Friday, 14 December 2018

Peter Pan at St Helens Theatre Royal - A Review

On Wednesday evening, St Helen's Theatre Royal & Regal Entertainments Ltd took us on a swashbuckling adventure, when we attended the press night for this years Christmas pantomime of Peter Pan! This was our fourth visit to St Helens Theatre Royal this year alone and if there is one thing we have learnt, it's that they certainly know how to put on a fantastic show! We know from past experiences that their pantomimes are always superb, but having never seen Peter Pan in panto form before, there was an added element of excitement as we took our seats ready for the show to begin.

The production features everything you could hope for - from upbeat well known songs to some musical favourites, exceptional choreography to fantastic flying, plenty of laughter and even a 3D scene thrown in too. Their pantomimes never disappoint and it is very clear to see that they have a fantastic team that have recognised exactly what families want, when coming to see their shows.

Photo Credit: David Munn Photography
The whole cast were excellent from start to finish and they are evidently a very talented team. Georgina Parkinson stars as Wendy Darling and she has the most beautiful singing voice making her vocal performances a pleasure to listen to. She suits the role perfectly and works extremely well alongside Peter Pan.

Kristina Rihanoff sparkles as the loveable but tempremental Tinkerbell and certainly adds some fairy magic. At one point during the show, she takes part in a dance off and being Strictly fans, it was great to see some wonderful moves on stage. Everything she took part in was done with elegance and pizzazz and we really enjoyed all of her performances!

Photo Credit: David Munn Photography
Captain Hook is played by the magnificent Louis Emerick who delivers the perfect pantomime villain. Although he is the ultimate baddie, his witty remarks, powerful confidence and comical relationship with Mrs Smee made him very entertaining to watch. The St Helens theatre-goers never failed to shout Boooooo when he took to the stage and it was great to see a lot of audience interaction throughout the show.

It was fantastic to see the lovely Lewis Devine playing the starring role of Peter Pan and having always viewed him as a comedian, we were intrigued as to how he would play a more serious role. Whilst there was less of the slapstick style comedy that we have seen from him in previous productions, his portrayal of Peter Pan showed that there is far more to him than just creating a giggle. He consistently wowed us on stage whether acting, singing, or simply interacting with the audience members. He definitely knows how to keep a crowd entertained and can always be depended on to deliver a wonderful performance.

Photo Credit: David Munn Photography
Resident Dame Si Foster has also become one of our panto favourites. In this years Christmas production he stars as Mrs Smee and his interaction with Captain Hook was absolutely hilarious at times. We loved his performance of Fernando & Gimme Gimme Gimme, which was a scene that I could have quite happily watched several times over.

Tigerlily is played by Abigail Middleton who has a fantastic stage presence and great vocals too. The pantomime also features some extremely talented children who were certainly stars in their own right. The two young boys who played John and Michael were wonderful and it was great to see some younger performers trusted with main roles. The show also involved plenty of fast paced dance and the juvenile dancers completed the choreographed moves with ease and always with a smile on their faces.

Photo Credit: David Munn Photography
We felt that there was a great music selection throughout the pantomime with something for everyone to enjoy. A particular highlight for me was seeing the whole audience sing along to George Ezra's Shotgun song, which had a lot of the children up on their feet singing and dancing away. My youngest son Riley absolutely loves this song, so he was delighted when it began to play. Be warned however that Baby Shark is also on the playlist, so parents be ready to get involved and sing along!

The 3D scene added a new element to the pantomime and it was great to have this incorporated into the show. One thing that I would say though is that if you are attending with very young children who scare easily, then it maybe best to watch without the glasses. There are parts where sharks, fish and crabs do jump out at you, which even caused some screams from the adults too. It is a lot of fun and the audience loved it!

Overall we had a wonderful time watching Peter Pan at St Helens Theatre Royal and we haven't stopped talking about it since. We enjoyed it so much that we have already planned a return visit in the New Year. We cannot wait to see the show again and we also intend on bringing several other family members for a fun filled afternoon. This production provides so much for families to enjoy, making Peter Pan the perfect pantomime to visit this Christmas.

Listing Details

Show - Regal Entertainments Ltd present Peter Pan
Dates - Saturday 8th December 2018 to Sunday 13th January 2019
Times - Performance times vary, so please visit the website for the most up to date information.
Venue - St Helens Theatre Royal, Corporation Street, St. Helens, Merseyside, WA10 1LQ

Tickets - From £11*
*All prices are inclusive of a £1 per seat transaction fee. On-line bookings are subject to an additional 50p per seat on-line processing fee.

Box Office - 01744 756000
Website - www.sthelenstheatreroyal.com
Twitter - @TheatreRoyalStH
Facebook - www.facebook.com/St-Helens-Theatre-Royal

Photo Credit: David Munn Photography
*Disclaimer - We were invited to attend the press night for the purpose of writing an honest review of our experience. All thoughts and opinions are my own unless otherwise stated.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Cinderella at the Manchester Opera House - A Review

My family and I have been looking forward to this pantomime all year, ever since the casting of the Ugly Sisters was announced back in April. In what I would consider to be a stroke of genius, the pairing of Connor McIntyre and Les Dennis meant that I had no doubt in my mind that we would be in for a great night, and we were definitely not disappointed. Although our initial focus had been on these two characters, it soon become apparent that the entire cast excelled with talent and it was a whole team effort that created a laugh a minute show from start to finish.

As the lights began to dim, there was a sense of excitement throughout the theatre, whilst the audience waited in anticipation. We were introduced to the Fairy Godmother played by Hayley Ria-Christian who has an absolutely stunning soul voice. She caught our attention immediately and her performances throughout the night were beautiful and a pleasure to listen to. She exhibited a lovely warm and friendly personality and we knew from the beginning that we had a great show ahead.

Photo Credit: Phil Tragen Photography
When Cinderella (Shannon Flynn) took to the stage it was clear to see that she suited the role perfectly. She was a familiar face for my children as they recognised her from CBBC and so they were looking forward to seeing her perform in pantomime. We found some of her collaborations with Buttons (Ben Nickless) really funny, along with a particular scene involving the Ugly Sisters shopping bags. Her vocals were lovely and you could see that she seemed very comfortable with her performances. The constant smiles and sometimes unexpected giggles ensured that her presence on stage was enjoyable to watch. There was a quick change scene involving Cinderella and The Fairy Godmother that also added a wonderful element of magic and left my children asking "How did they do that?" Though this was quickly followed by the most superb horse and carriage which literally took to the skies above the audience. Everyone watched in amazement at this stunning sight and it was obvious that no expense has been spared in creating such a beautiful moment.

Prince Charming is played by the delightful Gareth Gates and it was superb to see him perform the song Unchained Melody. I had secretly hoped beforehand that he would sing this, so it was definitely an added treat for me. He worked well alongside Cinderella in creating a believable chemistry and the wall scene in the woods when they first meet is absolutely hilarious.

Dandini (Jack Wilcox) was wonderful and has that likeability factor. We have seen a few different performances of Cinderella over the years and my daughter Emma said that his portrayal was by far her favourite.

Photo Credit: Phil Tragen Photography
When the Ugly Sisters first took to the stage there was a large cheer that resounded throughout the Opera House. It was the moment we had all been waiting for as Phelena & Michaela appeared. Phelena is played by Connor McIntyre (best known as Pat Phelan in Coronation Street) and Michaela is played by the legendary Les Dennis. It was an absolute delight to see these two perform on stage together and their performances far exceeded our expectations. There are plenty of references and quips relating to Coronation Street which provided numerous belly laughs. We absolutely loved the outrageous costumes which seemed to grow in extravagance in each scene. Our personal highlight though has to be the performance of "If I Were Not" which also included Gareth Gates and Ben Nickless. We were all close to tears from laughing so much and although we have seen this routine performed elsewhere before, the cast involved created a whole new dynamic of fun, that my children spoke about all the way home.

Photo Credit: Phil Tragen Photography
My favourite scenes however, were those that contained Buttons (Ben Nickless). I will be honest when I say that I personally hadn't heard of him before, but I am certainly aware of him now and genuinely hope to see him again on stage in the future. He is what I would consider to be an all round entertainer and brings with him a wide range of skills that offer far more than just jokes. Along with bringing continuous comedy to the stage, he was also incredible at impressions, with his Michael McIntyre, Gary Barlow and Ozzy Osborne being absolutely spot on. At one point he performed an Elvis Presley song and it was so wonderful hearing all of the laughter created throughout the theatre. Another highlight was when he appeared on stage alongside a talking bear, which was not only funny, but also a really sweet moment too that created lots of aaahhhs.

Photo Credit: Phil Tragen Photography
The ensemble featured some highly skilled performers who dazzled throughout, in their vast array of costumes. There were also some wonderful dancers from the Stalder Academy of Dance who helped to create some of the most memorable scenes with their superb choreography, dancing and gymnastics. I am always extremely impressed by talented young performers and it was clear to see their passion for performing arts. Whether dancing to a fast paced number or displaying their acrobatic skills, everything was just perfect and I am sure that there were plenty of proud parents in the audience watching their children on stage.

Of course no production would be complete if it wasn't for the creative team as well. It can sometimes be very easy to forget the efforts that go on behind the scenes with the writing, choreography, costumes, scenery, special effects, lighting and sound and this pantomime exceeded our expectations in those elements too. Ultimately it is the combined effort of all involved that makes a show successful and I have no doubt that audiences will love Cinderella during its December run.

Without a doubt QDOS Entertainment have pulled out all the stops in producing a highly entertaining show. There truly was never a dull moment and the cast and creative team have succeeded in delivering a production that is suitable for all. Packed full of all our favourite panto characteristics, along with plenty of audience participation, this definitely ticks all the boxes. Overall, Cinderella provides entertainment and comedy in abundance which makes it a must-see pantomime this festive season!

Listing Details

Show - Cinderella
Dates - Saturday 8th December to Sunday 30th December
Times - Performance times vary, so please visit the ATG Tickets website for the most up to date information.
Ticket prices - From £12 (transaction fee will also apply)
Address - Opera House Manchester, 3 Quay Street, Manchester, M3 3HP
Box Office - 0844 871 3018 or for group bookings 0333 009 5390
Website - www.atgtickets.com/Manchester



*Disclaimer: We were invited to the press night performance of Cinderella for the purpose of writing an honest review of the show. All opinions and thoughts are our own. This post contains an affiliate link.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Father Christmas at Waterside, Sale - A Review

Our visits to Christmas events are well and truly under way and so far we have attended some fantastic family friendly attractions and productions. Whilst entertainment and fun are the main characteristics we usually look for, we also love those that have that special Christmas magic to help create beautiful moments and memories.

Last year we watched a truly captivating show called "The Bear" at Waterside Arts Centre in Sale, which was created by the very talented team at Pins and Needles Productions. It touched every emotion possible and was the perfect introduction to theatre for my youngest son Riley. We were therefore absolutely delighted to hear that the team would be returning this year to bring another of Raymond Briggs' stories to the stage, the lovable Father Christmas!

We were invited to attend the press evening on Thursday and of course we gladly accepted the invitation. Both my husband and I decided to attend with our youngest son only, since he still very much believes in Father Christmas and we always find it nice to give each of the children some time with us on their own so that they get our full attention. We therefore thought that this would make it a lovely special time for us to enjoy together. Riley absolutely loves drama, dancing and music and although he can be quite shy around others, he is always putting on some kind of show or performance at home. This past year he has attended numerous productions and seeing how much he loves the theatre is always a delight to see.

The venue of Waterside, is a lovely arts centre and we have been impressed each time we have visited. We love the little additions that make the theatre so welcoming for children; for example Milk & Cookie packs, along with the option to come in your pyjamas to the slumber shows. This helps to create a really relaxed environment which I think is really beneficial for families of all ages attending the production.

The show itself tells the story of the grumpy but loveable Father Christmas and we followed his activities as he prepared for his busiest day of the year; Christmas Eve. Rather astonishingly this production consists of only three cast members, all of whom are extremely talented and draw you into the show from the very start. 

Mike Aherne stars as the bloomin' marvellous Father Christmas and his portrayal of the character manages to display the loving, warm and friendly side of Father Christmas' personality along with his grouchiness. The opening scene was something that most of us could also relate to, which was when he woke up for work. Riley found this particularly funny as he knows how much our family struggle to get out of bed in a morning! A very funny scene followed shortly after when Santa popped to the loo and it was lovely to hear all the giggles from children sat in the audience.

Our personal highlight of the show was when Father Christmas boarded his sleigh and set off for his Christmas Eve duties, which was so magical and delightful to watch. Led by two puppet reindeers, it looked really spectacular and Riley was absolutely astonished as he sat watching open mouthed.


Another favourite for me was when Father Christmas was amongst the roof tops and needed to navigate his way down the many chimneys. The set and staging looked wonderful and had been really well thought out. Watching him move along the many steps that I hadn't previously noticed, made me realise how much effort had gone into developing such a creative set design.

Richard Booth features as the talented puppeteer and we actually found it quite amazing how you could relate to a puppet and its feelings simply based upon a persons movement. The cat, dog, chicken and reindeer became completely believeable and even Riley commented that the way they moved or reacted seemed really genuine. He also mentioned that he kept forgetting that the puppeteer was there, which meant that he had become focused on the puppets instead of the person controlling them.

Katy Sobey was superb providing not only the music, but all the accompanying sound effects too. It was great to see how the noises were being created and it gave us a great insight into the different roles within the theatre. She would replicate sounds associated with Father Christmas' actions, so for example when he poured his cup of tea, a jug of water would be poured into a glass by the microphone. Riley couldn't believe how she made some of the sounds and his particular favourite was when the cooker hob was lit as he said it sounded so realistic.

Overall we had a wonderful time at Father Christmas and we felt that it was a truly beautiful production. The cast members were all extremely talented and watching the story being told on stage was simply enchanting. Packed full of live music, hints of comedy, wonderful acting and most importantly Christmas magic, it is certainly a show that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to others.

Listing Details

Event: Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas
Venue: Waterside, 1 Waterside Plaza, Sale, Trafford, M33 7ZF
Dates: Tuesday 4th December to Monday 31st December
Times: Times vary, so please visit the Waterside website for the most up to date information.
Tickets: Ticket prices vary £16.50/£14.50/£12.50
School tickets available for £10 and 1 teacher free with every 9 students booked.
Running time: 50 minutes with no interval.

*Disclaimer - We were invited to watch Father Christmas as guests of Waterside, for the purpose of writing an honest review of the show. All opinions and thoughts are my own unless otherwise stated.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Getting in the Christmas Spirit with Elf Pyjamas from New Look

AD - When it comes to Christmas films, most people are sure to have a favourite. Whether it be a classic from many years ago, or one of the newer offerings to hit the screens, it is certainly something that many will have an opinion on. In my family though, it is a very easy choice and no Christmas Eve would be complete in our house without watching our all time favourite ELF!

This year however, I am in for added treat, as not only do we have the film on Bluray DVD to enjoy whenever we like, but I now also have a fabulous pair of Elf pyjamas from New Look, so that I can watch the film in both comfort and style!


These fabulous festive Elf pyjamas are available both online and in-store now for the great price of only £19.99 and come in Small, Medium and Large sizes. The top is made from 93% cotton and 7% elastane, with the bottoms being 100% cotton and providing a really soft and comfortable fit.

The top is short sleeved, with a rounded neckline and features one of Elf's famous slogans from the film which is "OMG, It's Santa. I Know Him, I Know Him!" It is a casual fit, which I personally prefer as it hides my mum tum easily.

The trousers are super comfy with an elasticated waist and tie waist front, so you can adjust these as you need. Again they are a casual fit and have cuffed ankles to add a bit of style. I love the all over Christmas print that features throughout the pants, making them the perfect festive pyjamas to relax in at home.

If you would like to purchase your own pair of Elf Pyjamas, then they can be found on the New Look website here: New Look Elf Pyjamas

*Disclaimer - We were gifted a pair of New Look Elf Pyjamas in exchange for writing an honest review of the product. Thoughts and opinions are my own unless stated otherwise.

Christmas at Dunham Massey 2018 - A Review

One of our most popular festive reviews last year, was of the spectacular Christmas at Dunham Massey event, that featured the most wonderful and magical illuminated light trail. We were therefore extremely excited to be invited to the preview of this years event, which we attended as a family on Thursday evening.

Christmas at Dunham Massey has been made possible by a joint collaboration of the National Trust and leading events producers Raymond Gubbay Ltd, who have both worked together to transform the grounds and gardens into an incredible winter wonderland offering lights, music and plenty of festive fun.


On arrival we made our way to the restaurant where we were provided with some tea, coffee, mince pies and biscuits, whilst we listened to a short introduction to the event by one of the creators. After this brief talk we were invited to make our way to the courtyard and then onwards to experience the lights.

As we entered the courtyard we found that it varied slightly to the last year as there were more traditional rides for children which included a carousel, swings and a beautiful helter skelter, along with more food vendors to choose from. There were plenty of dining options available ranging from wood fired pizzas to pancake stacks & waffles. I also felt that the prices were very reasonable as well, with a lot more choice.

It was slightly too early for us to eat as none of the children were hungry just yet, so we made our way straight to the Christmas Light Trail. We had expected it to be very similar to our previous visit, but we were in for a huge surprise as this years event is even bigger and better than before!

As we made our way past the main property towards the trail, there was a mini-show featuring Mr & Mrs Claus, welcoming everyone to the event. The mansion was covered in a projection of snowflakes as Santa Claus asked for help to find his reindeer and for guests to look out for them around the trail. A short story was told in rhyme and the children were told to collect a wooden stick bearing a reindeer's name. They were then told to look for the reindeer on their stick and to tell a member of staff at the end of the trail where they had found it, in order to receive a large sticker. My children had Donner, Blitzen and Prancer and they loved trying to find the reindeer whilst walking around.


We were immediately blown away right from the very beginning, as we entered the trail through an incredible tunnel adorned with thousands of pea-lights. This certainly set the scene for the remainder of the trail as we were greeted with stunning displays at every turn. Each display was accompanied by well known festive tunes, apart from one area that featured the Harry Potter theme music instead, much to my children's delight.

Due to the poor weather, we had anticipated the path to be muddy and therefore came prepared with wellies, but it certainly wasn't as bad as we expected. Whilst a few small areas were a little squishy under our feet, the majority was absolutely fine, with some parts covered in rubber matting which showed that they were well prepared for any rain.


The singing trees were superb with lights wrapped around the trunks that moved in time to the music and we continued past coloured spheres that were scattered amongst the woodland. Riley was the first person in our family to find his named reindeer of Donner and he was absolutely delighted to have discovered it before his siblings. My daughter's favourite part of the trail came soon after as we walked through twinkling green lights accompanied by the theme music to Harry Potter. This led to her dancing through the trail, pretending to wave a wand around whilst singing along and I must admit that I did join in with this too!

We walked past a large tree with lights that replicated coloured raindrops falling from the branches, which was really beautiful to watch and quite mesmerising too. We also came across some giant sparkling reindeers that glistened against the night sky. You could also walk directly under one of them which Riley found fascinating. Another highlight for the children soon followed as we walked through another tunnel of lights, only this time they filled the entire walkway, so you needed to move the lights around you to make your way through.


My personal favourite of the entire trail was the huge grass area that had been filled with hundreds of football sized coloured balls. These lights shone brightly as they were perfectly choreographed to the relaxing music. It really was an incredible sight and something that must have taken a lot of planning to put together.

Photo Credit: This image was taken by a friend L.G (image not to be used elsewhere without permission from owner)

About three quarters of the way round, we arrived at the fire pits where you could purchase gourmet marshmallows for £1.50 each. Both Emma and Ben chose vanilla flavours, whilst Riley opted for a hot chocolate flavoured one. The marshmallows were mounted on sticks and we were directed to the fire pits where my children enjoyed toasting (and eating) them. There was a great range of different flavours to choose from including some extravagant choices such as blueberry & sipsmith gin, along with popcorn & cranberry.


As we made our way towards the end of the trail, we walked past a huge fire display that had a large quantity of stands that featured flickering flames. My youngest son thought that this was really interesting and it stood out as being something a little different to all of the other lights we had observed so far. We could also spot the fountain finale from across the water and Ben correctly guessed that he could hear the music from one of his favourite films 'Home Alone' in the distance.


Nearing the end of the trail, we found Ben's named reindeer which made him very happy as he had become slightly concerned that we might have missed it, but it was simply the last reindeer of the walk. There was a member of staff located shortly afterwards, who rewarded each of my children with a sticker.

It had been my intention to purchase some food to eat once we arrived back in the courtyard, but my children still weren't feeling hungry, so we headed straight towards the fountain finale. As you make your way there through the white exit gate, you finally spot the most famous reindeer of all, before following the path along the lakeside.

The finale at the end was superb and we sat on the conveniently placed benches as we watched the water fountains light up in time to the music. This was absolutely amazing and watching the lights against the watery backdrop to the soundtrack of "Somewhere in my Memory" by John Williams, was the most perfect way to end our evening.

Overall we absolutely loved the Christmas at Dunham Massey event. The effort that has clearly been put into this is tremendous and we didn't want the evening to end. My children grew increasingly excited to see what was coming next and around every corner there was something new to entertain us. In addition to the lights, we found the fire display and fountain finale to be spectacular and the festive courtyard added to the evening and made it a lovely place to relax both before and after we had entered the trail. The whole experience was wonderful from start to finish and I wouldn't hesitate to return in the future. I would definitely recommend this event to all and for me this was the perfect event to get us well and truly into the Christmas spirit!

For further information on Christmas at Dunham Massey, please visit their website or social media channels which can be found here:

Website - National Trust - Dunham Massey
Facebook - DunhamMasseyNT - Facebook
Twitter - @DunhamMasseyNT

Event Listing

Attraction - Christmas at Dunham Massey, the magical after-dark illuminated trail.
Location - Dunham Massey, Altrincham, Cheshire, WA14 4SJ
Dates - Selected dates from 30th November to 30th December 2018.

Admission

Advance - Adult £16.50, Child (5-16) £10.00, Family (2 adults, 2 children) £50.00
On the day - Adult £18.50, Child (5-16) £12.00, Family (2 adults, 2 children) £58.00

Tickets can be purchased from the See Tickets Website here: See Tickets - Christmas at Dunham Massey (affiliate link)

*Transaction charges/print at home charges/postal charges/agent charges may also apply.

Please note that advanced booking is recommended, as some dates are already sold out.

*Disclaimer: We were invited to this event as guests of Dunham Massey for the purpose of writing an honest review of our experience. Thoughts and opinions are my own. Any event details provided are believed to be correct at time of writing, but are subject to change. I would therefore always recommend visiting the attraction's own website in order to obtain the most up to date details. This post contains an affiliate link, which means that I may receive a small commission should you choose to purchase tickets.