My Favourite Places
Opera Anywhere's Mike Woodward has put on musical performances from an ice cream van to the roof of a Land Rover, but are his preferred hang-outs just as quirky?
Opera isn’t just for the elite and nor does it have to be performed in staid, fancy venues, according to Mike Woodward, founder of Opera Anywhere. Since 2000, Mike and his wife Vanessa have sought to ditch the art form’s lofty connotations, producing performances everywhere from an ice cream van to the roof of a Land Rover. The musical couple live in Sunningwell, a village south of Oxford, and, having spent years scouting out quirky venues for performances, Mike has an encyclopaedic knowledge of cool local spots so he’s the perfect person to grill for his top picks…
The pond, Sunningwell
No, it’s not a pub, it’s literally the village pond. It’s got a long history – I believe hundreds of years ago nuns used to visit because they believed the water had healing properties. On a summer’s day, it’s a lovely spot for sitting, reflecting, and watching the ducks, moorhens and voles pass by. Sunningwell School of Art is close by so often you see the budding artists painting and drawing on their easels around the banks. We have a special connection with the pond as it’s the place where Opera Anywhere started – we put on our first ever performance on a stage above the water.
Long Crendon Manor, Long Crendon
This is a beautiful old B&B with four poster beds, antique furniture and tremendous gardens. Its medieval hall and 14th century dining room make it catnip for film and TV crews – Midsomer Murders and various period dramas have been filmed here.
River Cherwell, north Oxford
This is somewhere that’s very dear to our hearts – Vanessa and I went punting on the river on our first date, 37 years ago, and in recent years we’ve created opera performances on punts here (no one has fallen in – yet). There’s something about putting music and water together that just works – they both flow in harmony. After working up an appetite punting, I’d recommend the Cherwell Boathouse, the lovely riverside restaurant next to the punt station. The food is just divine.
Waterperry Gardens, Waterperry
We put on shows here in the summer in the stunning al fresco Roman-style amphitheatre, which now has weather protection for the inevitable rainy days. It’s a lovely, rural spot for a day out – there’s a garden centre where I buy plants and outdoor furniture, the gardens are great for a stroll and there’s a great café – it’s a popular spot for passing cyclists.
Thame Players Theatre, Thame
This is a gorgeous, tiny, community-run theatre, with only 135 seats. Everyone involved is a volunteer and they put a lot of love and creativity into the programming and performances, with theatre, opera, pantomime and a weekend cinema club. It’s a great example of what a community can achieve by working together. Don’t miss the cute little bar.
R&R coffee shop, Abingdon
This is a great coffee shop, bang on the market square in Abingdon, with welcomingly squishy sofas. I’ll go for an independent over a chain, any day. I go there after swimming and have a bacon buttie and cappuccino.
Flowing Well pub, Sunningwell
This is the only pub in our home village, and luckily it’s splendid. It’s a gastropub and the food is excellent but equally you can stop by for just a drink. In the winter, you can sit with your pint inside, toasting yourself in front of the woodburner, while in the summer the views from the garden over the surrounding hills are wonderful.
Stanbrook Abbey, Worcestershire
We’ve arranged a few gigs here but it’s now become somewhere we’ll go for a weekend away to unwind from work. It’s an absolutely stunning hotel that was a 16th century silent order monastery. The breakfasts are enormous and delicious, the rooms retain some of the building’s original features and it’s the perfect base for walking in the Malvern Hills.
Opera Anywhere double bill of Old Maid & The Thief and Amahl & The Night Visitors at Long Crendon Manor on 17 Dec, and at Wolfson College on 21 Dec. operaanywhere.com