Review: Dick Whittington and his cat at the Oxford Playhouse

Many Christmas traditions fall by the wayside as the kids get older. Goodbye nativity plays, school Christmas fairs, visits to Santa and the yearly panto. Wait! Goodbye panto? Oh no, we don’t!

When the Oxford Playhouse invited us to their 2018 pantomime, Dick Whittington and his cat, I was a little worried about taking two teens to the performance. Both are obviously too cool to shout at baddies, take part in the sing song or clap along. Or are they?

Dick Whittington: the first half

Sarah the Cook, Dick Whittington. Photo courtesy of Oxford Playhouse.
Sarah the Cook, Dick Whittington. Photo courtesy of Oxford Playhouse.

*Spoiler alert*. Contains details of songs, jokes and plot (yes, I’m sure you think you know this).

The Oxford Playhouse version of Dick Whittington is a loosely adapted version of the original tale. With added panto scenes. Think mice in remote controlled cars, a monkey called Brian and a Brexit bus. Exactly how you’d imagine it.

The first half is a musical extravaganza. From the opening ‘Don’t stop believin’ to Nirvana’s ‘Smells like teen spirit and John Legend’s ‘All of me’ the songs and choreography are brilliant.

An early bakery scene produces the first big laughs. In Generation Game style, Dick and his cat decorate cream cakes as they move along a conveyor belt. Slowly, then a bit faster. You know what’s going to happen. It’s still funny.

King Rat and Scummy, Dick Whittington. Photo courtesy of Oxford Playhouse.
King Rat and Scummy, Dick Whittington. Photo courtesy of Oxford Playhouse.

My favourite character, without a doubt, was King Rat, played by Max Olesker. King Rat has plans to buy a bakery (or maybe a chain of sandwich shops, Rat-a-manger), become mayor of London, then foreign secretary and finally to take Britain out of the world. Sound familiar?

The youngsters were excellent too. In a moment of recognition my son discovered why the boy he sits next to in English had missed lots of lessons recently. Do teenage boys not talk to each other? (No need to answer).

Mr Fitzwarren and Sarah, Dick Whittington. Photo courtesy of Oxford Playhouse.
Mr Fitzwarren and Sarah, Dick Whittington. Photo courtesy of Oxford Playhouse.

Sarah the Cook plays the Dame. In time honoured tradition she is in love with Mr Fitzwarren and wears a variety of colourful and wacky costumes. Despite some strategically placed buns on her cook’s dress she wasn’t as smutty as expected. Whilst there were a few quips around Dick’s name most of the adult jokes were references to Brexit. Personally, I rather like a rude joke but I know they’re not for everyone.

It was a brave move to finish the first half with a panto version of a Les Mis song. One of my favourite numbers in the musical, reworded for Dick Whittington. What a terrific way to end!

Dick Whittington: the second half

Cat and Alice, Dick Whittington. Photo courtesy of Oxford Playhouse.
Cat and Alice, Dick Whittington. Photo courtesy of Oxford Playhouse.

The panto action moved swiftly from life on board Shippy McShipface en route to Timbuktu (via the Titanic) to a surreal under the water scene. In complete darkness the cast swam amongst jellyfish and a mermaid. I might have guessed that blooming song, Baby Shark, would follow. I definitely didn’t envisage a Doctor Who tardis.

But how else would the characters end up on a tropical island? Subsequently imprisoned, with the help of Brian the monkey. Although not before cat and the Dame had a calypso moment on the beach.

Cat and Sarah the cook, Dick Whittington. Photo courtesy of Oxford Playhouse.
Cat and Sarah the cook, Dick Whittington. Photo courtesy of Oxford Playhouse.

Yes, it all got a little hectic. Add in a Spice Girls medley, lots of dancing and a bee hating Queen. There was hardly room for Dick Whittington in the second half. And they wonder why panto is a peculiarly British institution!

Wait. Slow down. Back to the original tale, and the mayoral election. In a nod to political incorrectness King Rat announces that only middle class boys can vote. Of course, he doesn’t win. But does Dick? Now that would be telling.

All works out well in the end. Rat gets his comeuppance, Dick and Alice fall in love and Katy Perry’s Firework provides a fitting finale with added pyrotechnics.

I know the teens enjoyed it. I saw them laughing when they thought I wasn’t looking. Teen daughter was suitably embarrassed when dad mistakenly stood up for the ladies song. And teen boy was incredulous to discover I didn’t realise the cat’s moves were based on Fortnite dancers. That’s because I’m an adult.

Dick Whittington and his cat is on until Sunday 6 January 2019. Purchase tickets direct from the Oxford Playhouse.

Disclosure

Our tickets were provided by Oxford Playhouse. This is an honest review of our experience. All words are my own; all pictures provided by the Oxford Playhouse.

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Review: Hi-Tec walking boots autumn & winter 2016 collection

I rarely accept product reviews on this blog but when Hi-Tec contacted me to see if we’d like to test some of their new autumn & winter 2016 range walking boots I jumped at the chance. I’d just booked a short walking break to Llangollen and the timing was perfect.

We tested two pairs, a ladies boot for my teen daughter and a child’s walking boot for my son. Both pairs were used on a variety of surfaces, from muddy woods to stony hillsides to concrete paths. The weather was surprisingly dry for late October so we didn’t get to test their waterproofness. Although that didn’t stop my son from trying!

How did we get on?

Hi-Tec Bandera II waterproof ladies walking boot

My daughter tested the Bandera II waterproof ladies walking boot. I’d ordered size 6; her usual size is 5.5 but I wanted to allow enough room for some thick walking socks. This was the right decision as she said that they were quite a snug fit.

Hi-tec Bandera II Waterproof Women's walking boot
Hi-tec Bandera II Waterproof Women’s walking boot

My daughter’s immediate response after putting the boots on was how heavy they were, but I think this is more a reflection on her usual footwear than the boots themselves. After ten minutes or so she pronounced them very comfortable. No breaking in required!

Hi-tec boots beside the Llangollen canal
Hi-tec boots beside the Llangollen canal

The boots have a suede and mesh upper with a waterproof membrane and rugged sole. This provided good grip on all of the surfaces we encountered, including some slippy muddy sections on the hills around Llangollen. I wouldn’t recommend them for rockier mountain environments but they’re pretty much perfect for lower-level walks.

Hi-tec Bandera II Waterproof Women's walking boot
Hi-tec Bandera II Waterproof Women’s walking boot

My daughter loved the style and colour of the boots, even though she generally steers away from pink. If pink doesn’t float your boat you can also purchase them in blue tones (or cornflower and sprout according Hi-Tec marketing speak).

Hi-Tec Trail Ox Mid waterproof kid’s walking boot

My son tested the Trail Ox Mid waterproof boot. For years his choice of walking footwear has been trainers in the summer, wellies in the winter. We’ve bought him boots that he’s barely worn. But after a couple of hours walking in these boots he announced “These make me feel like I can walk however far I want”. Strong praise indeed from a fussy 11 year old.

Trail Ox Mid Waterproof kid's walking boot
Trail Ox Mid Waterproof kid’s walking boot

As you can see from the pictures the boot comes with a Velcro strap instead of the traditional lacing option. I wasn’t sure about this; in a size 5 boot it felt a little babyish. That said, my son took to it straight away. Easy to put on and get off without the bother of tying laces. His kind of footwear.

Hi-Tec kid's walking boots
Hi-Tec kid’s walking boots

The boots also feature the Big-Fit system which is a great idea. This consists of two insoles, one of which can be removed as feet grow. This increases the shoe by approximately half a size, perfect for my son who is due a growth spurt.

When my son learnt they were waterproof he took this as a sign to get them wet at every opportunity. Be that dangling his leg precariously into Llangollen canal or paddling in the River Dee. I’m not convinced the waterproofness is supposed to be under full immersion conditions but he wasn’t deterred and they held up well to his testing methods.

Are they really waterproof?
Are they really waterproof?

The verdict

Both kids absolutely loved their boots, with the biggest praise for how comfortable they were straight from the boxes. Neither experienced any rubbing or blisters. They’ve been worn on three separate day walks to date so it remains to be seen how durable they are. But so far, so good!

Disclosure: Hi-Tec provided these boots to us for the purposes of an honest review. All opinions stated above are my own.

More info:

  • Pop over to the Hi-Tec website to see more of their 2016 autumn & winter range of walking boots.
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Review: Aladdin panto at the Oxford Playhouse

A couple of months ago I saw the flyer for this year’s Oxford Playhouse panto, Aladdin. As I glanced over the familiar Korky Paul illustrations I noticed something was amiss. Where was Peter Duncan’s name? He, of Blue Peter fame, who has written and directed every Oxford Playhouse panto I’ve seen. He, who is personally responsible (not that he knows it), for my panto entertainment. A quick ferret through the internet and I discover he’s touring in Hairspray, the musical. How was this allowed? And what does this mean for the Playhouse panto?

I felt a little more reassured after Googling the replacement writer and director, Steve Marmion. He’s a panto veteran and has already co-written an earlier version of Aladdin. Embracing the change of team we visited on opening night; read on to find out what we thought.

Kiran Sonia Sawar plays the role of Princess Rose with gusto and a strong Scottish accent. She knows her mind and isn’t going to be married off to any old prince. Aladdin (Adam Samuel-Bal) is a rather vain character who eventually realises that boasting he’s a prince isn’t going to please the Princess. Abazanezer (Paul Barnhill) played an entertaining baddie and did a rather fine Kate Bush impression. Although the thunder clap and lighting effects that accompanied the appearance of Abazanezer proved too scary for the youngster behind me!

After a shaky start I really began to enjoy the show. My highlight of the first half was Widow Twanky’s (Nigel Betts) striptease walk through the desert to find Aladdin’s cave. I won’t give too much away but if you’re going watch out for the child on the bicycle.

The second half opened in the cave. I loved how Aladdin and Widow Twanky were positioned in the pile of rocks, they pulled some great faces during the scene. The Salt-N-Pepa combo song was rousing and I enjoyed the Genie (David Rubin) dancing with sticks.

The stand out performance of the panto was Rochelle Rose, the Spirit of the Ring, singing Hello whilst Aladdin and Princess Rose floated about on a magic carpet. I’ve got to the stage of turning the radio to a different channel whenever that song comes on as I’ve heard it way too much. But the performance last night was stunning. My daughter, a huge Adele fan, suggested it was even better than the original.

I thought the overall choice of songs was excellent, although ‘Rub the ring’, supposedly a Tolkien reference, had my other half and I sniggering for the wrong reasons!

Widow Twanky had the usual variety of fun costumes. Her Little Pony outfit was only surpassed when she came on near the end riding a swan, a la Rod Hull. Her big pants provided handy storage for the sweet throwing and there were the usual birthday announcements, sing song and ‘It’s behind you’ scene. I don’t remember any ‘Oh no he isn’t, oh yes he is’ routine though.

There were niggles though. Wishee Washee, the dog, gets the audience to howl at regular intervals, which I know is all supposed to be part of the panto fun but my kids found it really annoying. There’s also a strange assortment of animals and a random duck appearing at various points which we just didn’t get; what was the point of them? And finally, there were lots of ladies and gentlemen in the seats as well as boys and girls; please remember us when speaking to the audience!

All of the supporting youngsters sang and danced with great energy; there was a street dance theme running through most of their performances and this was also reflected in the boy’s outfits. My daughter was most impressed with a girl performing from her school but there was probably an element of bias in this judgement!

I loved The Blues Brothers when I was younger so the final song, Shake your Tail Feather, was a treat. The audience were encouraged to stand up and join in and it was a fitting finale. Our verdict? Not as good as last year’s Beauty and the Beast (which was a classic) but still very enjoyable. Mr Marmion has proved a worthy successor to Peter Duncan. Go see.

Have you seen Aladdin at the Oxford Playhouse? What did you think?

More info:

  • Aladdin runs until Sunday 10th January 2016. Some dates are sold out but there’s still plenty of availabilty. Tickets cost from £15 and are available from the Oxford Playhouse website.
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Campsite review: Denfurlong Farm campsite, near Chedworth, Gloucs

I was in two minds whether to write a review of Denfurlong Farm campsite or not. Partly because it’s a simple set up so there’s not really much to say about it. And partly because it’s our new favourite campsite which I’m not sure I want anyone else to discover!

Location

Denfurlong Farm campsite is on the outskirts of Chedworth village in Gloucestershire. It’s the perfect location for discovering the local Cotswold villages and countryside. Cirencester is a 15 minute drive south of the campsite whilst the tourist destinations of Northleach and Bibury can be reached in the same time.

Denfurlong Farm campsite on a sunny June weekend
Denfurlong Farm campsite on a sunny June weekend

We stayed over a gorgeous sunny weekend in June. There were only about 10 other people on the site, I couldn’t believe how quiet it was given the location.

Facilities

This is not the place to visit if you expect extensive facilities. There’s a field, one Portaloo and basic shower, a water tap and waste disposal. There are a small number of electric hook ups for caravans but it’s not your typical caravan site.

Toilet and shower facilities, Denfurlong Farm campsite
Toilet and shower facilities, Denfurlong Farm campsite

New toilet and shower facilities are underway; we had a peek and it looks like they’ll be a big improvement when they’re finished. Although I’m a little worried the campsite will become too popular when the facilities open!

*Update August 2015* – the new toilet block is now open!

The new toilet block at Denfurlong Campsite
The new toilet block at Denfurlong Campsite

The campsite has loads of space for children and dogs to play. Our kids enjoyed playing on the rope swing and exploring the area up behind the tents. There’s a communal campfire pit in the middle of the field which we didn’t get a chance to use but would be perfect for toasting marshmallows. If you do plan to cook you can hire cool boxes and barbecues from the farm shop.

Denfurlong Farm campsite rope swing
Denfurlong Farm campsite rope swing

There are a couple of bell tents to hire too. They look quite roomy inside and can be hired with or without equipment. I always enjoy staying in my own tent but these would be handy if you don’t want the hassle of putting up a tent.

Cotswold Hills Bell Tents, Denfurlong Farm campsite
Cotswold Hills Bell Tents, Denfurlong Farm campsite

Chedworth Farm shop

Aside from the location, the main reason I chose this site was because of the farm shop cafe which is only a couple of minutes walk away.

The cafe is open on weekend mornings for bottomless fried breakfasts (£7), unlimited coffee (£2) and plenty of other breakfast choices. The kids had a smaller fried breakfast for £4.50 each but it was still pretty big!

Kids breakfast, Chedworth Farm Shop cafe
Kids breakfast, Chedworth Farm Shop cafe

The farm makes its own ice cream so we felt obliged to test this too. The lemon meringue flavour was the favourite from our choices although all were good. I didn’t get around to eating any cakes but they also looked tempting.

The only downside was that the cafe had a ‘fried smell’ about it. It wasn’t really obvious once you were sitting inside but was a little off-putting when you first walk into the farm shop area.

Things to do nearby

Corinium Museum in nearby Cirencester is a great place to learn about the Roman history of the area. The museum contains locally found mosaics and wall paintings, along with plenty of Roman artefacts and information.

Corinium museum mural, Cirencester
Corinium museum mural, Cirencester

The ruins of Chedworth Roman Villa are around 3 miles away from the campsite. It’s one of the largest Romano-British villas in the country and well worth a visit. Keep an eye out for large snails around the site; their ancestors were brought over by the Romans to be fattened on milk and eaten as a delicacy.

Chedworth Roman Villa
Chedworth Roman Villa

We’ve been to the villa before so didn’t visit this time. Instead we went for a walk in Chedworth Woods and Nature Reserve and then made use of the National Trust cafe and toilets at the villa.

Summary

We loved this Cotswold campsite and are already planning our return. We are back to basics campers so don’t mind the lack of facilities but it won’t suit everyone. For us though it is the perfect place to spend a night or two in the Cotswolds.

More info:

  • We paid £10 for our grass pitch, this included 2 adults and 2 children. Prices increase slightly during July and August but are still a bargain for the area. Further details and booking information can be found on the Denfurlong Farm campsite website.
  • Corinium Museum in Cirencester is open from 10am-5pm Monday to Saturday and 2pm-5pm on Sundays in the summer months. Different opening times apply out of season. An adult ticket costs £4.95, children age 5-16 cost £2.45.
  • Chedworth Roman Villa is open 10am-5pm during the summer months. Entry is free to National Trust members, alternatively a family ticket costs £22.50. Check the website before visiting out of season.
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