Bethan In Brum

A lifestyle blog all about Birmingham, UK.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

REVIEW: Calendar Girls The Musical at Birmingham Hippodrome

The story of the 'real' calendar girls is one that has inspired me for so many years, and in fact, I've been fortunate enough to enjoy the original version a couple of times. It is a story which I completely love, but I did question how music would play a role in it. Calendar Girls The Musical, written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth, is based on the original motion picture and is everything I wanted it to be, and more!

The production, which is currently on stage at the Birmingham Hippodrome, follows the story of a group of middle aged women who are part of their local Women's Institute (The WI) and is set in an idyllic village in Yorkshire. I've always had a love for the WI, especially after finding out that my Great Nan was her local WI Chairwoman, and anticipate that it is something that I will most likely join later in life!

After one of the women, Annie, has to suffer a huge loss after her husband sadly passes away, the group decide to raise money for a new sofa for the hospital in a totally unique way; a nude calendar. The idea proves controversial in their little sleepy village, and each woman has to deal with their own issues and insecurities before finally deciding to strip off all for a good cause. 

It really is a beautiful, heartwarming story that always manages to completely fill my heart with joy. But with the help of a wonderful selection of songs to go alongside the story, the production is really brought to life and the music helps bring a whole new element to the show.
Let's face it, Gary Barlow simply doesn't write bad songs, and the ones in this production are simply fantastic, my favourites being Yorkshire, which popped up throughout the show, as well as the beautiful Sunflower and What Age Expects was both catchy and inspiring. 

The production is packed full of amazing talent, and so many well-known names. Stand out performances came from Sarah Jane Buckley, whose portrayal of Annie was just incredible, Sue Devaney, whose role of Cora was absolutely hysterical and Lisa Maxwell, who made the role of Celia her own. Other cast members included the wonderful Lesley Joseph, who played Jessie the ex-headteacher, the fantastic Rebecca Storm, who played Chris and Julia Hills who did a brilliant job of playing the quiet yet fiery Ruth. 

Other stand out performances included extraordinary young talent from Isabel Caswell, who played bad girl turned good Jenny and the absolutely hilarious Danny Howker, who did an absolutely fantastic job of Danny. In fact my favourite moment of the show was when Danny sang 'Hello Yorkshire, I'm a virgin', absolute comedy gold. 

However, all of the casts voices were incredible and were a huge pleasure to watch. 

The set was simple yet effective, with the roaming hills of Yorkshire always in the background. The scenes flowed smoothly without an issue and a lot of the acting seemed much more natural than an average play. 

The production has the fantastic ability to make you belly laugh with absolutely hysterical moments and scenes throughout, as well as make you hold the tears back and send you on a rollercoaster of emotion. By the end, I was wiping away both happy and sad tears. The show is incredibly life-affirming, and leaves the audience with such a positive feeling. 

I absolutely adored this show. It was such a pleasure to watch and hugely enjoyable. From the story to the cast, this new adaptation with the added bonus of a wide selection of fantastic songs is simply brilliant, and it can't be missed!

Calendar Girls The Musical is on stage until Saturday 8th June. 

Calendar Girls The Musical: 10/10


Thursday, 18 April 2019

Thinktank launches new Planetarium

Birmingham's Thinktank museum have launched their new and updated Planetarium to the public. The updated Planetarium, which is now 4K, offers the public a brighter and much sharper image, with crystal-clear surround sound - a total transformation from what the space used to be,

Thinktank's Planetarium is the only one in the West Midlands, and boasts the very latest video technology to create a truly immersive experience.

With a huge dome on the ceiling, by just looking up you can experience the universe and various planets with the help of Thinktank's staff who are on hand to answer any questions you have as well as telling you exactly what to look out for.

I was really fortunate enough to head along to experience the new Planetarium recently, and absolutely loved it. Space is always something that has totally fascinated me, and I was really glad to see that the space isn't just targeted towards children, it is interesting for both a young audience, and those a little older!
As well as heading around the globe, we also had the opportunity to see what the sky would be like 12 hours in advance, choose which planets we wanted a closer look at (we chose Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and Pluto) and learn so much about the night sky, what to look out for at night and stars. We also had the opportunity to learn about star constellations and how to find star signs in the night sky, as well as finding the North Star, and seeing just how many satellites there are floating around above us.

This was all down to the help of the Thinktank's staff, who are not only very experienced and know exactly what they are talking about, they are also incredibly passionate about it, and it helps get those taking part in the session to get enthusiastic about it all too!

The new Planetarium also offers a wide variety of shows for the public to attend, which allows you to travel through the human body, dive under the ocean, shrink to the size of an atom and allow yourself to be immersed completely in music and light.

Thinktank planetarium will also often run special events soon to support significant events. Events in the past have even included evening astronomy talks, solar observing and even theatrical productions.
Planetarium shows are £2.50 per person per show in addition to admission price. Annual Pass holders can enter for free but must book a ticket. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket desk on arrival. Find out more here

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

REVIEW: Kinky Boots at Birmingham Hippodrome

Ladies, gentlemen and those who haven't quite decided yet! Kinky Boots has strutted onto the stage at Birmingham Hippodrome and if you have your tickets booked, get ready to fall in love with those who dare to be different in this truly remarkable show. 

It's always exciting when a show which has enjoyed huge success on Broadway and in the West End comes to Birmingham, and this was no exception. The production is packed full of fun, colour, true talent, raunchiness, sex and a downright brilliant selection of songs. 

The show follows a true story of men's shoe factory in Northampton, Price & Son. The business has been left to the manager's son, Charlie, who finds out shortly after starting his new life in London with his fiance, that his dad has passed away and that its his time to step up. He soon discovers though that the business is failing. But with thanks to a chance encounter with drag queen Lola, and with the help of team member Lauren, he finds a gap in the market for good quality, and attractive, kinky boots for drag queens. 

The production is so much more than it's story line though. With a strong focus on the relationship between father and son, and being true to who you really are, the story is an emotional journey of hope, friendship and passion, with a whole lot of fun thrown in.
The star of the show is of course, Lola, played by Kayi Ushe. As Lola, Kayi is larger than life, big, loud and irresistible. When Lola appears on the shop floor as Simon, in men's clothing, there is a hint of vulnerability, with the safety shell gone. But it is the scenes that Lola shares with narrow-minded Don, which really brought a lump to my throat. All Lola asks for from him is to accept others for who they are. Kayi is immensely talented, with the most incredible voice and stage presence, and completely made the show as wonderful as it is.  

Charlie, played by Joel Harper-Jackson, was a hugely lovable character, with so much charisma and charm. But what made him such a spectacular character was his extraordinary voice. He took on a variety of songs throughout the show, and sang them beautifully. Charlie and Lola were often joined on stage by the 'Angels', Lola's supporting act of amazing drag queens. They brought super fun routines to the stage, all choreographed with so much sass and sparkle that it was hard not to get up and join in with them!

The other stand out performances in the show came from Don, played by Demitri Lampra, who took on the role of the arrogant 'real man' but eventually accepts others for who they are, and Lauren, played by Paula Lane, also known as Kylie Platt in Coronation Street. Her ditsy but lovable take on Lauren, who can't help but fall head over heels for Charlie, was absolutely fantastic and she was incredibly funny.

The costumes were also so beautiful and creative, and the boots were VERY kinky! The songs in the musical were also incredibly catchy, with the right mix of emotional songs as well as sassy and stomp filled numbers. Personal favourites included the super raunchy Sex Is In The Heel and What A Woman Wants, as well as the emotional Not My Father's Son. 

The set itself was also very good, and transitioned easily between the factory in Northampton to a catwalk in Milan. The show is incredibly funny, and packed full of hilarious references and super fun moments. The whole ensemble are at the very top of their game in this production. 

This would normally be the part of a theatre review where I would discuss the moments I think need improvement. Kinky Boots requires absolutely no changes. Honestly! There is not even one second of this production that I would change. It is total perfection, and by far one of the best shows I have ever seen. It is moments like at the end of Kinky Boots, where the audience is clapping wildly to the cast who they have fallen madly in love with over two and a half hours, where I remember what theatre really is all about. It's diverse, it makes you think, it makes you laugh, cry, question society and what more we can do.
If you're looking for a show to really pick you up in these uncertain times, do yourself a favour! Get yourself a ticket to Kinky Boots. On at Birmingham Hippodrome until March 23. 

Kinky Boots: 10/10


Saturday, 2 March 2019

UK’s biggest alternative wedding fair to returns to Birmingham

The UK's biggest alternative wedding fair is set to return to Birmingham later this month. The Eclectic Wedding Extravaganza Alternative Wedding Fair, taking place at The Bond and Fazeley Studios in Digbeth on March 16 and 17, is now in its sixth year and is set to be bigger than ever, and will feature over 80 unique suppliers, giving alternative brides in the region the opportunity to meet everyone they need for their dream day. 

Event attendees can expect everything from vampire hearses, unicorn dresses, zombie gift dolls and even celebratory tattoos. 

The fair is a showcase for the very best of alternative wedding suppliers that are hand-picked for their creativity and unique services to help customers plan their dream alternative wedding day.

The show provides inspiration to alternative couples with an extraordinary colourful range of wedding dresses, shoes, stationery, accessories and jewellery that aim to reflect their personalities.
Visitors can expect to see exotic wedding gifts like stag heads and skulls next to fairy-tale wedding cakes inspired by unicorns and beautiful vintage bouquets embellished with buttons and brooches.

The rise of wedding bloggers and Instagram influencers are providing inspiration and ideas to couples who do not find the traditional church or registry wedding appealing or reflective of their personalities and interests.  

Jo Millburn highlights that “the growing influence of bloggers and social media has enabled brides to see what other couples are doing and helped them to realise that they don’t have to stick to a traditional sit-down meal and DJ for entertainment. A lot of people now want to inject their own personalities into their weddings”.

Wedding entertainment options in 2019 now include gaming consoles, karaoke machines, body piercing, harpists, magicians and vintage double decker buses complete with bars and wraparound marquees.

Jo Millburn said: “More couples are choosing to be married by celebrants rather than vicars and they create the day to suit themselves” 

“Handfasting ceremonies which are used in Pagan and Wiccan ceremonies are a specialty of ours and involve a couple binding their hands together during the ceremony when reciting their vows to symbolize their connection and devotion to each other. We also offer gothic, Norse and steampunk themed weddings too.”

A wide range of experts will also be on hand to give advice to couples on planning their wedding day entertainment and recording their wedding ceremony with specialist photographers and videographers.

There will also be opportunities chance for visitors to get expert advice, take part in craft workshops, enjoy street food and drink, have fun in the photo booths and gaming stations, plus a chance to win big prizes in the sheep treasure hunt competition.

The Eclectic Wedding Extravaganza Alternative Wedding Fair takes place at The Bond and Fazeley Studios, Digbeth on March 16 and 17. To find out more, head here

Fancy winning two FREE tickets to attend this event? I'm hosting a competition on my Instagram page! Head to my Instagram here now to enter. To be considered, all you have to do is like the post, and comment with the song title you would like as your first dance at your wedding. The winner will be announced on Saturday 9 March at 11am. Good luck!

Your two free tickets can be used on either the 16 March or the 17 March. Tickets are not valid for both days. Your tickets will be provided to you by the event organisers and you will receive them via email. This competition is on Instagram only - entries via Twitter and Facebook will not be considered. 


Wednesday, 27 February 2019

REVIEW: The Band at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Growing up, I couldn't get enough of pop music. S Club, Boyzone, Westlife, Steps, B*Witched...I could go on. In my late teens, I became a closet pop fan. It just didn't seem cool anymore, so I only listened to the sickeningly sweet lyrics and upbeat feel-good music that pop music offers within the safety of my headphones. Thankfully, I gave up being cool a long time ago, and it led me into the arms of 5, now middle aged, men...Take That. 

I was born in 1994; the peak of Take That. So I was too young to enjoy their music, but when they arrived back onto the scene in 2006, I automatically understood the hype. I now listen to Take That on an almost daily basis, their 'old' and new stuff. It is feel good pop music, and that's what I need in my life. So I was over the moon when I got the invitation to review The Band, the 'Take That Musical' at the Wolverhampton Grand!

I assumed the musical would be the story of Take That, but instead it was one of the most heartwarming stories I have ever seen on stage. The story is based on five teenage girls, Rachel, Claire, Heather, Zoe and Debbie, who are obsessed with 'The Boys' from 'The Band'. They are 16, it's 1993 and their biggest worry is which of the boys from their favourite pop group they are going to marry. They are the best of friends, until a tragic loss happens within the group and just like so many childhood friendships, they grow apart and lose touch. 

That's until 25 years later, when Rachel, now in a long-term relationship with Jeff, enters a competition to see 'The Band' on their reunion tour in Prague. Instead of running away for a romantic weekend with Jeff, she gets back in touch with her childhood friends and they jet off for a weekend of fun, trouble and reminiscing. But, a lot can happen in 25 years, and they all realise that life turned out not as expected for everyone. This special weekend gives the girls the change to get their powerful bond back together, and all inspire each others future.
What is incredibly clever about this musical is that it follows two sets of girls; those who were once 16, and present day, giving us a huge amount of female talent on stage. The show features the music from Take That, but in fact, 'The Band' aren't the stars of this show. However, the five boys were incredibly talented and were the perfect boy band - charming, brilliant vocals, cheesy dance moves, what's not to love. From the moment the first pounding beats of 'Pray' blasted out into the audience, I knew this show would be something special. However, the songs aren't just thrown into the show, they are woven around particular story lines, which really helps bring the production together. 

The 'adult' versions of Rachel, Claire, Heather and Zoe are all fantastic. Claire, played by Alison Fitzjohn, has perfect comedic timing, and Rachel, played by Rachel Lumberg has the power to captivate the audience which every single one of her emotions, so much so that I often found myself having a little cry when she did. 

However, the stars of the show for me were the 'young' versions. They are just so likeable and it felt like the roles really were made for them. Rachel, played by Faye Christall, is so relatable, and Rachelle Diedericks totally made the role of Debbier her own and her sassy yet naive personality was so charming. Heather, played by Katy Clayton, was simply fantastic. She was absolutely hilarious and completely owned the stage whenever she was on it. She very much reminded me of a young Victoria Wood and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw big things from her in the future. 

The production's set was also very good, and the audience was taken from the North West of England to Prague, with so many fun and creative sets and scenes. Of course, the music was the biggest highlight of the show, with songs from Take That's whole catalogue of music for the audience to enjoy, including Shine, A Million Love Songs, Relight My Fire, Back for Good, Greatest Day and Rule the World. At the end, the whole audience were up on their feet for Never Forget, and yes OF COURSE we all did the actions!
The Band was such a feel-good, inspiring show. Yes, it was a little cheesy at times, but I love a bit of cheese every now and then. It was nostalgic and took me right back to my 90s childhood, and I had the best time. Shows that make me leave the theatre beaming, and with a real urge to break out into song and dance, are always the best in my eyes. It was also very emotional at times, and made me miss being 16 a stupid amount. I'll never be a teenager again, but with the help of shows like The Band, I can occasionally go back and remember what it was like to be young and in love with a boy band. 

The Band: 9/10

Please note: I was gifted the tickets to this show in return for a written review. 

Sunday, 6 January 2019

The ultimate way to experience the best of Birmingham; Buckt!

As a Birmingham blogger, I am always on the look out for new and exciting things to do across the city. I am very guilty of spending my evenings in restaurants and bars across the city, but rarely experiencing anything different. If you're keen to spend you 2019 taking part in new and exciting activities, it's time you found out about Buckt. 

I first met the founder of Buckt, the UK's only tickets and activities subscription box, almost three years ago. I interviewed him when I was Journalist, and he told me about his idea for the box, and it's incredible to see that it is now a real, working business which offers people of the West Midlands a whole host of opportunities to get off the sofa, and discover more interesting things going on in the area. 

Buckt is a subscription box which contains five mystery activities in the region to enjoy every single month. It is just £12.50 a month, which is such a bargain considering the price of the activities individually. There's no extra costs either, as your monthly fee covers everything for each activity. The company also offers duo boxes, so you and your partner, friend or family member can take part in the activities together.
Monthly boxes contain a wide range of activities to suit a variety of interests, including traditional activities like cinema and restaurant visits, high end treatments such as beauty treatments and unusual activities like rage rooms and alpaca walking. The box simply comes through your letter box every month, and its always a great surprise looking at what you'll be getting up to that month. 

I was gifted with a Buckt box in 2018 and was fortunate to experience a whole host of activities throughout the year. Just some of my favourites included a rage room, a cinema trip and a Treasure Trail. The Birmingham Rage Room experience was total genius, and such a laugh. Me and my friend headed along and just about managed to smash up everything in the room during what was a particularly stressful time! I couldn't recommend the Rage Room enough, it is so unusual and unlike anything else in the city. 

Another experience I loved was tickets to The Mockingbird Cinema, which is based at the Custard Factory in Digbeth. The Mockingbird is one of my favourite cinemas. It is independent, and such a relaxed atmosphere. As the venue also has a bar and restaurant, you can take in anything you have ordered in that part of the venue into the cinema. Which means when I headed along to enjoy a film with my Buckt tickets, I also enjoyed some chicken and waffles alongside a cider, which of course, made the cinema trip much more fun!

My favourite experience that I have enjoyed with Buckt was the Treasure Trail. Funnily enough, it's not something that I thought I would enjoy at all, but I loved it. There are so many trails to choose from across the West Midlands, so you can either explore your local area or head along to an area you've never been to before. We chose the Trysull, Wombourne and Bratch Locks trail, which isn't too far away from me, but far enough for me to not know the area well.

It was a lovely warm morning when we headed along with our leaflets, which detailed everything we needed to know about the Treasure Trail. Our trail was a 'Murder Mystery' theme, and we set upon the area following all the clues. This meant that not only did we have the suspense of finding out who the murderer was, but also explored the area, and with lovely walks down the canal in the blazing sun, what isn't to love!
I can't recommend Buckt enough. It has been amazing to see how the business has grown from an idea into a subscription box full of experiences that so many people can enjoy. But really, it is a great way to explore and experience activities in the West Midlands, discover new places and spend more time with your loved ones doing fun things. And who knows, you may discover a new hobby! Find out more about Buckt here

*I was gifted with a Buckt subscription box in 2018. I used the experiences throughout the year. 

Saturday, 5 January 2019

REVIEW: Farmer & Friends, Wombourne

Stylish decor, huge milkshakes, hearty and traditional meals; it's safe to say that Farmer & Friends tick the boxes of what I love most in a super cosy cafe and restaurant. Based in the heart of the idyllic village Wombourne, just a stones throw away from Wolverhampton and Dudley, the cafe looks tiny from outside but it's actually quite a large venue and is always busy with locals catching up. It has a wonderful family friendly atmosphere, and should definitely be on your list to check out. 

This isn't the first time I have had the pleasure to head along to Farmer & Friends. However, last time I enjoyed a wonderful meal at their other venue, which is based right out in the countryside on the Bridgenorth Road. Last time, me and Dan enjoyed dishes off their Brunch menu, which was amazing. This time however, considering we had just come from an incredibly stressful IKEA trip (you know the type), we were in need of something a bit more substantial and filling. Before we even got round to looking at the lunch menu though, our eyes headed straight to the milkshakes section. I am a total fool for milkshakes, especially when they are fun and different flavours from just a bottle of Yazoo.

I went for the 'Holy Cow!' 'Mooshake' because A) I loved the name and B) It had a Forerro Roche on top, so SOLD! It was, of course, amazing and such a treat for a Saturday afternoon. Dan went for 'Reeces Pieces' which was a peanut butter shake with a Reeces buttercup. He went quiet for a few minutes whilst drinking it, and that usually means he is in his element.

For lunch, which is served until 4pm, I went for a classic but brilliant dish; a Jacket Potato. Now, I think Jacket's can have a terrible reputation for being a boring dish, but not in my eyes! There was a range of filling options, including chilli and chicken tikka, and I went for the Tuna Mayo. Seriously, stand up for your love of jacket potato. It is the ideal lunch dish; a step up from sandwiches but not quite a full blown meal. Mine at Farmer & Friends was super tasty, filled me right up and was lovely and warm which was hugely enjoyable on a cold day. My meal came with salad and homemade slaw, which was also delicious. Dan went for 'The F+F Club' sandwich, which is chicken, crispy streaky bacon, tomato, lettuce, melted cheese, mayo and barbeque saucce, which is one hell of a sandwich. He loved it, and it was packed full of flavours and was a generous portion. His also came with salad and slaw.

Other dishes on their lunch menu include traditional sandwiches, fish fingers, gourmet sandwiches, burgers, homemade soup, sausage rolls and egg and chips. So there really is something for everyone to enjoy, as well as a Kids menu and of course, the Brunch menu. The venue also offers a whole host of lovely cakes and pastries to enjoy.

It isn't just the food and great atmosphere which makes me love Farmer & Friends so much. I also just adore their decor, especially in their Wombourne cafe. It is super cosy, welcoming and comfy with exposed brick, industrial lighting, and a wide range of comfortable seating to choose from. It feels intimate and very homely, so it's no surprise that it is a very popular place to head to in the village.
I don't know about you, but one of my 2019 resolutions is to spend more time in independent chains across the West Midlands. Farmer & Friends is charming, and clearly a lot of hard work has gone into their venues. I know sometimes it's just too easy and convenient to head into a Costa, but when you can, I urge you to support your independent venues. 

Farmer & Friends: 10/10

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