Cultural east London



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It's not just clubbing and art which define the New East: the area is energised with all kinds of cultural life. Time Out's experts size it up

  • Cultural east London

    Live music at Bardens Boudoir (© Scott Wishart)

  • Theatre

    Until June 21, there’s a chance to find out what’s going on inside The Lift, the new, wedge-shaped, multi-coloured tent in Stratford Park which is the main venue for the Lift Festival 2008. Events include ‘Kitchen Banter’, a combination of food and chat; ‘Zero Hour Market’, a re-imagining of the mythical meeting of Jason and Medea as an epic Brazilian folk tale; and the ‘Trashcatchers Ball’, a celebration of recycling to close the festival, at 8pm on Saturday. Lift is also presenting ‘Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking’ at Stratford Circus on Friday and Saturday, a South African production that tells the story of a young girl who loses her family and is forced to leave home. From June 24 to August 2, the Arcola will be showcasing ‘Torn’ by Femi Oguns. The high-profile cast includes Kelle Bryan, Jocelyn Jee Esien and Wil Johnson. The play explores inter-racial conflict within London’s black communities. Jane Edwardes.Lift, various locations (0844 412 4317/; Arcola Theatre, 27 Arcola St, E8 (020 7503 1646/


    There’s a small but vibrant classical scene east of Kingsland Road. The organisation Rational Rec takes its name from ‘rational recreation’, the late nineteenth-century movement connected with Working Men’s Clubs (which admitted women from the start). Mixing up contemporary classical and visual arts, not to mention liberal amounts of booze, the group presents most of its evenings at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, often with composers such as regular Michael Finnissy in attendance. The RecFest will be at the V22 Gallery from July 3-6. And let’s not forget the Hackney Empire, which hosts touring opera companies and recently staged a full run of Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’; it also has an opera showcase on this week. Among its forthcoming events are a show about the opera singer Maria Callas (July 25) and ‘La Bohème’ (Oct). Some churches, such as St John’s in Leytonstone, hold lunchtime recitals. Jonathan Lennie.Bethnal Green WMC, Pollard Row, E2 (; V22 Gallery, 10-16 Ashwin St, E8; Hackney Empire, 291 Mare St, E8 (; St John the Baptist church, Church Lane, E11 (

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    Hackney Empire


    A number of clubs seem to have existed since time began, such as the always reliable Comedy Café and Jongleurs Bow , as well as the rebranded and relaunched, which used to be Lee Hurst’s Backyard Club in Bethnal Green. You can also find regular comedy nights at the Hackney Empire and the Theatre Royal Stratford East. As for new comedy action, there’s Manos the Greek. This relatively new comedian has started the Walthamstow Comedy Club and the Leytonstone Comedy Club. Another bright light is character comedian Jennifer Warren, whose new night ‘Knightz of Bizarro’, at The Star of Bethnal Green aims to put the ‘alternative’ back into alternative comedy. Tim Arthur Comedy Café, 66 Rivington St, EC2 (;, 231 Cambridge Heath Rd, E2 (; Jongleurs Bow, Bow Wharf, 221 Grove Rd, E3 (0870 787 0707); Hackney Empire, 291 Mare St, E8 (; Theatre Royal Stratford East, Gerry Raffles Sq, E15 (; Walthamstow Comedy Club, upstairs at the Lord Palmerston, 252 Forest Rd, E17 (020 8223 9911); Leytonstone Comedy Club, The Heathcote Arms, 344 Grove Green Rd, E11 (0871 984 4890); Knightz of Bizarro – The Star of Bethnal Green, 359 Bethnal Green Rd, E2 (020 7729 0167).

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    The legendary Vortex Jazz Club


    The newest – and possibly most exciting – addition to Dalston’s steadily growing live music scene is Café Oto. ‘Oto’ means ‘noise’, ‘sound’ or ‘music’ in Japanese, and this large café-performance space does exactly what it says on the tin. Focusing on sonics of the decidedly avant-garde variety, its intriguing programme includes a gig by a Japanese ‘surrealist folk singer’. Just off Kingsland High Street is the legendary Vortex Jazz Club. Having moved from its old home in Stoke Newington Church Street, this beacon of contemporary jazz is the place to catch young, burgeoning local talent and established world-class artists. Heading up the road toward Stokie, you’ll find Bardens Boudoir, a scruffy but amenable late-night basement bar that offers up all manner of weird and wonderful live music. Moving east, you’ll find Chats Palace. As a community arts centre – housed in the elegantly pillared former Homerton Library – it’s all things to all (Hackney) people, hosting music, theatre, dance, cabaret, film and spoken-word. A stone’s throw away is the somewhat eccentric Biddle Bros. Formerly a builders’ merchant, it’s now a laze-friendly lounge. If country and folk are your things, head out to Leytonstone. The Sheepwalk, home to the excellent What’s Cookin’ club, is dedicated to ‘bringing you all that’s good’ in Americana, nu- and traditional country, bluegrass, rockabilly, Cajun, and western swing. Sharon O'Connell.Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin St, E8 (; Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett St, N16 (; Bardens Boudoir, 38-44 Stoke Newington High St, N16 (; Chats Palace, 42-44 Brooksby’s Walk, E9 (; Biddle Bros, 88 Lower Clapton Rd, E5; The Sheepwalk, 692 High Rd, E11 (020 8556 1131).

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Adrian Williams
Adrian Williams

have you ever been to a place called The Others in Stoke Newington? They do music and art there- have a look


Perhaps the most significant aspect of the cultural life of East London is its cultural diversity, which hardly got a mention in your article. For example, I am part of a team which is organising a one-day festival of Jewish culture and learning, Hackney Limmud, on Sunday 14th September 2008 at the Petchey Academy in Stoke Newington. We will be celebrating Hackney's unique Jewish heritage and exploring its growing renaissance. Among our guests will be David Schneider, Bernard Kops, Naomi Alderman, Charlotte Mendelson and Jonathan Freedland. To find out more, contact us on 020 8880 5607or e-mail or visit our website