Ice Skating @ Winter Wonderland – Review

Winter Wonderland’s ice rink in Hyde Park. Image taken by Craig Fergus

Several things come to ones mind when they think of London at Christmas – overzealous shoppers reigning over Oxford Street, Love Actually, and of course, Winter Wonderland.

One thing Hyde Park’s winter extravaganza boasts is the ‘UK’s largest open-air ice rink‘. It may be the biggest, but it certainly lacks the charisma needed for it to be the best. Although its expansive grounds are full of thrill-seekers at any given time, the skating experience itself leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, the ice is unusually watery for a supposed premium rink, and makes it a lot easier for visitors to slip up (and get soaking in the meantime)!

No phones are allowed on the ice rink; the only pictures able to capture the memory of a fun (and rather pricey) family day out are the ones taken by a professional photographer at a further expense. The allure of Winter Wonderland’s skating experience falls short the moment a guest steps on it – from afar, it appears white (as standard), but the closer you get you discover the sad reality that it’s a musky-grey colour, and a slushy slip-and-slide that’s littered with frozen leaves and centered around a Victorian bandstand that never seems to have band members present.

Worlds away from the luxurious ice-y opportunities of Somerset House or the Natural History Museum, ‘overused’ springs to mind when you think of Winter Wonderland’s ice rink; it is open twelve hours every day of the week, there’s never enough time for the rink to re-cooperate after a battering by enthusiastic children and adults alike.

Plus, it’s located in an odd location of the theme park, with the only sights of Hyde Park to see are the LED’s from bigger, better attractions through twigs and bushes that lurk over the ice rink – not exactly giving it a ‘festive feel’.

Admission is free to Winter Wonderland, however if you get through security and expect any form of ‘freebie’ on the other side, you’ll certainly be shocked. Of course, if you have the money to spare on all the attractions, then do as you please. But if your budget is tighter and you’re planning on only visiting one experience in Hyde Park, turn away from the ice rink – great fun can be found in areas like Backyard Cinema, the Magical Ice Kingdom and the Giant Wheel.

However, if you’re still intent on getting that ‘skating in Hyde Park’ Christmas experience, Winter Wonderland is open from 10AM-10PM everyday besides December 25 until January 6 2019. During peak time, an adult ticket is Β£14.50 for fifty minutes on ice, whereas early or late skates are a subtle Β£9.50 a head. Concessions are available for students, children and over-sixties. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online at hydeparkwinterwonderland.com .

Florence + the Machine, Live in London – Review

Florence Welch performing ‘Cosmic Love’ in London. Image taken by Craig Fergus

Hot off the heels of her critically acclaimed fourth album ‘High as Hope’, indie pop icons Florence and the Machine are currently in the midst of a sold out worldwide tour.

‘This is my hometown!’ Florence Welch triumphantly exclaimed to the 3000 strong crowd at the capitals Royal Festival Hall. This wasn’t the songbirds first performance at the iconic venue, and it certainly won’t be her last.

Florence opened the show with ‘June’, a relatively slow song which did little to boost spectators spirits, but all was forgiven within the opening bars of her second track ‘Hunger‘, as the crowd began to warm up for what turned out to be a spectacular show.

As Welch ran through her repertoire of classics (particular crowd-pleasers included ‘Between Two Lungs’ and ‘Dog Days Are Over), many bystanders on the floor were disheartened to realise how little energy the majority of her audience had, almost as if they’d been forced to attend her concert. One woman even shouted ‘lighten up!’ to a group of Londoners that remained immobile during ‘Ship to Wreck’, one of the bands most dance-inspired tracks.

When the groups main set was drawing to a close, Florence knew exactly what to do to ensure her band went out with a bang. She must have asked herself, ‘what can I do to really get the crowd moving?’.

Her answer? Get in it.

Mid-way through ‘Delilah‘, Florence spontaneously jumped off stage barefoot (as always) and proceeded to run to the back of the venue and greet attendees by jumping from the sound desk into the audience, dancing with and embracing her fans as if they were old friends. Bold moves like this set Florence aside from other pop forces like Mariah Carey and Britney Spears, who wouldn’t dare pull such exciting stunts in a non-controlled environment.

Katy Evans, a student at Sheffield University who travelled to London just to attend Welch’s concert, said that the front-woman exceeded all her expectations and that it was one of the best live shows she had ever seen. She said, ‘Florence has a star quality that doesn’t exist in any other artist as big as her in modern music. Everyone refers to her as underrated, but considering she has sold out every UK show on this tour proves she must be doing something right!’.

Finishing the night with an encore of the 2012 mega-hit ‘Shake It Out‘, Florence and the Machine proved once again they have still got it – and they’re going to ‘have it’ for a very long time.

Michael Jackson: On The Wall @ National Portrait Gallery – Review

Welcome sign that greets visitors as they enter ‘Michael Jackson: On The Wall’

For twelve weeks only, London’s National Portrait Gallery has been transformed into a pop music haven, with the world premiere of a exciting new exhibition that showcases the life of superstar Michael Jackson through the most interesting format possible – art. I went down there to see why Timeout gave it a coveted five star review.

Everyone can remember where they were when they heard the news Michael Jackson died. I certainly do – it was a boiling hot day in June 2009, and it seemed for a split second, the world stopped turning.

Although it’s been almost ten years since the incomparable King of Pop’s sudden demise, the mark Michael Jackson left on art and pop culture continues to run stronger than ever. So much so that the National Portrait Gallery has unveiled a ground-breaking exhibition, in which dozens of versatile artists from around the globe have contributed their MJ-inspired creations, in order to produce a larger-than-life display.

Fourteen (yes, fourteen!) rooms consume ‘On The Wall’; each showcasing art based on a different era of Michael Jacksons career. Room highlights of the exhibition are found in the ‘King of Pop’ area and in the vast ‘Man in the Mirror’ landscape. You enter the latter through a narrow hole inside a large recreation of Jackson’s 1991 ‘Dangerous‘ album cover, as if you were opening the doors to ‘Michael Jackson Heaven’.

Sponsored by both Hugo Boss and Sony Music, ‘On The Wall’ has been certainly been produced with style in mind – once you enter the first hall, subtly titled ‘The Alphabet of Michael Jackson’, you are instantly immersed in the luxurious life that Jackson lived; it is clear that the exhibition is sponsored by Boss. 

Contributors for the exhibition include Isa Genzken, David Hammons, Glenn Ligon, Kehinde Wiley, and of course, Andy Warhol. Warhol’s iconic ‘Michael Jackson 23‘ screen-prints are featured in the same room as several pieces of collectors items from his heyday, including MJ dolls, press cuttings from Rolling Stone and glove-shaped invitations from the time of Thrillers release.

Visitors were also swarmed around the three-metre-long Kehinde Wiley oil painting that depicts Michael Jackson as a Napoleon-type figure, riding into battle on a horse. This was the final artwork commissioned by Jackson prior to his death, and sadly, he never lived to see the completed piece.

One thing the tribute lacked was information – whilst the exhibition excelled in the art itself, several pieces (especially those in the centre of the room) were not accompanied with enough detail for visitors to full appreciate them. For instance, in the room ‘Which Mike Do You Want to Be Like?’, three microphones are positioned in the rooms centre, intended to represent the three major ‘Michaels’ of the eighties – Jackson, Tyson, and Jordan. However, looking at the art, an average visitor may struggle to find the information that is meant to go alongside the piece.

Leah Dickson, visiting from Brighton to see the art, couldn’t help but express her joy at seeing all the fascinating pieces. She said of the exhibition, ‘it’s as if MJ has been resurrected – I love that there are so many rooms to explore – it shows how much depth there was to Michael Jackson, and that he lives on through his music, art and fashion’.

Being one of the biggest selling artists of all time, and with a killer posthumous exhibition now under his belt, Michael Jackson’s star still shows no sign of burning out. After the exhibition runs its course in London, it will move to Paris’ Le Grand Palais beginning November 23. 

‘Michael Jackson: On The Wall’ runs until October 21, with tickets ranging from Β£5-23. More information on the exhibition can be found on the National Portrait Gallery’s website.