Author Archive

Sculptor Emily Young

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog

My favourite retreat in St. James’s at the moment is the Southwood Garden next to St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, because Emily Young’s sculptures are there, until January 2018.  The garden is always deep shady green and restful, but now it is framed by silent stone heads with flowing hair, and they look as old as eternity and, in their striated colouring, as alive and warm as the next hand you will hold.  The very striations in the stones tell their ancient age as well as the potent energy they seem to contain.

And there is colour, so much colour, just as there once was on the statues of the the Aparthenon:  green and white brecchiated onyx, blue purbeck marble, white and coppery clastic igneous.  Every time I climb the steps to the garden, I feel drawn to the Rouge de Vitrolles Head, made of rich red-orange rouge de vitrolles stone.  This one has no hair and the littlest of ears and closed eyes, and, in contrast to its glowing smoothness, a large beige indentation in its forehead that reveals what the stone probably looked like when Emily first found it.

All of Emily Young’s stone heads have such apparently unfinished bits, parts of the sculptures that, in an uncanny way, revel in what might be called their imperfections — like a face with massive scar or birthmark — and at the same time disclose the majesty of impersonal rock and how well it hides its inner secrets, its colours and crystals and cavities.  Emily has said that she will sometimes buy twenty pieces of stone in an Italian quarry “because they wave at me, saying, ‘Hey, I’m really beautiful’ or ‘I’ve got lots of moss growing on me and nobody knows what’s inside me.'”

Working with hammers, chisels and power tools in her London studio or Santa Croce one (in a disused hillside convent), Emily then investigates:  “I may open in one knock something that took millions of years to form:  dusts settling, water dripping, forces pushing, minerals growing — material and geological revelations:  the story of time on earth shows here, sometimes startling, always beautiful.”

Born in 1951, Emily has been declared by the Financial Times to be “Britain’s greatest living stone sculptor”.   Her grandmother Kathleen Scott, who sculpted in clay, was famously a colleague of Rodin, and Kathleen famously was the widow of Captain Robert Scott who died exploring Antartica.  It was Emily’s wide travels in the 1960s and 70s, after Chelsea Art School and Central St. Martins, that inspired her to give up painting and sculpt stone from around the world.  The 1960s also saw her meeting Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, leading to his writing, “See Emily Play”.

All that fame aside, none of Emily’s stone heads are of recognisable individuals and they never will be.  “I don’t want to make stone my servant”, she has said, distancing herself from the sculptors of the past who subordinated their work’s earthly matter to the lives they were meant to commemorate.  For Emily, the stone sculpture should instead commemorate time and our planet.  Her angel heads are messengers to man, telling us how precious the earth is and how we ought to be far better caretakers.

Emily Young’s statues can be found all over London and Europe, but one that cannot be easily seen is The Weeping Guardian, a twelve-tonne piece of carved Carrara marble that has been laid eight metres down on the sea floor off the coast of Tuscany, at Talamore.  It is one of 25 pieces of stone being put there to prevent the illegal dragnet trawling that empties the sea floor of so much vital marine life.


Harland Miller

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog

Fill giant white walls with bright colours and big words on painted book covers and I’m hooked.  Like most people, I’ve probably come across Harland Miller’s work in the past but paid more attention to the faux Penguin book titles than the artist’s name.  But then Miller has also liked to style himself as “International Lonely Guy” and that man we all know well.  

The White Cube’s current exhibition of Harland Miller’s work, One Bar Electric, on until 9 September, contains more paintings of giant book covers with clever titles.  Some of the most interesting and, dare I say beautiful, use just one word so that the type itself and the shape of the letters becomes paramount.  I especially liked Up, Pot and Ace, how the letters seemed to change into other letters briefly and then revert back to a solid word, if any word can be solid.  I probably liked even more the vague contemplation of what Up, Pot and Ace might be about.

Born in 1964 in Yorkshire  and now with a studio in south London’s Bermondsey, Miller spent much of the 1980s and 90s in New York, New Orleans and Berlin.  He’s written a novel, Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty (2000), about a young man who travels around northeast England with a David Bowie inpersonator, and a novella, First I was Afraid, I was Petrified (2001), about OCD, inspired by coming across a box of photos of the knobs of a cooker on “off”.  In 2001 he found himself in Paris needing things to read and could only afford second-hand Penguins, so he bought a stack, and those book covers gave rise to Miller’s breakthrough moment as an artist.

For with book covers, he saw a way he could paint words onto his paintings and it looked to him like they really belonged there.   His work does recall other word painters like Ed Ruscha, famous for Oof and Music from the Balconies or Mel Bochner’s fabulous kinds of Blah, blah, blah.  But those artists don’t use book covers and book covers change everything, suggesting an infinite unknown that is paradoxically digestible and, certainly in the case of Miller’s covers, much more limited than it seems to be trying to be.

Miller’s covers aren’t clean and neat, but they once were, especially those that look like self-help style psychology books of the 1960s and 70s with geometric designs.  Where the covers were once white they are now grey, or yellowy grey, and, despite all the strong lines and colours of the book title and design, the bottom of the paintings look a drippy mess. Think very rainy, cold England day when the book in the bag got wet, and you pulled it out in a warm cafe over a mug of tea and began carefully to turn the dampened pages.   That’s what the dripping is supposed to evoke, but then it might suggest all kinds of wonderful creative chaos that underlies many a neat and tidy product.   Some covers in the current exhibition are a positive painterly mess as if the book stayed in a puddle for a week, like Thought after Filthy Thought and In Shadows I Boogie.

Miller’s book covers, or paintings of book covers, are funny in a wry, smart sort of way:  I’m so Fucking Hard, by Ernest Hemingway, Tonight we make History (I can’t be there), Death — What’s in it for me?  From the current exhibition, I especially like Reverse Psychology Isn’t WorkingImmediate Relief . . . Coming Soon, The Future — You Might Not Like It Now . . . But You Will, and the pair, Why Breathe In? and Why Breathe Out?  The need to laugh out loud is just there in an exhibition of Miller’s work, but sometimes that’s not easy in an art gallery.  Go ahead, see the exhibition and do it anyway, or come on my tour and we can laugh together.  The world needs a lot more laughter at paintings, with paintings and in galleries.   





Richard and Maria Cosway

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog

 The story of the London public’s initial exposures to art is a crazy, odd one that I’m still exploring, and on this exploration I’ve come across an intriguing artistic couple, Richard Cosway (1742-1821) and Maria Cosway (1760-1838).  Richard Cosway was Britain’s first and one-and-only superstar celebrity miniaturist.  He was considered an overdressed “Macaroni”, and could be often sighted in a scarlet coat, gold-laced waistcoat and cocked hat.  His wife Maria, eighteen years his junior and beyond brilliant at multi-tasking, could paint lovely miniatures and was also a fine composer, singer, top-flight society hostess and, perhaps most importantly, she was a keen promoter of women’s education.  She also perhaps had an affair with Thomas Jefferson when she was married to Richard Cosway.




In the 1780s, the Cosways lived in Schomberg House on Pall Mall next door to Thomas Gainsborough, a few doors down from James Christie’s new auction house.  They moved in when a sexual therapy establishment known as the Temple of Hymen moved out, and the Cosways seem to have only relished the cachet conferred on the address by the Temple.  For no sooner had they moved in with all their paintings and tapestries, and no sooner had Richard resumed his routine of staring at 12 to 14 sitters a day at half-hour intervals and painting their delicate features onto small ivory pieces with watercolour blues, then Maria started giving the best parties in London.  





These highly musical affairs were on Sunday nights, and they are actually said to have caused London’s first traffic jams, thanks to all the sedan chairs and carriages blocking Pall Mall.  Maria would sing on these evenings and often she hired other singers and musicians to accompany her.  The Prince of Wales (the future George IV) was a regular attender, and many suspected that Richard Cosway was actually hoping the Prince might himself begin an affair with Maria because Richard might benefit financially from such an arrangement.   Richard did serve as the Prince of Wales’s court painter and painted the prince’s own image more than forty times.





Richard’s exquisite combination of a stipple technique on the heads of his sitters and freeflowing brushstrokes on their clothes and the background make his miniatures still appear so stunning today.  The eyes of his sitters are slightly enlarged as well.  Some of Cosway’s miniatures are on display in the National Portrait Gallery as well, but they are not at present well lit.  Fortunately Philip Mould collects Cosway’s miniatures and his gallery is on Pall Mall, so there is a decent chance of seeing a Cosway miniature on my Pall Mall Art Tour.  

Retail Love

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, The Jermyn Street Experience

Last Friday I was in Jermyn Street earlier than usual because, rather than arriving in time   for the late afternoon tours of the street I have recently started giving, I had an appointment to take a tour with the archivist of Fortnum and Mason, Dr. Andrea Tanner.  I wound up learning more than I expected from this tour, not just about Fortnum and Mason, but about a commitment to retail that verges on an inspiring love.  

After covering the store’s three hundred years of history, Dr. Tanner proceeded to show me around every floor and demonstrate an astonishing knowledge of the latest products on offer along with histories of most departments.  Her passion for retail was inspiring largely because it was very much based in human stories, in individual designers who were creating Fortnum and Mason’s hats or particular groups of mothers who loved Fortnum and Mason’s tea-tasting parties.  When I awkwardly asked what she thought about the fact that some of the enticing foods were rather expensive, she did not disagree but pointed out that the jam near us was selling for under £4.  

In turn, I couldn’t disagree that there was something for everyone on most of those floors, even if that something might be simply soaking up the atmosphere.  That afternoon, I was left with a lot of longing, and not just for some rare China tea and vodka-flavoured marmalade to be tasted while wearing a black and white feathered hat tilted winningly.  I longed more than ever to know more about the exquisite products on sale in so many of Jermyn Street’s shops.  Indeed, I now think I feel the need to acquire this better appreciation almost as a duty to the street that gives our theatre a home. 


As Jermyn Street Theatre’s representative, I have been hoping for over a year to find many means to unite the history of the street’s inhabitants with the individual histories that surround its shops, restaurants, art galleries and beautiful church.  My tour is a start, and it, of course, has required that something or other be said about what type of goat cheese is on sale at Paxton and Whitfield or what fedoras at Bates.  Yet last Friday, as I found myself lingering in Floris in the midst of giving the tour, I felt a certain weight of responsibility added to the urge to pick up one of the beautifully wrapped perfumes and explain its ingredients, trace its origins to the European monarch who paid for its creation and name the bygone celebrities who loved it.  The spray of one scent calls forth all of these very human stories just as it elicits desire itself.   For the deep past tangibly lives in so many of the products we can smell, taste or hold in our hands on Jermyn Street. 

There are people, as we know, who never think of walking down the street because they imagine its products on sale to be all too pricey or, perhaps, just too male.  Yet those same people might happily admire the objets d’art in the British Museum or V&A.  Would that they understood the wealth on offer to hungering eyes and ears in a retail atmosphere that is welcoming, personal and, above all, kind.  These are stories of craftsmanship and its highest ideals, as one visit to the shoe workshop above Foster and Son makes plain.  The street’s salesmen and women are doing much more than selling, and their presence demonstrates a concern for values that can never be easily measured on a spreadsheet.  In some sense, they are all the best archivists, selling a living past in the form of products whose high currency needs no apologies for its price tag.  

St. James’s Hotel

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in The Jermyn Street Experience

One of my ridiculously fond hopes is that, some day in the distant future, I will be able to walk down Jermyn Street and know the history of every address, going back to the seventeenth century.  Just to stand before a space, regardless of whether a particular old building is still there, and know that in that space so-and-so sang and danced and be able to tell others about the singer and dancer is perhaps to feel the inevitable poignancy of our connection to what may appear not to have left even a trace.

At the moment I think a couple of interesting facts about number 76, now a building of highly desirable flats, worth imparting.  Two hundred years ago it was the site of the St. James’s Hotel, one of the many hotels that used to line Jermyn Street and keep The Cavendish company.  In the early eighteenth century, the hotel’s barber was the young Juan Famenias Floris, who had just immigrated to England from Minorca.  Floris clearly loved Jermyn Street but seems to have felt that he did not want to spend the rest of his years cutting hair.   As a barber, he would have scented many of his customers’ hair and wigs, so the idea to make and sell his own perfumes probably occurred to him while he was working at the hotel.  Marriage brought him the dowry necessary to set up his own shop on Jermyn Street in 1730, from which he and his descendants sold brushes and combs as well as perfumes for many decades.  The oldest perfumer in the U.K and second oldest in the world, Floris remains in family hands to this day. 

One hundred years later, St. James’s Hotel was the scene of the poet Walter Scott’s last days in London, when his poor physical state drew the attention of innumerable poetry lovers to Jermyn Street.  “The mighty master of romance and song” lay semi-conscious for three weeks in a second-floor hotel bed, having been rushed back from the Mediterranean and wanting only to return to his beloved home Abbotsford in Scotland in order to die.  His children stayed by his side at the hotel as well as his some of his closest friends, but he was unable to speak to anyone.  Apparently the sound of the carriages on busy Jermyn Street disturbed him often.

To appreciate the significance of Scott’s demise, we should recall that when his early long poems, Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808) and Lady of the Lake (1810) were first published, they sold as no poetry ever before had sold anywhere.  For the first half of the nineteenth century, only Byron was his equal in poetic fame, and then Scott’s novels like Waverley (1814) and Ivanhoe (1819) doubled that publishing success.   So when, on 7 July 1832, Scott was finally able to leave St. James’s Hotel, a large crowd was waiting on Jermyn Street to catch a final glimpse, with many on the crowd’s edges on horseback.  One Victorian history reports that, as Scott’s body was lifted into his carriage, “There was said not to be a covered head nor a dry eye.”  Scott died at Abbotsford on 21 September 1832.

Perhaps blessed by Scott’s brief appearance, No. 76 went on to lead yet another fascinating and somewhat romantic existence as a Turkish bath.  But that story must wait for another day.


This Tour Guide Can’t Stop Researching

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, The Jermyn Street Experience

I am really delighted and excited at present, and a little overwhelmed, because this odd street tour of mine is becoming ever so surely a grand passion.  I just feel it.  I’ve given three tours now of Jermyn Street, each one so different, and none of them allowing time to say all that I’ve learned, each one throwing up new questions that demand answering — if not this week then next, or next month, or when I can find time to get into an archive and surround myself with wrinkly paper.  That monk-like existence is the one I’ve known for so much of my life, and for many years that merely meant being home surrounded by books, aware that the kids would need to be collected from school soon.  Of late I have been so busy promoting the tour that I’ve missed my books and burying myself in some archive or other.  I missed people a lot in that old life, but the surprise to me now is that I actually miss doing the research and I must get back to it or go a little mad.

Fortunately, The Jermyn Street Experience has got me wondering about so many things that I need no further excuse to retreat to my study.  Top on the list is to learn more about Beau Brummell.  I stand by that gorgeous statue at the front of the Piccadilly Arcade and I start to rattle off the familiar and not so familiar facts, yet feel forever as if the Beau is escaping me, much as he escaped England in 1816 under a cloud of debt.  He died decades later of tertiary syphilis, leaving a nation to shake its head over his mistakes and miscalculations, but really everyone just missed him, much as they missed Byron, similar stars who appeared at times too bright for their native spheres.  To conjure up the magic of a man like Brummell in a few sentences can seem at times, well, an act of magic, and I long to be more familiar with the details of tying a Regency tie as much as as I want to know about his lovers and pursuit of love.

Then there is the interesting riddle of Aleister Crowley:  magician, mountaineer, philosopher, occultist.  Aleister CrowleyI only learned this week that the man lived on Jermyn Street above Paxton and Whitfield’s cheese shop, which during the war had become a grocer.  Here was one of the most controversial Brits of the twentieth century, called a wicket “Satanist” in the press, hearing the bells of St. James’s and enjoying the battling aromas of the various fruits and vegetables as he entered his lodgings daily.  Here he was, continuing to write and publish on magic while a stone’s throw from the shops and clubs frequented by some of the most powerful men in the land.  Perhaps he was still involved in some kind of espionage, as some of his biographers have speculated.

There’s also more to learn about the Duke of Marlborough and his Battle of Blenheim; about Thomas Gray and his poetry; about Walter Scott and his last years.  The story of Rosa Lewis is likewise not easy to sum up in a paragraph, yet somehow I find I leave people smiling when I say what I do know.  The mixture of wealth and poverty on the street is becoming a recurrent theme, and yet, to many upon entering and looking through the shop windows, Jermyn Street can seem solely the preserve of the better off.  

The individual shops tell a much different tale:  one of skilled and dedicated craftsmanship developed over more than a century, especially in the case of shops like Turnbull and Asser or Floris or Foster and Son.  These privately-owned businesses where long-term employees take pride in knowing their talents are appreciated has produced a quality in dress and adornment that the world has long respected.  Taking notes while I listen to their tales, I am only beginning to grasp the fine detail.  Yes, I am very happy to be here on Jermyn Street, eager to learn more from everyone and celebrate the stories of the shops and their workers as much as the great personalities who, in many cases, boarded above those shops.  

Sometimes I feel as if I could tell so much of the history of England’s last 350 years simply by telling the history of this one street — but that’s a crazy idea.  It can only be a slice of English life, yet it is a rich, colourful and sumptuous slice of that life, and it’s still going on, still beautiful and challenging and fluctuating.  Keeping the past present is what Jermyn Street is all about, and, I guess, it’s what The Jermyn Street Experience is about.  If you are free some Friday afternoon before 4 pm and find yourself near Piccadilly Circus, turn that corner into Jermyn Street and wait for me outside the theatre.  Or if that day and time won’t do, ask me for a private tour and I’ll see if I can arrange it.  I want to share this very special experience of a street with as many people as possible.


Fire and Dance

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Theatre

I have a lot to learn about devising drama and, even more, devising dance.  But I took a little step in that direction yesterday, when I sat down for a fabulous chat with Laura Farnworth, dramaturg for The Print Room’s upcoming production where dance realizes the qualities of fire.  It’s called Ignis, the latin word for fire, and here it is the name given to the female character of the piece.  

Working with the theatre’s artistic director Anda Winters, choreographer Hubert Essakow decided months ago to use the actor Sara Kestelman to accompany the dancers with readings.  But what would Olivier-award winning Sara (who famously played Titania in Peter Brook’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970)) actually read?  Finding an appropriate text for a dance that was still being devised, with music that was likewise in the process of being composed (by Jon Opstad), might have seemed a nearly impossible challenge.  Then Hubert learned that Sara was a poet and that some of her work had been published with that of Susan Penhaligon in a volume, A Two Hander.  On reading Sara’s poems, Hubert immediately found some that he knew he could use in Ignis, where the metaphoric relationship between fire and love’s passion were being explored in a dozen different ways: the intense attraction, the dying away of passion, the betrayal, the sense of being burnt out. 

The dance piece needed some kind of overarching narrative, and that, Laura told me, was her job.  She had to discover a simple story that was not imposed on the piece but rather held it together, a story that fitted with the music, set, costumes and, above all, the fire-like movements of the dance.  Hubert is working with three dancers, and the idea for the dance’s story is that one relationship between lovers is dying while another is just beginning.  This lovers’ triangle is supposed to mirror the triangle of oxygen, fuel and ignition, the three ingredients needed to start fire.   Laura helped with selecting Sara’s poems, suggesting lines to leave in and leave out, and Sara helpfully made changes in some poems, in keeping with the theme of fire and of love’s relation to it.  The fact that this dance piece found an actor who just happened to be a poet who happened to have written some very appropriate poems seems to me to be one of its miracles, and one that is sure to lend it verbal authenticity and power. 

Ignis opens on 8 February and, as I write, it is still receiving the thoughtful attentions of all of its creators, including set designer Lee Newby, who is tasked with introducing real fire into the piece.  I meet with Lee today and am sure I will yet again feel a little overwhelmed by the hurdles these creative people set for themselves and the inevitable uncertainty that surrounds so much of the creative process.  In a recent interview, Sara said that teaching drama had taught her that “the text is sacred” and that everyone needs to be “immensely patient”.  She has of course let her own texts be adapted to something wholly new, something about to happen, about to be born indeed in a baptism of fire. 

Ignis runs at The Print Room from 8 February to 1 March, 7:30 Monday to Saturday. 


Jermyn Street History

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, The Jermyn Street Experience

I have this idea — not original, not new, but still, an idea that feels so deeply my own that I can’t shake it and have to act on it.  Yet I’ve had the idea for over eight months and am only now getting around to clearing the decks and saying to myself, “It matters enough to you to do this and do little but this until it’s done.”  So, yeah, I guess there’s a been a real ambivalence, a sort of sheepishness about putting it and myself forward.  But here it goes. 

I have to tell the story of one street in London, Jermyn Street.  It’s not a long street and it’s not by London standards a very old street.  We’re talking late seventeenth century, 1680s roughly.  But when it came to life, it did so fairly quickly, again, by London standards.  I suddenly had a vision of Main Street in a Wilde West town, built over night with shoot-outs at noon the next day.  No, nothing like that for Jermyn Street.  The street let itself be filled by those seeking to serve the slightest needs, desires and whims of the wealthy, be they members of Court or the aristocracy who began to populate the grand houses of St James’s Square.  The finest wines, the best cigars, the sweetest perfumes could be found on Jermyn Street, and hotels sprung up for those who couldn’t get enough of the ambience of the place.  Sir Christopher Wren designed its beautiful church and, uniquely for Wren in London, had the land space to design it exactly as he wished without being cramped by neighbouring properties.  There were prostitutes round the corner on Bury Street, and the enviable doings of the Court and the gentlemen’s clubs nearby, and, as the centuries passed, all this activity resulted in Jermyn Street acquiring an interesting cachet.

Along with all the shirt shops and shoe shops and hatters, the street drew to it Turkish baths and entertainers, hotels, cigar shops, perfumeries, art dealers, restaurants, and, most important of all for me but so often forgotten by Jermyn Street’s frequenters — a theatre.  As part of my work for Jermyn Street Theatre, I am digging up and integrating all this history into a series of talks on the street that I am hoping to give to anyone willing to listen in the near future.  A lot of famous people have had sex on this street (including many of the bibulous guests of Rosa Lewis’s Cavendish Hotel)– or tried to (like Rock Hudson, before he was thrown own of the Savoy Baths in 1952); slept on this street (like Isaac Newton and Walter Scott); and many have died on the street (including the 1930s crooner Al Bowlly from a 1941 German bomb).  And somehow, when the street becomes the focus of the tale, their lives serve as a kind of tribute to the evolving, open personality of the place.

Its great church, St. James’s, allows homeless people to sleep in its pews.  It is filled with fashionable mensware shops spouting the finest quality of clothing and accoutrements imaginable.  It can all feel very expensive and distant for those of us walking down the street with little or no money to spend.  Basically, you walk to admire but don’t feel you can walk in, really, or are a little reluctant to.  Working on this history, “working the street”, as it were, is helping me overcome that reluctance.  I walk into shops, have these odd little chats promoting our odd little theatre, and walk out, having enjoyed being for a few moments surrounded by shirts and ties of every design and colour arranged in the most satisfying manner possible.  Everyone is very kind.  And somehow the humanity and wide tolerance of the place that comes from its history comes through in these not-too-awkward moments.

To hear the whole story of the street, you’ll have to find a way to come to one of my talks, scheduled to begin in April 2014 on Friday afternoons (watch this space).  But suffice it to say for now that it all began with one Henry Jermyn, who may well have been the father of Charles II, and who was without doubt much beloved by Henrietta Maria.  Jermyn was the Queen’s closest companion, her stalwart during the Civil War and the Commonwealth, and he was rewarded well, with a huge grant of land from which he had carved out St. James’s Square and its surrounding streets.  Scandal had surrounded his name for years, but in the end he was fabulously wealthy and able to get Christopher Wren to build his grand church while he lived close by in suitably grand style.  Needless to say, the church became the most fashionable one in London with a congregation so well dressed that, in the eighteenth century, many attended services solely to see and be seen.  There’s nothing puritanical about this street, nothing dry or condemning, and, in knowing that, the fact that there’s a lot of beautiful stuff on sale that most of us cannot afford doesn’t seem to matter quite so much.  At least we can go in the shops, look at those costly goods, touch, taste, smell and admire many of them, delight in the atmosphere much as we might in a public art gallery — except that on Jermyn Street, there is this zing of exclusivity.  And we can feel, I guess, a little privileged, even a little blessed, for having simply walked in, out and around.



A new Christmas

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Personal

It’s Christmas eve, and nothing’s on, yet somehow everything’s on, in that, in the momentary pause between scheduled theatrical productions and deadlines for funding applications, there is time to consider why in the world I am doing what I’m doing and should I do more.  There is, moreover, time to think about my first Christmas in twenty years outside the firm boundaries of marriage.  My daughters and I need to create new family habits, customs, that might or might not turn into traditions but will help us look forward and give us that sense of ritual, of group unity in the face of an upheaval we didn’t consider possible last Christmas.  It feels all new.  And I’m not even cooking a turkey — not cooking anything, in truth.  Nor have I in months, as cooking meals and creating the scene of the perfect family seemed false to one and all.  And then of course who has time to cook? 

The need to nest, to homemake, is one that grows upon me gradually, but the need to reach outward in a dozen directions is perhaps more powerful.  So this Christmas I feel a bit stuck, looking both ways, and in both ways there seems so much to do that it’s beyond my ken to see the end of it.  I have received three books as gifts from wonderful new friends.  One is a book of poetry published by the giver, and I was standing in Liverpool Street Station last night reading the poems while waiting for my daughters — and loving their immediacy, their sweet touch, their sense of family history, too.  One is a blank book, and its giver has urged me to set firm goals for myself and put them in the book, as he’s most concerned that I’m too at the mercy of a hundred demands and not focusing on where I need to be in a year’s time or five years’ time.  And the other book is called The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.  It’s about finding one’s creativity within through a kind of spiritual understanding of oneself and the world around.  I’ve only read a few pages but I feel sort of hungry to keep going with this, like maybe there is some kind of needy poet or playwright within me dying to find a way to express herself. 

Every poem I’ve ever written and hidden away has always seemed like a necessary indulgence — like a song I needed to sing to no audience but me.  And I only write such things when I really cannot think of any other way of dealing with a tide of feeling, and that’s not very often, as tears usually seem a much easier resource than staring at a blank sheet and summoning sequential thought.  There is of course NO TIME for such thoughts normally —  I mean, thoughts of writing poems and plays, thoughts of being creative (there is always plenty of time for thoughts about tides of feelings, usually on bike rides).  The world makes too many demands, or so I think.  But maybe I’ve got that all wrong too, and maybe I’m not very good at realising how much I inflate these demands to give me a sense of purpose.

So perhaps everything really is all new, and it’s time for me to step tentatively forward and consider many more possibilities than I had ever dared.  It’s time to help my daughters do the same.  It’s time to let go of fears of limitations and fears of failure and find a way to let go of whatever it is that has prevented me and mine from enjoying every damn moment we are alive.  Whew, I am feeling a bit dizzy with this last idea.  But I like it.

Fundraising and Doubts and Certainties

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in The Newton Circle Project

It’s mid-week and I make it a rule only to blog on weekends but I missed last weekend due to an excess of … well, nothing important.  And so now, when I’d rather dwell on something arty and warm, I find myself feeling, no, trying not to feel, frustrated about having to recruit for the Newton Circle Project when I’m not certain I’ll get sufficient funds to make it happen, or happen this spring anyway.   I need more time, plain and simple.  I should have given myself more time to fundraise.  I didn’t realise how long it would all take this autumn, nor how long it would take to set up house as single mum in London, nor do all my theatre work.  I didn’t give myself time to get ill, which is what the last three days have consumed.

I don’t have enough time to research Newton’s multifaceted life either, but everything I learn is fabulous and so convinces me that this guy deserves a lot more digging and attention — that he deserves to become one of these legendary figures that people could one day refer to and sort of metaphorically try on, like a piece of clothing — the way we can’t do with Shakespeare because we don’t know enough about him, but can do with . . . well, actually, I’m struggling to think of a historical figure that everyone feels they know well enough and can also laugh at.  Newton really needs to be laughed at, the one thing never allowed in his lifetime.   He had all these disciples, people who really worshipped him, yet it’s hard to imagine any of these young men actually loved him.  Perhaps letters will give clues, but letters can be so full of flattery. 

I just know this project needs to happen and that I can’t give up on it, regardless of what the funding decisions are in January.  I think theatre’s potential to benefit communities is far from being realised in London, and if not here, then nowhere.  The trouble is that fringe theatres are struggling just to make ends meet, and doing extra projects is not a priority.  Yet it is the educational projects that underline what theatre can do.  We have to find a way to make “education” and “theatre” mean much more than bringing in school students to see plays that they are examined on.  Young people need to see the two combining in more ways than drama workshops, however good and worthy those can be, because often workshops are geared more toward talking about the “how” of a play, rather than the “why”.  We have to find a way to make adult education relevant and exciting and valued — the stuff that happens in a pre- or post-show talk about at play.   That little bit of mental growth — that’s what we are all looking for, the facts and concepts and stories that help us make sense of the play on stage.  

So I chew metaphorically my pencil and hope that I can get funding and get 25 people young and old to imagine what it was like to be in Isaac Newton’s social circle.   This project in truth is putting education before drama and expecting the drama will flow from it.  It’s an experiment, and it’s one that needs to be tried.

Copyright © 2018 Dr Cindy Lawford PhD
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