there’s no evidence), and surprisingly safe once I decided just to completely trust what I was being told and not try and second guess it (Wait – is this how Hitler was so successful?).

Unfortunately my prowess wasn’t quite enough to try the catch (something about not being very good at following instructions?), but I did have a fourth and final go at the trick, and left with a spring in my step, a grin on my face, and aches where I wasn’t even sure I had muscles.

(If you want to have a go, Gorilla Circus will be holding lessons in their full-size open air trapeze in Regent’s Park until September. They also do courses, if you fancy more than just a taster.)

Oh, he floats through the air
With the greatest of ease,
This daring young man
On the flying trapeze;
His actions are graceful,
All girls he does please,
My love he has purloined away.

the battle for london’s markets 

Given that I obsessively devour any book or text I come across about my local East End stomping ground, I’m ashamed that it’s taken me so long to discover the gentle author and his (her?) wonderful website Spitalfields Life and accompanying book.

                                    

Having discovered this site, I’ve been working my way forward from the first post in 2009, and can’t wait to get my hands on the book. In the meantime, this article in the Guardian talks about changes to the tradition of London’s markets, and the effect this will have on the local area.

the battle for london’s markets