Tag Archives: musical theatre

Culture, crowns & crime

After our late night at the theatre, you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that we might take it easy and start our Friday off in a more relaxed fashion; but you’d be very wrong. We had lots planned for our second day in London and wanted to achieve as much as we could before catching our train back home, which meant one thing, a much earlier sleep that maybe any of us would have chosen.

Our first stop was a tour of the Globe theatre, just 5 minutes from our hotel and G’s choice of must-see sights for our visit. It’s the first time we’ve been to the Globe, despite having walked past it and discussed seeing it on very many previous occasions. The 40 minutes spent learning more about the history of the original theatre as well as the efforts to build the reconstruction were absolutely brilliant and M enjoyed being able to ask questions of our guide based on bits and pieces he had previously learned at school. My only regret is that we hadn’t built in time to go to a Shakespeare play whilst we were there as both children have eagerly asked if we could see one, so at some point in the future, of course, we absolutely will.

With the Globe ticked off our list and a watchful eye on the impending grey clouds, we found our way back to the Tower of London and headed in to explore as much as we could given the August tourists, darkening skies and 2 children who were growing hungry rapidly. We decided to start with the Crown Jewels and just about survived the spots of rain that fell as we made our way through the fairly lengthy queue. The exhibit has been updated since the last time Mike and I visited there many moons ago and is definitely worth a visit as there is a great balance between the information boards, video footage, photographs, timelines and the Crown Jewels themselves.

Unfortunately, our late night the night before combined with the poor weather and hunger meant that G and M really didn’t want to queue to see anything else at the Tower, so we made the decision to convert our admission tickets into annual passes to allow us to return and see the bits we missed out this time over the next year. As I am keen to also visit Hampton Court – poor G is being inundated with “educational” visits that fit with her GCSE syllabuses at the moment – this will hopefully prove to be a canny decision as we can visit there as well as other palaces as part of the Historic Royal Palaces membership.

Once we all were fed and watered to our fill, we then spent some time trying to decide how to round off our day in London. The original plan had been to stay at the Tower of London for the rest of the day, so it was now time to find an alternative that would fit with our plans for dinner and the train journey home. After lots of suggestions, some more extraordinary than others, we eventually settled on a visit to the Clink Prison Museum, which is tucked away just along the road from our hotel. It was a decision based on our need to escape the rain for an hour or so, but was definitely the unexpected success story of our whole trip. This museum is not big, but it certainly is crammed full of information, artefacts and stories about what is considered to be the oldest prison in England. Both kids were able to wander through at their preferred pace and spend time in the bits that interested them the most. It was come as no surprise that M was particularly taken with the torture devices on display and shared everything he was learning with whoever would listen.

From the Clink, there just enough time to pick up our bags from the hotel, journey across London for dinner and reach the station to catch our train back home.

Return to an old haunt

At one time, London was very much our home from home as we visited several times a year to attend M’s hospital appointments at GOSH and whenever those appointments didn’t fall on a Wednesday afternoon in term-time, always tried to tie it into a few days away from home. Both G and M had the chance to stay in London as part of their school’s enrichment week residential trips, and both said no. After all, why would they go with school to a city they’ve spent more time in than sometimes they’d care to remember?

Bearing all that in mind, it could come as something of a surprise that we’ve spent the last couple of days back in this old haunt of ours – and by choice, not by necessity thanks to our success in getting theatre tickets through Kids Week London. We’ve been extremely fortunate to see a number of shows over the years and this time we decided to chat over the choices with G and M before I attempted to buy the tickets the moment the website opened. Much to our surprise, the children had very different ideas about the shows they wanted to see and so I was set the challenge of trying to get tickets for G and Mike to see “Phantom of the Opera” on the same night that M and I headed to “School of Rock”. Fortunately, I was successful and with our theatre trips confirmed for the Thursday evening, we decided to make a short break of it and visit a handful of sights we haven’t been to before.

Our day started with a 20 minute walk to our local station to catch the London-bound train. I had made it clear to both children that I didn’t want them plugged into their electronics for the duration of our journey, so M had selected a few card games to take with us and, much to my amazement, we spent the entire time playing an array of card games as well as a couple of rounds of Marvel Top Trumps.
In no time at all, we had reached London and then it was a case of trekking across the city until we reached our first destination of the day, Tower Bridge. Thanks to M’s hard work researching and planning our routes and timings before we arrived, we decided to get off the underground at Monument and then walk along the river path to the Tower of London, where we ate our picnic lunch before climbing the stairs to explore the history of Tower Bridge itself.

The climb to the top of one of the towers was interspersed with facts about the construction of the bridge itself 125 years ago and, having reached the top, were then able to walk across the walkways linking the 2 iconic towers at either side, including a stretch of glass walkway that looks down onto the road and river below. This is not our first glass walkway – we’ve ventured onto the one at the CN Tower in Toronto too – and M was quite happy to wander across, jump onto and sit down on it. G, however, was lot more reluctant, but with a little gentle persuasion and a lot of hand-holding from me, she tentatively stepped onto the odd corner here and there, though she pointblank refused to do much more than that. Walkways conquered, we then headed on to the pump house to understand how the original mechanisms to raise the drawbridge worked before stopping for a vegan ice-cream treat from the ice-cream van cannily parked in the square beneath the bridge.

By the time our ice-creams were devoured, we were all ready to head to our hotel, fortunately just a short walk away along the South Bank. We have stayed at this Premier Inn near Borough Market several times before and find it wonderfully centrally located and easy to reach as well as surrounded by a number of chain restaurants that make it easy to feed both G and M. We had just enough time to unpack bags, dig out the theatre tickets and freshen up before we headed back out the door in search of dinner and our shows. Once we had finished our meal at the nearby Pizza Express, Mike and G disappeared in one direction, whilst M and I went off in another in search of our respective theatres. It was a wonderful evening and both children absolutely loved their musicals of choice. I would highly recommend a trip to see “School of Rock” as would M, whilst Mike and G raved about “Phantom of the Opera”.

What a performance!

honkM’s love for the performing arts is something I can really relate to, having spent most of my formative years loving nothing more than singing, dancing and acting whenever possible. Both he and G regularly attend our local Stagecoach theatre school and have not only grown in confidence, but have also developed skills that will stand them in good stead in whatever career path they choose to follow.  G is not a natural performer, but her continued hard work, dedication and determination to be the best she can, has seen her win the lead role of “Ugly” in this term’s performance of the musical, “Honk”.  This isn’t a musical I’m familiar with and I’m looking forward to seeing the chosen extract in a few weeks’ time with my daughter in the starring role.  If her enthusiasm is anything to go by, it will be a fantastic experience.

G has also been spending time focusing on her clarinet and has two big events coming up over the next few months.  The first takes place at the end of March and that’s her Grade 1 clarinet exam.  She has been practising at home as well as at school and I delighted that she is confident enough to take the exam.  Secondly, she is once again performing in our local education authority’s music concert, which brings together instrumentalists from across the county to perform at a local music venue.  She loved doing it last year and is looking forward to playing in it soon.  G has had several pieces of music to learn for these occasions, but she’s determined to perform well at both and is working hard at perfecting the music as best she can.

Courtesy of swanwickhall.derbyshire.sch.uk

Courtesy of swanwickhall.derbyshire.sch.uk

M, on the other hand, was born to be on the stage and demonstrates a natural flair and understanding for direction in his classes.  He loves to take any and every opportunity to perform that comes his way.  It provides him with a focus away from his ill-health and he has had to develop a stamina to perform, no matter how his body is behaving.  After all, as we all know, “the show must go on“.  M is passionate about the stage and would love nothing more than a career on it; but he is also surprisingly realistic that not everyone can succeed and has talked extensively about what other opportunities the theatre could offer him in the future.

Over the last few months, two amazing opportunities have come M’s way and it’s been great to see him keen and able to make the most of both of them.  The first was offered by the Ellen Kent Opera Company, who were looking for child extras to be part of two operas they were performing at our local theatre and approached M’s Stagecoach school to find them. M was, unsurprisingly, desperate to be involved and was selected as 1 of 4 children who would perform a special dance during the performance of Aida.  He had 5 half-hour training sessions to learn the routine and the small group then had just one run through on stage with the orchestra on the evening of the performance itself.  We were nervous as to how M would cope with the extra rehearsals, his nerves and the stamina required, especially given how poorly he was in the run up to Christmas; but we needn’t have worried.

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Like the consummate professional he aspires to become, M worked hard, remained focused and gave a fantastic performance on the night.  The prospect of dancing on a “real” stage in front of a full house (approx. 2,000 people) didn’t phase him at all and we were all so proud to see him shine.  He stayed true to his character of a child slave in Ancient Egypt throughout his time on stage and Mike, my Mum and I all commented that we have never seen him remain so still and so focused for so long in his life.  It was our first experience of opera and we all enjoyed it, even G, who has asked to go and see another one in the future.

oliverIn contrast to this professional production, M has also been working on a local am-dram production of hit musical, “Oliver!”.  He is playing the part of “Nipper”, the cheeky youngest member of Fagin’s Gang, a part that, quite frankly, was made for him.  He takes part in every rehearsal with gusto, even though there have been occasions when he has been crying in pain less than 2 hours earlier.  I am amazed at how much M’s determination to succeed in this role has over-ridden any feelings of pain and discomfort that have been haunting him earlier in the day.  He has picked up the songs and dance routines quickly and now, as the final few weeks of rehearsals are ahead, he’s working on perfecting them as much as possible.

I am so proud of both our young performers and am looking forward to watching them doing something that they so obviously enjoy over the next few weeks.