A lifestyle blog all about Birmingham, UK.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

2017: My Year In Review

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" - John Lennon. 

I am not one for life quotes; they make me endlessly cringe. However, this quote is one that definitely makes sense to me this year. I always enjoy writing my end of year blog post, this is number three now and each year, I read each one back and realise just how much has changed without me even really noticing. 

2017; it's been one hell of a year. From grief to love, from work to friendships and being on this forever journey trying to figure out who the hell I am. One thing I have learned this year: no one ever really figures out who they are, we just do our own thing and hope for the best. 

However, for me this year, among hundreds of laughs, awkward moments and a few regrets, I have had three major life changes.

I have been very fortunate in life to not lose many people. I have strong and close friendships, as well as a brilliant relationship with my family. Although I had experienced people I knew dying before, nothing quite hit me that much until early this year. My wonderful Great Nan passed away. At 95, it wasn't a huge surprise. But my Nan had always been such a huge part of my life and I really struggled with her passing. 

Even months and months after, I still cry when I think about her and I miss her so, so much. This whole process has made me question how people cope with death. At times, I am absolutely fine and then other times, I'm in absolute bits. But, if I have learned anything from my Nan's passing it is a reminder of just how short life is. Even my Nan being on earth for 96 years didn't feel long enough! I've never really been one to hold grudges, but now I'm even more against holding them. I don't like arguing anyway, but if I do, I want to get it sorted right there and then and move on from it all. I don't know if I'll ever really learn how to cope with death, but I know what my Nan left behind was a wonderful, loving family and this year would have been a struggle without them. 

I entered 2017 feeling pretty content with life. After one last terrible date at the end of 2016, I had decided to ditch the dating apps and give myself a break. It might sound hilarious, but when I first got into online dating following a terrible breakup a few years ago, it was so fun. Me and my friends at university would fall around laughing at messages and reported back to each other after dates and it was hilarious! Almost three years on, I was exhausted. I remember an episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte says "I've been dating since I was 15! I'm exhausted - where is he?!". I suddenly found myself much more team Charlotte than Carrie and I gave up looking.

A post shared by Bethan Tolley (@bethaninbrum) on

In early March, I found myself in an argument with a guy in a local bar about Shakira. I hated him. And fancied him, a lot. I soon found myself spending a lot of time with this guy, and Dan became my 'boyfriend' not long after. I've always taken the 'you'll find them when you stop looking' quote with several pinches of salt, but I guess it is true in this case. Since me and Dan made things official, it is safe to say I have learned much more about myself than ever before. I have learned the art of compromise, which I discovered works very well in a relationship. Without sounding like a total brat, I think I got too used to getting my own way in previous relationships, but me and Dan balance each other out well. 

Before I met Dan, he had put a deposit on a house. Next month, I am officially moving in with him (even though I have pretty much lived with him since summer!). So 2018 will be a whole new adventure for the both of us, and I am incredibly excited. I think the one thing I have struggled in life is feeling genuinely content. Since I turned 18 back in 2012, I have moved home several times and it is a tiring process. However, moving in with Dan, however 'soon' some people may think it is, just makes sense to me. It is a big step for the both of us, and at times, can be scary. But I am so excited to live with someone I feel totally comfortable with, in a house we have made a home, in a lovely little area. So although I entered 2017 feeling content, I'm leaving it feeling very much, at home.

Another big change this year was my job. I absolutely loved my old job as a journalist, and it was probably the hardest thing I had to do this year deciding to leave. However, sometimes I think you have to think about the bigger picture. As much as I loved my job, and especially the people I worked with, I had to consider the future for the first time in my life, and I found that some of my friends were facing the same issues. 

From salaries to getting a better work-life balance, me and those around me have had to face them this year. I got offered a new job in the summer and I have already learned so much. This time round, I am a Content and Social Media Executive, which works well for me, as like my previous job, every single day is different, which is what I enjoy most in a job. Who knows what will happen in 2018, but I am glad that I took the risk this year to try something different. I am still only 23 after all!

As well as the major life changes, I of course, decided to change this little blog of mine into a place dedicated to Brum! I am overwhelmed with how well it has been received and how supportive people have been. If you're wondering why I did it, head here. Blog plans for 2018? Well I hope to still be reviewing shows, restaurants and events across the city. However, I'm also keen to add an extra personal post here and there, a bit like this one, to keep the content fresh and fun!

From holidays and weekends away to concerts and discovering places right on my doorstep, I have had so much fun in 2017 and can only hope this continues in 2018. 

Finally, thank you so much to those who have read my blog this year. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see people enjoying my posts and I can't wait to get back to it in 2018! However...I am off on holiday for the first week of January (YAS!) so I'm taking a few weeks off for now. I hope you all have wonderful NYE celebrations and all the best for 2018. 

Love always, 
Bethan x x x


Friday, 22 December 2017

REVIEW: Cinderella Pantomime at Birmingham Hippodrome

There's a reason why Birmingham Hippodrome's annual pantomime is known as one of the very best, because, well, it IS! This year's production of Cinderella, which stars an impressive cast, is no different. 

With a lifetime supply of glitter, as well as incredible costumes and outstanding sets, the panto is, in my eyes, the best one yet. Producer and director Michael Harrison is very selective on which panto's he works on. The one being at the London Palladium, and the other being right here in Brum. That, and heading along to the panto on the day that Birmingham was named the host of the Commonwealth Games, made me incredibly proud to be a Brummie. 

The production, which is taking to the stage at the theatre until the end of January 2018, is everything what a panto should be, and more. The show doesn't go too much into the Cinderella itself, instead it is full to the brim of hilarious scenes which left the audience in fits of laughter, which completely makes up for the lack of story line. 

The show began with pantomime newbie and local lass Beverley Knight, who completely owned the role of The Fairy Godmother, singing her heart out and flying out into the crowd.
For someone who has never been in a panto, she was a complete natural and took it all in her stride. Not only did she put on a fantastic performance and had the audience in the palm of her hands, it was amazing to feel like we were at our very own Beverley Knight concert. She even ended the panto by getting the whole crowd up on their feet and singing Whitney Housten's I Wanna Dance With Somebody. 

Taking on the role of Cinderella was the wonderful Suzanne Shaw, who suited the role incredibly well, and was transformed into a real princess right in front of our eyes. She was joined on stage by Danny Mac, who took on the role of Prince Charming, with a twist or two. Much to the audience's delight, Danny Mac danced his way through the evening, really bringing something totally new and exciting to the stage. The chemistry between Suzanne and Danny was actually very believable too and they worked very well together. 

However, the star of the show was by far Matt Slack, who is celebrating his fifth year in a Hippodrome panto, this time as the role of Buttons. With his wonderfully unique sense of humour, he completely owned the stage throughout the whole production. As well as bringing the traditional pantomime elements, he also kept the show totally on trend, with I'm A Celebrity and politics themed jokes which felt very current and really worked. His scene with Amazon's Alexa was simply comedy genius.
Another scene that was absolute gold was comedy duo's The Grumbleweeds scene where as they sang along with Beverley Knight, and everything goes wrong around them. WARNING: audience members do get slightly wet in this scene! Although the whole show was absolutely hysterical, there was a great mixture between adult and family friendly humour, which left each member of the audience happy. 

The set itself was another huge highlight of the show, with magical flying horses and an incredible carriage, as well as a trip to the Prince's ball and many more. As well as the set, the costumes were just mesmerising! Cinderella's two ugly sisters had so many outfit changes, with each of them being amazing, and Suzanne looked incredible in her princess gown. 

If I could change anything about the show, it would be to have seen a bit more of Suzanne Shaw and Danny Mac, as they weren't actually on stage for that long at all. However, I really couldn't doubt any other aspect of the show. With plenty of Birmingham based jokes too, it felt like a really welcoming and local panto, yet on a huge production scale.
Cinderella at the Birmingham Hippodrome is an absolute must see. As well as being incredibly enjoyable, it is the ultimate feel good show and a wonderful way to get all the family together. 



Thursday, 21 December 2017

Victory for Brum: Commonwealth Games confirm city as host

Birmingham has received the ultimate early Christmas present; the city has finally been chosen to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

The event, which is set to boost the West Midlands economy by £750 million, will take place over the course of 11 days during summer 2022.

Birmingham was the only city able to put together a plan for hosting the Commonwealth Games in the short time scale required following the removal of Durban, the original host of the event, earlier this year.

The news came today after The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) hosted a special Media Conference staged at the Arena Academy school in Birmingham.

CGF President Louise Martin CBE applauded the city’s ambitious and innovative vision to engage and benefit its local community, showcase the best of global Britain and warmly welcome and inspire athletes and fans from right across the Commonwealth.

She said: “With its rich history, cultural diversity, youthful dynamism and ambitious spirit, Birmingham embodies all that we cherish about the Commonwealth, and so the Commonwealth Sports Movement looks forward to collaborating with all the Games partners to showcase the city’s humanity and pride to a global audience over the coming months and years."

Today’s announcement by the CGF follows the Gold Coast 2018 Coordination Commission taking place earlier this month in Australia.

Gold Coast 2018 organisers have committed to share all their experience and advice with Birmingham, passing on the baton and putting the city in the strongest position to deliver an inspiring, impactful and successful Games.

The foundations for the Games have now been laid, with the official handover to Birmingham set to take place at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony on April 15 next year.

The Birmingham 2022 Organising Committee will also be the first to benefit from the new CGF Partnerships delivery model, as the CGF takes an increasingly active and direct role in the delivery of the Games through the creation of an integrated delivery team, working in close partnership with the host city and CGA.

The Commonwealth Games will not only be 11 days of sport, it will also include major investments in sports venues across the West Midlands, as well as transport, housing and jobs within the next few years.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “The success of this bid has depended entirely on the whole of the West Midlands region getting behind it and recognising the benefits it will bring. 

"The Games will provide the opportunity to not only see world-class sport but bring economic and social benefits. 

“Above all, this will be our opportunity, along with the Coventry City of Culture the year prior to the Games, to showcase a resurgent, diverse and confident West Midlands to the world.”

Birmingham 2022, which is expected to take place from 27 July – 7 August 2022, marks 20 years since Manchester 2002, the last time the Games were held in England.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Birmingham pub set to help homeless this Christmas

A popular pub in Digbeth is set to help tackle loneliness this Christmas. 

The Old Crown in Digbeth will be offering a free dinner and care package for anyone who is in need this Christmas Eve, from those who are spending the festive season alone, are feeling lonely and the homeless. 

The pub have decided to open their doors this Christmas so that nobody gets forgotten about this festive season. 

Although Christmas is a time for giving, spending time with family and spreading joy, it is easy for many of us to forget about those who need it most at this time of year. 

Ciaran Healy, owner of the pub said “We want to reach out to those in need this Christmas. For many of these people it will be the only interaction they will have throughout Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

 "The majority of people spend it at home or down their local pub. It’s not about just giving them a meal it’s about sitting down and spending time with someone who needs it.” 

So, what can us lot do to help? 

Well, The Old Crown are looking for donations of Christmas presents, sleeping bags, hats, gloves, scarfs, coats, toiletries and anything else you feel may be of use to someone who is lonely or homeless. 

You can donate any items you can into the pub and give them in behind the bar. 

The Old Crown are open seven days a week from midday, so if you can, let's help the pub this Christmas. 

If you know someone in need this Christmas, who would appreciate someone spending some time with them, please e-mail alex@theoldcrown.com to book a place.


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Coming Out exhibition opens at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Bold, brave and most of all - exciting. Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender & Identity, which arrived at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of male homosexual acts was passed in England and Wales (1967 Sexual Offences Act).

I headed along to the exhibition recently. For me, 'coming out' has always a been a phase that has meant something to me. As I revealed in an old blog post of mine, my mum is a lesbian - you can read it here.

Although I have a dad and step mum who I completely adore, I was essentially brought up by two women, and so the concept of coming out and being totally comfortable with who you really are is one that I am, obviously, all for.

The exhibition showcases over 80 modern and contemporary artworks by internationally renowned artists, who explore themes of sexuality, gender and identity in art. With art works from Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Steve McQueen, Tracey Emin and a huge range more on display.

Visitors to the exhibition can see and explore a whole host of work celebrating how views of sexuality and gender identities have evolved, and continue to evolve today. Many of the artworks exhibited also have international significance to Birmingham including prints by Margaret Harrison and photography by renowned Birmingham-based artist Vanley Burke. 

The exhibition is also hosting a variety of events for both kids and adults, including gallery trails, sculpturing and life drawing classes, craft workshops and many more.

Coming Out: my highlights... 

Can love remember the question and the answer? 2003 - Anya Gallaccio

I absolutely loved this piece. With sixty real flowers, the artwork will decay over the duration of the exhibition. The flowers are a reminder of just how brief and beauty can be. 

A Moment to Herself - 2002 - Chila Kumari Burman 

Chila's work explores issues of identity and culture and she uses her work to address her female identity and dual Pakistani and British heritage. 'A Moment to Herself' consists of found objects from her flat, with the piece consisting of flowers, make-up and lingerie. 

The Promised Land - 1984 - Bob Jardine 

Bob Jardine moved to Milton Keynes to start a new life after the town was established in 1967 to help relieve housing congestion in London. The series of photographs documented in 'The Promised Land' document his experiences and were mostly taken at a former club called The Joint.

Gentlemen: Men are interested in Power. Woman are more interested in Service. And Gentleman: Newspapers are no longer ironed. Coins no longer boiled. So far Standards have fallen - 1981-3 - Karen Knorr
The images featured in Karen Knorr's work are from a set of 25 called the 'Gentleman' series. Each photograph was taken inside one of London's private members' clubs. The quotes accompanying each photograph are from speeches and newspaper articles, which the artist felt reflected the attitudes of men she has met at members clubs.

Claire's Coming Out Dress - 2000 - Grayson Perry
Claire's Coming Out Dress, is a full-skirted party dress that is symbolic of those worn by young girls for a special occasion. The dress has embroidered images that disrupt the innocence associated with this style of children's dress, with embroidered penises and testicles tied with green ribbons that mimic a familiar flower motif.

Coming Out takes place at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until April 2018.

To find out more about the Coming Out exhibition, head here


Wednesday, 6 December 2017

REVIEW: The Hundred and One Dalmatians at The REP, Birmingham

When I was first saw that The Hundred and One Dalmatians was coming to The REP, I obviously thought, how on earth are they going to manage that one? However, heading along to watch the show this week made me realise that you really can get over a hundred dogs on stage at the same time, just by thinking out of the box.

It's something that I have always admired about the theatre itself. Many of the productions that I have been fortunate enough to enjoy there have taken the traditional rules of theatre book, ripped and pulled it apart and put on something so different from what I could have imagined that it has left me feeling inspired. The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which has been adapted by Debbie Isitt and is on stage until January 13, 2018, is no different.

Having read the book by Dodie Smith and of course watched the Walt Disney film countless times, it is fair to say that the story line is one that I have kept very close to my heart from a young age. Thankfully, the show's story doesn't stray too far away from the original, but thanks to its pure imagination and creativity, it is brought into the modern day.
The story follows Mr and Mrs Dearly, who live with their two dogs Pongo and Missis. Missis becomes pregnant, and it is all wonderfully happy, until the ultimate villain Cruella de Vil arrives onto the scene. Cruella wants to kill the puppies so that her furrier husband Horace can make her a Dalmatian coat.

Chaos unfolds when the puppies are stolen by The Badduns and are taken to Hell Hall. Pongo and Missis head off to find their puppies, and with thanks to hundreds of dogs around the UK during a 'Twilight Bark', they manage to locate them and save them. But of course, this is with lots of close encounters to the villain and her workers who will do anything they can to get their hands on the pups. Of course, it is a Christmas show and there is a happy ending eventually.

So, how do they do it I hear you cry! The dogs, including Pongo and Missis, as well as a Great Dane, a Chihuahua, a Dachshund, and of course all the puppies, are brought to life through puppets. It may sound simple, but the actors who controlled all these dogs were just something else; I can't imagine acting as well as controlling the puppets is an easy task. It is an incredibly inventive way of creating theatre, and really brings the show to life. I was lost for words at just how amazing it was to see.
However, the star of the show was by far Gloria Onitiri, who took on the role of the timeless Cruella de Vil. Not only did she completely make this role her own, she managed to both terrify the audience, and yet also make us feel sorry for her at times at just how lost and evil she really was. Gloria is not only a huge talent, she also sang beautifully and could really belt out some big numbers. 

It has to be also said that the actors behind Pongo and Missis, Oliver Wellington and Emma Thornett, were also absolutely fantastic. As were the hilarious Baddun's duo, Lewis Griffin and Luke Murphy. 

A highlight of the show was the inventiveness of the stage itself. From creating cars, made out of people essentially, to the background; it was a real feast for the eyes and with smooth transitions, the production ran with ease and never felt too much.
Although I could not fault the talent and the imagination of the show, if I could do anything, it would be to take out the musical numbers. They felt, at times, a bit, well, random, if anything and the show would have been just as good without them. 

However, despite that, I had an incredible time watching The Hundred and One Dalmatians. It is magical, at times incredibly funny, creative and gave me a really warm, fuzzy feeling inside. It also made me go home and appreciate my dog more than ever before! 

The Hundred and One Dalmatians is not one to miss and is perfect for the whole family. It is on stage until mid January. 

Rating: 9/10

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

New season announced for Coventry's Belgrade Theatre

Coventry's Belgrade Theatre have announced the shows that are set to take to the stage in 2018.

Among the theatre's new season, there is an exciting mix of classic musicals, fun family shows and laugh-out-loud comedy.

As the sparkle of this year’s pantomime, Cinderella, comes to an end on Saturday 13 January, the theatre will welcome one of the greatest musicals of all time; The Sound of Music. The production will take to the stage from February 6th-10th and will star The Voice finalist, Lucy O’Byrne as Maria and Neil McDermott as Captain Von Trapp.

Visitors to the show can expect to hear the unforgettable score, featuring My Favorite Things, Do-Re-Mi, So Long Farewell, and of course, The Sound of Music. 

Later that month, the theatre will welcome the brand-new musical, Son of a Preacher Man, from February 13th-17th. Featuring the unforgettable music of Dusty Springfield and a cast including Debra Stephenson and Alice Barlow, which has been directed by Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood.
Another wonderfully silly and delightfully family-friendly tale from David Walliams will come to the stage with a new production of Awful Auntie from February 20-24th, and Monty Python’s Spamalot is taking to the stage from February 27th-March 3rd. The show will bring plenty of silliness for the adults with a script and songs lovingly ripped off from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

Two productions will also come direct from the West End as Thriller Live will bring the timeless hits of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 to life from March 6th-10th and the hit comedy, The Play That Goes Wrong will return from March 19th-24th after phenomenal demand. 

Other highlights include a new version of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, from May 2nd-5th, starring Olivier Award winning actress, Nichola McAuliffe. Horrible Histories will also return with More Best of Barmy Britain from May 30th-June 2nd and locals can enjoy a brand-new production of Scottish musical Sunshine on Leith in June.

The classic musicals Flashdance and Evita will also wow theatre fans later in the year, and as previously announced, Nativity! The Musical will come home to Coventry as it opens a brand-new nationwide tour for 2018. 

To find out more, head here

Monday, 4 December 2017

Good Food Show is a foodie heaven in Birmingham

Last weekend, the hugely successful BBC Good Food Show returned to Birmingham's NEC for their annual Winter show. I last went to the event around five years ago, and although it was large then, nowadays it is massive and caters to absolutely everyone.

It may have been taking place in the city for 25 years, but there's no doubt that the popularity of the show has only increased over the years. One part of me thinks that is down to the fact that many more people actually care about food now.

Rather than just cooking the easiest thing in the fridge, I think thanks to popular cooking shows and the rise of foodie bloggers and influences, more of us have an interest in ingredients, the cooking process and of course, the taste, more than ever.
The BBC Good Food Show offered over 500 stalls, with everything from international cuisines to local bakers on the line-up, as well as cooking demonstrations, workshops and book signings.

I headed along on the last day of the event, so I unfortunately missed Mary Berry (love you Mazza) and James Martin, who is a regular at the event. Instead, I was fortunate to see The Hairy Bikers, who aren't actually that hairy in real life, 2015 Bake Off winner (aka THE best GBBO year) Nadiya Hussain and Italian chef and presenter Giorgio Locatelli.

I spent a good two hours browsing the stalls, and was amazed at just how different each one was. From pork scratchings and pies to muffins and ice-cream, I was immersed by it all and tried as many tasters as I could - probably putting a stone on in the process!
One of my favourite stalls was Samosaco, who sold some of the best food options I saw at the event. As well as kebabs, they had incredible demand for their Onion Bhaji Scotch Egg, which was absolutely delicious! I also loved the Flower & White stall, who sold all things sweet, including huge meringues in all sorts of wonderful flavours.

I was also excited to come across local company Urban Herbs, who are based in Bearwood. They sold some incredible spices, and I just had to get a bag to give to my Dad for Christmas as he is in my eyes the spice king of the street!

I also loved meeting the team behind Proper Nutty, who are based in Yorkshire. After trying two different kinds of tasty peanut butter, one of my favourite treats, I purchased the 'Slightly Salted' one for me to enjoy over the next few months.

The event also gave me a great opportunity to get some more gifts for my family and friends, including a 'Make your own liquorice' kit, a book all about BBQ's and a beautiful apron. For myself, I also picked up some Ooyles Irish Cider, which is a nice change from my usual cider choice, and Heatherlea's Mint Slices, because, well, if you can't eat a stupid amount in December, when can you?!

I ended my time at the show by heading along to The Big Kitchen, where I saw the winners of The Great Family Cooking Showdown, The Gangotras, go head to head with the show's judge Giorgio Locatelli in creating their go to dish to create for their family. This was great fun, and it was also great to see Nadiya Hussain host, she really is a natural!
The BBC Good Food Show is a great way to spend a day and will really get you in the mood for cooking and trying new flavours. It is also fun to enjoy all the free tasters, of course, and to take part in a workshop or two. The event is set to return to Birmingham next summer. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

Christmas begins at Birmingham Botanical Gardens

This week, I was fortunate enough to head along to one of my favourite spots in Birmingham; the Botanical Gardens. They are currently hosting their Christmas event, which is taking place until early January, and promising locals a 'magical, illuminated' trail. 

Along with the #BrumBloggers family, we enjoyed the sounds and sights of a Christmas wonderland, and it was a brilliant way to kick December off. From disco balls hanging from trees and beautiful lit-up reindeer's, to gorgeous lanterns and candy canes, the venue is as gorgeous at night as it is in the day and this particular event is set to be a huge hit with families.

The trail ends with an absolutely beautiful lights display on the lawn, which, in time to beautiful music, is a real treat for the eyes and ears!
A particular highlight for me though was the illuminated pictures of the 12 Days Of Christmas, which brought back wonderful memories of my childhood. 

During the trail, which took about an hour or so, we even got to meet the big man himself; Santa! As well as this, the event also has gorgeous vintage rides for both kids and adults to have a go on, as well as a couple of food stalls selling hot snacks, which were perfect for a freezing cold night. 

I have to say though, if you want to go along too, I really suggest that you wrap up warm. Even me, with a dress, jumper, cardigan, two pairs of tights, boots, gloves and a wooly hat, was still froze! It is worth the cold and it is a really enjoyable evening, but if you can get your hands on a hand warmer or two, you'll enjoy it even more.

I've always loved the Botanical Gardens as it is unlike anything else in the city and it's such a serene, calming venue. What makes their Christmas event so special is a lot like why I love the place so much.

Although just a few minutes out of Birmingham city centre, it feels like a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the German Market, which, although I love, can get a bit too busy at times. If you're looking for something totally different to do, you're bound to love Botanical Gardens' Lights Trail. 

Christmas at the Botanical Gardens is underway now until January 1st, 2018. The trail is open from 4.40pm-8pm every night, apart from Christmas Day, and prices start from £10. Find out more here.


Tuesday, 28 November 2017

REVIEW: Grease at Wolverhampton Grand

Even after 40 years since Grease made it's silver screen debut with fresh faces John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, the rock and roll musical is still attracting huge crowds with numerous productions taking place around the world every single year. 

For me, Grease was a huge part of my early-teen years, back when I had no idea what some of the crude remarks meant, and it is a musical that will never get old in my eyes. So when I headed along to the Wolverhampton Grand this week to see the latest young talents taking to the stage in Grease The Musical, I wasn't disappointed. 

The audience was unlike any other show I have been to before; with a whole host of ages and genders. If you need to remember what makes Grease so popular, you only have to look at the people enjoying it - it's timeless.

Although I have had the pleasure of watching Grease a handful of times at various theatres before, and have seen the film more than I've had hot dinners, this particular production stood out for me. Thankfully, it doesn't stray too far away from the original story line, with everyone's favourite scenes like the Rydell High dance and the timeless Greased Lightnin' still taking to the stage with huge cheers and claps from the crowd.

The production saw a few big names taking to the stage, including The Wanted's Tom Parker, who the women loved, taking on the role of Danny, Over The Rainbow winner Danielle Hope, who captured the audience's hearts as Sandy and EastEnders' Louise Lytton, whose role of the sassy Rizzo was simply made for.
Music wise, it was everything Grease fans could have wanted it to be. Particular stand out's were by far Grease Is The Word, that really got the audience ready for the evening, and We Go Together. I also really enjoyed lovable Doody's, played by Ryan Heenan, 'Those Magic Changes', the ultimate love song Hopelessly Devoted To You, which was performed beautifully, and the cheeky Beauty School Dropout. 

I'll also admit, I was actually more impressed with the supporting roles than the main characters. Controversial it may be, but I thought Kenickie, played by Tom Senior, had an incredible voice, as well as infectious Jan, played by Rosanna Harris. I also totally fell for Doody and his voice was absolutely stunning. 

Although Danny, Sandy and Rizzo all put on one hell of a show, I felt that at times, they lacked the emotion that I was desperate to see. I also have to say a huge stand out of the show for me was the lovable geek Eugene, played by Callum Evans, who had the audience in the palm of his hands.

However, the choreography and the stage itself was undoubtedly brilliant. Scene changes were quick and smooth and it was really enjoyable to see all the cast on stage for the big dance numbers. They had clearly practiced to perfection and it was great to see how much fun they all seemed to be having on stage. 

I also must give a special shout out to the band, who were absolutely fantastic. Not only did they bring the whole production together, they really made the show special and the audience couldn't get enough of them.
It may have had it's not so good moments, but in my eyes, Grease isn't supposed to be absolutely perfect. I really enjoyed the production and would definitely recommend it to those who fancy a great night out.

Grease The Musical is on stage at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday, 2nd December.

Grease The Musical: 8/10


Sunday, 26 November 2017

REVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker at Birmingham Hippodrome

Beautiful choreography, opulent costumes and decadent sets; there's a reason why Birmingham Royal Ballet have been choosing to bring The Nutcracker to their local stage for 27 years. It never goes out of style.

This particular joyful version of The Nutcracker, which was created by Sir Peter Wright shortly after Birmingham Royal Ballet was founded in 1990, has seen huge success for many years, with sell-out runs and high praise for every single show. This year is proving no different. I headed along to see the show on Sunday (26th November) matinee performance.

Upon arrival, it was incredibly heart-warming to see so many kids dressed up for the show. Although I knew the story of The Nutcracker, I had never had the pleasure of seeing the Birmingham Royal Ballet perform and seeing the kids so excited to see it, reminded me of just what makes the production so popular. It's magical. It's Christmas come to life. It's a feast for the senses, and opens your imagination. If it managed to make me feel these things, just imagine how an eight year old would feel.

Alongside Tchaikovsky's timeless score, performed by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, the story begins on Christmas Eve at the home of the Stahlburn family, who are hosting a huge lavish party. Dr Stahlburn and his wife's 15 year old daughter Clara is training to be a dancer and her friends from the ballet school are invited to perform for the guests.

One of the guests is charismatic magician Drosselmeyer, who gives Clara a Nutcracker doll. Clara becomes fascinated by the Nutcracker doll and believes that it has magical powers. 

Later that night, Clara is unable to sleep, so heads downstairs looking for her Nutcracker doll. However, strange things begin to happen and as the room grows bigger and bigger around her, she is attacked by a hoard of giant rats. Clara's Nutcracker doll springs to life and defends her, before becoming a handsome prince.

The pair then head into a magical world, which has all been conjured up by magician Drosselmeyer. Clara is shown performances from different cultures and is eventually transformed into her dream; the Sugar Plum Fairy. 

To say that the staging of the production was good would be a total understatement. Although it was a very fast paced two hours and ten minutes, the smoothness between scenes was perfect and I was fascinated by the Christmas tree and fireplace transformation, as well as the gorgeous snow scene and Clara's sail across the winter sky on a giant swan, which left the audience in awe. 

The dancers were, of course, wonderful. So much so that it is difficult to pick a stand out performer, as it was obvious that each and every one put their whole self into the production. However, Karla Doorbar, who took on the role of the heroine Clara, was outstanding, as was the Sugar Plum Fairy, performed by Miki Mizutani and the magical Snow Fairy, played by Alys Shee. 

Although an innocent and family friendly show, there is also just the right amount of comedic timing from the dancers and cheekiness from Clara's younger brother Fritz, performed by Archie Mathias. All of this alongside the beautiful uplifting score, makes it a simply wonderful production. 

It's no surprise that the show has become a tradition for local families, and I can only hope that it continues for many years. The Nutcracker is not just the perfect festive show, which will really get you ready for Christmas, it is also charming, colourful and above all, mesmerising. Christmas time is magical for all of us, but The Nutcracker adds that extra sparkle every year. 

The Nutcracker is on stage at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Wednesday, December 13. 

The Nutcracker rating: 10/10

Friday, 24 November 2017

Magical Lantern Festival launches at Kings Heath Park

After celebrating huge success last year, The Magical Lantern Festival has returned to Birmingham in time for the festive season at one of the city's most idyllic locations. 

Following on from their stint at Birmingham Botanical Gardens in 2016, the festival has moved to Kings Heath Park for an even bigger and better event and is set to be a huge success once again. 

The popular event see's the park lit up with a huge variety of larger than life lanterns, with everything from castles and frogs to reindeer's and polar bears available to marvel at, and of course, take lots of photos of.
At the launch of the event this week, a huge group of us were treated to a spectacular of colour, fun and a real celebration of culture. The festival was opened with traditional Chinese music, performances and the switch on of the lights from Birmingham's Lord Mayor.

With plenty of drinks, vegan food offerings and Christmas music beforehad, we set upon our journey around the park to explore all the different lanterns and take in a few surprises.

The lantern festival IS worth the hype. I didn't manage to attend the event last year, so it was a real treat to see it all in the flesh. Many of the lanterns are absolutely huge and I was amazed by the detail of each one. My favourites, however, had to be the polar bears and the flamingo's because they just looked so real. 

The event is ideal for families to say the least. There is a large amount of food offerings, from BBQ flavours to a steakhouse and even ostrich burgers, as well as plenty of sweets, there is something for each member of the family to enjoy.
My favourite part though was the marshmellow section. Sat next to the School of Horticultural Training, which is also a cafe perfect for a few minutes rest, is The Marshmallowist stand where you can choose a marshmallow flavour of choice, and then head over to the open fire to toast it. It's a lovely little touch, and the Popcorn one is particularly tasty. 

There is also children's rides for the little one's to enjoy, as well as the opportunity to meet the big man himself: SANTA! You will find his grotto half way round the trail, and from what I've heard, he also hands out gifts. As well as that, there are a handful of pop-up shops selling merchandise and traditional Chinese gifts. 

Whether you live close by or fancy doing something a little different, I can't recommend The Magical Lantern Festival enough! It is a wonderful night for both family and friends to enjoy, and a great opportunity to get into the festive spirit.
The Magical Lantern Festival is at Kings Heath Park from today (Friday November 24th) until Monday January 1st, 2018. The festival is open from 5pm-10pm from Wednesday to Sunday every week and prices can be found here

Thursday, 23 November 2017

BMAG partners with British Musuem for ‘Finding Faith’ programme

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is launching a pioneering programme of events and activities, in partnership with the British Museum, to explore the role that faith plays in the lives of many of people in Birmingham and across the UK. 

Launching on Saturday November 25th, with a day of free performances and workshops, the Finding Faith programme will run until March 2018 and includes performances, debates and live panel discussions. 

Finding Faith aims to encourage people to reflect on their own beliefs, celebrate the city’s multi-faith community and learn more about how faith and belief can help us understand the world around us today. 

Birmingham Museums is the British Museum’s only regional partner outside of London for this project and the extensive programme of events and activities was developed in partnership with the British Museum’s ‘Living with gods: peoples, places and worlds beyond’ exhibition, which explores the practice and expression of religious beliefs in the lives of individuals and communities around the world and through time. 

Birmingham Museums’ cprogramme aims to bring the discussion outside of London and directly engage with people about what faith means to them. 

Engaging performances and activities on the launch day begin from 11am and represent a range of faiths and beliefs. Opening with an expressive Hindu dance performance from artist and choreographer Jaivant Patel, which explores his relationship with personal faith and spirituality. 

The day will continue with a Rastafrian drumming workshop, uplifting gospel music from artists AffieJam and Jabez Walsh, spoken word poetry by Carl Sealeaf, who identifies as an Atheist, and a Bahá'í craft workshop, which aims to introduce children and families alike to one of the world’s youngest major religions. 

Until March 2018, events will take place at BMAG and at other venues across the West Midlands as part of Finding Faith, such as Coventry Cathedral and University of Birmingham, to encourage interfaith conversations in a range of settings. 

To encourage discussion, there will also be live-stream discussions; including a panel event called Can I find faith? in which national faith leaders will explore what it means to live in the intersection as an LGBT+ person of faith.

Dr Andrew Smith, Director of Interfaith Relations for the Bishop of Birmingham, will also lead an informal discussion with youth organisation The Feast exploring what it means to live in an interfaith city. 

Other prominent events include The Birmingham Conversation, a series of discussions between representatives of different faiths, an artist installation and performance from leading South African artist James Webb, a faith and disability talk led by disability rights activist Hannah Eldritch, and Recipe for a City Feast Celebration, which will see different faith representatives take part in food swap with the public encouraged to try different recipes. 

Suriya Roberts-Grey, Finding Faith Programme Coordinator at Birmingham Museums, said: “Faith and belief is a key human characteristic and this extensive programme of exciting and though-provoking performances, workshops and discussions will bring to life the spirit of living in a multi-faith society. 

“Working with the British Museum and being selected as the only regional partner outside London for this project is a testament to the Birmingham Museums Trust team, who have forged vital links with faith groups and communities across the region.” 

Inspiring visitors until March 2018, Finding Faith aims to bring together people of different religious backgrounds and communities to start a UK wide conversation about the human nature of belief and the role that faith plays in today’s society. 

For more information, head here.   

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

I'll be honest, I had my reservations about A Christmas Carol, which is taking to the stage at Wolverhampton Grand until Saturday 25th November. I questioned more than once why on earth it needed to be a musical, when the Charles Dickens' classic is perfect as a play.

I was proven wrong. The show is being put on by the hugely talented Bilston Operatic Society, who are celebrating 90 years since it's first production. You see, what I didn't expect was that the music brings a whole new lease of life to the classic and it actually really works. For me, stand out songs were by far Place Called Home, Nothing To Do With Me and Mister Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball. 

It may still be November, but the production really does bring Christmas to the Grand and with the help of incredible staging, lighting and wonderful costumes, the audience are transported to Victorian London. 

Although it is a musical, the cast have very much stuck to the original storyline which follows Scrooge meet the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Scrooge, played by the brilliant Nicholas Sullivan, is by far the star of the show. With fantastic comedic timing and very believable emotions, I was very impressed by his performance and take on the timeless Scrooge.

Of course, with the help of the ghosts, Scrooge realises what he has become and wakes up on Christmas day a whole new man. It may be a classic story, but it is still wonderfully heartwarming and emotional, seeing as we can all have the occasional Bah Humbug moment. 

The three ghosts all put on a brilliant performance, but Lydia Tidmarsh, who took on the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, was a particular stand out and her voice was truly beautiful. As was Isobel Checketts, who took on the role of Emily.
The different ghost scenes were incredibly entertaining and some moments were quite scary! Especially when Scrooge's former business partner Marley came out onto the stage. The clever lighting really captured the imagination of the audience.

When the cast all came together for Mister Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball, it was then that the audience could really appreciate the talent of the operatic society. It was also the most enjoyable bit for me personally as it was so much fun. 

There's also no denying that the children really made the production what it is, many of which will no doubt be future theatre stars, especially Harry Lewis who took on the role of Tiny Tim.

It may be a play with a twist or two, but A Christmas Carol is a wonderful production and one that is definitely worth the watch. It is on the stage at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday November 25th, 2017.

A Christmas Carol: 8/10

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