Beauty and the Beast at St Helen’s Theatre Royal

On Sunday tea time I took Chloe and Amy along with Chloe’s best friend Willow and her mum over to St Helen’s to watch their October half term panto; Beauty and the Beast.  Ben had decided he wasn’t that bothered about coming but my girls love the story of Beauty and the Beast so I knew they’d really enjoy it.  Amy was a little apprehensive as she remembers seeing Beauty and the Beast at The Epstein a few years ago and being quite scared of the Beast.  I reminded her that she’s much bigger now and that she knows the story has a happy ending!

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The Gruffalo at The Lowry – Review

It’s hard to believe that the magic of the Grufflao has now been part of our lives almost twenty years (it was published in spring 1999 to be precise!).  I remember a friend buying me a copy as a gift when I first started teaching and it has been a staple in both my classroom and at home ever since.

I first saw The Gruffalo live on stage when Ben was just 6 months old, Dave had bought me the tickets for Christmas and I was so excited!  Some eight years later and it was now Amy’s turn to experience the Tall Stories musical adaptation of the much loved picture book.

The Gruffalo at The Lowry

Whilst I’m sure that Ben and Chloe would have thoroughly enjoyed the show too, Amy & I had tickets for a showing during school hours which meant it was a special #MummyandBo adventure which she was very much looking forward to.

The 55 minute performance (with no interval) is recommended for children age 3+ and sticks closely to the original story which, let’s face it, we could probably all just about recite by heart anyway!  I love the way the story is narrated on stage to ensure that the words from the story are interweaved into the performance.

Having seen the show before some years ago I thought I knew what to expect, and to a point I was right, however the show has seen some updates to the script and costumes etc which really kept it fresh despite being so very familiar.

The Gruffalo at The Lowry

The songs are exciting and lively, the characters comical and the acting spot on – Amy was enthralled throughout the performance and I was equally entertained.  So often I find myself enjoying theatre shows through the eyes of my children but this one I enjoyed for myself, watching Amy enjoy it was just an added bonus!

The Gruffalo makes for a great introduction to theatre – being both familiar and exciting and with just the right level of interaction to stop little ones from getting bored or fidgety.

This musical adaptation of this classic picture book is a sure fire hit – you should definitely go and see it.  The Gruffalo is showing at The Lowry until 07.01.18 and tickets are available here.

*We were invited to see The Gruffalo at The Lowry free of charge for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own* 

The Bear at Waterside – Review

 

The Bear runs at Waterside until the 6th of January and tickets are available now.  You can even pre-order a Slumber Pack for £2 containing a carton of milk & a cookie – this was a lovely bonus for the kids and I was quite envious of their little snack!

The Snowman, Opera House Manchester – Review

As a child of the eighties, The Snowman is a long-established part of my childhood Christmases, sitting down to watch the film adaptation of the Raymond Briggs book in front of a roaring coal fire with a mince pie . . .

What I hadn’t realised until very recently is that the live show first appeared on stage over twenty years ago – there was me thinking this was a new thing!  The Snowman is currently running Opera House Manchester, providing a glorious starting point to our festive season.

The Snowman

Although Ben, Chloe and Amy have most definitely seen The Snowman on tv and have ‘read’ the book, I don’t think they’re all that familiar with the story so at first they were a little unsure as to what to expect from the show.  Just like the book and the film, there’s no words – the story is told entirely through music and dance – which is utterly beautiful but certainly a new experience for the likes of Amy who has only just turned 4 this week!  At first I think she was a little confused by the fact that nobody was talking but she soon settled into it and was completely absorbed by the magic happening on stage in front of her.

The set and costumes were very clever, and as is usually the case Ben was keen to figure out what might be going on backstage as we moved from scene to scene – he finds stage trickery absolutely fascinating but it’s a little frustrating at times when he’s trying to explain things to the girls instead of just letting the magic wash over them! I adored the way the scenery referenced the book and film so closely whilst adding it’s own twist.

The Snowman on stage

For me the highlights of the show included the opening scenes which, from memory, mirrored the opening scenes of the film very closely – I felt like move for move I was watching the Christmas film of my childhood come to life on stage in front of me.  And then the iconic flying scene with Walking in the Air sung by Aled Jones (as featured on the album One Voice at Christmas) and some skillful use of wires gave me goosebumps from the start.

The stage show stays true to the original book and film adaptation whilst adding in elements such as bad guy, Jack Frost to give the show it’s own identity.  We loved the “battle” between The Snowman and Jack Frost to win the Ice Princess (who wowed my girls by “dancing on her toes like a proper ballerina“) and Scotty Snowman raised a lot of laughs from the grown ups with the way he chose to deal with Jack Frost!

The Snowman live on stage

The magic of The Snowman runs through the show from start to finish – the music, the costumes, the beautiful dancing and even a smattering of fake snow at the very end.  I was almost reduced to tears when it had finished – my children were as enchanted as I was.  It’s worth considering that with a running time of 1hr and 45 minutes (including an interval) this is a long time to sit and watch a show with no talking or interaction – and as such I don’t think I would take anyone younger than Amy.  She was definitely pretty fidgety in the run up to the interval and spent the second half sat on my knee whispering to me about what was going on.  She’s a pretty sparky little girl and had a good grasp of the story being played out in front of her but I know the lady sat behind me said her son, who is almost 5, wouldn’t have been able to sit and watch it.  Although it’s a children’s book – I do think the show itself is quite grown up in a lot of ways.  Chloe and 6 and Ben at 8 were perfect for it.

The Snowman runs at Opera House Manchester until Sunday 12th November before moving on to Glasgow, Milton Keynes and Brighton.  Tickets are available here.

You can also see what Sarah from Extraordinary Chaos and Jenny from The Brick Castle thought of the show.

*We attended The Snowman at Opera House Manchester free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own.  This post contains affiliate links.*

Disney on Ice presents Passport to Adventure at Manchester Arena

On Wednesday evening I picked everyone up early from childcare, the big two got quickly changed in the car and we hopped a tram into town, eating butties on the way!  There’s nothing like the excitement of a cheeky after school adventure!  Of course they didn’t know where they were going – they never do.

We got off the tram at Manchester Victoria ready to climb the stairs to Manchester Arena only to be met with notices stating that backpacks were not to be allowed in the venue.  Of course it makes perfect sense, I understand why they’ve instigated that ruling.  Unfortunately I just didn’t know anything about it beforehand.  It wasn’t like there was even really anything in my backpack – just a camera and a few snacks – I tend to carry it out of habit, especially if I’m out with the three of them on my own.  I like to keep my hands free!

So I’m left standing there on my own, with three kids having to make the decision between chucking my bag away or taking them home again and missing out on the show . . . at this point I was extremely glad that they still didn’t know what we were actually going to see.  It took me a minute or two to get my head straight and to come up with a plan – having three little ones rabbiting on at you isn’t conducive to thinking properly!  I decided I would try and get a smaller bag to decant my things into and dump my rucksack.  I’d had it a couple of years and it was on it’s way out – I’d been looking for a replacement for a little while.  I decided that the value of my old bag versus the value of the tickets and experience meant the bag would have to go.  A quick trip to the M&S Simply Food in the train station for a carrier bag to decant my bag into and we were all set.

No backpacks allowed in Manchester Arena

By the time we’d got over this debacle and made our way round to the box office, we’d basically missed the VIP Meet & Greet so we didn’t get to see Mickey or any of the other characters this time.  I don’t think the kids were all that bothered though, they were just glad to be there and to see “The Gingers“.

We soon realised when the show started that the Passport to Adventure show is extremely similar to the Disney on Ice Silver Anniversary Celebration we had seen in Liverpool some 18 months ago.  It featured the same characters in the same order – and whilst still impressive, probably lacked the wow factor for us as we were left feeling that we’d seen it all before.

We're going on an adventure at Disney on Ice, Manchester Arena

That said, Ben and I both took great pleasure in watching the show through Amy’s eyes instead.  Although Ben and Chloe have been to two Disney on Ice shows previously, this was Amy’s first time.  I’d always felt she was too young to really appreciate it before, and too young to cope with such a late night.  She absolutely loved it – she was mesmerised by all the different characters from some of her favourite films (Frozen and The Little Mermaid are especially well watched in our house – though Chloe would have you believe she’s now too grown up for Frozen!)

Very excited to see Olaf

Highlights for us included the wonderful national costumes during It’s A Small World, the impressive use of flight for Peter Pan & Tinkerbell, and the enormous inflatable Ursula who held a commanding presence on the ice!  Of course the cherry on the cake was the Frozen performance at the end – Amy was beyond excited when Anna skated into view but almost burst when Olaf bumbled onto the ice!!  The clever use of special effects to make it “snow” added magic to the performance.

Enormous inflatable Ursula at Disney on Ice

Anna & Olaf at Disney on Ice, Manchester Arena

Snow effects during Frozen at Disney on Ice

Disney On Ice presents Passport to Adventure runs until Sunday 15th October in Manchester and TICKETS ARE STILL AVAILABLE. Prices start around £31 per person including the booking fee and Venue Restoration Levy.

After Manchester, Disney On Ice presents Passport to Adventure will visit:

Arena Birmingham 18-29 October
SSE Arena, Belfast 3-5 November
Citywest Hotel, Dublin 10-12 November
FlyDSA Arena, formerly Sheffield Arena 15-19 November
The O2, London 20-30 December

Looking forward to the new year, tickets are now available for Disney on Ice Worlds of Enchantment hitting Liverpool Echo Arena on 11th April 2018.

Check out what The Brick Castle and Red Rose Mummy thought of Disney on Ice presents Passport to Adventure too!

*We attended Disney on Ice at Manchester Arena free of charge for the purpose of review, all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

*Read more reviews here*

In the Night Garden Live – A Guest Review

It’s safe to say that my three are past the point of being all that bothered about In the Night Garden, in fact it was never really a programme that caught on in our house at all despite being avid CBeebies fans.  However, we all know that the familiar plinky plonky music of In the Night Garden signifies bedtime for many a toddler and my friend’s son is no different.  When I was offered the chance to review In the Night Garden Live at the Trafford Centre this summer, rather than pass it up I asked my friend to go in my place and review the show for you. 

Here’s what they thought: 

In the Night Garden Live

It was early on Saturday morning when Large Fry woke up and what echoed down the monitor was ‘me see Makka Pakka now?‘  We’d only told him a couple of days ago but he was very excited to be seeing the real Makka Pakka & Upsy Daisy.  So we set off on our journey to Manchester to meet up with his cousin & Auntie to see the In The Night Garden Live show.

As soon as we arrived he spotted the posters and shouted at the top of his voice the names of the different characters.  He was super excited and when we met up with his cousin they ran together hand in hand to the entrance.  He also asked lots of questions about the arena & if it would burst if he bit it!

In the Night Garden Live - Showdome

We were greeted by some enthusiastic members of staff who engaged with Large Fry & contained his excitement whilst in the foyer & in the short, well organised queue.

Once inside the inflatable arena, before the show starts, they have a Pinky Ponk projected onto the wall which rotates around the room.  From the minute the two children saw this they were pointing at it shouting LOUDLY ‘it’s the Pinky Ponk!’ ‘Where the Pinky Ponk go?‘ Their eyes never left the ceiling as they were racing each other to spot where it would come from next.  Tracking it across the arena & looking at the stage kept them occupied for a while but just before the show started we were beginning to get a little overexcited to say the least!

There are two In the Night Garden Live shows to choose from this summer – each lasts just under an hour.  All the characters feature in both stories and they are completely unrelated tales so I would suggest it’s more a case of picking a convenient time than particularly needing to choose which show you see.  As it was, we saw the Ninky Nonk show, this is a show in which you see Iggle Piggle having an adventure with Upsy Daisy and losing his blanket.

In the Night Garden Live - Iggle Piggle in his boat

In The Night Garden Live combines a clever mix of puppetry and full costumes.  The puppeteers are all dressed in green so as to camouflage with the background and they also move around the stage props and scenery.  Every time a new character came on Large Fry would shout ‘me hug [insert random ITNG characters name]‘. This was a huge surprise & I dare say if we had opted for the character meet and greet after he would have gone shy and refused to look at the characters when up close anyway.  This is something you can book up when buying your tickets.

I have never seen Large Fry so animated & focused on anything like this EVER!  He was up on his feet dancing and singing along to the familiar songs.

ITNG Live - audience

ITNG Live is a 45 minute show, perfect for the children it is aimed at, Large Fry at 2 1/2 got a little restless towards the end but I think he was almost overstimulated by it all & too excited.  Even at 6 months his brother Small Fry is transfixed by Iggle Piggle and the whole of the ITNG crew on the tv but I wouldn’t run to a ticket for him for a year or two at least.

I would definitely recommend the show to anyone who has an enthusiastic ITNG fan or two in the family – I don’t think there was a child under the dome on Saturday who wasn’t excited, dancing or having a whale of a time.  It was magical to watch the looks on their faces & their awe and wonderment throughout.

In the Night Garden Live is running through till the end of August at the Trafford Centre and tickets are still available.  At £14.50 for a standard ticket (with adults & children paying the same price), this could be an expensive hour of entertainment but if you’ve got a real In the Night Garden fan in your household the look on their face might well be worth the spend! 

*We were invited to see In the Night Garden Live free of charge for the purposes of review – all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Gangsta Granny, Manchester Opera House – Review

Birmingham Stage Company presents Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. Gilly Tompkins - Granny Ashley Cousins - Ben

I’m pleased to be able to say that Ben is a keen and confident reader.  He devours books and can often be found lying on his bed, long after he should have been asleep, reading to himself.  I’m always torn between being cross with him and secretly quite pleased – I know it’s something I often got into trouble for myself!  Although David Walliams books are usually recommended for around age 9+, Ben received Gangsta Granny for Christmas last year and has since gone on to read Billionaire Boy.  He’s more than capable of reading them but I’m obviously aware that some of the themes might be more tricky for him and so we chat about what he’s reading fairly regularly.

When the opportunity arose to see Gangsta Granny on stage at the Manchester Opera House I obviously jumped at it, knowing that Ben would be absolutely thrilled but also genuinely really looking forward to it myself!  I love going to the theatre and the educational benefits for children are wide-ranging.  So far Ben has only really seen pantos or quite short plays (like The Tiger Who Came to Tea) so this was a bit of a new experience for him.

Gangsta GrannyThe performance runs for 2hrs 10 mins including a 20 minute interval – which is obviously quite a long time to sit still and makes for a very late night on a school night.  We got home at 10pm last night so I had one very tired little boy this morning – but it was totally worth it.  With the length of the show and some of the more grown up themes I would suggest that you probably don’t want to be taking anyone much younger than Ben to watch Gangsta Granny – it’s very much a Key Stage 2 thing to my mind.

If, like me, you don’t really know much about the story of Gangsta Granny – then I don’t want to spoil it for you by giving you too much detail but from what Ben has told me afterwards the performance remains true to the book.  There were several times that Ben turned to me during the show and said he remembered one of the characters saying or doing exactly that.  He also told me a couple of the ways the performance differed from the novel which gave me the opportunity to chat to him about how and why when books are adapted for film and stage they often miss bits out or enhance bits.

Birmingham Stage Company presents Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. Gilly Tompkins - Granny Ashley Cousins - Ben

The set was incredible – with a thread of dance running through the entire show, any movement of props or change in scenery became a performance itself meaning you almost didn’t notice as the scenes changed.  Everything just flowed seamlessly and completely drew the audience in.  Ben is often very keen to understand how things have worked on stage, conscious of the magic and trickery that goes into a set.  This time he was too absorbed in the performance itself to even notice.

I knew that the basic premise of the story was a boy’s relationship with his Granny and I knew that she was very poorly at the end.  I knew to expect humour – it is David Walliams after all.  What I didn’t expect was the clear lesson in respecting our elders, in not allowing old people to become invisible and valuing them.  As the local shopkeeper explains to Ben “Just because she’s old, doesn’t mean she’s boring“.   As Ben’s parents visited Granny in hospital and could barely spare 5 minutes to keep her company, I turned to my Ben and said “Don’t you ever do that to me!” – we chatted on the way home about how Ben’s Dad was treating his Mum and how very sad it must have made her feel.

Birmingham Stage Company presents Gangsta Granny by David Walliams.

From start to finish the show is filled with comedy moments (including plenty of cabbage based trumps) – I laughed, I very nearly cried.  The acting is spot on and we were both fully invested in what was going on on stage in front of us.  I think one of the highlights for Ben was probably when Mum and Dad left the stage and became part of the audience, sitting just a couple of seats down from us – he couldn’t stop staring at them!  It’s also worth mentioning that Granny’s illness and death was dealt with so very sensitively – it’s emotional but without unnecessary drama.  It was written and performed perfectly.

Gangsta Granny Live on Stage absolutely lived up to every bit of hype and excitement for us.  (If you’d like to read other people’s thoughts on the show check out The Brick Castle, Extraordinary Chaos and Tired Mummy of Two who were also there.)  The show runs until Sunday and there are still tickets available.  Ben is already looking forward to Awful Auntie in the autumn!  He’d best get saving up.

*Ben and I were invited to the press night of Gangsta Granny free of charge for the purposes of review.  All thoughts and opinions remain our own*

*Read more reviews here*

*Read about more of our adventures here*

The Very Hungry Caterpillar at The Lowry – Review

The Very Hungry Caterpillar puppet

All too often I whisk the big two off to the theatre leaving Amy at home because it’s too late or too grown up.  Not this time. Tonight it was Amy’s turn for an adventure.  Tonight we went to The Lowry to watch The Very Hungry Caterpillar performed live on stage.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a literary icon.  A story I remember from my own childhood, one I’ve used in the classroom and one Ben could tell by heart at less than three years old.  It was in fact first published in 1969!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar show lasts for about an hour and is suitable for children from around the age of 2, or essentially when they can sit still long enough to watch the performance.  At three, Amy is getting much better at this and an hour seems to be a good length of show for her to manage.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar - The Lowry

Of course it would be impossible to stretch out the tale of The Very Hungry Caterpillar itself over a whole hour.  The show is actually made up of four separate Eric Carle stories – The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, Mister Seahorse, The Very Lonely Firefly and finally, The Very Hungry Caterpillar performed with an array of large colourful puppets.

I must admit to not being overly familiar with the first three stories, I know of them but they’re not books we own and I don’t think Amy will have ever heard the stories before but that didn’t stop her being any the less entranced by the performance on stage.

Each of the tales is told through a mixture of music, dance, puppetry and reciting Eric Carle’s words just as they were written.  The puppets have been made beautifully and are so true to Eric Carle’s original tissue paper collages that they may as well have just leaped from the page.

Although the audience is of course very young, it was clear that they were all really enjoying the show as everyone was sat beautifully watching and listening, there was a lovely hum of chatter as children excitedly talked about the things they saw on stage, Amy included.  She spent much of the show sat on the edge of her seat utterly mesmerised.  (It was as much of a pleasure for me to watch her enjoying it as it was to watch the show itself)

The pièce de résistance of course, and what we’d all really come to see, was the final act.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Now I can pretty recite this story word for word, as I’m sure can most of you, so it was almost difficult not to tell the story along with the performers!  However nobody could resist shouting out the immortal words “But he was still hungry . . . !”

The Very Hungry Caterpillar puppet

As soon as the show had finished, Amy announced, “Oh, but I miss them!” – she wasn’t ready for the show to be over.  She chatted all the way home about the different things she’d seen, retelling bits of the stories and sharing her highlights.  I would say that our #MummyandBo Adventure was a roaring success!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar makes for a wonderful introduction to theatre – especially for being such a familiar story.  The show runs several times a day at The Lowry until Saturday 25th February.

*We were invited to The Lowry to watch The Very Hungry Caterpillar show free of charge for the purpose of review.  All thoughts and opinions remain our own*

SuperBooty at The Epstein Theatre – Review

Over the last couple of years we have become reasonably regular visitors to the refurbished Epstein Theatre in Liverpool – it’s such a lovely theatre to visit with the kids.  Last Friday night we were lucky enough to be invited along to the first night of a brand-new musical comedy, SuperBooty.  Written, directed and performed by the Epstein’s resident panto dame Michael Chapman – we knew we were in for a treat!

Ben and Chloe were thrilled to recognise some familiar faces on stage – in particular the talented Lewis Pryor who they’ve now seen in a couple of Epstein shows and the return of Jordan Davis (who in fairness adds little more to the show than his abs).

SuperBooty was billed as being “packed with non-stop knockabout naughtiness” – which it certainly was!  One of the things I love most about Michael Chapman’s performances is just how close to the line they are, there’s so much cheek and adult humour which is done really carefully so as to go right over the kids’ heads.  There were plenty of moments which had me roaring with laughter and then having to explain to Ben that it was a “grown up joke” which thankfully he just accepts.

A surprise highlight of the show for us was local Street Dance star Harry Barnes (aka Harry Popper) who absolutely wowed the audience with his popping and locking along with impressive performances from Anamal Dance Company.  Ben has been attending Street Dance classes himself for almost a year now and watched open-mouthed as children of his own age executed perfectly synchronised performances on stage.  He came away fully inspired to practice more.

One of the things I love most about taking my kids to the theatre is the conversation it generates over the coming days and weeks when they remember bits of a story or we talk about jokes that were made.  Since watching SuperBooty, Ben and Chloe have spent lots of time shouting about Kevin Defrostus and “dabbing” –  they’ve attempted to teach Amy with mixed results!

All in SuperBooty was a hit for us – and I’m only sorry that it’s short run has now finished so you can’t go and see it for yourselves!  However, I suggest you check out what else is on offer at The Epstein Theatre over the coming months and keep an eye out for the Easter panto, Sleeping Beauty.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at The Lowry

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has long been a favourite of mine.  I first read  devoured it some thirteen or so years ago as a fairly newly qualified teacher with more than a passing interest in autism.  I’ve read many books, both biographical and fictional, focused around autism but this one has really stayed with me.

Kirst and I saw a National Theatre live stream of  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the cinema in Leeds a few years ago and loved it but had yet to actually see it performed live on stage.  I may have squealed when the invitation to go and see it at The Lowry arrived in my inbox and I quickly emailed Kirst to see if she was free to come with me (sorry Dave!).

So, Wednesday night saw Kirst and I attend the opening night of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at The Lowry.  Mid-week gin and theatre with my best friend is always going to be a winner but when it’s to see one of your all time favourite novels performed on stage, hopes are high for a good night!

From the off the show is an assault on the senses – loud music, bright flashing lights and aggressive swearing litter the performance but this only serves to fully immerse you in the story and it’s powerful portrayal of what it is to be on the autistic spectrum.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Everything about the National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is incredible – the fast pace and frantic streaming of prime numbers up the dark walls of the set combined with loud music and spectacular acting from Scott Reid combine to allow the audience to really connect with the fear and frustrations Christopher contends with as he tries to solve the mystery of who killed Wellington!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

In stark contrast, the moments of quiet bring really powerful emotion to the stage and I felt tears trickle down my cheeks on more than one occasion.  Christopher’s teacher, Siobhan (Lucianne McEvoy) was a calming influence throughout the performance and reminded me of why I’ve always loved working with children and young people on the autistic spectrum.

Obviously I don’t want to go into details and spoil the story for you if you don’t already know it, but I implore you to go and see it if you get chance.  It’s a truly wonderful performance, fully deserving of the standing ovation received on opening night.  I laughed, I cried, I empathised.  I’d watch it again tomorrow given half a chance.

*We were invited to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at The Lowry free of charge for the purposes of writing this review.  All thoughts and opinions remain my own*

*Read more reviews here*