Damian Barr’s Literary Salon

Sarah Southern

Monday night was quite the cultured evening.  My friend Rebecca had bought tickets for us to attend Damian Barr’s Literary Salon at the Savoy.  Quite grand surroundings to start the week in.  Damian Barr began his salon a few years ago, I believe in smaller venues such as Shoreditch House, and it has gained quite a following and now is able to sell the Savoy ballroom.

Damian wrote a book a few years ago called Maggie & Me about his experience of growing up in Scotland whilst Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minster.  I was someone’s plus-one for his book launch of this and had the pleasure of meeting Damian and see what a fun and warm man he is.  As such, I was looking forward to experiencing his Literary Salon.

The evening starts with a glass of fizz (part of your ticket!) and an opportunity to chat with other people on your table.  Damian then opens the evening with some light, funny chat before welcoming his first author.  On Monday we had the pleasure of Tim Murphy, Amor Towles and Reverend Richard Coles.  Each gave a reading from their book, had a in-depth chat with Damian and then a question or two from the audience.Half way through was an interval to get more fizz from the bar and to listen to the house band.  All very civil and enjoyable.

It is definitely a very well read group and it was standing room only for some.  I would definitely suggest getting there early to bag yourself a seat.  If you can’t make it to the Savoy the evening is recorded and I believe uploaded to i-tunes, and I think, British Airways play it on their planes too!

Tickets for future Literary Salons can be booked online.  Details via on Facebook.

Sarah Southern 


London Lates


Have you set yourself some tricky New Year resolutions? Perhaps doing Dry January?  Are you now at a loss as to what to fill your evenings with rather than the pub?  Fear not!  The amazing cultural institutions of London are ready for you with some London Lates.  The many museums and galleries have a great programme of activity to keep us all entertained for January and many are free.  Great news!

Here is a small selection of the many brilliant evening events that London museums and galleries are hosting.

National Gallery

Every Friday evening the National Gallery stays open until 9pm.  It is free to wander round the collection but you can buy a ticket for the current temporary exhibition, Australia’s Impressionists.  Tickets are £7.50 but free if you’re a member.  Friday 27 January sees a whole evening dedicated to the exhibition with a number of events, including live music, for Australia Late.

If you’d like to take a life drawing class you can on Friday 20 January.  Tickets available online. Alternatively you might want to learn more about Turner with a lecture from author Franny Moyle. If not, just take in the Gallery and enjoy.

Science Museum

Lates at the Science Museum have been very popular especially with the recent space focused events.  Our love for Tim Peake has been high, has it not.  Science Museum Lates are the last Wednesday in the month and January sees the focus on Childhood Wonder.   Entry is free but some events are ticketed including a silent disco and a comedy club.


Join the Tate on Friday 27 January for their Uniqlo Tate Lates, which are held on the last Friday of the month.  It promises to be a mix of art, film, music, talks and workshops. January’s Late will focus on Robert Rauschenberg with DJs playing until 11pm.  What sounds most intriguing is the Adventures in Sound and Silence with Professor Trevor Cox which promises to ‘trick your sound perception and fool your senses using a range of instruments’.

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum has their late on the last Friday of the month: 27 January.  The late is free and is a perfect opportunity to meet scientists and learn more about the Museum’s extensive collection.  Temporary exhibitions are open, this month you can see Wildlife Photographer of the Year – free to members and patrons!  Other Friday nights are taken up with different types of late: Crime Scene Live and Dino Snores for Grown Ups.  These are ticketed and sell out quick!

National Portrait Gallery

Every Thursday and Friday the National Portrait Gallery host the Late Shift between 6pm and 9pm.  This is a mix of classes, talks, music (including DJs), films and performances.  The temporary exhibitions stay open late too so you can enjoy them.  Entry is free with some events ticketed.

Sarah Southern

What to do with my parents at Christmas?


This year I have once again hosted my parents for Christmas in London.  It’s the third time I have hosted and think I have now got it pitch perfect to keep two teenage-esque 60-something year olds entertained and not falling out.  Thought I would share some ideas for future Christmas planning.

Christmas Eve

If you are childless Christmas Eve can feel a little strange.  You’re not counting down to Santa coming (and if you are, get a grip.  You’re a grown adult) so you’re not filled with all that fizzing excitement.  Instead you want to get through the day without falling out

Nutcracker will have sold out at the Royal Opera House weeks ago.  If you’re mad keen on this try for a Friday Rush ticket or try the ENB at the Coliseum.  I’d suggest a play.  Last year we opted for the dark comedy Hangmen and this year we did the political comedy This House.  The theatres won’t be as busy so you might be lucky and get a seat upgrade.  We were moved from the gods to the stalls which was nice.

Christmas Day

If church is required and you want to go all out I would suggest the service at Westminster Abbey. Tickets for Westminster Abbey are free but have to be booked and are allocated swiftly so keep an eye on the Westminster Abbey site from early November.  The midnight mass is an option or the 11am service on Christmas Day.  Alternatively head along to your local church.

There is no transport on Christmas Day other than Boris bikes.  Parking is suspended so that is handy.  The roads are way busier than you’d expect.  And so many tourists. SO. MANY. TOURISTS.  Take a scooch round Parliament Square and every tourist visiting London seems to have congregated.  Nothing is open so what else you gonna do?

Boxing Day

Hardly anything is open on Boxing Day.  If you like shopping then get yourself to Oxford Street and take in the chaos. If you like a more sedate pace the I would suggest Kew Gardens or the Southbank Centre.  All major museums and galleries are closed but Kew is open so take a lovely walk to burn off the turkey.  You’ll have to rely on the tube as trains aren’t running yet.  The Southbank Centre is open and this year had an open Argentine tango lesson for all to enjoy which my parents loved.

And the day after?

The museums finally reopen on 27 December after closing there doors late on 23 December.  That’s three days of tourists that have come to London for NOTHING to be open.  It will be busy but get yourself a ticket booked for an exhibition and your parents will love it. This year we did the Revolution exhibition at the V&A and Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum.

Sarah Southern

Abstract Expressionism

Get yourself to the Royal Academy before the end of the year to see Abstract Expressionism. Really worth the visit.

Tickets available online or free if you’re a Friend of the RA. Abstract Expressionism closes on 2 January 2017.

Sarah Southern

Science of Opera with Stephen Fry

The Royal Opera House hosted a very different kind of event on Sunday evening.  Stephen Fry and Alan Davies were monitored whilst watching an opera.  Fry, of course, is a regular to the opera.  Whilst Davies was an opera virgin.  A team from UCL monitored their blood pressure, sweat and heart rate throughout.  A really fascinating study ino the impact music can have on us.

The event was streamed live in Twitter.  A world first!  The Royal Opera House have now put the event youtube for all to enjoy.

Sarah Southern



Limbo makes up part of the Southbank’s Wonderground this summer.  The Wonderground is nestled on the Southbank showcasing cabaret, circus and a quirky little bar with fairground rides as seats.  It’s a fun little location with some fun shows on offer.  Worth heading down to just to hang out.  But certainly worth taking in one of the shows too.

Limbo follows on from the very successful Cantina show last year.  Some have said that Limbo doesn’t quite live up to Cantina but as I missed it I can’t really compare.  The cast of Limbo are are versatile bunch.  Not only can they dance, sing but they can also climb a 10ft pole and drop with timing, precision and grace. I spent most of the tricks with my hands over my eyes fearing that someone would fall or indeed catch on fire.

The mixture of dance, singing and crazy tricks really were gripping.  I loved the sword swallower who then played with fire that the first few rows felt they were going to be burnt alive.

The show is all around you. It is on the stage, in the air and comes from all angles.  Nobody would have had a bad view.  The show has a real sense of humour too and you couldn’t help but laugh whilst being amazed at what you saw.  The funny little sketch that saw two performers strip but never manage to take off enough pairs of ugly y-fronts to be naked really was a hoot.

A friend who I took with me has seen Cirque du Soleil many times and he thought this was much better.  It is intimate.  It is thrilling.  It is exciting.  It is something you want to see again and again.

Limbo will be on at the Southbank Centre until the end of September. Tickets can be booked online.

Read reviews online: Telegraph, Guardian, Standard

Sarah Southern 

Buckingham Palace

Buck House

Every year I go to the summer opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace.  It may seem a little odd to go and see the same thing over and over but there is always a new exhibition to see.  One year you could see the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress another celebrated 60 years of the Commonwealth.  Last year was all about diamonds and had the most amazing display of tiaras and crowns dripping in them.  This year was a celebrating the 60 years since the Queen had her Coronation.

Buckingham Palace has an unbelievable collection of art.  It is worth the visit alone to see that. The opulence of the building is mesmerising.  The architecture of Buckingham Palace and its grand decor and the massive garden is well worth the visit.

This year’s exhibition is on the Queen’s Coronation is the strongest exhibition that has been out on in recent years. The recorded tour guide had been edited to provide commentary that focused on the Coronation from the moment you arrived.  Providing a theme that led you round the whole of Buckingham Palace.  It gave a real insight of what the Queen and other members of the Royal household would have experienced on that day.  This was also interspersed with commentary from experts in Royal history.  It was extremely informative without being too heavy in content.

The highlight of the tour is the dress worn by the Queen.  The craftsmanship of the dress is incredible.  It is unreal the amount of embroidery and intricate design that make up the dress.  The dresses worn by the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Maids of Honour.  But the dress that stole the show (after the Queen’s of course) was Princess Anne’s.  A cute little white dress that had unbelievable detail to it for the little toddler.

Buckingham Palace opens its doors to the public for just over two months.  It is extremely popular so booking in advance is recommended.  The money raised is used to preserve the Royal Collection.  You can learn more about visiting Buckingham Palace and buy tickets at the Royal Collection.

Read more about the exhibition: Telegraph, Independent, BBC

Sarah Southern

4th Plinth

square blue cock

Loving the new 4th plinth installation.  The blue really pops as you walk through Trafalgar Square.   Yet another great temporary addition to our city.

Sarah Southern

The Cost of Entertainment

Sarah Southern

Mark Lawson has written an interesting piece in the Guardian about the cost of theatre tickets.  It focuses on the premium price being offered by some theatres to get some unusual extras.  He writes that “the £1,500 ticket involves access to rehearsals, backstage tours, Q and A sessions with Ayckbourn, as well as a seat at the finished play” for the Alan Ayckbourn play Arrivals and Departures.

This is clearly a fundraising tool for the theatre or company and quite a good one at that.  Walk into any arts institution and you will see a board of supporters who are willing to hand over their cash to support the arts.  It would be assumed this who it is aimed at.  I doubt theatre goers like myself who are likely to be found in the returns queue waiting for a cheap deal are their target market.

Lawson goes on to say how uncomfortable the cheap seats can be in a theatre (he is tall so can understand his predicament).  As a journalists he has perhaps become accustomed to the complimentary tickets offered in the stalls rather than the slips in the balcony.  Somewhere I sit regularly – I am short so don’t have an issue with being squashed – and once you settle into the play you soon accept your vantage point.

Currently I go to theatre or dance about twice a week.  Rarely do I buy my tickets in advance.  I turn up on the day and see what is available in my price range – ideally a tenner.  In recent weeks I have seen Book for Mormon (£20 – won the daily lottery for tickets), Coppelia (£5), Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (£20), Passion Play (£15), This House (£12) and The Audience (£20).  All good seats with great views.  Reasonably priced for great entertainment.

But if I were going to the Ashes at the Oval at the end of August how much would I be paying?  £50 – £60 perhaps.  And it is sold out.  Or if I wanted to see a band at the O2?  Iron Maiden are playing this coming weekend (wouldn’t be my first choice, I’d have to admit….) the cheapest ticket would be £46.  Theatre soon becomes a very sensibly priced option for a great evening out.

Of course there will always be expensive tickets.  And that is fine.  I doubt I would want to pay £127 to see Book of Mormon when I can try and get a ticket for £20.  But somebody is happy to pay that amount.  And without those people what chance does good quality theatre and performance have to survive.  Something Lawson agrees with wholeheartedly.  He ends his piece by saying “theatre critics, though, should never forget that the heroes of the medium are theatre-goers.”  

Sarah Southern

Amy Winehouse

The Jewish Museum in Camden has an Amy Winehouse exhibition on until September.  It’s a rather sweet exhibition that has been mainly curated by her brother.  A selection of family photos, clothes from performances, records she loved and indeed a Grammy are all on show.  Go check it out and indeed see the rest of this great museum.

Sarah Southern