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This month

May 2019


Richard III

There are loads of super-duper shows in Oxford this month, with something for every taste. Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, Gloria the hippo and a troupe of pesky penguins explode onto the New Theatre’s stage in Madagascar The Musical, a guaranteed hit with kids (and adults for that matter) who like to move it move it (sorry), until Sat 4th. On a very different note, if dark, brooding male leads are your thing then Headlong’s new production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, at Oxford Playhouse, looks like a good ‘un, with its stark, moody set, angsty characters and cool blue lighting (Tues 7 – Sat 11 May). And based on the 2010 film of the same name, Made in Dagenham comes to The Old Fire Station, a feel-good story about girl power and the true-life events of the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968 (Thurs 9 – Sat 11). No major celebs but it’s proving popular as the Fri is already sold out, so definitely worth a punt.

Les Misérables

Over in Bucks, Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed production of Les Misérables (which broke box office records when it premiered in 2009), comes to Milton Keynes Theatre on its major UK tour (Tues 14 May – Sat 8 Jun). One of the longest running West End shows, this production featuring new staging and scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. No Hugh Jackman (sorry), but a great cast of established actors including Olivier Award nominated Killian Donnelly (The Phantom of the Opera, Kinky Boots) as Jean Valjean.

A counterpoint to the big productions is Henley Drama Festival (Tues 7 – Sat 11), held at Kenton Theatre, and now in its 48th season. The festival holds nightly competitive performances of one-act plays, all performed by various drama groups, schools and stage schools of all ages. Theatre groups this year include North Oxford Youth Theatre, Henley Players, Quirky Bird Theatre, The Young Theatre, with all the winners are announced on closing night. Full line up here.



Get yer glitter and denim hotpants out as festival season is upon us! Tom Kerridge’s popular gourmet scran meets live music fandango, Pub in the Park, returns to Higginson Park, Marlow, with the Kaiser Chiefs, Jake Bugg and All Saints in tow, as well as cookery demos and talks from Masterchef: The Professionals judge Monica Galetti, Dominic Robinson from Michelin-starred The Blackbird, in Berks and food critic Jay Rayner (Fri 17 – Sun 19). For more info, check out Muddy’s interview with Tom here.

Next up is Wood Festival,the under-the-radar diddy offshoot of July’s Truck Festival. It’s held in Braziers Park, near Wallingford in gorgeous woodland, it’s kiddy-friendly, plus it has some serious green creds (composting toilets, reusable cups, a stage literally made of wood). No major musical names but you can expect country, folk and indie rock vibes (Fri 17 – Sun 19).

Another family friendly fest is Cotswolds weekender, Lechlade Music Festival – Brit indie-pop crew The Feeling are headlining, plus there’s yoga, woodland skills workshops and storytelling (Fri 24 – Sun 26). Just over the Bucks border, in Cookham, there’s Let’s Rock The Moor festival, an ‘80s-tastic one-dayer with Marc Almond, Nik Kershaw (Muddy interview coming soon!), Limahl and, er, Black Lace (Sat 18 May). Jason Donovan will also be there, especially for you (*gets coat*). Finally, Wychwood Festival pitches up at Cheltenham Racecourse, it’s another family affair with comedy, yoga and performances from Scouting For Girls, The Stranglers, ABC and, um, Basil Brush (Fri 31 May – Sun 2 June). PS: If you’re forward planning your summer, here’s our full festival guide.



The biggie this month is Blenheim Palace‘s sixth annual Food Festival (Sat 25 – Mon 27)- a gastronomic weekender packed with talks, demonstrations, family friendly activities and a hearty sprinkling of celebrity chefs, including Raymond Blanc OBE, Jean-Christophe Novelli and Celebrity MasterChef champion, Angellica Bell. There’ll also be up to 160 local and regional foodie and drink stalls with artisan bakers, craft brewers, gourmet burgers, international cuisine and, new for this year, the Vegan & Veggie Garden. Go stuff yourself silly.

Book that babysitter ASAP as there are absolutely loads of supper clubs lined up for May. First off the blocks, Native Feasts pitch up in the greenhouse at Peterley Manor Farm, Great Missenden, with a five-course, seasonal menu and pop-up bar serving local tipple (Fri 3, Sat 4, Fri 10, Sat 11); Young chef/blogger Jack Greenhall, of Smoke & Thyme supper club, pops up at Roves Farm, near Faringdon, with a ‘field to fork’ menu using meat-reared on the farm for the venue’s first supper club (Sat 18).

For something spicier, there’s fragrant and authentic South African food from Durban Spice, in Wheatley, with a five-course menu revealed on the night (Fri 17, Sat 18, Fri 24, Sat 25, Fri 31), or Prema’s Kitchen at Coopers Roastery & Coffee Bar, Marlow, with a four-course authentic Sri Lankan menu. The Secret Supper Society, near Bicester (Fri 17, Fri 24, Fri 31) is BYO with a completely secret menu that’s revealed on the night, or go for Jericho Kitchen’s Scandinavian Supper Club with Christian Ørne (Fri 17), with a classic Scandi feast including Gravlax, salted cod, pork belly and trimmings. Finally, Granary Watlington is offering a pudding and cheese night, followed by a Lebanese feast (Thurs 16 May, Fri 24 May). Phew! Let me know if you try any of them out (you can borrow my elasticated reviewing trousers if you like).

multicoloured stack record vinyl black headphones

Finally, if you fancy a boogie with your BBQ, Clayton’s Marlow hosts its annual Tighten Up Bank Holiday Sunday Party (Sun 5); an all-day outdoor grill-up with over eight hours of vinyl-only jazz, funk and soul into the early hours of the morning (yep, it’s a hardcore finish at 1am!). Later in the month, Clayton’s celebrates the start of summer (any excuse for a party) with Café del Marlow, an all-day Ibiza style party and BBQ on the terrace. Break out the circa-1986 fluffy bra (Sun 26)! And thank God for bank holidays, as your head is definitely going to hurt after that one.



Oxford Beer Week (Sat 4 – Sun 12) brings together pubs, clubs and shops to celebrate the amazing diversity of local brewery beers. New this year is the aptly named Big Event at TOAD in South Park which will have a beer village and programme of music and family-friendly sideshows. Other highlights include Muddy favourite, The Perch Beer Festival in Binsey (Sat 4 – Mon 6), over 50 different beers, ales, ciders and lagers from Oxfordshire and neighbouring counties, live music on Sat and home-cooked food; meet the brewers night at Isis Farmhouse near Iffley Lock (Fri 10 May) and vertical beer tasting (whatever that is!) at the Jolly Postboys near Florence Park (Fri 10 May). Cheers!

Next up it’s English Wine Week (well, hello!) at Bothy Vineyard, Abingdon – the vineyard will be open to the public, with free wine tastings, short tours and meet the winemaker talks throughout the weekend (Sat 25 – Sun 26). Picnics and dogs welcome. Or, if gin is your tipple, Bletchley Park hosts a Gin-Tology Experience, part of the nationwide Museums at Night Festival, with an after hours guided tour of Bletchley, live music, history lesson on gin. And you’ll get to create a bespoke G&T from a selection of 40 gins (Fri 17 – Sat 18). Make mine a double, ta.



Art by Felicity Cormack

Oxfordshire Artweeks festival kicks off at the beginning of the month and it’s a biggie – the UK’s oldest and largest free artist open studios and pop-up exhibition, with hundreds of works ranging from painting, sculpture and ceramics to furniture, jewellery and photography. Galleries all over Oxon get involved and there are loads of meet-the-artist events, talks and demonstrations to get stuck into during the festival. For the first week (Sat 4 – Sun 12), the festival hits central Oxford and then moves south along the Thames to Faringdon, Henley, Wantage and Thame (Sat 11 – Sun 19) and finally to north and west Oxfordshire including Chippy, Bicester and the Cotswolds (Sat 18 – Mon 27). Full festival guide here.

Eliot Hodgkin

Later in the month you can catch Waddesdon Manor’s new retrospective exhibition Brought to Life: Eliot Hodgkin Rediscovered, which will be the largest ever show of the British painter’s work. Hodgkin is renowned for his still-life subjects, like these lovely lemons above, and landscapes but was also a passionate collector and author (Thurs 23 May – Sun 20 Oct).

Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean

Ongoing exhibitions this month include: Matilda at Thirty at the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, featuring eight new drawings of a grown-up Matilda by Quentin Blake (until Sun 2 Jun); An Earthly Paradise: William Morris & the Thames at River & Rowing Museum in Henley, with textiles inspired by the Thames (until Sun 14 July); Samurai, at Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury, with awesome artefacts from ancient Japanese Samurai armour to ornate helmets and swords (until Sat 13 July) and Jeff Koons at The Ashmolean, showcasing 17 works spanning the artist’s career that have never been shown in the UK before. It’s also your last chance to catch the supercool British Life Photography Awards exhibition, at Banbury Museum. It candidly documents everyday life in Britain, from street life and portraiture to Brits on holiday and, but of course, the weather.



I love National Theatre Live – it’s such a brilliant idea to democratise West End theatre for non-Londoners – and there’s a blooming brilliant line up of screenings in a host of theatres and cinemas across Bucks and Oxon this spring. For May, Arthur Miller’s blistering drama All My Sons hits screens, live from The Old Vic in London, on Tue 14. It stars Academy Award-winner Sally Field (Steel Magnolias, Brothers & Sisters), Bill Pullman (The Sinner, Independence Day) and Jenna Coleman (Victoria, Doctor Who). Find your nearest screening here.

I’m getting vertigo by just looking at this picture. Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour showcases the best films from the world’s most prestigious mountain film festival held in Canada with two short film programmes. The Red Programme, featuring How to Run 100 Miles, This Mountain Life, Ice & Palms is showing at New Theatre, Oxford (Tues 21) and the Blue Programme, featuring Rogue Elements, Surviving the Outback, Reel Rock: Break On Through, is showing at Amey Theatre, Abingdon (Sat 25). It’s amazing stuff and usually sells out so get a ticket quick if you fancy.



A-list comedy nights in Winchmore Hill – who would’ve guessed?! We’re pretty well provided for in the venue department for big time comedians in Bucks & Oxon, but this little powerhouse of a pub near Amersham is one of my favourites. The Potters Arms hosts its annual comedy festival (I’ve already got my ticket) with a stellar line-up of Andy Parsons (Fri 3), Ed Byrne (Sat 4) and The Cutting Edge who perform regularly at The Comedy Store (Sun 5). There’s a kid’s show too, performed by The Noise Next Door on Sat afternoon. Also at The Potters Arms this May is Steve Day with Adventures in Dementia, a touching and bittersweet stand up about Steve’s dad’s battle with Alzheimer’s (Thurs 30).

Julian Clary

Elsewhere Jimmy Carr comes to Wycombe Swan with his brand new show Terribly Funny (Fri 10); Lucy Porter performs Pass It On at Didcot’s arts hub, Cornerstone. Expect a discussion of all things inherited from her parents from dodgy knees to global warming. Russell Kane brings his high-energy brand of comedy to Wycombe Swan (Fri 17) and the New Theatre, Oxford, (Wed 29). And, stick your minds in the gutter and brace yourselves for a “tsunami of smut” from the grande dame of filth, Julian Clary at Wycombe Swan (Sun 26). In Born to Mince Julian will murder a few songs, read you a sneak preview from his next memoir A Night At the Lubricant and make withering remarks about punters foolish enough to sit in the FROW.

Host of the hit comedy podcast The Guilty Feminist and author of the book of the same name, Deborah Frances-White, tackles the state of 21st century feminism in her touring version of the show (Aylesbury Waterside on Fri 17 and New Theatre Oxford on Sun 19). We’ve got the inside scoop from Debs herself – check out our interview here.

Another lady guaranteed to have you spluttering on your wine is Ruby Wax who’s performing her brand new show at Oxford Playhouse (Thurs 30). Billed as “the ultimate manual on how to upgrade your mind as much as you’ve upgraded your iPhone” and with special guests neuroscientist Ash Ranpura and monk Gelong Thubten, it promises to be bonkers and brilliant.



Wet Wet Wet (above) perform at Aylesbury Waterside (hiiii Marti Pellow!) at the halfway mark of their UK tour and will be belting out all the ’80s and ‘90s favourites including mega-hit Love Is All Around (Fri 10). Another biggie at Aylesbury Waterside is UB40’s 40th Anniversary Tour (Tues 21). The reggae band released their first album in five years last November and the show will feature brand new material as well as golden oldies – the perfect excuse to open up a bottle of red, red wine, right?!


Don’t worry classical buffs, you haven’t been forgotten – The Soloists of the Oxford Philharmonic are performing works from Mozart, Francaix, Janacek and, finally Gounod’s Petite Symphonie at Hollywell Music Room, Oxford (Thurs 9). And opera fanatics, you’re in luck! Garsington Opera Season kicks off Wed 29 May – Fri 26 July, with almost 40 shows at the spectacular Opera Pavilion in the Chiltern hill, including The Bartered Bride, The Turn of the Screw, Don Giovanni, Fantasio and Vespers of 1610. 



knight in armour charging on house blurry background

Here ye, here ye! Put on your best fair maiden impression and cheer on the knights on horseback as they go head-to-head in medieval-style combat against the majestic backdrop of Blenheim Palace (Sat 4 – Mon 6). Alongside the jousting tournament, there’ll also be jesters workshops, dragon parade, birds of prey and blacksmith demonstrations, plus kids can turn their hand to archery.

Theatre for Mudlets this month includes My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty, above, at Wycombe Swan (Sat 4) and New Theatre Oxford (Fri 31), a simplified version of the fairytale, for kids 3+, performed by students from the English National Ballet School. Shows are massively popular, with 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.

Created by Julia Donaldson, the brains behind kid’s classic The Gruffalo of course, Little Angel Theatre presents The Flying Bath at Cornerstone, Didcot, a playful adventure story featuring catchy songs, humour and bath toys that come to life (Sun 19). Also written by Julia, Zog, about a young dragon eager to win a golden star at Madam Dragon’s school, shows at Oxford Playhouse (Fri 31). If your kids have seen Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales and Tabby McTat, it’s a dead cert as it’s the same team behind the production.

I snapped this at Waddesdon Manor’s ever-so-slightly-bonkers annual immersive installation, Colourscape last year (check on my review here). It’s back for its fifth year – prepare for a sensory overload, as this year will have the longest installation to date with 56 interlinked chambers full of light, colour and music. On weekdays, resident musician, Michael Ormiston, will be creating family-friendly free-flowing workshops and on weekends Hurdy-Gurdy will be performing a theatre piece with dance, acoustics, panpipes and flutes from around the world (Sat 25 May – Sun 2 June).


Roll up, roll up! It’s circuses galore this month, with Gifford’s Circus pitching up its Big Top at Sudley Castle (Thurs 16 – Tues 28) and, just over the border in Glos, Daylesford Organic Farm in Kingham (Thurs 30 – Mon 3 Jun). This year’s theme is ’70s summer of love, so expect hippies and flower power amid the chaos and clowns. For a smaller affair, John Lawson’s circus return to Millets Farm, near Faringdon (Sun 26 – Sat 1 Jun).

And finally, Supercar Sunday returns to Stonor House’s pristine front lawn (Sun 19), with race cars, super-sleek sportscars (I’ll take two please) and ultra modern hypercars. Throughout the day there’ll also be interviews with the owners, judging, prize giving and street food stalls. Heaps for kids too, including an adventure playground and treasure hunt in the Wonder Woods, traditional fair rides, laser tag and laser clay pigeon shooting.



Hughenden Manor’s Bee Month celebrates the blossoms, blooms and bees that live at the National Trust site with workshops on how to make hive frames and beekeeping basics with the Manor’s in-house team, meet the beekeeper events, children’s activities and tours (Wed 1 – Fri 31 May). For more animal antics, the charming Earth Trust, in Abingdon, is running a family Night Safari around Wittenham Clumps and Little Wittenham Wood. No elephants here, but you will spy on local wildlife like moths and bats and learn how to use bat detectors (Sat 4).

Exclusive alert! Waddesdon Manor is opening up its private Rothschild walled garden at Eythrope for a few select dates (Wed 8, Wed 15, Wed 29). The four-acre walled garden has glasshouses, an orchard and supplies vegetables, fruit, herbs and cut flowers to the Rothschild family, as well as Waddesdon’s restaurants, hotel and artisan food market. The garden has never before been open to the public so get booking ASAP if you want an exclusive tour, which also includes a two-course lunch or afternoon tea in Waddesdon Manor’s restaurant using produce from the garden.



Can’t forget about Rover! Millets Farm Centre hosts its seventh annual Family Dog Show – the free charity event, in support of the Guide Dog Association, will have 11 dog classes throughout the day, doggie stalls, photo studio and a BBQ (Sat 11). Or, hop just over the border to Herts for Dogfest South (Sat 11 – Sun 12). There’s loads of activities including (*deep breath*) hay bale racing, dog diving, obedience challenges, flyball, Fido’s lido (ha!), agility tests, and a dog show. Supervet Professor Noel Fitzpatrick and TV presenter Clare Balding will me mooching around too.



NEW EXHIBITION: Beasts of London, Museum of London, Fri 5 May – Sun 5 Jan 

This looks amazing- a fully immersive, digital installation (see above for a sneak preview) exploring the role animals have played in the shaping of London, from the Roman era all they way up to present day. The interactive show uses video projection mapping to bring the beasts, from rats to lions, to life as they narrate a virtual tour of London. There are some major British celebs involved too, with Kate Moss, Brian Blessed, Pam Ferris and more voicing the beasts.



Must-see exhibitions in the big smoke this month include the V&A‘s retrospective of iconic 1960s designer and the mother of  miniskirts, Mary Quant– over 200 garments, accessories and exclusive unseen pieces from the designer’s personal archive (until Sun 16 Feb 2020); also at the V&A is this year’s biggie, the largest House of Dior collection ever staged in the UK, which traces the history of Christian Dior and the six artistic directors who succeeded him (until Sun 1 Sept). It is sold out but there are a few first-come, first served tickets available from 10am from the Grand Entrance – it’s well worth trying your luck. Or you can see the exhibition by purchasing a membership for the V&A. Also worth checking out is the major Van Gogh show at Tate Britain, with over 45 works, including Starry Night on the Rhône 1888 from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, and the rarely loaned Sunflowers 1888 from the National Gallery. There’ll also be work by British artist who were influenced by Van Gogh’s work including Francis Bacon and David Bomberg (until Sun 11 Aug).



St James’s Church Garden by Alistair Ramage

In need of some home inspo? Grand Designs Live pitches up at London’s ExCeL (Sat 4 – Sun 12) with loads of exhibitors, product launches and expert advice on how to pimp your pad whether you’re planning a self-build, renovation or are adding the finishing touches. Kevin McCloud will be on hand for a natter, too – let’s hope he’s in a good mood. Or there’s Clerkenwell Design Week (I’ve been a few times, it’s well worth the trip), home to more creative businesses and architects per square mile than anywhere else on the planet. It’s the 10th annual festival which attracts some of the best of designers in the world, including a huge range of homegrown talent (Tue 21 – Thurs 23). Finally, feeling crafty? London Craft Week (Wed 8 – Sun 12) showcases exceptional craftsmanship in London with a programme of workshops by both unknown makers and celebrated masters held in famous studios, galleries and shops. This year London’s hippest new hangout Coal Drops Yard is getting involved for the first time with loads of cool workshops and installations.


KIDS: Great Brick Safari, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Beds, until Sun 2 Jun 

I’ll be a few of you have a LEGO obsessive under your roof. At Easter Whipsnade Zoo introduced its Brick Safari, with one million bricks’ worth of beasts and animals dotted around the mammoth zoo (it’s the biggest in the UK doncha know), as well as hands-on family activities. It’s included in entry price and running throughout this month.



The Hidden Garden, Henley Royal Regatta, Wed 3 – Sun 7 Jul

If you’re heading down to Henley Regatta this July and want to escape the riff raff (not that Henley does real riff raff, of course) book now for The Hidden Garden. New to the Regatta this year, the luxe but laid-back riverside venue on the Berkshire bank offers brilliant views, VIP hospitality, musical entertainment, gourmet food and – most importantly – lashings of booze (chilled Henriot champagne and local favourite, Mr Hobbs gin to be precise). Pre-booking is a must so grab your other half, bezzies or workies and get organised pronto!


KIDS: The Little Welly obstacle course and festival, Henley, Sat 8 –  Sun 9 June 

This is all about getting Muddy so we are IN! A 3km hop, skip, jump and dash through 30 challenges, taking in streams, trails, mud and woodland The Little Welly’s obstacle course is the largest  in the UK for kids and is always popular so book now. There’s also an accompanying festival with – deep breath – kart racing, rope climbing, circus skills workshops, live music, helter skelter, laser tag, climbing wall, pony rides and loads more. I think it’s such a fantastic idea – get them away from screens, into the fresh air and doing some exercise.


FESTIVAL: Chilterns Live, Pendley Meadow, Tring, Sat 29 June

guitar grass summer

There’s a brand new festival near our ‘hood! Chilterns Live arrives in Tring with a pop-tastic line-up including Busted, Sophie Ellis Bextor and The Feeling.


TALK: Margaret Atwood, New Theatre Oxford, Wed 30 Oct

To celebrate the launch of her new book The Testaments, a sequel to the totally brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale, author Margaret Atwood is going on a live tour- an evening of conversation, exclusive readings and special guests. She’s only touring for eight dates in the UK, so get booking as no doubt  it’ll be a sell out. The tour follows the book launch on Tues 10 Sept where Margaret will be speaking at the National Theatre – the talk will be screened to 1,000 cinemas worldwide with loads of Bucks and Oxon locations taking part. Find your nearest screening here.

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