Hands up who else has had the joy of the summer-time cold? So with that, my deputised Musical reviewer, aka Mum, went with her cronies to see Hair the musical, which was on tour and visiting Oxford this week. From here it heads to Sheffield, Brighton and is back in the area in Milton Keynes from 15th to 20th July 2019. 

HAIR THE MUSICAL, , Director – Jonathan O’Boyle, Lighting – Bem M Rogers, Choreographer – William Whelton, Designer – Maeve Black, New Wimbledon Theatre, London, UK, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson

Hair is celebrating its 50th anniversary and the current version stars  Dancing on Ice Winner Jake Quickenden, Daisy Wood-Davis (Hollyoaks/ Dreamboats & Petticoats) and Marcus Collins (X-Factor Finalist/ Kinky Boots).

HAIR THE MUSICAL, , Director – Jonathan O’Boyle, Lighting – Bem M Rogers, Choreographer – William Whelton, Designer – Maeve Black, New Wimbledon Theatre, London, UK, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson

Set in 1967, Hair features a tribe of communal-living hippies from East Village, New York who are looking to change the world one peace love symbol at a time. Claude, one of the main protagonists, faces a battle between his life characterised by the pursuit of love, peace, long-hair and sexual revolution and his family’s urge for him to join the forces and fight in Vietnam. 

HAIR THE MUSICAL, , Director – Jonathan O’Boyle, Lighting – Bem M Rogers, Choreographer – William Whelton, Designer – Maeve Black, New Wimbledon Theatre, London, UK, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson

I was disappointed that I wasn’t feeling up to see Hair. It’s a production that has gone out of its way to push people’s buttons and push the boundaries on what they could sing and gesticulate about on stage. 

The original performance effectively marked the end of stage censorship in the United Kingdom which finally came to an end in July 1968. In fact in London, the Lord Chamberlain, originally refused to license the musical and the opening was delayed until Parliament passed a bill stripping him of his licensing powers.  

HAIR THE MUSICAL, , Director – Jonathan O’Boyle, Lighting – Bem M Rogers, Choreographer – William Whelton, Designer – Maeve Black, New Wimbledon Theatre, London, UK, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson

Before 1968 any reference to homosexuality, bisexuality, nude performances would have been considered to outrageous to be shown on British stage. 

HAIR THE MUSICAL, , Director – Jonathan O’Boyle, Lighting – Bem M Rogers, Choreographer – William Whelton, Designer – Maeve Black, New Wimbledon Theatre, London, UK, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson

Hair was widely divisive – in April 1971 a bomb was thrown at the theatre housing the production in Cleveland, Ohio; the musical aired one-night at a theatre in Mexico before being padlocked by the government on the grounds that is was detrimental to the morals of youth (probably due to Hair’s famous nude scene); and in Bergen, Norway citizens created a human barricade preventing theatregoers from getting in.  

HAIR THE MUSICAL, , Director – Jonathan O’Boyle, Lighting – Bem M Rogers, Choreographer – William Whelton, Designer – Maeve Black, New Wimbledon Theatre, London, UK, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson

On the other hand, Princess Anne, aged 18, headed up on the stage during the London performance in 1968.  (Always did like her!) 

HAIR THE MUSICAL, , Director – Jonathan O’Boyle, Lighting – Bem M Rogers, Choreographer – William Whelton, Designer – Maeve Black, New Wimbledon Theatre, London, UK, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson

My mum was impressed with the stage set and the solo voices of all the cast, who gave gutsy performances of the well-known rock tunes including ‘Aquarius’, ‘Let the Sun Shine In’, ‘I Got Life’ and ‘Good Morning Starshine’.   It’s certainly one to look out for on tour. 

The original  musical is written by Gerome Ragni (book and lyrics), James Rado (book and lyrics) and Galt MacDermot (music). 

HAIR THE MUSICAL, , Director – Jonathan O’Boyle, Lighting – Bem M Rogers, Choreographer – William Whelton, Designer – Maeve Black, New Wimbledon Theatre, London, UK, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson

The 50th anniversary production is directed by Jonathan O’Boyle (Pippin, Rain Man, Aspects Of Love), who is reunited with the brilliant creative team from Hope Mill Theatre: Gareth Bretherton (Musical Director), William Whelton (Choreographer), Maeve Black (Designer), Ben M Rogers (Lighting Designer), Calum Robinson (Sound Designer) and producers Katy Lipson for Aria Entertainment, Joseph Houston & William Whelton for Hope Mill Theatre, Ollie Rosenblatt for Senbla, and associate producer Guy James. 

We were invited to the soft opening of Feldon Valley hotel and golf club, which lies between Sutton-under-Brailes and Brailes in Oxfordshire. Its location is significant because it’s literally just minutes from our house in Tysoe, which meant for once we could get there for the 6.30pm start!

If you’re local you might know Feldon Valley, as Brailes Golf Club, it was for many many years a place for work functions (and golf, of course!). I had a perfectly nice day out on the driving range with a bbq when I worked for an insurance firm in my gap year – it was perfectly pleasant, but perhaps nothing to write home about.

Fast forward a decade and the place has gone through a radical transformation. The clubhouse is unrecognisable and in addition, the team have added three large lodges and the main hotel building. There’s even a small gym which is open to members.

Feldon Valley

Lodges at Feldon Valley

The accommodation at Feldon Valley has a contemporary, comfortable, personable vibe. The artwork on the walls is all shot from an on-staff photographer, Bamford toiletries line the shelves in the bathroom and the staff go out of their way to welcome you. Every guest is sent a personalised letter, even including the dog’s name. (Did I mention that they’ve special rooms for pets?)

Feldon Valley

The hotel and lodges can be booked via the likes of Hotel.com or Booking.com, however, to get the best service and equitable price, Feldon Valley encourages visitors to book direct. This is so they can provide those personal touches, like suggestions for your dog walks, which they can’t always do through a third party site. A room costs around £190 a night for a Lodge Golf View if booking direct; the Lodge Suite is £250.

The lodges are designed so that you can either hire the whole lodge – which includes 3 – 4 rooms with one room set aside as a suite which includes a kitchen diner and living room area. Alternatively, you can hire just a suite or just a room. It’s very flexible making a great space for families or larger gatherings.

The Hotel Manager mentioned that the lodges were proving popular for wedding parties – with the suites providing enough space for a bride and her bridesmaids to get ready with the photographer bustling around.

To begin with, I was indifferent to the fact that the lodge offered a ‘golf course view’, I’m no Tiger Woods, but having said that when you’re stood on the balcony, I can imagine that it would be an enviable spot for a romantic breakfast for two. The view did steal the show and the wide sliding glass doors help.

The lodges themselves are set amongst a woodland area, which is still in its infancy. In time, it’ll be a lovely walk through the wooded floor to reach the lodges.

The hotel is perceptively big, from the outside, you’d guess maybe ten or so rooms, but it’s actually quite large – probably twenty rooms upwards. The hotel vibe is somewhere between the bare wood of Soho Farmhouse and urban-chic Shoreditch. I’d say the only thing really missing from the experience is a spa.

Feldon Valley still has a very active golf community – a chap wandered into our tour looking for the clubhouse, so members are clearly still getting used to the new look. And we took a golf buggy for a drive around the grounds – which are extensive. Being no golfer, I can not really give you much of an indication if the course equates to a satisfying round of golf. But I can say that there were plenty of players still going at 7pm on a summer’s evening.

We stopped by the veg plot, ‘The Ecology Island’ no less,  where the team plan to grow produce for the restaurant. And this gives me good segway to our dinner…

Eating – Feldon Valley’s The Kitchen

It does feel a bit wrong to call it ‘the clubhouse’ because that immediately conjures up images of a 70s working mans’ club and that is doing Feldon Valley a massive injustice. The clubhouse has two areas to its restaurant, known as The Kitchen,  a more casual area for lunches, breakfast, informal meetings and a fine dining area. Both spaces have a great view over the landscape course.

On our visit, the team had set up an area for us to try several different dishes developed by executive chef, Darren Brown.  Darren joined the team in February 2019 and brings with him a wealth of culinary confidence, having previously earned a Michelin star.  It’s clear Darren is keen to support high-quality local producers such as Cacklebean Eggs, meat from Brailes neighbour Paddock Farm, cheeses from Wellocks and fruit and veg from Stratford’s AM Bailey.  (Plus anything from the Ecology Island!)

I think Marcus Waring and Monica Galetti, Masterchef the professional judges, would have been impressed with the presentation of the dishes. Standouts for us included…

Salcombe crab with kohlrabi, fennel puree and apple puree (£11)

Alan Cox’s Oddington Asparagus, garlic, parsley, mayonnaise and Cacklebean egg yolk  (£8)

Ricotta dumplings with sprouting broccoli, courgette, peas and Regato cheese  (£15)

Paddock Farm Tamworth, Pork collar & head, baby carrot, carrot chutney

Dark chocolate mousse, white chocolate ice cream, praline rice Krispies

Lower Brailes honey parfait ‘sandwich’, pear and honeycomb

Strawberry ruby chocolate dome, pistachio ice cream (£7)

And local cheese served with celery salt crackers, Eccles cake and mustard fruits. (£12)

This was all washed down with several glasses of Rioja.  And our highlights amount to roughly 80 per cent of the taster menu we tried.  We also took a gander at the Sunday roast menu which was reasonably priced, with the roast pork and roast beef coming in at £18 and £19 respectively.

Talking to the MD, he was keen to show that really Feldon Valley was as much restaurant and hotel as it was a golf club. Appealing to locals who could swing by for coffee, lunch or dinner, business people for a meeting or indeed golfers for a round. I’d say it tows a good line between all of these.

Find out more via https://www.feldonvalley.co.uk/

 

Tom and I have booked a trip to Paris for our 2nd wedding anniversary in December, so I was quite excited to get an invitation to review the current UK tour of Amélie The Musical when it opened in Oxford at New Theatre on Monday night. 

The musical is based on the five-time Oscar-nominated 2001 film, Amélie.

Amélie is the story of an astonishing young woman who lives quietly in the world, but loudly in her mind. She secretly improvises small, but extraordinary acts of kindness that bring happiness to those around her. But when a chance at love comes her way, Amélie realises that to find her own contentment she’ll have to risk everything and say what’s in her heart.

The starring role was played by French-Canadian stage and screen actress, Audrey Brisson as Amélie Poulain, whilst actor Danny Mac, former Strictly Come Dancing fave and West End performer, plays sweet daydreamer Nino Quincampoix.

I’ve not seen the original film, Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amélie Poulain, but I know that it was popular with audiences – it is to date the highest-grossing French-language film released in the United States and one of the biggest international successes for a French film. I was a bit surprised to see that the theatre wasn’t quite so full as on other visits.

This was probably the best performance we’ve seen at New Theatre during 2019 and certainly since we saw Blood Brothers before Xmas.

Audrey Brisson’s Amélie is kooky and petite. Stereotypically, you’d expect Amélie to be mousy, fragile and vulnerable, and although she certainly has moments of anxiety, she asserts her own mind throughout the story. She won’t simply accept what she’s told by her overbearing parents, that she has a weak heart and that’s her lot – like something out of the Victorian era with women frequently diagnosed as hysterical. That appealed to me.

I have always admired anybody who can play a musical instrument, especially if they can move at the same time. I remember aged 14 playing Mambo No. 5 in school jazz band and at different points, we had to stand and rock from side to side whilst playing the clarinet – I found it so difficult!

Here every member of the cast played an instrument frequently completing challenging, ensemble choreography. I found Jez Unwin who played Amelie’s father, Raphael, particularly mesmerizing because he played the cello, balanced from one shoulder (and in some lights looked a bit like Nicolas Cage!).  Jez is also part of the postmodern swing group, The FlyBoys.

I was not expecting Princess Diana to feature so heavily in this Parisian story about 20th-century bohemians, but that lead to some of the funniest scenes. Caolan McCarthy has an excellent Elton John warble during the scene where the cast reenacts part of Diana’s funeral for Amélie. Writing it down it sounds quite disrespectful, but actually, it’s very moving, you’ll just have to watch the musical for yourself.

As a musical it wasn’t filled with songs that you’d necessarily recognise, however, they were all solid numbers with many of them breaking into several harmonies and with difficult melodies to sing. All the cast had super voices, Audrey Brisson’s high register was perfect for Amélie and contrasted well with Danny Mac’s melodious alto.

On the way home, my mum and I discussed at some length, as two avid musical fans with comprehensive knowledge (spanning 1940s Hollywood to today’s frequent jukebox musical), we agreed that it was good to see a musical that had both light and shade and wasn’t a complete camp romp from start to finish. (Don’t get me wrong, love that too!)

It’s a sophisticated musical, that has moments of sadness. It’s not quite as tragic as King and I, West Side Story or Carousel, where (spoiler!) the main chap dies, but it is still poignant.  The finale chorus ends with Amelie’s ‘Where do we go from here?’ to Nino’s ‘I don’t know, Will there be sweet things? I hope so.’

With music by Hem’s Daniel Messé, lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé and book by Craig Lucas, this new musical adaptation is written by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant and is directed by Michael Fentiman.

Tickets for Amélie, which runs until 21st June, 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

This week has been pretty full on at work, so I deputised the press night of Madagascar the Musical at the New Theatre, Oxford to my Mum, an avid musicals fan. Here are her thoughts…

I was not sure what to expect when invited to see Madagascar the Musical, although having seen the 2005 animated film, how would this translate to the stage?  My concern was that it would be a poor man’s Lion King. I need not have worried as from the moment the curtain was up it became evident this much-loved movie was in good hands and that this colourful, energetic and whimsical performance from the talented cast was a winner and true to the original film!

Madagascar the Musical

The story begins

The story begins at the Central Park Zoo, Marty the zebra is celebrating his 10th birthday, but has grown bored with his daily routine and longs to experience the wild and so escapes from the zoo.

Madagascar the Musical

Thus begins the journey of 4 friends, Alex the lion aka “King of New York City” (a title that carries some celebrity status at the zoo!), Melman the giraffe, and Gloria the hippopotamus who pursue Marty, via Grand Central Station in an attempt to convince him to return.

Their journey leads them to Madagascar where they encounter other friendly and unfriendly animals. Seeing how difficult it is to survive with so many predators around the island and Alex, compelled by hunger turning to his predatory nature, Marty begins to regret his decision to leave the zoo and the four friends agree to return to the City.   

Madagascar the Musical

A lovely strong bond of friendship comes through in their combined performances, particularly between Alex and Marty.  X Factor winner Matt Terry shines as Alex, his voice is wonderfully strong with a flourish of falsetto. Marty played by Antione Murray-Straughan’s rapping, athletic Zebra is the perfect best friend.

Gloria, played by Timmika Ramsay gives a fine performance with shades of diva and plenty of comedy moments with Jamie Lee-Morgan’s, hypochondriac giraffe, Melman.

The very talented ensemble, who play everything else from lemurs to penguins -Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private who escape the zoo-bound for Antarctica, really shine leaping seamlessly from puppetry to keeper.

Madagascar the Musical

Star of the night

Credit for the song of the evening goes to Jo Parsons playing the lemur, King Julien, and cast, with a hilarious rendition of ‘Move it, Move it’. Jo’s madcap mannerisms had the audience singing along in their seats and chuckling throughout.  It was a popular choice for the finale.

Madagascar the Musical

A show not exclusively for kids (we were sat in an audience of very mixed ages), with something for all. Excellent cast, energetic dance numbers, great design and costumes, upbeat and fun-filled songs, with the odd ballad which helps drive home the message of friendship. A good family show!

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

 

Back in March, a huge group of us had a long weekend in Watchet, Somerset and we hired out a huge five-bedroom thatched, converted farmhouse, Shells Holiday Cottage, in nearby Washford.

The place had ample room for all ten of us. A kitchen large enough for multiple cooks getting their curry contributions prepped and ready for our stay-in Indian night and a table that held a feast that would do Henry VIII proud. (I’ve just finished reading Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Tamed Queen’ and it seems Kathryn Parr spent most of her married life watching the king stuff his face…) It also had five good sized bedrooms, unusually most with a double bed and the piste de resistance – a hot tub!

Two day itinerary in Watchet, Somerset

Weekend in Watchet

Weekend in Watchet

Weekend in Watchet

Mark Sowden (Instagram @marksowden)

What to do on a weekend in Watchet

It is said that Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who lived in Nether Stowey, was inspired to write his epic ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ in 1797, on a walk with his pal Wordsworth. As he approached the harbour of Watchet, having walked across the Quantock Hills, he was inspired by the harbour’s rocky beach and stalwart fisherman. There’s now a seven-foot mariner created by sculptor Alan B. Herriot standing proud on the harbourside.

Weekend in Watchet

The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared

Merrily did we drop

Below the kirk, below the hill

Below the lighthouse top.

The other statue overlooking the harbour is of Yankee Jack. Born locally in 1839, he first went to sea out of Watchet as a lad and in the 1860’s joined a Yankee ship in the American Civil War. He sang as he sailed and when he retired at the age of 61 he brought his songs home with him. These were collected and collated by Cecil Sharp and Sir Richard Terry for our English musical heritage.

Watchet is a quaint fishing village and village life centres around the working marina.  The village dates back to the dark ages when St Decuman arrived from South Wales on a raft with a cow (don’t ask). The natural harbour made it an early trading centre and the place gets its name from ‘Wacet’, the blue dye found in the cliffs.

Weekend in Watchet

Watchet’s Fossil Beach

We took the coastal path that starts from the tip of quayside up to Splash Point and then along the cliffs towards Helwell Bay (also known as Fossil Beach). About a kilometre along, after the Helwell car park and across the field, there’s a set of steps leading down to the beach.

The concrete steps mark the site of some interesting geology – known as the Watch Fault. You can see in the cliff face the different rock layers: the red and green are Mercia Mudstones when the landmass as a huge desert near the equator and the grey mudstones belong to the Helwell Marls. These marls are the youngest Jurassic rocks exposed on the Somerset coast and date from 200 million years ago when sea levels rose and Watchet would have been submerged under the sea. An ancient earthquake distributed the layers, causing the geological formations we see today.  

This also makes the beach prime fossil hunting ground. The oldest ammonites in Britain, over 201 million years old, have been found on Watchet’s beach.  It’s possible to walk and scramble along the beach back to the quayside, but I’d advise decent footwear; at parts, it’s quite slippy. There’s a final set of steps back to the top.

After a brisk coastal walk, a scone from Chives went down a treat.

Dunster Castle

On our second day, we had a walk round Dunster, famous for the castle. Unfortunately, due to the adverse weather conditions, it was closed, but the medieval town has some picturesque streets and independent shots worth killing a couple of hours in.