The Best Study Spaces in London!
Regular study is very important to me, not only for my art and practice but for my spiritual side. I have an indefatigable desire to learn about anything and everything, from astronomy to entomology to linguistics to mathematics, and to refresh my knowledge on a consistent basis.
So, where do I do all of this fabulous studying, you ask!? What a wonderful and unexpected question! And one that might reveal some study locations that you have yet to consider!
The British Library
Honestly, I’ve only recently discovered this gem, just a little walk from St Pancras Station…but I’m now obsessed!
If I could, I’d move to a world where midnight study and work were commonplace, where everyone woke to the sudden dark of the twilit sky, wide-eyed, busy and ready for the night; where we all hissed at the rising sun and cowered away to shadowy corners at the shatter of dawn. BUT, much to my dismay, it’s been horrendously assumed that we humans are, in fact, diurnal creatures, and I’ve consequently been sorely lumped into the category of day-loving human being amongst the rest of you who are just as sad as me about the whole thing! Studying until 8:00 PM on a weekday is the closest I’ll ever get now, since my 24/6 university library days, to this sublime vampiric fantasy, and that’s why The British Library is a perfect place for me.
It’s also the sweet treasurer of rare and unique texts that, usually, only current university students might peruse at their respective institutions’ libraries…
Originally, I was actually forced to this library when a desire to refresh my knowledge of Étienne Decroux’s Promethean Mime led me kicking and screaming away from The National Art Library, whose Blythe House’s recent relocation meant that many rare books from the ‘Theatre & Performance’ section were currently unavailable, and towards The British Library’s gargantuan doors. Indeed, the British Library, my saccharine salvation, possessed this strange and peculiar text, Les Paroles sur le mime, and my study days were promptly saved! Besides university libraries, this and the National Art Library were the only libraries accessible to the public (well, to registered readers) that actually had it. Otherwise, I would have had to pay £250 for a single, tattered old copy I had found available online… I love Decroux, but he’s not worth the money, I’m afraid.
This was one of many quasi-adventures upon which I would, and still do, find myself embarking here. That pithy cliché of ‘there’s nothing like sitting down to read a book’ rather hits hard in a place like this. Indeed, there’s nothing like reading Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty from an old, seemingly occult book, dishevelled and browning, its spine nonexistent, its cover decked with geometric and esoteric illustrations, fragilely preserved and presented to the reader in a sturdy envelope in fear of its eventual disintegration. An enchanting, sensory and visceral way to experience a text on an artform and its power!
Beckenham Place Park
Semi-recently revamped, my local park is a definite must on autumnal afternoons. Familiar to the inquisitive squirrels I befriended during lockdown and fond of the annual coot chicks gracing the waters of the expansive lake, it’s easy for me to find myself lost in the busy beauty of nature in this park.
For me, to discover that a small spider, beetle or fly has been sharing a tabletop with my book or iPad, or my very seat on the bench in the shade of a familiar cedar tree, affords me a special and homely form of peace, serenity and pleasure.
Not-so-secret fact about me: I HATE being out in the sun, despite being branded as a "Summer baby" with my birthday being in mid-July (Midsummer in the UK) – and no, it's never too early or late to send me birthday gifts, thank you for asking! ANYWAY! Because I hate being out in the sun, or, specifically, in any heat above my official limit, 12º C, leaving the comfort of my electrical fan that gets a wonderful all-year-round usage to sit outside in nature's furnace is not particularly appealing, admittedly. Hence, visiting this park for study purposes does tend to be an autumnal or hibernal activity, unless definite shade can be promised and sought! Otherwise, Spring and Summer here are frequently a beautiful haven.
It's easy to get a taste of the old, wild world of luscious green grass, meadows and hills in this park; to get a glimpse of the forest and of undisturbed nature. An old mansion and stable, now turned community centre and café, have often tempted me, too! I have yet to try thee vegan ice cream and pizza, but I shall get to it ASAP, I promise!
Now, this one has always been a keen favourite of mine!
Whenever I visit the National Theatre, I’m overwhelmed with a certain nostalgia, nonnegotiably entering into conversation with my memories of visiting as an avid theatre-loving teenager, making the most of the Entry Pass Membership offered, to this day, to young people up to the age of 25. Used to be £5 a ticket! Bargain! I would devour up to three plays in one day on a regular, sometimes even daily, basis, seeing a huge range of performances from all-day Chekhov to Alice in Wonder.land and The Threepenny Opera — performances that immediately and sweetly come to mind.
It was at this theatre, in what we referred to as ‘The Shed’ (AKA The Temporary Theatre — aptly named) that I first felt the transformative power of didactic theatre for myself, with one particular performance that left a palpable mark upon my teenage self, a mark I am left with today. The performance was Blurred Lines, and perhaps I’ll write properly about that at a later date…
It was also here that I attended my first-ever press night as a theatre critic, being asked to review my all-time favourite play, Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen. It's a review that I dare not look back on now, with my hopefully maturer and more seasoned critical eyes, but a fond memory, nevertheless, and an EXCELLENT and special springboard into theatre criticism for me! (But my resistance to look back over that review shouldn't stop YOU, you inquisitive thing! Go see how The Performance Critic has evolved over the years! Click here!)
Back on topic! More about theatre and my experiences in a later post…
As you can tell, this theatre has had a great influence on my development as an artist, as it has upon a great number of many others. Because I associate it so heavily with these experiences, however, it is here that I turn to theatre and performance studies almost exclusively. It feels fitting, and we do love an appropriate and all-cohesive aesthetic. Eavesdropping into the conversations of other regular theatre-making visitors and even some vocal staff members, this continues to be a place of inspiration and theatre-themed buzz.
I also write plays and texts here and, more recently, meet with artists from various backgrounds to discuss and develop projects together.
The Café at Foyles
Admittedly, I'm in two minds about this one…
As you may have noticed, I do love a good ol' academic text! I also find myself able to study in busy and lively places as well as in more peaceful ones. In fact, I think I gravitate far more towards the bustling crowd-filled areas than I do the silent, "tranquil" ones. So, The Café at Foyles is a great place for that. The ambience of the pottering waiters eagle-eyeing the sea of tables to clear the mounting crockery as required; highly strung professionals grabbing their coffees and cakes to sit poised over their laptops, focused and stressed; the cashiers tapping on the tills, grabbing change and pouring teas; and the general knowledge that on the other side of that balcony, down a small flight of stairs is an abundance of books, of documented thoughts and ponderings, CDs and vinyls, DVDs and games… It’s these warming vignettes of life that make a space like this so special and endearing to me.
I said I was in two minds about this one, because, whilst it’s a lovely space to study, it’s not ultimately intended for such use. You have to buy something, especially if a café manager is on the prowl…and I don’t want to HAVE to buy a cake, snack or drink every time I visit…I’m a very stingy person! Fortunately for me, my boyfriend does like to buy things! And he also loves to study — or at least, if he has nothing specific he wants to study at the time, he’s happy to accompany me and share our existence whilst I do my thing!
Hence, this is usually the spot I go with him when we both have something to work on and when we both desperately want to see and be with each other but have a lot going on in our independent lives to which we need to dedicate some time. When we visit here, I’ll usually have a theatre review I need to write and get to doing that before the studying begins!
Bromley Central Library
Another study space close to home, I use Bromley Central Library for two things, mainly: its computers and its semi-secret booths downstairs, complete with handy plug sockets.
If I’ve got a theatre review that I need to get done and don’t have much time in which to do it, the two-hour limit on the IT suite's computers is the perfect limitation to channel my focus and get a review out of me quickly. I could write thousands of words on all the things I identify within any one given play, and the time constraint here really forces me to be as concise as possible, so that I can dedicate more of my time to my own projects! Otherwise, I tend to study film/photography and Shakespeare here, specifically.
Having photographed the wildlife in the neighbouring park, it’s a good place to turn to immediately afterwards to reflect upon the images I’ve just captured. Turning to books on cinematography/photography, either from the library itself or those that I’ve brought with me specially, I can remind myself of some grounding theories and criticism to consider how these coincide or contrast with the work I’ve just produced. I might also turn to MasterClass videos or recorded lectures for this same purpose, instead.
Ironic to what I wrote above about enjoying a busy study space, those booths downstairs at the back of the building, tucked out of sight under the stairs, allow for a sense of complete isolation. Perhaps better considered a pod than a booth, I initially thought their existence would have been rather uncommon knowledge, but it turns out I have to arrive early, before any schoolchildren especially, otherwise they get snatched up FAST! Still, when they’re not within the clawing grasp of a fellow bookworm, they’re a peaceful and somewhat futuristic retreat. With their oddly shaped staircase-roofs and gleaming white tables, it’s easy to feel you’ve acquired an enticing glimpse of a Smart future!
Well, there we have it! As was your fondest desire, a list of my favourite go-to study spaces!
I hadn’t considered before writing this entry how each of these individual spaces calls forth a different, specific study type, so that was an interesting revelation for me! Of course, there are times when I’ll study something altogether different in each of these spaces, but I clearly associate some special study moments with each of these locations. I do frequent some other spaces too, but perhaps they’re less interesting…maybe I’ll drop them a mention in a later entry. Who knows?!
Nonetheless, I hope that gave you an enchanting insight into what you were palpably desperate to know about me!
Until next time!
Be Brave. Be Kind. You Are Blessed.
To support artists towards the end of the pandemic, and to develop my own thinking and practice in training, I am currently offering my services as a freelance dramaturg for free* to first-time client
Please note: this is a personal public journal; the following words and opinions are my own, and I have not been commissioned or sponsored to write this entry or to advertise this charity and its work
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