Terra Incognita - Here Be Dragons

Tower Bridge Bascule Chambers (aka the most dramatic space in London...)

Tower Bridge’s dank, raw-brick bascule chambers have the volumes of a looted cathedral and are the most dramatic spaces in London. Into these below-river voids swing 1200-ton seesaw counterweights when the roadway swings up in a bridge lift. Now Guildhall students have used the huge walls as a canvas for video projection with music and cut-up film dialogue. The installation works best at its trippiest, with abstract CGi or giant images of lithe swimmers, though it’s upstaged by the majesty of the space. But do take any chance you get to see anything here: the huge, dormant drum of the accumulator, a prototype brake battery as big as a house, is worth the trip alone.  


Science Museum

Carers of the future or bringers of a mechanical apocalypse? Hard to think of anything that brims so copiously with promise, fascination and menace as the robot. So this show’s a no-brainer. Amazingly, the first humanoid automata were religious figurines, and industrial robots go back to the 19th century, long before the term ‘robot’ was invented in 1920 by Karel Capek. Lots of prototype metal men here (humanoid form is pursued as assiduously as artificial intelligence) and scary modern androids, plus a smattering of movie ‘bots. The show must appeal to kids, obviously, but I’d have liked more on the philosophy and morality of creating something that so closely resembles us and could supplant us.

London's oldest picture palace

Regent St Cinema

For decades I’ve admired and slightly resented those Woody Allen characters who have time to seek out screenings of classic films in elegant arthouse cinemas. Last Friday, I became one when me and @acghunter watched Ossie Davis’s gaudy adaptation of Chester Himes’ Cotton Comes to Harlem at the Regent Street Cinema. This steep-raked, high-screened, dramatically vaulted palace of film was used by the Lumiere brothers to demonstrate their Cinematographe machine in 1898, though the building itself dates from 1846, and it oozes a similar historic vibe to the BBC Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House. A beautiful cinema can lift even an indifferent film. Next time I’ll go the full Woody and have a martini.

The Archeology of Crossrail (ho hum) and the new Canary Wharf (ooh!)

Museum of London/Canary Wharf Station

Ironic that an exhibition about Crossrail doesn’t feel that well connected. True, this about artefacts found in the excavation of the Elizabeth line – Victorian chamber pots, Roman coins, plague skeletons, a mammoth bone – but the scale of the enterprise is only expressed in a film fly-through of the tunnel by a drone. It wouldn’t have been worth the trip if hacks (no one else, sorry) hadn’t also been shown the new Canary Wharf platform, 250m long and arrow-straight, to take trains holding 1,500 people. Apparently all the platforms are straight except one at Tottenham Court Road, which swerves the foundations of St Patrick’s in Soho Square.

The Glass Menagerie (2/5)

Duke of York's Theatre

Although this John Tiffany production is very good, I still find Tennessee Williams at his most anguished and self-exposing deeply, well, embarrassing. Here, a thinly-veiled version of the playwright’s mentally and physically frail sister is strapped to the engine of play and remorselessly crushed, pushed towards unrealisable hopes by her desperately cheerful mother. There’s something sadistic about the reinforcement of the family’s doomed behavioural tropes, and the merciless repetition, and it’s a humblebrag indeed that the writer character is a weak wastrel, but still nicknamed ‘Shakespeare’. Cherry Jones is terrific as the mother, and Kate O’Flynn does well with the impossible role of Laura, but sorry, this leaves me cold.

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