Reviews in Stratford-upon-Avon

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at Stratford ArtsHouse

Family outing to Jack and the BeanstalkWe love a good panto – oh yes we do!!

Like many other families, taking the kids to the panto is a Christmas essential.  It’s wonderful to see an audience aged from 0-99 singing along and laughing together.

The opening night is always a treat… with impromptu laughs often provided by props that don’t quite work, fluffed lines and a nervous cast – but credit to everyone that there was only one minor hiccup “can you hear those footprints?” which just gave another laughter opportunity.

Jack and the Beanstalk features Kyle Tovey in the lead role and Clare Reilly as fairy sunflower – both on top form again after appearing to rave reviews in the Stratford ArtsHouse panto last year.

Kyle (playing Jack) is superb, singing with gusto and hats off to Chlöe Amber who is both choreographer and plays Princess Amelia.  Dame Trott delivers the cheesy gags by the bucket load (or maybe that should be Daisy the cow’s milk pail).  Highlights for us were the hilarious Simple Simon’s lip sync battle with wicked witch Melevola, played by Kate Taylor-Marshall‏ and the following morning we’re still singing the finale Reach for the Stars!!

We’ve been to a few events at the Stratford ArtsHouse and we’re always pleasantly surprised with the reasonably priced drinks and confectionery.  They’d also provided a colouring-in area for the kids and their very own beanstalk!


REVIEW: Snow Mouse at Warwick Arts Centre

Snow Mouse Warwick Arts CentreJust as we thought all of the snow had melted, this afternoon we visited the Warwick Arts Centre to watch ‘The Snow Mouse’.

Not really knowing what to expect, we walked into a snowy wonderland and sat on soft furry ‘snow’ pillows. It was a magical tale of a girl who befriended a mouse on a snowy day (much like the ones we had last week!). Such a fantastic adaptation of this lovely little story.

Both my children (Billy aged 4 and Jessie aged 2) were totally engaged for the entire performance which – at 40 minutes long – was a Christmas miracle in itself!

There were children there aged from around 6 months up to 4 years old and from where we were sitting it looked like everyone really enjoyed it.  There is no actual ‘seating’ format and so crawling children and toddlers were free to explore their surroundings which was great. It was also interactive (but not ‘in your face’) and so it really did keep everyone entertained!


REVIEW: A Christmas Carol by the Royal Shakespeare Company

A Christmas CarolFor our first ever family trip to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, we were all in for a festive treat! The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Christmas show is suitable for ages 7+ so ideal for our two children, aged 7 and 9.  We’d had this in our diary for months and months so our expectations were high.

The kids were initially puzzled by Dickens appearing as the Narrator and needed a few whispers of explanation. Dickens emphasised the social conscience of the story which would “echo down the years” – which is every bit as relevant now as then.

Phil Davis was superb as Ebenezer Scrooge (we remembered him from his fantastic turn in TV series Bleak House back in 2005).  Along with the poignant moments, there were brilliant song and dance sequences which had the kids spontaneously singing along with the Christmas carols.


REVIEW: The Play’s The Thing at The RSC

Cartoon The Play's The ThingThere’s never been a better time to visit The Play’s The Thing, a fantastic interactive exhibition in the RSC Swan Theatre.  Not only has it just reopened after having a revamp but it’s also won the History & Heritage Award 2017 at the Coventry and Warwickshire Tourism and Culture Awards!

Our visit started with a lively video presentation which immediately grabbed the kids’ attention.  Then upwards via a private staircase to the exhibition itself.  It’s definitely an exhibition for modern times and the “touch-screen generation”.


REVIEW: Priscilla Queen of the Desert at Warwick Arts Centre

Priscilla Queen of the DesertOur mums night recommendation of the week has to go to Priscilla Queen of the Desert.  There was a party atmosphere from the start with the totally OTT opening number!  The laughs came in quick fire, every bit as quick as the costume changes; in fact blink and you’ll miss it in the second half showstopper.

Having never seen the film (I know – I’m probably the only one!) I was the perfect guinea pig to experience it totally fresh.   The amateur cast from Three Spires and Guildhall excelled and the audience loved them back for it.  The flying singing trio, group dance numbers, comedy timing and familiar soundtrack ensured we couldn’t sit still in our seats for a second.

For me, the retired drag-queen Bernadette totally stole the show in every scene.

Our faces ached and our hands were sore from applauding as we left the theatre with a rosy glow* from the uplifting storyline (*and the wine in the interval no doubt helped too).

It’s on until Sunday so take our advice – grab the girls and go!!!


REVIEW: Wars of the Roses at Warwick Castle

Stratford Mumbler at Warwick CastleBrand new for the May half term holidays (and returning for the summer) is the spectacular jousting show “Wars of the Roses” at Warwick Castle.  With my Yorkshire roots, it was never going to be difficult to pick sides between House York and Lancaster – we’re Yorkists all the way!

The Birds of Prey display was our first taste of the day to come, with the performance value being top class.  The boys’ jaws dropped at the enormous wingspan of the bald eagle flying over their heads and up to the turrets of the castle.

Then off we raced to the brilliant Horrible Histories maze which had caught the eye of our 8 year old.  The kids raced round to collect stamps in each history zone, with tales from ancient through to modern history.


REVIEW: Family Bushcraft at Cotswold Farm Park

Adam HensonCotswold Farm Park have just recently launched their Family Bushcraft days under the name Cotswold Adventures.  So on Saturday, with our rucksacks packed with boots, waterproofs and marshmallows (essential for any campfire!) our mummy and son adventure began.

We were immediately made to feel at ease by Jose and Tim and our fellow adventurers.  Between South African bushcraft expert Jose and survival expert Tim who’s ex-military and a former firefighter – their combined knowledge is pretty staggering.  We were lucky to have Adam Henson (of Countryfile fame of course) join us for the morning to add his own knowledge of the land and the trees he’d climbed as a child.

As we stepped into the woods from the field we had our first taste of the day ahead by eating a leaf and flower from the hawthorn hedge – and delicious they were too!  Jose and Tim were constantly pointing out flora and fauna of interest – what’s edible, what’s poisonous, deer footprints, moss and lichen.  What looked just like a grass turned out to be a “sedge” with a stem of triangular shape.  So we were taught “Sedges have edges, reeds are round and grasses are flat”.  We were shown how to use natural navigation, so by observing nature it’s possible to work out your direction of travel without a compass.


REVIEW: Fantastic Mr Fox at Belgrade Theatre Coventry

 Fantastic Mr Fox mother and son theatre tripA memorable highlight of the Easter holidays was our mother-and-son trip to the Belgrade Theatre to see The Fantastic Mr Fox.

This is the second family show we’ve enjoyed at the Belgrade, but our first time in the large main theatre.  Although it’s a modern building the theatre still has the charm of a traditional auditorium with raked seating.  Booster seats can be hired for £1 from the cloakroom which we did so there was no chance of an obscured view.

The show opens with the live band dressed as birds and being chased off by the three farmers.  The story goes that Boggis, Bunce and Bean, three greedy, smelly horrid farmers hate the cunning Mr Fox. Mr Fox is smart, clever and rather fantastic, but he doesn’t realise how determined the farmers are to get revenge. So, can he hatch a plan to save his family and friends? Can they outrun the diggers and outsmart the farmers? And can Rabbit shut up long enough not to give the same away?…. We were excited to find out!


REVIEW: Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park

Compon Verney Interpretation BoardOn our previous visit to Compton Verney for their Forest School (pictured at the bottom) we’d barely scratched the surface, so on Saturday we were back to see the rest!

Compton Verney is 15 mins’ drive out of Stratford-upon-Avon in the direction of Ettington.  It promises a great family day out with their children’s woodland adventure play area, willow tunnels and nature trails to all-weather explorer backpacks and arty activities every school holiday.

A brand spanking new Visitor Centre welcomes you at the car park and there have been more improvements to the galleries over the winter too.  A brisk walk up the gravel path through the trees planted by Capability Brown and around the lake bring you to the impressive former mansion house.   The house is a perfect marriage of history (check out the incredible plasterwork cornicing!) and modern extensions.   The quirky Folk Art gallery on the top floor captured the kids’ imagination, especially the handmade Morris dancer dolls.

As a place renowned for the great outdoors, it was an eye opener to find that there are rainy day options too.  The Family Room is large and well equipped with games, arts & crafts, chalk boards, DUPLO, puppet show and more.  We struggled to drag the kids away!


REVIEW: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Warwick Arts Centre

Our New Year’s Resolution this year was to have regular Date Nights.  After years of staying in with little ones we seemed to have lost our spontaneity.  We’d come to realise that without advance planning it just wasn’t going to happen.  Our strategy of arranging our tickets early and booking the babysitter well in advance seems to be working – our fourth Date Night in 5 months is a new record for us.

As Date Nights go this was right up there, in fact you could say we “hit a high note” at a concert of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Warwick Arts Centre.  The Butterworth Hall was at capacity and the anticipation was palpable.  We both loved being in school orchestras and that’s never left us.  So, my husband was naturally drawn in admiration to the string section and myself to woodwind.  The brass section and percussion were top class too as you’d expect.

With the amazing acoustics of the Butterworth Hall even the tuning up by the orchestra was enjoyable. After a wonderful energetic opening of Prelude to Die Meistersinger we settled in to hear one my huband’s favourite pieces, Bruch’s First Violin Concerto.  The violin soloist Tasmin Little was genuinely outstanding and her numerous rounds of applause afterwards were testiment.


REVIEW: The Hypocrite at the RSC Swan Theatre

The Hypocrite RSCDate Nights are always so much more enjoyable when you know this is absolutely something you would NOT be doing with the kids!  Thankfully, The Hypocrite is a raucous comedy just for the grown-ups – and it’s set in my native Yorkshire.

This was our first time to the Swan Theatre at the RSC and we were seated on the first floor gallery level with a jaw dropping view of the stage.  A folk band started the merriments by singing and playing from amongst the audience, clinching the Hull accent perfectly.

From that moment on the laughs just didn’t stop coming.

The story goes that Sir John Hotham, Governor of Hull, has been given the onerous task by Parliament of securing the arsenal at Hull and denying entry to King Charles I.  All manner of craziness follows.  We loved the acerbic jibes between the lead characters Lady Sarah Hotham and Sir John Hotham played by Caroline Quentin and Mark Addy.  Martin Barrass, who I’ve seen numerous times over the years as a stalwart of the York Theatre pantomime, was on top energetic form playing the Mayor.  There’s lots of audience interaction too to keep everyone on their toes.

I can’t recommend this highly enough – book the babysitter and go!   It’s on until 28th April.


REVIEW: Mary Arden’s Farm

Mary Arden's Farm dinner reenactmentWe were thrilled to join the first families through the gate for the season opening of Mary Arden’s Farm at Wilmcote on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon.

This historic farm belonged to Mary Arden who was William Shakespeare’s mother and is under the care of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  Top marks again to the SBT for making history fun for kids, especially for our youngest who is studying the Tudors at school.

After purchasing our animal food (only 50p a bag) we entered the main quadrangle which have lawn games laid out.  There are characters dressed as Tudors dotted around the site.  We wandered from the candlemaker to the barn for the falconry demonstration.  Sadly due to the avian flu rules, all the birds are being kept inside – but this just made the barn owl encounter that much more intimate.  Our eldest was absolutely over the moon to be picked out as the volunteer assistant!

There’s a really good flow through the site leading you through the different barns, beautifully maintained gardens and houses belonging to Mary Arden and her neighbour Adam Palmer.  The dinner bell rang and everyone headed to the Palmer’s Farmhouse to watch a Tudor lunchtime reenactment.  Outside there is a menagerie of different birds and animals.  The rare breed goats, chickens and ducks eagerly hoovered up the animal food from the kids.


REVIEW: Shakespeare’s New Place

Shakespeare's New Place Stratford-upon-AvonNew Place was Shakespeare’s final family home and although the house has since been lost, the gardens and exhibition centre are a hidden gem in their own right.  New Place is really hitting its stride as a family attraction, with various kid’s activities to enjoy and is part of the after-hours events programme being launched by the SBT this Saturday (11th March).  We are eagerly anticipating tickets going on sale for The Lion King outdoor cinema part of the Shakespeare Film Festival in September!

We went for our visit during the February half-term school holidays.  The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have a programme of school holiday events across all the Shakespeare Houses and will be doing it all again for Shakespeare Week.


REVIEW: Stratford Butterfly Farm

Stratford Butterfly Farm Stratford-upon-Avon

Tropical paradise

The Stratford Butterfly Farm is the UK’s largest tropical butterfly paradise – we’re so lucky to have it on our doorstep!  This February half-term there is mini-beast handling every day between 11am and noon and 2pm and 3pm.

The welcome area has been much improved with a light and bright extension.  There’s a new cloakroom to deposit coats and information boards with tables and chairs.  Once inside the greenhouse we were greeted by the calming sound of trickling water and a butterfly super-highway attracted by the feeding stations.  Squawking in the trees were brightly coloured parrots, along with an iguana so well camouflaged we could have easily walked straight past.


REVIEW: Owl and the Pussycat at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry

We had a wonderful mother and son evening out to see the Owl and the Pussycat at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry last night – it was totally off the wall and we loved it!

The show is based on the book by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, which gave a clue that it was going to be something we’d never experienced before. It is a celebration of nonsense which takes the audience on a fantastical journey through animated digital projections. The cast play multiple roles, perform live music, sing and dance.


REVIEW: Charlecote Park (National Trust)

Charlecote is the nearest National Trust estate to Stratford-upon-Avon and luckily the weather forecast was dry for the first weekend of the February half-term.

The National Trust offer a choice of kids activities in the school holidays and we were keen to try out Charlecote’s Welly Walk.  Different coloured wellies have been set out amongst the parkland in a trail for the kids to find on their treasure map.  Our friends who also live locally went along with us to give a guided tour, but quickly the gaggle of kids were going off-piste.  Not that we minded, getting the kids out in the fresh air with the freedom to roam is priceless.


REVIEW: Oily Cart’s In a Pickle at Warwick Arts Centre

Warwick Arts CentreOn Saturday we were invited to Oily Cart’s show “In a Pickle!” part of the Family Friendly programme at the Warwick Art Centre.  Earlier in the week our MUMbler competition winner had taken her baby daughter and had raved about it, saying, “The show was amazing and my daughter LOVED IT!!  I wasn’t sure how much she’d get out of it at only 8months old, but she had so much fun!”  So we had pretty high hopes for an enjoyable time…

Oily Cart’s shows are multi sensory and designed to be thoroughly absorbing for preschoolers.  Throughout, one of the performers plucks at an Indian sitar making the whole experience sound magical.  We’re dressed in sheep ears and then led through for a “sheep party”.  The children are seated at benches and long tables with covers which are changed as the story progresses – including strokable grass, perfumed spring flowers, fluttering petals and a splashy river.


REVIEW: STOMP at Warwick Arts Centre

Why is it that Date Nights are like buses?  You wait ages for one and then there’s two in a week!  Hot on the heels of our Burns Night supper, hubby and I were excited to be at the Warwick Arts Centre for the opening night of STOMP direct from the West End.  You know the one.… with the dustbin lids.

The energy levels were set to maximum from the start.  Opening STOMP with banging and twirling sweeping brushes resulted in two breakages.  Clearly it’s a regular occurrence with new brooms flying in from the wings!


REVIEW: Date Night at The One Elm

One Elm Stratford-upon-AvonBurns Night with my Scottish hubby is normally a home affair entailing hours of peeling veggies so I was very happy to turn it into a Date Night instead!  Seeing as the 25th landed on a school night we wanted to stay within Stratford, so the special Burns Night menu at The One Elm was just the ticket.  The One Elm is a bustling local gastro-pub which is beautifully fitted out complete with open fire in the front snug.  We headed straight through to the dining room at the rear overlooking the courtyard, which was busy even on a freezing January evening.

The Burns Night menu had a choice of two options for each course.  We both went for the smoked fish starter over the veggie haggis scotch egg.  The fish flaked beautifully with a light cream sauce. Being the nominated driver for the evening I was over the moon to find a few mocktails on offer, whilst the complimentary whisky went down a treat with my better half.


REVIEW: Croome Park (National Trust)

Croome has a great reputation for being kid friendly with a playground, wildlife watching and wide open spaces ideal for a kick about, kite flying and picnics.

Although we had gone with the intention of seeing the views from the top of the Panorama Tower (which is only open certain days in the year) the 45-min walk was more than we could manage.  Instead we opted for the circular walk taking in the ice-house, bird hide and rotunda; then heading down to the house and lake.  There are plentiful picnic tables at every turn, perfect for a leisurely visit.


REVIEW: Upton House and Gardens (National Trust)

When I canvassed opinion on the Stratford-upon-Avon MUMbler Chat Group as to whether it was worth getting a National Trust membership there was an overwhelming “yes” vote.  Comments included “membership is well worth it” “so many great places locally” “school holiday activities are really good”!  So with a £15 NT gift card on offer we signed up for a family membership.

With loads of places to visit in the Midlands we really are spoiled for choice, so which one to visit first?  The weather was going to be a deciding factor!  In the pouring rain, Upton House and Gardens came highly recommended as one of the few houses open in the middle of winter.  We grabbed our wellies and jumped in the car to drive the 25 minutes out on the Banbury Road via Ettington. (more…)

REVIEW: Riverside Restaurant Tiddington Road

We’d already heard that The Riverside was good for families and hearing about the offer of “2 for £12” at the Sunday Carvery totally sealed the deal – we booked in for New Year’s Day!

The welcoming staff promptly seated us by French doors overlooking the balcony with river views.  Shame it was pouring with rain, the views must be stunning in better weather.  We turned down the chance of a starter and headed straight to the carvery.

The carvery station is manned by the chef who gave generous slices of the beef, pork and turkey plus a Yorkshire pudding and stuffing ball.  Alongside was an excellent self-serve selection of roasties and vegetables (cheesy cauliflower my favourite) plus gravy, sauces and numerous other accompaniments including the BEST pork crackling I’ve ever had!!!  The kids loaded up their plates and so did we.


REVIEW: Storytime Playgroup with Kate’s Storytree

The upstairs of the Boston Tea Party Stratford-upon-Avon is transformed each Wednesday morning into Kate’s Storytree with colourful blankets, bunting and floor cushions.

Kate knows many of the stories off by heart and the children seated on the patchwork blanket were totally enthralled.  On the side tables there are heaps of small toys and colouring in for the children to use their own creativity.  After some time spent at free play the kids were asked to make up their own story as a group.  How often do you hear of a boat and a reindeer in the same story but gamely Kate managed to weave them together!


REVIEW: Shakespeare’s Schoolroom

From the moment we walked through the door we were transported back to the school days of William Shakespeare.

Firstly we were invited into an anteroom to watch a short film giving the background history to the building and what went on here from its life as the town hall and school-house.  The guides are both enthusiastic and knowledgeable, plus there are several touch screens for the kids to get hands-on.


REVIEW: Garden of Curious A-MUSE-ments at Shakespeare’s New Place

Gardenpix500We were lucky to get a sneaky peek of the brand new after-dark outside experience at Shakespeare’s New Place, the landscaped garden which opened this summer on the corner of Chapel Street and Chapel Lane.

This is similar in style to an immersive theatre production, with the children being at the heart of the story.  Live actors are stationed at different inspiration areas dotted around the garden and the children are invited to go exploring for “muses”.  Our 8 year old was totally entranced by the experience and immediately wanted to go round again!