Saturday 12 December 2015

A Christmas Carol - The Musical

A What's Good To Do Review

On Wednesday evening we went to see A Christmas Carol - The Musical, at Blackpool Opera House. Ordinarily we wouldn't have been able to go to a show on a Wednesday evening but as it was the Cubs Carol Service on Thursday evening we had swapped nights so it fitted in perfectly for us.

Whilst I knew the gist of the story I have never actually read the book or seen the film so I was really looking forward to seeing the musical, especially when I discovered that it stars Paul Nicholas as Ebenezer Scrooge. Paul was one of my favourite singers when I was a child so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see him live. 

The Opera House, one of the UK’s largest Theatres, is located within Blackpool’s famous Winter Gardens and seats almost 3,000 people. It is a lovely theatre and has plenty of original features. We had a good view of the stage from our seats and there was a reasonable amount of leg room. We parked on a nearby car park that was only a few minutes walk away from the theatre and it cost £3 for the evening.

The well thought out set made use of the whole stage and was easily transformed from a London street to Scrooge’s house. The set and costumes were impressive and very effective at transporting us back to Dickensian times. 
The large cast were excellent, Corrine Priest as the ghost of Christmas past and Tom Bright as the ghost of Christmas present really stood out for me, Corrine’s crystal clear voice was amazing to listen to and Tom added plenty of humour to the night.  However the star of the show has to be Paul Nicholas who brilliantly portrayed Ebenezer’s transformation from a miserable miser into a much warmer hearted human being. I thought the Ghost of Christmas Future, a huge black puppet that glided around the stage was especially well done, adding a touch of darkness to the tale. 
The show was very well choreographed with lots of amazing dance routines that fitted perfectly with the songs. My particular favourite was Fezziwig’s Annual Christmas Ball which had a catchy tune and really livened things up. 

During the first half of the show we felt the sound was not very clear, especially in the numbers with the whole cast singing. This seemed to have been corrected by the second half when the lyrics were much easier to understand. 

Charles Dickens’s famous story has been very cleverly put to music by Alan Menken and the five piece orchestra, led by Andy Mudd, played constantly through the production giving life to the show. 

A wonderful wintery finale delighted the audience and was a perfect ending to a Christmas show. The production is at Blackpool until the 3rd January so if you are looking for an alternative to a traditional pantomime then this is well worth seeing.

Friday 4 December 2015

Christmas Crafts

We were very busy at Cubs this week doing lots of Christmas crafts. William is in Explorers now and has started coming to Cubs as part of his Platinum award and he is a really good help. He spent Tuesday evening pressing green heart shapes out of thick paper to make the Christmas trees. The Cubs then stuck the hearts onto the card and added sparkles which were really effective. 

I bought the cracker kits a couple of years ago for a winter camp and they didn't all get used so we had a go making them this week. We used felt tips rather than the crayons that came in the kit and they turned out really good. They were very tricky to slot together but after I had done about 10 I had got the hang of it!

Luckily I had bought new felt tips this week so they were able to use them on the calendars. The Cubs split the paper into 4 and drew a scene for each season.  

Dorothy also found a Christmas tree activity on the internet, it was very messy but the Cubs enjoyed making them. They put a large marshmallow in the microwave and when it had melted they stirred rice crispies into it. They then shaped it into a tree shape and added decorations. The base was made out of nutella and ryvita. Not everyone had a chance to make one so we will make the rest next time.

Sunday 29 November 2015

Kiss Me Kate

A What's Good To Do Review

We have seen many theatre productions and musicals over the years but we both agreed that this performance of Kiss Me, Kate was the very best show we have ever seen. 

Kiss Me Kate is a show based around a musical adaptation of The Taming of The Shrew with music by Cole Porter. We had heard of the musical but were not familiar with either the story or music; this didn’t matter at all as we knew from the very first scene that this was going to be an incredible show.

The story is set in a 1940’s theatre where Fred Graham (Quirijn de Lang) is producing, directing and starring in a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew.” The cast includes his ex-wife playing leading lady Lilli Vanessi (Jeni Bern) and a sexy, young actress, Lois Lane (Tiffany Graves) who has her eyes set on Broadway. 

Many shows make clever use of minimal sets and video projection to set the scene. Not so with this show, the sets were truly impressive and made full use of the large stage area. Kiss Me, Kate is a play within a play and the set superbly highlighted the two different strands, we had the dinginess of the backstage areas and changing rooms and then lavish and colourful set for the on-stage Shakespearian scenes. This is a huge production with around 40 people on stage at one point, it must be a nightmare to manage such large numbers but the choreography was perfect and everyone knew where they should be.
The costumes were outstanding, we had traditional Shakespearean doublet and hose for the Taming of The Shrew scenes and 40’s style clothes for the offstage action.

This is a production by Opera North but even without knowing that, it was obvious that the whole cast were skilled singers. Jeni Bern dazzled with her high notes and sheer power whilst Tiffany Graves was absolutely brilliant in my favourite tune of the night, “Always True to You in my Fashion” sung in a perfect American accent.

Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin also deserve a special mention as the two small time gangsters, performing as a great comic double act and also singing the hilarious “Brush up Your Shakespeare” - a real hit with the audience.

No matter how good the cast, what really makes a musical dazzle is the music. Opera North have their own orchestra, conducted by David Charles Abell, and their music filled the theatre, perfectly accompanying the actors and bringing the show to life.

The Lowry theatre is really easy to get to as it is just off the M602 motorway. There was a Christmas market outside the theatre which we enjoyed walking round prior to the show. There is plenty of parking in the Lowry centre car park and a good choice of restaurants should you wish to eat there.

This was a truly outstanding night out and we came away humming the tunes all the way home. 

The Winter’s Tale - The Dukes, Lancaster

We usually steer clear of Shakespeare, the last time I watched one of his plays was 25 years ago at school for English Literature and the only thing I can remember about it was that I hadn’t a clue what was going on throughout the whole play! It’s fair to say I didn’t enjoy it at all and I have never seen another Shakespeare play since. When we were offered the chance to see The Winter’s Tale we thought it would be a good opportunity to broaden our literary experiences, lots of people love Shakespeare so perhaps we should give it another try. Knowing that the language that Shakespeare uses can be a little tricky to follow we thought it best to do a little research beforehand to find out what the play was about. I am so glad we did because whilst we still found the language difficult to follow in places, knowing the outline of the story made it much easier to follow and know what was going on in the play.

The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s later works and is a tale of jealousy and mistrust, the first act is quite dark, showing King Leontes of Sicily (Conrad Nelson) turn on his pregnant wife Hermione (Hannah Barrie) with the unfounded suspicion that she has been unfaithful to him with his best friend King Polixenes of Bavaria (Jack Lord). Hermione apparently dies of shock following her trial and her newborn daughter is banished from the kingdom, presumed dead.

The second act is a complete contrast, set 16 years later in Bavaria where the infant Perdita has grown into a beautiful young woman. She has been cared for by a shepherd who found her as a baby and brought her up as his own.
The sets were simple but very effective and made clever use of video projection.
The acting throughout was fantastic, during the first act Conrad really stood out with his portrayal of the emotion and turmoil that King Leontes was going through. He convincingly showed the King’s jealousy, anger, grief and finally regret as he came to terms with the loss of his wife and children and then realised the error of his ways.
The second half was much livelier and the rest of the cast took their opportunity to shine. I especially enjoyed the scenes with the musicians on stage, their singing and musical abilities really enhanced the show.  

The Dukes is easy to find, situated close to the centre of Lancaster with plenty of parking nearby. The car park we used had an evening rate of £1.40 and was very close to the theatre.

Directed by Conrad Nelson this production from Northern Broadsides brings a less well known Shakespeare play to Lancaster and makes it very accessible to ordinary people. We really enjoyed our Shakespeare experience and won’t be leaving it 25 years to the next one!

The Glenn Miller Story

We have had a busy month reviewing shows for What's Good to Do and have seen a variety of different shows.

We started the month with The Glenn Miller Story which was a great show, our review is below.

My Grandma was a big fan of both Glenn Miller and Tommy Steele so I was looking forward to seeing this new show. We were certainly amongst the youngest members of the audience but with the main star being 78 this was perhaps to be expected! 

Tommy, playing Glenn also narrates the story, he starts the show with an American accent however his cheeky cockney accent made several reappearances throughout the show! His voice is still very powerful and whilst he didn’t join the younger members of the cast in the dance routines he moved about the stage like somebody 20 years his junior. 

The show opens with a short introduction by Tommy and is set just before Glenn takes his last flight. We are then taken back in time to Glenn’s earlier years as a struggling musician and his first meeting with Helen, played by Sarah Soetaert. Sarah was obviously a lot younger than Tommy and it did look a little odd, especially in the more tender scenes. 
The first half is quite slow paced and includes a good number of songs sung by Tommy with plenty of dancing by the much younger chorus. Once Glenn’s band had been formed the second half of the show picked up pace and the 16 piece orchestra took to the stage. We were treated to a powerful performance by talented musicians who played many of Glenn’s memorable hits as the story moved to the later war years and Glenn’s time as a Major in the army.

The ending of the musical, and Glenn’s disappearance over the English Channel was dealt with movingly and the band's last number was Pennsylvania 6-5000, a theme that had repeated throughout the night.

Following a standing ovation, the cast returned to the stage for an encore with a medley of hits that the audience joined in with.
It is difficult to pick out one particular person as a highlight of the show, Tommy brought a great feeling of fun, Sarah, as Helen was perfectly cast and all the singers, dancers and musicians were faultless in their performance. 
It was a reasonably short play, we were leaving the theatre just after 9.30 and had we not needed to get back it would have been nice to sample some of Manchester city’s nightlife.

The Palace theatre is in the middle of Manchester and for those driving into the city there are plenty of car parks in the area. We parked in the adjacent NCP car park which has an evening rate of £6. One word of advice, those with larger cars might struggle in some of the rather snug parking bays.

I wouldn’t say we are into 40’s music but we really enjoyed the musical as it is such a treat to hear a big band playing live and it was obvious that the rest of the audience enjoyed it too.

Beauty & The Beast - The Dukes, Lancaster

Our family are real fans of The Dukes, the theatre in the centre of Lancaster, which specialises in bringing something a little different to the stage. We have seen a number of their productions and when we were asked by What's Good To Do to review Beauty & The Beast we were thrilled. Here is our review of the night.

This is the time of year when many families make perhaps their only visit to the theatre to see a pantomime. Most pantomimes simply follow the same traditional stories that have been told for many years; The Dukes break the mold taking a traditional story, putting it in a completely different setting and adding a twist or two along the way. Eddie Robson has skillfully created a masterpiece with his retelling of the classic Beauty & The Beast story and I much prefer his version!

The entrance to the theatre had been decorated with roses and a fake grass floor, setting the scene before we even reached our seats. The play is performed in The Round theatre which is a lovely setting for the production as all the audience are very close to the action. With a circular stage the cast are going to have their backs to the audience at some point in the story but the play is carefully directed to make use of the whole stage, eliminating this problem.

With a cast of just six actors but at least a dozen different roles, quick costume changes were required. I wouldn't highlight the performance of any particular actor as they were all top class and it is nice to see some familiar faces from previous Dukes productions. The opening song was very well choreographed and we knew from this first scene that this show was going be something special.

The costumes really made the production shine, the beast's outfit was wonderful with a mask, wig and fake skin all making a quite scary character although the younger girls sat next to us didn’t seem too scared by him! The other costumes varied from mundane everyday clothing to fanciful outfits for the enchanted characters; never has a more elaborate hatstand been seen! Our 10 year old particularly liked the suit of armour, especially when he didn’t want to take it off at the end!
Sound effects and video were used in the show to add atmosphere and also as an integral part of the story. The scene with the video film was very cleverly done and was my favourite part of the show. We thoroughly enjoyed our night out and it was the perfect start to the Christmas season.

Beauty and the Beast is playing until Saturday 2nd January so there is plenty of time to come and see this brilliant production.

The Dukes is a registered charity and they have set up a number of ways to support them to help safeguard the future of the theatre. Choose from Friends, Patrons or Guardians and you can find out all the details here.

Monday 9 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday

Yesterday we attended the Remembrance Sunday parade in the village. We had a fantastic turn out by the group, one of the best we have had for a long time. The weather had been terrible and I thought we were in for a wet and cold morning however we were very lucky and paraded into church and out again in between showers.

Saturday 31 October 2015

Clearing leaves

Luke has been busy clearing the leaves today. He has worked really hard and taken many trailer loads of leaves to the field. 

Sunday 25 October 2015


Today Mark and Luke have been busy in the garden. We are putting in a new bed for the rhubarb and tidying up the area where the trampoline was. Mark made a soil riddler with some wood and old drawer runners to riddle the soil and then the soil is going to be used in the rhubarb bed. All the stones and roots stay in the top and all the nice soil drops through. Luke was filling the soil riddler as Mark was pushing it backwards and they were getting through the pile of soil quite quickly.

The rhubarb bed has been edged with a sleeper and it is looking much tidier now.

Autumn has well and truly landed now, the trees are quite bare and most of the leaves are on the ground. The poplar trees on the drive look impressive but they drop a lot of leaves and branches in autumn. It's a never ending battle collecting them but next weekend we will collect them and burn them. Luke enjoys collecting them if he can burn them! 

The cabbages never really did much and even the caterpillars seem to have given up on them! I think we will try something different next year.

Sunday 4 October 2015

Bonfire Night

Throughout September Blackpool has hosted the Fireworks Championships and whilst we haven't managed to see any of the displays this year, friends have said how good they have been. I love a good firework display and this year I think we will get together with my family and have our own display in the field. 

I will be getting our fireworks from Aldi this year as their Specialbuys deal on bonfire essentials is available from the 15th and 18th October 2015, but be quick as once they’re gone, they’re gone! 

Not everybody has our Scouting experience so to help get the fire started Aldi have a range of dry wood including Heat Logs (£2.99), Kiln Dried Logs (£3.99) and Firelighters (£0.79). 

No Bonfire Night party is complete with fireworks and here are some of the fireworks that are part of the Aldi Specialbuys deal.

The Blasting Barrel (£9.99), lives up to its name, erupting with high silver plumes while changing colour and creating loud crackling white flashes. 

I have a lot of younger nephews and nieces who don't like loud bangs and the Merlin (£19.99) or Astro (£4.99) selection boxes are packed with colourful displays, minus the loud bangs. These are also great for those with pets. The Merlin also comes with a firework safety lighter. 

Another bonfire night favourite at our house is sparklers. I love writing my name with them and drawing stars with the sparkler. These giant sparklers look a lot of fun.

With products ranging from £1.39 to £39.99 there should be something to suit everyone's budget.

Friday 2 October 2015

Bike Ride to Fleetwood

William had an inset day today so we decided to go for a bike ride. William wanted to do 60 miles but as we needed to be back to pick Luke up from school we ended up doing 53 miles. My legs were giving up on the last stretch so I'm glad we didn't go any further!

We set off in the fog but that soon lifted and it was a gorgeous day and really warm. We had one slight hicuup when the back wheel suddenly went flat but luckily there was a large grass verge so we quickly mended it and were soon on our way again.

We stopped for lunch at McDonalds in Fleetwood and sat in the sun to eat our lunch.

We then rode along the front to Blackpool and then made our way back through Singleton and Elswick. Unfortunately we didn't have time to stop at Bonds for an ice cream but once we had picked Luke up we went to a local farm shop for a well deserved ice cream.

53 miles is the longest ride we have ever done and takes us to over 600 miles since July!

Tuesday 29 September 2015

Aldi Specialbuys - Cycling Clothes Review

A What's Good To Do Review

I do a lot of cycling so was thrilled to be asked to review some cycling clothes from Aldi. With the summer fast disappearing I knew I wouldn’t be able to wear my shorts for much longer and had been looking at winter cycling clothes but with cycling gear being quite expensive looking was as far as it went! Thanks to Aldi I am now set up for winter with a great set of clothes that include a pair of tights, Merino base layer long sleeve top, winter cycling gloves, hat and ergonomic cycling socks.

The ladies tights are available in sizes S – L and are very reasonably priced at £13.99, I am usually a size 14 and the medium leggings are a ladies size 12-14 and were a perfect fit. The tights have reflective strips down the legs which is important when cycling in winter and a zip at the bottom of the leg which makes taking them off much easier. I am 6 foot tall and used to sports clothes being a bit short in the leg but I found the Aldi tights quite a good length and a pair of black socks will cover the gap between the bottom of the tights and my ankles. The tights are a really good fit, they have an Italian gel seatpad which was really comfortable, even on long rides and even though they weren’t quite long enough in the leg for me they didn’t ride up at all when I was riding. They have a wind and water resistant front fabric and are inside brushed for warmth, I haven’t used them in the wet yet but I can certainly vouch that they kept my legs lovely and warm on an early morning ride.

The Merino base layer top costs £15.99 and is the perfect extra layer in the winter months. It is warm enough to wear on its own, under a jacket when it is cooler or when it gets colder as a base layer. It is made of 100% pure Merino wool and is breathable and naturally odour resistant. It is longer at the back for a better fit and importantly doesn’t ride up when riding my bike. Again I tried the medium and found it was a very good fit and very comfortable to wear. The sleeves were a good length and it felt soft on my skin.

The cycling gloves are unisex and are available in XS-XL.  They are very reasonably priced at £4.99. They have a warm lining and padded palm and have a velcro strip at the wrist to ensure a good fit.  The reflective detail will be good when cycling in the dark and will help make me more visible to other road users. They have a windproof and waterproof membrane so I won’t have cold, wet hands this winter. I received a pair of XS gloves and thought they would be too small but in actual fact they fitted really well. 

The cycling cap fits snugly under my helmet and will keep my head and ears warm. The softshell fabric is waterproof, breathable and wind resistant. It costs £4.99 and is available in Black, sizes S-XL or Black/Neon Yellow, sizes S-XL.

I normally wear my everyday  socks when cycling but Aldi also sent me a pair of their ergonomic cycling socks to try. The socks are specially designed and they even have L and R on them so you know which foot to put them on! They are for size 4 – 7 but they were still comfortable on my size 8 feet. I didn’t realise socks could be so hi-tech but these have a triaxis bandage which supports and stabilises the ankle with compression and mid foot bandage to stabilise the central part of the foot and provides sufficient cushioning in the shoes. As well as this there is comfort padding which is integrated padding systems where the feet need particular support.  With so much support it’s no wonder that these socks were really comfortable to wear.

Everything is machine washable and up to now I have washed the leggings, Merino top and socks, they have all washed well, even after a particularly muddy off road ride. I have to say I am really impressed with both the quality and fit of the clothes and of course the price. I will be popping down to Aldi this week to kit out the rest of the family with winter gear as they are all quite envious of my new cycling clothes. It’s also great when I am busy to be able to pick up new cycling gear when I am doing the weekly shop.  If you cycle I would certainly recommend that you get down to Aldi and look at the great range of cycling gear that they have and get kitted out for winter.