Political Theatre

There are a few productions on in London at the moment that are bang-up-to-date with what’s happening in the current political sphere.

One could argue that most plays are “political” in the sense that they reflect, in some way, the society of the time they were written. Some playwrights, like Shakespeare, set their plays in other countries in order to cast a critical eye on the behaviour of court and those in power without causing offence to the reigning British monarch – a treasonable offence back then, often punishable by death!

Others, like Arthur Miller, have used events from a different time period to comment on a particular government or administration. His play, The Crucible, uses its central story of the Salem Witch trials of the late 17th century, to draw parallels to the interrogations of “communists” during the McCarthy era of 1950’s America and the fear and hysteria that ensued.

Listening to the radio this morning, these were the items that dominated the news:

  • There’s a parliamentary scandal, currently being investigated, that children from care homes were abused by members of parliament and politicians connected to a paedophile ring.
  • There’s been an escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine which is getting worse by the day as the cycle of killing and retaliation continues.
  • Combatting the threat of terrorism vs privacy issues are at the forefront of debate at the moment, with the culmination of the Leveson enquiry and subsequent court case into the hacking of mobile phones by journalists of certain newspapers. Privacy is also at the heart of revelations by Edward Snowden as to the mass-collection of data that takes place by government agencies.

With these issues high on the political agenda, I’ve cast my eye across various theatre productions that are tackling these subjects. If you know of any more to add to this list, please let me know.

Great Britain – Richard Bean‘s new play, currently running at the NT until 23rd August, is a satire that looks at the modern-day press, the police and the political establishment. The actors rehearsed for months in secret while the trial of Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and 6 others was taking place, with the ending of the play not written until the outcome of the trial was made public. The play, whilst not a direct depiction of those events or characters involved, nevertheless provides a sharp satirical comment on the tangled relationship of these three “Great British” institutions. It will transfer to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket from the 10th Sept.

Whistleblower – a new play by another Richard (Richard Roques this time) about Edward Snowden’s life and the events leading up to his decision to reveal to the public the full extent of the government agencies in the US and Britain “spying” on and collecting the personal data of millions of people. You’ll never look at smartphones and social media in the same light again. There are 3 more weeks to catch this very topical play at the Waterloo East Theatre. For more details about the play, cast and crew click here or for tickets, dates and venue info click here.

Edward Snowden

Calder Bookshop Theatre – this little venue gets a mention because it specialises in political plays and books. It still bears the name of its founder – John Calder (Samuel Beckett’s publisher) – although he no longer runs this independent bookshop which has a theatre space attached and runs a weekly cinema club showing films by directors such as Ken Loach. There’s also lots of second-hand books to browse through. It’s a lovely space – warm, welcoming and close to my heart as I’ve performed there twice now. Their latest production (which I was in) deals with the cycle of violence between Israel and Palestine and there’s a possibility of extra performance dates happening in August (so I’ll keep you updated). Even without my non-too subtle plug for a production I was involved in, this independent bookshop/theatre venue continues to programme events, performances and films in keeping with its political and social ideals, often producing work which is relevant to the political issues of the moment. Click here for their website.

Calder Bookshop Theatre

 

 “A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance”. Dario Fo.

…”the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”. Hamlet’s advice to The Players.

 

 

 

 

Post-Show Blues

Our 4-week run at the Bookshop Theatre  finished last night and as always when a production comes to an end, I’ve got a bit of the “post-show blues”.

It’s usual for most actors to experience this at the end of a production run. You’ve spent weeks together in the rehearsal room, exploring relationships and fleshing out the lives of the characters in the play. You’ve shared in-jokes and worked through doubts together and hopefully, the rehearsal room has been a place within which the director has encouraged feelings of trust and camaraderie.

Then comes the first night nerves which continue until the play settles down and finds its own performance rhythm. Every evening you enter the theatre in order to tell your character’s story in the most believable way you can. Each actor undertakes an emotional journey most evenings (not forgetting the double show on matinee days), coming together to make a play come to life. It isn’t surprising therefore that cast members bond over the experience and I would say that these bonds can become even more close-knit when you’re touring or away from home and the “normality” of day-to-day life is temporarily forgotten.

So when it abruptly stops, there is a sense of loss afterwards, of missing those people who have become like a second family. And even if, deep down, you know that once the job finishes you’re never really going to keep in touch (as you promised at the last night party). Or perhaps your feelings for most of the cast are mainly negative and you can’t wait to see the back of them! Whatever you feel, the chances are you’ll still miss the routine of it all and the joy of performing.

So what to do to combat those post-show blues? These are my top tips, all very neatly beginning with R.

1) Rest. Never underestimate how tiring a production run can be. Before you tackle a new project or start back at work, try to carve out a day to yourself to just lie-in, take a leisurely bath and do as little as possible.

2) Reconnect. After a production has finished, spend some time with friends and loved ones again. This is especially important if you’ve been touring or were based away from home. Schedule in a few coffee mornings, lunch or dinner dates with partners, family members or dear friends. When you’re focussed on a production, you can forget about birthdays or events happening in the lives of those close to you. Turn your attention outwards and spend some time catching up with the people who are important to you.

3)Rehabilitate. I’m not necessarily talking about the copious amounts of boozing and partying done after the show. However, in my experience, especially with touring, it can be difficult to cook healthy meals for yourself and there certainly is a culture of popping to the nearest bar/pub to wind down after a performance. To rehabilitate means to restore to a condition of good health so take a look at those areas of your life to do with sleep, exercise and what you’re consuming. Make some positive changes if they need to be made. If you’re still missing your fellow cast-members then arrange to meet up. You don’t have to go cold turkey. It can take time to adjust to “normal” life so wean yourself off any post-show highs or any bad habits you may have formed during the run.

4) Re-focus. Once you feel your energy returning, start to make plans for your next creative project. Having something to look forward to can help keep the blues at bay. If there’s nothing in the pipeline, concentrate on ticking off some of those things you’ve been meaning to do for a while. For example, I’m planning to sort through all my sheet-music. I’ve got boxes and boxes of song-sheets and many need attaching together with cellotape. I need to sort through them all, recycle any I don’t like or need and put them into folders within an organised system for locating a particular song. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted looking for a song to prepare for an audition. So that’s something I intend on tackling this week. Finishing projects, even menial ones, opens up more space in your life for other, new projects to come in.

5) Retail Therapy. You don’t have to spend a lot – even a new lipstick can give you a little boost. This isn’t a necessity but just one small way of celebrating finishing a job. If you decide to organise your wardrobe first, discarding any tired, old clothing items, then even better. That new item could be something you wear to your next audition or next project. It doesn’t have to be clothing. Just buying a little something for ourselves – a new book, some new toiletries etc can help lift our spirits and remind ourselves that we deserve a little treat after all our hard work.

So in true Muddy Waters style and with your best blues voice,  sing it with me now-

I got the post-show blues (na nano ne na)

I’m gonna get me some new shoes (na nano ne na)

Oh yeah…

Feel the Love

I visited the Southbank last Sunday in order to catch one of the final matinees of King Lear at the NT and realised that it was the opening weekend for the Southbank’s Festival of Love. It’s an apt emotion for my feelings about the Southbank which, since the new millennium, has been transformed from an area that was a bit of a barren, concrete scar next to the Thames, to one that is vibrant, colourful, artistic and a great location to really experience all that London has to offer.

For tourists and visitors to London, it is the number one place I recommend to visit. I normally always head there from Waterloo as that’s where my train comes in but to fully appreciate that stretch of the Thames Walk, let me be your tour guide and suggest the following…

Get off at Westminster tube to check out Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, then cross to the South side to walk past the beautiful building that is the County Hall Marriott, past the London Aquarium, the London Eye and rows of street performers and other entertainment. At the moment, there is the added attraction of a bright purple tented area which hosts a summer festival called Udderbelly. Click here to see what events are happening there.

Continuing on your walk, you’ll reach an area which splits into two levels which includes the Royal Festival Hall and lots of eateries – Wagamama’s, Strada, Giraffe, Eat (on the lower level) and  Las Iguanas, Le Pain Quotidien and Ping Pong to name but a few on the upper. Here is the heart of the Festival of Love which includes art installations, hidden gardens, climbing areas and slides for kids, not to mention fountains which spring up from the ground to the delight of everyone, especially children – a sophisticated, urban variation of running through the sprinklers on a hot day!

Southbank fountains

 

Behind the Royal Festival Hall, there is currently a slow-food market wafting delicious smells from tagines and woks and handmade chocolate stalls and there are more cool vans and airstream trailers that have been kitted out to serve delicious street food at the front of the Royal Festival Hall. (Mexican street food chain, Wahaca, is currently housed in two refurbished shipping containers next to the BFI). Continue to walk along the Thames and you’ll pass the BFI, the Hayward Gallery, second hand booksellers under the railway arch, the National Theatre and then you’ll reach Gabriel’s Wharf – another area of restaurants, pubs and shops selling art and crafty things.

gabriels-wharf

 

If you were to continue your Thames walk towards Blackfriars and London Bridge there are more iconic London landmarks along the way (the Oxo Tower, The Tate Modern, The Globe Theatre) but for now, let’s return to the Royal Festival Hall area and their Festival of Love which will host an array of amazing events – theatre, music, poetry, art installations, pop-up talks etc all culminating in the Big Wedding Weekend at the end of August to celebrate the legalisation of same sex marriages. Click here for details.

You could easily wile away a whole day just in this portion of the Southbank alone with the amount that goes on in this area. And if you’ve had enough of the views from the London Eye, or watching sharks swim under your feet at the Aquarium or maybe you’ve seen a film, a play, some street entertainment, a circus event at Udderbelly, or you’ve been to a live music concert, danced in the ballroom area of the Royal Festival Hall or seen the many art exhibitions and installations dotted around and you’re STILL looking for something to do, you could always watch the skateboarders trying out new tricks in the undercroft.

Skateboarder Southbank

 

If there were any doubts, let me declare it loud and clear…. I LOVE THE SOUTHBANK. Go visit. Soon.

Hip Hopper

Dennis Hopper

Whether you were a fan of Dennis Hopper‘s work or not, there’s no denying that he was a prodigiously creative and unconventional man with a cinematic career that spanned more than 5 decades. His acting work is well known through iconic films such as Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet but his talent as a photographer (not to mention sculptor and artist) was less well known until recently. After his death, boxes of his photographs were found and these photos (taken mainly during the 1960’s when Hopper was effectively blacklisted as an actor in Hollywood) are the subject of a major exhibition in London, opening today, celebrating Hopper the Photographer. Entitled The Lost Album, these vintage prints are a documentation of America during times of turbulent change during the 60’s and reveal much about that period of history as well as the private world of the man himself. Click here for further info. It’s currently top of my “Artist Date” list at the moment.

And if that isn’t sufficient for you Hopper fans out there, the BFI are running a season of his films through-out July. Check out Dennis Hopper: Icon of Oblivion here.

Ride Easy, Dennis.

 

 

 

When it all goes a bit wrong

We’re now halfway through our run of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) at The Bookshop Theatre and I’ve been enjoying it immensely, although our opening night was not without some trials and tribulations.

We were due to have a dress rehearsal the afternoon of the opening night and we all turned up to discover the bookshop in darkness. A BT engineer had accidentally drilled through an important cable, knocking out the electrical power for an entire block of shops which included the Bookshop Theatre. Luckily for the other theatre-goers on The Cut, it didn’t extend further down the street to where Kevin Spacey was performing his one-man show about Clarence Darrow at the Old Vic. The Young Vic across the road was similarly unaffected.

We ran our lines while waiting for the power to come back on but it soon became clear that it would take longer than expected to fix the problem and that the power was highly unlikely to be back on before our performance start time of 8pm.

Discussions began about whether to cancel our first night audience (which included the writer and his wife, who’d flown all the way from Miami to see the show that very night) but it was agreed that the show must go on. Then we debated whether to perform by candlelight but it would have lent the “prison visits” scenes too much of a cosy setting – more of a romantic French bistro feel than a hard-hitting prison debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not the right atmosphere for this sort of play! Not to mention the fire risk of candles everywhere and a slightly clumsy lead actress (me) who does have a tendency to bump into the furniture!

The engineers took pity on us and raced over (as best they could in rush-hour traffic) to East London to pick up a back-up generator we could use. With about 20 mins before the performance was due to start, they turned up with the generator and power was restored. Hurrah for those engineers! However, as we started the play we were again plunged into darkness and we soon realised that the generator wasn’t powerful enough to support theatre lights that changed from scene to scene. It could only support overhead “house” lights.

And so it was that our opening night was performed in normal overhead lighting with the audience in the same light and in full view. It went fairly well considering first night nerves and the fact that we’d not managed to do a proper dress run. But at least the show did go on.

One of the joys of theatre is its very “live-ness”. The possibility is always there that anything can happen and quite often, more than audiences realise, things go wrong. At the time, it’s highly embarassing but later it provides amusing anecdotes for those in the profession to recount in the pub afterwards.

At one stage or another we’ve all been through it – costumes tear, an actor dries (forgets their lines) or forgets to come on stage which results in some panicky ad-libbing. I’ve seen hugely expensive sets not working properly – revolving stages jamming, doors sticking, sets falling apart unintentionally. Even in that marvellous show War Horse, the hind-legs of the lead puppet horse, Joey, fell off mid-performance which resulted in the stage manager having to come on stage to announce they were taking Joey to the “vet” to get fixed and there would be a delay of 10 minutes before action could resume.

Usually, these unforseen events are greeted with good humour by the audience and sometimes even with a round of applause when the ad-libbing has been particularly imaginative. And despite something going wrong mid-show, the actors involved usually manage to pull the focus back (thanks to that extra bit of adrenaline) so that the magic of the storytelling is not affected in any negative way.

As an actor, you may end up feeling a bit of a fool in front of your fellow actors and audience members but generally, the situation is beyond your control and all you can do is deal with it in the best way you can. It needn’t be a negative experience – it can force you as an actor to think quickly and can change the dynamic of a scene, sometimes for the better. If nothing else, mistakes and things-not-going-to-plan can provide a certain frisson, a slightly welcome hint of danger which can lift a performance, especially during a long, 8-shows-a-week, run.

So when things do go wrong, remember that it is through our failures (real or perceived) that we learn our greatest lessons. If you lose concentration, if you were too busy chatting to the other actors in the dressing room, thereby missing the cue to go on, leaving the other actors on stage improvising like mad until you became aware of your mistake (guilty m’lod!) then chances are, you will be so mortified that you won’t make that same mistake again.

It’s those unexpected things, that moment of gut-wrenching freefall, that makes a creative life more rich. It’s the stuff of drama, of farce and all the material one needs for that biography, that amusing anecdote to tell the grandkids, that play (there’s a reason Noises Off is so popular).

So don’t be afraid if things go a bit wrong. Or even a lot wrong. Make a fool of yourself and laugh about it later. It’s what makes us human.

(TOP TIP:  check out the forthcoming winner of best new comedy The Play That Goes Wrong which will be transferring to The Duchess Theatre this coming September. For details click here.)

 

 

Brazil (part dois)

Further to my post on Brazil a couple of days ago, some friends and followers of this blog emailed a few more suggestions on how to experience a bit of Brazil in London, in celebration of the World Cup currently taking place. So here they are:

  • Guanabara is a Brazilian club which hosts dancing, live music and other events, as well as being a bar, restaurant and nightclub. I realised after looking at their website (click here) that I’d been many, many years ago. The memories are a bit foggy (copious Caipirinhas were possibly involved) but I  definitely remember it being a vibrant place and good fun for a group outing.
  • Can’t afford to go to Brazil (who can?!) then go on a Shared City holiday where you can travel the world without leaving London. Co-founded by an actress friend of mine, Shared City is a brilliant social enterprise which encourages communities in London to share their culture, food and love. On the 28th June from 2-7pm, your holiday guide will take you on a tour of Little Brazil in Harrow Road, teach you a bit of Portuguese as well as some smokin’ Samba moves and help you mix the perfect Caipirinha cocktail. The day ticket also includes all the Brazilian food you can eat as well as one of those delicious cocktails. For more details click here.
  • For some more Brazilian culture including a new play by Gael Le Cornec, take part in Brasiliance –  a (mostly free) programme of events organised by Stonecrabs Theatre company which is based on the fascinating real-life stories of Brazilians who have been living in London since the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. On Sunday 6th July, there will be storytelling for children in Portuguese and English, Brazilian food and drink and recipes to take home, as well as the screening of these oral history video interviews. Plus a new play! Brasiliance really does celebrate the brilliance of Brazil. For details of the day’s programme, click here.

A huge obrigado to those who wrote in and contributed the above info. Now there’s no excuse not to be fully immersed in all things Brazilian.  London may not have the rainforests, the weather or the beaches of Brazil but by golly, we can still enjoy that country’s carnival spirit!

Brazil

As I walked back from The Bookshop Theatre after our Saturday night show, I was astounded by how eerily quiet the London streets were at 10pm. Our audience had also been small (not in stature, just numbers, in case you were wondering) which was unusual for a Saturday. Then it clicked. The World Cup had started and England were due to play their first game at 11pm. Mystery solved.

I’m not much of a football fan and I certainly hadn’t planned on mentioning anything footie-related in this blog but I felt it would be churlish not to enter into the spirit of things. So if you can’t afford the trip to Brazil, not to mention the extortionate price of tickets, here’s how to get a little slice of Brazil in London.

  • Between Stockwell and Vauxhall along South Lambeth Road is an area known as Little Portugal where you’ll find an array of bars, cafes and restaurants serving Portuguese fare. Check out restaurants such as Grelha D’ouro for their very reasonably-priced specialities. Here’s a look at their menu.
  • View London has a selection of recommended Brazilian restaurants across the capital.
  • Go along to one of the events organised by the Brazilian Embassy in London. Brazil Day in Trafalgar Square has just been and gone at the weekend but here’s a flavour of what you might have missed.

Brazilian spirit comes to London

 

  • Get fit and learn Capoeira – a beautiful flowing movement (when done well!) somewhere between martial arts and dance. There are plenty of classes happening throughout London. The following will give you more of an idea of what it’s like.
Capoeira moves

Useful for avoiding repellent foot odour

www.cdol.co.uk  

www.londonschoolofcapoeira.com

www.capoeira-ceara.co.uk

 

  • Book tickets to see Brazilian musical “royalty” Bebel Gilberto. Performing at the Barbican in Oct. For more details, click here.
  • Indulge in some Pasteis de Nata. I have been known to venture far and wide for a good Portuguese custard tart which is nothing like our British equivalent (although I would never say “no” to those egg custards either!) But the Portuguese ones are a superior breed. Delicate, crisp, flaky pastry, creamy custard centre, with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and cinnamon to warm the taste buds. Originally from Belem in Portugal they are a common fixture in Brazilian eateries. Thank you Belem!!!
Pasteis de nata

Look at them….just begging to be eaten!

TOP TIP: Now might be the perfect time to try and get tickets for those sold-out theatre shows. As the pubs and bars showing the World Cup matches fill up with fans from all countries, or people choose to stay at home to support their favourite team, theatre box office takings traditionally take a bit of a dip at this time. So there’s a good chance of getting returns or tickets to see a show that you might otherwise struggle to see.

HOTP#2

Ever fancied finding out more about London’s architectural gems, or the dissolution of London’s Monasteries? Or perhaps you’ve wondered how catastrophic events like the plague outbreak and the Great Fire in 1666 shaped the city or what caused Londinium, a once flourishing Roman town, to fail? Or maybe you’d like to explore the capital’s natural habitats and fancy being taken on a walk to look at reptiles, freshwater fish and bats?

Well, look no further for answers than The City Lit, which, over summer,  is running a series of fantastic courses aimed at exploring London in some depth – its history, wildlife, artists and the social/ political/religious climate during periods of the city’s history.  Want to find out more about the Jewish East End during the first world war? Or Dickens’ London or the Bloomsbury set? They have a HUGE range of courses which include lectures, presentations, walks and outdoor workshops throughout July and August. Check out their summer timetable here.

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Learning Lines

With just over 1 week to go before the opening performance of  the play I’m in rehearsals for, I’m currently wandering around looking like a madwoman. If you’ve ever witnessed someone on public transport muttering under their breath or pulling strange expressions, seeming to have a one-way conversation with themselves, they could indeed be slightly doo-lally but chances are, you’ve stumbled across an actor going through the line-learning process.

How lovely it would be if one could just wave a magic wand and make the process of line-learning simple and easy! With the wave of an arm, one would just KNOW IT. Unfortunately, the only way I can get them to “stick” is to put in lots of work on the text – discover what it is I’m actually saying and wanting from the other person/people in the scene. Then I go over and over the lines aloud to the point where I can be spouting them whilst doing other things, like the washing up.

Every actor has their own way of learning lines which suits them best. I have tried some other methods which have also helped, so here’s a little summary of some other line-learning techniques.

  •  Learn the thoughts behind the lines. You should do this anyway but learning the thought-processes means that you have something to hook the lines onto. Even if the actual line of text disappears from memory, you’ll know what the thought is and can come up with something similar.
  • Mind-mapping. I learnt this technique from Brian Astbury and you effectively draw a series of  images which will help you remember the line correctly. I end up having to do an image for pretty much every word, so my mind maps are pieces of paper covered in weird stick-men and basic hieroglyphics. Drawing is not my strong point but it’s not about being visually artistic. Just come up with a symbol that will help you recall the word. This isn’t a quick process. In fact, I sometimes think that with this exercise, the time it takes me to think of an appropriate symbol and draw it for each word/line, is the same as the time I could have spent just learning it normally. But again, what it does do is connect you a bit more deeply to the thought and gives you a visual cue for a line which can help. I think this is a good technique for learning monologues or large sections of text with no-one else responding. I find it starts getting complicated doing mind maps for other people’s lines.
  • Write out your lines. I think it’s more effective to write them out long-hand than type them up. There’s something about the act of connecting your brain with the relevant line and then writing it by hand so that the pen/pencil flows across the page. I don’t know the science behind it, but personally, I think the line sinks in that bit deeper when you physically have to write it out in this way. Perhaps it’s because it’s a slower process than typing and the hand/eye/brain coordination is more engaged? Who knows. This one has worked quite well for me in the past.
  • Record your lines and the cues and have them playing in the background. I haven’t tried this one but another actor once suggested recording lines, especially monologues and have them playing in the background or when you’re drifting off to sleep. The idea behind it is that even when you’re not consciously learning them, the lines are seeping into your subconscious brain.
  • Get a good line-learning buddy (either another actor whom you can do the same for or someone who owes you a favour) and just bat the lines back and forth, over and over until they stick. Line-learning can be such a lonely task that this is a much more pleasant way of working.

 

Does anyone else out there have good tips for learning lines effectively? Let me know if you do. In the meantime, I shall continue pulling faces and muttering to myself like an extra from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

 

The Secret Garden

I’ve begun to realise that a lot of my posts have a bit of a gardening theme to them (this is what happens when you hit your 40’s!) but in honour of the Chelsea Flower Show that is currently taking place, I thought I’d write about some of the capital’s lesser-known gardens that are tucked away behind office blocks or residential streets, offering a calm respite away from the hustle and bustle of traffic and people. (And before you mock me about the Chelsea Flower Show, can I just point out that Benedict Cumberbatch was photographed there with his mother. If it’s good enough for B-Cum, it’s good enough for me!) But I digress…Here are my Top 5 Secret Gardens in London: 

1. Kensington Roof Gardens – Just off Kensington High Street there are 3 themed gardens – Spanish, Tudor and English Woodland set over 1.5 acres, complete with flamingos. Yes, that’s right, Flamingos! The gardens are open to the public and free but are hired out for weddings and other events, so if you want to check their availability, best call them first on 020 7937 7994. Visit late afternoon and then stay for a cocktail or dinner at the Babylon restaurant and watch the sun go down. Click here for their website.

2. St Dunstan’s in the East – Vines and exotic climbing plants romantically dress the ruins of this medieval church which was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, renovated with the addition of a steeple by Christopher Wren in the late 17th century, only to suffer major bomb damage during the blitz of WW2. The tower and steeple survived but the rest of the church are now just ruins but provide a stunning gothic backdrop to a lawn, fountain, flowers, shrubs and lots of other greenery. Cannon Street and Bank stations are both nearby and it’s free and open every day of the week apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.

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3. The Kyoto Garden at Holland Park - If you go through the Abbotsbury entrance of Holland Park, you’ll find a little slice of tranquil heaven that is the Kyoto Japanese Garden. Free to the public, it features Japanese Maple trees bordering calm pools of water and gently cascading, burbling waterfalls. Gaze into the pools to witness flashes of bright orange koi carp and restore an inner calm. It’s a park within a park with a cafe nearby but in these peaceful surroundings, it’s easy to forget that you’re in a major city. Take a book and just enjoy the peace…..Ahhhh….

Japanese Garden

4. King Henry’s Walk - I was introduced to this delightful garden tucked away behind rows of houses in Islington by an actress friend of mine who has an allotment plot there. She has become one of the many volunteers to have turned this space into a beautiful, award-winning community garden that really does benefit the local community. They run educational workshops for children who get to learn about bees and nature in a creative and fun environment. They hold events and workshops throughout the year, including foraging walks, jam-making sessions, bread-making, pickling, and there’s even a pizza oven. It’s only open to the public between 12-4pm on Saturdays and between May and Sept on Sundays (also between 12-4pm) but it’s really worth a visit to see how this patch of ground has been transformed since 2007 through a shared love of a communal green space and lots of hard work. Check out some of the wonderful work they’ve been doing here.

King Henry's Walk

5. Chelsea Physic Garden - The only one on the list that isn’t free entry but still, it’s a hidden London gem. Founded in 1673 as an apothecaries’ garden the idea was that apprentices could grow and study plants for medicinal purposes. Research and conservation work on plants and their benefits still carries on today.  It’s London’s oldest botanical garden surrounded by beautiful old brick walls, and housing not only a fabulous mulberry tree but also the largest olive tree outdoors in London. Sloane Square is the nearest tube but for more info on getting there and for opening times and prices, click here.

TOP TIP: Current 2014 price for entry to the Chelsea Physic Garden is £9.90 but if you buy May’s edition of Gardener’s World magazine, you get a card entitling you to 2-4-1 entry to various gardens throughout Britain including the Chelsea Physic Garden. Take a friend and split the cost.

Finally, after writing about secret gardens and in order to redress the balance a little to bring a more “theatrical” slant to this post, there will be a production of The Secret Garden this July as part of the Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre’s summer season (details can be found here). If you read last week’s post, that was the job I was up for and didn’t get. (Sniff….not that I’m bitter…)