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MY FAVOURITE PLACES: Rachel Bavidge, actress

11 Oct

Rachel Bavidge’s acting career began at Oxford’s Pegasus Theatre when she joined Oxford Youth Theatre in the Nineties. Now a successful actress, she has most recently appeared in ‘Eastenders’, ‘The Shadow Line’ and ‘Law & Order’.  This Saturday evening (13 Oct 2012) Rachel will be joining Radiohead’s Philip Selway and Eastenders director Steve Finn for a reading of Noel Coward’s ‘Private Lives’ at Pegasus.

The Ashmolean Museum

The Alfred jewel

I’ve always loved this place and got my first real job after college working here in the coin department.  My favourite object is ‘The Alfred Jewel’ which is a beautiful piece of Anglo-Saxon art.  No-one is certain what it’s for, but it’s inscribed with ‘Alfred ordered me to be made’ and was probably made on the orders of King Alfred the Great.
The Jericho Tavern, Jericho, central Oxford

I spent most of the Nineties hanging round here watching bands play, including my then boyfriend, a bass player in ‘The Bigger The God’ who played lots of gigs round Oxford. The bands around were ones like Ride, Supergrass, The Candyskins and Radiohead (On a Friday) and it was an amazing time for live music.
Oxford Playhouse , Beaumont St, central Oxford

I was a member of the Youth Theatre here and defected from the Ashmolean across the road to get a job as the Community Education worker.  It was always insanely busy but I loved going out and meeting new people and giving those who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre a taste of it.

Cowley Road
, Oxford

I spent many happy hours getting drunk in pubs along this road and having late night takeaways after dancing at the Zodiac, which is now The O2. The area has changed over the years but not too much, and it’s still a great place to hangout. Aziz Restaurant was a favourite and I think I was one of the few people to eat one of their meals on stage at Pegasus.  In the play I was in, called Steaming, the characters eat a hot curry, and the restaurant delivered this to us every night!  Cafe Coco and Uhuru Whole Foods were also big favourites.

Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry

I used to live around the corner from this church where CS Lewis is buried, and when I was having a bad time with life (as all teenagers do) I used to come and sit by his grave for some time out.  I used to love the Narnia books as a child, but also I was brought up in a big catholic family where faith and the struggle with it, was central to our home life. CS Lewis’s own story had certain resonances that made me feel a connection.


REVIEW: First night of Stomp, New Theatre Oxford

2 Oct

Stomp has been around for 20 years now, but I have to admit that I’ve never managed to get excited about watching people banging a load of dustbin lids together. It’s a bit, you know, noisy.

Recently though I’d seen Stomp at the closing ceremony of the Olympics, clambering up scaffolding and whacking their pots and pans with gay abandon and figured there must be something brilliant about them that I’m just not ‘getting’. I’ll do anything for you lot, so I went to the opening night in Oxford’s New Theatre with pretty low expectations really, and took my 10 year old along as my ph stick for kid-friendliness.

And yes, of course – it was actually very good. Surprisingly funny for starters. We laughed a lot. Several of the 8 performers are particularly adept at physical comedy and working the crowd and humour was eeked out of most situations, from a competition between the two female performers for the attention of a fickle bloke, to the Beta male of the pack constantly feeling inadequate at the size of his instrument.

Stomp finds rhythm and musicality in everything from lighters and rubber tubing to hands, bodies and brooms, and it’s all slickly choreographed and directed. It’s incredibly clever actually and there are sustained episodes of brilliance, along with the occasional section that drags a little.

The opening ‘scene’, where everyone picked up their brooms and brushed and banged for about 15 minutes was just too long – both Finn and I agreed on that one. But the production quickly found its stride after that and played heavily for laughs over the first half an hour. By the time we reached the inevitable encore, the performers managed to get everyone in the audience participating in clapping, stamping and clicking. It was insanely enjoyable and a real high on which to leave.

The fantastic set – this pic is taken from a different performance though

Could it have been better? I do think it would have benefited from a simple narrative to hold together the disparate musical vignettes and give the production some coherence. Occasionally I did get that ‘here we go again’ feeling as someone started clicking their fingers or stamping their feet.

There was also an over-reliance on the Beta male for laughs. There were several performers in the group who I barely noticed because their ‘characters’ (for want of a better word) weren’t fleshed out. A basic storyline would have solved that issue.

But overall it was great entertainment. There were loads of kids in the audience, mostly around 8 years old and up (I’d say that’s about the right starting age to really enjoy it). It’s an ideal show for kids in the sense that it starts at 7.30pm and goes straight through til 9pm with no interval so it’s not so exhausting for them. There are early performances on Friday and Saturday though if you think your child won’t last.

The last ‘act’ – yep, those dustbin lids – was incredibly exciting and energising and by the close of the show everyone was whooping and cheering. There was a sustained standing ovation at the end. I’m not sure it was quite deserving of that (though evidently plenty of people disagreed with me!) but there’s no doubt it’s an inspired show, delivered with passion.

Tickets £12-29.50. Stomp plays at the New Theatre Oxford until Saturday 6 Oct before returning to the West End.

REVIEW: First night of ‘Blue/Orange’ at the AWT

26 Sep

I’m not a particularly adept theatre goer – I can get bored easily and certain plays, farces in particular, I find a bit ridiculous. But Blue/Orange at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, was a really enjoyable surprise, not least because I’d misread the promotional blurb and thought I was going to have to sit through a psychological thriller (actually it was a ‘thrilling psychological play’. Oops!).

The subject – mental illness, ambition, the NHS, racism, the ‘system’ – are not glamour subjects, and of course I’d gone into the theatre expecting it to be very serious and esoteric and sloooowwww.

But you can’t really do a play about mental illness and its tragedies without a dose of counterbalancing black humour attached and so, to my surprise, Blue/Orange had more than its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments and rollicked along nicely. I really enjoyed it.

Robert Bathurst (Cold Feet, Downton Abbey) played to type as a slick, privileged, public-school/Oxbridge psychiatrist, with excellent comic timing. Oliver Wilson as the black patient, suffering almost certainly from schizophrenia, was particularly compelling, a believable blend of young man bravado and scared, sick child. Gerard McCarthy, making up the threesome of actors and playing the ‘straight’ role of the GP with a conscience, came alive when his lines allowed him to, as his character became more conflicted in the final act.

Loved the set too –  the white consulting room, all glass and steel and minimalist spun around at the end of the act whilst the actors stayed still in freeze-frame.

In short (Christ, finally I stop wittering on!), no shrink necessary to figure out that I thought this was great. Definitely worth seeing before it leaves for York at the end of the week.

Blue/Orange, at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, until Saturday 29 September. Tickets £10-32.

WHAT’S ON: The Muddy Guide 21-27 September

21 Sep

The very best bits of Bucks/Oxfordshire for the next week, curated by Muddy Stilettos. Have fun peeps!

The Kop Hill Climb 2012, Sat 22-Sun 23 September

Strange the things that amuse us. 12,000 people lined Kop Hill outside Princes Risborough last year to watch 400 vintage car race (or pootle) up the Kop Hill Climb.

This is the fourth commemorative year of the original races of 1910-1925 and it’s getting more extravagant each time. I think I’m understanding this correctly when I say that a Spitfire plane powered by a 27 litre V12 Merlin engine will motor up the hill on Saturday! I think that’s worth the entrance fee on its own.

Classic cars like the McLaren MP4-12C Spider (sorry ladies, am I keeping you awake?) will be all red and shiny and flexing their metal muscles for your delectation, and if you really want to get into the spirit, organisers are also putting on vintage bus and steam train trips.

£10 for the first ticket, then £5 per adult. Under 12s free, and parking free. Kop Hill Road, Princes Risborough, HP27 0LB.

Blue/Orange, Aylesbury Waterside, 25-29 September

Luddite that I am, I’d never heard of the play Blue/Orange before now – well, have you?!! – but this psychological thriller has apparently it’s won every major award going. Oops. This new production, directed by Christopher Luscombe (The Madness of George III, Dandy Dick and Spamalot in the West End) stars the fabulous Robert Bathurst, my favourite character from Cold Feet and most recently Downton Abbey (go on, snog Edith!). The national press have given it rave reviews, with the Telegraph describing its ‘uncommon mixture of sensitivity, wit and daring’. Go and see for yourself and be a Muddy Stilettos critic in the comment box below.

Tickets £10-32.

Nonsense!, The Story Museum, Oxford, 21 September

This event is tonight (Friday)  so there’s not much time to rally the troops, but if you have the energy and your kids aren’t comotose in front of the telly, Nonsense! will be amazing. Michael Rosen, the former Children’s Laureate, hosts an evening of nonsense and jazz with the award-winning Homemade Orchestra at the much-admired Story Museum in central Oxford. It’s described as an ‘off the wall romp through an ever changing musical landscape, igniting the surreal, the playful and the unexpected’. Christ, ditch the kids and just go yourself! Suitable for all ages, 6pm-7.30pm, £10/£8 concessions.

The Story Museum, Rochester House, 42 Pembroke St, Oxford, OX1 1BP. Tel: 01865 790050.

Hysteria, general release from Friday 21 September

The Victorian version of the rampant rabbit. Fluffy!

I’ll be frank. This film hasn’t had the greatest reviews. But the idea of bringing out a movie about the invention of the vibrator is just so hilarious I can’t allow the opportunity pass by without telling you about it. Basically it’s a British period comedy-drama about a plucky London doctor who joins the staff of an affluent West End clinic specialising in “female hysteria”. He ends up, shall we say, releasing the tension amongst so many housewives that he gets the Victoria version of RSI and invents the vibrator to give his poor hands a rest. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ashley Jensen, Felicity Jones and Sheridan Smith are amongst the lucky ladies treated by the dexterous Hugh Dancy.

Henley Literary Festival, Mon 24 – Sun 30 September
We seem to do literary festivals very well in our neck of the woods. Hot on the heels of Woodstock’s success, it’s Henley’s turn to bathe in the literary sunlight. Writers like Jo Jo Moyes, Michael Palin and David Lodge join David Baddiel, Prue Leith, John Major and Rupert Everett to take part in more than 90 events around this gorgeous Thame-side setting. Book tickets to see your favourite authors, or just soak in the atmosphere for the day.
Garsington Manor, open gardens for NGS, on Sunday 23 Sepember
Parents coming down for the weekend? Kids need exercising like dogs? I have just the thing. Garsington Manor gardens (note: not the house itself) is open to prols like you and I on Sunday, as part of the National Gardens Scheme. Enjoy the early monastic fish ponds (not sure what these are – chanting koi karp?), water garden, dovecote from c1700, lake, flower parterre, Italianate terrace and loggie and statues. Gorgeous stuff.

Open between 2-5pm, Admission £5, Children free.

REVIEW: First night of ‘Julius Caesar’ at the Aylesbury Waterside

19 Sep

Ray Fearon (Marc Anthony) and Paterson Joseph (Brutus) in conflict in Julius Caesar

I realise that I’m in grave danger of sounding like a sad middle-aged woman oggling a whole load of fit actors. Oh SOD IT. Julius Caesar is a wonderful play by Mr Shakespeare, no matter who’s standing on stage, but I’d rather see Ray Fearon donning a toga than Simon Russell Beale. Shallow but true!

Right, now I’ve got that over with, I shall re-insert my brain and tell you that this RSC version of the play, straight from the West End and now playing at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, is exceptionally good.

A brilliant idea to go with an all-black cast and create parallels between ancient Rome and Africa’s shaky modern present. I loved the band that threaded live African music throughout the play (you can see them in the photo above) and also played the audience and in and out of the auditorium – they were given a massive cheer on the curtain call.

All the actors were impressive, but I particularly loved Jeffery Kissoon’s autocratic, egocentric Julius Caesar , Paterson Joseph’s charismatic ‘honourable man’ Brutus and Muddy Favourite’s fave Ray Fearon (see his interview in Featured Posts) as the vengeful Marc Anthony.

Jeffery Kissoon’s Julius Caesar – dangerous egotist or honourable republican?

Would I urge you to go? Actually I would. Mr Muddy is my barometer for low cultural standards (his favourite programmes include Road Cops, 999 Blackpool and other late night classics). Though he was keeping up his tradition of momentarily dropping off in the first half of a performance, having previously managed it in Chicago and The Iceman Cometh, he perked up once a lady in front of us had fainted and been removed – I am not making this up! – and by the end of the play he was absolutely raving about it.

Of course, you have to be in the mood for sixteenth century English (the play was written in 1599), and if you’re not into that kind of thing it’s obviously not worth your while. It’s long, at 2 hrs 45 minutes, so I’d leave younger kids well and truly at home. But if you’re into the classics, are fascinated by politics, or are interested in a really fresh interpretation of a history play, it’s a fantastic production that truly earned its whooping applause at the end of the night.

Julius Caesar, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, until 22 September. Tickets £10-30.

YOUR SOCIAL WEEK SORTED: The Muddy Guide 7 – 13 September

7 Sep

Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials, until Sunday 9 September

Before the Olympics I couldn’t imagine myself including this on the top things to do for the week, but come on – it’s your chance to see a whole load of Olympians in action! It’s all very posh of course, with a shopping area that includes picnics, a tailor (yes really), garden furniture and fashion. No MacDonald’s here, my dear, I can assure you, but Blenheim is gorgeous, the buzz will be incredible and it’s going to be a sunny weekend. QED no?

Berkofest, Berkhamsted Sports Club, Herts

Musical comedian Mitch Benn

Berkhamsted punches above its weight with theatre, festivals and independent loveliness. Flirtatiously nudging south Bucks, the town is offering a new music and comedy festival this week, Berkofest, set in the 8-acre Berkhamsted Sports Club. It’s a real mixed bag and you’ll have to scroll through to find your pleasures. Comedians Mitch Benn and Mary Rourke have great stand-up credentials and there are plenty of bands booked, though  I’m not sure Showaddywaddy counts as musical entertainment (I did fancy the lead singer when I was little, mind). My feeling is that Berkofest is one of those events that could brillant or bloody awful. Sometimes it’s fun just to take the chance.

The Ultimate Picture Palace relaunches, Cowley Road, Oxford. From tonight (Friday 7 Sept)

I’ve been to the UPP a few times and always rather enjoyed its mosh-pitty, studenty feel, perhaps out of nostalgia for my own student days up the Cowley Road. But I can’t say I regret too deeply that the new owner has just given the oldest cinema in Oxford a facelift. From today (7 Sept), there’s a new sound system, lighting and comfy chairs no less along with a natty exterior revamp too. Box office biggies Shadow Dancer, Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated and Keira Knightley’s new bodice-ripping costume drama Anna Karenina (on general release tomorrow) are all screening this month.

The Ultimate Picture Palace, Jeune Street, Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1B.

Blenheim Palace Literary Festival at Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Weds 12 – Sunday 16 September

Blenheim Palace is back for the second time in the Muddy Guide this week, with this well regarded, intimate literary festival. Authors as diverse as Deborah Harkness, Roger McGough, Frederick Forsyth, beauty guru Liz Earle and chef Ken Hom are on hand for talks, literary dinners or interview evenings, all in the beautiful surroundings of the palace and Woodstock itself. Ask Forsyth his views on Fifty Shades of Grey and watch the feathers fly!

Roald Dahl Day at Gipsy House Garden, Sunday 9 September

A fantastic opportunity to enjoy Roald Dahl’s beautiful garden with your kids as part of the celebrations for Roald Dahl day. The quirky pleasures include the old painted caravan which Dahl bought as a giant toy for his children (and wrote about in Danny, Champion of the World). In the back garden there’s a bird house, once a coop for his homing budgies, but now filled with giant green bottles, like those that held dreams in The BFG. It’s impossible, too, to miss the maze, its entrances marked by stones inscribed with lines from his children’s books. 

Free entry, but donations to Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity welcome. Tea and cakes available. 11am-5pm, Whitefield Lane, Great Missenden, HP16 0BP

Going to see Billy Elliot? Be warned!

31 Aug

A quickie post to let you know my thoughts on Billy Elliot, if you haven’t already been to see it (or am I the only person left standing?!)

The most important point being this: it’s not for young kids. This was a bit of a revelation to me, as I thought with it being in the West End, starring children, that it would be more family-oriented. I took my oldest who is just turning 10, and felt pretty uncomfortable and prudy sitting next to him as they f-ed and blinded through the show. Finn looked absolutely delighted, mind you, so I suppose that’s something.

Shit, fanny, wanker and their naughty little friends held centre stage for nearly 3 hours. I felt myself in a Face/Off situation with Mary Whitehouse by the end of the show. Certainly there was a call for some swearing, as it gave the play a social and historical context, but it definitely felt excessive. I had been considering taking my 5 year old – that would have been disastrous.

What else to report? The sets are clever (though the same as the original version according to my friend who was having a re-run with me last night). Billy, played by Kaine Ward – he’s at the performing arts school in Tring doncha know –  is superb. The fearlessness and athleticism to hold that central performance is mind-blowing in a 13 year old kid.

The current Mrs Wilkinson (Gillian Bevan) is no Julie Walters and was the weakest link in an otherwise strong chain.

Billy Elliot is definitely worth seeing but in my opinion, either with or without children,  Matilda blows it out of the water. Do you agree or think I’m talking a load of f-ing useless b****dy cr**p? Comments below! x

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