Hang on a minute. Are those elephant droppings in the courtyard? Is there a circus in town? Is Nellie on the rampage? Is it sh1t or sh1t art? We (very) gingerly bypass this and other disconcerting existentialist concerns and make our discerning way straight to the basement Dive Bar at Ham Yard Hotel. Boy, we haven’t been in as fun a disco dive bar since Pinkie Master’s Savannah (midnight in the venue of good and evil). There are enough fluorescent signs to keep even Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown happy. Viva Las Vegas. Flavour of the month Ruinart the imbibable equivalent of caviar, is on tap. Starting with big balls in the small hall, the art continues inside and thankfully improves. Or maybe that’s the bubbly kicking in.
Mayfair’s our usual hunting ground. Private views, our game. So firstly we’re gunning it to the Mayfair Gallery’s inaugural exhibition Impressionists and Modern Masters. It’s a new venture for W1’s antiques treasure trove. “The part of Mayfair Gallery fronting South Audley Street is ideal for exhibitions,” says Director Jamie Sinai. “We’re looking forward to holding more exhibitions in this space.” Watching this space, Renoir’s sensitive charcoal on paper Musicians and Louis Anquetin’s full on watercolour Aux Courses highlight penchants for portraiture. Other Impressionist and Post Impressionist household names represented by painting, sculpture and sketches are Boudin, Matisse, Moore and Picasso.
Next stop Ham Yard. We haven’t strayed too far from the closeness of riches, sticking firmly to the Regent Street edge of Soho. More than a mere hotel, this Woods Bagot designed piece of new townscape is stitched into the tight urban fabric. All the key town planning buzzwords are ticked: accessibility, flexibility, legibility, permeability. Stylistically too it’s a fit, displaying a kickass warehouse meets townhouse typology. Dotted around the perimeter of the courtyard are 13 boutique shops. In the hotel itself, as well as the Dive Bar there are 91 bedrooms and suites, a ground floor restaurant, orangery sunken halfway below street level and a theatre two floors down. Ah, the theatre. Our raison d’être at the Kemps’ latest development. Alex Beard (Chief Exec), Kevin O’Hare (Director of the Royal Ballet) and Kasper Holten (Director of Opera) have invited us to celebrate the opening of the Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season. “We’ve an audience to die for!” exclaims Alex. “We’ve got with us more than a smattering of Royal Ballet artists. Friends and rellies, you can catch me in the cinema! We’re going from strength to strength.”
Kicking off (although there’s probably a more genteel term for it) the season is Kenneth MacMillan’s acclaimed Manon performed by The Royal Ballet starring Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli. Madness, materialism, mayhem, mistresses, mystery, misery, Monsieur GM… they’re all in the gripping three acts of Manon. Kenneth MacMillan’s masterpiece may be 40 years old, first performed in 1974, but it remains thematically bang up-to-date. His Views of the Word are not defunct. Tonight’s performance is being simultaneously broadcast across 40 countries. Federico’s family are watching it in Genoa. But first for some revolutionary devolutionary evolutionary canapés. There’s the opening reception plus two intervals then the after party to navigate our way through. Phew. Thank goodness for avocado and lime on dried cracker; grilled goats’ cheese on mini toasted brioche; prawns marinated in basil pesto; grilled asparagus with garlic mayo; mini pulled pork and beetroot burgers; and pan fried cubes of chicken fillet. Not forgetting white chocolate caramel lollipops – they’ve got kick. Survival of the fattest.
Kenneth MacMillan’s source was the 18th century French novel by Abbé Prévost. It had already been adapted for opera by Massenet and Puccini. But he drew new sympathy for the capricious Manon using his customary psychological insight and memories of his own impoverished upbringing. He described his heroine as “not so much afraid of being poor as ashamed of being poor”. It’s a heart wrenching drama accentuated by Jules Massent’s score. The great choreographer’s widow, Lady MacMillan personally introduces Manon at Ham Yard. “Kenneth loved cinema and would be delighted by this performance. I warn you – there’s no happy ending!” And the best bed flip award (presumably there’s a technical term for it) goes to Marianela Nunez.