Sunday, 26 June 2011

Umbrellas, down the River Thames, Greenwich Fair (GDIF)

The National Gallery featured The Umbrellas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (about 1881-6, oil on canvas).  This painting is quite famous, but I hadn’t been aware that it spends 6 years in London, then 6 years in Dublin as part of a legacy settlement.  The National Gallery holds its “Arts Through Words” talks for the visually impaired on the last Saturday of the month.  There were about 30 people there with a speaker and two helpers from the gallery.  There are a lot of different shades of blue in this painting and some yellow and red, so I was able to make out some of the detail and also the perspective lines in the painting.  A really nice touch by the National Gallery was a clump of brightly coloured umbrellas which I picked up on my peripheral vision.  Some people had travelled quite far to be there and I remember some from last month.  We were all able to chat with the gallery staff and each other and compare notes about what we could make out.  I think we decided that the lady’s basket or hat case was empty!  There was also the mystery of an extra shoe or foot in the painting and I couldn’t resist telling the story of the origin of “it will cost you an arm and a leg” – said to have been employed by portrait painters when painting their subjects: arms and hands were extra, as it involves a lot of skill and time!  (I heard this story at the Georgian House in Edinburgh.)

On leaving the Trafalgar Square area, I headed for the Embankment and got on one of Thames Clippers to Greenwich Pier.  This time I sat on the right - I suppose I ought to say starboard - side of the boat and had another view of the right bank.  I could make out the London Eye, the South Bank Centre, a huge skyscraper known as The Shard (I noticed this from travelling by train from Charing Cross)and Tate Modern.  Bridges are familiar as the boat follows the Thames down river.  After Tower Bridge, the boat speeds up and it wasn’t long before I was at Greenwich Pier.  Thames Clippers staff were all very helpful and though the boat was quite busy, there is no need to feel intimidated by other passengers, as it is quite orderly. 

On disembarking at Greenwich (the tide was out, so it seemed quite steep going up the ramp), I took a left turn by a massive building site and found myself in the Greenwich Docklands International Festival (GDIF) or Greenwich Fair as it was known.  There was something for everyone here and it started at one of the security stewards who briefly went through: what was going on; what might be of interest, did I like music, theatre, acrobats etc. 

There was quite a large crowd gathered at what turned out to be a high-wire act called Heartland presented by Candoco Dance Company in collaboration with Scarabeus and Nicky Singer.  (This information has been taken from the programme.)  A pleasant surprise was one of the stewards explaining to me what was going on.  Dance is one of the least accessible performing arts for the blind and it was encouraging that another person could explain what was going on.  The lighting was quite good, a bit of blue sky, the Royal Naval College, the King Charles Lawn and a line of trees.  I could just about make out the domed frame and the movement of the performers, which obviously defied my sense of gravity. 

Timing at these events is fairly critical and a performance by Nutkhut of Bespoke was about to take place.  I wandered onto another lawn and a few minutes later the stage manager of Nutkhut came up to me and warned me that I was heading into their drama if I wasn’t careful.  We chatted briefly about their show, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  It’s very slick, a lot of movement, and didn’t appear to be amplified, which says a lot about their voice projection as I could make out all the jokes, even though the odd plane went overhead and other street theatre was quite audible.  A very nice 20 minutes or so and when I took my programme and asked about Bespoke giving the time, the name of the company popped up and I was able to tweet them my comments.  They’re going to be appearing in Stockton before going to Edinburgh and they’ve asked if they ought to include a podcast on their website.  I think this is very encouraging.  ( and @nutkhutuk on Twitter)

The Greenwich Fair was a really fun mid-afternoon visit and a big thank you to all the above and as usual to the DLR and London Underground for getting me home.