Fantastic Beasts The Wonder of Nature Conservation at the Natural History Museum, image courtesy of Trustees of the Natural History Museum
Going out for a daily dose of Mother Nature was vital for our health and mental wellbeing during lockdown. Even if connecting to nature meant little more than watering our houseplants or going for a ten-minute walk, the benefits of the great outdoors have never been more relevant. So, it’s little wonder that many of this summer’s must-see exhibitions combine culture and cultivation.
Number one on the agenda is a new exhibition from the world-famous Kew Gardens in west London. This verdant paradise is home to beautifully maintained gardens and the spectacular tropical Princess of Wales Conservatory. The Secret World of Plants (until 19 September 2021) is Kew’s major summer exhibition, featuring a series of immersive experiences designed to sensorially reconnect us with nature. The initiative includes large-scale installations by acclaimed artist Vaughn Bell, a series of musical performances by sound artist and beatboxer Jason Singh and even tree listening sessions.
London City Island residents understand better than most the appeal of life by the water – and a unique new exhibition from Walthamstow Wetlands extols the virtues of island life. ‘The Woman Who Fell In Love With An Island’ (until 23 September 2021) celebrates the extraordinary life of Moomins creator Tove Jansson and her penchant for isolated wildernesses. The author and illustrator spent every summer for nearly 30 years on the tiny uninhabited island of Klovharun in the Gulf of Finland. This new exhibition, which takes the form of an art trail through the 112-acre reserve in north London, explores how island life and ever-changing landscapes informed Jansson’s work.
Speaking of whimsical creatures, the new exhibition from the Natural History Museum sees reality and imagination collide in Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature (until 3 Jan 2022). In this touring exhibition, in partnership with Warner Brothers, the planet’s strangest and most obscure creatures rub shoulders with the fantastical beasts from the novels of JK Rowling, with multiple immersive and interactive exhibits to entertain the whole family.
Beatboxer Jason Singh is part of The Secret World of Plants exhibition at Kew
HOW TO GET THERE
Travelling to central London and South Kensington’s museum quarter is a doddle from London City Island. Simply hop on the Jubilee line and change at Westminster for the Circle line to South Ken. Or you could cycle there via the Cycle Superhighway 3 in around an hour. Walthamstow and Kew will need a little more time to reach, but are still perfectly manageable. You can travel to leafy Richmond, which is a short walk from Kew Gardens, by catching the South Western Railway line from Waterloo. The journey takes around 45 minutes in total. Similarly, for Walthamstow Wetlands, hop on the Greater Anglia service to Tottenham Hale from Stratford, which is just 6 minutes on the Jubilee line from Canning Town.
The benefits of the great outdoors have never been more relevant. So, it’s little wonder that many of this summer’s must-see exhibitions combine culture and cultivation
Infinity Mirror Rooms by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern
While many galleries and museums adapted splendidly to virtual experiences, nothing quite beats the thrill of seeing art up close and personal. This summer sees the return of must-see exhibitions, many of which were postponed from last year. This includes the V&A’s whimsical ode to Alice in Wonderland in Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser (until 31 December 2021). This immersive exhibition takes visitors down the rabbit hole of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story, and explores the novel’s origins and enduring impact on popular culture. For even more psychedelic wonder, lose yourself in the visually stunning Infinity Mirror Rooms by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Originally made for her 2012 retrospective at Tate Modern, Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life (until 12 June 2022) is the nonagenarian artist’s largest installation to date and is undoubtedly the world’s most Instagrammable exhibit.
Don’t forget that there’s plenty of exhibitions at London City Island to get your culture fix without having to travel. A new group show at London Lighthouse Gallery & Studio explores immigration and the concept of identity (In the Heart / Of the Heart / of Another Country, until 18 June) while Trinity Art Gallery is currently showing the work of photographer Michele Turriani, who has documented the Royal Docks’ architectural heritage in Dock Lands People (until 30 June).
HOW TO GET THERE
The world-famous V&A is located around the corner from the Natural History Museum, while Tate Modern is situated in the equally scenic Bankside. It’s one direct route to Southwark Station on the Jubilee line from Canning Town, taking just over 12 minutes.
Zenaida Yanowsky as The Red Queen in Christopher Wheeldon's ballet Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Royal Ballet. ©ROH, Johan Persson, 2011. Sets and costumes by Bob Crowley
While theatre doors have been closed for over a year, creative types have been beavering away behind the scenes waiting for the return of live performances.
There’s loads to check out this summer, including a brand-new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical making its world premiere on 14 July, with performances beginning at the Gillian Lynne Theatre on 25 June. Cinderella is a story we’re all familiar with, but in the hands of recent Oscar-winner Emerald Fennell, the classic fairytale is given a thoroughly modern update, without losing any of the original’s charm and magical moments.
Another twist on a timeless story is an immersive new play based on Doctor Who. The brand-new show, titled Doctor Who: Time Fracture (until April 2022) invites visitors to Immersive LDN, a former military drill hall in Mayfair, for a time-hopping adventure featuring Daleks, Timelords and Cybermen.
Zoë Wanamaker and Peter Capaldi in Constellations
While theatre doors have been closed for over a year, creative types have been beavering away behind the scenes waiting for the return of live performances
Another high-concept play which explores themes of time-hopping and parallel universes – only with less alien encounters – is a new production of Nick Payne’s award-winning play Constellations (until 12 September 2021) at the Vaudeville Theatre. A star-studded rotating cast – which includes Chris O’Dowd, Zoë Wanamaker, Peter Capaldi, Sheila Atim, Ivanno Jeremiah, Russell Tovey and Omari Douglas – take on the two lead roles of Roland and Marianne, as we follow the infinite possibilities of one relationship through the multiverse. Finally, if you want to check out what the talented dancers at English National Ballet have been busy rehearsing over the past few weeks, book your tickets for the world premiere of Creature by renowned choreographer Akram Khan, taking place at Sadler’s Wells from 23 September.
Sheila Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah are part of the rotating cast of Constellations
HOW TO GET THERE
Heading to the West End from London City Island is easy – and you won’t be losing your glass slipper in a rush to catch the midnight train. Simply take the Jubilee line directly to Bond Street (around 20 minutes), and from here you can easily walk to central Soho or further west to Mayfair. You could also walk further south to the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand from Soho, or a more direct route is to change at Waterloo (on the Jubilee line) and take the Northern line two stops to Charing Cross Station. As for Sadler’s Wells, which is located near Angel, change for the Northern line at London Bridge.
Like theatre, the thrill of seeing your favourite band or artist live in concert has been something we’ve all missed over the past year. The good news is that festivals are back on the agenda and artists are starting to tour once again. In east London, Field Day and All Points East are joining forces to take over the August bank holiday for a four-day music extravaganza. Expect live performances from London’s bright young things, including Jamie XX, Loyle Carner and Jorja Smith.
One act who knows all about the power of virtual performance is Gorillaz, the animated supergroup headed by former Blur frontman Damon Albarn. This August, you can see the pop-electronic group in person (sort of) at the O2. And a major open air gig this summer is a one-day performance from grime superstar Dizzee Rascal, who will be performing alongside the 20-piece Outlook Orchestra as part of a new open air concert series at the Crystal Palace Bowl.
If you don’t fancy travelling or crowds, our monthly street food markets will also feature a range of live musical performances throughout the summer including ones from young singer-songwriter Logan J Parker, rock’n’soul star Joe Slater, and Afrobeats superstar Vincent Bugozi.
HOW TO GET THERE
Travelling to a major music venue such as the O2 is normally a pretty big undertaking. But for London City Island residents, it’s as easy as hopping on the Emirates Skyline. For Crystal Palace Bowl, take the Overground service from Canada Water to either Crystal Palace or Penge West stations.
Field Day returns this August bank holiday
If you’re planning to spend as much time as possible on the Island, don’t forget that The Islander Festival runs throughout the summer till early September, and includes alfresco Wimbledon and blockbuster movie screenings and pop-up food and drink offerings. Homestead is also showing every match from the Euros 2020 (finishing 11 July), so make sure you check the weather forecast and book your table for all the alfresco footie action.
Words: Gemma Billington