San Francisco as a place of iconic cultural movements, and its atmosphere of societal change today. Anna Price Lonely Planet opens their webpage on San Francisco by claiming that this city is ‘fog-shrouded icons’, before… More
Florence is a city rich in cultural history, art and beauty. The acclaimed Duomo dominates the skyline from all angles, and the terracotta-coloured tiles on the roofs absorb the sun creating a warm, orange-ish hue that envelops the city. The streets are reminiscent of Venice: small, cobbled and crowded; and they all appear to lead to the main Piazza. Food in Florence is typically Tuscan and generally wonderful, a restaurant to highlight is ‘Fuoco Matto’, just off of Piazza Indipendenza. This is a modern, but relaxed, restaurant with a chilled vibe but traditional (and excellent) Tuscan food.
This itinerary includes the ‘must-sees’ of the city, but it is tailored towards the art-lover. The art is the primary reason we decided to visit Florence, and we were certainly not disappointed. This is a busy itinerary, and the days do tend to be quite full, but it ensures that key parts of the city are visited, and all the important pieces of art and architecture are included. Having said this, this itinerary is flexible, and allows time to break in the day and relax in the evening. There is also the possibility to re-arrange parts of the day to whatever suits best. This itinerary is not set in stone but offers a guide to the best places to explore on the same day. Comments are always welcome.
- Fly into Rome
- Take the train to Florence
- Arrive at the hotel. Enjoy the pool, atmosphere and local surroundings.
We decided to fly into Rome primarily because the flights were cheaper, easier and available. Taking the train from Rome to Florence was clear affordable. We bought first-class tickets for the same price as many UK standard tickets, and it was still rather luxurious. The journey itself was picturesque as we sped through the Tuscan countryside and enjoyed the views of Vineyards and farmland.
- Visit Galleria dell’Academia
- Walk to Piazza del Duomo
- Visit the Baptistry
- Visit Museo Dell’Opera di Santa Maria
- Have lunch in the area
- Visit Il Duomo de Firenze
It is essential to book in advance for the Galleria dell’Academia and it should be noted that the booking site is slightly difficult to navigate. Ensure enough time is left to book the tickets for the right day – they are non-refundable and non-transferable. Arriving at the Galleria at opening time would be good for those who wish to avoid masses of tourists and large tour groups. The Galleria holds Michelangelo’s legendary ‘David’ as well as multiple key medieval paintings, friezes and sculptures.
The Galleria is approximately a 9 minute walk from the Piazza del Duomo. Buying these tickets in advance is also helpful; the tickets cover the Museo Dell’Opera, the Baptistry and allows you to book a slot to clime the Brunelleschi Dome. To visit just the cathedral is free. It is important to check the opening/closing times of each location to decide the order in which to visit each location. We visited on a Sunday, and the Duomo was only open after 1:30pm, hence the decision to visit it last. The queue was long but moved quickly: do not be put off by it. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants in the square, and it is a beautiful place to soak up the sun and take in the glory of this architectural feat.
- Visit Leonardo da Vinci Museum
- Visit Capella de Medici, San Lorenzo Basilica and Medicea Laurenziana Library
- Walk to Piazza Santa Maria di Novella and have lunch in the area
- Visit Santa Maria di Novella
- Head back to the hotel for an afternoon/evening of relaxing
The Leonardo da Vinci Museum is a little-known gem of Florence. It is a small museum that maps the life and works of the famous artist and inventor. It also featured appliances and machinery built to-scale from da Vinci’s sketches, many of which are interactive. A great place for children and any physics/engineering/architecture lover.
The Medici Chapels and Library are only 5 minutes from the da Vinci museum and are a group of ‘must-sees’. The Medici Family were the prominent bankers, and ultimately rulers, of the city for a long period of its history. The Basilica and library are stunning in their medieval style, while the catacombs within the Medici household exhibit many of the jewels and treasures of the Medici collection.
Santa Maria di Novella is known for its beautiful facade that matches the exterior of the Duomo. Inside is a large chapel and series of cloisters that expand in a tardis style: the size of this church cannot be estimated from the outside.
- Visit Uffizi Gallery
- Walk up to Piazza della Signoria, take in the site and note Palazzo Vecchio
- Walk to Ponte Vecchio and over the bridge to Palazzo Pitti
- Have lunch in the area
- Visit the Palazzo Pitti
The Uffizi Gallery is the main art gallery in Florence. Again, booking in advance is recommended, unless you arrive early enough to queue. The gallery is arranged chronologically, and will take approximately two and half hours to see it all. The Uffizi houses key works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Da Vinci, Giotto, Botticelli, Bellini and Caravaggio. The Uffizi should be a priority for any art-lover or historian. Entrance to the Uffizi gallery also permits entrance to Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli gardens. It is possible to extend the tickets to cover three days to allow visiting flexibility.
Piazza della Signoria is around the corner from the Uffizi, and holds a selection of famous statues. The expansive nature of this square is impressive and the ability to admire the statues close up is a luxury not available in a museum setting. The placing of the statues in this public space creates a tangible connection between city and art that is somewhat lost when statues are enclosed in a gallery or exhibition.
Walking across the Ponte Vecchio provides scenic views of the River Arno as well as the opportunity to buy beautiful jewellery. The bridge is famous for its rows of jewellers, as well as for featuring in Puccini’s ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’. Palazzo Pitti holds a plethora of art and exhibitions, most notably the state rooms and the collection of “Modern Art” (Modern in this sense referring to post-1850).
- Hop on Hop off Bus Tour – first tour 9:00am, last tour 6:00pm
- Hop off at Santa Croce
- Get back on bus
- Hop off at Piazzale Michelangelo for the stunning views
- Get back on bus
- Hop off at Palazzo Pitti but walk around the Boboli Gardens + see the Neptune Fountain
- Hop back on and return home
I aim to use the ‘Hop on Hop Off Bus’ in each city I visit – it is a fantastic way to see the architectural sights and get a visual impression of the city as a whole. It also functions as an alternative to public transport, and it is easy to use and often tourist-friendly. The “Hop on Hop off” was brilliant in Florence as it allowed us to speedily visit Piazzale Michelangelo without taking half a day to climb the hill, as well as access the ancient town of Fiesole.
Santa Croce is another stunning church in Florence, comprising of this same, iconic facade design. This particular church houses the graves of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei and Machiavelli, as well as Cimabue’s infamous cross and a tunnel of Victorian graves. Piazzale Michelangelo offers panoramic views of the city and is a prime photo-taking location. We decided to alight the bus a stop early to walk through the Boboli Gardens, up to Palazzo Pitti. This is quite a steep climb but the lush greenery and manicured gardens are well worth the hike.
All pictures are my own unless otherwise credited. Permission must be obtained before any reproduction and credit must be issued in any reproduction.
I am a “Southerner”. I enjoy the semi-seasonal weather, the clear dialect and afternoon tea in the garden. I generally do not feel infuriated by the individualist coldness on the London streets and I value the well-connected public transport links. For me, The Midlands and The North blur into one and they feature the scary myths of Spaghetti Junction, stand-still traffic on the M1, dinner at midday, chips and gravy, and scantily dressed girls on nights out. It is as foreign to me as The North is to the Lannisters. A crime, I know.
Needless to say, my venture to Yorkshire to visit my boyfriend’s family home, as well as the Brontë Parsonage Museum, was an educational adventure. After 4 hours driving northbound, we arrived in Pannel, a small town in the heart of Yorkshire County. The winter darkness had set in two hours into the journey, cloaking the vast, unruly countryside promised to me by so many writers. There was also no sense of crossing a boundary, nor a formal feeling of entering the north – we simply arrived. While it wasn’t raining, the bracing February wind was fiercely cold as it lashed our exposed skin as we raced into the warmth.
Our itinerary for the weekend was busy, exploring the cobbled streets of local towns and cities, tasting “Northern” fish and chips (and scraps), taking Betty’s Afternoon Tea, and, most excitingly, visiting the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth. I am a Brontë enthusiast: Jane Eyre taught me to be strong and resolute, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall encouraged me to be independent and Wuthering Heights introduced me to a world of wild passion and expansive emotion. These iconic texts not only caused trembles in the patriarchal world of Victorian authors, but they also continue to shape and encourage young minds in this modern world. They offer an essential insight into the constraints of Victorian society, the issues revolving around the married/creative/emotional woman. While these novels are steeped in epochal issues, they are timeless in their impact as they continue to promote equality.
On approaching Haworth, the scenery is breathtaking. The expansive rolling moors, divided only by the rustic stone dykes, and the crepuscular rays illuminating sections of the green grassland, elicit a solitary, but liberating feel.
Elizabeth Gaskell traversed this same Yorkshire terrain and explains in her biography of Charlotte Brontë that ‘all round the horizon there is this same line of sinuous wave-like hills, the scoops into which they fall only revealing other hills beyond, of similar colour and shape, crowned with wild bleak moors – grand from the ideas of solitude and loneliness which they suggest’. Gaskell perfectly depicts the rise and fall of the horizon and captures the vast, expansive nature of this countryside. Gaskell also comments on the ‘solitude and loneliness’ of these moors. While the clear lack of people does support this sense of isolation, it is not lonely. It is, instead, peaceful, serene and glorious. By no means do these Yorkshire moors live to their bleak and grim reputation in the South; the epithet of ‘God’s Own Country’ is certainly spot on.
Scenery, setting and description is synonymous within Emily’s Wuthering Heights, as the untamed moors emulate Heathcliff’s primitive nature and Cathy’s impulsive emotions. While Emily illustrates the moorland and Yorkshire countryside in such an evocative manor in her text, physically being elevated in the depths of the hills, encircled by the bitter (but invigorating) wind, provides a connection to Emily, to the text and to Cathy that was quite unexpected. I was half anticipating to see the ghosts of Heathcliff and Cathy wandering the moors.
Entering the site just the two of us through the bottom of the graveyard, the atmosphere is incredibly suggestive as the tall evergreens somewhat block the light, providing an eerie hue, while the skeletons of the trees tower over the graves and physically signify the corpses in the ground. These elements undoubtedly perpetrate the sensations of the supernatural – if I were a ghost-watcher, I am sure I would have have sensed a presence.
We first visited the church before heading up to the parsonage. The connection to the author was epitomised at this point, and my fangirling surfaced as I exclaimed to my boyfriend: ‘This is it! They lived here. They actually walked these paths, breathed in these rooms, and this is where they lay!”. When did I become such a stereotypical, fanatical tourist? I am somewhat ashamed to say that this excitement lasted the duration of our parsonage visit – indulging in the manuscripts, pouring over letters, marvelling at outfits and admiring the original set up of the house. While I was slightly disappointed by the few amount of original ‘Emily artefacts’ on show, I realised that this was probably due to her early death. Only three months after Branwell’s passing, Emily also died, aged only thirty. At the parsonage, death is omnipresent; not only does the house look over the cramped churchyard, the parsonage itself would have been dark, damp and dank, creating an environment that fosters disease and, ultimately, death. These sinister undertones are apparent at the very core of Wuthering Heights, as the bleak setting and tragic plot perpetrates the sense of loss and desolation that occurred on the doorstep of the parsonage.
Despite this sinister atmosphere of the past, the present Howarth is charming. It allures the international tourist by its quintessentially British set-up, and pleases the seasoned British traveller with its shops, tea-rooms, pubs and sloping cobbled streets. After a warming cup of loaded hot chocolate, a plate of ploughman’s and conversation with the fellow tables we were fully satisfied. Brontë country had served us well.
My first trip “T’up North” taught me many things: that it is anything but bleak, that it may be cold but the sun does shine and that Northerners really are very friendly. It grounded my interest in the Brontë’s, their lifestyle and literature, and sparked an idea that has developed into my MA thesis. A second visit is now in the making, and I look forward to exploring more of this rich cultural heritage in the future!
All pictures are my own unless otherwise credited. Permission must be obtained before any reproduction and credit must be issued in any reproduction.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is celebrated for its ability to transport passengers back to a time of luxurious, effortless travel. A symbol of elegant art deco style, The Orient Express allows passengers to rediscover the romance of travelling through Europe’s favourite cities.
In travelling from London Victoria to Venezia Santa Lucia, the magic begins in the waiting room at Victoria Station, where passengers are welcomed with coffee before boarding the British Pullman train for the first leg of the journey. The sense of nervous excitement is palpable, as couples of all ages, on anniversary, birthday and engagement trips, arrive alongside bustling groups of friends, ready for what is internationally considered to be a trip of a lifetime.
The exceptionally attentive and accommodating service begins as soon as the British Pullman arrives, as porters oblige in taking multiple photos before escorting passengers to their seats. By this point, the elation starts to settle and appetites begin to grow in perfect timing for brunch to be served.
Each carriage of the British Pullman has been restored to its original beauty, and each has an individual name, style and story. The carriages date from the 1920s, upholding traditional art deco artwork on the wood panelling, while the crockery, glassware and table settings maintain the quintessentially British element of the British Pullman train. Bellinis poured, coffee served and pastries offered, the British Pullman is well on its way. All that is left to do, is enjoy the caviar infused scrambled eggs, absorb the beautiful English countryside and perhaps do a crossword puzzle or two.
As the British Pullman pulls into Folksestone, the excitement reemerges as a brass band welcomes the carriages into the station, and once all passengers have disembarked and joined luxury shuttle buses, the band waves goodbye and the shuttles enter the euro tunnel with the anticipation of French air.
By the time the busses emerge onto French soil, each passenger is more than ready for the main event: The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. As the sun sets over Calais station, the iconic carriages uphold a luminous glow and as travellers board the epochal train, they are immediately transported to an era of sophisticated travel.
Once settled in the cabin with a glass of champagne, it is time to relax and prepare for the evening activities: a four course dinner followed by jazz music in the bar car. As the Orient Express speeds towards Paris, night closes in and guests make their way to the opulent dining cart for the first sitting of dinner. The corridors allude to the sounds of bygone journeys: tinkling jewels and bustling fabric as passengers walk in the footsteps of previous guests for a fine-dining experience not to be forgotten.
The ingredients for the seasonal set menus are locally sourced and artisanally prepared to provide flavours of the highest quality. On this particular journey, diners enjoyed lobster, caviar and cauliflower puree to start, followed by a tender piece of beef with roasted vegetables. The third course consisted of six professionally chosen cheeses, served with a selection of chutneys and crackers. And finally, dessert was composed of a chocolate-hazelnut filo parcel alongside a skilfully poached pear.
After finishing the meal with a cup of tea and a selection of petit-fours, the first-sitting of diners glide towards the bar cart and join the buzz of the second-sitting diners before they descend for their dinner. The cramped quarters of this single carriage demonstrated difficulty in manoeuvring, but once drinks were obtained and seats were gained it proved a most rememberable evening, as guests chatted, laughed and listened to the jazz piano into the early hours of the morning.
When it’s time to retire, passengers find that their cabin has been transformed into cosy bunkbeds with the washbasin prepared with miniature toiletries. Once snuggled under the blankets, it is not long until sleep approaches with the soothing rhythm of the tracks along with the quantities of wine consumed that evening. Awaking in the morning is magnificent. Lying in bed and watching the beautiful Swiss countryside gracefully unfold out the window is an experience that is incomparable to other modes of luxury travel. Breakfast is soon served in the room, and after a relaxing morning of scenery-gazing, card games and reading, The Orient Express rolls into Italy and it is time for lunch.
This three-course meal is no less indulgent than the night before, except now there is the added luxury of viewing the scenery in the dazzling Italian sunlight. After an afternoon drink in the bar cart, there is time for a brief siesta before the train pulls into Venice’s Santa Lucia’s station.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is an experience of gourmet dining, luxury travel and indulgent hedonism. It is undeniably a once in-a-lifetime journey, that should be taken more than once whenever feasible. It is impossible to leave the extravagance of The Orient Express without immediately wanting to travel on it again.
All pictures are my own unless otherwise credited. Permission must be obtained before any reproduction and credit must be issued in any reproduction.
Back in September, I took a trip up to Cheltenham to visit my grandparents for a weekend of countryside, shopping, roasts and, inevitably, art. My Grandfather and I have same enthusiasm for history, art and culture, and so, we embarked on a trip to discover the Pre-Raphaelite prominence in Gloucestershire and Birmingham. We visited All Saints Church in Selsley, St Phillips Cathedral in Birmingham, and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The amount of Pre-Raphaelite stained-glass was overwhelming, and we thoroughly enjoyed comparing the church and the cathedral and discovering the Pre-Raphaelite interest in stained-glass art.
Click here to read a full, published account of this trip on the Royal Holloway Centre for Victorian Studies Research Blog.
As a Victorianist, I am passionate about Millais, Rossetti, Fildes, Ruskin, Turner and the likes. I love depictions of London, vast gothic landscapes and representations of poverty.
Little did I know that I would be so captivated by the National Gallery’s exhibit on Michelangelo & Sebastiano.
Michelangelo and Sebastiano were two of the most prolific artists of the Renaissance period. Meeting in Rome in 1511, an unlikely alliance emerged: forging the ground for an ‘epic and personal’ friendship and collaboration.
This exhibit at the National Gallery accumulates the artists’ best works and explores their collaborative relationship, mimicking styles and the development of their works of art. The exhibit also touches on Michelangelo’s intense rivalry with Raphael and the dialogue, in writing and in painting, between the two.
The most notable pieces of art for me, were the cast of Michelangelo’s ‘Pietà’ and Sebastiano’s ‘Lamentation over the Dead Christ’, which Michelangelo designed. The exhibit displayed a cast of Michelangelo’s sculpture, as the original is located in the Vatican Museums, Vatican City. The contemplation and reverence on the Virgin Mary’s face is intriguing, and contrasts to the many depictions of her anguish. There is an elegance created in the mother’s loss, yet the emotion is still intensified. This is mirrored in Sebastiano’s painting, as the Virgin Mary looks up to the heavens as her son lays at her feet. However, the separation of mother and son in this image isolates the Virgin in her grief as she is without the comfort of touch. It is explained by the National Gallery that this painting was hung in a chapel and that this position on the floor ‘made it look as if Christ was laid upon the alter, a clear reference to the rite of Eucharist’. The enlarged scale of the Virgin Mary in both depictions emphasises not only her purity and immaculate femininity, but also the importance of her position as mother of the church. In Sebastiano’s painting, the freely handled nocturnal background emphasises the colour and detailed depiction of the characters in the foreground creating a sensual feel to the painting.
Sebastiano’s ‘The Rising of Lazarus’ was also designed by Michelangelo. ‘The Rising of Lazarus’ reinstated the competitive rivalry between Michelangelo and Raphael. Cardinal Medici commissioned both ‘The Rising of Lazarus’ and ‘The Transfiguration’ (Raphael) in 1516. While the commission for ‘Lazarus’ was originally given to Michelangelo, it was later agreed that Sebastiano would take over. Sebastiano’s painting was completed and unofficially on view in 1518, by which point Raphael had not even started. By 1520, Raphael had almost finished, undertaking over 15 revisions, or pentimenti, of certain areas. He died, however, in April of that year and ‘The Transfiguration’ was displayed alongside ‘The Rising of Lazarus’ a week later.
The movement amongst the crowd in each image is particularly interesting – as in both paintings, arm gestures and body positions direct the eye to the focal image. The variety in reactions within the crowds aid this as they create a hub of emotion and dialogue that incites discussion amongst the observer. There is a flow of moment from within the paintings that extends out towards the audience. While Sebastiano’s interpretation of the ‘The Raising of Lazarus’ is fairly grounded and realistic, Raphael’s ‘The Transfiguration’ is etherial and angelic – the brightness of colour providing a holy glow to his depiction. I suppose the difference lies in the story behind each painting, but both still depict miraculous events. Lazarus is risen from the dead and is ready to live life again on earth, conversely, in the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus becomes a radiant glory, signifying the majesty of God and the celestial nature of Jesus’ presence.
Most interestingly, for each key piece of work displayed, there were multiple sketches and studies preparing for them. Their art was refined, detailed and practiced to perfection: there was little room for discrepancy and irregularity when the pressure of patronage and popularity was so great.
The exhibition was captivating and enlightening, educating the audience on the intricacies of the Michelangelo/Sebastiano relationship and their collaborative works. I am intrigued by the rivalry between Michelangelo and Raphael, and would love at some point to visit an exhibition on this: comparing the two’s work and understanding their differences.
This weekend I attended The London Victorian Studies Colloquium with the Centre for Victorian Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. Set in beautiful campus and surrounded by the majestic architecture of Thomas Holloway’s Foudner’s Building, I revelled in the rich academic atmosphere, insightful comments and variety of interests perpetuating the Victorian academic scholarship.
The Colloquium commenced on Friday night with a panel on Heritage and Cultural Industries. The speakers included Sonia Solicari (Director of the Geffrye Museum), Cindy Sugrhrue (Director of the Charles Dickens Museum) and Alex Werner (Curator, Museum of London). I have attended many talks by the Royal Holloway Careers department, but none as interesting, engaging and informative as this. The speakers traced their own path into their positions, their roles now, and what they look for in volunteers and job seekers. It seems to me that flexibility is key: you must be able to grab opportunity where it appears. A linear route into museums is abnormal and you must have time for a great deal of volunteering. Essentially, you must throw yourself into it, dedicate yourself pursuing the role you desire through networking, volunteering, and applying to lots and lots of places. The sector is competitive.
While the weekend had a theme of careers and career pathways, the papers given by current PhD students were fascinating and original. From theatrical caricature in Victorian portraiture, to ‘Victorian Spiritualism through the Stereoscope’ as well as French influence on the Gothic revival, I was captivated. The reading group introduced me to Violet Fane and the final paper reignited my passion for Victorian art and Pre-Raphaelite artists.
As a budding Victorianist, I am ready and waiting for September to arrive so I can embark on the MA in Victorian Literature, Art and Culture. My future career, however, is yet undecided. Do I pursue a PhD and become an academic? Do I engage the commercial world and attempt to infiltrate the heritage and cultural industries? Should I develop my interest in art and art history? What about combining commerce and art history to explore the world of auction houses? Needless to say the options are vast, and my realisation of these paths are as a result of this weekend. The weekend has broadened my view of the Victorian Era as a whole, widened my interests and left me uncertain as to which aspect of the 19thC I actually enjoy the most. I shall keep you posted.
Terror and Wonder, The Gothic Imagination: British Library Exhibition
This winter, the British Library has held an exhibition on gothic culture, exploring the use of terror and wonder in literature, art and film through the centuries, starting in 1764 with the publication of The Castle of Otranto and ending with gothic culture in the modern day. In going through each era in chronological order, it was very clear how the word ‘Gothic’ is an umbrella term covering literature, film and art which has evolved and developed for over 200 years. Whilst Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto with the aim of merging both Realism and Romanticism – combining plausible situations with mystical and sublime events – he really founded a new genre and style of writing, using terror as a means to engage his readers, which permeated into art, music and film over time, right up until today. In giving this overview of the gothic genre, juxtaposed with the detailed descriptions of each individual gothic turning points, the exhibit allows visitors to walk through time and appreciate the minute progressions of the genre. It is in this way that modern society can begin to understand how the gothic genre commenced with The Castle of Otranto, evolving to having now produced The Twilight Series.
It has hard to imagine that: The Italian (Ann Radcliffe), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), Dracula (Bram Stoker), Bleak House (Charles Dickens), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Robert Louis Stephenson) and The Shining (Stephen King), all belong to the same genre of literature. There are two main elements that connect these novels: the suspense caused by the style of writing and the use, or implied use, of the supernatural. The exhibit shows how these vast novels (in terms of plot and subject base) not only further the variety of the gothic genre, but also create a timeless impression: each novel, painting or film contributes to the genre and they are in communication with pieces of art which have preceded them. Despite this longevity within the genre, however, the exhibit explains how each of the novels mentioned were particularly suspenseful, frightening or terror-inducing due to that society’s fear at that time. For example, Bleak House’s representation of the poor in the crowded, dark, foggy and eerie back streets of London would have terrified the upper classes who were afraid of those lower in society and the mixing of social classes. The Italian and Castle of Otranto, however, relay stories of ancient churches in medieval times, creating a whole different level of suspense according to society’s fears.
Terror and Wonder, The Gothic Imagination primarily allowed me to understand the gothic genre as an ongoing, vast and diverse element of culture in our modern day and throughout history, but also the impact of certain eras on the pieces of art produced. The detail to certain eras and artifacts, and then the impact of this in the journey of the gothic genre as a whole was the most interesting and satisfying, as it allowed visitors the opportunity to have an overall view of the genre, as well as detailed stories and facts about each of the pieces of works, their situations and their artists. The opportunity to see first hand original manuscripts, sketches and notes of the authors and artists is an aspect of this exhibition that was the most momentous, as it connected me, in the modern day, to the author and their mindset at the time of writing – an indescribable feeling. This exhibition is open until Tuesday the 20th of January at the British Library, London.
This week’s matinee performance of ‘Chicago’, on Broadway, was completely worth the wait. From first watching the movie aged eleven, having learnt all the songs word for word by age twelve and then having listened to the soundtrack on repeat in the car for hours on the drive to the south of France, I would have called myself a Chicago enthusiast. I was only lacking in the fact that I had never seen it performed on stage in its original glory, until this week.
The entire production was not only visually stunning with the world class dancing and singing, but also incredibly entertaining in terms of the acting and interaction with the audience. It was very apparent throughout the whole performance that we, the audience, were watching a show – there was no attempt to make the audience forget their place and draw them into the plot: they were the actors and we were the observers. In this way, the performance was very aware of itself and carried this self-awareness throughout, using techniques which highlighted this further: such as pantomime-like narrators, over-exaggerated movements, slapstick routines and the farcical use of a man dressed as a woman singing falsetto. These elements not only contributed to the comedic element of the performance but, combined, they also constitute that of a Brechtian performance. This is furthered by the fact that all members of the cast were on stage at the same time – lining it with the chairs and bringing them on when they needed to be used. This is reminiscent of a Brechtian performance of Medea, where the actors used rope to identify their acting space, waiting on the outside of it, with the props, when they weren’t is use. It was all these elements combined which epitomized the comedy and heightened the connection with the audience.
This humour was not apparent within the movie, primarily due to the fact that there was no live audience. A live audience is pivotal in a production as it can change the way in which actors can manipulate the text and play to the audience’s desires. This difference between movie and performance is similar to the way in which Shakespeare’s text has a different effect on the reader than when it is performed on stage, due to the way in which the actors use their tone of voice, body language and interactions to support the words on the page. This is not the only similarity between ‘Chicago’ and Shakespearean plays as the use of a man dressed as a woman was very common in Shakespearean and Restoration theatre, acting almost as an element of comic relief, enhancing the connection further.
Although the acting, dancing and singing were outstanding, the orchestra made the performance. The opening jazz number set the tone for the rest of the production; the use of the mute with the trumpet and growling saxophone combined with the visually stunning and intense dance combinations sent shivers down my spine and brought tears to eyes. The conductor herself was brilliant, becoming a part of the performance and a member of the cast, bridging the divide between the orchestra and the actors – equalizing them all as performers. This was aided by the fact that the jazz band was placed on stage, physically alienating any divide of space: musicians, dancers and actors were integrated.
I think it is clear that this production of ‘Chicago’ utterly lived up to all expectations, even if some elements were different to the movie, as they only added to the performance and made it a fabulous afternoon in the city.
Welcome to the musings of a literature, theatre, history and art enthusiast!