The National Theatre
Unlike the austerely elegant theatres of the West End, the National is built for more than just passive viewing. You could spend a day here without even seeing a show: perusing an unrivalled play-text collection, investigating the NT Archive, or even admiring the costumes on display. The three theatres within have been host to a diverse range of performances, including the first production of Stoppard’s Arcadia in 1993. Although criticised for its idiosyncratic appearance, the point of the National is not to be seduced by fancy, inaccessible trappings. The point is to take part in something; to live and breathe theatre.
National Theatre, London SE1 9PX , +44 (0) 20 7452 3000
Connecting Lambeth to Southwark, The Cut is a vivid stretch of street where one of the oldest parts of London meets the cutting-edge of its cultural scene. First, the Old Vic Theatre beckons from the corner, host to classic plays with high-profile performers. Then the hip Young Vic flashes, brash and stylish where its senior is elegant and reserved; a wonderful balcony bar provides a great place to meet friends, while the intimate theatres within make for gripping theatre. Just opposite, you can grab some delicious tapas at Meson Don Felipe, or buy beautiful second-hand books from The Theatre Bookshop.
Lesser known than The Cut, but just as fascinating, is one of the streets it splits off into, Lower Marsh. Together, these two streets formed the centre of Lambeth’s commercial activity in Victorian times, and the street has maintained its historic status as a hub for independent merchants. All sorts await: from the stylish Cubana restaurant to the great value Thai food hidden in Marie’s Café; from a music shop specialising in classical and jazz to a vintage memorabilia shop, with some knitting and haberdashery stores thrown in for good measure. Oh, and there’s a market with 77 stalls.
Only on the Southbank could you walk past the vibrant graffiti of makeshift skate rink and a casual book market before strolling into a deluxe cinema compound. For we of Netflix and online streaming, the cinema is no longer the wonder it used to be, and when we do go, we settle for the generic and impersonal. Why not head over to the British Film Institute, a charity-run organisation promoting the best of British and World cinema, and home to the world’s largest film archive, the London IMAX and the London Film Festival. Cosy up and enjoy cinema in the best way possible.
BFI Southbank, South Block, Belvedere Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 8XT , +44 (0) 20 7928 3232
Southbank Centre (The Royal Festival Hall and others)
The various venues that make up the Southbank Centre put on an eclectic collection of shows every year, from world music to poetry readings and beyond; but the best thing about this place is the fact that you can simply wander into something thrilling without spending a penny. Live music and dance fill up the hall; endless nooks and crannies are stuffed with comfy lounge chairs where you can just sit, work or dream. Not to mention a glass elevator that leads you to the brilliant Saison Poetry Library, the largest of its kind in Britain. One of London’s best ideas.
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX , +44 (0)20 7960 4200