We’ve had quite a spate musicals recently at the New Theatre in Oxford, last week we were at Rock of Ages starring Kevin Clifton. This week, we sat down to watch the Rocky Horror Show which is on until 30th March and where Kevin’s sister, Joanne, takes on the role of Janet.

The best thing about going to see the Rocky Horror Show is the audience. At Oxford, the audience turned out in their best fancy dress, fishnets, knee-high boots, corsets, wigs and maid’s aprons. (I could not persuade Tom to wear a feather boa and we were both desperately underdressed!)  And they knew every line when it came to audience participation.

Since it first opened in London in June 1973 at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show has become the world’s favourite Rock ‘N’ Roll musical, having been performed worldwide for 45 years in more than 30 countries and translated into over 20 languages.

If you didn’t know, The Rocky Horror Show tells the story of Brad and his fiancée Janet, two squeaky clean college kids who meet Dr Frank’n’Furter by chance when their car breaks down outside his house whilst on their way to visit their favourite college professor.

My favourite character has always been the narrator, who was played by Philip Franks in this production, and Franks managed the heckles with great comedic skill.

The current touring version stars Blue singer and Hollyoaks actor Duncan James who makes a very sensual Frank, with just a touch of the panto dame about him. Strictly Come Dancing Champion Joanne Clifton plays Janet and a1’s Ben Adams is Brad. Kristian Lavercombe also reprises his role as Riff Raff, following more than 1300 performances in The Rocky Horror Show around the world.

Directed by Christopher Luscombe, the smash hit show features all of the famous musical numbers which have made The Rocky Horror Show such a huge hit for over four decades, including ‘Sweet Transvestite’, ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature’, ‘Dammit Janet’ and, of course, the timeless floor-filler, ‘The Time-Warp’ – and everyone, including Tom, was on their feet doing their best pelvic thrusts.

I don’t normally include chunks straight from the press release, but these facts illustrate the shows enduring appeal…

“The Rocky Horror Show first began life in 1973 before an audience of just 63 people in the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs. It was an immediate success and transferred to the Chelsea Classic Cinema, before going on to run at the Kings Road Theatre, 1973-79 and the Comedy Theatre in the West End, 1979-80. In 1975 it was transformed into a film called ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. This film adaptation took over $135 million at the Box Office and is still shown in cinemas around the world more than 40 years after its premiere, making it the longest running theatrical release in cinema history.

“Many stars including Russell Crowe, Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Jerry Springer, Jason Donovan and Meatloaf have appeared in The Rocky Horror Show over the past 45 years.

“In 2015, as part of a sold-out season at London’s Playhouse Theatre, a special star-studded Gala charity performance in aid of Amnesty International was broadcast to over 600 cinemas across the UK and Europe.

“The live screening – featuring a host of celebrities playing The Narrator including Stephen Fry, Mel Giedroyc, Emma Bunton, Ade Edmondson, Anthony Head and Richard O’Brien – smashed box office records and was the biggest grossing film in cinemas across the UK. The performance was subsequently screened on the Sky Arts channel.”

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

The second stop on our cruise aboard the Viking Sea was Barbados and we were embarking on the ‘Panoramic Barbados’ tour, organised by the good people of Viking, with the warm and gregarious Alison as our guide. Here’s what we did in five hours!

Here's what we did in five hour on the island of Barbados

Barbados is probably the most British island in the Caribbean; afternoon tea is a daily ritual and cricket is the national sport. The island is home to the commonwealth’s second oldest parliament, having been beaten to the top place by Isle of Man. It has 300,000 inhabitants and a 99 per cent literacy rate.

How to spend five hours in Barbados

Here's what we did in five hour on the island of Barbados

Guest lectures onboard

As part of the cruise on board the Viking Sea, the boat hosted a number of guest lecturers, who gave seminars about the destinations we visited. I loved these – it was just like being at university again, but with better food, better accommodation, better weather and no exams!

By far the best lecturer was Dr. Sherry Hutt, a former judge, she trained archaeologists, law enforcement and attorneys on heritage protection cases and holds a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution. Now she is the author behind the ‘Cruising through history’ series. Her lecture on Barbados was top notch.

Her lecture looked at Barbados’ history, which is inextricably linked with that of the slave trade in 16th and 17th centuries. African slaves were brought to the island as part of the three-way triangle with sugar and rum.  Before the Brits came along, the island was virtually uninhabited. Early settlers in 1627 attempted to grow tobacco with little success. They also tried cotton, but that went much the same way. Then when Portugal took hold of Brazil, Dutch settlers with their sugar production knowledge moved from Latin America and settled in Barbados. And so the three-way slavery triangle found its origins.

Bridgetown was the first town to be founded in 1628 and unlike the American colonies, where Englishman needed a royal grant for land, Barbados was open to all commoners with enough funds to establish themselves. So here you could live like royalty, without the royal connection.

St James Parish Church, Holetown

Our first stop was St James Parish Church in Holetown, which was founded by the first settlers who originally built a wooden structure to accommodate their growing congregation. The church was rebuilt in stone following a hurricane on 1780. The church includes the original 16th-century baptismal font and bell, the oldest in Barbados, which was manufactured by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry that also produced Big Ben.

Planter’s Punch

Richard Ligon, an intelligent royal courtier escaping the English civil war, became a plantation manager on Barbados and wrote a comprehensive guide to making rum. He couldn’t stand slavery and remained baffled by his fellow plantation owners who spent most their time at banquets and getting rat-arsed on a punch made with crude rum (lethal levels of alcohol), tempered with sugar, lemon, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, water and maybe pineapple juice.

Meanwhile, as Ligon noted, the knowledge of sugar and rum production was cultivated and refined by the slave workforce. Slavery ended in the 1830s and descendants of Africans and new free African immigrants continued with the sugar production and the distillation of rum – still a mainstay of the economy.

Mount Gay is the island’s oldest rum distillery, established in 1703, and at Highland Adventure Centre on Harrison’s Plantation, we enjoyed our first rum punch whilst enjoying the view of the east coast 1,000 feet above sea level. As Alison, our guide said, ‘us Bajans, we’re all social drinkers – ain’t no one drivin’ today.’

Christmas in Bridgetown

Bridgetown’s centre is a Unesco World Heritage site and includes many colonial buildings including the parliament. From the port, it is an easy twenty-minute walk by foot.

You could brave the queues in the popular ‘Chefette’ chain for a burger, Bajan’s answer to McDonald’s – Alison was very proud that there wasn’t a single golden arch on the island. They attempted to open a branch and it lasted six months, as it wanted to charge over $20 for a burger – a good example of the high cost of living on the island. It’s now used as a car showroom.

The Barbadian’s are fond of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Harry’s recent visit went down a storm and they are proud to belong to the commonwealth which was being wildly celebrated as part of their Christmas festivities. Organised by the Royal Commonwealth Society Barbados Branch, Independence Square hosted Christmas trees decorated by different school children from across the 53 countries.

Viking Sea’s destination menus

The main restaurant on the Viking Sea would often feature a destination menu, a sample of local fare. In Barbados, we tried Bajan fish cakes, breaded flying fish and ‘conkies’ – a pumpkin-coconut cake steamed in a banana leaf.

[Gifted] I feel like since we received the invite to see the new UK tour of Rock of Ages at the New Theatre in Oxford, that Kevin Clifton, who stars as Stacee Jaxx, has been everywhere.

On Saturday, I caught his interview on Graham Norton’s Radio 2 show and then he appeared as a critic on ITV’s All Star Musicals on Sunday night (judging Alan Titchmarsh singing ‘An Enchanted Evening’ from South Pacific – check it out on catch-up!) So on Tuesday, I was greeted with a 10ft version of his face on the theatre’s side.

Rock Of Ages is an LA love story lavished with over 25 classic rock anthems including ‘We Built This City’, ‘The Final Countdown’, ‘Here I Go Again’, ‘Can’t Fight this Feeling’ and ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’.

I’ve seen the film but already knew that the story would work so much better on stage. It’s got the two fame-hungry teenagers who head to LA, one to make it as a rock star, the other an actress. The pair meet whilst working as a waitress and janitor in the fictional, fabled ‘Bourbon Lounge’ – the birthplace to many a rock megastar.  And so we see their rise and fall in the bid to make it big.

My favourite character was Lonny, played by Lucas Rush, who acts as narrator, clown and fool. To use a technical term, the character of Lonny, ‘breaks down the fourth wall’ to address the audience directly and to let them in on the joke – whether that’s Drew friend-zoning himself with Sherrie or how Stacee Jaxx ends up in Nicaragua.  

Lucas picked a member of the audience from the front row to be his comic muse and before you know it ‘Debbie from Row 1’ becomes the evening’s running joke. It’s Lucas who points out that Alec Baldwin has played the same character, Dennis, the owner of the Bourbon Club, as Kevin Kennedy or better known to soap fans as Curly Watts from Coronation Street (who was excellent as the faded rocker by the way!)

I enjoyed the whole score but Zoe Birkett, who plays Justice, did a rendition of ‘Harden My Heart/Shadow’s of the Night’ which was spectacular. She most recently appeared as Rachel Marron in the UK tour of The Bodyguard The Musical.

And as for Kevin Clifton, Strictly Come Dancing Champion 2018? I wasn’t surprised to find that he had both a great voice (we will be seeing his sister, Joanna, in Rocky Horror Show next week and equally has a great singing voice which we witnessed when she appeared in Flashdance) and excellent comic timing. The Clifton siblings definitely have performance in the blood.  His scene with Sherrie, played by Jodie Steel, as they belt out ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ was hilarious as the pair make out in the gent’s lav.

Rock Of Ages has a book by Chris D’Arienzo and Arrangements and Orchestrations by Ethan Popp. It is directed and choreographed by Nick Winston. Tickets can be purchased from the New Theatre box office on George Street, by ringing 0844 871 3020 or by visiting the website at www.atgtickets.com/oxford

A warning though, this show contains serious rock ‘n’ roll debauchery!  

The Fleece in Witney

[This stay was gifted to us, but opinions and full stomachs our own.]  Tom and I were invited to check out The Fleece in Witney, Oxfordshire, which has recently had a top-to-toe refurb. We’ve been to the Fleece in Witney before, as Tom’s brother and sister-in-law live and work not far from the town, but it was good to go back to see it in its new splendour.

The Fleece in Witney

The Fleece overlooks Church Green and all 10 of its guestrooms have had a makeover, but still in keeping with its Georgian heritage. Once upon a time, the building was home to the Clinch family, which owned Witney’s Eagle Brewery, but now belongs to the Oxfordshire’s Peach Pub Company.

The Fleece in Witney

The Fleece does have its own parking behind the pub, but it does get busy, so there’s also free parking on the green on Friday night at least.

We had room six at the top of the stairs. I’m always a little anxious about pubs with accommodation as I often wonder if you’ll be kept awake by the bar activity downstairs, but with the mega soundproofing doors, you wouldn’t even hear a mouse. Our room was decked out in turquoise, a patterned wallpaper reminiscent of a stripped back William Morris print. These are hand-printed by Cotswolds Rapture & Wright. The bed included a velvet-covered headboard in dark red and pops of burnt yellow pillows – very now.

I stuck my head in around the doors of a couple of other rooms and each one has its own individual quirks. Our bathroom had a powerful, rainfall shower that made me jealous, those trendy herringbone tiles plus herbal enriched products for hair and body created by Damana. Classic FM was playing as we entered and suddenly everything slowed down a few notches.

Dinner for two at the Fleece in Witney 

It’s nice to have an overnight stay sometimes as it means both Tom and I don’t have to worry about who is pulling the short straw and driving home. With this in mind, Tom started with a pint of North Cotswold Brewery’s Windrush Ale and I a Forest G&T.  The Fleece had a good gin menu, with some more unusual small batch varieties.

Mike, the manager, and his staff were very friendly and happy to offer up a recommendation, which is just as well as between the spring menu and the specials I had trouble choosing.  For starters, I opted for the duck rillette and sunflower toast from the specials (which I originally thought would be like a croquette type thing, it’s not – it’s a pate!), whilst Tom had a beetroot and onion Tarte Tatin with goats cheese. Both slipped down very easily.

For mains, I went for the panko breaded chicken with lemon and skinny fries and a green side salad with avocado dressing. Tom had the sea bream with curried polenta, pea puree and carrot bhaji which looked like something from Masterchef.

We were both beginning to fill quite full at this point, but our waiter had been super keen on this warm blondie with raspberry ripple ice cream, that Tom felt he had to force one down. It would have been rude to leave him eating alone, so I had the chocolate and salted caramel tart with chocolate ice cream – with every intention of stealing some of Tom’s.

I did get a mouthful of Tom’s but the waiter was so worried I hadn’t experienced it in its full glory, he bought out a small version just for me. Two puds. I ate so much I felt sick. No regrets. This was all washed down by a bottle of Rioja.

Breakfast at the Fleece in Witney

After a good night’s sleep, in our firm, yet comfy mattress, we headed down for breakfast. We were both looking forward to this after the great banquet we had the night before, plus we knew that we had a weekend of gardening back at our place so a hearty breakfast would go down a storm.

Breakfast is open to guests staying and normal diners. Toast is self-service on the bar and cereals, fruit and yoghurts are ‘help yourself’ at one of the tables in the main dining room. There’s also a reasonably priced separate cooked breakfast menu. Tom opted for the full English which included sausages from Jimmy Butler’s Blythburgh farm in Suffolk; black pudding and scramble eggs, whilst I had the American style pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.

The dining room is decked out in a similar style to guest rooms, polish wood, plush seats, with touches of warm reds – cosy and comfortable.

The details

With a weekend night stay costing between £100 and £150 for two people in a premium room including breakfast, The Fleece is ideal for a leisurely break in the Cotswolds, for a spot of shopping at nearby Bicester Village or simply for enjoying the tranquillity of the pretty market town of Witney.  The pub also makes for the perfect place for business travellers seeking a friendly, convivial stay.

For more information please go to https://www.fleecewitney.co.uk/bed-and-breakfast-witney/ where there are also details of ‘Pay Now, Sleep Later’ offering an even better rate for booking and paying 30 days in advance and ‘The Weekender’, with a saving for adding a Friday or Sunday to a Saturday night booking.

It was with some reluctance that we left the Fleece as we knew we’d be barrowing four tonnes of hardcore into our backyard as soon as we got back, but we’d be looked after well in preparation.

We took a cruise over Christmas which went to Caribbean and Brazil. Here's our first stop. Four hours in San Juan, Puerto RicoUsually, my blog posts especially when writing about holidays abroad are fairly lengthy, capturing several days at a time at a specific destination. This trip is very different as the Friend-Bartlett family embarked on a 22-day cruise over Christmas and New Year on board the Viking Sea taking in the Caribbean islands and the Amazon river through Brazil.

This is our first voyage, but as many veteran cruisers will know, your time in port is more often than not, brief, sometimes even just a few hours. With that in mind, these posts are going to be about how we got the flavour of each destination.

What to do with four hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Four hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

We flew from Heathrow to San Juan via Miami and met the boat on Tuesday evening. This gave us all of Wednesday. The Viking team has a number of organised excursions to help you quickly find your feet. We went port side at 12.15pm and had to be back on the boat by 5pm. So here’s what we did in 240 minutes…

Walking tour of Old San Juan

Our walking tour of Old San Juan took us through the main square where the Christmas tree was up. Puerto Ricans also celebrate King’s Day which marks the arrival of the three kings to baby Jesus. Our guide, Jose, explained that children are given gifts on both Christmas day and King’s Day, but often, they’ll be given in component parts – so you’ll get the PlayStation at Crimbo, but will need to wait a few days before the games arrive.

Four hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

The main part of our walking tour was to take in Fort Cristobel. Christopher Columbus apparently discovered Puerto Rico on the day dedicated to St John the Baptist, November 19th, in 1493, and the island was originally known as ‘San Juan’ with the port known as ‘Puerto Rico’ or the golden port.  At some point in history, the two reversed. When Columbus arrived, he was greeted by the indigenous people, known as Taíno. In 2010, the US census showed over nine thousand people identified as Taíno, descendants of those who survived colonisation, European diseases and intermarried.

Four hours in San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Spanish started building a fort complex, known as El Morro, across the peninsula following attacks by other tribal chiefdoms. Fort Cristobel was begun in 1552 and also withstood several attacks from other seafaring nemeses including Francis Drake in 1595, Earl of Cumberland in 1598 who came over land and finally the Dutch in 1625. Not a single one took the fort – with its 20ft thick walls and 150ft above sea level. In fact, 2017’s terrible hurricane season barely scratched it.

We walked from Saint Cristobel toward the Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Juan Bautista, or in English, Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint John the Baptist, which houses the tomb of Ponce de Leon, the Spanish settler and first governor of Puerto Rico. It also has a shrine to the first person born in the Caribbean to be beautified (or the first step to sainthood) Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Santiago.

Our last walking tour stop was the Governor’s Mansion all decked out for Christmas. The street leading up to the mansion currently features an art installation with multi-coloured umbrellas creating a street canopy, recognising 2017’s challenges following the extreme hurricane season.

Mojitos and mofongo

At the end of the road, we stopped for a mojito, effectively the official drink of Puerto Rico. Bacardi moved its operations from Cuba once the revolution started to Puerto Rico in the 1960s. By now we had about 90 minutes left in San Juan and I was quite desperate to try Mofongo, the island’s signature dish of mashed plantain with chicken, shrimp or skirt steak. We got a couple of plates between us and a took a bottle of hot sauce home for good measure.

So there we have it  – 240 minutes in Puerto Rico!