Emily Brown and the Thing ~ Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre (Patrick Studio)

Star rating: *****

Emily Brown and the Thing, from the pen of popular author Cressida Cowell, has landed at the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Patrick Studio and it’s a deliciously glorious theatrical experience for children and grown ups alike.

With a set which is deceptive – appearing to look like a basic backdrop until the action begins and the multi-purposes become evident and awe-inspiring to watch. It’s an innovative integral part of the story and integrates smoothly and seamlessly.

Tall Stories have produced this riveting incarnation of the book and their cast are incredible. Sophie Alice is highly believable and engaging in the title role of Emily Brown and her energy is almost infectious. She is joined on her adventures by Stanley the grey rabbit and when he’s not in miniature puppet form, he’s played by Jordan Turner – notably, Turner is also the puppeteer responsible for Stanley the puppet and his skill is extraordinary. The cast of three is completed by Sam Buitekant who plays the Thing (as puppeteer and actor, depending on the scene) as well as a witch who’s contemplating giving up spells, a lonely polar bear and a troll who’s taken a fancy to the Thing’s cuddly. Buitekant’s range of different voices and accents is one of the many highlights of an exceptional show.

You don’t need to have read the book to be able to immerse yourself in the adventures that Emily Brown and Stanley take as they set off on a number of quests to silence the Thing’s grumblings. After all, they can’t get to sleep unless it’s really quiet, can they?

Catch this insightful masterpiece while you can, it’s a superb introduction to theatre for young audience members and encompasses all the best elements of live theatre in one 55 minute long show with no interval.

Book your tickets here, the show runs in Birmingham until 6 January 2019: https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/tall-stories-emily-brown-and-the-thing/

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Cinderella ~ Mitchell Arts Centre

Star rating: ****

Mitchell Arts Centre is playing host to a two week run of the popular fairy tale classic, Cinderella, this Christmas and it’s as traditional a pantomime as you can get – with a very current and highly comedic script thrown in for good measure.

Pantomimes around the country appear to be adapting their stories to make the principal females feistier and Tim Churchill and Paul Wood’s version is no exception. There are nods to well known television shows such as Gogglebox and Jeremy Kyle as well as a brand new take on the age-old pantomime comedy song ‘If I was Not a…’.

With a simple yet highly effective set providing an elegant and practical backdrop for the action-packed show, we were treated to a good dose of musical numbers which included the hit of the year from ‘The Greatest Showman‘ – ‘This Is Me’, ‘Make Your Own Kind of Music’ by Paloma Faith and naturally we had to join in with ‘Baby Shark‘, the gimmick tune of the season. The strong cast interacted brilliantly with the audience, offered opportunities for the crowd to participate and kept a remarkable level of energy going given their numerous two show days and the fact they’ve had one day off to enjoy Christmas before getting back to it!

Cathy O’Reilly made the perfect Fairy Godmother, not only did she look the part, there was a twinkle in her eye and her vocal ability, which we’d not previously heard – simply stunning! She’s a joy to hear. Tim Churchill, who not only co-wrote the show but also directed it, is well known to us as Mr Lyons and other characters in the Blood Brothers tour. As an Ugly Sister he positively shone and was every inch the pantomime dame as he carped, sneered and appeared to enjoy every minute. He was joined by Paul Deakin as his sister and together they were a menace and hilarious in equal measure. Their names were apt too, Theresa and May! Amy-Jane Ollies is another face who’s become familiar to us as part of the Blood Brothers ‘family’ and in the title role of Cinderella, she was every inch the rags to riches girl. Her comic timing was particularly notable and naturally her sensational singing voice lent itself to the role, she had lovely chemistry with Matthew Dye as Buttons and Robert Dearn as Prince Charming. Dye did a great job of getting the audience involved while Dearn had a superb double act going on with Liam Wakeford as Dandini. In this incarnation, Prince Charming and Dandini were reminiscent of Ant and Dec and it worked fantastically. Den Siegerstz from BBC Radio Stoke completed the line up as Baron Hardup, making his panto debt. He may not have been as overtly natural in panto-land as his co-stars but it was clear he was enjoying his first official role and how wonderful that his daughter is part of the Hanley Babes who appeared in the show too.

There is so much to enjoy in this traditional pantomime, relevant political jokes for the grown ups, a cast who come across as being one big happy family themselves and plenty of magic along the way to entertain the young ones. The parting shot which sums up how well the show was received by our four year old? “I want to be in this show when I grow up”. You can’t say fairer than that can you? Oh no you can’t!

Book your tickets here: https://mitchellartscentre.co.uk/

Dick Whittington and His Cat ~ Oxford Playhouse

Star rating: ****

The age old tradition of pantomime is not only alive in Oxford but it’s revitalised, re-energised, refreshing and stands a good chance of attracting new audiences in to the theatre. There aren’t many (if any) pantomimes that offer up a version of the popular Nirvana hit ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ among their musical numbers and there are also inspired incarnations of show tunes from ‘Hamilton‘ and ‘Les Miserables‘ too. Of course there’s a spot of ‘Baby Shark‘ because it’s been the gimmick hit of the year, however on the whole ‘Dick Whittington and His Cat‘ is pushing the boundaries, breaking the norm and with a punchy script courtesy of Steve Marmion – and he’s directed this fast-paced festive treat too.

Dick Whittington Oxford Playhouse CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Like every good pantomime, there’s a Dame, in this case Sarah the Cook played by the effervescent Paul Barnhill. There’s a ‘thigh slapping’ male lead who has a penchant for remote controlled cars, naturally given the pantomime title, he’s called Dick, played by returning leading man, Ricky Oakley – it’s easy to see why he was a hit with last year’s audience, this genre of theatre appears to come very naturally to him. There’s Fairy Bowbells played by Waterloo Road alumni, Rebecca Craven, she’s a power vocalist and her energy is infectious. As Alice Fitzwarren, Adrianna Bertola isn’t your typical leading lady, she’s feisty, full of attitude and knows what she wants – exactly the sort of role model that kids ought to see, in my humble opinion. Max Olesker cuts a menacing figure as King Rat, the audience were quick to boo him and his performance of ‘Bad Rodent’ was one of the many highlights of the panto. Stealing the show with his incredible dance moves, slick style and gift guarding was Alessandro Babalola as the cat. A more groovy cat you couldn’t wish to meet!

It’s a bolshie, ballsy jingle bow bells ball – it made a real change to see a unique take on the traditional script. It might have been slightly too radical for my septuagenarian parents, however my 4 year old was in his element and I had an amazing evening at the theatre.

Book your tickets here: Oxford_Playhouse

Festive Greetings from Entertainment Views

It’s CHRISTMAS! Yet another Christmas season is upon us closely to be followed by the back of 2018. How has it been for you? Upon reflection this year’s been one of change in many ways:

  • I changed the name of the blog to Entertainment Views which was a bold move but one that’s enabled me to branch out and take opportunities which were offered due to the wider range of genres of entertainment I could cover.
  • I returned to a day job! Having been freelance for just over a year it seemed to be the right time to return to stability.
  • Connor (my little boy) started school – which limited my availability for taking opportunities outside the midlands on the regular basis I’d become used to. It pulled me up sharp but now I have a firm direction in mind for my little ’empire’.
  • As a family we’ve been invited to review so many fantastic family fun entertainment activities and we’re having a ball. I love being able to have the boys on board with me. It makes such a difference!

I’d like to say a huge thanks to everybody who got involved in the Entertainment Views Awards this year. What a terrific response! It was great fun putting together the videos used to announce the results and I am so lucky that so many guest presenters came on board to help. Especially given the time of year I was asking them for their blood, sweat and tears! Check out the results here: https://entertainmentviews.co.uk/entertainment-views-awards-2018/

If you watched the short video I made to announce the winner of Best Stage Play (well done Alice in Wonderland (Kew Gardens)), you’ll know that this was our last annual awards – at least for the time being. Life moves on and I have plans to make a few changes in the new year. As you know, aside from my brilliant aides; Hayley Makepeace and Jen Franklin, I run the awards as a one-woman-band so I need to have the time to devote to making it the best it can be. Never say never and watch this space, though… I’ve also been so fortunate to have sponsors every year which means the winners have trophies – it makes it so much more than a mere online vote and I know that little touch is appreciated.

One thing I can guarantee is that my blog will continue to be knocking around the blogsphere, the diary is filling up for next year with plenty of comic cons, gigs, family events and opera on the radar already. I’m also expanding the movie and television review section so stay tuned!

All that’s left in this Queen’s speech (I have a crown you know… it might be a plastic one from Claire’s Accessories but it’s a crown, nonetheless!) is to say a huge great big stonking THANK YOU to everybody who stuck with the blog as it took the transition this year. Your support is invaluable, please carry on chatting to me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – it stops me taking to myself… occasionally… Have the best Christmas and a very happy 2019!

Christmas Guide 2018

Christmas is nearly here! 5 sleeps away to be exact, and everyone in Britain is saying ‘how is it Christmas next week?’. If you’re anything like me, you wonder where all the time you had to organise yourself has disappeared to. This coming from a part time day-job worker who has been buying her son’s Christmas presents gradually since the summer… What I was unprepared for, was the introduction of all the extra festive chaos presented when your child becomes a school-goer. Just you wait, if you’ve not experienced that joy yet!

My Christmas gift guide this year is all about movies, television boxsets and the gift of theatre. I’ve picked out a variety of genres to suit as many tastes as possible and focused on buying for adults – who are often the more difficult to buy for after all!

TV Boxsets

Versailles

Complete series 1-3 – not only ideal for fans of the series but also if you’re aware of the show and haven’t been able to catch it (which is why i would be the perfect gift for me!). You can’t beat a binge-watch and with it’s its historical background, stellar cast and stunning locations, it promises to engage even the most skeptical viewer. King Louis XIV is at the heart of the story as his supporters turn to traitors and the court of Versailles is under threat.

Buy your copy on DVD here:

The Windsors

In my humble opinion this is one of the best comedies on television at the moment! The casting alone is so extraordinarily spot on, you can’t fail to be entertained by Harry Enfield’s hilarious Prince Charles impersonation and the recent introduction of Meghan was the cherry on top of the wedding cake. The DVD offers series 1-2 as well as Christmas and wedding specials. It’s a brilliant ‘send-up’ of the royal family and wouldn’t go amiss in my Christmas stocking this year!

Buy your here:

Plebs 

I was introduced to Plebs fairly late into the second series and I am a self-confessed pleb-aholic now! The DVD boxset offers series 1-4 so it’s a must for fans of the series or as a way of introducing a Plebs ‘virgin’ to the show. The premise revolves around three men who want to get laid, hold down a job and climb the social ladder in ancient Rome. It’s a laugh-a-minute comedy and the cast, which changes sightly as each series progresses – is essentially a mash-up of all your noughties sit-com favourites.

Grab a copy for your stocking:

Movies

Hotel Transylvania 3

My movie of the year! It might be pitched as an animated film for kids but there’s more than enough comedy content in there for big kids too. Of the three movies in the franchise so far, this is by far my favourite and it’s a non-stop cornucopia of spooky holiday fun. Watch it, odds on you’ll be dancing in your seat by the end.

Buy a copy here:

The Greatest Showman 

This is the greatest show, by all accounts! Certainly one of the hits of the year and huge credit must go to the extraordinary talents of Hugh Jackman, a better leading man you could not wish for. The songs are all hits in their own right now and it’s surely one of the most watchable movies we’ve been treated to in a long time. Get your hands on a piece of the action and watch it over and over by getting your hands on a copy here:

Santa Claus The Movie 

I had to include a Christmas movie in my Christmas gift guide and they don’t come any more festive or classic than the epic Santa Claus The Movie. It’s still a magical film to watch all these years on and has stood the test of time. The only difference is it’s rare to see someone drinking full fat coca cola in this day and age! The movie is available on blu-ray and it would be a welcome sight underneath our tree this year. I’d also quite like one of those elf carvings courtesy of Patch (Dudley Moore), but I’m not going to push it!

Purchase your copy here:

Theatre Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

The gift of theatre is always a good alternative idea if you’re in doubt and although the cost of tickets has hiked of late – there are plenty of offers to be had, especially at this festive season. The Phantom of the Opera has been resident Her Majestys Theatre in the heart of London’s West End after more than 12000 performances to date. The good news is that you can be in the audience for one of the many future performances and there are special offers available via our ticket shop! The Phantom of the Opera

Wicked

The back-story of the Wicked Witch of the West has been so popular in the West End that over 9 million people have watched it in the capital city. The Apollo Victoria Theatre is a beautiful venue and you can be one of those million theatre-goers flocking to see the award-winning show, check out the available tickets here: Wicked

Company

Not only would Company tickets be a brilliant Christmas gift idea, it’s our show of the month!

A sublime cocktail of an entertainment you’d be mad to miss’ – Daily Telegraph

With an exceptional list of musical numbers performed by an incredible cast, you really would be mad to miss it. Save up to 60% on tickets too! Company

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs ~ Malvern Theatres

Star rating: *****

Our pantomime season has kicked off late this year, however the first of the festive treats that we’ve been able to attend has surely set the bar high, as a five star extravaganza and perfect family pantomime – Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs at Malvern Theatres is not to be missed.

Starring the wonder that is Hi De Hi! star, Su Pollard, as the Wicked Queen, the show transported me back to the traditional pantomimes I was brought up watching. Thanks to exceptional comedy performances from Pollard, Mark James as Muddles and Philip Meeks as Dolly, there were plenty of laughs to be had and the jokes worked on every level, too. My four year old son all but rolled in the aisles with mirth at the physical comedy from Mark James, while I was entertained by the tongue in cheek, political references and occasional overt smut from Philip Meeks who shone in an amazing array of outfits! He was certainly the mistress of quick changes too. Francesca McKean was a gentile and sweet Snow White, she was the epitome of easy-going, naive Princess. Aidan Banyard possessed the stance, winning smile and qualities of the dashing Prince. The Dwarfs were all glorious, too with Soppy (Charlotte Fawbert) being my favourite. However it was Pollard who stole the show, a wicked laugh like no other, commanding the stage in her unique way and her vocal ability when it came to the musical numbers was quite extraordinary.

There were numerous songs moving the action along, a nod towards The Greatest Showman, Shrek the Musical and the hugely successful and popular artist, George Ezra as well as Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Choreography courtesy of Alastair Bull, was eye-catching and befitting for the genre. The scenery provided an atmospheric backdrop suitable for the story and moved seamlessly.

My personal highlight was the Twelve Days of Christmas, performed by Muddles, Dolly, the Prince and Grouchy the Dwarf (Craig Salisbury), it never fails to be a favourite pantomime tradition of mine. The mayhem and chaos of the scene had the audience in fits of laughter. The five toilet rolls gag proved as popular as ever.

UK Productions really know their stuff when it comes to the simplicity and heart of the genre of pantomime and Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs left my party feeling like Christmas had finally begun. Book your tickets now: Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs

Claire Richards ~ Town Hall, Birmingham

Star rating: *****

Claire Richards has long been my best-loved member of of pop band Steps, her vocal ability is so extraordinary that waiting for her signature ‘belt’ to make an appearance in the back catalogue of Steps hits has become rather customary. When I knew she was planning to go solo it was quite a moment, I was so excited to hear her album and the tour has been on my hit-list since back in the summer. The album ‘My Wildest Dreams‘ has been delayed until 1 February 2019, but she promises it will be worth the wait – and from the sound of the various numbers the singer treated us to during her solo gig, it definitely will be worth the wait!

Looking the epitome of chic elegance, Claire sang us through numerous songs from her album, some I was familiar with and already love listening to and the others that were new to my ears I already know I will want to play over and over. This incredible lady has created a perfect first solo album in my humble opinion. She was nervous, at least that’s what she told the audience, but she’s the master of hiding nerves if she truly felt that way! As one number rolled into another the atmosphere buzzed and every member of the crowd was on her side willing her to be as brilliant as she absolutely was.

With Christmas just around the corner, ‘My Heart Is Heading Home (This Christmas)’ was a welcome choice on the set list, you can download that ready for the festive season too – I highly recommend you do. ‘End Before We Start’ which already has an official video was sensational live, ‘On My Own’ is equally moving and I feel it represents the star’s solo journey. The title track ‘My Wildest Dreams’ is also lyrically heartfelt and yet another song which was performed beautifully live. ‘Deep Waters’ is gloriously upbeat and upped the vibe in the venue. ‘Brave’ is the only self-penned tune and possibly one of my overall favourites, I can identify with the message and it’s a fitting tribute to her children and to motherhood.

Of course there was a nod towards Claire’s ‘day job’ as a member of Steps with stripped back versions of ‘Deeper Shade of Blue’ and ‘One for Sorrow’ which were a welcome addition to the set. However, it was her performance of Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ which was the biggest revelation of the night and rocked Town Hall, Birmingham.

If you have the chance to see Claire Richards performing her solo gig, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that you go. It was an amazing evening of wonderful music and there’s no doubt that this path is right for her, it’s about time!

Check out Claire Richards’ website for all the latest news: Claire Richards Website

Pre-order the album ‘My Wildest Dreams’ here, just click the image:

BBC Good Food Show ~ NEC, Birmingham

The BBC Good Food Show has been on my radar for years so to be able to experience the Winter Good Food Show has been a dream come true. With top Chefs like Mary Berry, James Martin and Michael Roux Jr. displaying their culinary talents in the Big Kitchen and a whole host of action on the smaller stages, combined with the opportunity to attend workshops – it couldn’t have been a better way to begin rounding off my reviewing calendar. Plenty of food and drink too, samples at every turn and bargains galore which is a perfect Christmas shopping option too.

Television Presenter; Chris Bavin was on hand on the Seasonal Kitchen stage to talk us through the various recipes that might be useful during the festive season.

The Winter Kitchen was also a fun place to be, seating capacity was just right for the numbers in attendance and the well placed screens

There was a Pop up restaurant for anyone wishing to wine and dine in style – it was set up beautifully, looked exceptionally inviting and might be on my wish list of things to do next year!

Book signings from a few of the culinary guests were a particular feature occurring frequently throughout the show. Any of those fabulous books would have been an ideal Christmas gift.

Skills School places need to be booked as soon as possible as they sell out but they look well worth attending. Sourdough Masterclass with Denise Tollyfield and Knife Skills were on offer.

The Good Food Show offers a unique shopping experience with sweet and savoury food as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic refreshments all available to sample and purchase. A big shout out must go to the gluten free sponge cakes from Sponge – they were like a drop of heaven, so delicious and spectacularly presented in gorgeous boxes. We also enjoyed gingerbread mallows, massive crisps (the chilli flavour were a particular favourite) and fudge.

My team and I can hardly wait for the summer edition of the show, my 4 year old son got as much out of it as we did – he especially loved the Haribo from Chris Bavin!

 

 

 

 

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