Cityscapes: The Majesty at the Old Vic tunnels by Tony Heywood and Alison Condie

Not long after Andy Sturgeon’s Pommery Eyegarden we were already setting up the next Cityscapes garden at the Old Vic Tunnels. We’d been looking forward to this moment for  a long time- if you haven’t visited this unique theatre venue underneath Waterloo Station you’ll be missing some of the most innovative theatre and set design the country has had to offer over the last few years. When their curators first introduced us to the different possible tunnels we could use one particularly stood out- it was raining inside and there was fungi already growing naturally. Despite it being pitch black we knew it could sustain life- just not your usual flora.

Fans of Tony Heywood and Alison Condie’s horticultural interventions will understand instinctively why they were a natural fit for such a venue and immediately accepted the invitation to participate. As it happened this garden would start it’s life at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, surrounded by meadows and blue sky. From there it crossed the river and came underground and was reconfigured in to a landscape that no one will have seen, heard, smelled or tasted the likes of ever before.

Collaborations have been a feature at all Cityscapes gardens and this one featured ecclesiastic like scent by Penhalligon’sDarryl Moore’s epic sound accompaniment, fungii from NIAB Innovation Farm, animations by Unanico, greenhouses from Hartley Botanic and even cocktails by Hendrick’s Gin. Whilst it’s grotto appearance photographs reasonably well it just can not convey the immersive experience that’s been achieved by Tony and Alison,which has had people transfixed for hours on end. In the weeks since it’s opened the fungus introduced to the tunnel has developed like stalactites from the Pine tree needles, and with yellow luminosity on the Alpaca wool. Potato roots are escaping the greenhouse, edible mushrooms are ‘melting’ like molten plastic and Agaves are sending out new growth in reaction to the dark. Underground fauna have been quick to colonise the garden with spiders, moths, mosquitoes and worms in abundance, particularly in the greenhouse’s unique ecosystem.

The Majesty is closed for the summer and opens again in late September (see the Cityscapes website for new opening times). What will have grown in that time whilst the tunnel is locked off will be a surprise to us all.