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What’s on in Bucks and Oxon this May

Yes, you read that right: real life is bloody well back on. We've got exhibitions, comedy nights, movie screenings, garden snoopings, and so much more happing across Bucks & Oxon this May.

They’re the words we’ve been dreaming of for what feels like aeons. Yearning for them, burning for them, tossing and turning at night… and here they are: What’s on this month?


EXHIBITION: Cecil Beaton: Celebrating Celebrity, Blenheim Palace, 17 May – 1 Aug

We can’t wait to nosy through this display of over 50 iconic photographs by British fashion and portrait photographer Cecil Beaton, who was a familiar party guest at the Palace in his heyday. The images feature huge 20th century figures: from Picasso and Salvador Dali to Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn (pictured), Mick Jagger, and members of the Royal Family. It’s all set to be terribly fabulous, darling.


Hold onto your feather boas, folks: the travelling burlesque and vaudeville show Hundred Watt Club is coming to The Mill Arts Centre on 21 May. Expect all things beautiful, brash and decidedly bawdy. (The phrase “timeless raunchiness” isn’t thrown about for nothing.) Tickets from £18.

After enduring far too long without live theatre, we can finally tell each other to break a leg again. Daws Hill Vineyard will see two open air performances by Red Kite Theatre each day on 22 and 23 May: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at 11am, and As You Like It at 3pm.

Shakespeare a bit stuffy for you? Try some comedy: you can catch nerd-culture double-act ‘MARVELOUS‘ at The Theatre in Chipping Norton on 20 May. Having previously wet its whistle with sold-out shows at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, this will be a high-energy evening of punchy sketches parodying the Marvel films. Set to be a hilarious ride for superhero obsessives and people who just saw Iron Man the once alike, at £15 a ticket.

More laughs are sure to abound with comedian Shazia Mirza back on the road and heading to the Banbury Mill Arts Centre on 28th May. Her show ‘Coconut’ was rewritten over lockdown and tries to make sense of our brave new world. (You can also choose to have it live-streamed into your home instead). Tickets from £16.

Then, catch the first night of Jericho Comedy‘s Oxford Castle Comedy Festival on 31 May. Ahir Shah will be performing for the early show, and the late show will be announced shortly.


There’s no shortage of exhibitions on this month, so get ready to get cultured. We love the sound of Doorstep Diaries at MK Gallery (above), displaying a charming photography project by Stace Photography, which took photos of households across Milton Keynes during the first COVID-19 national lockdown. Though not open until 18 May, the photography will be available to view from the window of the Project Space from 3 May.

Throughout the month, of course, from 1-23 May, there is the Oxfordshire Artweeks festival: the UK’s biggest artist open studios & pop-up exhibition event. With 250 Covid-secure venues to visit, there’s a tonne to choose from, starting in North and West Oxfordshire 1-9 May, then broadly across Oxford 8-16 May, and finally focusing on South Oxfordshire & the Vale of White Horse from 15-23 May. Expect a wide range of creativity on display across pop-up galleries and shops, gardens, community centres and other venues. See details here.

But don’t fill up on art just yet: from 2 – 31 May, Asthall Manor will be showing its biennial ‘on form’ sculpture exhibition, which celebrates inspirational art within the beautiful Manor gardens. Then, the Sarah Wiseman Gallery in Oxford is holding a solo exhibition by painter and calligrapher Nathalie Moisy called Change, Transience, Harmony, from 8-29 May. This will explore the artist’s stunning, semi-abstract pieces inspired by nature.

If you’re angling for something a bit more traditional, the Ashmolean will be celebrating the Pre-Raphaelites from 18 May – 20 June, looking at the lives, loves, and works of the radical and influential 19th century artists. Then, Waddesdon Manor‘s incredibly popular exhibition Nick Knight: Roses from my Garden is back on from 19 May. Although a contemporary artist, Nick Knight’s dramatic photographs are based on the works of 16th and 17th century still life painters. Also inspired by the past is the River and Rowing Museum in Henley’s exhibition on stained glass, Painting in Coloured Light, from 20 May. This will shine a spotlight on artist John Piper’s lifelong passion, influenced by the medieval windows he encountered from childhood.

Meanwhile, from reopening on 17 May, Banbury Museum will be showing its Marvellous Machines exhibition until 9 June. At £4 for adults and £2 for children, this is a fascinating exploration of quirky gadgets and contraptions from the days before electronics. Examples of what’s on show include a nose-shaper, clockwork burglar alarms, a wrist-mounted 1920s predecessor to the Satnav, and a pointless but strangely captivating automaton of a man eating spaghetti in the bath.


Blenheim Palace‘s ever-popular Luna Drive-In Cinema is back every night from 6 – 24 May, from £37.50 a car. Expect giant HD LED screens, gorgeous backdrops, and optional pre-ordered snack hampers or delicious hot food on-site. The outdoor cinema experience then continues at Broughton Castle with Pretty Woman on 27 May and The Greatest Showman on 28 May — at, it has to be said, a less eye-watering £12.


Itching for some good eating? You can book yourself into Waddesdon Manor‘s shiny new Dining Domes at Windmill Hill (above) for dates from 20 May: a fine-dining experience with fabulous scenery of Aylesbury Vale. Choose between delicious lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner menus that have been designed by an award-winning culinary team. The Manor’s Artisan Food Market will also be back on the second Saturday of each month from 8 May, where you can pick up mouth-watering treats, products, and ingredients from local suppliers.

Also available from 20 May are the Ashmolean’s afternoon teas, offered with a city view from the museum’s swanky rooftop terrace, and complete with optional glass of fizz. Inspired by the museum’s Pre-Raphaelite exhibition, the menu is full of classic Victorian flavours and edible flowers. There will also be a limited number of Fri/Sat evenings from late May and into June where the exhibition will be kept open late, with specially-crafted sharing platters on offer at the rooftop terrace for the occasion. Tickets here.

Then, Secret Feasts is hosting fine dining experiences in Great Missenden on 28 and 29 May, serving five courses of beautiful, seasonal food in pop-up pods. You must book in groups of 5-8 adults, although the 28 May has a family-friendly option with children’s menu available. Book here.


Not ready to head inside just yet? No matter — there’s a tonne to be done outside. How about learning to car rally? HERO-ERA’s ‘A Novice Trial’ will be coming to Bicester Heritage from 21-23 May. Aimed at those new to rallying, the event is designed to explain and demonstrate the skills required in a fun and informative way. Who knows, it could be your new thing.

Or, if you haven’t yet acquired a need for speed, Waddesdon Manor is reopening its legendary private working garden, Eythrope, with guided tours every Wed from 26 May. Tickets are £50, and include a two-course lunch or afternoon tea in the Manor’s restaurant, using produce from the garden. Very refined.

Then how about a snoop through the gardens of people with more money and greener fingers than you? Scannappeal is holding a series of Open Gardens across Buckinghamshire for charity until 15 July. All privately owned manors and imposing farmhouses, subjects vary from neat kitchen gardens to showy formal rose displays. There will also be live music, plant sales, and (any day’s out most important element) a cake stall. Locations taking part in the scheme include the Grade II listed Dundridge Manor (23 May) and the original home of the owners of London’s iconic department store Liberty (27 May). Ticket prices range from £5-£10 depending on location. See the full details here.

Or perhaps you fancy a nosy around the best of Buckinghamshire’s antiques, vintage fashion, and architectural reclamations — in which case, you’ll want to head straight to the Henley Decor Fair from 27-31 May. Get tickets here.

Not done enough walking over the last year? Henley Walking Festival will take place from 26 May – 2 June. There are 11 walks of varying intensity to sign up to, often involving a well-earnt stop at a pub. (See details and prices here.) Or, if you prefer your travel to have a little more comfort, Cholsey & Wallingford Heritage Railway is celebrating its 40th anniversary with the resumption of its beloved train journeys, on 30 and 31 May. Departing from Wallingford only, the trains will have socially distanced seating, and the option to book tea and cake to be delivered to your seat before departure.


For kids big and little alike, the Oxford Playhouse is offering its online Secret Garden Experience until 31 May. An adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic, this involves eight gripping audio episodes with original music accompanied by a beautifully handcrafted Secret Box, sent to you in the post, full of interactive puzzles and challenges.

Further afield in Bedfordshire, Hullabazoo Adventure Play Area is newly opened in Whipsnade Zoo from the end of April. Kids can explore over 7,800 square metres of themed play area, including bridges, swings, climbing frames, mini safari jeep and more. Then, Nature Tots starts up again from 17 May with the Berks, Bucks, and Oxon Wildlife Trust. This entails an adventure on the nature reserve: outdoor wild play, crafts, and stories for pre-school aged children.

From 20 May, the River and Rowing Museum in Henley will be reopening, with Elmer and Friends: The Colourful World of David McKee running until 21 June. This exhibition lets you delve into the imagination of the classic children’s book creator (hits include Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, Mr Benn and Not Now, Bernard). Visitors will be able to explore Elmer’s jungle and even enter Mr Benn’s costume shop.

Then it’s time to hold onto your steeds: from 22-23 May, you can catch some Medieval Jousting at Stonor Park, as fully-armoured knights stop at nothing to knock each other out of the saddle. There will also be falconry displays, archery, and food stalls.

If you prefer to read about your knights, don’t miss the City of Stories exhibition over at The Story Museum in Oxford from 22 May. This interactive experience involves boarding a Story Craft to take visitors through 1000 years of Oxford’s story history, from ancient myths to children’s literature classics. Over in Wiltshire, catch some stories of a different nature with Longleat Safari Park‘s Tales of the Garden interactive sculpture installation, from 28 May.


What light through yonder laptop screen breaks! From 12-23 May, The Creation Theatre will be putting on a live, virtual performance of Romeo and Juliet every night, at £20 per device. On 13 May, you can also catch a special streamed concert of five acclaimed Jazz musicians through The Oxley-Meier Guitar Project with The Old Fire Station, for £5.


Boy have we missed proper parties, so we’re unbelievably excited for Henley Festival’s Summer Fling on 8-10 July. There will be bands and celebrity DJ sets, a vintage fun fair, street food, bars, and a Moët Champagne garden that’s got our name written all over it. The event’s just a pop-up for one year only, with limited tickets, so better get booking now!

Miss the days when sweets were tastier, flares were wider, and cars were cooler? Then you’ll want to book your tickets for Retro Carfest at Bicester Heritage on 13-15 August, a celebration of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, with a splash of the 90s. A brand new family festival, there will be music, films, gadgets, cars & legends from the glory days, hosted by Chris Evans and boasting acts like Happy Mondays and Scouting for Girls.

Looking for something further afield? Try our essential guide to what’s on in London this summer.

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