London’s summer of loveliness

A strange thing has happened in London this summer. While politicians have indulged themselves in ever more empty macho posturing, each one boasting to have made more savage cuts than the last, the capital’s art venues have been filled with a spirit of playfulness and kindness, and a series of shows and experiences that have left even hard-hearted critics with a giddy smile on their face.

At the Hayward Gallery Ernesto Neto, has filled the concrete corridors with colourful gossamer tunnels, each of them scented with herbs. There’s a magical tea house to sit in, a playhouse turret to climb and even, installed on the gallery roof, a swimming pool, which we swam in at the Hayward party, feeling slightly like a performing seal and hoping that no-one would throw fish. I also loved Rosalie Schweiker’s charming, interactive installation at her Camberwell MA show, part of her Emely project.

At the V&A there’s the Architects Build Small Spaces show: seven perfect small buildings that play with our ideas of inside, outside, sanctuary and space. They are also truly interactive as visitors clamber past each other, exchanging looks, comments and smiles. My favourite is from Studio Mumbai Architects: modelled on dwellings crammed into a narrow urban corridor behind the Studio Mumbai offices, it presents an architectural ‘cast’ of a sliver of space that is home to a family of eight.

At BAC there was the thrilling one-on-one festival, in which we interacted almost as much with other audience members as performers, swapping stories, recommendations and warnings. Not all the shows were for the faint-hearted — Internal returned for another soul-crunching run, while you might also be kidnapped or locked in a coffin — but the overall effect was one of remarkable warmth, trust and shared experience, none more intense than being bathed, cradled and fed by the remarkable Adrian Howells. Other favourites for me were Lundahl and Seitl‘s spooky, unsettling Rotating In A Room Of Images, Through The Wardrobe by Breathe and the little treasure hunt from Coney, one of the most exciting companies working in London right now.

At the National Theatre there’s Watch This Space, which continues through September, with many more delights to come. I particularly enjoyed metro-boulot-dodo’s FIB, in which 14 audience members spend 3 minutes in each of 14 boxes over the course of an hour, each one a mini experience about truth and lies. It still feels like a work in progress, and needs to challenge the audience more, but it has the germ of something that could really leave its mark.

And of course there was the latest iteration of the delirious, exhilarating You Me Bum Bum Train, which is the closest you will ever come in real life to this:

There’s plenty more to look forward to, including September’s Thames Festival, which includes a brand new project from the House of Fairytales, Joanna MacGregor’s Ignite at ROH and the welcome return of The Paper Birds to CPT. In the meantime I’m heading to Edinburgh to see if the spirit of loveliness has made its way up north.

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