Exhibition – ‘Good Grief, Charlie Brown! – Snoopy & The Power of Peanuts’, Somerset House, 12th January 2019

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One of my many slightly random borderline obsessions is Peanuts. I have always, always loved these cartoons- when I was a kid and went to charity shops with my mum (which we did a lot…) the first thing I always looked for was Peanuts books and I usually found some, so I have quite a collection. They never fail to make me smile, not to mention giving me some wisdom- so I was VERY excited to see this exhibition.

It didn’t let me down, but perhaps that’s because I’m such a fan anyway (my friend K who I went with wasn’t so impressed). For me, it was a sheer joy to see some of the original illustrations, videos of Charles Schulz drawing, and to read the background behind the more controversial stories. It’s a tad pricey (well, what I mean is that I don’t get my usual 50% ART FUND discount, so I had to pay full price which I almost never do) but it was totally worth it.

Overall: Peanuts fan? You’ll love it and probably go photo mad… (click below if you want to see more of mine!)

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Exhibition – ‘Fashioned by Nature’, V&A, 1st January 2019

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Considering the IMMENSE impact this exhibition had on me, it’s astonishing that I only ended up there by accident!! I actually went to the V&A on New Year’s Day hoping to see the ‘Gingerbread Architecture’ exhibition… but sadly it was sold out. Since I was there, I made the snap decision to see ‘Fashioned by Nature’ instead (which was also on my hit list). I knew it would involve lots of lovely clothes and fabrics to look at, which indeed it did. What hadn’t occurred to me was that it would highlight to me how damaging and polluting the fashion industry is- one of the top 5 polluting industries in the world. Did you know it can take up to 700L of water to make one pair of jeans?!! And hence it led me to make a different New Years resolution from the same triad I make every single year (read more, write more, run more) and it is simply to buy no new clothes in 2019. I vaguely intended to buy fewer clothes last year, just as a money and space saving exercise, but I didn’t really stick to it- I think in December alone I bought 3 new tops, a dress, a pair of pyjamas and a pair of shoes. But now that’s it. 2019 is the year I say yes to #sustainablefashion #wastelesslovemore

Overall: You MUST see this exhibition. It’s not just about the pretty clothes. It’s about awareness… and if you’re me, it may change your life. Click below for more photos…

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Play – ‘Home, I’m Darling’, National Theatre, 17th August 2018

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I’ve mentioned before that there’s a risk when you belong to a group of keen theatregoers, that you find yourself seeing something you know nothing about. And that is exactly what happened to me with ‘Home, I’m Darling’, but luckily, it worked ENTIRELY in my favour because I absolutely loved this play.

Katherine Parkinson is a fantastic actress and I can’t imagine anyone but her playing Judy, complete with a fabulous wardrobe of 1950s outfits; she is absolutely magnetic and you hang on her every word as the story of the choices that she and husband Johnny have made unfolds. Also brilliant is Sian Thomas as Judy’s mum, reminding her that she only has the luxury of loving the 1950s because she never actually lived in it ‘everyone had to make do and mend things that were already broken’.

Overall: funny, poignant, sad and clever and Katherine Parkinson is perfect. NT run is sold out but make sure you catch the West End transfer.

Play – ‘A Monster Calls’, The Old Vic, Thursday 12th July 2018

One of the risks when you are part of a group of keen theatre-goers is that someone will message saying ‘do you fancy seeing X?’ and you immediately reply saying ‘yes’ without properly checking what X is (particularly if you generally like the theatre or if you generally agree with your friends’ taste). I’ve made this mistake before, particularly with opera (I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m not really an opera person, I’ve tried and tried but I’m not). Anyway, so that is how come I found myself on my way to the Old Vic with absolutely no idea what ‘A Monster Calls’ is about; because I like the Old Vic and my friend K (whose taste I generally trust) is similar to mine.

And in the end, it’s probably a good thing I knew nothing about ‘A Monster Calls’ because had I known it’s the story of a teenage boy losing his mother to cancer, I might well not have gone (for those of you who don’t know, I lost my mother to cancer, not as a teenager but 6 painful years ago). While it was sad to watch, I didn’t find it anything like as hard as ‘Calendar Girls Musical’ which I sat through in tears… And this stunning production had much to recommend it, from the performance of Matthew Tennyson as a wonderful Conor to the clever acrobatics and rope skills. The music really added to the overall ambience and gave a real feel of magic.

Overall: don’t be put off by the slightly sad subject matter; this is a beautiful piece of theatre.

Play – ‘Genesis Inc’, Hampstead Theatre, Thursday 5th July 2018

I’ve mentioned before that I see pretty much everything that’s on at the Hampstead Theatre because it’s my local (never underestimate the appeal of having a theatre 5 minutes from your home). But oddly I hadn’t made any specific plans to see their latest play, ‘Genesis Inc’ – so when I spotted a special offer for last minute tickets on sale on their Instagram last week, I snapped one up quickly for that very evening.

And it’s a good job I did… because it meant I didn’t pay full price for what I can only describe as a disjointed, disappointing and just plain weird piece of theatre. I was excited to realise Harry Enfield was in it (yes that’s right, I hadn’t realised that was who the man was on the posters I walk past every day) but he was woefully underused and oddly cast as the fertility clinic director who was analogised to God. The same applies to the very talented Ritu Arya playing Serina. The basic storyline (of a fertility clinic director making parenthood possible for those who have been unlucky enough not to manage it naturally) is quite a good one, but was cluttered with too many undeveloped and extraneous subplots -the woman in a violent relationship, the gay man trying to buy a flat… why were they there and how were they relevant? I never figured it out.

Overall: Pared down (because it was also too long for my liking at 2h40, you know how I dislike long plays) and without all the subplots, it could have been great, but this version definitely is not.

Musical – ‘Chicago’, Phoenix Theatre, Monday 25th June 2018

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I will admit that, while I try not to be swayed by a celebrity name, sometimes I can’t help being so. But of course a rollicking good musical is always persuasive too, and I have loved ‘Chicago’ for years – since I saw the stage version in London in the early 2000s with Denise van Outen playing Roxie, through the stunning film version which won Oscars for best picture and for Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma, to the present day version which just so happens to have Cuba Gooding Jr playing Billy Flynn… so of course it was only a matter of time before I succumbed, despite the ticket prices being considerably more than I would usually pay.

Sadly, a show that didn’t quite deliver in the end. The band were placed right in the centre of the stage (indeed the highlight is when there are a few solos from the brass section) which meant there was almost no set; disappointing when you’re expecting the dramatic jailhouse backdrop with the bars and railings which the girls dance on in every production I’ve seen before. Cuba Gooding Jr certainly has mesmeric stage presence, but his singing falls far below par. The only really outstanding performance came from brilliant veteran Ruthie Henshall as Mama Morton, who really owned ‘When You’re Good to Mama’.

Overall: Music great, but still could have been so much better (and for the price we paid, should have been).

Play – ‘The Strange Death of John Doe’, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, Monday 18th June 2018

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If I had to use just one word to describe ‘The Strange Death of John Doe’, it would be ‘divisive’. I am not sure I’ve ever been at a theatre where so many people left at the interval (well, possibly I have, but it’s much more noticeable in a small theatre). And I can only presume that this is because the majority of the first half involved an autopsy taking place. So yeah- not for you if you’re squeamish. Luckily myself and my friends R and J couldn’t be less so, and hence we loved it.

The play is based on the true story of the man, known as ‘John Doe’, who fell from a plane into Mortlake, South-West London, in September 2012. No one knows his true story, but playwright Fiona Doyle has woven a fascinating backstory about his possible life in Africa and what led him to try and stow away on a plane to London. The action flips back and forth between the present day (autopsy room) and the preceding events in Africa.

I don’t want to say too much as I don’t want to give the story away. But it’s a fascinating and different story, well worth a try.

Overall: caution if you’re squeamish, but otherwise, definitely try and catch it.