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!
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:
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:
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:
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:
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
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
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
Our impressively sunshiny-summer has come to an end, meaning it’s time for families to head back to the office and back to school. Luckily, London’s theatre playground has a whole host of family shows to cheer up the Autumnal months, featuring well known classics and one-off specials. Whether it’s a midweek treat or a weekend adventure, head to the West End this Autumn with our sizzling pick of shows to see with the kids.
The Roald Dahl classic gained its second wave of fame with the movie release in 1996. It was then reimagined as a stage adaptation by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin and premiered at the Cambridge Theatre in 2011. The musical version of the gifted girl brings to life all the memorable characters before your very eyes; the vain and fraudulent Wormwoods , the adorable Miss Honey and the terrifying Miss Trunchbull, with a brand new cast set for September 2018. After scooping up a record number of Olivier Awards for a musical and receiving wide critical acclaim, Matilda the Musical is beloved by audiences of all ages.
The show is running at the Cambridge Theatre until October 19th, set to welcome its eighth million spectator after a stellar run in the West End. With magic and madness, Matilda is the perfect mid-week treat to get you to the weekend, and will now be showing at an earlier time of 7pm on weekdays to better accommodate families.
2. Lion King
It feels like this show has been around for a long time – and it’s simply because it really is that good. Similarly to the Disney film released in 1994, the award-winning musical pulls on heartstrings as it tells the tale of lion cub Simba and his quest to overthrow his uncle to become the rightful king of the pridelands. Set against the backdrop of the Serengeti Plains, the rhythmic African music and sing-a-long lyrics created by Sir Elton John and Tim Rice for the movie are brought to live in the evocative live score, while the colourful creative costumes are nothing but impressive. Children and adults alike will be immersed into the world of the Lion King, as characters such as Zazu, Timon and Pumba, Rafiki, the hyenas and more are played out on stage in a novel approach to children’s theatre.
The epic musical more than justifies its extensive run at the Lyceum Theatre. As the cool weather creeps in this Autumn, the Lion King guarantees to warm your soul.
Alternatively, swap African plains for Arabian nights and head to the Prince Edward Theatre for an enchanting magic carpet ride. Aladdin is another example of a Disney classic creatively remastered for stage, bringing all the best elements from the 1992 film to life as never before imagined. While some reviews have suggested the musical is a panto-in-disguise, there has been no doubt that the spectacular sets, special effects and jewel-encrusted costumes translate the magic of Agrabah to stage.
Furthermore, young children will be captivated by the larger than life characters such as The Genie, while the elder among us will revel in the plot’s synonymity with the Disney animation. Plus, any show that features hits such as ‘A Whole New World’ and ‘Friend Like Me’ is certainly worth its salt. The exotic escape is the perfect way to tackle the beginning of the new school year and the end of summer, uniting radiant colours, a golden lamp and youthful nostalgia to transport you away.
4. School of Rock
Nothing cheers kids up for going back to school than the School of Rock. This musical offers something a little more grown up than the likes of Disney, but is still very geared towards families and children aged eight and over. Based upon the 2003 movie starring Jack Black, School of Rock the Musical follows struggling and unemployed rock guitarist Dewey Finn as he poses as a substitute teacher to make some money. Finn realises his students are musically-talented, and so sets forth in spawning a school rock band who are to compete in the Battle of the Bands. The fun and rebellious West End production features music by theatre royalty, Andrew Lloyd Webber, combining songs from the film and new original numbers. Undoubtedly, the best part of School of Rock is the pocket-sized talent on stage, where the child cast can really rock out and impress audiences.
The prequel to the ‘Wizard of Oz’ has become a global sensation. It follows two protagonists; Elphaba and Glinda, who grow up to become the Wicked Witch of the West and the Good Witch of the South. From their perspective, we learn what lead them into their distinguished roles, cultivating a story of friendship and rivalry, love and betrayal and importantly, Elphaba’s lapse into ‘wickedness’. Children will fall in love with the beautiful score created by Academy-award winning Stephen Schwartz while adults will cherish it’s associations to the 1939 classic starring Judy Garland as ‘Dorothy Gale’.
This Autumn, the gravity-defying musical will be celebrating a whopping 12 years in the West End, after surpassing its landmark 5000th performance at the Apollo Victoria Theatre last month. It has gained such uniform approval that there have even been talks of making it into a movie – just be sure to see it on stage first.
6. Paddington in concert
On Sunday 14th October, the Peruvian bear will commemorate its 60th anniversary with a live 60-piece orchestral accompaniment to the 2014 film ‘Paddington’. George Jackson will be commanding The Novello Orchestra with Nick Urata’s cheerful score, inducing the perfect introduction for young children to classical music. Moreover, the cute and charming film inspired by Michael Bond’s children’s books won the hearts of adults too, making it a great afternoon out for all the family. Hollywood stars Julie Walters and Nicole Kidman contribute to the film’s star-studded cast, while Ben Whishaw provides the voice for Paddington. It received plenty of praise and critical acclaim, founded upon its ability to transform a treasured classic into a modern movie with appeal for today’s kids.
The production is a one-off event set just before the busy half term. It promises to entertain and charm at the Theatre Royal, and even feature guest stars Nick Urata and Paddington!
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Enter a world of spells and sorcery this Autumn with the eighth installment of the wizardly-wonderful Harry Potter series by JK Rowling presented on stage. It famously secured the most Olivier Awards for a play despite only opening in 2016, and has been described as a ‘triumph’ (The Daily Telegraph) and ‘magical experience’ (London Evening Standard). The creatives behind Parts 1 and 2 of the Cursed Child include multiple award winning Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, responsible for writing and directing the play respectively, worked closely with Rowling to ensure the stage adaptation is as spellbinding and captivating as the book. It tells the tale of Harry Potter, 19 years on, tackling demons from his past. Similarly to the literary saga, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child live has proven popular across generations, with audiences of all ages leaving the Palace Theatre in awe.
Written by Aminah Barnes on behalf of TickX, a ticket search engine comparing events such as theatre, gigs and club nights across the UK.
An evening at Symphony Hall is one never to be missed, it’s one of my favourite venues. An evening in the company of musical theatre and film star, Idina Menzel, was also an evening full of promise. Unfortunately it promised to bring that dreaded number ‘Let It Go’ with it, cue head in hands, fingers in ears was my thought process ahead of the start of the concert! I am happy to report that a cunning way of performing the track (which still resonates and occasionally grates after all this time) with fans on stage helping out was a lovely gesture on Idina’s part. Who doesn’t dream of meeting their idol, let alone singing with them, and it much improved the experience I had anticipated engaging in a toilet break, for!
Opening the gig by playing drums was a nifty move and I was heartened by the fact that Menzel made so much of the fact that she got her big break in the musical, Rent. Seasons Of Love was one of the highlights for me and her deep respect for the show, the late writer and the fact that it had been responsible for the start of her journey shone through. The rendition of Don’t Rain On My Parade gave Streisand a run for her money and Bridge Over Troubled Water was an apt choice considering recent happenings around the world. Her banter was easy with the adoring fans and she engaged wonderfully with the audience, feeling like we were permitted to take a glimpse into her private bubble added an extra dimension to the evening. Menzel also admitted that she had been suffering from Laryngitis, there were certainly moments where she was unable to hold the microphone close due to potential note wobbles. In spite of any health hindrances, nothing could beat her a cappella version (without microphone) of For Good from Wicked. It was a beautiful moment and showcased extraordinary vocal capabilities.
Menzel’s command of the stage is quite something, if it had simply been an evening of just her with no band or backing vocalists, I still believe that it would have been a great evening’s entertainment. Although the band and backing singers certainly enhanced the show and the violinist in particular was quite stunning to listen to. It was refreshing to have the warm up artists selected from among the band too. One criticism would be the length of time we waited in between the warm up artists and the main lady herself. The momentum built nicely while the support act performed and the atmosphere felt a little flat afterwards and took some building back up, in my opinion.
Overall, the setlist contained a good mixture of music and the old favourites which she is associated with were all thrown in for good measure. If you can go and see the lady in action, I urge you to go – if she can sing like that with a poorly throat, then at full fitness she would be phenomenal! A fantastic role model for all of the Elsa wannabes out there too!
What’s On Stage Awards hosted its Winners Concert on Sunday 19 February 2017 at Prince of Wales Theatre and it was a star studded occasion glittered with many worthy winners and a few surprises along the way. Here are some of the highlights:
Sweeping the board with their Nimbus Broomsticks ~ Harry Potter and the Cursed Child bagged a number of awards that Aragog would be proud of, eight! Best Actor in a Play for James Parker, Best Set Design and Best New Play amongst the trophies that left the building with the cast and crew of the popular, fast-selling production.
Half A Sixpence Bags More Than Half A Penny ~ Emma Williams snagged the award for Best Supporting Actress In A Musical, and rightly so, she’s a force to be reckoned with in any production. Charlie Stemp who plays the lead role took home Best Actor In A Musical, which is an amazing accolade and well-deserved too. Best Choreography also went to this musical revival, although I’ve yet to see it, I’ve seen enough to know that this was the right winner.
A Dream Come True for The Dream Girl ~ Amber Riley has won rave reviews for her portrayal of Effie White in Dream Girls and the reviews have reflected the votes, as the girl did good and picked up Best Actress In A Musical. Worth coming over to the UK for, Amber?
The Girls Dared… And Won! ~ The Girls have had a smasher of a week, and it started with the win on Sunday when they picked up Best Regional Production. The hype around this musical has been palpable and I am so pumped to see it that I might burst. This was by far my favourite win of the evening. It slightly made up for the fact that I was sad to hear that Michele Dotrice had pulled out, albeit temporarily (she’s back now!). Gary Barlow has a bumper hit on his hands. Sunflowers ahoy!
With One Look ~ What’s On Stage are renowned for putting on a great #stagey show #dear and topping off the evening with Ria Jones giving her Norma from Sunset Boulevard was the icing on the cake. I’m not so sure about with one look, but I do know that with one note from Ms Jones I have goose bumps. Her stepping in as understudy to Glenn Close was a highlight of 2016 for me and it was therefore right and proper that she had such a prime role in the What’s On Stage Awards concert. Bravo!
Julie LeGrand first burst into my universe when she appeared as that extremely creepy Nurse in Footballer’s Wives! Once I got past the fact that what she was up to was cringe-worthy and plain gross(!) I sat back and realised I was watching a skilled actress and I have kept her on my radar ever since. I’ve watched her as Madame Morrible in Wicked, I’ve seen her semi-nude at the Savoy Theatre playing the hilarious stripper, Electra in Gypsy (she was also notably brilliant as Miss Cratchitt in the show). This year I watched her at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester where she starred opposite Julie Hesmondhalgh in Wit. I think she’s an incredibly talented actress and I’m proud to present my exclusive interview with the lady herself.
I’m going to kick off with Gypsy if I may, as it was an outstanding show and you played two superb roles, what was that experience like for you and do you miss it?
Gypsy will deﬁnitely go down as one of my career highlights! It was one of those extraordinary moments when the planets aligned and every element came together gloriously. We did a read trough at the end of the ﬁrst week of rehearsals for Chichester, and when we ﬁnished, a frisson ran round the table as we all sensed, even at that really early stage, that this was going to be something very special. It’s a beautifully structured and ﬁnely honed piece, and of course we had the creative team to die for with Jonathan Kent, Stephen Mear, Nick Skilbeck and Antony Ward – so much talent and such fab people. Then leading us every step of the way was the incomparable Imelda Staunton. She’s the most extraordinary, pint-sized power house of energy, focus, self-discipline and talent and it was thrilling to see her scale the heights of Rose every night, never for a second giving less than 100%. She was truly magnificent and so deserves all the awards she’s won for her portrayal. I think it’s fair to say that Jonathan cast every other part in the show incredibly well too, there were a lot of very talented actors in the company.
I really enjoyed taking on two very contrasting parts First crabby, cynical Miss Cratchitt, the gorgon at the gate, determined to keep everyone, especially Momma Rose, away from her beloved boss, Mr Grantzigger. Imelda and I used to have a grand time sparring with each other. Then I’d pursue her offstage and we’d both keep running, exchanging fragments of news as we went, her to the next entrance and me to the dressing room, to transform into the deliciously decadent and louche Electra. The change took a bit of an age to achieve, with a ton of dark eye makeup, lashes and lip liner, but I’ve always found it very satisfying doing my own stage makeup, gradually painting in a new character. The wild red wig was of course, the piece de resistance. I just had to be sure that my gait was sufficiently off kilter, to replicate the numerous vodkas Electra would have knocked back and I was set to go. The characters were polar opposites, but they were both fundamentally funny and while I love getting my teeth into a meaty, dramatic role, it’s also a fantastic feeling to make an audience laugh.
Is there a particularly poignant or funny moment from the show that you can share with me?
Not so much one moment, as an enduring connection that developed between myself and my fellow strippers – Anita Louise Coombe and Louise Gold. We became hugely attached to each other and used to go around like a shoal of ﬁsh! They’re great fun to be with anyway, but I think what glued us together, was the shared vulnerability of knowing we were going to have to get quite a lot of our kit off. Before starting, I’d looked at several production photos of other Electras in their costumes and thought, “oh it’ll be ﬁne, they all seem to be swathed in feathers and ﬂounces”. So my jaw dropped when I saw Anthony’s drawing, in which it appeared I was going to be naked – except for a ﬁsh net sheath and a couple of strategically places light bulbs! I clearly remember the ﬁrst time we rehearsed ‘Gimmick’, when it hit us fully in the face that – yes, we were actually going to have to go out on stage wearing next to nothing, in front of 1200 people, 8 times a week! We all had a bit of a wobble and then collectively went – “oh sod it!” and stripped down to our bras and leggings then and there in the rehearsal room and never looked back.
One episode that will stay with me, was the day we performed ‘Gotta Get A Gimmick’ for West End Live in Trafalgar Square. Because our slot was immediately after the Saturday matinee they decided, due to trafﬁc jams, that the only way to guarantee our getting there in time, was for us to walk down the Strand in full costume! So we had the surreal experience of strutting down the road in the rain (of course it would be raining, being Britain!), carrying umbrellas and with coats slung over our shoulders, but in full stripper regalia. Then without breaking stride, we found ourselves literally walking straight off the street and onto the stage, to perform to thousands of people. We’d been led to believe that we’d have about 10 mins to gather ourselves backstage, but their timings had gone out – so on we went and once we’d ﬁnished, we just turned around, no hanging about and marched straight back up the Strand again! People kept saying “Oh it must have been so exciting singing in Trafalgar Square“, but it was all so unreal, it didn’t really sink in for a couple of days, when I suddenly found myself saying “Blimey, I’ve sung in Trafalgar Square – how mad!”
I have to ask what your personal choice would be if you were a stripper in real life, would it be trumpet, electricity, ballet or something else?
Well, judging from the reaction I used to get in Gypsy, I’d be very happy to stick with Electra’s light bulb moments, providing that they always work. I did have a few occasions when they failed me during the run – nothing worse than singing about a gimmick when you ain’t got one!
Moving on to Wit which I had the pleasure of watching you in earlier in the year, what was your favourite moment from the piece and what was it like to work with Julie Hesmondhalgh in that fantastic space?
Wit was another special experience It’s a beautifully written, very moving piece about a cancer sufferer who sadly dies in the end, but it’s also a surprisingly funny play. We had a brilliant time working on it, I’ve rarely laughed so much in rehearsals, which is weird given the seriousness of the subject matter. I think Raz Shaw, the director, had a lot to do with this. He’s sensitive and insightful, but also wonderfully irreverent by nature.
Plus he drew together a great cast, led by the divine Julie Hesmondhalgh. I don’t think there’s anyone more warm hearted and generous spirited in the business than Julie, she was fabulous to work with – a total sweetheart. In fact our ﬁrst meeting was one of those weird coincidences that sometimes occur in life and it convinced me to do the job. That Saturday, before the matinee, I realised I had enough time to pop out and get a coffee. There are two exits from the Stage Door and for once I chose the one that took me up the stairs to the Box Ofﬁce area. As I reached the top, I saw someone with a Gypsy programme. At ﬁrst I just thought – oh they’re coming to see the show – then I looked closer and realised it was Julie H! Ordinarily I wouldn’t approach a complete stranger, especially a celeb’, but this seemed like too big a serendipity to pass up. So I introduced myself, saying I was in Gypsy and that I understood she was going to be in ‘Wit’ at the Manchester Royal Exchange in the New Year. She looked slightly taken aback that I knew and then of course I explained that I’d just been offered a part in it and was currently deciding whether to accept or not. We fell into conversation and after ﬁve minutes I was so taken by her that I said “well I’m going to have to say yes now aren’t I”!
I loved your performance as Madame Morrible in Wicked, is that a role you’d be keen to return to in the future and are there any other musicals that you’d like to appear in or roles that you’d like to play?
I’ve come to musicals pretty late in my career and have been hugely fortunate in that the ones I’ve been in, Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy and Wicked have all been really exciting, knockout shows. I spent two and a half years in Wicked – the longest time I’ve ever played a part, but I loved every minute of it and would certainly consider returning one day. Madame Morrible is probably the most wicked person in Wicked, being totally motivated by her own greed for wealth and status. I think she was best summed up by a startlingly astute 7 year old boy, who I met at the stage door, after the show one night. As he asked for my autograph he said: “I started out liking Madame Morrible, then I wasn’t so sure and then I thought – well, she’s just gone to bad!” And he was quite right, she does “just go to bad” and it’s such fun playing someone who does just that! On top of which she has the most exquisite costumes and wigs and one of the best dressing rooms in town – what’s not to like?! Wicked has an unusually wide appeal and elicits a very special affection from a huge number of fans, who come back to see the show again and again.
Naturally over time I got to know quite a few of them. When I left, a group of them presented me with a handmade book of photos and recollections they’d gathered about myself and Madame Morrible. I was so touched by all the effort and care they’d gone to. It has pride of place on my bookshelf – a memento of a very happy time. As for other musicals I would like to be in/roles I’d like to play I don’t actually have a ‘top ten’ list, perhaps I should, but in my experience casting can be so unpredictable – something you think you’re dead right for, passes you by and then something you think you wouldn’t have a hope of getting – drops in your lap! So I just enjoy the surprise of what comes next.
What led you to a performing career?
As a child I used to love devising little shows with my mates, and soon started going in for drama competitions. When I was 10 I was sent to a Convent school and was often asked to read the lessons in church on a Sunday. It may seem a bit irreverent, but I think it was then that I ﬁrst experienced the buzz you get from an audience, – oops I mean ‘congregation’ and that was it, I was hooked! I did see if I could be deterred from such a perilous career choice though. On leaving school I deliberately didn’t study drama, but read History of Art and European Studies at Sussex University instead. However I spent all my free time doing plays with the university drama group, and soon decided to make acting my life, going on to do a postgraduate drama course at The Webber Douglas Academy, to hone my skills before entering the profession.
Can you imagine yourself doing anything else other than performing?
No, I very much hope to carry on performing until I drop off the perch. I love acting and all the challenges it brings – the idea of ever retiring is anathema to me! I wouldn’t rule out adding other strings to my bow though. Some more directing – I’m one of the Directors of The Artists Theatre School, founded by one of my best mates Amanda Redman and I’ve co-directed several of our shows with her.
Have you a preferred medium between theatre, television and ﬁlm? What’s the reason for your choice?
No, I don’t have a favourite and love them for their differences. Theatre demands a different style of acting from TV and ﬁlm, and also dictates a different lifestyle – late ﬁnishes for theatre and very early starts for TV and ﬁlm. It’s fun to shift from one to the other. For example when I’ve just ﬁnished a long theatre job, to begin with it feels a bit bad to go out socialising in the evening – like skipping off school! Are there any projects coming up for you that you can tell me about? I’m about to do a wonderfully quirky short ﬁlm about greed called ‘Cupidity’, which most likely will be premiered at the London ﬁlm festival this year and I’m also waiting to hear about a TV series, so who knows, maybe I’ll be having supper with my husband for a while.
Just for fun, here are some quick-fire questions, give me your immediate reaction, please:
Chocolate – what else?!
Tie between: Apollo Victoria/Savoy/National Theatre
Favourite song from a musical?
Gotta Get A Gimmick.
Favourite time of year?
Favourite to spend your time off?
With my husband – especially pursuing the new hobbies we’ve just started together – learning to play the piano and singing in an a cappella group.
I’d like to thank Julie for being so kind about this website, positive comments from such a wonderful actress were so incredible to receive. More importantly, I’d like to thank Julie for her time and such fantastic answers!