Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published April 2nd 2014
Brining London's South Bank to Life
Royal Festival Hall
The other evening my dad and I were going to see The Cabinet of Dr Caligari at the Royal Festival Hall. Since it is the heart of the Southbank Centre, opposite iconic London sites such as the River Thames, The London Eye, and the House of Parliament, you would think it would be easy to find. You would think.
Everything was going smoothy, we disembarked from Waterloo Station, took the exit saying 'Royal Festival Hall', and walked down the stairs onto the street. Ahead of us were a very elegant looking couple who had been with us on the tube. The man was in white tie and tails (yes, I do mean a bow tie), and the woman in a very fancy long red dress. 'I know where they're going,' Dad said.
When we reached the London Eye, I was about to get out my map to see whether we wanted to turn left or right, but before I could, Dad pointed, and said 'Look, the woman in the red dress is going left; it's down there.'
So we turned left. By the time we got to the end of the street, there was still no Royal Festival Hall in sight, so we looked at the map. And guess what? Lo and behold, we were going in the wrong direction.
That night I learnt two lessons:
1. Never follow a lady in red dress 2. Never listen to your dad's advice
So back we turned. Within a couple of minutes I recognised exactly where we were, but I was still unsure as to where the Royal Festival Hall might be. Part of the difficulty is because the walk along the South Bank is made up o two levels, and there was no indication which level it was on.
By process of elimination, we figured out that it must be on the top level. There was a big glass building standing in front of us. Was this the Royal Festival Hall? There was no large sign on stating so, and from inside, all I could see was a cafe. Nothing that looked like a concert hall. So I went to a security guard standing a few feet away, and asked.
Try spotting this sign from a distance.
She looked at me rather disapprovingly before grunting confirmation. As I approached the door, I finally saw a tiny little plaque stating 'Royal Festival Hall'. When you're trying to ind somewhere, having a sign that you can only see once right on top of it, is not very useful.
The lack of indication was made all the more stark when I walked inside and realised I had been in there before. Yes, I had actually been inside the Royal Festival Hall without knowing it. Maybe I'm just thick.
To the right is a cafe, where you can grab a snack at not entirely unreasonable price. Some of things on the counter looked quite nice, such as an egg mayonnaise sandwich, elderflower & grape jelly, and fruit yoghurt compote.
If you sit at the end of the cafe, you will have a good view of the radio room, where guest radio stations sometimes take up residency for a short time, giving live broadcasts. On the night I went, BBC Radio 3 were just coming to the end of a two-week stay.
Around the corner is the ticket booth. When I went to collect my tickets there was a very long line, but fortunately that was for the people buying, not collecting. My queue was very short, and by the time my show had ended, everyone had cleared.
Walk past the ticket booth, and you'll arrive at a bar. Here you can buy wine, beer, etc. Dad was pleasantly surprised to find that they did a bitter, and enjoyed a pint on one of the leather sofas while I looked around.
Opposite the bar is the Clore Ballroom, which is an exhibition area, currently featuring the Pull Out All The Stops Festival. There were interactive machines, and a historic documentation of the Royal Festival Hall Organ.
To the Left of the bar is a gift shop. I didn't have time before the show to browse, and by the time the show had finished, the shop had closed. I could see from the window, however, that they sell various memorabilia, such as t-shirts, books, mugs, and cushions
Turn around and there is a permanent mini exhibition, detailing the history of the venue. The site used to belong to The South Bank Exhibition. It showed visitors what technology and innovation could achieve by showcasing designs submitted by British manufacturers, that hey thought were something to be proud of. Area included the field of health, transport, textiles, and more. The exhibition was part of the Festival of Britain, which was opened by King George VI on the 3rd May 1951.
Model of the Southbank Centre
When the festival ended, the exhibition closed down, and a change in government almost saw the building demolished. Fortunately it was saved when the Southbank Centre took over. The main feature was The Royal Festival Hall, but later in 1967-68, other buildings were added, including The Queen Elizabeth Hall and Haywood Gallery. In 1981, it was given the status of a Grade 1 listed building, and is Europe's largest arts centre.
The Royal Festival Hall is made up of five levels, but level two and three are just open spaces where you can lookout to see the view. The fourth level gives access to the main seating area of the concert hall. Designed by Leslie Martin, the 'egg in a box' auditorium holds two and a half thousand seats. It is also home to a very large organ that has recently undergone restoration, and is celebration its sixtieth birthday. When the auditorium was first built, the acoustics were not sufficient to cope with the scale of the organ, so in 2005, it was given a refurbishment. Now reunited with the organ, the two can finally create beautiful music together, the way it was meant to be heard.
The fourth level also has a second bar, while the top floor has a private hire function room, and The Saison Poetry Library. Even if you are not going to see a concert, there is a lot to discover at the Royal Festival Hall, and with free entry, it is worth an explore.