MUDDY’S PICK OF FEBRUARY HIGHLIGHTS 2020
The biggie this month is the start of Dancin’ Oxford’s Spring Dance Festival with a series of performances, talks, tasters and workshops in locations across the city, many of them free (28 Feb – 8 Mar). Highlights this year include the festival’s launch in Westgate Oxford (29 Feb) with an afternoon of free performances from professionals, local dance groups and Zumba sessions (shake it, baby!) and striking performances from Neon Dance (above) in Oxford University Museum of Natural History (1 Mar). New for this year the fest is introducing a Dance Audience Club where you can see three consecutive shows and then discuss them afterwards.
Also organised by Dancin’ Oxford are a series of shows by dancer and choreographer Joëlle Pappas. Nocturne, performed at The Abbey in Sutton Courtney (16 Feb) and St Michael at the Northgate in Oxford (24 Feb) is set to an original programme of French music and song, taking inspiration from the haunting life of sculptor Camille Claudel who spent the last 30 years of her life in a psychiatric institution. Whilst Time – Space and the Body combines Pappas’ choreography with music from composer Joseph Kay for a four day residency at the Jacqueline du Pre Building (22 Feb & 6 – 8 Mar).
If it’s the ballet you’re after, Moscow City Ballet are pirouetting onto the stage at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, accompanied by a full orchestra, to perform Swan Lake set to Tchaikovsky’s enchanting score (2 Feb). Elsewhere at Cornerstone Arts, Didcot, you can see all-female dance group TRIBE//’s debut performance of Sill I Rise, a visceral dance piece inspired by Maya Angelou’s iconic poem (20 Feb).
And finally, the Kaifeng City Acrobats Troupe will be stopping off at Oxford Playhouse with the Chinese New Year Festival Show, an action-packed two hours of colour, culture and daring circus-style tricks (18 Feb).
ART & EXHIBITIONS
There are plenty of brand new exhibitions beginning this month to whet the cultural appetite (and to keep you indoors, away from the rain). We’re excited for Modern Art Oxford’s Tools for Life, the first solo show from Chilean artist Johanna Unzueta (8 Feb – 10 May). The space combines art, clothing, a large-scale felt installation and a short film for a multi-faceted look at function and form – and if that isn’t quite exciting enough for you, you’ll definitely want to catch the opening night music event Sink Ya Teeth (I’m so loving that name) which promises Eighties and Nineties bass-heavy electronic dance music (7 Feb).
Get a loada that pout! Another biggie for Oxford is Young Rembrandt at the Ashmolean, a chronological journey through the artist’s early career beginning in his native Leiden with paintings, prints and drawings and ending in Amsterdam when his career rocketed to stardom. You’ll get to see 34 paintings by Rembrandt, along with a further 90 drawings and prints including the newly discovered Let the Little Children Come to Me which is making its public debut at the exhibition (27 Feb – 7 Jun). Fancy an after-work jaunt? Make sure you book a slot for the popular Ashmolean After Hours where you can mooch around the gallery to music with a drink in hand (28 Feb).
Also from the Ashmolean, but showing at a different venue – the River & Rowing Museum in Henley – is Art of the Wild: Gertrude Hermes and the Natural World, with innovative prints on loan from the central Oxford museum, from Jazz Age wood engravings of birds, fish and flowers to her monumental coloured linocuts of the 1950s (7 Feb – 4 May).
Finally there’s Paint Park at MK Gallery Milton Keynes (8 Feb – 1 Mar), a celebration of ‘phygital’ painting (a combination of physical and digital, keep up!). Alison Goodyear’s Paint Park exhibition at MK Gallery’s Project Space involves donning a VR headset, leaving you feeling like you just jumped into a painting à la Mary Poppins. A great one to take your kids to – just make sure you let them have a turn with the headset.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
Human Think Festival, various Oxford locations, 1 – 14 Feb
Hosted by Oxford Brookes University, this annual event does exactly what it says on the tin – encourages us to think about what it means to be human in 2020, tackling topics and questions such as the refugee crisis, masculinity and global warming. There are 30 free events hosted in various locations around Oxford with highlights including a seminar given by acclaimed actor Toby Jones on poet John Clare’s life and work (2 Feb), Stand Up for Human Suffering (7 Feb) and a performative piece entitled The Melting Arctic: a ghost sonata (13 Feb).
TedX Oxford, New Theatre, Oxford, 2 Feb
I think Ted Talks are brilliant – short clips all under 18 minutes (so no glazing over halfway through) that give you an insight into just about anything from space and time to dancing cockroach legs (yes, really!). TedX Oxford is an independently organised event which brings Ted Talks live to the stage with this year’s theme A World Unbound looking at the effects of modern advances.
Oxford Maths Festival, 15 – 16 Feb
Organised by the University of Oxford’s maths department this annual fest started in 2018 to encourage younger children to get into the subject with a variety of free talks, workshops and craft sessions across the numeric weekender.
Cornerstone Youth Festival, Cornerstone Arts, Didcot, 16 – 23 Feb
Half term saviour incoming! Cornerstone has a stellar line up of arts and cultural events for kids coming up including children’s yoga, beginners latin and ballroom lessons, physical theatre workshops and award-winning comedy musicians Bowjangles. Bonus points for a 25% sibling discount on workshops.
Oxford Yoga and Vegan Festival, O2 Academy Oxford, 16 Feb
This wellbeing festival returns to Oxford for its third year with all-day yoga and meditation sessions along with 50 stalls selling vegan food and ethical products. There’ll also be yoga sessions for kids, with under 14s getting free access to the festival.
Fame Lab Oxford 2020 heats, St Aldates Tavern, Oxford, 10 – 11 Feb
Heat one of this competition to find a science, tech, maths or engineering star takes place at St Aldates Tavern with the regional finals at Science Oxford Centre in Headington on 6 Mar. Entrants need to surprise and fascinate the general public with unbelievable facts and compelling performances. They only have three minutes to impress the judges and no notes or boring Power Point slides are allowed. It’s hurting my head even thinking what might be revealed but it all sounds like good egghead fun.
The Langley Wedding Fair, Bucks, 29 Feb
Fancy getting hitched at The Langley (I’m seriously considering renewing my vows – what do you say Mr M?)? The superluxe five star hotel in south Bucks is hosting a wedding fair at the end of the month where you can view different event spaces and wedding suppliers. There’ll also be a bridal catwalk and interactive events. It’s free to attend, plus you can pre-book appointments with the events team on 0207 236 3636.
Clear your diary ASAP as this month is absolutely chocca with brilliant theatre. Roll call, please!
Don’t miss your chance to snap up tickets to see Mr Jazzhands himself, EastEnder-turned-West-Ender John Partridge, as the Emcee in Cabaret at New Theatre, Oxford, after its two smash hit runs in London. Anita Harris also joins the line-up for an extra sprinkling of star power (4 – 8 Feb).
Also in Oxford, in historic Blackwell’s bookshop, is Bleak House. Where better to watch a classic Charles Dickens mystery than surrounded by over three miles of bookshelves in Blackwell’s imposing Norrington Room? A typically inventive production by Creation Theatre – the live music and five actors playing multiple roles should be enough to transport you away to a world of intrigue (1 Feb – 7 Mar).
And then, it might be a slightly different vibe to his A Christmas Carol run, but we’re thrilled to see Stephen Tompkinson in the role of Frank for this 40th anniversary staging of Educating Rita, showing at Oxford Playhouse (4 – 8 Feb). Bucks dwellers, don’t worry, it’s your turn to watch in May.
We’re super-excited to hear that West End hit Six is bringing the sass to Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. Nominated for five Olivier Awards, the show is re-telling of Tudor history and the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives through original pop music. A dead cert for a girly evening out (11 – 15 Feb).
Also coming fresh from the West End to AWT is The Kite Runner. Based on Khaled Hosseini’s international bestselling novel, the story is a haunting tale of childhood friendship in Afghanistan which is on the verge of war. Basically, pack tissues, you’re gunna need them (21 – 22 Feb).
There’s also loads happening at Oxford-based arts centre, Old Fire Station, starting with acclaimed British writer David Hare’s modern classic Skylight, about the passionate and fractious relationship between two old flames (11 – 15 Feb); Hickory Dickory Murders, from award-winning comedy group The Dead Secrets (give this one a miss if you can’t stand audience participation, the cast take suggestions from the audience to drive the plot, 19 Feb); Too Pretty To Punch, a comedy spoken word show touching on gender, the media and not fitting in (22 Feb).
From the same team behind award-winning The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong comes to Milton Keynes Theatre fresh from it’s Christmas West End run. This humorous take on J.M Barrie’s children’s tale is promising technical hitches, flying mishaps and cast disputes. Looks like a goodie for feel-good family fun (4 – 8 Feb). Then, following on at the same venue, is musical On Your Feet – another pick straight from the West End – featuring many of the original cast, dance and song (11 – 15 Feb).
More from MK there’s Broadway and West End hit musical Once. Based on a cult 2006 Irish indie feature the play is set over five short days and is about a part-time Dublin guitarist busker who falls in love with fellow musician and Czech immigrant (17 – 22 Feb). And finally there’s The King and I (above), about the tempestuous relationship between the King of Siam and a British school teacher. This Roger and Hammerstein interpretation of the golden age musical has been nominated for six Olivier awards so well worth a watch (25 Feb – 7 Mar).
Elsewhere, in Chipping Norton at the Theatre, there’s a new play based on the work of comic novelist and playwright PG Wodehouse, Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense – the play was a hit on the West End and previously won an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy so expect chortling galore (5 – 15 Feb). And then in Banbury at The Mill Arts Centre, the Grimm Brothers’ younger sister Lotte must save her siblings from evil lurking in the Fairytale Kingdom in physical comedy Once Upon A Time (6 Feb).
On the other side of Oxon at Cornerstone Arts in Didcot, there’s The Last Hurrah (and the Long Haul) which explores the effects of climate change through theatre. Top marks for the set being made of 100% recycled materials (12 Feb)
And finally, there are a couple of shows on my radar from The North Wall in Summertown. Performed by two friends and ex-girlfriends, Hotter, is an adult only show about what gets you hot under the collar (yes, in that way!). A great option if you’re rejecting romance and opting for a naughty girls’ night on V Day (14 Feb). Or there’s The Gift, a play exploring the implications of imperialism and cross-racial adoption when a young black girl called Sarah is adopted by Queen Victoria (21 – 22 Feb).
The Oxford-based bookshop, which has locations on Broad Street and in Westgate, is hosting a series of brilliant talks this month. Up first, for the bookshop’s celebration of International Women’s Day is former member of The Saturdays Frankie Bridge who’s promoting her new book Open: Why Asking For Help Can Save Your Life, a reflection on her breakdowns and breakups which is part narrative, part practical guide (7 Feb). Meanwhile, Sunday Times, New York Times and Vogue journo Helen Lewis will be reading from Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights, an exploration of women’s rights through the ages (7 Feb).
Part of Blackwell’s Short Stories Aloud series, local author Clover Stroud (My Wild and Sleepless Nights) and Rosanna Amaka (The Book of Echoes) will be providing short stories that will be read aloud by trained actors, followed by a Q&A (10 Feb). And then, over in Milton Keynes, best-selling author and podcaster Giovanni Fletcher is touring with her new book Letters on Motherhood, a collection of personal letters to her three boys which she shares with hubby Tom from McFly (21 Feb). She’ll also be speaking at in Henley in March (17 Mar).
CHILDREN’S & FAMILY THEATRE
Want to culture the littlies (and keep ’em shtum for an hour)? Here’s the best children’s theatre doing the rounds this month, starting with Sir Michael Morpurgo’s Mimi and the Mountain Dragon at Pegasus Theatre, Oxford, a heart-warming tale about adventure and friendship set in the Swiss mountains (1 Feb, 3+).
Elsewhere, at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, Gray and Jim Field’s best-selling series of picture books is reimagined on stage in Oi Frog & Friends! (above)- expect humour, a fun time and loads of rhyme (hey, see what I did there?), 13 – 15 Feb. Also popping up in Bucks is kids’ fave The Amazing Bubble Man at The Stables, Milton Keynes – with 30 years experience under his belt in entertainment, he’s a sure fire winner for capturing the attention of little fidgeters with his rocket-shaped and flying saucer bubbles (21 Feb).
At The North Wall, in north Oxford, there’s Chloe and the Colour Catcher (above), a charming story about bravery as a young girl goes on a mission to defeat the Grey Queen by unleashing all seven colours of the rainbow (15 Feb); if your tot is mad for fairy tales, head over to Banbury-based Mill Arts Centre for a new production of Little Grim Tales, made especially for children with live puppetry and original music (21 Feb).
Also in Oxfordshire there’s The Slightly Annoying Elephant at the Oxford Playhouse, a stage adaptation of David Walliam’s children’s book of the same name (19 – 23 Feb). And then, at The Theatre in Chipping Norton there’s Messy (oh, aren’t they all!) about a young girl who loses the class hamster (19 Feb) and the brilliant Tweedy the clown’s new show The Missing Company of Sherlock Holmes (22 Feb).
We’ve also got Cornerstone Arts, Didcot, on speed dial with this brilliant line up – first up is a family-friendly version of Macbeth, the plot has been condensed to under an hour so a great intro to Shakespeare for children (8 Feb); The Elves and the Shoemakers, featuring these very questionable-looking elves above (anyone else a leetle bit creeped out?!) 16 Feb; Yana and the Yeti, an unusual and touching story about friendship set in the Artic told through music and amazing puppetry (23 Feb, 5+).
And finally, Stowe has a couple of goodies in the pipeline including family magic show Brace of Spades, by magician Tom Spades which had a sell-out run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe (12 Feb) and then there’s Roald Dahl and the Imagination Speakers, a collaboration with Buckingham Literary Festival. The interactive show, for children 5+, includes performance, games and creative play that takes a journey through Roald Dahl’s literature (23 Feb).
January blues? Feb is upping the comedy stakes so there’s plenty to get you laughing again including headline performances from the UK’s funniest red head La Voix at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre (btw she was brilliant in AWT’s panto this year!). Expect comedy, belting tunes and a large helping of diva. Fabulouuuuus (29 Feb)!
Sandi Toksvig may have recently stepped down as co-host of The Great British Bake Off (*sob*), but don’t worry, you can still see the Danish pocket-rocket at Milton Keynes Theatre this month. She’ll be performing her new show National Trevor which is promising funny facts, quizzing, tall stories and absolutely no tap-dancing. Awww shucks (20 Feb).
Plus there’s more LOLs from comedy circuit stalwart Stephen K Amos who’s performing his stand-up Everyman at Cornerstone in Didcot (5 Feb), followed by young-gun Matt Richardson (above) who’s stopping off on his nationwide Imposter tour (15 Feb). Best-selling author and broadcaster Dom Joly is also making a rare stand-up appearance at the venue (he hasn’t toured since 2011) with his new show Holiday Snaps: Travel and Comedy In The Danger Zone (22 Feb).
Winner of the Edinburgh Fringe’s Best Newcomer Award, podcaster and author of Happy Fat Sophie Hagen (below) comes to Old Fire Station in Oxford to perform her brilliantly titled show The Bumswing for a two-night stint (6 – 7 Feb); Jimmy Carr is back again for his second round of Bucks & Oxon shows, performing Terribly Funny (warning: apparently the show is also terribly rude) at New Theatre Oxford (28 Feb) and Milton Keynes Theatre (9 Feb).
Josh Widdicombe also make a return to our ‘hood with his show Bit Much… which promises to tackle hot comedy topics of, erm, the closing time of his local park and pesto (I’m sure it’s funnier than it sounds) along with his trademark impressions (16 Feb); also in Bucks, at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, you can catch Ed Byrne’s Spoiler Alert!, a lesson in observational comedy and self reflection as he decides if he has any traits that are worth passing on to his children (28 Feb).
If you fancy a sing-along with your comedy, musical satirists Jonny & The Baptists are headlining Old Fire Station’s monthly Comedy Room, with support from Swedish comedian Evelyn Monk (as seen on BBC 3, Channel 4 and Comedy Central), and 2016 Hackney Empire New Act of the year winner Bilal Zafar (18 Feb). And finally for brilliant comedy nights without the formally and crowds there’s The Potters Arms in Amersham which is hosting Brit comic and writer Rob Deering. You’ll also get dinner thrown in with your ticket (27 Feb).
Kicking off the music scene month are DJs Chase & Status who’re spinning the decks at O2 Academy in Oxford. If you can’t see yourself all sweaty and writhing around in the mosh pit, then name drop the duo to impress the teens in your life with your *ahem* extensive knowledge of electronica music (1 Feb).
Speaking of teens – did anyone else used to really fancy Beethoven when they were younger? (Hey, he was very broody in some of those illustrations!) The Oxford Beethoven Festival continues its year long programme of music in venues across the city. There are 10 events across Feb including performances from Takács Quartet (2 Feb) and pianist John Lill (29 Feb). For kids, there’s also a Magical Kingdom-themed FUNomusica family concert. The regular concerts, aimed at kids 4 – 8 years are led by real musicians and are a really neat idea to introduce kids to classical music and dispel the idea that it has to be boring and stuffy (9 Feb).
Also this month Olivier Award-winning OperaUpClose are collaborating with Belgrade Theatre Coventry on a new English version of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. Retold in 80s Japan, the opera collides traditional Japanese culture with the new digital age, with a cast of eight singers and four live musicians (17 Feb).
NEW EXHIBITION: Steve McQueen, Tate Modern, London, 13 Feb – 11 May
I love this shot! This solo exhibition of London-born artist and director of Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen’s portfolio features 14 major works spanning his extensive career in film, photography and sculpture and is the first major UK exhibition since he received the Turner Prize in 1999. So, yeah, it’s a pretty big deal! The display will cover the last 25 years of McQueen’s career including personal and intimate works such as his early film on a Super 8 camera and this awesome aerial depiction of the Statue of Liberty above. The show also coincides with McQueen’s latest artwork Year 3, on show at Tate Britain until 3 May. tate.org.uk
THEATRE: Pretty Woman The Musical, Piccadilly Theatre, London, 13 Feb – 2 Jan 2021
This month I’m excited for the start of Pretty Woman’s West End stint after it’s successful Broadway premier in 2018. The production has some major creds with choreography from two-time Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde, Hairspray), and an original score from Grammy winner Bryan Adams (yes, really!).
CONCERT: Madonna, London Palladium, until 16 Feb
Looking sultry Madge! This month you have 15 chances to see the Queen of Pop herself at the London Palladium. Dig out your 80s garb and snaffle tickets quick as it’s bound to be a sell out.
CONCERT: Lana Del Rey, O2 Arena, London, 25 Feb
Lana Del Rey follows up last year’s incredible Norman F****** Rockwell album with a new one, White Hot Forever, and will be taking to the stage to share it this month.
Busy last month? There’s still time to see 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 (until 3 May). Elsewhere, at the O2 Arena, there’s ABBA: Super Troupers, a journey through the Swedish band’s career featuring personal items and artefacts never seen before in the UK (until 21 Aug 2020). And finally, there’s the fantastically bonkers Tim Walker exhibition (above) at the V&A with snaps from his career as a fashion and portrait photographer, a must-see before it ends on 8 Mar.