Tag Archives: review

BEAUTY: Yon-Ka anti-wrinkle cream – but does it work?

10 Oct

French skincare brand Yon-Ka’s wrinkle-blasting anti-ageing day cream launched last week but I’ve been secretly trying it out for the last month to see if it’s worth recommending.

Frankly the stats make you want to headplant your pruney old face into the stuff – testing shows that daily and nightly application can reduce the appearance of wrinikles by up to 64% over 8 weeks. By that reckoning I’d be back in my twenties (oh God, please).

I’ve always thought expensive cosmetics and beauty products a total waste of money, a marketing wheeze, but now that I have my very own darling set of wrinkles, I find myself much more willing to try anything – ANYTHING GODDAMIT! – to try and reverse the damage.

The Yon-Ka anti-wrinkle moisturisers are paraben-free and 92% natural (not sure what the other 8% is mind you), harnessing dill and boswellia in a way that’s twangs your floppy skin cells back to attention. I’ve used it religiously for four weeks and have definitely seen an improvement – worth continuing with the product, put it that way. I’m pretty good at putting my moisturiser on day and night so it’s not just that my skin is more ‘oiled’.

I like the look of these Stimulastine products – a bit Dermologica/sciency (a good thing in my book) but looks quite sleek and expensive too. And I have to say it smells totally divine in a way pricy moisturisers always do.

Whether you want to spend £70 on a pot of moisturiser or can stomach a product on your shelf that stipulates specifically ‘Age Correction: Restructuring Wrinkle Remover – Deep Wrinkles’  (*SOB*)  is down to you. Just don’t hate me when you see me strutting down the street in six months looking like a university fresher!

www.yonka.com for beauty salons using Yon-Ka products. Available to buy online here



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.

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


OMG you guys! REVIEW of Legally Blonde: The Musical (New Theatre, Oxford)

18 Jul

You probably saw the film, way back in the day (2001 fact fans). You may have seen the musical in London. You’ll know it won Best Musical in 2011, and that Sheridan Smith nabbed Best Musical Actress at the Olivier awards.

But after three years in the West End,  Legally Blonde: The Musical  is touring. A different animal with a different cast. So how does it fare?

Well, put it this way. My mother was howling with laughter next to me and for two hours I forgot about what was possibly my worst day EVER (oh no, hang on, that was the forceps birth).

The absence of Sheridan Smith in the cast meant that it was Faye Brookes’ chance to shine and she, like, totally did. Though looking disconcertingly like Geri Halliwell in her yoga phase in the second half of the show with her straightened hair (here’s a link to the trailer – see for yourself!), she was foxy and cute and winning and all the things that Elle Woods had to be so you didn’t loathe her to your very marrow.

Jennifer Ellison (ex soapy and Hell’s Kitchen winner, Chicago star etc) was supposed to be playing Paulette but a family illness meant understudy Rhona McGregor took her place and blew the doors off the auditorium, so if Jennifer takes a more lengthy leave of absence don’t worry too much.

And guess who else came to the party? Gareth Gates! Yes, little Gareth Gates, all grown up and looking handsome and preppy, acting and singing like the pro that he’s obviously become over the last few years. It had obviously passed me by that he’s been in gazillions of musicals since his lucrative pop career in Taiwan and Korea came to an end. Pop Idol 2001 still seared on my memory, I have to admit I held my breath every time he was about to speak, anxious that his stammer might return under pressure, but that’s evidently way behind him now. 

Lewis Griffiths as muscle-bound UPS delivery man Kyle received one of the biggest cheers of the night. I know, it’s a mystery.

The band was slick, the dancing was faultless, the production bounced and popped and rollicked along without even drawing breath. No-one fluffed a single line, as far as I could tell. The audience were really involved, whooping and clapping and obviously having a great time.

What wasn’t so good? The scenery wobbled a bit (but really, who cares?), the microphones hovered strangely on everyone’s forehead like a giant spot or misplaced hair grip; a couple of the supporting girls were a bit vocally weak (but others were phenomenal); and the dogs, though crowd-pleasers felt slightly like they’d strayed from the Britain’s Got Talent stage.

But really, those are just pathetically tiny gripes. It was massive fun, particularly for daughters, mums and girlfriends (apologies if any pink-loving, musical-crazy blokes are reading this). Go see it before it heads up to the Midlands.

‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’, showing at the New Theatre, Oxford until 21 July; Milton Keynes Theatre 31 July- 11 August; New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham 28 Aug-1 Sept. Tickets £19.50 – £45. http://www.legallyblondethemusical.co.uk

Review: Giffords Circus (you’d better read this quick)

7 Jul

This is a quickie, really in pictures, just to show you how fab Gifford’s Circus was. Such brilliant fun for whole families – we loved it as much as our kids. Tight rope walkers, dog handlers, a fantastic clown (and I usually find them irritating), horse riders, acrobats, jugglers, the tremendous little orchestra, brilliant costumes, and everything up close and personal. There were a couple of mistakes, but that’s the circus for you, and it made it more fun and real in a way.

It wasn’t packed out today, maybe because we went to the 11am show, which is why I thought I’d write quickly to say that you still have a chance to see it tomorrow (Sunday) – it’s the last day at Stadhampton before the circus moves westwards to Lechlade, north of Swindon. If you haven’t got anything on (not literally – that would be weird), I really recommend seeing it.

Three things to bear in mind: 

1. Wear wellies. The ground is sodden and my lovely ballet pumps were swilling with mud (I know, the trauma!).

2. Steel yourself for a raft of celebs (Michael Gambon and AA Gill this morning – there’s Mr Gambon walking into my shot of Mr Muddy and the kids, below), poshies and yummy mummies. It was like a Boden/Joules/Hunter brandfest out there. You may want to don your best Primark as an antidote to the fragrant middle-classness of it all.

3. If you hit the morning show, I’d recommend heading off to LASSCO at Three Pigeons (see my previous review here), about 10 minutes drive, for a quirky, yummy lunch amongst the chandeliers, stained glass windows and general architectural oddities. The lunch menu is not built around fussy children, but they were glad to oblige my toddler with toast and jam while we tucked into cheese souffles, pork and stuffing buns and bacon, chicken and egg open sandwiches.

All in all, a fab morning.

Giffords Circus, £21 adult, £14 children, Under 3s on laps go free. www.giffordscircus.com
LASSCO Three Pigeons, London Road, Milton Common, Oxfordshire OX9 2JN
Tel: 1844 277188. www.lassco.co.uk

Review: The Nut Tree, Murcott

23 Jun

Another day, another restaurant! I’ll end up rolling around the county if I carry on like this.

I mentioned The Nut Tree in Murcott in a round-up of the best eateries in the area back in December (see it here), with the caveat that it was recommended by a trusted friend, as I hadn’t been there.

Well I went on Thursday night, so I now have an opinion of my own. As usual!

You may have already heard of, or eaten at the The Nut Tree, as it’s had a Michelin star for the last three years. The restaurant, in a rural village a couples miles south of Bicester, looks like a typical thatched country pub, and the central bar area is as you’d expect, with bank notes pinned to the beams, comfy sofas, window seating and relaxed, tasteful decor.

There’s a scattering of tables across from the bar area (above), which is where we sat, and another, purpose built barn-style room further along – very modern, with crisp white walls, so a big contrast to the main area, which I rather liked.

The food, as you would expect, was excellent, and actually not that expensive – a tasting menu was £50 per person, but a set two course dinner was only £18. The sting in the tail is always the wine, and our enthusiastic sommelier found a willing victim in S, who loves nothing more than being ‘sold’ to. The £30 half-bottle of sweet wine (to go with the chicken liver) just wasn’t going to cut for S, who was seduced by wine-tasting jargon, and bought the £55 half bottle instead.

There was a bottle of red to complement the mains at £35. And then there were the two glasses of champers when we arrived…. So the meal ended up costing £200. Not insubstantial (particularly when yours truly was picking up the tab – grrrrr!), but don’t let this put you off, as I’m sure you’re not stupid enough to spend over £100 on booze!

I’d definitely recommend The Nut Tree, and will definitely go back – I’m thinking it will be a fab stop-off point to-or-from Bicester Village. If I had to be fussy, I’d say the service was slightly over-familiar, though that’s just a matter of personal preference; and unusually I really struggled to find an entree I wanted to eat, but I guess the menu changes regularly and I was just unlucky.

Check it out, and let us know how you like it.

Perfect for: foodies, special occasions.

Not for: small children. Not a fishfinger in sight.

£££: For a Michelin-starred restaurant, it was reasonable. Just make sure you don’t look the sommelier in the eyes or you’re lost.

The Nut Tree, Main St, Murcott, Oxfordshire, OX52RE. Tel: 01865 331253

REVIEW: The Clifden Arms, Worminghall

17 Jun

Remember the restaurant I’ve been trying to get into for weeks? I went at 12pm one afternoon and it was fully booked. Next time I called, and tried to book four days in advance and no joy (unless I wanted a 7pm start). Two weeks ago I finally made it into The Clifden Arms in Worminghall for dinner to see for myself what the fuss is about.

Worminghall tickles the underbelly of mid-Buckinghamshire. It’s just below the Claydons and very close to the Bernwode Fruit Trees in Ludgershall that I wrote about the other week (so perfect for a morning outing with lunch tacked on). The Clifden Arms is actually a pretty country pub, thatched roof, beams, and a large, well-equipped garden for young kids in a quiet setting.

The garden at The Clifden Arms, Worminghall

Though you can certainly order ‘pubby’ food if you like (burgers/ fish and chips etc) the menu goes way beyond these staples – no surprise when you find that chef/owner Matthew Butcher has worked at Le Manoir as well as doing time as sous chef at other Michelin-starred restaurants. The menus change daily, but if you get the chance, try my starter – seared scallops, with prawn and Chilli Balls and fennel and lime. It was divine.

The decor is the area that needs some TLC but as Matthew and his wife Kate only took The Clifden Arms last summer it’s probably on the to-do list. Currently it’s resolutely ‘pubby’ and for that reason, I’m more likely to use it as a lunch venue, or a casual dinner rather than a truly special occasion. But in an area that seems to struggle with truly quality gastropubs, The Clifden Arms makes the grade with ease.

Perfect for: a good quality lunch in the garden with kids; a local dinner with friends.

Not for: Readers of Wallpaper*.

£££: Around £80 for wine and three courses. I left feeling it was pretty good value.

The Clifden Arms, 75 Clifden Rd, Worminghall, Bucks HP18 9JR. www.theclifdenarms.com. Tel: 01844 339273

%d bloggers like this: