Review: Shrek The Musical

Review: Shrek The Musical

Shrek The Musical, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

We all know the animated film – based on the adventures of unlikely besties, Shrek and Donkey, as they endeavour to complete their quest of defeating the dragon and saving Princess Fiona.

It’s been a few years, with the kids in tow, since I last enjoyed its live adaptation, but when I heard everyone’s favourite ogre was arriving at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre, five years after its last tour, I didn’t let the fact my kids are now young men, stop me from joining in the fun!

Shrek The Musical, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
Photographs by Marc Brenner .

But Shrek The Musical is an extravaganza for big kids and little kids alike and, if last night was anything to go by, an opening night audience comprising all ages, gave the show a very enthusiastic welcome.

At the age of seven, Shrek is sent away from home to fend for himself in a swamp where he is perfectly content. Now some years later, his home is disturbed by a hoard of fairytale creatures who arrive on his swamp having been displaced by the evil Lord Farquaad. Determined to send them on their way, Shrek sets off to take on Farquaad. Accompanied by the loveable (but extremely annoying) Donkey, they both arrive in Duloc where to get his swamp back Shrek must rescue Princess Fiona from a prison tower so she can marry Lord Farquaad.

Shrek The Musical, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Featuring all the classic characters from the Oscar®-winning DreamWorks film and the iconic songs and story from David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori’s original musical, the production features fabulous toe-tapping tunes including ‘I’m A Believer’, ‘Big Bright Beautiful World’ and ’I Know It’s Today.’ There’s even a rousing sing-a-long finale to join in with.

A Shrek-tacular principal cast line-up includes Antony Lawrence (The Lion King, International Tour, Mary Poppins, UK Tour and Matilda the Musical, Cambridge Theatre/RSC) as Shrek, Joanne Clifton (Strictly Come Dancing, ITV) as Princess Fiona, James Gillan (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Apollo Theatre) as Lord Farquaad, Brandon Lee Sears (Dreamgirls, UK Tour, Be More Chill, Shaftesbury Theatre and Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre) as Donkey, and rising star Cherece Richards (Once on This Island, Regent’s Park Theatre) who is making her debut in a principal role as the Dragon.

Shrek The Musical, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

With Shrek, the Belgrade have bagged a show with West End qualities, in no small part due to a sterling lead trio of Lawrence, Clifton and, my personal favourite, Brandon Lee Sears, as Donkey. Hilarious, sassy and unapologetically over the top. And who knew professional dancer Joanne Clifton could also hold a note? A real triple threat in her role of Fiona, to which she given her own twist.

Special mention too to James Gillan’s portrayal of the deliciously camp and vain Lord Farquaad. He brought many of the laughs on the night.

Shrek The Musical plays at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre as part of its UK tour until Sunday so don your best green outfit and leave your troubles Far Far Away for an adventure like no other.

Tickets are available from the box office on: 024 7655 3055 or via here

New-look BID board pledge bold new changes as revote is launched

New-look BID board pledge bold new changes as revote is launched

Stratford BID, revote

Local businesses are being promised ‘major change’ as they’re asked to take to the ballot to vote for another five years of Stratford BID.

It is hoped the bold new 18-point plan – including stepping up police patrols – will win the confidence of 382 traders to secure a fourth term for the body, from April 1st.

Other pledges include introducing a calendar of new events; an evening economy strategy; training and seminars for independent businesses; extending the Park of Ride scheme; creating a new Food and Drink Guide and map as well as a new Independents Guide and Professional Services Guide for the area; relaunching the Stratford Lifestyle Magazine and relaunching the existing BID Area Employee Discount Card to an app.

The board have also committed to the continuation of the Motor Festival, Food Festival and Christmas Lights switch-on event as well as support for events delivered by other stakeholders.

It comes as the board announce they are extending the BID area to include The Maybird Shopping Park. This, they say, is ‘in response to police recommendation for a co-ordinated approach to successfully tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.’

All the changes have been made in response to feedback from local businesses as well as an independent review commissioned by the BID earlier this year. Deadline for votes is 5pm on February 22nd and The district council will be informed of the results of the ballot the following day.

Bid Chairman Rich Jones said: “Stratford-upon-Avon has held Business Improvement District (BID) status since 2009 and I truly believe that retaining a BID is vital to the success of a thriving town centre and a well-connected business community. With nearby BIDs in Leamington Spa, Coventry, Worcester, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Oxford we cannot afford to lose BID status after 15 years and I would urge local businesses to Vote Yes to a new five-year term and for a BID that has a renewed outlook and a new set of initiatives to deliver.

Stratford BID revote, Motoring Festival

“I would like to reassure local levy payers that Stratford-upon-Avon BID company is listening to local businesses on the future direction of the BID and we have made some major changes in recent months. This includes restructuring to ensure the BID is in line with industry best practice with a lean and efficient staffing structure. We have also restructured the Board and it is now made up of local businesses, as a business-led organisation should be.

“We are pleased to announce that we have committed to funding additional town centre police. This initiative will enable businesses to have direct contact with the Police within the town centre, using the existing BID radio system, to address issues that affect them.

“Town centres across the UK have been impacted by Brexit and the Covid pandemic and we appreciate that businesses are struggling. This is why we have taken the decision to bring the BID levy minimum threshold up to a rateable value of £15,000, in line with Small Business Rates Relief, meaning that a further 110 businesses will be exempt from paying BID levy for the next five years unless they choose to pay for voluntary BID Membership. This is not excluding smaller businesses but rather giving them the option of contributing and being involved, whilst all still benefitting.

“We recognise the importance of constructive feedback and we value support from local business owners, this is why we have allocated new places on the board for businesses to join the board in 2024 and act as additional representatives for local businesses.”

The BID board has been slimmed down from 16 to seven representatives, asking three councillors and three council officers to stand down as directors and observers, while making way for three new board positions for representatives from the retail and hospitality sector.

Rich added: “The last five years have been very tough for everyone, as the country was first coming to terms with the post-EU reality, the pandemic hit and, many argue, changed things forever. Whether you adhere to that view, Covid certainly meant long periods of commercial inactivity and far fewer people in destinations like ours that rely upon visitor activity. Today, there are signs of sustained recovery, though it is likely to be a bumpy road that lies ahead.

“We hope that businesses in Stratford-upon-Avon will vote to retain some of the current BID initiatives and support our new plans for the next 5 years. This is an exciting time for the town centre and we invite you to back the BID and Vote ‘Yes.’ ”

The full BID business plan is available to view here

Stratford BID revote, Christmas

More information:

  • There are now nearing 350 BIDs in the UK, the majority in towns and city centres in England. There are three BIDs in Warwickshire and the BID model works in places such as Banbury, Birmingham (10 established BIDs), Cheltenham, Coventry, Leamington Spa, Nuneaton, Redditch, Rugby and Solihull.
  • Businesses in Zone 1 (town centre) will benefit from all of the projects and initiatives outlined in this business plan and businesses in Zone 2 (Maybird Shopping Park and Supermarkets) will benefit from the retail crime reduction, security and safety initiatives.
  • The new-look BID says it will deliver a year-round event programme with ideas such as a riverside beach, outdoor cinema, ice skating rink, Christmas grotto, vintage car show and support new jazz and fringe events.
  • The average annual levy available to be spent by the BID for the term is £389,722.
House of Commons launch for sixth Ladies First Awards celebrating inspirational achievers

House of Commons launch for sixth Ladies First Awards celebrating inspirational achievers

Ladies First Professional Development Awards, House of Commons

A prestigious event at London’s House of Commons this week marked the launch of a national awards campaign to celebrate some the country’s most inspirational female achievers.

The sixth – and biggest – Ladies First Professional Development Awards, will highlight success stories as well as raise funds for The Giles Trust Brain Tumour Fund at its awards ceremony in the summer.

Ladies First Professional Development Awards, House of Commons
Colleen Fletcher MP and Ladies First Director Tracey McAtamney. Photos by Karen Massey Photography.
Ladies First Professional Development Awards, House of Commons
Forty-five members of Ladies First at The House of Commons

The Awards are headed up by Ladies First directors Tracey McAtamney from Balsall Common and Karen Massey from Leamington.

A host of new categories are among the 20 being contested this year, including Sustainable Business Leader, Trailblazer of the Year and Inclusivity Leadership Award.

The gongs also honour, among others, Start-up of the Year, Excellence In Technology and Innovation, Excellence In Health and Wellbeing, Charity/Community Champion, Campaign of the Year, Family Business of the Year, Business Resilience Award and Business Woman of the Year, as well as seeing the return of the popular men’s category, Man of the Year.

Guests at the launch event, on Tuesday, (Jan 23rd) heard from host and speaker Colleen Fletcher, Coventry’s first female MP for 36 years – and last year’s recipient of The Ladies First Lifetime Achievement Award.

Colleen served on Coventry City Council for 13 years from 1992 and as an MP for nine years. She is also Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Blood Cancer; Cancer; Homelessness; Mental Health; and Pancreatic Cancer, causes close to her heart.

Recently announcing her intention to step down from Westminster at the next general election, she said: “I think awards are very important. They make people feel valued and it’s important that as many people as possible hear these women’s stories.

“Whenever I give talks in schools, I tell children that you can’t be what you can’t see, and if lots of people see women achieving then they’re inspired to do it themselves. It gives them more confidence.”

But no one has inspired Colleen more than her late mother Dorothy Dalton, a political agent to George Park, the very first member of parliament for the new Coventry North East seat in 1974. Dorothy was also well known for her role as a JP in the city.

Arti Halai, Tracy Evans, Carmen Watson, Colleen Fletcher MP and Natasha Blacklock of Ladies First

She said: “She would involve me by taking me to political meetings and patiently explaining how it all works and how people work. She was involved in politics back in the days when women typically just made the tea and arranged social occasions and ran the raffle and all of that sort of thing. She always believed that she could do better but didn’t have that much confidence in herself.

Ladies First Professional Development Awards, House of Commons
Coventry North East MP Colleen Fletcher giving her speech

“I worked in home care and it didn’t really occur to me to become a councillor myself but when she died in 1992 I was approached by her ward colleagues ahead of the October by-election. She would be proud of me now and amazed at just how much has changed for women in politics.

She added: “Politics isn’t a career, it’s a lifestyle. But nevertheless, it takes the same effort and the same challenges that everyone else has trying to get to the top of their game or even trying to survive through it.”

Ladies First Professional Development Awards, House of Commons
Corrine Seabourne, Julie McGarrigle, Vicki Bravington, Colleen Fletcher MP, Matt Western MP and Kirsty Leahy

This year’s awards are also supporting The Giles Trust Brain Tumour Fund, funded in 2015 by former England cricketer Ashley Giles MBE and his wife Stine, who was diagnosed with three brain tumours over 12 years. The charity raises funds for research, pioneering equipment and support for patients.

Stine said: “These Awards are a fitting and fabulous platform to celebrate the achievements of women in our community. We’re so proud to be the chosen charity for the Ladies First Awards 2024 and look forward to working with the organisers and members over the next few months.”

Ladies First Professional Development Awards, House of Commons
Maxine Round, Connall Pugh, Tracey McAtamney, Siobhan Rowland and Gillian Bridges

The awards are sponsored by Janine Edwards Wealth Management in Berkswell and Midlands-based recruitment agency Pertemps and headed up by Ladies First’s Tracey McAtamney and her newly-appointed co-director, Karen Massey.

Tracey has herself been recognised nationally for her work with the networking group as well as her charity The Surviving Bereavement Foundation, which provides practical and emotional support for those coping with loss.

Tracey said: “Every year we look forward to championing women who deserve recognition but who don’t go looking for the spotlight, so we want to shine it on them. This year’s awards are going to be the Ladies First’s biggest and brightest celebration of these women yet and we’re incredibly excited to be partnering with such amazing individuals such as Colleen and Stine, who set the tone perfectly at the launch day, along with the incredible setting of The House of Commons.”

Siobhan Rowland, Consultant at Janine Edwards Wealth Management, said: “Awards align with our values and commitment to supporting women’s empowerment. We believe that women should have equal opportunities to succeed and thrive in their professional endeavors.”

Ladies First Awards, House of Commons
Karen Jones and Stine Giles of The Giles Trust Brain Tumour Fund

Carmen Watson, Chair of Pertemps Network Group, said: “We believe in the power of diversity and are committed to championing women’s achievements in business. This sponsorship is a testament to our belief that empowering women strengthens not only businesses but society as a whole.”

Finalists will be invited to an independent judging day at Mallory Court in Leamington on April 8th before the glittering awards night at IXL Dallas Burston Polo Club on June 13th.

Closing date for nominations is March 12th.  For further information about how to nominate, visit here

To enquire about sponsorship opportunities contact Tracey McAtamney at:

New festivals announced for south Warwickshire

New festivals announced for south Warwickshire

Stratford’s Recreation Ground will host Pursuit

The Producer/Director behind Leamington’s largest outdoor arts festival, Art in the Park, is bringing a new and exciting free community festival experience to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Kate Livingston of Slate Events is thrilled to announce the launch of the Stratford Pursuits Festival, a celebration of music, art, and culture that promises to be one of the most exciting festivals of the year. The festival will take place over two days, from May 11th -12th 2024 on the recreation grounds.

The festival is a perfect blend of cultural activities that cater to every member of the family. From History & Literature, Music & Dance, Theatre & Art, and Sport and Well-being, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Stratford Pursuits is an immersive experience that goes beyond a typical festival. Guests can look forward to art installations, interactive experiences, workshops, local food, drinks, and live music.

St Nicholas Park in Warwick

The Festival Director and Producer, Kate Livingston, expressed her excitement about bringing a two-day festival to Stratford Upon Avon. I lived in Stratford in my early 20’s and a lot of my friends still live in the town. Over the last few years, they have mentioned how much Stratford would benefit from a fun, creative, and inspiring festival for the town. I am thrilled to offer a festival that caters to the local businesses, community groups, and charities of the town. Kate is excited to be working with Steven Bazell of That Gin Company who has over 35 years of experience of both working and living in the area.

The Stratford Pursuits Festival is a unique platform that aims to showcase local talent. The festival provides an opportunity for local producers, dance groups, performers, charities, and other community organisations to showcase their work. Our main objective is to create a festival that resonates with the town and its people. We are grateful for the support of local businesses, such as our headline sponsor Stratford Self Store, without which this festival would not be possible.

Slate Events is also producing a Pursuit Festival for Warwick in June. Each festival will be customised to the town it is held in, with a focus on showcasing the local community. Kate Livingston, Festival Director, stated, “We aim to showcase the unique aspects of each town and provide a platform for the local community to engage with and explore what makes their town special.”
Pursuits Festival is looking for local charities, community groups, performers, and commercial vendors who would like to be part of the Pursuits Festival.

To learn more about the Pursuits fesativals, email Kate at

Lights, cameras, action on new foodie TV show

Lights, cameras, action on new foodie TV show

Bia's Kitchen Show, Leamington, food

Foodies from across the area gathered to mark the launch of a new pilot TV show championing local businesses in Leamington, last week.

More than 70 people turned out to the event, at 1 Mill Street, where plans were unveiled for Bia’s Kitchen Show – the passion project of self-taught chef and entrepreneur Bianca Rodrigues.

Bia's Kitchen Show, Leamington, food

The show promises to highlight some of the best of the area’s foodie scene when it is streamed to audiences twice monthly on YouTube, Spotify, Instagram and Facebook.

It is an extension to the successful Bia’s Kitchen brand and will feature local independent chefs and restaurateurs cooking signature dishes as well as Bianca’s own top tips and recipes.

Bia's Kitchen Show, Leamington, food
Bia and the next guests lined up for the show, Thao Dinh from Banh Mi Ca Phe in Leamington and Rajesh Darji from new food experiences business Scratch Cook Social. Photos by Dave Perry Photography.

She said: “I’m over the moon at the success of the launch party. The evening was a great achievement and allowed people to understand the unique concept which is to create a platform to shout about the talented independent people from the food industry out there, who work their socks off.

Bia's Kitchen Show, Leamington, food
Nikki Ryan, Bianca Rodrigues and Naomi McKeever.

“In a fun way we can let people learn more about them and support their business, after all, customers who are familiar with your story tend to feel a stronger connection to your business.

“We are also very interested in hearing from any businesses who would like to get involved in sponsorship of the show, which is going to continue to grow its following.”

Bia's Kitchen Show, Leamington, food

In her first four episodes Bianca was joined by Shamin Uddin, who runs The Paprika Club Indian restaurant in Leamington; Emily Hodgson, of Emi’s Little Bakery based in Leamington; Tatiana Kostova, of Tropical Brazil Foods in Coventry; and weight management coach Nikki Ryan from Leamington.

The show marks the latest chapter on a journey of reinvention for the 43-year-old Brazilian-born mum-of-three, who walked away from a high-flying career in marketing in Rio de Janeiro – after falling in love with a Leamington man and resettling in Cubbington in 2009.

Despite huge transition in her life, the one constant has been her passion for cooking. She started cooking for friends, hosted cooking classes in Warwick and even a pop-up restaurant in Kenilworth. Buoyed by the positive feedback – and a win on Channel Four’s Couples Come Dine With Me TV show – she launched herself as a private chef and reignited her entrepreneurial spirit with successful businesses – Fresh to Freeze, a pre-cooked food delivery business which thrived throughout the pandemic – and Bia’s Kitchen.

Now she is looking forward to sharing her passion with the wider adopted community she has come to love.

Bia's Kitchen Show, Leamington, food
Brazilian Friends, Angelica Morro in black and Silvana Ladaga

Next up for the Bia’s Kitchen Show spotlight are Banh mi ca phe Vietnamese street food; Scratch Cook Social, a new pop-up dining and personal chef business and Mari-Carmen, Specialist women’s Health & Fitness coach, all based in Leamington.

And Bianca is already planning the release of the first in a series of books later this year, compiling some of her guests’ best recipes, the profits from which will support two causes close to her heart – post-natal depression and mental health.

Bia's Kitchen Show, Leamington, food
Adrian Borg -TGFP Accountant, Trevor Blake from Peach Pubs and Nick Hodgson from Nicholas Jon Recruitment.

See the first episodes of Bia’s Kitchen Show here



Read more about Bianca’s story here