MUDDY’S PICK OF THE MONTH
Beauty and the Beast, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, 6 Dec – 5 Jan
Who’s the biggest pull – EastEnders’ regular Danny Walters, who stars as the Prince or Britain’s Got Talent’s drag act La Voix and local celeb Andy Collins, a duo who have made your correspondent snort with laughter for the last few years? It’s too tough to call – maybe we’ll have to ask the talking furniture to decide. atgtickets.com
Leeds-based Gentlemen’s Dub Club are bringing their ska and reggae fusion to Oxford’s O2 Academy on their Lost in Space tour. I’ve seen the band a couple of times at festivals and they really are worth a watch – they’re full of energy and will bring a fantastic atmosphere to the venue (6 Dec). Also coming to the O2 are indie rock band Razorlight (below) on their first big tour in 10 years. Oxford is the first show, so they should be full of beans (13 Dec).
Elsewhere, at The Stables in Milton Keynes, you can listen to 2010 X Factor winner turned West End Jesus Christ Superstar actor Matt Cardle, who’ll be belting out numbers from his fourth studio album, Time To Be Alive (5 Dec). Or, at the same venue, crank up the ’80s nostalgia with a festive performance by Kim Wilde, who’ll be singing acoustic versions of Christmas songs as well as her big hitters (15 Dec).
For more Christmas hits (and a giant helping of jazz hands), John Barrowman is celebrating 30 years in stage and screen with a festive album, A Fabulous Christmas, which he will be performing at New Theatre, Oxford (14 Dec). Also at New Theatre, is the multi-platinum, award-winning singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé (above), coming to Oxford on her UK tour promoting her new album Real Life – bound to be brilliant (9 Dec).
Ready or not, here come the pantos! Heart-throb Love Island contestant and younger brother of Strictly’s AJ Pritchard, Curtis Pritchard, makes his panto debut in Wycombe Swan’s Dick Whittington (13 Dec – 5 Jan). Check out our interview where he talks tans, secrets and AJ’s budgie smugglers – ooh!
Randy women of Bucks and Oxon will be excited to hear that flipping LEE MEAD (and, er, squeaky comedian Joe Pasquale) are in Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre, performing alongside a live orchestra (7 Dec – 12 Jan).
Elsewhere, there’s a 1950s re-imagining of Puss in Boots in Chipping Norton. The Theatre in Chippy always punches above its weight with its panto and, for those not encumbered by little people, there are adult-only evenings on offer (13 Dec – 12 Jan).
If you want to avoid the celeb-brigade, head to Oxford Playhouse’s in-house panto, Beauty and the Beast. If you enjoyed last year’s Dick Whittington and his Cat then it’s a dead cert as it’s the same team behind the production (until 12 Jan).
There’s also Cinderella at The Elgiva, a great local venue promising a ‘traditional family pantomime’ by panto specialists New Pantomime Productions. They’ve been putting on shows for 35 years, so must be pretty good at it by now (10 Dec – 5 Jan); Dreams n Wishes, longtime producers of traditional pantos and regular collaborators with Milton Keynes Amateur Operatic Society, return to The Venue Milton Keynes with Dick Whittington (22 Dec – 5 Jan); Henley-based Kenton Theatre will be pricking fingers and hacking through briars in Sleeping Beauty. Always a sell out and I love this local funky space, gratifyingly close to the river for a walk after the matinee (13 – 28 Dec).
December is here so it’s now officially acceptable to go full throttle on festivities and there are loads of Christmas markets popping up over Bucks and Oxon to get you in the Christmas mood.
For wow-factor settings there’s Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury, with a 20ft Christmas tree, 80 exhibitors standing to attention in charming wooden chalets. Don’t forget to check out the amazing light show whilst you’re there (until 22 Dec). Or over in Woodstock there are more lights (we’re talking a 100k Light Tunnel and laser show) at Blenheim Palace alongside twinkling wooden chalets lining the Great Court selling a curated range of ceramics, textiles, gifts, homewares, fashion and foodie items (until 15 Dec).
Oxford Christmas Market, on Broad Street, runs right up to the big day and is a lifesaver for those last minute Christmas gifts – it’s rescued me a couple of times! (5 – 21 Dec) while Chipping Campden Christmas Market is a traditional one with local choirs, stall and Christmas lights switch on (7 – 8 Dec). There’ll be 40 stalls selling botanical inspired gifts and Hot Toddies at Oxford Botanic Garden (7 – 8 Dec); Cogges Manor Farm‘s market focuses on festive food with local produce, hampers and Santa’s grotto. You can also pick out a Nordman Fir Christmas tree (7 – 8 Dec).
Can’t stand the panto? No fear, there are loads of brilliant alternatives to get your theatre fix this month.
The ever quirky Creation Theatre is turning down the thermostat at North Wall Theatre for its new production of The Snow Queen (below). We caught a press show last weekend and it’s witty and enchanting for kids and adults alike. Make sure you get stuck in to the immersive snow ball fight! (until 5 Jan).
And then there’s Fliskit Theatre’s new show Breaking the Ice, at Muddy favourite Pegasus Theatre, about an unlikely friendship between a husky and a polar bear. It’s only 40 mins long so perfect for little fidgeters with short attention spans (11 – 24 Dec).
The creative team behind Didcot’s Cornerstone’s 2018 show return to the venue with a vibrant new version of The Adventures of Pinocchio promising humour and original songs performed live on stage by musicians supported by local talent (Sat 7 – Sun 29 Dec).
Meanwhile at The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury, there are performances of Morgan and West: a (Sort of) Christmas Carol – a two-man, slapstick take on a Dickens classic with magic and time travel (13 – 24 Dec), and an interpretation of Snow White by Vienna Festival Ballet, complete with hip-hopping dwarves (6 Dec).
Over at The Stables, Milton Keynes, Scamp Theatre performs its award-winning adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s book, The Scarecrows’ Wedding. Expect live music, LOLs and, erm, a smooth-talking, woman-stealing garden rake (17 – 29 Dec).
If it’s Santa you’re after, the big guy is popping up at the New Theatre’s Piano Bar to deliver stories, songs and gifts – the show is interactive and all kids get a personal tete-a-tete (8 – 24 Dec). Plus at Aylesbury Waterside Second Space there’s Santa’s New Sleigh, a sing-along festive show with audience participation and meeting with Father Christmas (14 – 15 Dec).
Stowe House, Bucks, has two festive shows on the go, Star in a Jar, a short and sweet story that captures the friendship between two siblings for children (14 Dec) and, for older audiences 11+, a hair-raising production of A Christmas Carol with live violin score (21 Dec).
Another great option for older audiences (12+) is The Last Noël, a funny and moving tale about family dynamics at Christmastime, performed at Old Fire Station. Last year’s show, Snowflake, received top marks so it should be a goodie (4 – 23 Dec).
Not feeling festive? David Walliams’ Billionaire Boy comes to New Theatre Oxford, about 12-year-old Joe who is the richest boy in the country and receives £100,000 a week pocket money (don’t go getting any ideas, kids). It’s produced by the same team that created the award-winning West End show Gangsta Granny so should be a goodie and, knowing Walliams, will be packed with humour for adults too (4 – 7 Dec).
And then, also at New Theatre, there’s West End hit Motown The Musical which follows the journey of Berry Gordy who founded Motown Records and launched the careers of Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and more. Guaranteed toe tapping, funky beats and feel good tunes (17 Dec – 4 Jan).
CHRISTMAS AT NATIONAL TRUSTS & STATELY HOMES
Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, Bucks, until 5 Jan (Wed – Sun)
The decorations at the house this year are influenced by the National Trust site’s connection to music, from traditional carols to Christmas hits. There’s also a stunning light trail (see the Muddy review here) around the Aviary and light shows on the facade of the manor house. Head to the stables to snap a picture inside one of the two huge LED baubles.
Stonor, Henley, Oxon, until 15 Dec
Stonor opens its doors to the public at Christmas for the fourth time, with this year’s theme being A Candlelit Christmas. The house will be decorated with holly, mistletoe, sweet scented pine and greenery grown by the Head Gardener, plus a 20ft Victorian decorated Christmas Tree in the Gothic Hall.
Hughenden Manor, High Wycombe, Bucks (8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29 Dec and 1 Jan)
The manor will be decorated in traditional splendour, inspired by the make-do-and-mend world of wartime Britain, and there’ll also be a children’s trail following Sergeant Hadfield’s little Scottie dog around the winter gardens (7 – 29 Dec).
Chastleton House, Moreton-in-Marsh, Oxon (7, 8 Dec)
Built by a prosperous wool merchant in the 17th Century, Chastleton House remained in the same family for 400 years until the National Trust renovated it in the 1990s. The beautiful house will be decorated for a Victorian Christmas and open to the public for select dates.
Stowe, nr Buckingham, Bucks, 1 Dec – 5 Jan
There’s a landscape advent calendar in the stunning Stowe gardens with 12 displays dotted around the frosty garden to celebrate the Georgian tradition of the Twelfth Night.
Grey’s Court, Henley, Oxon, 5, 9, 12, 17, 19 Dec
This year, the picturesque 16th-century mansion is celebrating its 50th year as part of the National Trust with candlelit tours round the mansion with stories of the owners’ Christmas traditions, followed by mulled wine and homemade warm mince pies in the Old Kitchen.
Cliveden, Taplow, Berks, until 23 Dec (Sat, Sun & school holidays)
Just over the Berks border, expect a charming Christmas trail round the stunning grounds inspired by stories of Astor family Christmases on the estate.
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxon
Blenheim always goes the whole hog with its Illuminated Light Trail and this year there’ll be over 100,000 for the Tunnel of Light, a Laser Garden, scented Fire Garden and light finale on the Water Terrace and front of the Palace set to music. For kids there’ll be a Victorian-style fairground and Santa, plus the Palace will be decorated in the theme of Alice in Wonderland.
There’s nothing quite like a carol concert to get you properly in the mood for Christmas, right? The utterly fabulous Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Great Milton is hosting a series of concerts for the festive period, each including a five course dinner and Champagne Laurent-Perrier. The concerts are on the pricey side, but no surprises there as you’re getting double Michelin star quality (2 – 31 Dec).
Elsewhere, CarolFest returns to St Mary’s Church in Aylesbury – a day of family festive-themed family entertainment, games, crafts and activities culminating in a carol service led by The Next Stage Chior and local groups (8 Dec). Also in Bucks, Stowe’s New Inn courtyard will be hosting local musicians throughout the Yuletide period (7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22 Dec).
For another beautiful and atmospheric setting, there are two concerts at Dorchester Abbey in south Oxon performed by the Orchestra of St John’s – a traditional Christmas carol concert (14 Dec) and a performance of Handel’s Messiah (21 Dec). The orchestra will also be performing at the Ashmolean museum in Oxford (15 Dec).
Also in central Oxford, the choir boys of the iconic Christ Church, in Oxford, lead the carols alongside Christmas readings in this top-notch Christmas highlight (18 Dec). And there are also a series of concerts at the Sheldonian Theatre – A Christmas Celebration with John Rutter and Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra (12 Dec), Traditional Christmas Carol Concert (15 Dec) and Carols for All – Oxford Bach Choir (21 Dec). It’s a stunner of a setting and bound to be a sell out so snap up tickets quickly.
And finally, Stowe’s State Apartments will be filled with the sound of a live brass ensemble performing festive melodies. During the evening you’ll also get a tour of the house revealing stories about the house’s Christmas past (18 Dec).
COMEDY & CULTURE
Kicking off the LOLs is multi award-winning Welsh comic Rhod Gilbert, who returns to the stand-up scene after a six year hiatus, with his new show The Book of John, a raw, personal and brutally honest look at Rhod’s life since he last took to the stage (13 Dec).
Meanwhile, at The Bullingdon in Cowley, there’s a special Christmas stand-up from Andrew Bird – he’s previously supported Michael McIntyre and Lee Hurst, with rave reviews so it should be a goodie (14 Dec).
Or if you’re looking for a quirky setting, Jericho Comedy is pitching up in the vaults of world’s oldest purpose-built museum, the Oxford Science Museum, with an all-female show Women in Science (4 Dec). And then there’s local comedy hotspot, The Potters Arms in Amersham, with two festive shows on the bill, plus you’ll get a Christmas dinner in the interva. Headlining is Nina Benjamin (12 Dec), followed by 2019 I’m A Celebrity contestant Andrew Maxwell (if he makes it back from Australia, that is) on 19 Dec.
For bookworms, head to Blackwell’s on Oxford’s Broad Street for the bookshop’s annual Yule Fest, a series of talks on the run up to Christmas. Highlights include talks by Jo Wood on her new book Stoned, about her life on the road with The Rolling Stones (I bet she has some wicked secrets to spill), author of Bad Words Philip Gooden and children’s book launch of Castle of No Return (7 – 8 Dec).
And finally, at The Stables in MK, The Great British Bake Off contestant, turned TV presenter and cook Nadiya Hussain speaks candidly to Muddy Book Club Live alumna, author Viv Groskop, about her youth, arranged marriage, becoming a wife and mother and her new book Finding My Voice (9 Dec).
ART & EXHIBITIONS
New on the art scene this month is a solo exhibition of up-and-coming East London artist Tommy Fiendish (below) at the brilliant Dantzig gallery in Woodstock. Each of Tommy’s pieces begin as a 2D image of an abandoned property with layers of colour, mythological animals, ’50s tattoos, swans and a touch of Gothic. Very cool (until 27 Dec).
Another must-see before it concludes at the end of the month is ICON at Old Fire Station, in Oxford, which involves recreations of iconic photographs by Rory Carnegie and artists who have experienced homelessness (until 23 Dec). I’m absolutely loving this idea!
Elsewhere, there’s Wildsong by Jane Duff at The North Wall with work inspired by the artist’s upbringing on the edge of Snowdonia and experience working as a guide in the Himalayas (until 7 Jan); The Young Turner: Ambitions in Architecture and the Art of Perspective, on display at Banbury Museum which is a collection of JMW Turner’s work from the 1780s to the 1810s, on loan from The Ashmolean, The Tate and private collections (until 12 Jan) and George Stubbs: ‘all done from Nature’ , (below) at MK Gallery, the first overview of the British artist’s work in the UK for over 30 years (until 26 Jan).
In central Oxford you catch Kiki Smith show ‘I Am Wanderer’ (until 19 Jan), at Modern Art Oxford, which promises to take visitors on a mythological journey via her huge tapestries to exquisitely fashioned gold shells; the Ashmolean’s current display, Last Supper in Pompeii, with 400+ exhibits from the ancient Roman site buried by the enormous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD (until 12 Jan) and First Animals, an exploration of the first life on earth at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (until 24 Feb).
Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Alexandra Palace, Fri 13 Dec – Sun 5 Jan
Assuredly NOT a panto, this West End production (it showed at the Apollo Theatre in 2015 and 2016) comes to Ally Pally, promising a riotous spin on JM Barrie’s classic tale. From the creators of award-winning The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. alexandrapalace.com
Nativity! The Musical, The Eventim Apollo, London, 11 – 29 Dec
This made the leap from film to Christmas show in a touring production in 2017 – now it’s back again for the third round. Great cast for this one including the return of father and daughter duo Dani and Danny Dyer, plus Rylan Clarke-Neal and Sharon Osbourne. West End star Simon Lipkin will also reprise his role as Mr Poppy. I saw a version in Oxford last year and it was hilarious and heartwarming (even without the star cast), so this is bound to be brilliant. Proper feel-good family theatre. Tickets here.
A Christmas Carol, The Old Vic, Sat 23 Nov – Sat 18 Jan
This production of festive classic A Christmas Carol staged by The Old Vic’s artistic director Matthew Warchus had such great reviews that it’s returning for round three. It’s adapted by Jack Thorne, co-writer of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. oldvictheatre.com
Mama Mia! A brand new (and, quite frankly, must-see) exhibition is coming to The O2, London this month – ABBA: Super Troupers is a journey through the Swedish band’s career and will feature personal items and artefacts never seen before in the UK (6 Dec – 21 Aug 2020).
Another newbie is Tutankhamun – Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh at the Saatchi Gallery. One of the biggest cultural events in the winter calendar, the exhibit features 150+ original artefacts found in the Pharaoh’s tomb that was unearthed in 1922.
Other exhibitions worth a snoop are Vogue fashion and portrait photographer Tim Walker‘s enchanting, fantastical, frankly insane collection of work at the V&A (until 8 March); William Blake at Tate Britain, with the visionary painter and poets work blown up to enormous scale using digital technology (until 2 Feb 2020); Into the Night: Cabarets & Clubs in Modern Art at the Barbican – a history of cabarets, clubs, dancefloors and party spaces that inspired artists from the 1880s to the 1960s (4 Oct – 19 Jan).