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Friday, 30 July 2010

Billy Elliot the Musical

Billy Elliot the Musical has become a Worldwide phenomenon. Winner of 10 Tony Awards, including ‘Best Musical’, this show will not disappoint. The show is based on the smash hit film, it is adapted by Lee Hall with music by Elton John. It tells the poignant tale of a young boy with an unusual talent.

I have seen the show several times and come away amazed every time. The repetitively infectious music and perfect dance sequences are a pleasure to watch, and appeal to all ages. The thing that always surprises me most about Billy Elliot is the jaw-dropping talent displayed by the children in the production. Unlike most musicals, it is a show that relies heavily on one child – Billy, a part that has to be played by a boy with an unbroken voice (so usually not older than 13). At the moment all four London Billys are 12 years old, but there have been much younger boys playing the role. The boys train intensively for months at the 'Billy House', and during each performance there are always at least two of the Billys in costume ready to perform if anything should go wrong.

I saw the adorable Ollie Gardner as Billy. He was just as brilliant as expected, and danced and sang with exhilarating power and passion. Genevieve Lemon took on the role of Mrs Wilkinson, her knowledge and experience of theatre showed as she interacted naturally with the gaggle of girls that make up her ballet class. The rest of the cast were faultless. My favourite character is Billy’s best friend, Michael. Another challenging role for a child, this character must show wit as well as musical theatre talent. I recently saw Jake Pratt as Michael, he was so funny I felt like I wanted to be his friend. It is hard to imagine where these children will be in a few years time if these are the sort of performances they are giving as kids.

Billy Elliot appeals to all and is the musical I recommend to everyone if they want something fun to do in London. For those of you who perhaps haven’t seen many musicals this is a good place to start.

Book here.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The toys are back in town: Toy Story 3

At last the third and final part of the Toy Story trilogy has arrived. Be prepared with a box of tissues.

Toy Story came out in 1995, the first Disney/Pixar film to be made. It received an outstanding reception wherever it showed, which led the makers to continue the story for two further films.

There has been considerable gaps between each film, increasing the hype. I saw the second instalment for my parents honeymoon celebration when I was just 11. Now, at double that age I enjoyed it just as much. Unlike many series of films, Toy Story has excelled in each instalment, introducing new characters, carefully constructing new plots and developing the animation. Unlike the recent flop, Sex and the City 2, Toy Story 3 perhaps even betters the earlier films.

Toy Story 3 sees the return of Andy’s toys Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) but also introduces some hilarious new characters. My favourite of these is the preened Ken doll (Michael Keaton) who shares some hilarious moments with Barbie. Lotso, the cuddly bear is this film’s villian, and the scariest yet, providing some darker humour. There are lots of laughs, but the highlight would have to be Buzz’s language problems leading to side-splitting consequences.

Director Lee Unkrich and writer Michael Arndt include all the usual ingredients in Toy Story 3, but with a little extra. This film is designed to move as well as to entertain and it certainly does that. The subject of growing up and changing is present throughout the story. Both Andy and this group of toys must be brave and undergo the biggest transition of their lives. Changes that all of us constantly encounter.

It may have taken 11 years, but Toy Story 3 is well worth the wait.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

London girl Florence takes Latitude Festival by storm

No-one had heard of Florence and the Machine a couple of years ago, her rise to the top has been so rapid. This fiery haired Londoner has gone from strength to strength with her individual sound and big personality.

I saw her last week at Latitude Festival and witnessed the Florence craze. Although her unique screeching voice isn’t on my top Ipod playlist I can’t deny that this girl has talent and determination. An enormous black curtain dropped to reveal this goddess all in white. An abundance of energy could be seen both on and off stage as the crowd went wild for her.

I have to admit I didn’t see Florence’s whole set – The National were on at the same time and I wanted to catch a bit of them (as well as giving my ears a break from Flo’s earth shattering volume!) My favourite Florence number is her cover of ‘You’ve Got the Love’ which really got the crowd going.

After all the live music had stopped, my friends and I ventured to the Comedy Tent for some late night dancing (a bit of a tradition). Little did we know Florence was lurking backstage ready for some raucous karaoke. She came on stage, this time to a tent of about 100. I enjoyed this appearance much more, and it was amazing to be only metres away from her. We all sang happy birthday to her sister, who danced alongside Florence onstage.

Latitude Festival is a vibrant mix of creativity. It was encouraging for me, to see Florence as part of it. She was just a girl from London, with a similar upbringing to me, and now she is a star, an icon even.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Jersey Boys and the power of the Falsetto

I went through a phase, when I was younger, of reading obsessively about the Castrati phenomenon. Castrati singers were incredibly popular in opera in the Baroque period, especially in Italy. Boys with promising voices would be castrated before puberty allowing them to sing much higher, almost equivalent to a female soprano.

Of course this cruel tradition no longer exists, however some men can train their voices to be higher, most often known as a falsetto voice, a particular timbre that has recently become very desirable in pop music. American musician Frankie Valli was known for his unusually powerful falsetto voice. It was his unique sound that made his band The Four Seasons such a success.

The msucial Jersey Boys follows the story of The Four Seasons, and their journey to stardom. The show is currently on at the Prince Edward Theatre, a large venue that gives the rock’n’roll numbers a chance to fill the space, and they do. There are two drum sets – one of which is often on stage and a gloriously large brass section. It is a lot of fun to watch.

Ryan Molloy is outstanding as Frankie Valli, and unsurprisingly won the What’s on Stage People’s Choice Award for Best Actor in a Musical. His voice is stunning and the challenging numbers seem effortless for him. Some find the higher male voice unnatural to listen to, but it is impossible not to enjoy Molloy’s rendition of this rock’n’roll legend. The other band members excel as well: Stephen Ashfield as the genius songwriter Bob Gaudio, Jon Boydon playing cheeky Tommy DeVito and Eugene McCoy as bass player Nick Massi.

This was the slickest production I have seen for a long time, filled with memorable tunes to hum on the way home.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 9

I find it really difficult to buy nice, suitable boots. It’s unfortunate that at most shoe shops you get bombarded with the exasperatingly ugly UGG boots, which you have to fight your way through to discover some decent shoes. Avoid UGGs - they are expensive and unflattering and worst of all, make you look like EVERYONE else!

Hudson is a London based company that strives to create ‘innovative, directional’ footwear. In 2004 they launched ‘H by Hudson’, their rebellious younger range. Hudson has a reputation for its fashion forward vision, offering shoes that are high quality and long lasting.

So I present to you H by Hudson’s Starley Multi Strap ankle boot. These sturdy little booties are ruggedly hip, they will look good with skinny jeans or floral dresses. Although casual in style Hudson’s boots are made from good quality suede and leather which allows them to be smart if they need to be. The Starley Multi Straps have just hit the shop floors and are selling out fast. Available in two colours – tan and brown, I prefer the lighter tan option (see above).

At £130 they are something to save up for, but will wear beautifully with age and should last you a while. They are available in shoe shops everywhere, but a little tip – if you are a student go to Office and you will receive 10% off (that’s a whole £13!)

Visit the Hudson website here.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Mint Leaf Lounge & Restaurant

Mint Leaf Restaurant and bar offers innovative Indian food and delicious cocktails. Situated conveniently in London’s West End, the restaurant space is expansive with smart wooden tables and stylish decor. I loved the trendy catwalk-like platform that runs through the restaurant.

The highlights of my trip to Mint Leaf were the delicious cocktails, some of the best I have tasted. I opted for the fresh fruit choices – Pineapple Martini and Peach Daiquiri. I was wisely advised, by my very own cocktail connoisseur, to have the daiquiri straight up rather than muddled (and messed up) with crushed ice, which is the less tasty American way.

The food was good but not worth the hefty prices (starters £8 ish, mains £16-20), with all the extra trimmings (rice, naan etc) extra on top. The menu is short, useful when you have difficulty making decisions. We chose mostly meat dishes to share – Lamb Bhuna, a tomato based curry, fragrant from the whole spices added, and Chicken Biryani, which I wasn’t as impressed with – it lacked flavour. We gave pudding a miss when we discovered the chocolate fudge tart was unavailable. Bad form Mint Leaf, bad form.

Final verdict: Ambience – nice, cocktails – great, food – okay.

See menu here.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Remembering Michael Jackson at 'Thriller Live'

There has never been a better time to go and see the musical Thriller Live. With the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death still fresh in our minds, this show is a wonderful way to celebrate his life and music.

Thriller takes you on a journey through all the major phases of Jackson’s musical life. There is not much of a narrative to follow, instead this show focuses on squeezing in as much singing and dancing as possible, performing popular hit after hit.

We are first shown an insight into Michael Jackson’s unique childhood and how his career began with his successful family band ‘Jackson 5’. The talented Mitchell Zhangazha is breathtaking as young Michael, with a voice and moves that rival the adult performers on stage. The dancers are fantastically exuberant, and perform in almost every number making me feel horribly unfit. The star of the show is Jovanny Pichardo Almonte who takes on the part of the main Michael dancer. He has studied Jackson’s dance and performance style for many years and it is certainly evident. Both his ‘look’ and his movement seem almost identical to that of Michael Jackson himself.

If you have a favourite Jackson number, it is sure to be part of this epic show, all my favourites feature. A trip to Thriller Live is a truly wonderful way to remember the King of Pop.

Book Tickets here.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

A modern classic with a twist: Romeo and Juliet at The Rose Theatre

The Mokhwa Repertory Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet returns to the UK for only 10 days following its sell-out success at the Barbican in 2006.

Once again The Rose Theatre in Kingston presents a popular classic with a twist: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet performed in Korean with English subtitles.The production hopes to show this famous love story in a new light, expressing the drama through martial art sequences, live music and dance. The highly stylised interpretation directed by Oh Tae-Suk promises to be a spectacle with striking set and costumes. The Sunday Telegraph has described the production as ‘unquestionably rewarding’.

Romeo and Juliet continues at The Rose Theatre until Sunday 25 July. Tickets range from £10 to 28, with pit cushion places at only £7. Sadly I am unable to make it, but let me know what you think if you get there!

Book here.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The understudy triumphs in Blood Brothers

Are you disappointed when you go to the theatre and discover the lead is being performed by an understudy? Let’s be honest, no-one wants to pay for second best. With the fall of theatre ticket sales, the ‘celebrity lead’ is often crucial to a show’s success. In my experience it is unusual for a celeb to really excel considering the vocal training and talent needed for a West End performer. Mel C, who recently starred in Blood Brothers was one of the few celebrities who did receive rave reviews and she brought new interest to the 21 year old musical. Niki Evans, recent X-Factor semi-finalist now takes on the role.

The night I went to see Blood Brothers Mrs Johnstone was played by Evans’ understudy Vivienne Carlyle. I didn’t realise this until the interval, but I never would have guessed had I not been told. Carlyle gave a charming rendition of this humble working-class single mum. Her voice is powerful and has a beautiful tone and her acting faultless. The drama explores the subject of twins and the intriguing ‘nature versus nurture’ debate. The brothers are played by Stephen Palfreman (Mickey) and Simon Willmont (Eddie) who both act tremendously. Palfreman convincingly portrays both the naughty schoolboy and the troubled adult, and is a pleasure to watch on stage. Mrs Lyons was also played by the understudy for the part, Rebekah Clifford. She is appropriately evil and a brilliant contrast to Carlyle.

Leaving the theatre I felt quite overwhelmed (I cried for most of the second half). The understudies in this performance stole the show and made the night a triumph. Enjoy the understudy next time you see one, there’s a good chance they’ll be better than the celebrity they are replacing.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 8

It’s all about ‘Lashes and Tashes’ parties at the moment. The perfect minimal costume for boys and girls, you can go as natural or crazy as you desire.

I love fake eyelashes and have tried and tested many brands. I love to wear them in summer because they add instant excitement to your look without needing to slap on lots of uncomfortable make-up. Shu Uemura with their psychedelic Tokyo Lash Bar offer every and any kind of lash action to suit every occasion. Conveniently each pair can be reused up to 10 times, so you really get your money’s worth. Also you can go into any Shu Uemura branch with your lashes and they will apply them for free.

The individual little groups of lashes are ideal for a natural look and allow you to create a style that is as full as you choose. My current favourites are the speckled feather lashes, shown in the photo above. Apart from being completely beautiful , on and off, they are very light to wear so don’t weigh down your eyes. You may find it difficult to see through them for a while though. Recently PPQ collaborated with Shu Uemura and together they created the amazing black and white zig-zag lashes. I have a pair and am just waiting for the right event to wear them.

Fake eyelashes are my festival favourite. Most of Shu Uemura's range will cost you around £10-15 and considering how much wear you can get out of them, are a real investment!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Don Giovanni at Opera Holland Park

This was, surprisingly, my first visit to see Mozart’s famous opera, Don Giovanni. Once again sitting in the buzzing audience at Opera Holland Park. I can’t get enough of this company!

The first thing I noticed as I sat down was the striking set in front of me. It was a luxuriously dark and moody stage, on one side the same devilish picture of Don hangs in frames small and large, a constant reminder of his presence throughout the opera. The set barely altered during the show, but clever props transformed the scene and made the changes in location completely believable. This was also thanks to the brilliant lighting director Colin Grenfell. Director Stephen Barlow decided on a late Victorian setting which suited the unique Holland Park setting.

Don Giovanni is a murder story, gripping from start to finish. Nicholas Garrett, who I have previously seen as ‘Scarpia’ in Tosca, plays the lead Don Giovanni. Garrett seems to have great fun playing the extremely licentious young nobleman. He owns the stage and sings the legato melodies with charm and charisma. Claire Wild is delightful as the naive Zelina; the seduction scenes between her and Garrett were witty and exciting. Simon Wilding is fierce as the Commendatore and particularly haunting when he returns in the final scene. Conductor, Robert Dean is an enthused leader for the orchestra injecting the whole show with musical energy.

This production certainly rivals London’s main opera houses. Every seat under the canopy was filled for a show that could have attracted an audience of double the size. I strongly urge you to visit Opera Holland Park especially if you haven’t been before, but hurry the season ends on 14 August.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Family and the Land: Sally Mann

'Candy Cigarette', 1989

I tend to find photography exhibitions a bit dreary. There is a certain energy that surrounds handmade artwork - you can imagine the creator hard at work and their physical process. This is what photography lacks for me. However, The Photographers’ Gallery changed my mind last weekend.

I went along to the new Sally Mann exhibition with my dad and brother on Saturday. They are experts in the fields of art and photography, so I felt a little naive observing the work without such an analytical understanding.

Sally Mann is a successful American photographer, best known for black and white photos of her children and later landscapes of death and decay. In 2001 Mann was heralded as ‘America’s best photographer’ by Time Magazine. In 1949 Life magazine had similarly constructed the reputation of Jackson Pollock with such a headline. ‘The Family and the Land: Sally Mann’ is her first solo exhibition in the UK.

The first room displayed a collection of some of her more recent work. The images are ghostly and stare blankly at you as you wander round. Mann created these prints outside using a delicate technique called the ‘wet plate collodion process’, introduced in 1851. The technique is complicated and tactile and leaves Mann only five minutes to make the exposure.

My favourite works were the earlier family photographs displayed upstairs in the gallery. These controversially show three gorgeous children, often barely clothed. They are intimate and revealing portraits that offer an insight into her family life. ‘Candy Cigarette’ 1989, depicts her young daughter, pretending to smoke with a sweet cigarette. It is a beautifully captured moment, unsettling but stylish enough to appear in Vogue.

The final room, ‘What Remains’ is a collection of haunted landscapes some with discarded bodies in them. They are vague and eerie, and sometimes quite horrendous when looked at in detail. A startling contrast with the children’s portraits in the room before.

I loved this show, so much so that I even almost bought the insanely expensive catalogue.

Show continues until 19 September 2010. Check it out here.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Beethoven's Fidelio at Opera Holland Park

Yvonne Howard as Leonore

Opera Holland Park
welcomes the return of its 2003 production of Beethoven’s Fidelio. I have been lucky enough to see both the 2003 production and the current revival.

Fidelio, Beethoven’s only opera has become an important part of the modern operatic repertoire. Beethoven struggled to write the work, particularly the overture. The overture that features today is intensely dramatic and is, I believe, appropriate for the opera, although this is often debated. It is one of my favourite parts of the opera.

I often attend operas with non-opera goers and find it interesting to observe their reactions to different aspects of the performance. Often their opinions are the most valid. For example, Puccini is my opera weakness, and I find it very difficult to be critical about a production of Tosca, when I find the music so overpowering.

Fidelio at Opera Holland Park this summer has done well and seems to be popular among audiences. I definitely find it more convincing than the 2003 production. The conductor Paul Robinson is always a joy to see. I was conducted by him when I was younger and found him to easy to work with and very musical. Yvonne Howard as Leonore is terrifically boisterous, mastering the often tricky vocal part and acting convincingly with the rest of the cast. I love the layout of the stage in this Fidelio. Olivia Fuchs, who directs this production, poignantly places the prisoners in cells centre stage. It is exciting to watch as the cells unfold and the prisoners sheepishly crawl out.

Fidelio is a simple love story that will always be relevant, Opera Holland Park do justice to the drama and to Beethoven’s stunning score.

Book tickets for Opera Holland Park here.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

100 Club and Jetson

The venues on and around Oxford street are difficult to find at the best of times. However there's no problem with the 100 Club, whose address is conveniently 100 Oxford Street.

The exterior of the club isn’t particularly appealing, a small dingy red shop front. What goes on inside is a lot more exciting. The open interior provides an ideal space for bands to showcase their talent. And with artists such as The Rolling Stones and The Sex Pistols having graced this stage, it's no wonder it has become one of the most celebrated live music venues in Europe.

I went to hear Funk-Folk band Jetson for the second time, having previously seen them on Brick Lane. It was another great set from the boys, playing a larger venue that suited their big sound and personality. See my full review on the Visit London Blog.

Looking ahead, the 100 Club has some great bands lined up for the summer. Next week Jivin Miss Daisy takes the stage with her dynamic young swing band and later in the month the Latin collective Grupo Fantasma will be playing.

Check out other events on at the 100 Club here, it’s a fun venue with a rich history.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 7

A wild bikini from Urban Outfitters

It’s holiday time once again. If you’re anything like me (ie: a girl), you’ll want a new bikini every summer to show off around the pool.

From past experience I have found that often my most treasured bikinis are the cheapest from Primark or Topshop. The problem with these though is that everyone tends to have them, and there is nothing worse than turning up by the pool in the same swimwear as someone else.

This week’s Hot on the Highstreet goes to Urban Outfitter’s Leopard Zip Front Bandeau bikini. A print particularly used by designers Dolce and Gabbana. I like to stand out from the crowd and Urban Outfitter’s bold two-piece helps me do just that. The shape is sturdy, allowing you to jump in and out of the sea without any embarrassing accidents. The vintage style and pattern is sure to flatter most body shapes. My favourite thing about this bikini is the versatility, with a removable halter neck strap it can be worn in two ways.

Urban Outfitters can be pricey, so I was glad to find this little bikini will only set you back £28.

Buy here.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge

Every year, at the beginning of July hundreds of brave people take part in the J.P Morgan Corporate Challenge. This 5.6 kilometre running course has grown from a single event in 1977 to an international series in six countries.

On Tuesday 6 July I was one of the 13,000 participants running the race in London’s sunny Battersea Park. I was participating with my company for Great Ormand Street Hospital, a worthy cause.

I have to admit, ever since agreeing to take part I was dreading this run. I enjoy exercise (mostly contact sport), but find running very challenging, and haven’t really ever got into it. To make matters worse, I realised, the day before, that I didn’t own any trainers. Oh dear. After eventually digging out some (barely) suitable footwear, and choosing an appropriate outfit, I was ready to go.

The run itself was pretty hellish, but there were moments I enjoyed. Battersea Park is quite a picturesque location to run in, or visit, particularly along the river. The first four kilometres were bearable, it was the final stretch that really got me. And seeing a man passed out on a stretcher didn’t fill me with confidence. As I met up with my colleagues at the end I was filled with overwhelming pride that I had managed such a personal feat. A well deserved visit to the pub finished off the evening perfectly.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

STOMP - the drumming sensation

I have never seen anything quite like STOMP. The production combines percussion, movement and visual comedy. It was created in 1991 and nearly 20 years later STOMP still attracts a full theatre every night.

STOMP has been performed all over the world is currently showing at London’s Ambassadors Theatre. This theatre is smaller than most of Covent Garden’s Theatreland venues, but suits this show. The smaller space encourages the sound to resonate.

For the performers this is a show of epic proportion. With no interval they are onstage, almost constantly for the whole 100 minutes. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, apart from lots of noise! It turned out to be the most perfected noise I have ever heard. The eight cast members are spectacular, with unfaltering confidence and energy that indicates they know the show inside out.

STOMP doesn’t really have a narrative, instead it is made up of short sketches that revolve around the instruments they are using for that ‘number’. They don’t have standard drums, instead the characters use found objects - brooms, bins, pipes and anything else they can get their hands on!

This show is a real celebration of music and dance, and all inclusive. I guarantee by the end you will want to get up on stage and join in.

More information here:

Friday, 9 July 2010

The Arts Theatre Club in Soho

The Arts Theatre Club is based in the centre of glittering Soho. This bar is in the style of a 1920s Prohibition Club.

The Club was recently redecorated by award winning designer Lee Broom.The decor is fun and stylish, but also comfortable with large velvet sofas to spread out on. You enter through a little door and follow steps downstairs where you reach a luxuriously dark red room. A functioning piano stands in one corner. The atmosphere is easy-going, and yet when drinking in The Arts Theatre Club you feel like you are brushing shoulders with an elite group of artists.

The club was started up by a group of actors as a meeting place after finishing on stage. A vibe which is still very much intact with a very interesting eclectic crowd.

I drank the delicious Arts Theatre Club cocktail – fruity with a little kick of spice, delicious and very moreish.

With so many fabulous places to drink in Soho it can be impossible to decide. I recommend The Arts Theatre Club, especially if you can manage to go on a night when one of their suitably retro DJs is performing.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Bob Dylan and others at Hop Farm Festival

Hops are a crop commonly used in the making of beer. They have been grown in Kent since the 16th Century. In the Victorian era hop picking was a day out for Londoners, away from the noise and pollution of the city. Every September when the plants were ready to pick, workers from London would come to pick the crop. Hop Farm in Kent now holds an annual music festival, Hop Farm Festival. Although this event is not in London I felt the history of ‘hopping’ meant it qualified.

I had the best day at Hop Farm, truly memorable. After a short train journey from Charing Cross I arrived at Paddock Wood station to join the crowds of excited music lovers. The little, usually quiet, Kent village was transformed into a magical musical Mecca. This year the legendary Bob Dylan was headlining, my idol and a musician I admire more than any other.

The weather was gloriously hot, and I began to feel like I was at Newport Folk Festival back in 1965 when Dylan famously ‘went electric’. The Festival, which spanned over Friday and Saturday boasted some impressive acts. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the Friday show so missed out on Blondie and Van Morrison. Saturday had the real crowd-pleasers though, with the likes of Laura Marling, Seasick Steve and the very now Mumford & Sons who evoked such energy from the crowd, jumping, dancing and singing almost throughout there 40 minute set. The musicians at Hop Farm illustrate a new young group of folk artists, talented and incredibly passionate, but humble with it. Ben from Mumford summed it up as he spoke to the audience of 50,000 – ‘I don’t know what we have done to deserve this... playing alongside the best festival line up of the summer'.

Performer of the day would have to go to Seasick Steve who put his heart and soul into his show. For each song he picked up a new instrument, sometimes strumming vigorously on a plank of wood with strings or a makeshift guitar. Steve and his dedicated drummer commanded complete attention from the audience. I also enjoyed the preacher-like speech between songs, as he spoke frankly, but comically about his past.

At lunchtime our little group sat in a sunny corner to munch on our vast picnic, which included freshly picked strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Absolutely delicious. After lunch a friend and I started our quest to make it to the front of the crowd by the time Dylan arrived on stage. After seven hours on my feet, I watched, with tears in my eyes, the man I have listened to obsessively my whole life. It was an hour I will never ever forget. It’s true Dylan isn’t such a singer anymore, but his band made up for it, all clad in matching outfits. It reminded me of a story my granddad once told me of a memorable night at one of Dylan’s birthday parties in the 60s; he was unable to recognise Dylan because everyone at the party appeared to be dressed up as him.

Although Hop Farm has only been around for three years it is surely one of the best festivals out there both musically, and ethically (it refuses to have sponsors, branding or VIPs). This is a festival of music lovers for music lovers, and I’m counting down the days until next year.

More info here.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Barbican Young Orchestra

The Barbican Centre may not look very exciting on the outside but inside it showcases some spectacular talent. This year launches the new Creative Learning Division which hopes to provide opportunities in all the arts for children, focusing particularly on areas of East London.

On Sunday 4 July I attended the Barbican Young Orchestra concert. An ensemble that my ridiculously talented 12 year sister is part of. This group, led and created by the prolific conductor, Sir Colin Davis has just completed its third annual concert. I have watched each of the three concerts, this was the best yet. The orchestra was made up of over a hundred young musicians ranging from 8-17 years. They were clearly all overcome with excitement as they walked up to their places on stage, and who wouldn’t be at the Barbican. My strongest memory of this venue is singing the glorious St Matthew Passion with my childhood choir here. Every year, at Easter time I would stand on this stage lapping up the buzz of the great hall. The auditorium was light as we sat waiting to sing, and I vividly remember counting all the audience members who were wearing red as I sat patiently.

The atmosphere last weekend was much less serious. The focus was on the children and their enjoyment of the music. Sir Colin’s choices for the programme were carefully thought through. The concert began with Mozart’s Adagio in E for strings, which featured a very competent solo from the seventeen year old Savitri Grier. Tchaikovsky’s dances from Eugene Onegin followed, these were my personal favourites of the night. Fast and furious at times but still full of character, the children certainly enjoyed the luscious melodies, and were impressively accurate with even the fastest of phrases. The concert concluded with the popular Finlandia, a dramatic Sibelius tone poem that seemed to move both audience and performers.

Sadly Sir Colin Davis was unable to conduct on the night, but Andrew Gourlay stepped in and did a sterling job. The whole evening was thoroughly enjoyable, and the performers were so professional I forgot I was watching children.

More information here.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Talking of Yves: England & Co

N.H. Stubbing: Spring Ceremonial, 1959

'Talking of Yves'
is another thought-provoking exhibition from England & Co. The show examines the life and work of artist Yves Klein and the social and artistic web in which he moved, examining all the influences that surrounded him. A variety of work is on display from artists Yyonne Hagen, Tina Keane, Susan Hiller, Iris Clert, N.H. Stubbing, Ralph Rumney and Yves Klein.

The pinnacle of the exhibition for me was Tina Keane’s touching film of an interview with art critic Yvonne Hagen, in which she remembers her relationship with Yves Klein. Other intriguing works are those of artist N.H. Stubbing, who was the husband of Hagen. His paintings convey an insistent rhythm; he uses his hand to print repetitively across the canvas.

The space at England & Co is limited and yet never overcrowded; what they show is always perfectly selected and presented. The work has more purpose than just looking pretty, it is also there to teach us about the artist that created it and the world in which he or she worked.

Exhibition continues until 21 July.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 6

Topshop Clogs

Clogs are the “it shoe” of the season. After Chanel surprised the fashion world with these sturdy shoes a few catwalks ago the whole of the London fashion crowd have gone mad for them.

I have to admit this is a sore topic for me - I fell in love with the red suede Chanel clogs, very highly sought after. I was desperate to have them, and even considered getting a loan to purchase the £800 ish shoes. Reality eventually hit and I began my search for the best highstreet alternative.

It hasn't been easy. After encounters in Dune, Kurt Geiger and several other shoe shops I award Topshop the prize. Their sage sling black clogs are practical and stylish, and comfortable thanks to the effective buckle strap round the back of your heel. I picked them in black (sophisticated and versatile) although a similar pair are available in brown.

At £70 these clogs come in at less than 10 percent of the Chanel equivalent. And okay, maybe they're not quite as pretty but just think of all the other items of clothing you could buy with the £730 you save (that was my reasoning anyway).

The ultimate fashion forward item this season, are you brave enough to wear them?

Chanel Clogs

Visit Topshop website here.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Legally Blonde at The Savoy Theatre

I have waited what seems an age to see Legally Blonde the Musical.

Actually the show hit London’s West End only six months ago, after receiving seven Tony Award nominations in its first year on Broadway. Already the English are hailing it a sensation, with The Independent claiming it ‘perfection’ and The Times thinking it ‘delightful’. I haven’t heard a bad word about it and was surprised to hear that even my football crazed boss at work is a fan. So what is it about this musical that is so universally popular?

Both the music and words are written by Laurence O’Keefe. The music is cheerful and catchy, and the repetition makes it easy for audiences to remember the songs. The lyrics are ingeniously snappy and sharp-witted. But this production possesses something extra to make it as infectious as it is: a superbly talented cast.

There is nothing not to adore about Sheridan Smith. A bubbly blonde (in real life too) she has a very endearing, unaffected charm that makes her instantly likeable. But that’s not all, she has real star quality as well. Starting her musical career young in the National Youth Theatre it is no surprise that both her singing and acting are of the highest standard. The role of Elle Woods comes so naturally to her that this London production becomes just as much about Sheridan as it is about Elle. Any thoughts of Reese Witherspoon fly out the door.

I attended Legally on Richard Fleeshman’s opening night as the shallow Warner Huntington III. Despite being barely 21 years old Fleeshman excelled onstage and bounced off Smith’s theatricality beautifully. I could easily rant on about the other fabulous cast members: Alex Gaumond as Emmett Forrest, Peter Davison as Professor Callahan and Jill Halfpenny as Paulette Buonufonte, all three far exceeded my expectations.

Legally Blonde is a musical theatre masterpiece that deserves all the praise it has so far received. I can say, with no qualms, that it is the best show currently on in London’s West End.

Book now here.