Secret Streets: Leicester Place W1

13675255323_13cf24937d_o-1.jpgI didn’t give this drab alley that links Leicester Square and Chinatown a second glance for years; on first take it it has absolutely nothing about it apart from an r’n’b nightclub popular with Miss Selfridge-stilettoed aspirationals who like the glamour of the crowd-control barrier and ‘guestlist’ that everyone can get on anyway. Oh how wrong first impressions can be. This is now one of my favourite Soho secrets, complete with hidden Da Vinci Code church murals by a French cult artist, sing-a-long musical cinema and cracking comedy club. Here’s the low-down:

 

For starters, the imposing domed Roman Catholic Church of Notre Dame de France that dominates the street contains three huge murals by legendary French filmmaker and artist Jean Cocteau, who wrote the novel Les Enfants Terribles and made the 1946 Beauty and the Beast movie. He was quite a fellow, with an inner circle that included Marcel Proust and Coco Chanel and enough musical talent to write a libretto for Igor Stravinsky even though it wasn’t even his main craft. He was a fantastic painter. Few Londoners visit these singular examples of his art skills; they are better known amongst the local homeless who like to sleep on the pews facing the vibrant yet chilling line drawings of biblical scenes.

You might slightly shocked to see such provocative, avant garde art on church walls; the crucifixion mural is nicknamed The Da Vinci Code mural, because Mary Magdalene features in it heavily – and the Da Vinci Code is famous explores the theory that Mary Magdalene wasn’t a prostitute as the early church claimed but his loving companion and bore their children, who in turn carried on the Jesus bloodline to the Merovingian kings of France.

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Da Vinci Code fans point to the fact that in the mural, Mary is depicted crying into the rose that Christ’s feet are bleeding on; and that a huge M is painted on Cocteau’s altar. There is another possible Da Vinci clue in the Roman soldiers who are playing dice for Jesus’ robe below him. The die add up to 58; 5+8 is 13. M is thirteenth in the alphabet. Some also think it’s a reference to an attack on the Knights Templar on Friday 13 October 1307 (they were the predecessors of the Freemasons, and Cocteau was rumoured to be one of the latter). Finally, it’s worth noting that the work is marked DDD at the bottom, possibly a Kabbalah sign.  

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Jean Cocteau painting the mural. So many cult fans flocked to see him at work that the church had to use scaffolding to cordon them off

Just down the way from this fascinating find is one of my favourite art house cinemas, the Prince Charles. They also do ridiculously fun sing-a-long screenings of The Sound Of Music, Grease, Rocky Horror and Dirty Dancing about once a month.

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The Prince Charles is one of London’s most celebrated alternative cinemas

Prop bags are provided, and a leading vocal coach does the warm-up. Fancy dress is recommended. If you are a Londoner and enjoy cinema, it’s worth investigating their membership options as they hold regular £1 screenings for those who sign up.

The final treat along Leicester Place is the fantastic 99 Comedy Club at the not-so-fantastic aforementioned Ruby Blue nightclub (which brings back memories of Jaeger-fuelled doctors and nurses fancy dress nights when I was a university fresher there that I’d rather forget).

Watch out for nights with strong lineups – John Bishop, Jack Whitehall and Dom Joly all headline, and Nathan Caton is a regular (watch a hilarious clip of him live at the Apollo here).

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Nathan Caton is hilarrrr. Check him out on Youtube.

The packages are good value – £21 for a burger meal, comedy night and entry to the nightclub afterwards.  

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