A Weekend With the Oliviers

The entire group in front of the Laurence Olivier statue at the National Theatre, London.

This past weekend, as you may recall from previous posts, I attended a marvelous Vivien Leigh/Laurence Olivier event in London, organized by Kendra at vivandlarry.com and attended by people from all over the world. It was a truly wonderful experience, and we had so much good luck that came our way–including tea at Notley Abbey (that occurred by chance) and an unexpected appearance by Tarquin Olivier, who decided he was going to show up to a performance planned for our group.

THURSDAY

I arrived in London on Thursday morning, and went on a practice walking tour with Kendra and Marissa, another girl who had arrived early. We wandered around London, stopping for lunch at Paul on the way, and though it began thunderstorming around noon, we trudged on through the rain and visited almost all the Olivier sites that were planned for the official walking tour on Sunday. When my umbrella broke and the lightning seemed to be getting closer, we decided that the elements were against us and we went home, to prepare for the tour of the Old Vic theatre the next morning.

FRIDAY

We slept in a bit on Friday, as our tour of the Old Vic was scheduled at 3:00. Our tour guide was a man named Ned, who had been there forever, and he gave us a very interesting tour of the theatre. We didn’t hear much in the way of Olivier trivia there, but we did learn some very interesting facts about the theatre and its history. After we finished the tour, we headed out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Lupita, where we met other members of the group who had arrived that day. Many people brought pieces of memorabilia to share, including a cigarette case that had been given to Laurence Olivier by Vivien Leigh on his birthday (!) and many beautiful photos and books, that were passed around the table and enjoyed. I met so many marvelous people with whom I share this passion, and it made me so happy to be able to share insight and information with them without having to explain myself. A wonderful evening.

An activity with Ned the tour guide.

SATURDAY

A second tour of the Old Vic with Ned proved just as fantastic as the first one, and he even threw in some new information. Still not much info on the Oliviers, but I feel like I know the Old Vic by now! We then headed down to the cinema for a showing of That Hamilton Woman, followed by a talk by Hugo Vickers, a prominent Vivien Leigh biographer (also a biographer of the royal family and Cecil Beaton. You may have seen him on The Colbert Report, too). He signed books afterward, and answered questions (my question was about his research process–how researching Vivien Leigh was different from, say the royal family), and then we all went to dinner at an Italian place. We talked to Hugo Vickers some more at dinner, and got to know his opinions on various things related to Vivien and Laurence Olivier, which was a very special thing.

An interview with Hugo Vickers.

SUNDAY

Kendra took us on a walking tour of London on Sunday, which was very informative and we got to see different spots that were important to the Oliviers, in their careers and their lives. It took a bit longer than planned, because people kept disappearing into cafes and taking unplanned bathroom breaks (though one of the bathroom breaks was used for myself and some other people in the group to sneak off to the National Portrait Gallery to get Kendra a card). We ended up rushing to get to the Victoria and Albert Museum on time, where we saw a costume of Vivien Leigh’s from Duel of Angels, and one of Laurence Olivier’s from Oedipus Rex. From there we headed off to a performance by Susie Lindeman, an Australian woman who is putting on a one-woman show about Vivien Leigh, and who wanted to get our opinion of her performance. The opinion ended up divided, but among the supporters was Tarquin Olivier, Laurence Olivier’s son, who had shown up to watch with our group. We talked to him afterward about what he liked about the performance, and he seemed very taken with the rhythms of her speech. Interesting stuff. Anyway, this was the end of the official weekend, so we said goodbye to most of the people in the group before the few remaining went out to dinner and bid farewell at the end of the night.

54 Eaton Square, the house where Vivien Leigh spent her last years.

Durham Cottage, Larry and Vivien's London residence during the 1940's.

The group with Tarquin Olivier and Susie Lindeman.

MONDAY

On Monday there were 5 of us left, and we took an impromptu trip to Notley Abbey, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier’s country house in Buckinghamshire. We took the train up, and then walked down the road to Notley Abbey, which is now used as a wedding venue. The house itself is monumentally beautiful, and even though we were only supposed to walk around the grounds, need of a bathroom necessitated our entry into the house to use one. Before we knew it, the groundskeeper was making us tea, to drink in the room that was Vivien and Larry’s living room. It was truly amazing.

Notley Abbey.

Tea at Notley.

In summation, this weekend was absolutely incredible, in all respects. We had an absolute ball, and I think all members of the group would agree that this was an experience of a lifetime. Thank you, Kendra!

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