#AD We were invited to the press night for Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense which is currently showing at Chipping Norton’s Theatre until 15th February 2020. 

The show has actually been produced by two Cotswold theatres, The Theatre Chipping Norton and the Barn Theatre in Cirencester, and is about to embark on  a 17-week tour of the UK, taking in over 30 regional theatres, arts venues and village halls. It’s the longest ever tour Chipping Norton Theatre has created to date. 

This production was written by the Goodale Brothers and uses PG Wodehouse’s famous upstairs-downstairs comic duo Jeeves and Worcester who originally sprang into the literary world from the pages of The Code of the Woosters.  

It’s a classic ‘play within a play’ as we see aristocratic buffoon, Bertie, hire the theatre for the night to present his one man show detailing spectacular misadventures including the theft of a silver cow creamer and a narrow escape from unwanted matrimony. In typical fashion, it seems that Bertie hasn’t thought much into the practicalities of his show – and in steps Jeeves to save the performance. 

The play is directed by Chipping Norton Theatre’s artistic director John Terry and features just three actors, Matthew Cavendish as Bertie, Andrew Ashford as Jeeves and Andrew Cullum as Seepings.  

The cast did an amazing job at carrying the audience along this wacky tale managing scenery with comic panache, Cullum’s train stop was particularly memorable and both, Ashford and Cullum were especially adept at transforming into multiple characters.  At one point, Ashford as Jeeves has a three way conversation with himself! 

Cavendish (Bertie) was a really exuberant protagonist and performs regularly with Mischief Theatre, appearing in The Play That Goes Wrong in the West End and on Broadway, as well as Peter Pan Goes Wrong and A Comedy About a Bank Robbery in the West End. 

This  show originally premiered in 2013 at 5 Richmond Theatre with the lead roles being played by Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen, then transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End. It won the 2014 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

Director John Terry said, “If ever there was a time when the world needed the sunlight, optimism and wit of P.G. Wodehouse, it might be now. Anarchically, brilliantly funny, and a huge theatrical challenge to bring to the stage, we are delighted to be remounting this fantastic comedy.”

Tickets available via Chipping Norton Box Office:  https://www.chippingnortontheatre.com/

Parintins in Brazil hosts Brazil's next largest festival after Rio's carnival, known as the Boi Bumba, which we experience as part of a Viking Cruise.

One of the things that Viking Cruises specifically tries to do is to take its passengers to ports which are less frequented by other cruise lines. That certainly felt the case with Parintins, a town which sits on Tupinambarana, a group of adjacent islands surrounded by the convergence of four rivers. The endless surging current divided the once singular island into four, making Parintins an interesting example of the Amazon’s power.  

Parintins in Brazil hosts Brazil's next largest festival after Rio's carnival, known as the Boi Bumba, which we experience as part of a Viking Cruise.

Of all the places we visited along the Amazon, Parintins was the most normal place, a small town filled with all the essentials local people might need – a market, large church. However, each June, it hosts Brazil’s largest carnival celebration after Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, known as the Boi Bumba.

Parintins is making use of cruise tourism and has built a convention centre only a short walk from the disembarkation point especially to house shorter performances of this yearly carnival.  The Bull Festival recounts the folk tale of two bulls whose teams strive to outperform each other. The tension mounts until the appearance of a shaman results in a joyous celebration in the life of the bull.  I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t exactly terribly clear what was going on all the time, but it really didn’t matter. 

This was no toned down tourist show, the thirty strong cast donned fabulous carnival costumes and performed long gymnastic routines which lasted up to ten minutes apiece to the lively heart-pounding music.  There were flotillas wheeled too and from the stage, which took great co-ordination, and there were several carnival stars who emerged in full technicolour glory. In all, the show lasted a full awe-inspiring ninety minutes. 

We had a full day in Parintins, so Tom and I had a great walk around the town and lunch in a bar overlooking the river, called Carne Na Tabua, – cassava chips and deep-fried manchego-type cheese bites with a chilli sauce. Back on the Viking Sea, which has a specific focus on destination fare, we had Brazilian churrasco (or BBQ).

Sometimes you get a tempting Groupon deal and a Japanese afternoon tea at Zoo Sushi in Stratford upon Avon for £10 ahead was extremely enticing.  

Japanese afternoon tea at Zoo Sushi17

Zoo Sushi is just a short walk from Shakespeare’s birthplace and I’ll confess that I’d never heard of it and I certainly had no idea that there even was a sushi bar in Stratford. It’s a small place with a colourful frontage and a handful of covers inside. 

Japanese afternoon tea at Zoo Sushi1
Japanese afternoon tea at Zoo Sushi13

As with all Groupon vouchers, it can be hit or miss. I booked in advance, about two weeks ahead for a table for two at two o’clock. It was busy when we arrived but there were a handful of tables free, although it was evident from the waitress that she was glad we’d booked a table, she’d obviously had to turn some others away. When we were there, the sushi bar and tables were managed by two staff, the server and sushi chef. 

Japanese afternoon tea at Zoo Sushi7
Japanese afternoon tea at Zoo Sushi23

It was clear that the sushi was all made fresh to order, whilst some elements of our afternoon tea could be pre-prepared. Zoo Sushi has got a distinct animal vibe going with its decor and we had two mugs of green tea served in a giraffe and a zebra. 

Japanese afternoon tea at Zoo Sushi5
Japanese afternoon tea at Zoo Sushi1

Our afternoon tea was served on a three-tier stand and consisted of several different types of sushi – sashimi, California rolls and nigiri. I’m not a fan of sandwiches so it was good to have something a bit different and there was a really good selection include prawn, tuna and salmon.  

On top of that, we had a slice of matcha flavoured sponge which had a tiramisu type texture, plus a vanilla sponge and creme brulee. And the top tier included two fruit pots with whipped cream and several different flavoured macarons. It was a good amount and we left full. 

You can get that Groupon voucher here https://www.groupon.co.uk/deals/zoo-sushi. We’ll definitely go back next time we are in Stratford and looking for a spot of lunch.  I still think Zushi in Banbury is probably better for food choice and general ambience. 

It’s also worth noting that there’s no loo at Zoo Sushi, you’d need to walk to the one across the car park!  Or just go steady on that green tea. 

Back in November, we were gifted a stay at The Plough Inn in Cold Aston, which is just between Cheltenham and Bourton-on-the-water, as the team launched their new winter menu. The Plough is a proper country pub, 17th century in fact, with Cotswold flagstones, original beams and a roaring fire. It was bought by Tom and Josie a couple of years ago, after deciding to follow their foodie passions. The team is completed with Cliffy, assistant manager and Jonathon, head chef. 

Winter stay at The Plough Inn, Cold Aston
Winter stay at The Plough Inn, Cold Aston

The pub is an ideal stop if you’re out in Bourton, and are looking to avoid the hordes of tourists which cram into the tearooms and pubs in the village – being just a short drive away.  We arrived at 7pm after a long week at work and were ready for something hearty as befits the season.

Winter stay at The Plough Inn, Cold Aston

The Plough is a big supporter of local farmers and had recently changed to a winter menu – a mixture of classic and more unusual pub dishes. To start, Tom and I shared the English charcuterie board with remoulade, cornichons and toast (£9) and a side of sea salt coated padron peppers. 

Winter stay at The Plough Inn, Cold Aston

For our mains, it was a really tough choice but between us, we had the slow-cooked beef shin with tagliatelle (£12.50) and the loin of local venison with dauphinoise potatoes, seasonal greens and a Madeira jus (£21) – read all this with the Masterchef voice-over lady in your head! It’s not often that we see venison on the menu and having tasted Tom’s, it was beautifully cooked, tasty, tender and just slid down your throat.  The kitchen at the Plough has a charcoal-fired Bertha oven which added an incredible flavour to my slow-cooked beef shin. 

Winter stay at The Plough Inn, Cold Aston
Winter stay at The Plough Inn, Cold Aston

And with dessert, I had the blackberry and Wood Brother’s gin posset with homemade shortbread and Tom the warm treacle tart with Devon clotted cream. Two very solid choices (£6.50 each). 

Normally one of us is driving, but as we were staying over, so we had a couple of glasses of orange wine. Now, this is not some sort of fruit punch, but a wine that has an aromatic flavour and golden colour. It’s actually a type of white wine which is made by leaving the grape skins and seeds in contact with the juice, creating that deep-orange hued finish. Ask the team for their recommendations. Tom also commented on the fact that the pub had a good selection of craft beers, he had the Beatnik Dark IPA. And to top it off a gin flip nightcap – gin, conker coffee liqueur, egg and a double espresso. 

So, fully sated, we headed to bed, we were staying in the Notgrove room. Each room is named after a local village and The Plough Inn has three letting bedrooms above the pub which are accessed from a different entrance rather than through the pub. 

Winter stay at The Plough Inn, Cold Aston

The rooms have been renovated and decorated sympathetically to preserve the character of this grade II listed building. Our room was decorated in a cool blue with a super king bed and a cosy faux, sheepskin rug which was a delight to bury your feet into in the morning. The bathroom was also stocked with 100 Acres Apothecary toiletries, a brand I’m particularly fond of for its use of natural and indulgent ingredients and is made in the Cotswolds. Our room is available from £130 a night. 

Winter stay at The Plough Inn, Cold Aston

The Plough has a straightforward breakfast menu – full English with whatever combination you may like, plus plenty of hot coffee and freshly brewed tea. I heard several guests comment on the crockery, which we all liked very much.  

Winter stay at The Plough Inn, Cold Aston
Winter stay at The Plough Inn, Cold Aston

There’s no dedicated parking for the pub, but enough space in the village to park (although I don’t know if that annoys the neighbours?) Having said that, it’s clear that the pub is both popular with visitors and locals, as the bar area was packed on Friday night with friends and family enjoying a couple of pints. It’s also a good spot for walkers, as there were plenty of muddy boots left in the hallway before ascending the stairs to the bedrooms.  So if you’re looking for a getaway to blow away the post-Crimbo blues, then this might just be the spot for you!

More information available at http://coldastonplough.com/

The Jacksons perform ABC during Motown the Musical
A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. ©Tristram Kenton

There’s still time to just catch the New Theatre’s Christmas Box Office musical – Motown the Musical which runs until Saturday 4th January 2020.  We were gifted two tickets for the opening night gala which was the perfect way to kick off the party season. 

When it comes to theatre reviews, I’m often able to get the inside scoop as I’ve a good chum who works in theatre marketing in the West End and she’s often my first port of call. Her immediate comments on Motown, which she saw during its original run, was that there were so many recognisable songs – a whirlwind of musical hits. 

A young Diana Ross falls for Berry Gordy
A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. ©Tristram Kenton

And that’s exactly what you can expect. With music and lyrics from the Motown catalogue and book by Motown founder Berry Gordy, Charles Randolph-Wright’s production features a live orchestra playing 50 Motown tracks including Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I’ll Be There, Dancing In The Street, Stop! In The Name Of Love, My Girl, I Heard It through the Grapevine and tells the story behind the classic hits.

Berry Gordy, played by understudy Cordell Mosteller in the role on opening night, founded the Motown label in 1959 and the production tells the story of how with just $800 borrowed from his family he went from a featherweight boxer to heavyweight music mogul, discovering and launching the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and many more.  

A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. ©Tristram Kenton

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Motown. The musical is set against the backdrop of the iconic 25th anniversary concert which saw iconic acts return to celebrate Berry Gordy’s role in their careers. 

The ensemble cast slip in and out of characters – playing the Four Tops, then the Temptations and back to Commodores. It’s a testament to their versatile and melodic voices. The lad playing young Berry, young Stevie and young Michael had some really difficult shoes to fill but did a sterling job, especially during the Jackson 5 medley. 

A performer from Motown the Musical
A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. ©Tristram Kenton

Tom and I haven’t been to Detroit, but we did visit Sun Records during our trip to Memphis. Standing in the recording rooms where Elvis and Roy Orbinson created number one hits, certainly gave us a greater appreciation of the music (without wanting to sound like a cliche). It was also eye-opening seeing the challenges that artists faced, overcoming prejudices and poverty. 

A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. ©Tristram Kenton

Segregation and racism are even more prevalent in the story of Motown, but I felt that we saw a more sanitised version of this, but perhaps that is more appropriate for a musical’s family audience. Similarly, from what I’ve read about Berry Gordy, who could be hard-nosed and encouraged keen competition between his acts, Cordell’s Berry was less mean-spirited.  

The cast for the UK and Ireland tour includes Edward Baruwa who plays the leading role of ‘Berry Gordy’, Karis Anderson as ‘Diana Ross’, Nathan Lewis as ‘Smokey Robinson’ and Shak Gabbidon-Williams as ‘Marvin Gaye’.

A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. ©Tristram Kenton

Edward Baruwa’s previous credits include the West End productions of “Motown the Musical” at The Shaftesbury Theatre, “Les Misérables” at the Queen’s Theatre, “Five Guys Named Moe” at the Marble Arch Theatre and the UK Tour of “Sister Act”.  Karis Anderson is best known as being one third of pop band ‘Stooshe’ who celebrated a top five single ‘Black Heart’ in 2012 for which they received a nomination for Best British Single at the 2013 Brit Awards.

Nathan Lewis was a finalist on ITV’s The X Factor in 2016 as part of boyband ‘Five After Midnight’. Nathan makes his stage debut as ‘Smokey Robinson’. Shak Gabbidon-William’s previous credits include ‘Young Simba’ in “The Lion King” in the West End and most recently starred as ‘Seaweed’ in the UK tour of “Hairspray”.

The ensemble includes, Dayo Adeoye, Scott Armstrong, Simeon Beckett, Natalia Brown, Ethan Davis, Andrew Dillon, Akeem Ellis-Hyman, Christopher Gopaul, Daniel Haswell, Olivia Hibbert, Karis Jack, Michael Jeremiah, Amana Jones, Abz Kareem, Kane Matthews, DeeArna McClean, Matt Mills, Cordell Mosteller, Nicole Nyarambi, Spencer O’Brien, Perry O’Dea, Alex Okoampa, Reece Richards and Emma Robotham-Hunt.

A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. ©Tristram Kenton

Tickets can be purchased from the New Theatre box office on George Street, by ringing 0844 871 3020 or by visiting our website at www.atgtickets.com/oxford (phone and internet bookings subject to booking/transaction fee. Calls are charged at 7p per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge.).