Review: Sister Act, Birmingham Hippodrome

Review: Sister Act, Birmingham Hippodrome

Sister Act, Birmingham Hippodrome
Photos by Mark Senior.

Sisters are doing it for themselves – and never more so than in Birmingham this week where you can enjoy a heavenly dose of  Sister Act: A Divine Comedy Musical.

This high-energy production really hits the spot, lifting the spirits against the current chaotic backdrop of life.

Sister Act, Birmingham Hippodrome

Set in Philadelphia in the late 1970s, disco diva Deloris’ life takes a surprising turn when she witnesses a murder. Placed under protective custody after witnessing her mobster boyfriend commit a murder, she is hidden in the one place she shouldn’t be found – a convent! Encouraged to help the struggling choir, she helps her fellow sisters find their true voices as she unexpectedly rediscovers her own.

Landi Oshinowo’s performance seems as much at home in the platform boots of sassy Deloris Van Cartier as it does in the habit of her warm-hearted alter-ego of Sister Clarence, forging new friendships from the most unlikely of sources – the convent in which she seeks sanctuary.

Deloris’ charisma is equalled by Oshinowo’s powerhouse vocals which certainly reached the ‘Gods!’

Sister Act, Birmingham Hippodrome

Featuring original music by Tony® and eight-time Oscar® award-winner Alan Menken (Disney’s Aladdin, Enchanted) and songs inspired by Motown, soul and disco, this is toe-tapping romp is joyous and uplifting.

Plaudits too for Sue Cleaver (formerly of Coronation Street) who is pristinely pious in the role of Mother Superior, and whose acting prowess more than makes up for lack of vocal finesse. (But it’s not really a singing role.)

Biggest laughs of the night though came from the unlikely direction of the villains of the piece – Ian Gareth-Jones, who plays Deloris’s lover, Curtis Jackson, and his his trio of hapless henchmen Joey, Pablo and TJ, played by Callum Martin, Michalis Antoniou and Elliot Gooch.

Sister Act, Birmingham Hippodrome

A special mention is deserved too for Alfie Parker as the luckless dreamer Eddie Southern whose velvety smooth soulful vocals were enough to melt the heart of our heroine – as well as a packed Hippodrome audience. What a voice!

A divine couple of hours of entertainment that you won’t regret.

It plays at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday, May 18th. Tickets available here

Review: The Woman In Black

Review: The Woman In Black

Photos by Mark Douet.

Over 33 years Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black played over 13,000 performances in the West End and has been seen by over 7-million people in the UK. Finally, as part of its nationwide tour, it has now made its way to Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre.

Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt, The Woman In Black tells the story of a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over his family by the spectre of a ‘Woman in Black’. He engages a young actor to help him tell his story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul. It begins innocently enough, but as they delve further into his darkest memories the borders between make-believe and reality begin to blur and the flesh begins to creep.

Belgrade Theatre, The Woman In Black

The spooky setting for the second act is a house surrounded by marshes in a remote village in the North of England, where Kipps sifts through documents belonging to the late Mrs Alice Drablow, the owner of Eel Marsh House.

Walsall-born Malcolm James returns to The Woman in Black having first played Arthur ‘Kipps’ on a UK Tour and then at the Fortune Theatre. He is more than ably supported in this two-man show by Mark Hawkins who, together, bring this classic story to spine-tingling life.

Belgrade Theatre, The Woman In Black

A newcomer to The Woman In Black (despite its longevity), I felt it was a bit slow to get going and yet, there was always a sense of the creeping tension and an anticipation that the second half would have plenty in store!

And that it did! From blood curdling screams to shadowy figures, the clever staging of this show proved that edge-of-the-seat suspense is just as achievable in a live production as it is on the big screen. (Something I had been previously less convinced about.)

It’s a small cast and crew – headed up by creative team of director Robin Herford, designer Michael Holt and lighting by Kevin Sleep – but they deliver a mighty couple of hours of theatre.

Belgrade Theatre, The Woman In Black

Perhaps not one for those of a nervous disposition(!), but definitely otherwise worth a ticket. Just be brave and try and resist watching the second half from behind your hands (as my friend did) so as not to miss it!

The Woman In Black plays at The Belgrade until Saturday, May 4th. Tickets start from £18 and can be purchased here.

Review: Scratch Cook Social

Review: Scratch Cook Social

Scratch Cook Social, Leamington, private chef

Breaking bread with friends in the familiar surroundings of your own home is a popular past time.

But it’s also one which, at least in my household, has diminished in recent years due to busier lives.

I wonder too, whether a post-pandemic society is still leaving its mark on dinner parties. Have we been left with a new-found appreciation of the convivial atmosphere of a busy restaurant, united with fellow diners by our love of a social occasion.

But, since being invited to partake in one of Scratch Cook Social’s private dining experiences, I’m genuinely keen to repeat it.

Scratch Cook Social, Leamington, private chef
Poppadoms and Mint Sauce

Having grown up as a second generation Indian immigrant in London, Rajesh ‘Raj’ Darji was exposed to a wonderful concoction of cultures, aromas and flavours. Later in life and mainly through his long corporate career, Raj was able to travel to, and live in different parts of the world. All of these experiences have informed the types of ingredients he likes to cook with and the styles in which they are prepared.

Today, Scratch Cook Social exists in south Warwickshire as a celebration of Raj’s passion for creating traditional Indian dishes in a contemporary style, working with his diners to curate a bespoke menu to suit every palate or occasion.

Scratch Cook Social, Leamington, private chef
Desi Scotch Eggs

As a guest of Raj, you have the choice of tasting menus ranging from four to seven courses, along with optional wine pairings – making for a deliciously adventurous – journey through food.

With dietary requirements nailed down a couple of weeks in advance, Raj was given free rein to work his magic and what he presented on the day left us with a memorable first impression of his culinary prowess.

Poppadoms and Mint Sauce (Toasted padad, mint-infused yoghurt sauce and kachumber salad) were the perfect delicate palate cleanser and pre-show to the starter of Desi Scotch Eggs (Quali egg, lightly spiced duxelles, panko and Malabar sauce).

Scratch Cook Social, Leamington, private chef
Lamb Tenderoast

This was followed by the main event – in every sense – with Lamb Tenderoast, again with Raj’s unique Asian twist by adding Tandoori Masala, coconut-infused crushed sweetcorn, pomegranate, pickled onions and chutney. I could have personally lived off this for the week. A melt-in-the-mouth plate of food absolutely popping with the most exquisite combination of flavours and aromas.

The Scratch Cook Social dining experience was concluded with Raj’s take on a classic -the French Financier, an almond cake, complemented with apple strips and cardamom foam. The perfect finale to a show-stopping foodie extravaganza and one that leaves you craving an encore.

Scratch Cook Social, Leamington, private chef
Financier, apple and cardomom foam

And every course was introduced by our friendly host and paired with a specially selected wine from Scratch Cook’s hand-picked ‘wine cellar.’ (The wine pairing is optional but certainly recommended) – and another advantage of private dining from home right there!)

After dinner it’s a great feeling to know you can just retire with your companions to bask in the shared five-star dining experience and enjoy what remains of the wine and conversation. Meanwhile our host is busy donning his washing up gloves and eventually leaves our kitchen as clean and tidy as when he first arrived. What’s not to love?

Scratch Cook Social, Leamington, private chef

After 22 years in the corporate world, the nouveaux entrepreneur is clearly enjoying his reinvention as a fine dining chef and, if my experience is anything to go by, will continue to build on his early success, elevating more and more recipes that excite our senses.

Keen to share his passion and culinary tips and techniques with as many others as possible, Raj also offers cooking classes and team building events, including Spice Blending Nights and Kitchen Takeovers and collaborations.

Visit here for more information.

Review: Minority Report, Birmingham Rep

Review: Minority Report, Birmingham Rep

Minority Report, Birmingham Repetory Theatre
Photos by Marc Brenner.

Having seen the film of Minority Report many years ago, I recall being both impressed and bemused by the convoluted storyline that unfolded. How then, was it going to translate to live theatre, I wondered.

But this innovative, brand-new production, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, and adapted for stage by renowned writer and actor David Haig (My Boy Jack, The Good Samaritan) had me on the edge of my seat throughout.

In 2050, neuroscientist Dame Julia Anderton is about to launch the next phase of her pioneering Pre-Crime programme, detaining people for crimes before they are committed. But when Julia is accused of pre-murder, she’s in a race against time to save herself from her own system.

Birmingham Rep Theatre, Minority Report

This thrilling adaptation of such an iconic story challenges our beliefs about justice and free will in a real-time chase through the London of the future.

Minority Report sees award-winning Director Max Webster re-united with the producers of the globally successful stage version of Life of Pi. This incredible theatrical experience creates a world at the borders of science fiction and reality.

The small cast successfully manages to pull off an impressive feat in the retelling of this iconic story so it’s fit for theatre consumption, headed up by the talented Jodie McNee who is impactful as the first female to play the lead.

Indeed, powerful performances all round deliver real time action in this 90-minute frenzy of a show (no interval to catch your breath). And for those who aren’t familiar with Dick’s novella, there’s plenty of twists and turns to keep you on your toes in that time.

Birmingham Rep Theatre, Minority Report

Much of the success is also down to its staging, with clever use of cinematic projections, choreography and inventive props. I particularly enjoyed the hologram-effect appearances of Julia’s (apparently gender-neutral!) AI assistant David, who also delivered the handful of sassy one-liners on the night. Why did she remind me of my car’s Sat Nav, I mused!

This intensely captivating show is a sci-fi spectacle that delivers on all fronts. As thought-provoking as it is entertaining, Minority Report leaves us with a sense of satisfaction, whilst also questioning our own ideas of justice and the power of choice.

The Rep’s latest hugely impressive world premiere continues to play its part in putting Birmingham on the theatrical map.

Minority Report runs at Birmingham’s The Rep Theatre until Saturday April 6. Tickets and information can be found at the Birmingham Rep website here.

Review: Hotel Football, Manchester

Review: Hotel Football, Manchester

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United

It’s been more than 30 years since I last cheered on my football team at their home ground. After growing up as a regular visitor to Old Trafford in Salford, life then just got in the way and I now support them from afar (as many a Manchester United fan is besmirched for doing!)

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United
Room with a view!

Unless you’re in possession of a season ticket – or a very large bank account(!) – having the opportunity to see them once again play on the hallowed turf of the Theatre of Dreams – is a rarity for most of us these days. So how lucky was I that my long-awaited return fixture of choice turned out to be the match of the season – the FA Cup Quarter Final leg against United’s age-old footballing rivals Liverpool! (I’m still recovering… but at least I got my money’s worth.)

My match tickets were a birthday treat and the 4-3 result of this edge-of-the-seat occasion was a treat indeed, advancing us to the next round of this famous sporting competition. There was only one way this unforgettable fan experience could be bettered – so I was quick to accept a kind invitation to join the Matchday Hospitality on offer by Hotel Football.

Having travelled the world with their sporting careers and sampled the best hotels along their journey, Manchester United legends Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, alongside their Class of ’92 teammates Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville, opened Hotel Football in 2015 to bring something different to the city.

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United

The perfect base from which to enjoy your footballing experience, it is strategically positioned to offer you the best views of the Theatre of Dreams. Our room, called Stadium View, certainly wasn’t under-delivering on that front. Waking up in the shadow of the country’s largest capacity football ground – if you’re a fan – is pretty darn magical.

And, as it proved, watching from your window was a great way to soak up the pre-match atmosphere and feel the excitement build as fans gather for the game.

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United

Before that though, there was time to indulge in some special pre-match atmosphere of our own, in the Matchday Experience lounge. Here we were treated to a delectable three-course menu and frequently replenished refreshments and matchday programme – and all in the company of like-minded lovers of the beautiful game, as we shared our score predictions and built up an appetite for what’s to come.

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United
Former Manchester United footballer Wes Brown took part in a Q&A
Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United
A roving magician wowed us with his card tricks

Before dessert was brought out we enjoyed a private audience with the hotel’s special guest of the day, Wes Brown.

Brown began his career with Manchester United, joining the club’s academy at the age of 12 in 1992 and made his senior debut in 1998 and becoming a semi-regular first team player during the celebrated 1998-99 Treble season.

There was also plenty of opportunity to grab a photo with Wes as well as take part in a Man Utd live quiz and be wowed by a magician moving between tables and those who wanted to could even bid on some signed merch for charity – before heading off to take our seats for the big game. (No one yet appreciated quite how ‘big’ it was to be at this point!)

And, with the hotel just yards away, it was easy to take full advantage of the hospitality on offer before making the short walk to our stadium seats just half an hour before kick-off.

The return to post-match hospitality three hours later was a wonderful way of extending the celebrations with fellow fans, whilst also enjoying some more culinary delights before the final whistle blew on our fabulous experience.

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United

It’s not only the close proximity to the ground that so aptly sets the scene for this five-star Man Utd indulgence. From the mini bar packed with complimentary retro goodies, to the cute football shirt-themed toiletries in the bathroom, these little touches all helped make the stay something extra special – and in-keeping with the theme of the weekend.

The room itself was comfortable and super spacious, features including a kingside Hypnos bed, rain shower, 40-inch smart TV with (of course) Sky Sports and BT Sports channels.

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United

And the breakfast, in hotel’s Café Football the next morning was hearty and delicious, providing a good blend of continental buffet and choice of freshly cooked hot dishes. All enjoyed, once again, in view of the Old Trafford backdrop.

The hotel’s café and its bars – are also popular among non-residents, particularly for pre- and post-match socialising.

Football is the heartbeat of this multi-award-winning hotel. The football focus is continued throughout with memorabilia, cool artwork of legendary players and, on the top floor, their very own indoor pitch, which doubles as an events suite.

Hotel Football is a quirky, vibrant and lively base from which to fully immerse yourself into the atmosphere of the beautiful game, especially if, like me, you’re not a local supporter.

The owners’ mission statement is to ‘provide a world class setting for football fans of all ages to enjoy a unique atmosphere, first-class food and drink, stand-out accommodation and, ultimately, unforgettable experiences.’ I’d say they’ve definitely achieved their ‘goal.’

Visit: https://hotelfootball.com/

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United

While you’re there. . .

What better way to immerse yourself into the Club’s history than by signing up for The Old Trafford Stadium Tour, which includes museum entrance.

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United

At just over an hour, we are given a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of some the key areas of the ground, including pitch side, dugout, player’s dressing room and press briefing room. Highlight though for many is the reenactment of walking down the tunnel onto the pitch – with (piped in) cheers and applause ringing in our ears. Aimed largely at the kids – but of course enjoyed by all!

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United
The players’ changing room

As you walk in the footsteps of some of your favourite footballing legends, whatever your team of choice, it’s hard not to be captivated by, maybe not the most contemporary, but certainly this most iconic of stadiums.

The museum, which forms part of the tour package, is stuffed to the rafters with a dizzying amount of silverware and memorabilia. United fans will be particularly drawn to the exhibition which celebrates their glorious Treble-winning season of ’99.

Hotel Football, Salford, Manchester United

Come on your Reds. . .

Prices start at £28 for adults and £15 for Juniors/Concessions. Visit here