Category Archives: Theatre & Entertainment

Preview: Gangsta Granny at The Lowry

The long summer holidays are here and it can be hard to find things to keep my boy entertained. We’ve got a few nice things pencilled in for over the summer break. One thing I’m especially looking forward to is Gangsta Granny by David Walliams at The Lowry in Salford Quays. It’s on from Wednesday 31 August to Sunday 4 September 2016. 

We really enjoy our trips to The Lowry, we make a real event out of it. A tram ride, the theatre, a walk around the Quays, maybe a visit to the Blue Peter garden, a little something to eat somewhere and then home again on the tram. Lots of fun, lots of adventure and usually a really good show. 

This summer the Birmingham Stage Company are touring the UK with their production of the popular David Walliams’ book, Gangsta Granny. 

Gangsta Granny

It’s Friday night and Ben knows that means only one thing – staying with Granny! She’s the boringest grandma ever: all she wants to do is to play Scrabble, and eat cabbage soup. But there are two things Ben doesn’t know about his grandma…

  1. She was once an international jewel thief.
  2. All her life, she has been plotting to steal the crown jewels, and now she needs Ben’s help.

Soon Friday nights are about to get more exciting than he could ever imagine, as he embarks on the adventure of a lifetime with his very own Gangsta Granny!

Gangsta Granny

In 2011 David Walliams wrote Gangsta Granny, which was shortlisted for both The Red House Children’s Book Award and for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. During Christmas 2013 a TV version of Gangsta Granny was shown on BBC One with an all-star cast including David Walliams himself. Gangsta Granny went straight to number 1 in the children’s book charts and his books have been translated into no fewer than 30 languages.

Gangsta Granny

We’ll be going on 31st August and we’re looking forward to watching the adventures of Ben and his Gangsta Granny!

Gangsta Granny is on at The Lowry Salford Quays from 31st August – 4th September 2016.

My tips for surviving family festivals in the UK

If you’re off on a day out, or you’ve got tickets to a family festival or event, it makes sense to plan ahead and prepare yourself for all eventualities. In the UK “all eventualities” essentially means prepare yourself for the weather, all of the weather.

We live in Manchester, which is not known as the rainy city for nothing (though it doesn’t actually rain as much as you’d think). We try to get out and about as much as we can, which often means standing in a muddy field getting rained on, but still managing to squeeze some fun out of our precious family time together. Here are my tips for surviving and enjoying outdoor events in the UK.

Check the weather forecast. This will give you a vague idea of what the weather is likely to do on the day of the event or festival. Although if it says it’ll be sunny I’d still stick a brolly in the car just in case.

Pack a Picnic. Regardless of whether the event has food on offer or not, I always pack some emergency provisions. At the very least a couple of bottles of water and enough snacks to tide a hungry tum over until a pulled pork burger can be foraged from the nearest street food vendor.

Plan your day. Check out what’s on, what time it’s on and where it is. If there’s something you especially want to see or do, then it helps to know where on the festival site it’s happening and when. It’s often worth printing out a little map of the site and an events listing, or taking a screenshot on your phone to refer to if you need to.

Take something to sit on. Festivals, events and days out can be a loooong day and you can guarantee there won’t be enough seating for everyone. Take something to sit on. A picnic blanket with a waterproof backing is invaluable, but if you don’t want to carry that around, a bin bag for each family member to sit on works just as well and is much lighter and easier to carry. I have a bad back so can’t sit on the floor, so I take a little camping chair to sit on and my son often climbs on my knee for a cuddle. I wouldn’t be without my chair.

Wear suitable clothing. Rain or shine if you get a couple of thousand people in a field you will need to wear wellies or good stout walking boots. If driving rain is predicted and you’re still going to the event, then pack a mac and wear waterproof clothing. Be prepared to get wet and have dry clothes waiting in the car.

surviving family festivals

Take a change of clothes. If you’re going in your car it’s easy to pack a change of clothing and leave that and a cosy blanket in the car. My son always snuggles under a blanket on the way home and we wouldn’t be without it. The thought of being able to change at the car if you need to can get you through an afternoon of dampness.

If you can’t take a change of clothes (including dry socks and shoes) to change into for the drive home, then I’d recommend packing a pair of dry socks sealed in a plastic bag. Dry feet can make the difference between abject misery and a tolerable bus ride home.

Bring a brolly. We keep a big golfing umbrella in the car as well as a small one to slip into my bag. When we arrive at the festival we make the choice which, if any to bring with us. If it’s raining then the golfing umbrella, especially when teamed with my camping chair makes a nice little shelter from the rain, and when it’s very sunny the brolly offers a little shade.

Use sun cream. Even if it’s cloudy in the UK, you can catch the sun by standing in a field all day. Slap on the factor 30 and top up regularly. Wear a sun hat and keep hydrated.

Bring some baby wipes. As a parent I’m never more than 2 metres away from a pack of baby wipes, they are an everyday essential and invaluable at events and festivals. From cleaning sticky fingers before lunch, dealing with the worst of the mud, for toilet times and for making yourself presentable for the journey home. We don’t leave home without them.

Take cash money. Festivals and events can very easily be done on a budget, but once you’re in you’ll have to buy everything you need and it probably comes at a premium. We tend to pack a picnic and then buy some treats like ice cream when we’re there. Just don’t turn up thinking you can pay for everything with your card, cash is king and most events don’t have ATMs on site.

If you’re prepared for the changeable and sometimes really miserable UK weather, you’ve thought about food, transport and you’ve planned your day then hopefully your family day out will go off without a hitch. Maybe I’m a bit odd, but I’ve started to have low expectations of what an event or festival will be like before I get there, that way I’m rarely disappointed and often surprised and enchanted by what happens on the day.

I have a bit of a go with the flow attitude to life and almost everything I do, which does mean that you can sometimes find me dancing in the rain. You can’t control the weather, but you can control how you prepare to spend a day in that weather. Come rain or shine you will find us having fun in a field somewhere this summer and I hope you won’t let a little rain stop play either.

Do you have any top tips for surviving family festivals and events?

surviving family festivals

Five things to do in Manchester in May Half Term

It only seems like five minutes since the kids when back to school after Easter and the May half term is just around the corner. It’s often hard to think of things to do to entertain the troops. Playdates and trips to the park always feature heavily, but it’s good to have a few bigger things in the diary too.

I’ve picked a few things to do in (and around) Manchester with the kids this May half term. We’ll definitely be popping along to some of these.

The Lost Carnival

If you’ve ever been to the Just So Festival, A Day at the Lake or event The Lost Carnival last year, you know that Wild Rumpus know how to put on an event. Last year we went to The Lost Carnival which was in Bury, this year you can experience an evening of wonder in Crewe, and trust me, it is an experience to remember for all the best reasons.

This year features a “Battle of the Carnivals” between the rival carnivals, The Ingenues and the Birds. Together they will meet for a thrilling evening of spellbinding theatre and enthralling installations, circus, music, visual trickery and sideshows galore. Last year was so good it gave me goosebumps and this year looks set to be even bigger and better!

The Lost Carnival will take place on May 28/29/30 (4-9.30pm) at Queen’s Park, Crewe, Cheshire CW2 7SE. Early Bird tickets cost £10 per ticket. Under 3s go free. Carnival goers should dress for the weather, and wear sturdy shoes.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre & SEA LIFE Manchester

Over the May half term, LEGOLAND Discovery Centre and SEA LIFE Manchester at the Trafford Centre will have lots to entertain families come rain or shine. better still, guests only have to buy one ticket and will have the freedom to explore two brilliant attractions!

In the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre visit the brand new play area, City Builder. Visitors can create their own buildings and structures in the City Builder zone. The only limit is your imagination!

For movie enthusiasts, LEGOLAND Discovery Centre has another new 4D movie starring the LEGO Nexo Knights. Experience this fantastic new 4D film with all the elements – wind, water and smoke – bringing the battle to life all around the cinema.

May Half Term

Down at SEA LIFE Manchester, families can dive deep to the fascinating world of new exhibition, Octopus Hideout and spot the star of the show, the Giant Pacific Octopus called Hank and his Cephalopod friends. A visit to SEA LIFE is always a fascinating, fun and educational day out.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit the LEGOLAND website and the SEA LIFE website

Roald Dahl’s Tremendous Adventures at Tatton Park

From Easter until the end of 2016, Tatton Park is is bringing Roald Dahl’s imagination to life, with a host of children’s trails and events for all the family. Join Danny the Champion of the World in the gardens, Fantastic Mr Fox at the farm and Matilda in the mansion and you’ve got to be careful of The Enormous Crocodile out in the parkland!

We’ve already visited and explored the farm at Tatton Park where we found Fantastic Mr Fox, and we’ll be visiting again over half term to explore some of the other fabulous Roald Dahl goings on. You can read the full preview of the Roald Dahl adventures at Tatton Park here.

May half term

For more information visit tattonpark.org.uk/RoaldDahl.

GeronimO Festival at Tatton Park

The Geronimo Festival is on at Tatton Park (May 29th and 30th) and will feature CBeebies star live shows, a full circus, 3 theatre companies, amazing bands, a full county fair arena including jousting, sheep shearing, motorcycle displays, funfair rides, tortoise encounters, spy school den building and 100 other amazing activities.

This year CBeebies megastar Justin Fletcher will be there, as well as Mr Bloom, presenters Andy Day and Alex Winters and Cook and Line from Swashbuckle. As well as Les Enfants Terrible who present their Imaginary Menagerie. We’ve seen this show before and it is fantastic, so we won’t be missing that particular festival highlight! You can read my preview here.

For more information or to buy tickets visit www.geronimofest.com.

What else?

Manchester is a lively, vibrant city full of museums, art galleries, things to see, do and explore. Just a short drive out fo the city you have a wealth of unspoilt countryside and fresh air to fill your lungs with.  

If the weather is decent then you could visit and explore outdoors at Dunham Massey, Lyme Park, Delemere Forest or Quarry Bank Mill. There’s Manchester Museum to explore; the Museum of Science and Industry, The Police Museum, Manchester Airport Viewing Park, Stockport Hat Museum, the air-raid shelters; as well as Wythenshawe Community Farm and the utterly fantastic Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire.

There’s lots to do this May half term, do you have any interesting ideas for things to do during May half term?

Review: A Day At The Lake 2016

I think any right minded person who opened their curtains this morning and saw hail (it’s blooming well May tomorrow) would have just closed them again and gone back to bed. However, we are a household of optimists and packed our wellies, a warm jumper and a waterproof and headed off to Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire to experience A Day At The Lake.

By the time we got there (about a 45 minute drive from South Manchester) the rain had dried up and the sun was winking away from behind a cloud. We parked up in the free car park and walked to the entrance, this took ten minutes on firm but muddy paths which were fine for me to walk on (I can struggle with my mobility). You can get the train for a few pounds, but we’d just missed it so chose to walk instead.

A Day At The Lake

We’ve never visited Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire before (it’s technically a reservoir) but it is incredibly beautiful. A long lake in a valley surrounded by woodland and with a small steam train line puffing up and down it. 

During the day there was a full programme of events including –

  • Bullzini the amazing tightrope walker
  • Storytelling
  • Marching bands
  • Victorian Bather’s Juggling Show
  • Circus sideshows
  • Mesmerising Mermaids
  • A Helter Skelter and Swing Boats
  • Rowing boats and Vintage boat trips on the lake
  • Donkey and steam train rides along the shore
  • Craft and Vintage shopping at the Treacle Market
  • Street food and local ales

Everything you would expect from a Wild Rumpus event! For us the real highlights were Bullzini who walked a very high tightrope across the lake which had everyone watching in awe. The small boy enjoyed the donkey rides, the fabulous storyteller in his caravan, the ice cream from Gingers Comfort Emporium and the vintage boat trip.

A Day At The Lake

Hubs enjoyed exploring the street food stalls and loved the scenery and I really enjoyed the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Ensemble who played their socks off. I thought the Victorian Bather’s Jugglers were great fun and very brave to be wearing so little given it was raining ice. I enjoyed pottering around the Treacle Market and had I brought more pocket money I’d have filled the car with treasures!

A Day At The Lake

The weather was a bit hit and miss, lovely blue skies followed by dark clouds and heavy rain. Thankfully we dodged the worst of it by taking a boat trip for one heavy shower and having a cuppa in the picnic yurt during the other downpour. It’s an event in the countryside, so it’s always wise to wear wellies and bring a waterproof coat to these things anyway. I don’t think many people minded the weather and almost everyone was dressed for it.

It’s a small site, but there’s plenty to do and explore, plus lots of different street food stalls to enjoy (don’t forget the hog roast up near the Treacle Market which shouldn’t be missed if you enjoy a porky lunch). There’s a new spectacle to enjoy on the hour, every hour from 11am until 8pm and lots to do in between. We had a lovely day out, discovered a very beautiful spot and the boy came home with a head full of aspirations to be a tightrope walker (oh dear).

A Day At The Lake

For the full line-up and tickets visit www.dayatthelake.org.uk.  Follow A Day At The Lake on Facebook and Twitter at #dayatthelake.

A Day At The Lake will take place on 30 April, 1 and 2 May 11am – 9pm at Rudyard Lake, Staffordshire ST13  8XB.

a day at the lake

Horrible Histories – Incredible Invaders Tour

Fans of Horrible Histories will not be disappointed by the stage version of the hit TV series – Incredible Invaders. Billed as “family entertainment with the nasty bits left in” they’re not wrong.

The touring theatre production from The Birmingham Stage Company has two shows to choose from  – Groovy Greeks and Incredible Invaders. We grabbed a family ticket to see Incredible Invaders and enjoyed a whistle-stop tour of 1,000 years of British history, complete with songs, dance routines and a lot of laughs.

From the Celts fighting back against the Ruthless Romans, to invasions from Savage Saxons, Vicious Vikings and No Nonsense Normans, Britain has a proud and glorious history of being invaded.

Incredible Invaders includes the usual Horrible Histories pastiche of TV series such as Grand Designs, Come Dine With Me and Great British Bake Off to name just a few. The fast paced production featuring historical heroes including Caratacus, Boadicea and King Alfred, as well as the Battle of Hastings, the building of Hadrian’s Wall and a 3D invasion of the Vikings.

Just like the TV series, it’s fast, it’s funny and it’s factual. Horrible Histories doesn’t skip over the less palatable bits of history, so there is a bit of gore and a few scares which makes this unsuitable for younger children. The second half comes in 3D (you can get a set of glasses during the interval) and the whole audience shrieks together as blood splatters, seagull poo, hissing snakes and rabid dogs all leap out towards you. If it gets too much you can always take your glasses off.

Horrible Histories is a show which adults and children can truly enjoy together, we all left feeling like we’d had a really fun evening and learned a little something about our horrible history. 1,000 years of history condensed into just 100 minutes of entertainment – amazing.

Incredible Invaders

Horrible Histories – Incredible Invaders is on tour throughout the UK. For tickets and information visit  the Birmingham Stage Company website.

Review: Mr Popper’s Penguins

Last weekend we took the small boy to see Mr Popper’s Penguins at The Lowry in Salford Quays for a Christmas treat. The theatre production is based on the novel by Richard and Florence Atwater, and has been adapted for the stage by Pins and Needles Productions.

Mr Popper’s Penguins follows the story of Mr Popper, a painter and decorator by day. He dreams of Antarctic adventures and lives with his wife, living a normal, everyday, average life. One day he is astonished when a packing crate arrives on his doorstep, out of which waddles a penguin who he names Captain Cook. Alas Captain Cook is lonely and he is sent a mate to cheer him up – Greta the penguin from London Zoo. Soon the inevitable happens and Mr Popper’s house is filled with baby penguins; Popper and his wife, struggling to keep up with their demands for fish hatch a plan to get the penguins to help pay their way – by performing on stage!

Mr Popper's Penguins

Picture credit: Helen Murray

This musical adaptation of Mr Popper’s Penguins is packed full of original songs and puppetry which bring life to this remarkable family of performing penguins. I was absolutely captivated by the show, and the small boy was giggling away at the antics of the penguins. Mr Popper’s Penguins was lively and engaging, lots and lots of fun and the show just flew by. 

Using penguin puppets and a remarkably adaptable set, the cast of Mr Popper’s Penguins bring the story to life, giving each penguin a unique personality, to the point when collectively our hearts broken for the lonesome penguin Captain Cook.

The songs throughout were really catchy and fun, and had the boy wiggling and jiggling in his seat along with the music. There wasn’t much audience participation throughout (this isn’t a panto), but the penguin dance routine at the end which the audience are invited to join in with is marvellous. The small boy insisted we waddle our way home afterwards and is still busting penguin moves days later!

The show is suitable for children aged 3+ and is about 55 minutes long. The small boy, who is 5 gave this a very big thumbs up!

Mr Popper’s Penguins is on at The Lowry, Salford Quays from Thursday 10th December 2015 to Sunday 10th January 2016. 

Mr Popper's Penguins

Preview: Mr Popper’s Penguins

I love taking the small boy to the theatre, there’s something magical about watching him watch a live performance, seeing him fall into the story and immerse himself in the show. It’s something of a family tradition to go and see a show at Christmas. I think he’s a bit young (he’s 5) to understand the nuances of panto, but this year Mr Popper’s Penguins is on at The Lowry, so we plumped to book tickets for that.

Mr Popper's Penguins

Mr Popper’s Penguins is based on the popular book by Richard and Florence Atwater and of course the Jim Carrey film. The story follows Mr Popper, a painter and decorator by day, he dreams of Antarctic adventures. One day he is astonished when a packing crate arrives on his doorstep, out of which waddles a penguin!

This musical adaptation of Mr Popper’s Penguins is packed full of original songs and puppetry which bring life to a remarkable family of performing penguins. The performance is suitable for children aged 3+ and is 55 minutes long – ideal for small children and their short attention spans.

You can watch the “behind the scenes” video below…

Mr Popper’s Penguins is on at The Lowry, Salford Quays from Thursday 10th December 2015 to Sunday 10th January 2016. 

We’ll be going, so watch this space for our review!

My All Time Top Ten Favourite Songs

There has been another one of those Facebook memes going round of late, usually they get right on my pip, but this one caught my attention in a favourable way. Basically if you’re “tagged” you have to share one of your favourite songs on Facebook for seven days. It got me thinking about what songs I would choose should I ever be tagged and I decided to choose my top ten, not just my top seven. 

As a confirmed indie kid I had a few problems narrowing it down from the thousands of tunes I love and listen to regularly. Some were instant, obvious choices, some others I agonised over for a little while, struggling to decide between two or three of my favourite songs from whichever band. It was a difficult task, but I’m glad I sat down and made my own YouTube playlist, it means that I always have 50 minutes of my favourite music on hand for a start. 

I’m not sure what my musical choices say about me, other than “indie kid stuck in the mid-90s” but I’m sure there’s a Buzz-feed quiz which will tell me all I need to know about my inner thoughts and feelings.

top ten

Here’s my all time favourite top ten. It is a movable feast because I’m sure in six months time it’ll have changed slightly, it always does, but for now, these are the songs which speak to my soul (in no particular order)…

  1. Sometimes – James
  2. Devil In Your Shoes – Shed Seven
  3. Temptation – New Order
  4. Fools Gold – The Stone Roses
  5. Married With Children – Oasis
  6. Right here – The Go Betweens
  7. Circlesquare – The Wonder Stuff
  8. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
  9. Chasing Rainbows – Shed Seven
  10. Can’t Get Out Of Bed – The Charlatans 

What’s in your top ten? What do you think of my choices?

Theatre Review: Stick Man

Half term is once again upon us and I find myself scrabbling round for things to occupy the boy. Taking him to the theatre is always a bit of a treat, he loves The Lowry at Salford Quays,  apart from the actual productions we see, there’s lots to see and do around abouts. This half term The Lowry are entertaining kids with a stage production of the Julia Donaldson favourite, Stick Man.

Stick Man

Stick Man (currently on a UK tour) is suitable for children aged 3+. The Scamp Theatre production lasts for around an hour and there’s plenty to keep the little ones entertained. The show is filled with music, song and a spot of beach ball audience participation.

The Julia Donaldson story is a favourite of ours and I did worry a little about how they were going to make a stick lifelike and entertaining. In the event one actor portrayed Stick Man and also held a Stick Man stick, it worked and we were invested in the trials and tribulations of our stick hero!

The cast of three actors are lively and engaging, one actor plays Stick Man, a sprightly actress plays his “Stick Lady love” as well as a host of other characters such as the dog, and the last actor also plays a range of other characters and (and this is the interesting bit) he had a little musical station covered in instruments including drums, bells, a ukulele and a saxophone which he plays to help tell the story.

There was lots of lively audience engagement, a few cheeky laughs and the children all seemed really interested and engaged. The small boy liked the dog taking the stick the best, but was also transfixed with the array of instruments that were being played. It was a lovely way to spend a bit of half term time, especially as we went for a little walk afterwards and had another look around the Blue Peter Garden.

Stick Man is well worth a visit, even Julia Donaldson says so!

Review: Room on the Broom at The Lowry

We’re on half term this week and next and it can be quite difficult to find things to do to entertain a small lively child. Thankfully I had the foresight to get some tickets for us and a couple of his school friends to see Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson at The Lowry in Salford Quays.

Julia Donaldson is a real legend and a fantastic author, her stories are great to read out loud so it’s no surprise that they work so well on stage. Her most famous book, The Gruffalo is brilliant and we went to see the theatre adaptation last year, it was a Tall Stories’ production and we were all transfixed from start to finish.

Room on the Broom

Room on the Broom is a lovely story of a good witch and her cat who whilst off on an adventure lose a hat and gain a dog, lose a bow and gain a bird and lose a wand and gain a frog. The witches broom is soon overloaded and snaps, leading to a dangerous encounter with a dragon and with a decent bit of teamwork and a sprinkling of magic the dragon is sent packing and a new, luxurious broom appears.

It was a wonderful, colourful story brought to life incredibly well by the four talented actors, with some lovely puppetry, funny voices and some great songs which we had in our heads all the way home. There was a genuinely funny moment when one of the actors used the wrong funny voice and all the actors corpsed and the audience fell about laughing, but they recovered well and earned a deserved round of applause.

The show lasts a little under an hour and is suitable for children aged three and above, my four year old and his friends loved it, especially the animals. There’s some nice audience interaction, great songs and enough little snippets of fun to keep the grown ups happy (quoting sections of Bohemian Rhapsody etc). It’s fun, it’s lively and it’s a lovely thing to do over half term.

It’s a great show and well worth catching if you get the chance. It’s on at The Lowry in Salford Quays until Sunday 12th April. More dates in other theatres are on the Tall Stories’ website.

Note: We were given complimentary tickets to see Room on the Broom at The Lowry for review purposes. All opinions are our own.