The cool, quirky and unmissable in Oxfordshire, Bucks and beyond in the month of May.
Great Antique Vintage Car Boot Fair, Stonor Park, Sun 28 May
Looking for a vintage find? This upmarket car boot fair was a massive hit last year and it’s back in the gorgeous surrounds of Stonor Park this month. You can celeb spot – last year Russell Brand, Pete Doherty and Mary Berry were all on the rummage for a bargain – and you can make a day of it with food from Matthews Kitchen (ex Rick Stein chef) and the Wonder Woods play area. A day’s fun right there.
Common People, Oxford, 27-28 May
Hurray for a city centre festival that it’s easy to get home from – one of my friends watched Primal Scream and Duran Duran headline last year before jumping on the last bus home. Based in the pretty South Park, this is Bestival founder Rob da Bank’s latest venture which is now in its second year. It’s brilliantly organized, the bands are good (this year’s headliners are tbc), ditto the kids’ area. And tent refuseniks will be pleased to hear there’s no camping on site.
South Park, Oxford oxford.commonpeople.net
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, New Theatre, Oxford, Mon 22 – Sat 27 May
The National Theatre’s internationally acclaimed production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time comes to Oxford’s New Theatre. Winner of seven 2013 Olivier Awards and five 2015 Tony Awards, including ‘Best Play’ it’s at the top of my must-see theatre lists (I should know, I’ve seen it 3 times already!). Christopher, 15 years old, with Asperger’s, has an extraordinary brain – exceptional at maths while ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. When he falls under the suspicion of killing Mrs Shears’ dog, it takes him on a journey that upturns his world. Brilliant.
Sister Act, New Theatre Oxford, Mon 15 – Sat 20 May
Alexandra Burke has a whole new career as a musical star – having nailed the lead role in The Bodyguard musical for three years (I saw it in Oxford in 2016) she’s taking on Sister Act, another classic film-turned-musical with Burke taking on the Whoopi Goldberg’s comedy shoes as Sister Dolores. Directed and choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, it should be a corker.
Babylon Plants and Flowers Open Day (plus Afternoon Tea and Mozart!) Sat 20 May
Usually just open to the trade, the brilliant Babylon Plants and Flowers is opening its doors to the general public for the day as part of the Chelsea Fringe. Plants will be for sale followed by a tea time music concert at 4.30 pm, where the award-winning Carmilla Ensemble will be playing a programme of summery music composed by blokes called Mozart and Beethoven. Entry to the Plant Open Day is free, tickets to concert cost £10 and includes a free drink. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to buy tickets.
Colourscape, Waddesdon Manor, 27 May – 4 June
Back for the fourth year but with a brand new stucture created to exactly fit the Aviary Lawn, Colourscape brings its labyrinth of 56 interlinked chambers to Waddesdon, where you can where you can explore intense light, colour and space.Each day there will be different music and dance performances – expect Hurdy-Gurdy (I’m not joking!), panpipes, dance, music from Norway and on the final day a theatre-piece with dance and acoustic costumes.
10.30am-4.30pm, music plays from 11am-3.30pm. waddesdon.org.uk
Evita, MK Theatre, Tues 23 – Sat 27 May
The tour of Evita tangos back into Muddy territory followings its recent stop in Oxford. Now in Milton Keynes, it stars Emma Hatton, recently seen in Wicked in the West End, as Eva Peron, the rags-to-riches wife of former Argentine dictator Juan Peron and Gian Marco Schiaretti a Che – very easy on the eye apparently according to Muddy’s Sascha! Sarah O’Connor as the ousted mistress of President Juan Peron is a showstopper, and the chorus, sets and ‘incidental’ music create a great Latino/Argentinian feel. A thumbs up.
Kazem Hakimi: Portraits From A Chip Shop, Old Fire Station & Modern Art Oxford, from 6 May – 2 July
How cool is this? The first major exhibition of portraits by photographer Kazem Hakimi, taken in his fish and chip shop on Iffley Road. For two years, Hakimi has photographed his eclectic customers, posing them against the same white wall – the result is a beautifully rendered cultural snap-shot of Oxford.
Eduardo Paolozzi , Whitechapel Gallery, London, until 14 May
If you’re up in London anytime soon, be sure to catch this exhibition showcasing the work of the ‘godfather of Pop Art’ Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005). One of the most innovative and irreverent artists of the 20th century, his collages, sculptures and prints challenged artistic convention, from the 1950s through to the Swinging Sixties and advent of Cool Britannia in the 1990s.
The Little Welly Goes Wild, Henley, Sat 24 – Sun 25 June
Early booking alert – this event will sell out! Persil at the ready? Then I’ll begin. Bigger, better and muddier than ever, the UK’s biggest children’s obstacle course returns for the fourth year to the Culden Faw Estate in Henley. We’re talking 30 obstacles over a 3km course for kids 4+ (and they’re parents – sorry about that!) braving The Big Slide, Tyre Mangle, mud and water pits, Spider’s Web and bouncing round the foam pit. Away from the race’s there’s Laser Tag, Parkour demonstrations & workshops, pony rides, den building and bungee trampolining. Seriously good fun.
Scraps of Laughter, Christchurch Picture Gallery, Oxford, 18 May – 20 Aug
The beautiful Christchurch Picture Gallery remains one of the most under-the-radar exhibition spaces in Oxford. Along with its permanent collection of old masters, it’s currently showing this fascinating ‘scrap’ exhibition giving a glimpse into the beginning of caricature and satire in Italy and how it was taken up and thrived in Britain.
Christchurch Picture Gallery, Christ Church, St Aldgates, Oxford, chch.ox.ac.uk
Giacometti, Tate Modern, 10 May – 10 Sept
Here comes a biggie. Tate Modern presents the UK’s first major retrospective of Alberto Giacometti for 20 years. Celebrated as a sculptor, painter and draughtsman, Giacometti’s distinctive elongated figures are some of the most instantly recognisable works of modern art in Tate Modern’s ambitious and wide-ranging exhibition of over 250 works. It includes rarely seen plasters and drawings and showcases the full evolution of Giacometti’s career across five decades, from early works such as Head of a Woman [Flora Mayo] 1926 to iconic bronze sculptures such as Walking Man I 1960.
Fabulous Beasts and Beautiful Creatures (drawn by Old Masters), Christchurch Picture Gallery, Oxford, until 29 May
You don’t need to go to London to see the Old Masters. Over 30 drawings of lions, horses, dogs, and imaginer beasts are on display at ChristChurch Picture Gallery, including those of pioneering British animal artist Francis Barlow (c. 1624-1704). The gallery, if you don’t know it, is at the back of Christchurch College so you’re perfectly placed for punt or a walk down to the river afterwards.
Christchurch Picture Gallery, Christ Church, St Aldgates, Oxford, chch.ox.ac.uk
Carleen Anderon: Cage Street Memorial, Oxford Playhouse, Tues 30 May
Carleen Anderson is American music royalty. Her mother, Vicki Anderson, was James Brown’s favourite vocalist and her stepfather Bobby Byrd founded the Famous Flames. Now Carleen – a Mercury-nominated star of soul and acid jazz and Jazz FM’s Best UK Vocalist – brings her jazz, soul and gospel inspired Cage Street Memorial performance to Oxford Playhouse, backed by her own keyboard and a quartet of support musicians.
Oxford Playhouse, Beaumont St, Oxford, oxfordplayhouse.com
Giffords Circus, Fri 12 May to Sun 24 Sept
This year the inimitable Giffords Circus is recreating a 17th-century Spanish court and putting on a candle-lit international gymnastic show with dancing horses, a live band and everyone’s favourite clown Tweedy. It kicks off on Friday 12 May at the circus’s home ground of Fennells Farm near Stroud for four nights, then moves to Sudeley Castle from Thursday 18 to Monday 22 May, before heading off to Oxfordshire and London, and then returning to Gloucestershire in August.
David Hockney, Tate Britain, until 29 May
If you still haven’t managed to catch this exhibition then chop chop, there’s less than a month to go! This exhibition gathers together an extensive selection of Hockney’s most famous works celebrating painting, drawing, print, photography and video across six decades, some of which have never been seen before in public. The exhibition has caught the imagination of both the critics and the public and is pretty much required viewing!
Book now for Grayson Perry, ‘The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!’ 8 June – 10 Sept
It doesn’t start until next month but this London exhibition by Grayson Perry – national treasure, cross dresser and rather decent artist as it happens – is on sale now. A major exhibition of his new work, it promises to touch on many themes including popularity and art, masculinity and the current cultural landscape and is bound to sell out, so get to it people! Also worth reminding you that two huge tapestries of Perry’s are currently on show at the Banbury Museum until 7 May.
Kensington Gardens, London, W2, serpentinegalleries.org
Billy Elliot, MK Theatre, Tues 30 May – Sat 17 June
The first UK and Ireland tour of Billy Eliot the Musical after 11 years in the West End. Set in a northern mining town against the background of the 1984-5 miners’ strike, the young working-class Billy forgoes the boxing ring for ballet with the help of an Elton John score and some fruity language. It recommends a minimum age of 8+ but bear in mind it’s supersweary – I remember being a bit shocked taking my 10 year old son to it, with nervous glances between me and Mr Muddy until we realised that Finn already knew the entire expletive lexicon from school anyway.
Wolfgang Tillmans, Tate Modern, Southwark, until 11 Jun
The socially and politically engaged German snapper was the first photographer and the first non-British artist to receive the Turner Prize – and this exhibition will show you why. It’s set across 14 rooms, with photos pinned, high, low, everywhere and sometimes taped directly onto the walls; pinballing between subject matters and location, from Hollywood to Tehran. Even the most mundane subjects – cigarette butts, a lobster carcass – are compellingly beautiful when viewed through his lens. Until 11 June.
Gangsta Granny, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, Thurs 18 – Sat 21 May
A colourful production of the well-loved David Walliams’ tale of a seemingly boring, cabbage farting granny with a secret jewel thieving past. The world premier from the acclaimed producers of Horrible Histories.
Teddy’s Train Ride, Bucks Railway Centre, Sun 28 May
OMG this is soooooo sweet! On Sunday children with a teddy gain free entry to the Bucks Railway Centre near Quainton, and their teddies get their own train ticket to ride on their own. It’s unlimited steam train rides all day for everyone, plus there’s a special ‘Teddy Train’ where kids place their teddy on the seat, then wave off as them go up and down the track. Plus there’s a miniature steam railways, museum, cafe and shop. Teddy heaven right here.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 2017, Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, Weds 24 May
A chance to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing Schubert’s expressive ‘Unfinished’ Symphony, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4, and Brahm’s Fourth Symphony. The piano soloist is the acclaimed Danny Driver, who records for the Hyperion label. atgtickets.com
On the Town, Regents Park Open Air Theatre, 19 May – 1 July
Strictly finalist hottie Danny Mac dances his way into a new musicals career, starring in the classic Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra classic On The Town at the acclaimed Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Directed and choreographed by Olivier Award-winner Drew McOnie with a score by Leonard Bernstein, Regent’s Park is a 10 minute stroll from the train at Marylebone. What more do you want, good weather while you’re watching it?!
Blenheim Palace Food Festival, Sat 27 – Mon 29 May
Blenheim Palace Food Festival returns with an expanded 120 stallholders, promising more demonstrations, local producers and tastings than ever before. If your kids get sick of tasting olives and dipping their ciabatta in local rapeseed oil (I mean, where are the salted anchovies when your 7 year old is getting bored?) there are traditional hale bale picnic areas and activities for kids. Dogs on leads are welcome, except for the Pleasure Gardens area.
Wycombe Arts Festival, High Wycombe, throughout April to Sun 4 June
A whopper of a festival stretching over five weeks, the Wycombe Arts Festival is a real mix of professional and amateur around High Wycombe, Marlow and the Chiltern hills. Think classical and jazz concerts, open air theatre, ‘Frogfest’ festival on Sun 28 May with music, roaming performers and kids activities, and a grand finale at Wycombe Swan with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Oxfordshire Artweeks, Across the County and central Oxford, 6 – 29 May
Amazing art in open studios and private spaces across Oxfordshire over the next three weeks and totally freeeee! The first week focuses on exhibitions along the Thames from Faringdon to Henley and the Ridgeway from Wantage to Thame, and during the second, visit beautiful North and West Oxfordshire where venues can be found nestled from Burford and Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds across to the historic market towns of Bicester and Banbury. The third week will take place in Oxford in 200 art spaces across the city. These beautiful ceramic bowls are by Abingdon-based Fiona Chappelle.
Jane’s Enchanted Tea Garden,6-7 & 20-21 May
Been to Jane’s Enchanted Tea Garden yet? A little hidden haven of cakey enchantment on the river in Kirtlington, near Bicester, much loved by yours truly for its quirky charms, it’s accessible either on foot or by narrow boat and is now open for the season. It’s become so popular you need to book your spot, and it’s only open on alternate weekends – it’s open Sat 6 – Sun 7 and Sat 20 – Sun 21 this month.
Enchanted Tea Garden. Mill Lane, Kirtlington, janes-cream-teas.moonfruit.com
Lechlade Festival, Fri 26 to Sun 28 May
Dr Feelgood, The Hoosiers and Mod-revival band The Lambrettas are among the acts at this award-winning, family-friendly festival held in the beautiful, Cotswold market town of Ledbury. Also on the bill this year is a new dance zone with a stellar line-up of DJs playing a mix of electronic dance music across the genres and the return of the saucy and charismatic Missy Malone & Friends Burlesque Revue. Food offerings include Chuck Wagon Kitchens with its pioneering fare, Lowe Powe noodles and The Bhangra Bus, which serves up vegetarian and vegan curries, and chai from a converted American school bus. And if you want to make a weekend of it, you can glamp in a luxury bell tent for two to six complete with white bedlinen, warm winter duvets and pillows.
Family Fun Day, Sudeley Castle, Sun 28 May
Get the offspring properly tired (and ensure yourself a chilled-out Bank Holiday Monday) at Sudeley Castle’s Family Fun Day, which this year is featuring the world’s tallest bubbleologist, Tall Will (who at 6ft 10in is very tall indeed) and his amazing repertoire of bubble tricks, from giant ones to tiny ones (ooh, err), bubble sculptures, smoke bubbles, fire bubbles and bubbles within bubbles. There will also be donkey rides, Punch ‘n’ Judy shows, a bouncy castle, a circus skills workshop and a 23ft climbing wall.