The Muddy Guide
Cowley Manor Arts Awards, May – September
I’m a big fan of modern sculpture in beautiful old gardens – the clash is always really interesting. The Cowley Manor Arts Award is an annual sculpture competition, offering a unique insight into the emerging talents from the world-famous Royal College of Art with the winning artwork purchased and taking up permanent residence within the grounds. From May through to September, six submissions will be on display in the grounds alongside the previous three year’s winning pieces.
Cowley Manor, cowleymanor.com
Henley on Food Festival, Sat 30 April – Sun 1 May
Liking the sound of this brand new food festival set at Shiplake College just outside Henley. There’s a great line up of celeb and local chefs including John Torode, Madeleine Shaw, Antony Worrall-Thompson and the Caldesis plus local chefs of note like Shaun Dicken and János Veres from Heston Blumenthal’s The Hinds Head in Bray. Expect talks, cookery demos, a wine tasting, a pop-up Supper Club, riverside champagne tent and foodie events for children.
Shiplake College, Henley, henleyonfood.com
Cymbeline, RSC Stratford, Fri 28 April – 15 Oct
Shakespeare’s rarely performed romance of power, jealousy and sexuality comes to the RSC, in a production boasting director Melly Still (The Cunning Little Vixen for Glyndebourne Opera and Coram Boy for the National Theatre), Gillian Bevan as Cymbeline, and Bethan Cullinane (King Lear, 2013 Globe Theatre) as Innogen.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Waterside, Stratford-upon-Avon, rsc.org.uk
Northern Ballet: The Tortoise and the Hare, Milton Keynes Theatre, Fri 29 April
Northern Ballet totally rock, and following the sell-out successes of The Ugly Duckling, Three Little Pigs and Elves & the Shoemaker they bring their magic to The Tortoise & the Hare. A lovely way to introduce little people to live ballet. The performance lasts 40 minutes so short enough for even the very young to sit still.
Milton Keynes Theatre, 500 Marlborough Gate, Bucks, atgtickets.com
Comedy Festival Weekend, Potters Arms, Fri 29 April – Sun 1 May
This little powerhouse of a pub near Amersham is the venue all the big names want to play at. This is its first comedy festival weekend, starting FRIDAY with Lee Hurst headlining, plus Darren Walsh, winner of the Funniest Joke at last years Edinburgh Festival and the next big thing Russell Hicks. Also worth knowing that there’s a children’s comedy event with their own MC, workshops and stand up. All in a venue that holds 250 people so it will be really intimate, plus it’s for charity. I’m sold.
The Potters Arms, Winchmore Hill, pottersarms.co.uk
Spring Steam Gala and Model Railway Exhibition, Quainton, Sun 1 – Mon 2 May
An annual feast of railways of all sizes, with up to six locomotives in steam including visiting loco NER No. 1310 pictured above (yeah go on, cross-reference it in your manual), brake van rides, ‘Driver for a Tenner’, ride-on miniature steam trains on 1km of track including a crossing and a tunnel and all set within a 25 acre estate around Quainton. Dig out your anorak and have some fun!
Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, Station Road, Quainton, bucksrailwaycentre.org
Stonor Tulip and Spring Flower Festival, Stonor Park, Sat 30 April – Mon 2 May
A gentle cross-generational event at 850 year old Stonor Park (nearly Henley), this tulip and spring flower festival offers gorgeous flower arrangements throughout the house, plus Tulipomania by floral designer and expert Jonathan Moseley (he of the BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge). There are stunning grounds for the kids to run around in, and a pantry for the obligatory tea stop. Also a great bonus that you can stay inside if necessary if it tanks it down on the weekend.
£15 adults, £7.50 (5-16 years), under 5s (free). stonor.com
Northern Ballet Youth Workshop, Milton Keynes Theatre, Sat 30 April
This creative workshop is fully accessible to all kids 11-16, regardless of experience. The session will include a basic ballet warm up and the chance to explore themes and choreography from Swan Lake, led by a Northern Ballet dance artist, followed by the chance to watch the company class in the auditorium. An amazing opportunity.
9.30am – 12.45pm. Milton Keynes Theatre, 500 Marlborough Gate, Bucks, atgtickets.com
Craig Campbell: Don’t Look Down, Queen’s Park Arts, Aylesbury, Fri 29 April
Craig Campbell’s a TV stalwart, having made appearances on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow (BBC 1), Russell Howard’s Good News (BBC 3) and Alan Davies’ As Yet Untitled (Dave). As part of his third solo stand up tour, the Canadian reaches the small but groovy Queen’s Park Arts Centre.
Queens Park Arts Centre, Queens Park, Aylesbury, Bucks, qpc.org
The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company presents Richard II, O2 Academy, Fri 29 April
Sometimes the best events sound the strangest, and this one icould be one of them. Founded in 2008 by hip hop artist Akala, with the support of Ian McKellen, The Hip-hop Shakespeare Company is a music theatre production company that explores the parallels between the work of William Shakespeare and modern day rappers. Yep, apparently there are some!
O2 Academy Oxford, 190 Cowley Rd, Oxford, academymusicgroup.com
Ran Kan Kan Oxford presents: Primavera (Latin Spring), Arts at the Old Fire Station, Sat 30 April
This live Latin music night sounds really fab. Birmingham-based Manos pa’ Arriba play a selection of Colombian cumbia with an ocassional foray into wild Balkan rhythms (*cough* it says here). They are teamed up with Ran Kan Kan, Oxford’s fantastic 20 piece Cubanista big band, and the brilliantly monikered DJ Badger, promising to go heavy on the tropical and caliente until midnight.
Arts at the Old Fire Station, 40 George St, Oxford, oldfirestation.org.uk
Spring Jousting Tournament, Blenheim Palace, Sat 30 April – Mon 2 May
A mighty jousting tournament on the South Lawn featuring ‘The Knights of Royal England’. Plus the usual ye oldey fun like falconry displays, archery, puppet shows foot battles and a hog roast. A no brainer for the kids, but pray for good weather.
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, blenheimpalace.com
The Birthday Party, Cornerstone Arts, Didcot, Sat 30 April
I haven’t seen Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party but I’m very tempted by this production at Chippy Theatre, presented by London Classic Theatre. This was Pinter’s first major work, and if you don’t know the synopsis, it about an elderly couple in an English seaside boarding house who take care of a solitary guest. Two enigmatic strangers arrive, seemingly offering a welcome distraction from their mundane lives until an impromptu birthday party turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse. Der, der, DERRRRRRRR!
Cornerstone Arts, Didcot, cornerstone-arts.org
The Tudors at the Tower Family Festival, Tower of London, Sat 30 April – Mon 2 May
Tudors at the Tower is back for a third year and looks really fun. It’s 1533, and visitors are invited to join the magnificent celebrations for Anne Boleyn’s coronation as Queen of England – themselves in a living Tudor world – help King Henry VIII’s courtiers to prepare for the coronation, taking part in a masque, learn to be a court fool, pick up ‘knightly’ skills to be presented to Queen Anne and meet Tudor blacksmiths, cooks and stonemasons. I went to one of these a couple of years back and it was massively good fun, so a big Muddy thumbs up if you’re looking for something fun to do en famille in London.
Tower of London, hrp.co.uk
World Tai Chi Day, Batsford Arboretum, Sat 30 April
Life getting the better of you? Want to find a way to slow things down? Fancy watching a whole bunch of people move in slow motion for an hour? This free session offers a lovely introduction to Tai Chi and includes entry to the arboretum, which will be at its blowsy spring blossom peak.
Batsford Arboretum, Batsford, Moreton-in-Marsh, bartsarb.co.uk
My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty, New Theatre, Oxford, Sat 30 April
The second children’s ballet this week and it’s another corker. My First Ballet: Sleep Beauty is aimed at children aged 3+, and performed by second year students at the English national Ballet school in a simplified version of the fairy stale. These performances are massively popular – the My First Ballet series has been running since 2012- and they’re beautifully staged with a narrator to help the young audience follow the story, and a shortened version of Tchaikovsky’s score.
New Theatre, George St, Oxford, atgtickets.com
Family Explorers: We’re going on a Bug Hunt, Stowe, Sun 1 May
I can think of few places in the UK that would trump Stowe Gardens for its sheer scale and beauty. This is a lovely opportunity to grab your kids, hand them the National Trust mini-beasts guide book and get them out in nature. Dogs on leads can come too, and magnifying glasses and bug pots are encouraged!
American Idiot, Oxford New Theatre, Tues 3 – Sat 7 May
Green Day’s explosive, award-winning Broadway musical American Idiot is now touring across the UK, with X Factor finalist Amelia Lily (remember her?) reprising her role as Whatsername, with further casting to be announced. Winner of two Tony Awards and was the 2010 Grammy Award winner for Best Musical Show Album, American Idiot is the story of three boyhood friends searching for meaning in a post 9/11 world featuring the music of Green Day. One for the rockers and teens I’m guessing but I haven’t seen it myself so am keeping an open mind!
Recommended ages 14+ Oxford New Theatre, atgtickets.com
Alan Barnes, The Spin, Oxford, Thurs 28 April
One of the most in demand saxophone players at festivals and clubs around the country, Alan Barnes has worked with some of the biggest jazz names on the planet, plus the likes of Bjork and Bryan Ferry. It’s his first time at Spin, so catch him if you can.
The Spin, The Wheatsheaf, 129 High Street, Oxford , spinjazz.net