Thursday, 14 November 2019

Nativity! at The Marlowe Theatre (gifted)

If you're not feeling ready for the festive season just yet, get down to your local theatre and watch Nativity the Musical. Based on the hit film and guaranteed to get you into the festive spirit, Nativity! is currently touring theatres across the UK. The musical is at the Marlowe Theatre until Sunday 17th November and last night I was fortunate enough to see the festive musical in action at the Marlowe's Nativity! press night (gifted tickets). Telling the story of the fictional St Bernadette's primary school in Coventry and their annual nativity production, Nativity! is a heart warming and fun story for all of the family.

My ticket for Nativity! at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Hollywood comes to Coventry?

Nativity the Musical souvenir bauble

After Mr Maddens (their teacher, played by Scott Garnham) boasts that Hollywood are coming to see the primary school's annual show, rumours spread across town and St Bernadette's steps into the spotlight. Over the course of 2 hours of theatre, Mr Maddens and his much adored assistant Mr Poppy (Scott Paige) prepare the children for their Hollywood extravaganza, whilst at the same time trying to convince Jennifer (Mr Maddens' ex-girlfriend, Ashleigh Gray) to come to Coventry and actually bring Hollywood with her. Coventry has got Hollywood fever and the last thing the teachers want is to have to admit the disappointing truth. Throw into the mix the rival Oakmoor Prep, Mr Maddens' dramatic nemesis Gordon Shakespeare (Charles Brunton) and the harsh theatre critic Patrick Burns (Jamie Chapman) and you've got a whole lot of performing arts chaos in Coventry. A hilarious plot for all ages, Nativity! had me laughing in my seat the whole way through the performance.

The Cast

Scott Paige and Scott Garnham as Mr Poppy and Mr Maddens

Mr Poppy and Mr Maddens. © Oliver Rosser / Nativity!

There's no denying that the star of the show is Mr Poppy: the big-kid-turned-teaching-assistant who encourages the children to live their Hollywood dreams. In scene with Mr Maddens the duo have a good cop, bad cop relationship and even though they disagree about almost everything, they both ultimately want what's best for the children and to get Hollywood to really come to Coventry. Other stand out performances were Mrs Bevan (Penelope Woodman) the uptight headteacher at St Bernadette's and Gordon Shakespeare who was a fabulous villain. It goes without saying that the children of St Bernadette's and Oakmoor Prep had such incredible stage presence and if they're this good at such a young age, they're bound to be the next generation of theatre stars!

The Set

The set for Nativity the Musical at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

One of the things that surprised me most was the complexity of the sets. Rotating between the two schools, Parker Pictures in LA, Coventry Cathedral and the Mayor's House, there were lots of interactive sets for the audience to enjoy. The Coventry Cathedral set was the most spectacular in my opinion and it came complete with a star hanging from the ceiling for the big 'Sparkle and Shine' number at the end. This was my favourite part of the show and the song was so infectious and happy live in the theatre.

The Music

Tracks from the film, Christmas favourites and some new direct for stage songs made up the musical soundtrack. Each original number was incredibly catchy and I was singing some of them at home last night well after we'd left the Marlowe. The songs were perfect for a Christmas musical!

Meeting Mr Poppy (Scott Paige) at Stage Door after the show

Meeting Mr Poppy (Scott Paige) at Stage Door after the show

I thoroughly enjoyed Nativity! and it was just what I needed to get into the Christmas mood. A fun and hilarious production, it's a really joyful show that appeals to all ages - especially the big kids among us! The musical is at the Marlowe until Sunday so why not head to the Marlowe website and get some tickets before it's too late. With Nativity! this week and the pantomime Mother Goose opening in 2 weeks, the Marlowe is certainly kicking the festive season off with a bang.

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Money saving tips for Disneyland Paris

A Disney fan since birth, I've been going to the Disneyland Paris since I was small. Hooked at a young age, I still go to the parks regularly now and fortunately for my fiancé and I the trips aren't overly expensive. We've learnt how to organise a trip on a budget and choose our time of year wisely so that we avoid school holidays and peak season. Tickets to the parks will always be pricey so normally there isn't a huge amount of financial budge in this area, but you can usually find ways to bring down the cost of transport, accommodation, food and drink in the parks.

Fantasyland at Disneyland Paris

Timing is everything.

Disneyland Paris has very distinct high and low seasons, where the park varies in popularity. High season covers Easter, the Summer, late October for Halloween and the lead up to Christmas, so if you can avoid these periods, you will instantly bring the overall price down of your trip. We last headed to Disneyland Paris in the first weekend of October and our hotel mentioned that we were visiting in low to medium season. Late September had been low season and we'd arrived just before the majority of Halloween visitors, making our trip on the affordable side of Halloween trips.

Frontierland during Halloween season, Disneyland Paris

Some of the ticket sellers offer "adult tickets for kids prices" in low season and if we'd have travelled to Disneyland Paris a couple of weeks earlier, we would have been able to make the most of this fantastic deal and save about £40 total per person on 2 days of park tickets. Make sure you keep an eye out for low season ticket offers!

Buy Eurostar tickets at opening prices

Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland Paris

In all of the time I've been booking trains to Disneyland Paris, I've nearly always found the Eurostar to be cheapest when it's booked far in advance. Tickets are often available 6-8 months in advance with Eurostar direct and if you are online early enough for opening prices, you should be able to find an adult return ticket for under £100.

Be prepared to go self catering

The carousel at Disneyland Paris

Serris - the town next door to Disneyland, is full of Airbnbs and aparthotels for park fans looking to find a home away from home for their Disney trip. Far more affordable than the onsite hotels, aparthotels such as Hipark by Adagio offer guests a kitchen, lounge area and more space than the average hotel room for their time at Disney. You can bring groceries with you or pick them up from the local hypermarket and avoid paying hotel breakfast prices.

Take snacks and water bottles into the park with you.

Sleeping Beauty Castle at night during Halloween season, Disneyland Paris

Snacks and refreshments at the parks aren't cheap and the easiest way to avoid paying the prices is to take some snacks and drinks into the park with you. A packet of crisps at Disneyland Paris costs over €2 and a bottle of water is over €3, so if you were to purchase a few of these items throughout the day the total spent would quickly add up. You can easily fill up a water bottle at any of the fountains throughout the parks which would save you a few Euros on a warm day.

A weekend at Disneyland Paris in low season doesn't have to set you back much, if you're prepared to stay offsite and cut 'unnecessary' costs. You're hardly in your hotel room when you visit the parks, so why not scrimp and save on accommodation and keep your precious pennies for souvenirs and fun meals out. As long as you book far enough in advance and choose your time of year wisely, you shouldn't struggle to find reasonably priced accommodation and transport for your Disneyland Paris trip.

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 7 November 2019

Backstage at the opera (gifted)

Before I watched Glyndebourne opera house's L'elisir d'amore at the Marlowe Theatre on Tuesday 5th November, I was very kindly invited backstage to go behind the scenes of the production. The 'Glyndebourne Tour' involves taking three operas on the road and L'elisir d'amore was the first opera of the tour to be shown at the Marlowe. Eleanor from Glyndebourne welcomed me backstage ahead of Tuesday's performance, showing me the costume departments, the orchestra pit and a sneak preview of the performance itself. Starting at 4:30pm a few hours before the performance, the tour started at stage door.

Backstage at the opera with Eleanor from Glyndebourne

Photo credit: The Marlowe Theatre

To a visitor, backstage at the Marlowe Theatre seems like a maze. Over multiple floors you have dressing rooms, production departments, the all important green room for the performers, the stage wings and the orchestra pit, all hidden from the eyes of Marlowe audiences. The tour started with an introduction to Glyndebourne, where I learnt about the origins of the opera house, the family who started it all and why the company decides to go out on tour every year. The goal of the Glyndebourne Tour is to make opera accessible to a wider audience and the Marlowe is one of the theatres that the tour stops at. Equipped with some opera background knowledge, I followed Eleanor into the backstage areas.

1940s costumes for Glyndebourne's L'elisir d'amore at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

The female dressing rooms were full of beautiful 1940s dresses and it was here that I found out that the classic opera had been brought into a new era. L’elisir d’amore was to be set in 1940s Italy during wartime. Along the corridor from the dresses, wigs were being prepared for some of the other operas later in the week. Even the most natural of hair styles were being created as wigs and most of them were being made with natural hair.

Glyndebourne production wigs in one of the Marlowe Theatre dressing rooms

The orchestra pit was very busy as the musicians were doing some last minute rehearsals. We stood on the edge and heard the conductor in action, preparing the team for the evening’s performance.

The score for L'elisir d'amore

In the stage wings I was able to see some of the L'elisir d'amore props. Flowers, a pheasant and an Italian flag umbrella looked so bizarre lying at the side of the stage, but once I saw the performance they were a natural fit.

L'elisir d'amore props at the side of the Marlowe Theatre stage

Watching the singers warm up from the stalls was a highlight of the tour for me. This was the first time that I heard the opera sound live and I was amazed at the purity of the vocals. Unlike other performances I've seen at the Marlowe, Glyndebourne had opened up the orchestra pit, removing some of the front rows to provide enough room for the musicians and orchestral sound to rise through the theatre. The conductor ran through snippets of the opera with the cast and even this close to the performance start time, he was still offering last minute advice and critique. It was great to watch such attention to detail in action!

Glyndebourne's set for L'elisir d'amore at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

A fantastic way to be introduced to the opera, I am so grateful to Glyndebourne and the Marlowe for the backstage tour. Taking three operas on the road is such a huge task and it was fascinating to see how quickly the opera house had made the Marlowe Theatre their own. Glyndebourne are based at the Marlowe Theatre until Saturday 9th November and tickets can be purchased here.

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Wednesday, 6 November 2019

My first time at the opera (gifted)

I'm a firm believer in the fact that you should try new things every once in a while so when a press invitation to the opera dropped into my inbox, I practically jumped at the chance to go! Glyndebourne opera house based in Lewes, East Sussex have been producing operas since the 1930s and every year since 1968 their 'Glyndebourne Tour' has been taking opera to the masses across the UK. Fortunately for me, the Marlowe Theatre is one of the venues that the opera house visits so I was able to go and see a piece of opera in the flesh last night. L'elisir d'amore is the opera I was invited to see and it forms part of a group of operas that the company are taking on tour this year: Rigoletto, L'elisir d'amore and Rinaldo. Originally penned by 19th century composer Gaetano Donizetti, the 2019 Glyndebourne revival of the opera is set in the 1940s instead of the original 18th century setting and is directed by Annabel Arden. Ahead of the performance I was invited back stage with Glyndebourne and after a behind the scenes tour and sneak peek at the rehearsals (coming to the blog tomorrow), I couldn't wait to take my seat for the real thing.

My first time at the opera - Kat Last

Excited by the opera fan chatter in the Marlowe hallways, I took my seat in the circle at 7pm with a spectacular view of the stage. The entire performance was to be in Italian and I was in perfect view of the subtitles board if I needed them. The performance started at 7:15pm and the awakening of the opera sound across the theatre instantly made me whisper "wow". To think that these performers could produce impressive volume without amplification was an alien concept to me. From the first musical bar, L'elisir d'amore instantly transported me back to 1940s Italy and enticed me into the world of opera.

L'elisir d'amore opera at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

L'elisir d'amore is a romantic comedy set in a small town in Italy, with protagonists Adina (Benedetta Torre, Glyndeboure 2019) and Nemorino (Sehoon Moon) at the centre. Adina is the popular girl that everybody in the town is fond of and by contrast, Nemorino is considered the town fool with little aspiration. Nemorino is absolutely smitten with Adina and despite her putting him in his place many times, he will go to extreme lengths to earn her love. Throw into the mix a travelling "doctor": Dr Dulcamara (Misha Kiria) with an elixir of love, a rival for Nemorino: Belcore the soldier (Matthew Durkan) and you get quite an exciting 2 hours 10 minutes of entertainment.

The lead soloists had such great chemistry on stage together and I found myself smiling, laughing or feeling sorry for them (particularly Nemorino) many times throughout the performance. Even without spoken dialogue I was able to feel emotion towards the characters and this helps prove how music, body language and mime can evoke emotion in the audience to the same level that conversation can. The performers were always extremely animated and this really helped the audience understand what was going on, despite the different language.

Adina (Benedetta Torre) and Nemorino (Sehoon Moon)

Adina (Benedetta Torre) and Nemorino (Sehoon Moon)
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Donald Cooper

The orchestra and performers worked together in harmony to create a joyful, funny and enigmatic piece of art. Every time the orchestra started playing a new piece of music, the chorus would appear on stage or move to a different location in time, portraying the townsfolk with great conviction. Sometimes melodramatic, each of them played a great part in recreating the gossipy culture of a small town or village. Many times throughout the performance the entire cast were on stage and at these moments, a wall of sound was projected across the theatre.

Nemorino (Sehoon Moon), Giannetta (Carrie-Ann Williams), Belcore (Matthew Durkan), Adina (Benedetta Torre) and Glyndebourne Chorus

Nemorino (Sehoon Moon), Giannetta (Carrie-Ann Williams), Belcore (Matthew Durkan), Adina (Benedetta Torre) and Glyndebourne Chorus
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Donald Cooper

The set was just beautiful; an old Italian house with a courtyard protruding out into the audience. In Act 2 fairy lights were added to the set creating a wonderful, romantic atmosphere. It's the little details like this that helped prepare the audience for the evolution of Adina and Nemorino's story.

Adina (Benedetta Torre), Nemorino (Sehoon Moon) and Glyndebourne Chorus.

Adina (Benedetta Torre), Nemorino (Sehoon Moon) and Glyndebourne Chorus.
© Glyndebourne Productions Ltd. Photo: Donald Cooper

I had such a wonderful time watching L'elisir d'amore. It was so different to anything else I've seen, but that made the experience all the more exciting. The soloists and orchestra were able to create musical harmony together and take the audience on Adina and Nemorino's journey. Glyndebourne is at the Marlowe Theatre throughout this week, showing their three operas to audiences across Kent. Tickets can be purchased via the Marlowe website.

Outside the Marlowe Theatre on the Glyndebourne Tour opening night, Canterbury

A huge thank you to the Marlowe Theatre and Glyndebourne for the press opportunity and gifted tickets.

Thanks for reading my blog today.