Last week, my mum and I had a trip to London to see Noel Coward's Private Lives, which is currently playing at the Vaudeville Theatre.
Rather than just heading to London in time for curtain up, however, we decided to go down a little earlier to make the most of being in the capital. We started off with a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where we had hoped to see the exhibition of Grace Kelly's clothes which is currently showing there. As it was midway through a Monday afternoon, we hadn't expected it to be that busy, but we were sadly mistaken, and it turned out to be completely sold out for the rest of the day. Luckily the exhibition has only just begun, and there's plenty of time left for me to catch it before it closes on 26th September. I'll just make sure to book next time!
Instead, I went along to another exhibition currently showing at the V&A which I've been wanting to visit: Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill. I've been interested in Walpole (the son of our first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole) ever since I read his Gothic fantasy The Castle of Otranto, and he's even cropped up in the course of my research as he owned a manuscript version of a text of Sir W's (The Encomium of Richard III) which I've been working on recently. Walpole was one of the greatest collectors of the eighteenth century, and the exhibition was
filled with fascinating objects and paintings from his Gothic pile Strawberry Hill, such as this cabinet of curiosities:
Photo via the V&A website
Strawberry Hill, which stands on the outskirts of London in Twickenham, is currently being restored, and will be re-opening to the public later this year on Walpole's birthday: 24th September. I for one will definitely be going along to explore it!
After wandering around the atmospheric exhibition, my mum and I went for tea and cakes in the V&A's magnificent cafe, where I marvelled anew at the glittering chandeliers...
... intricately decorated ceilings and pillars ...
... and spectacular fireplaces:
I adored the entrancing combinations of patterns and textures all around me:
Once outside in the courtyard, I found much still to admire, both natural and manmade:
No visit to the V&A would be complete without a visit to their marvellous shop (I probably shouldn't admit this, but for some time my only experience of this fabled museum was the shop and the cafe. Oh, and the rooms devoted to historical fashions). I always love browsing there, and it's a great place to pick up birthday presents. This time, I managed to restrain my shopping impulses, although I did greatly enjoy the beautiful displays:
On the way out, I admired the combination of ancient and modern...
... before we made our way to Soho to enjoy a pre-theatre meal at Quo Vadis, a restaurant which has been recommended to us many times by skirmishofwit and ramblingfancy. I'm certainly very grateful for the suggestion, as my mum and I both had some excellent food there. I had began with a delicious sea bass cerviche
while my mum got to grips with these beauties:
I managed (with some difficulty!) to wangle a taste (in the name of research, of course) and can report that they were absolutely superb, and accompanied by a deliciously rich home-made mayonnaise. For the main course, I went for steak tartare, which I always enjoy. Quo Vadis's take on this French classic was good, and although I generally prefer it when the egg is already mixed in, I can't deny it looked very pretty:
After the meal, we managed to waddle our way outside and catch a cab to the Strand, nicely in time to buy a programme and settle down in our seats. I have never seen Private Lives performed on stage before, although I very much enjoyed a BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of it with Bill Nighy and Helena Bonham-Carter earlier this year. I was, however, in for a real treat at the Vaudeville. Matthew Macfadyen and Kim Cattrall were wonderful as Elyot and Amanda, and Lisa Dillon and Simon Paisley Day provided them with excellent foils as the long-suffering Sybil and Victor.
Photo via the Vaudeville Theatre website
The sparks simply flew between Macfadyen and Cattrall: the scene in which the two bickering ex-spouses count down the seconds during an enforced two-minute silence was filled with a bristling, hilarious tension, while the climatic fight scene between the supposedly happily reunited couple at the end of the second act was spectacularly well done. The leads did an excellent job of portraying the love-hate relationship between Amanda and Elyot, while the looks upon their faces during the spat between Victor and Sybil at the play's end said it all. Caroline Lena Olsson, playing Amanda's French maid in Paris, also displayed some great comic timing -- there was simply not a bad performance in sight.
All in all, a wonderful day, full of several delights. To quote Sir W (in his 1601 essay 'Of Popularitie'), it was one whose
'satisfaction rested as much in the varietie, as in the proffit'.