Paulos Circus, Roko Health Club, York – April 2019

Reviewed by The Magic Hatter

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This is our third visit to Paulos Circus, and the 2019 Rockets Tour promises new acts along with familiar favourites. We went to the 4.30pm Sunday show and arrived to the signature pink tent, amongst crowds of excited circus-goers!

Once inside, the usual flashing wands and refreshments are available – including popcorn and hot dogs, soft drinks and even beer and cider. Since the release of The Greatest Showman circus popularity is on the rise again, and it was great to see an almost full house spanning all ages.

Live Wire

The shown opens with an introduction from ringmaster Leigh Darnell, looking as dapper as ever in a glittering top hat and blue tails. A tightrope act followed high in the rafters, featuring several clever tricks, stunts and tiny bicycles. I really enjoyed the Steampunk style of the costumes, one of the ways that Paulos fuses traditional with modern.

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My wife particularly enjoyed the elegant aerial act, and it’s the first time I’d seen it performed with a net rather than silks or ropes. A slick knife-throwing and crossbow act highlighted the real risks than some circus performers take, and drew gasps from the audience.

No circus would be complete without juggling but the innovation here was that cups and bottles were used in a bar setting. This high-energy act was polished and professional, and a refreshing change to balls, clubs or hoops.

Furniture-Jenga sprung to mind as a mime stacked chairs higher and higher, and balanced on them at precarious angles. Truly a feat of dexterity and core strength! Unicycle tricks and more bicycle-fun kept the show pacy.

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Muscle Memory

A strongman routine was given another modern makeover with a superhero twist; the strongman in question dressed in lycra and bending metal, punching nails into wood, dragging a car by his mouth and being run over by it!

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The Light Fantastic

Having seen many circuses over the past few years, laser acts seem to have become a staple of the modern show. I’ve seen many variations but this was honestly the best yet, with the action framed as an epic laser battle – giving the light show and choreography a storyline, all set to a pumping soundtrack.

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Send in the Clowns

Mr N is the light relief, and breaks up the acts with sight gags, slapstick and audience participation. A likeable clown, doing away with the usual red nose and wacky attire but still engaging and playful. We do miss Patchy the Clown though!

Negatives? It’s hard to find fault when over an hour of quality entertainment costs around the same as a few cups of coffee, and my niggles are only minor. As enjoyable as the laser battle was, we preferred the drama and skill of last year’s Wheel of Death as a finale. And there was a little disappointment that a large inflatable was used as a safety net under the Los Sanchez tightrope act…it’s not that I want people to risk their lives unnecessarily, but just that all previous circuses I’ve been to haven’t used safety nets.

However, Paulos Circus offers exceptional value for money. All seats are £7 per person, whether adult or child. Unlike other circuses we’ve been to, prices are the same for each seating area so it’s worth arriving early to get the best view. There are vouchers in local businesses for another £2 off the ticket price. A fiver for family fun? Can’t argue with that!

At 1 hour 10 minutes without an interval, the show is an ideal length for even the youngest family members who, even if they didn’t appreciate all of the acts, were transfixed by the colours, lights, sounds and smells of the circus. Done well, circus is truly a feast for the senses! 

My five-year-old and two-year-old sons were generally captivated throughout, and we enjoyed sharing the circus experience as a family. Looking around, there were many smiles and looks of wonder from young and old, and – ultimately – that’s what it’s all about! 

MAGIC RATING THREE STARS

VALUE FOR MONEY FIVE STARS

OVERALL FOUR STARS

Paulos Circus is appearing until Sunday 12th May at Roko Health Club, Stirling Road, York, YO30 4TU. More details at www.greatestshowman.co.uk

Disclaimer: Tickets were kindly provided for this performance, however all opinions are honest and are our own.

Hatter's Magic Moments

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Madagascar The Musical, York Theatre Royal, February 2019

Reviewed by The Magic Hatter

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If you’re just lion around this half-term, you could check out the mane event at York Theatre Royal – Madagascar the Musical. But is it roarsome, and worth the lion’s share of your family time? (Did you spot those subtle puns?)

Based on the 2005 DreamWorks animated film, the story has been adapted for the stage and is currently touring the UK. We were welcomed to the jungle on opening night, and here’s what we thought…

It’s a Jungle Out There

In a show that takes several days to install at each venue, it’s clear that this is a large-scale production for the Selladoor Family team. Audiences are transported to the Central Park Zoo, city docks, subway, a ship and the jungles of Madagscar through theatrical magic and inventive staging. Crates surround the stage, and open up revealing characters and scenery throughout. A slick lighting design, moving set-pieces, foliage and flora all help transform the space.

Madagascar the Musical - Jamie Lee-Morgan, Matt Terry, Antoine Murray-Straughan Timmika Ramsay

Animal Magic

Clever and creative puppetry brings all manner of jungle animals (oh, and penguins!) to life. Melman the towering giraffe is particularly impressive, with an elongated neck reaching new heights (sorry!) in puppet design. I’m reminded of shows such as The Lion King and Avenue Q (not for children!) where I quickly look past the puppeteers and voice actors, focusing on the expressive well-animated characters as if they were real. Whether manipulating a monkey or p-p-picking up a penguin, the action is tight and polished.

Penguins in Madagascar the Musical.

But of course, it’s the human counterparts that add the real jungle juice. King Julien, played by Jo Parsons, excels with his comic timing and steals the show in the second act, milking every nuance of the film favourite. An ingenious costume design sees the lord of the lemurs waddle around the stage, pulling off some absurd tricks and physical comedy gags.

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Elsewhere, Antoine Murray-Straughan’s zebra Marty is effortlessly cool and clearly enjoys the horseplay. Timmika Ramsay’s hippo Gloria belts out songs with gusto, and is feisty and fun. Jamie Lee-Morgan cowers and quivers as neurotic giraffe Melman, and the audience can’t help but feel for the timid tree-chomper.

2016 X-Factor winner Matt Terry plays Alex the Lion, the king of the jungle with a taste for steak! He should take ‘pride’ in his performance, with a strong singing voice and likeability to match. A firm favourite with our littlest cub!

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Many of the performers play multiple roles seamlessly, and the cast has great chemistry on stage. This is an ensemble performance, with all creatures great and small pulling together.

Jungle Boogie

For a musical adaptation, the show is unfortunately lacking in truly memorable songs. The numbers were all performed with high energy and dazzling choreography, but rarely stayed with me after curtain down. Best Friends I can just about remember, but the others faded quickly. The exception is of course I Like to Move, Move it – which features not once but twice, and has much of the audience up on their feet bustin’ some crack-a-lackin’ moves!

At 40 minutes either side of an interval, the show is shorter than many musicals but generally holds the attention of young audience members. With tickets up to £40 each though, this is more expensive than pantomimes and similar shows lasting several hours.

We attended with two sons, aged 5 and 2, and both were captivated by the animal antics. Our 2-year-old in particular excitedly leapt from his seat and belly-laughed often! And the toilet humour, fart jokes and slapstick ticked many boxes for our eldest.

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Turning an animated animal tail (sorry, tale!) into a fully-fledged musical stage show is no small feat, but the creative team behind Madagascar the Musical have created a fun and funky production that fans of the film will love.

Tickets are selling fast so if you want to go you’d better…yes, that’s right…move it, move it!

MAGIC RATING FOUR STARS

VALUE FOR MONEY THREE STARS

OVERALL THREE AND A HALF STARS

Madagascar The Musical runs until Saturday 2nd March at York Theatre Royal. Tickets from £25.50 with family tickets available, book online at www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Disclaimer: Tickets were provided for the press evening of this performance, however all opinions are honest and are our own.

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Grandad’s Island, York Theatre Royal – February 2019

 

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Reviewed by The Magic Hatter

Grandad’s Island is an award-winning children’s book by Benji Davies, and makes the leap from page to stage in a return to York Theatre Royal’s cosy studio space. I took my eldest junior Hatter to see the show this half-term, having only a vague recollection of the story from a library-lend some times ago…

Visually, the adaptation is brought to life using animated projections with artwork ripped straight from the pages of the book. This is combined with simple props, boxes, cases and doors to create everything from a back garden, attic and ocean to the title island. Puppets delight the young audience members, with a cat and various jungle animals expertly manipulated throughout.

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Grandad is reminiscent of jolly old St. Nick, with a white beard, rosy red cheeks and jovial outlook on life. He is warm, charming and, above all, believable. Syd the grandson explodes with enthusiasm and a child-like love of adventure. The bond between the pair is heartfelt, and becomes all the more poignant as the story progresses.

Both actors connect with the audience through regular eye contact, and at one point address them directly to ask advice. The fourth wall broken, I would have liked to have seen more of this, as the children were so keen to offer their input and seemingly shape the story. I was willing the puppets to play more too, perhaps Chester the cat could explore the auditorium, sniffing around the seats and purring up to people during the pre-show. An orangutan cries out to be a cheeky monkey too!

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The play tackles the subject of the death of a loved one, but does so with tact and sensitivity. That being said, the story can’t help but tug on the heartstrings – and it wasn’t just children who were moved by the outcome. This isn’t a happy ending, and for children who have been affected by a bereavement, there may be things to ‘unpack’ here. I wonder if the show offers additional support and resources to explore the theme further.

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Madagascar The Musical is playing during half-term in the main theatre;  a high-energy production with a large cast and budget to match. By contrast, Grandad’s Island is a gentle, playful tale of a boy’s love for his grandfather. It relies on simple storytelling, clever theatrics and two versatile and talented actors. Catchy songs and nautical ditties help keep the action pacy, and the light-hearted banter between the pair adds to the fun.

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At fifty minutes running time without an interval, this is an ideal length for young children and had my 5-year-old son captivated throughout (the suggested age range is 5-8 years old) Tickets are £8 for children and £13 for adults, making this one of the cheaper theatrical treats locally.

A bittersweet tale of love and loss, this show is a testament to the performers and creative team. Grandad’s Island is heartwarming, inventive and deeply touching…so set sail for adventure this half-term!

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MAGIC RATING FOUR STARS

VALUE FOR MONEY FIVE STARS

OVERALL FOUR AND HALF STARS

Grandad’s Island runs until Saturday 2nd March in the Studio at York Theatre Royal. Tickets can be booked online at www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Disclaimer: Tickets were provided for the press performance of this show, however all opinions are honest and are our own.

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Jack and the Beanstalk, Harrogate Theatre – January 2019

Reviewed by The Magic Hatter

To beat the January blues, I donned my festive shirt and went to Harrogate Theatre for a bit of fe-fo-FUN with my family!

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Our first visit, it quickly became clear this isn’t a panto that relies on celebrities or reality TV has-beans (see what I did there?), although Tim Steadman has carved a name for himself by performing in the show for nineteen years. Part Lee Evans, park Frank Spencer, part Norman Wisdom, he plays ‘Sporty’ Simon Trott with a child-like enthusiasm and oodles of naive charm. My eldest (5 years old) loved him, and even my youngest (2 years) was waving and shouting ‘hello Simon’.

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Photo Credit: Ant Robling

He has that broad family appeal and treats his picked-out adult volunteer gently; never making jokes at his expense, and even rewarding him with a cuddly toy! The sporting theme ties all the jokes together nicely, and serves up a catchy callback that kids – and big kids – love to join in with!

They say the whole world loves a dame, so what to make of Tilly Trot played by Howard Chadwick? A hint of Biggins, a dash of Mr Tumble’s Aunt Polly, and an outlandish wardrobe of fabulous frocks!

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Photo Credit: Ant Robling

In such an ensemble performance, the dame here isn’t overbearing (in some pantos the show is essentially a vehicle for the dame, who often writes and directs too) Trot has her moments, many in fact, but without stealing the limelight. A strong and well-rounded performance without ever resorting to smut.

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Photo Credit: Ant Robling

Harrogate’s Fairy of the Forest – played by Polly Smith – is fun and funky, and more street than sweet. She’s not the only performer to play two roles, and does so brilliantly with a sharp contrast! It took me a while to realise that Morag the Cook was previously a flitting, fettling fairy!

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Photo Credit: Ant Robling

George Telfer’s Fleshcreep is understated, and I’m not sure ever really scared the children but actually, this is a positive! I’ve been at so many shows where young children have been reduced to tears by an all-too-menacing baddie. He still commands boos and jeers, and paves the way for a truly gigantic giant later. Alternating as Fleshcreep and King Bumble, there are some swift costume changes and George seems to relish the versatility between roles.

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Photo Credit: Ant Robling

Jack and Jill went up the hill, and Jack came down as Jacqueline! Yes, in this story Harriett Hare exercises her girl power as the title hero, or heroine. Whether chopping down the beanstalk or belting a Greatest Showman hit, she’s feisty and fun. Princess Jill aka Christina Harris, excels vocally and exudes plenty of energy and panto panache. It’s refreshing to see the usual love story take a backseat in favour of more action and slapstick.

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Photo Credit: Ant Robling

Highlights? Act Two opens with an inspired puppet routine, with fairy as commentator! A messy makeover routine is a great set-piece, and “If I was not a dairy hand…” is fast-paced panto brilliance! But it’s the polish, the sparkle and the talent that really shines – in a show that is often inventive, clever and expertly crafted. This is a pantomime that tosses out most of the tired and traditional, in favour of fresh and original.

I did however miss Simon getting children up on stage, and think Tim would have handled their unpredictably with hilarious results. My only other quibble was the 5pm time of our performance, making teatime tricky unless you live very locally. It would’ve been a problem if we had normal 9-5 jobs too. However, it did at least mean an earlier night for two content but tired children!

For me, this is a pantomime of bests. The best panto cow, a highlight of a heifer! The best beanstalk, a feat of theatrical magic. The biggest, baddest and best giant. Although some of the jokes have passed their best-before!

In a season that has seen some pantomimes shorten their runs, Jack and the Beanstalk continues until January 20th, and our performance was sold out. This is surely a testament to the following the show has gained over the years. Great song choices, slick production values, local references and more jokes than you can shake a stalk at! Truly one of the best we’ve seen, writer and director Phil Lowe has created a panto of GIANT proportions!

It may have BEAN our first visit, but we’ll be back for Snow White in December…and that’s SNOW joke! 

HATTER’S HINTS

  • Book early to secure the best seats, this is a popular show!
  • Parking seems limited close to theatre, so plan ahead and allow extra time. We parked in a nearby multi-storey car park but it was very busy.
  • Bring cash for the usual ice-creams, programmes and merchandise. A collection towards theatre renovation is also taken at the end of the show.
  • The Balcony level front row has a slightly restricted view because of the balustrade, and booster cushions didn’t seem to be available – so lower levels may be more suited to young children.

MAGIC RATING FIVE STARS

VALUE FOR MONEY FOUR STARS

OVERALL FOUR AND HALF STARS

Tickets can be booked online at www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/Jack-and-the-Beanstalk-Magical-Family-Pantomime

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Photo Credit: Ant Robling

Disclaimer: Tickets were provided for this performance, however all opinions are honest and are our own.

School of Rock, Gillian Lynne Theatre – December 2018

Reviewed by The Magic Hatter

On a rare visit to old London town, Mrs Hatter and I took in School of Rock at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.

Inspired by the 2003 movie starring Jack Black, the film has been transformed into a fully-fledged musical that first opened on Broadway in 2015, and in London in 2016.

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For those that haven’t seen it, the plot sees struggling musician Dewey Finn steal his friend’s substitute teacher post to masquerade as a teacher at elite private school Horace Green. Soon seeing past the achievements, gold stars and snobbery, he realises the pupils have musical talent and coaches them to secretly compete in rock-off Battle of the Bands.

A cat-and-mouse game follows, as Dewey tries to keep the project a secret, along with his real identity and lack of teacher-training.

The score features most of the original songs from the film plus many that are new to the musical, penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater. Highlights for us were the insanely-catchy Stick it to the Man and You’re in the Band. Audience participation is encouraged at points, and the show often looks and feels like a rock concert. This raises the roof and is the epitome of feel-good entertainment!

Rarely for a West End show, photographs were encouraged during the finale which is why I’m able to share some here.

Comparisons to the film are inevitable, but thankfully our Dewey Finn – played by Jake Sharp – puts his own stamp on the character and plays the role with effortless likeability.

Whether bumbling through his lessons at Horace Green or trying to realise his dream as a rockstar, he is warm and engaging and with a natural flair for rock. And boy can he sing! Cool to the kids but a loser to the rest of the world, the audience are rooting for him to succeed.

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Photo @JakeySharp Twitter
Elsewhere, Laura Tebutt as Miss Mullins cuts an imposing figure as the authoritarian principal, eventually letting her hair down and rockin’ with the best of them. Her operatic tones are crystal clear, and she sings Where Did the Rock Go with a touching poignancy.
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Dewey’s old bandmate Ned (Alan Pearson) and partner Patty (Michelle Francis) bicker over Dewey’s behaviour but have a great on-stage chemistry. As the hen-pecked boyfriend and impatient but ultimately supportive girlfriend, they add extra comic relief.

The Kids Are (Better Than) Alright!

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

A special mention must go to the younger cast members…these kids ROCK! Many of the child performers are actor-musicians, and with not a whiff of stage-school melodrama. They sing, they dance, they act and – verified in a voiceover by Andrew Lloyd Webber – they play their own instruments.

On top of remembering their cues, notes and lines, they are also responsible for helping with scene changes, often moving scenery and set elements into position. An arduous task, but they work well together as an ensemble and it is clear they are loving every minute. Unlike some other musicals with children, the performances here feel real and believable, and the skill throughout is astounding.

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Stickin’ it to the Man

Family friendly? That depends on the family! Parents should note that the show features some colourful language (albeit infrequently), and a theme of rebelling against ‘the man’ – who often takes the form here of teachers, grades and the establishment. Many children were in the audience, but from what we could tell these were in the older age range. The show is generally not recommended for below five years old.

London theatre is notoriously expensive but I wouldn’t single out this show as being one of the worst offenders. Whilst talking to friends in theatre, we found a new show in town is charging £200 a head for stalls seats – and these eye-watering rates aren’t even uncommon! School of Rock tickets range from £15 to £150, with a general average around £52.50 in the circle, and £77 to £150 for stalls. Not a cheap treat, and the value rating at the end of this review is based on London prices.

Programmes are on sale at £5, along with show merchandise and the usual ice-creams, snacks and a fully-stocked bar.

I Know It’s Only Rock n’ Roll, But I Like It…

On this blog I mainly review magical family experiences, so would I say it was magical? Although we saw it over Christmas this is not a pantomime or a fairytale, or even traditional theatre. It’s part-musical, part rock concert but brimming with quality and high production values. The real magic here is in the talented cast – particularly the children – along with a live band and hardworking crew. Through theatrical magic the stage is transformed into a classroom, a bar, a bedroom, a living room, a concert hall and more, with each change smooth and seamless. 

The atmosphere is electric, the talent immense and the feel-good-factor goes right up to 11! The show is a testament to the entire creative team.

In short…it ROCKED!

HATTER’S HINTS

  • Discounted tickets may be available elsewhere, but always use reputable companies and not ticket touts. Always check to see whether cut-price tickets are for ‘restricted view’ seats
  • Booster cushions are available from the Front of House team, to help younger audience members see
  • Not seen the film yet? Wait until after you’ve seen the musical!

QUALITY FIVE STARS

VALUE FOR MONEY FOUR STARS

OVERALL FOUR AND HALF STARS

Tickets can be booked online at https://uk.schoolofrockthemusical.com

Piglets Adventure Farm – Santa Experience – December 2018

Hatter's Magic Moments

Reviewed by The Magic Hatter

As The Magic Hatter, I’m no stranger to Piglets Adventure Farm in York – performing shows there over Easter, Summer and Halloween. However, I don’t work there over Christmas so feel I can leave an unbiased review of their Magical Sleigh Rides Santa visits, following my annual trip with Mrs Hatter and the Junior Hatters!

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WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD! 

During the holiday months, Piglets is transformed into a festive setting worthy of Santa himself! Much of the main park is closed, and appointments to see Father Christmas are all timed slots booked online (with many dates selling out early)

The experience begins with the presentation of your personalised boarding passes at Elf Airlines check-in; one of the little touches that builds the excitement for your magical tractor-led sleigh ride through the forest. But first visitors must pass through elf security, a Naughty and Nice scanner, then sit down for an in-flight Elf and Safety presentation (much more entertaining that real airline safety videos!)

The elves deserve a mention here; this year they are all trained performers and generally the quality shines through. Each time we met one of Santa’s helpers they were friendly and fun, encouraging interaction along the way. We do miss the sillier elf names from previous years though, Russell Sprout included!

The sleigh itself is always a real ‘wow’ moment, a bright-red hydraulic sleigh that guides guests through a winter wonderland; especially magical if visiting early evening amongst the twinkling lights! The environment is littered with Christmas trees, giant candy canes and plenty of other festive things to spot.

Mrs Claus sets the scene on arrival to Santa’s log cabin, with a cosy chat around the fire and, again, plenty of interaction.

IMG_3627But of course, any trip to see Santa hinges on the quality of Santa himself. He’s the big guy, the head honcho, jolly old St. Nick…and I’m pleased to say ours ticked many boxes. A good quality costume and – crucially – he played the part well. Groups visit Santa together but the experience isn’t diminished; Santa was engaging, charming and took time to find out about each and every child. He was also good at gently encouraging those younger, less confident children to get involved.

Each time we’ve seen Santa here, the visit has been unique – sometimes featuring a singalong, a little storytelling, some seasonal magic and interaction with the grown-ups too. Of course, visitors can each have a photograph with Father Christmas before being presented with their own magic key.

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Second to meeting Santa, this was a real highlight – giving every child a golden key to choose their own toy from Santa’s Toy Shop is an inspired idea. We’ve found other Santa experiences have copped out with the gifts, giving identical presents to every aged or gender of child…usually yet another soft toy! But at Piglets, the children are like kids in a candy shop. Well, er, a toy shop! They really can have their pick of any toy, from a vast array of better-than-usual quality toys, games and gadgets. Imagine my pride when my eldest Junior Hatter chose a magic set last year!

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But the fun doesn’t stop there! Visitors then have free time to explore the woodland village, featuring an adorable Rabbit and Guinea Pig Nativity,  a Magic Wishing Tree, reindeer food to make, cosy and inviting teepees, elves to interact with and a free mince pie and mulled wine for the grown-ups.

For the first time this year, delicious wood-fired pizza from Dough Eyed Pizza was on sale here too. Our only gripe here is that is now sold by the slice, handy for a snack but offering less value than a full pizza at other times of the year. However, the slices are a good size and still a tasty treat, hot and fresh!

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Other food is available too along with hot chocolate, various teas, coffees and hot and cold snacks as well as the festive fare. A BBQ grill returns for this season too, offering Bratwurst style hot dogs. Staff throughout were all friendly and happy to chat, despite the winter chill in the air!

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New for 2018 is the Elves Storytelling, another nice addition to the park’s offering. We were beckoned in to the storytelling tent by a friendly elf, and watched a short presentation by two other elves. Rather than storytelling, this turned out to be a musical singalong to the Twelve Days of Christmas with lots of silly props and audience participation. Good festive fun!

We like how Piglets keep tweaking their seasonal offering, subtle changes here and there to an already impressive programme. We’ve done Santa visits at many different places, but this is more than just meeting Santa. It’s a full festive experience, well thought-out and packed with magical little touches. The attention to detail is excellent, and we never felt rushed or pressured into buying the optional photo souvenirs.

Even when not working, we always enjoy visiting Piglets Adventure Farm as customers, and at Christmas there is extra sparkle and shine! Our verdict? ‘Yule’ love it! 

HATTER’S HINTS

  • Wrap up warm! Much of the experience takes place outside, and it can be chilly in the marquees too. Dig out those festive jumpers and scarves!
  • Join in with your children, it may sound obvious but it’s the perfect outing to do with your little ones – sharing in the magic and activities together!
  • As mentioned, it is worth booking well in advance as some dates do fill up fast – especially closer to the big day itself.

MAGIC RATING FIVE STARS

VALUE FOR MONEY FOUR STARS

OVERALL FOUR AND HALF STARS

Highly recommended! 

Cinderella and The Lost Slipper, Grand Opera House York – December 2018

Hatter's Magic MomentsReviewed by The Magic Hatter

Turkey dinners. The Queen’s speech. Pantomime. Panto is a great British tradition that is very much a part of our annual festivities, an unmissable family treat. This year, we went to The Grand Opera House York to review their annual offering.

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Cinderella and the Lost Slipper by Three Bears Productions opened on Friday 14th December. Opera House regular Stuart Wade has hung up his frocks and buttoned-blazers and now works as producer for the company, along with Russ Spencer and Chris Moreno. So have the team, along with director Alan Cohen, captured that Christmas magic?

martin-daniels2-420x420No stranger to magic is magician Martin Daniels, playing Buttons. It isn’t long before he bounds on to the stage to encourage interaction with an effortless charm. Playful, silly and comfortable in his role, it’s clear that he is from a showbiz family. He instantly engages with the audience, and whilst many of the jokes are worthy of a Christmas cracker, he delivers them with panto panache. Son of the late Paul Daniels, the show has a sprinkling of magic tricks although I would’ve liked to have seen more. Perhaps that’s just the magician in me speaking, but these magical interludes were lapped up by the audience!

Buttons was a clear favourite with my eldest, with shouts of ‘he’s so silly’ and ‘he’s really funny daddy!’ amy-thompson2-1-420x420

Theatrical magic is used in the classic transformation scene, as Cinderella goes from rags to riches and is whisked away by flying horse and carriage. Gasps, ‘oohs and aahs’ accompanied the majestic flight, and Cinderella’s dress-change was slick and polished. Cinderella herself, played by Amy Thompson, is everything a fairytale princess should be. As a downtrodden maid, we feel sorry for her and then she dazzles as Princess Crystal at the ball. The audience were rooting for her to find her Prince Charming; the suitably dapper Jack McGill.

Both Jack as the Prince and Danny Rogers as Dandini have great singing voices, and good chemistry on-stage. A wicked stepmother was noticeably absent, and the Baron (John D Collins) only featured briefly but played the part with a bumbling and fatherly demeanour.

michelle-heaton3-429x430Michelle Heaton adds sparkle and shine as the Fairy Godmother. Formerly of Liberty X, her vocals excel, and she plays up to her Geordie heritage. She seems genuinely excited to be involved and isn’t as sickly sweet as some Fairy Godmothers!

The beauty of Cinderella is that audiences get two dames for the price of one, with the wickedly mean Ugly Sisters. Unfortunately, one half of the dastardly pair – Covonia played by Ken Morley – was ill for press night and couldn’t perform. We expected an understudy in his place but no, Steve Wickenden flew solo as Calpol…steve-wickenden01-420x420

Steve is billed as Britain’s most outrageous dame, and plays the acid-tongued sister with a near-borderline level of innuendo and sass. Each costume more extravagant than the last, he could illicit boos and jeers from the audience and clearly had lots of experience milking the role. A fun and funny performance, and still likeable despite the rough treatment of poor Cinders!

It would’ve been great to see Ken and Steve’s banter on stage, but the cast coped well and of course the show must go on. Former Coronation Street star Ken had already announced this as his last pantomime, and we wish him a fast and full recovery, so that he (she?) can don the outrageous wardrobe again soon.

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From the Twelve Days of Christmas, and ghost scene (albeit with an arachnid twist) to water pistols and the obligatory song-sheet, audiences can expect the expected but these traditions are often welcome. This is a pantomime you can join in with, it’s familiar and fun and kept both of our boys (two and five-years-old) engaged throughout. The next generation of panto-goers won’t have seen these classic skits as often as we have and, seen through fresh eyes, they were captivating.

What else can audiences expect? A high-energy troupe of well-choreographed backing dancers, both children and adults. Plenty of audience participation. A song about a certain infant shark and his family (yes, there’s no escaping it!)

Although not particularly inventive or groundbreaking, if you’re looking for all the ingredients of traditional pantomime then the slipper fits. The cast worked their socks off, especially with a man (playing a woman) down. The real magic lies in the unseen script changes and re-jigging, ensuring a smooth near-seamless production. Perhaps a touch long for young children at around two and a half hours, but no doubt this will shorten as the cast find their rhythm and the run goes on.

We were especially surprised as how entranced our two-year-old was, in a show that’s a feast for the senses. Mirror balls, pyrotechnics and glittering scenery add to the overall effect. Other pantomimes may skimp on the story, but the tale is here in full and easy to follow. Young and old alike were up in their seats dancing, and laughing at local references, silly sight gags and even political humour. With sumptuous sets, a talented cast and a generous sprinkling of festive magic, you’ll have a ball!

HATTER’S HINTS

  • Bring plenty of change if you want refreshments – ice-creams are £4 each, bottles of water £2.50. There are the usual flashing wands and programmes on sale too.
  • Plan ahead with parking, and leave extra time. With the Christmas market on in York, the car parks fill up fast and well into the evening too!
  • Small children? You can ask Front of House staff for a booster cushion to help them see. Opera glasses can be hired for £1 too if sat further away.
  • Consider the matinee performances for younger children. Although the evening shows usually start at 6.30pm, it can be still be a late night for little ones!

MAGIC RATING FOUR STARS

VALUE FOR MONEY FOUR STARS

OVERALL FOUR STARS

Cinderella and the Lost Slipper runs until January 5th, and if you really want to plan ahead, tickets are already on sale for the 2019 production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!

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Disclaimer: Tickets were provided for the press evening of this performance, however all opinions are honest and are our own.