Review: London’s Bankside

Venue: London's Bankside
Date: 19 Nov 2016

The Globe

Pictured: A guided tour of the replica Globe Theatre.

Sarah Holt went century-hopping on the latest Reader Club trip to London’s Bankside.

It was Shakespeare himself who coined the phrase too much of a good thing. But I think he’d rethink his penmanship if he had the chance to go to London’s Bankside today.

This is a part of London where the good things keep on coming, but even after a full day of exploring, you’d be hard pressed to say the experience was too excessive. At least that’s what Group Leisure readers concluded at the end of the recent Reader Club trip to the area.  

Wrapping its wing around the Thames and St Pauls, London’s Bankside is the place where the capital city doths its cap to England’s most famous writer. It’s also a live wire of bars, restaurants, street theatre and art.

Our Reader Club trip started at Shakespeare’s Globe – the attraction on the edge of the River Thames that’s home to a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre as well as an exhibition space and a modern day theatre called the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

This is a place that knows how to eat into the hours. Our group spent a full morning there and we had only skimmed the surface of what the attraction had to offer.

We began our time at Shakespeare’s Globe with a guided tour of the replica Globe Theatre. The original Globe was built by Shakespeare’s playing company the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1599 at a site roughly 230 metres away from the 20th century reconstruction. It was destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt, and then demolished in 1644.

The replica has been built to look as authentic as possible. It’s open air, with a nest-like thatched roof that runs around the outside. There are three levels of seating around the edges.

The Globe

Pictured: The exterior of Shakespeare's Globe.

Guides at the Globe know exactly how to wormhole you into the past. Their quirky stories give you a mile-in-their-shoes experience of the patrons who used to frequent the original theatre. Our guide shared all sorts of historical gossip with us, including tales of the man who had to be extinguished by beer after he was set alight during a major fire at the original Globe.

After the tour, our group was given time to explore the exhibition with audio guides. There’s a degree’s worth of information on offer in this space. Interactive exhibits give you an insight into everything from the works of Shakespeare to the building of the modern Shakespeare’s Globe.

All group trips to the attraction can be tailored, there’s a menu of extras that parties can add to their experience. Guided walks along Bankside can be bolted on, as can trips to The Shard or The Golden Hinde.

On our Reader Club trip our group was given an Elizabethan dressing demonstration. A rail of traditional Elizabethan clothes was brought out and we were shown how women from Shakespeare’s time would have got dressed. Elizabethan women were dressed like onions, with layer after layer of clothing.

The sisterhood of Shakespeare’s day were also the original Kim Kardashians – as the fashion of the time was to have wasp like waists and doorstep-like behinds. Elizabethan women used crescent shaped cushions called bumrolls to enhance the size of their behinds, as it was a sign of wealth to have a buxom bottom.

Lunchtime on our Reader Club trip took us to Pizza Express, less than a two minute walk from Shakespeare’s Globe. The pizza chain can deal with large bookings blindfolded. Our party had a pizza buffet, for which various pizzas were brought to the table for sharing.

Pizza Express

Pictured: Lunch time at Pizza Express.

Our group shared Frisbee-sized portions of fiorentina, American, La Reine (made with prosciutto black olives and mushrooms) and margarita.

After lunch, we headed to The Tate Modern as part of another dual-trip ticket option that’s offered by Shakespeare’s Globe.

There’s been a bit of a fanfare at The Tate Modern this year as the gallery opened its brand new £260 million Switch House extension in summer.

Switch House has been built inside part of a disused power station. The new gallery space leads from the place where the former oil tanks used to be to the top of a ten-storey tower, which takes the form of a kinked pyramid.

The former oil tanks currently house a variety of interactive and installation art. The moment you step into this space the line between art and onlooker blurs. It’s as if there’s an event horizon on the edge of the gallery, and the moment you cross it you become part of the pieces on display, whether you want to or not.

One of my favourite pieces was Umbrella by Wen-Ying Tsai. It’s a piece of interactive electronic art that’s been set up inside an almost pitch black concrete room. The sculpture responds to sound. Clap and it flinches, whisper and its strobes flash. It’s a hypnotic piece of work.

The Tate

Pictured: The Tate Modern.

Another installation that sucks you into it is Séance de Shadow II (bleu) by French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. The work consists of a blue corridor fitted with a matching blue carpet and a set of bright lights.

When a motion sensor detects a movement the corresponding light illuminates, causing the viewers to cast dramatic moving shadows onto the blue wall. It’s a piece of work that’s never the same twice and its form is completely dependent on the viewers.  

On our Reader Club trip we were taken around the Switch House by guide Claudia Antonia Merkle, an art historian and journalist. Claudia syphoned the hidden meanings from every piece that she took our group past in the gallery. By the end of the experience, even the group members who weren’t convinced about modern art were gripped by what she had to say.

The trip ended with our group taking the elevator up to the top floor. This is where the Switch House viewing level is that affords visitors 360 degree views of London’s skyline. The Shard, the Walkie Talkie and The Leadenhall Building all look Lilliput from this vantage point. It’s worth a trip to Bankside in itself.

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