Theatre Royal Haymarket

Theatre Royal Haymarket_Copyright_PeterDazeley_credit_Photographer_Peter Dazeley_cannot be used without written permission

The charming and romantic Theatre Royal Haymarket has stood in St James’s since 1720, and has seen its fair share of drama – on stage as well as off. “We’ve got a really fun history,” says development director Kara Crook, as she shares some of the stories that have shaped the theatre: how the Duke of York granted a Royal patent to the theatre as a favour to its then-manager; how the theatre was the first to have a matinee show and a drama school; and the time Sir John Gielgud lived here during the Blitz, acting as fire warden. Another anecdote illustrates the changing face of the city. “When King George came, the crowd rushed to see him,” says Kara, whispering so as not to disturb the performers rehearsing for the evening show. “On this side of the theatre, there’s a corridor which takes you out to Suffolk Street. When the show finished, the audience stampeded and we lost 22 lives down there. But the King never knew – the show went on.”

Arnold Crook – chairman of the Theatre Royal Haymarket and Kara’s father – is passionate about the magic of this place, and the story that the historic building tells. “Years ago, there was a fire next door, before the Haymarket Hotel was built. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith were here, and we had quite a substantial amount of money in the box office – but the theatre was full of smoke. It looked at one point like we might have to cancel the performances. But we didn’t.

“People were asking me, ‘What would have happened if it was destroyed by the fire?’ I said, ‘We would have rebuilt it’. But what we can’t rebuild is the history in this building. That’s what gives the atmosphere.”

As the theatre is Grade I-listed, Crook says that he “can’t move a nut and bolt without getting permission.” Thanks to this, the building has retained many of its most fascinating features. Dark, lit with warm lamps, ashtrays still hang from walls, and the striking hand painted ceiling is framed by ornate gold. Behind the stage is a room where royalty have hidden between acts, complete with old fashioned vents for circulating air and a Victorian fireplace.

While the majority of London’s theatres are electrically operated, the Theatre Royal Haymarket is largely manual. But Arnold knows that it is this sense of tradition that gives the theatre its charm. “If you want something special, you come to the old theatres, where you feel the atmosphere as you walk in the door,” says Arnold in his deep, smoky timbre. “You know that there’s something going on here, and has been going on for years.”

As rehearsals are going on, a full tour isn’t possible; but hearing Arnold and Kara talk about their “jewel in the crown”, it’s clear that behind every door lies a story – and a piece of theatre history.

Although the theatre embraces its colourful past, it is also one of London’s most forward-thinking theatres. Arnold is passionate about giving younger generations the opportunity to understand the theatre industry, and has worked to make theatre an exciting proposition for young people in what are uncertain times. 18 years ago, Arnold helped to found Masterclass – a charity set up to put the spotlight on the industry, and to encourage those between the ages of 16 to 30 to get involved. Growing with each year, Arnold says that the theatre has hosted some 80,000 young people since the project’s inception.

The main initiative of Masterclass is to help individuals learn about the work, craft and opportunities in theatre, from some of the industry’s most successful individuals – from established actors, to producers, directors and designers. Josh Brown, who looks after the theatre’s press and marketing needs, explains: “We bring these young people into the theatre so they can learn firsthand from them – in a nice, safe, comfortable environment where the ‘master’ feels relaxed – and they can have one-on-one questions and discussions.”

He says that given the landscape for young people going into theatre, Masterclass is needed now more than ever. “It’s really difficult to get into. It’s a tough industry – you can have a lot of talent, but you might not get the chance – which is why Masterclass is so important. It opens doors, and it puts you in front of the right people. It gives you a direction.”

Arnold notes that finding new talent is tricky in today’s climate – another reason why Masterclass is invaluable to the theatre. “The government support culture, there’s no question; but they’ve made lots of cuts recently,” says Arnold. “Those cuts make it very difficult for subsidised theatres. As a commercial theatre, we need subsidised theatres because that’s where new product comes from. Without the lifeblood of these young people and talents, this theatre wouldn’t exist,” he says frankly. “It’s imperative that all theatres are busy and supported.”

As well as its long-running masterclasses, the project operates TheatreCraft – a careers fair helping people aged 16 to 25 into backstage career roles. “It started here, with about 10 or 15 exhibitors. The most recent had 400 exhibitors and nearly 2,000 attendees. It was held at the Royal Opera House, as the Coliseum couldn’t handle it anymore. It’s just exploded.”

But Masterclass takes its dedication to the younger generation further. A successful apprenticeship scheme is actively ensuring the progression of young people in their first few years within the industry – a notoriously ‘make or break’ period for struggling performers and crew. “We’ve placed 27 young people; and over 80 per cent of them have now gone on into chosen careers within their field,” says Josh. “We’ve currently got in the building our apprentice director, stage manager and apprentice designer. They’re working on this production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which stars Pixie Lott (singer). They went up to Leicester and worked with Nikolai (Foster, director) and Matthew Wright, who’s the designer. They’ve now come down here to see it become a West End show.”

As well as placing promising candidates in valuable apprenticeship roles, the Theatre Royal Haymarket also offers a showcase, putting the spotlight on new, undiscovered talent. “The showcase is on the Haymarket stage,” explains Josh. “The apprentices choose a play that’s relevant to them, and they cast it using our database of 15,000 people who are interested in theatre – then there’s a little mini-production.”

According to the team, the showcase offers an opportunity for talented youngsters to have their work seen by influential industry figures. “We try to put lifeblood back in, and give them a chance – that’s what we’ve got to do,” says Arnold passionately. “Young people are bright, clever, educated and chomping at the bit with ideas – and that’s the age when the creation and the advantages start to come. It’s so desperately important that they are given the opportunity.” Kara agrees. “It you haven’t got new talent coming through, then you’ve got nothing going forward.”

With all this talk of the future, what’s next for the Theatre Royal Haymarket? Arnold says that Masterclass is working on initiatives to make theatre more accessible to those outside of London, including projecting productions into cinemas across the UK. ‘Projecting theatre is a big area. Why should Masterclass just remain in London,” asks Arnold. “Why can’t we project Masterclass to the rest of the country, where there are kids that can benefit from what we do? I want the whole country to see Masterclass. Live streaming is the next big project that we will eventually do.” Although institutions such as the National Theatre are already making a success of screened productions, Arnold believes that making Masterclass more readily available to those outside the M25 would be a significant step forward in attracting a younger audience that is so critical to the theatre’s future. “We want to know their story,” says Arnold. “We want to know what they feel – their emotions. It’s not out there enough, and it’s a terrible thing.”

The Theatre Royal Haymarket’s current production, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, adapted by Richard Greenberg, is running until September 17.

As featured in Mayfair Times’ August 16 edition.

Tamouda Bay, Morocco

CHEFCHAOUEN

On the northernmost tip of Morocco sits Tamouda Bay, perched on a coast of dazzling blue water where the Strait of Gibraltar meets the Mediterranean Sea. Largely an unexplored region, particularly for those seeking ultra-luxe escapes, the Mediterranean coast of Morocco is experiencing change with the recent arrival of renowned hotel group Banyan Tree. The Tamouda Bay resort is the first of its kind in this area, offering high luxury to sightseers, sun seekers and spa-lovers.

Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay is an hour and 20 minutes’ picturesque driving from Tangier, which is served by Air Arabia from London Gatwick. The arid, scorched landscape provides an atmospheric journey to the resort, which appears like a mirage out of the dusty red earth. Taking the region’s traditional architecture as inspiration, the resort’s buildings are highly elevated examples of Islamic geometric moucharaby construction, contrasted against imposing archways washed in a blinding white; meadow-like ornamental gardens with blossoming flowers and azure pools.

The central building, which shines like a beacon come evening, is where the reception and Banyan Tree Gallery are situated; the latter features a curated collection of objets d’art from various Moroccan regions, outside which an ornamental pool surveys the Mediterranean sea, reflecting the cloudless sky. This focal point at the heart of the resort is surrounded on two sides by a village of small, beautifully manicured streets lined with sage plants and vibrant flowers. On each of these streets sits a row of villas – each one expertly designed, referencing Morocco’s rich history while offering a contemporary, Arabesque edge. There are 92 luxury villas in total, all featuring private pools of varying sizes, surrounded by outdoor chairs and sofas for guests to chill out and soak up the sun. The fact that Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay offers villas rather than typical hotel rooms lends an easygoing ambiance to guests’ stays – and means that those looking for a few days of quietude will have much to savour.

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While the opulent surroundings of the hotel are steeped in a Moroccan aesthetic, diners will find influence from across the world – a reference to the Banyan Tree group’s global presence. A total of four restaurants offer a varied selection of cuisines and ambiances; those looking for an authentic eating experience will enjoy the Eastern Mediterranean-inspired dishes at Tingitana – where local chefs cook up flavourful tagines, stews and Moroccan spiced vegetables in a luxurious but relaxed setting. Guests can break up a day by the pool and beach with a visit to the Azura Beach Restaurant – specialising in simply cooked, freshly caught fish and seafood, and pizzas and flatbreads prepared in the traditional clay oven. Find a table on the beachfront terrace – where the stunning views out to sea should be paired with a glass of a crisp white Moroccan wine. For an evening of gastronomical exploration outside of the country, opt for dinner at Saffron – Tamouda Bay’s sexy signature restaurant, which serves up plates of contemporary Thai cuisine in low-lit, romantic surroundings. Moroccan nights are balmy, so eat al fresco – or wander through the manicured lawns post-dinner towards Volubilis for a nightcap. This gold-tinged bar is a whiskey and brandy lover’s heaven – though cocktails are also available, as are premium quality cigars.

 

Food and drink, clearly, are central to the experience here. Luckily, Tamouda Bay has plenty to offer in the way of fitness facilities. As well as private pools in the villas, a gargantuan infinity pool surveying the Mediterranean is the perfect place for a quick dip or a few lengths – and the in-pool sun loungers make for an unparalleled spot for relaxation. Parents can keep a close watch on their kids with a separate, safer pool – and can even enjoy some peace and quiet with the aid of a kids club (ages four to 12) offering activities such as face painting, movies and sand castle building. Don’t want to get out of your fitness routine while on holiday? Hit the gym which offers top of the line equipment to guests, while aspiring yogis can find their inner zen with the help of expert teachers in the dedicated yoga studio.

One of Tamouda Bay’s key offerings is the luxury spa, which takes the time-honoured traditions of Eastern therapies and wellness and brings them to Morocco. The design of the spa captures the serenity the team here aim to instil upon guests, through a range of Asian-inspired treatments including massages with aromatic oils and indigenous ingredients. For a truly unique spa experience, opt for the signature Rainforest Experience – a hydrothermal circuit featuring water therapies, a steam room, vitality pool and hammam.

With so much on offer, there’s no chance of cabin fever – but it would be amiss not to experience some of the picturesque towns within driving distance of the hotel. Top of the list should be Chefchaouen – a blue jewel perched in the heart of the Rif Mountains, some 90km away. Known for its blue-washed buildings (said to repel insects while keeping houses cool), it also happens to be a hot rock of hashish production – one of the country’s most popular (though illegal) exports. The fact that there are few tourists here is a blessing – and makes the experience of wandering the narrow alleyways and bustling souks that much more fascinating. Try expertly prepared breads sold at the street-side bakeries, or dip into one of many family-owned restaurants serving authentic local plates.

Stays at Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay start from £386 per villa per night on a bed and breakfast basis. For more information about Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay, visit http://www.banyantree.com.

As featured in Mayfair Times’ August 16 edition.

Review: Le Beauvallon, St Tropez

Le Beauvallon-Winter Garden 1

On the shimmering Bay of Saint-Tropez, Le Beauvallon looks out over crystalline blue waters, golden beaches and lush greenery. Once one of the French Riviera’s grandest hotels, Le Beauvallon has welcomed the likes of Edward Kennedy, Lady Churchill, King Mohammed V of Morocco and, more recently, Johnny Depp over the course of its 100 year history.

The property has recently undergone extensive renovations, while retaining the opulence and grandeur for which it was famed throughout the 20th century, albeit reimagined in a strikingly contemporary way. No longer a hotel, Le Beauvallon is now a private residence and estate available for exclusive hire, offering 42 contemporary bedrooms and artfully decorated communal spaces.

Within easy reach of Nice (served from London by British Airways and EasyJet), the residence is hidden among tall plants and trees, and is set within four hectares of expertly manicured grounds, beautified by sweet-smelling, intensely coloured flowers – and the presence of specially commissioned sculptures by international contemporary artists.

The curated artwork – a point of pride at Le Beauvallon – continues within the grand building. Striking, abstract forms and carefully considered interior design features dominate the high-ceilinged spaces of the 1,213 square metre ground floor, including a gargantuan exploding water droplet captured in shiny silver metal in the central Salon Sud; and a reflective, convex ping pong table designed by Ron Arad Studio in the playful boardroom. Elsewhere, displays feature hanging sculptural pieces, pop-art-indebted works, sensuous paintings and interactive installations – making a wander through the huge estate an aesthetically rich experience.

Le Beauvallon’s guests can enjoy luxuries including a state-of-the-art 12 seater cinema; a gym featuring a rolling climbing wall; spa treatment rooms and a games room, which boasts karaoke, musical instruments, table football and a Wurlitzer jukebox. Central relaxation spaces include the Winter Garden, a beautifully-designed conservatory space with an abundance of thought-provoking artefacts, works of art and pastel pink and orange flowers contrasting the intricately tiled floor; a sun-soaked terrace overlooking the deep azure waters where three-tiered breakfasts of French patisserie, yoghurts and preserves and cooked dishes are served; and a larger space dotted with colourful, Moroccan-inspired wicker chairs and tables – the perfect setting for post-dinner cocktails or shisha. The aforementioned Salon Sud, with its restored, original painted ceiling, features immaculate white chairs and tables – the ideal setting for afternoon tea and some respite from the sun; the adjacent lounge area is a more relaxed but no less chic space to shoot some pool and admire the artistic works on display.

With such carefully thought-out design employed throughout the residence, one would expect nothing less from its bedrooms. Each of the 26 large suites and 14 en-suite rooms is lavishly set up with gizmos and gadgets that will make every guest feel like a child – including a gun-operated lamp; changing LED lights and remote-controlled shutters for truly restful sleep. Every room is unique; some feature mezzanine levels with a rain room, retro-futuristic see-through baths and walk-in wardrobes; others include a heavy-duty telescope for a closer look at Saint-Tropez or the stars; intellectually stimulating books on everything from architecture, fashion and art; and they all boast the height of luxury: self-flushing toilets with seats that lift themselves. Private balconies offer peaceful spaces to unwind before dinner.

The most remarkable room in the residence is the Sky Pad – Le Beauvallon’s stunning penthouse suite. Featuring floor-to-ceiling windows with unparalleled panoramic views of the Bay of Saint-Tropez, lucky guests that stay here will never tire of watching the dark orange sun set over the rolling hills and mountains, disappearing behind the sparkling blue of the sea. The penthouse is decorated with statement chairs, a piano, massage chairs, a king-sized bed and a mammoth television, set across a handful of elaborately designed rooms.

A sloping lawn leads to an avenue of gangly bamboo and palms, beyond which is Le Beauvallon’s private beach club and half Olympic-sized swimming pool, which glitters under the sun with its mermaid-like green and blue mosaic floor. The summer pavilion is a shaded indoor-outdoor space which began life as the 2002 Serpentine Gallery pavilion in Hyde Park. The space can be used for parties and dinners, as well as a spot to read your book away from the sun-drenched pool area. The pool and beach area is completed with loungers and parasols, sofas and tables, jacuzzis, a bar, an intricately tiled viewing platform and jetty – beyond which lies a stretch of secluded beach. From here, it is just a 10 minute boat ride across the Bay to the town of Saint-Tropez, with its luxury stores and restaurants; those who simply want to take in the sea air can take a short trip around the bay, where the boat’s knowledgable skipper will point out local landmarks, including the house of Brigitte Bardot – one of the area’s most famous former residents.

As well as visits to nearby Saint-Tropez, Le Beauvallon can help guests organise trips to other sights in the vicinity. The renowned winemaker Château Sainte-Roseline is a 40 minute drive from the estate; as well as offering wine tasting opportunities, the chateâu is also a significant site for religion and art, featuring a shrine to French Roman Catholic saint, Roseline de Villeneuve – and a wall mosaic by the influential artist, Marc Chagall, who once resided in this part of the country.

Come evening, it’s the perfect time to catch the sun setting over the bay while enjoying cocktails made by the attentive staff – before sitting down to a southern French feast courtesy of veteran chef Guy Gedda, an expert on Provencal cooking. His bouillabaisse is the result of years of fine-tuning, and is a fine showcase of the quality produce available in this region, particularly its fresh-as-can-be fish.

Despite the stupendous spread Le Beauvallon can put on, guests can satisfy midnight hunger pangs with a trip to the pantry. With one of these small rooms on every floor – just a short jog down the corridor from each room – guests can take snacks, soft drinks and even bottles of wine and beer to their room, to enjoy while curling up in the airy bed or while watching the moon reflect off the calm waters of the bay from the private terrace.

Le Beauvallon is available for exclusive hire, priced at EUR 80,000 a day during July and August, and EUR 70,000 a day throughout the rest of the year. Prices include property rental and insurance; 24 hour concierge service and site security; housekeeping; service personnel; breakfast and snacks; and boat transfers to Saint-Tropez.

As featured in Mayfair Times’ August 16 edition.