Review: The Girls – Phoenix Theatre, London

Hubby and I love going to the theatre but we usually only get to go to local theatres. However we were invited to see The Girls at the Phoenix Theatre in London and we couldn’t wait for a trip to the West End.

The Girls is based on the true story of The Calendar Girls which you have probably heard of. It’s about a group of Women’s Institute members who spend their lives gardening, cooking, baking and sewing – as well as looking after their homes and families. It centres around a charity fundraiser that grows bigger than any of them could ever have imagined.

Written by Gary Barlow and Tim Firth it is most definitely a musical and I couldn’t wait to see how the iconic story of a group of Yorkshire ladies translated to the stage. When we arrived the whole audience seemed to be older people – lots of older women and occasionally their husbands but then I saw younger couples and younger groups of friends and realised – despite the story being mainly about older women with teenage children – it was a story that anyone could enjoy. I couldn’t wait for it to start.

The Girls is fairly long – 2hrs 45 minutes – with a fifteen minute interval but it doesn’t feel at any point like it’s dragging or going on for too long. The length, and the story, are perfect. The first act introduces you to the characters, their friendships, relationships and their individual family situations. There are single parents, people who have been happily married for years and people who are less happily married. The main group of women couldn’t be any different, all from different backgrounds and all with their own issues but they have two things in common – the Women’s Institute and their friendship.

The first act ended with such emotion and I could have cried for hours. By that point we were living the story with the characters and we were right there with them. The songs helped illustrate the story so well with such poignancy and you felt the characters’ happiness and love just as much as you felt their heartache and grief.

I don’t want to give any spoilers of the story for anyone who may not be familiar with Calendar Girls. But, throughout the second act we laughed, we sang along, we cried and we smiled so much. The Girls took us through our whole range of emotions – and back again. It was so brilliantly acted, like watching real lives unfold on stage.

Towards the end of the show the main women had nude parts to play and I was slightly apprehensive of seeing a bunch of women, old enough to be my mother, naked on stage. But, that whole part of the show was brilliantly put together. It was all true to the story, artistically done and just so funny. It was very much a part of the story and it was all done with humour and grace. Instead of the audience cringing we were laughing and applauding – I have no doubt that the cast made the original Calendar Girls proud.

When the final song came to an end the audience gave a standing ovation. We all clapped like we had never clapped before and as the original Calendar Girls stepped from our row of seats and onto the stage to dance with the cast it couldn’t have been more fitting. The story of the Calendar Girls is nearly twenty years old and yet The Girls gives the story a new lease of life, a timeless show that will be appreciated across the generations.

The Girls has fantastic songs, a great true story and a cast that really did the characters justice. The whole show was flawless from start to finish and we left the theatre feeling so happy and uplifted. Hubby even said that he had never enjoyed a theatre show as much as he had enjoyed The Girls – and that’s really saying something.

I was singing about sunflowers the whole way home on the train and I know that The Girls will be a show that stays with me forever. It was beautiful to watch but it also had an underlying message that anyone can learn from – the great thing about sunflowers is that no matter how dark a day they can always turn to find the light.

If there is one theatre show you go and see this year make it The Girls. It will appeal to any gender, any age and any personality. It will have you laughing and crying in equal measure and you will love it just as much as we did. A fantastic show that I am just so glad we got to see.

Disclosure: We were invited to the above show for the purpose of this review however all opinions are my own.

Magazines {The Ordinary Moments}

We have a little bit of a tradition in our house – magazines. Whenever we go on a long journey, a couple of hours in the car, we pick magazines up for the children to keep them entertained, have a little treat and be something else to do that doesn’t involve staring at the in-car DVD players.

LP and Little Man love magazines – there’s always a free toy or other treat with them and the pages are full of bright colours and so much to look at. They spend hours scouring the pages, reading stories, looking at pictures and doing activities – a magazine to them is like the most wonderful treat – and one that just keeps on giving.

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A Midweek Break at Needham House Hotel

Earlier this week Lauren and I went to Needham House hotel for a little break away. It’s situated just outside Stevenage in Hertfordshire and is really easily accessible from London and the home counties. We arrived in the early afternoon, parked easily and loved how secluded the hotel felt although we had only turned off the A1 minutes earlier!

Needham House had such a lovely welcoming feel and as soon as we walked inside we were greeted warmly and got to experience the wonderful decor of the bar and lounge area – such a friendly, welcoming space where, over the course of our break, we got to relax, have a drink, chat and even get some work done. It’s a really versatile space perfect for any use.

We were directed to our room and couldn’t have been happier with it. The executive room had such a lovely feel to it – with really modern finishes that still kept the period charm of the property. There was beautiful wallpaper on the walls, funky orange accent lamps and a well stocked tea and coffee tray – complete with tea pot.

The room had everything we could need – fluffy robes and slippers, wifi, complimentary toiletries and even plug sockets beside the bed – big brownie points for that one. Often I go to hotels and the room isn’t very exciting but I don’t think much of it – it’s just somewhere to sleep, after all. But, our room at Needham House was somewhere we wanted to spend time, somewhere we were happy to relax and just a really lovely space.

We were able to make use of the spa facilities which the hotel describe as a dry spa. There’s a sauna, steam room and relaxation room – so no pool or jacuzzi but it was a really nice place to relax. Lauren and I both had spa treatments and my ESPA Lifesaving Back Treatment was both relaxing and therapeutic. It was deep cleansing with body brushing and exfoliation followed by a luxurious aromatherapy massage and body mask. It couldn’t have been a better way to unwind and relax.

The spa facilities may not be the best for a day of relaxing but they compliment the treatments and the treatments are definitely the main focus of any trip to the Needham House spa and it would be a great place to relax for a couple of hours as part of a hotel stay.

We had dinner in the SG4 Brasserie which, like the rest of the hotel, had a mix of traditional and modern decor that worked so well. There was nice music playing in the background and it was a lovely place to have a meal. After ordering our food we were brought a generous basket of bread and a selection of butters to enjoy whilst we waited for our starters to arrive.

For our starters Lauren had Maple Glazed Smoked Ham Hock served with pearl barley, caramelised ham hock broth, apples and celery. It was served without the broth to let you pour the broth over once the plate was in front of you and it was a really lovely starter.

I went for the Scotch Egg served with tomato chutney and kohirabo remoulade. I don’t think that description does it justice as it was one of the nicest starters I have had in such a long time. Both the egg and remoulade were so full of flavour and it all worked so well together.

For her main Lauren went for the Honey Glazed Duck Breast which was a beautiful meal with so much duck cooked to perfection. I went for the Dingley Dell Pork Tenderloin which would be a great alternative to a roast dinner – and so much nicer to look at too! It had so many flavours – of black pudding, turnip and apple which all complimented the pork perfectly.

We also had fries and tenderstem broccoli on the side which were the perfect additions to our meal. I know, french fries may not be typical fine dining choices but they were beautifully cooked and we really enjoyed them. The broccoli was cooked with almonds and it was such a nice combination.

For dessert I chose the Lemon Meringue which was unlike any lemon meringue I have ever tasted, it was deconstructed and had shortbread, beautifully light meringue as well as more firm meringue, a lemon ice cream and lemon curd. It was so light and full of flavour – the perfect end to my meal.

Lauren went for the Chocolate Mille Feuille which looked like something from Masterchef. It was so beautifully presented and had so many different components. It was rich and full of flavour and a great choice for dessert.

Our meal was wonderful. The restaurant had such a relaxed atmosphere but with beautiful food and it was just such a lovely place to spend an evening. The bar and lounge area have a lovely atmosphere too and as they specialise in gin I felt right at home – our drinks before dinner were lovely and if we hadn’t been so tired we probably would have had another after dinner too!

Instead, we headed back to our room for a cup of tea and TV before having such a good night’s sleep. Our only niggle was that, as the corridors have wooden floors there was quite a lot of noise from people walking up and down – and we were both woken early by someone dropping something outside. This can’t be helped but a carpeted corridor would definitely help to reduce the noise – and give an even better night’s sleep.

We had breakfast in the same room where we’d had dinner and got to choose a cooked breakfast from a selection which are all made to order. But we were also able to help ourselves from the continental buffet where there was so much fruit, pastries, cereals and yogurt.

There were also machines to make tea and coffee, fresh juices and water. Both Lauren and I had full english breakfasts with poached eggs and they couldn’t have been cooked any better. It was definitely a great start to the day. The only criticism I could possibly make was that the additional garnishes on our breakfasts weren’t really needed – and the same greenery had been on our desserts too!

After breakfast we checked out and relaxed in the bar, chatting, working and just passing time. It was such a nice space to sit and watch the world go by and it was a nice way to finish our stay at Needham House Hotel. The hotel was beautiful and would be great for a romantic weekend away, a break with friends or somewhere to spend a few hours having spa treatments and relaxing.

Before we got in the car to head home we had a wander around the Needham House grounds and it was a lovely place to explore. I also noticed the Needham House lodge, nicely tucked away behind trees at the edge of the grounds – the perfect place to stay with friends or family for a proper celebration.

I really don’t feel that the website does Needham House hotel justice. I was looking forward to our stay but thought it would be quite a businesslike place for a break away – I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although Needham House clearly does a lot of weddings, functions and conferences it couldn’t have been further from a corporate hotel. Instead it was beautiful, individual and so welcoming. Lauren and I felt so comfortable throughout our stay, the staff were friendly and attentive and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay at Needham House again in the future.

Disclosure: We were invited on the above break for the purpose of this review however all opinions are my own.

Review: Orchard Toys – Cheeky Monkeys

LP and Little Man love games from Orchard Toys and so when the new Cheeky Monkeys game arrived they couldn’t wait to play. It’s aimed at age four to eight and like all Orchard Toys games it’s educational as well as fun.

Review: Orchard Toys - Cheeky Monkeys

The Cheeky Monkey game has a three dimensional cardboard tree that the game play revolves around. There’s then a pool card, a spinner and a lot of cheeky monkey cards. Each of the cheeky monkeys is holding bananas and it’s with these bananas that the game is won – depending on who collects the most.

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The Girls, Chocolate and Sunflowers #LittleLoves

This has been one really busy but lovely week. It’s been so full and I am so ready for the weekend – but at the same time I don’t want this week to be over.

Here we go with the things we’ve been loving this week:

Read

Hubby and I went to see The Girls at the theatre in London on Wednesday night and I spent the journey home reading the programme. I love how all theatre people seem to have been in the same TV shows – Holby City and Casualty – and I love how familiar faces end up in front of you on stage – like Neil Grayling from Bad Girls!

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