Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of theatre, music, books, events, ballet, comedy and much more.

London | Affordable luxe dining at Island Grill

island-grill-copyI’m so excited to share one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in a while with you guys. You all know by now that I love to eat out and that food is one of my favourite things about travelling whether in the UK or abroad – I love to try out new restaurants and cuisines. So I was excited to head to Island Grill a few weeks ago to review their take on sustainable and affordable luxury cuisine. Right in the heart of London at the iconic mid-century Lancaster London, this amazing little restaurant overlooks Hyde Park and offers a very European menu that changes with every season as part of their dedication to sustainability. I’m passionate about the environment and have actually cut a lot of meat from my diet in the last year after realising quite how unsustainable it is, so this angle was something I was very interested in. Head Chef Adam Woolven has actually won the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s top Three Star rating with his tireless efforts to create an eco-friendly yet luxurious dining experience.island-grill-barAs we arrived at the restaurant, you can’t help but be wowed by the sleek interiors and the vast floor-to-ceiling windows running along the outside walls overlooking Hyde Park. The seating is arranged so that diners can either enjoy almost private dining alongside the huge windows or they can enjoy a view of the open-plan kitchen where they can see the chefs hard at work, adding another dimension to their gastronomic experience. The staff were so welcoming and friendly, eager to talk to us about the menus and to suggest wines that would go with the food. This made a huge difference, if you’ve read my review from Cottons, you’ll know how disappointing the service was and how much it affected my view of the restaurant. I couldn’t fault the service at Island Grill, it was attentive and they were keen to chat with us and answer any questions, but they also gave us time to just enjoy the food and our evening – the perfect balance.imageWe kicked off the meal with the Pan-Fried Scallops and Crispy Gressingham Duck Salad, both absolutely delicious starters packed full of flavour and the freshest ingredients. The duck was rich and and perfectly complemented by the Asian dressing, pak choi, the orange and the cashews. While the scallops were easily the best ones I have had, normally I find them very overcooked and rubbery but these were just right. It was served with a mixture of vegetables in very different forms from pickled and crisped to pureed. The head chef’s passion for the finest ingredients is clear from the delicious meals available on the menu. While enjoying our starters we shared a bottle of wine recommended by the waitress, and I couldn’t recommend talking to the staff about drinks choices enough. This is a restaurant where the staff really know their wines and cocktails, and they are more than happy to help you choose something special from the fully stocked bar.imageFor our mains, it seemed crazy not to indulge in a steak at what is primarily a grill restaurant. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve completely cut back on the amount of meat I eat over the last year and when I travel I am almost entirely vegetarian now, but I do still eat and enjoy meat. I prefer to save it for when I eat out as a treat now and I feel much healthier and happier as a result. So after not having had much meat for quite a while, I was looking forward to a good-quality steak. And boy oh boy did Island Grill deliver. We both had the 8oz Fillet of Beef and I can officially say it was the best quality and best cooked steak I have had in years, possibly ever. The meat was so unbelievably tender and tasty, and I chose to have mine served with garlic mash and mushroom sauce. It was heaven on a plate. We were both speechless and it was definitely the first time a steak has had that effect. After our mains we were pretty full and didn’t have room for dessert, but accommodating as ever, the staff didn’t want us to miss out and boxed up some of their Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Cheesecake for us to take home. I ended up saving mine until the next day but I can assure you it was as mouth-watering as it sounds.imageApologies for the lack of good photos of the food, it was a bit dark in the restaurant so my own images haven’t come out as clearly as I hoped. Regardless, if you’re heading to London, or you’re already living there, I can’t recommend Island Grill enough. The service is faultless, the location is fantastic and the food is just out of this world. Plus, as a bonus, it’s extremely affordable! It’s not often you can find food that is this good quality for such a reasonable price, making it perfect for a mid-week treat or even a date night. Find out more and book a table at Island Grill.

Have you been to Island Grill? How was your meal? Where else can you recommend for a good quality steak?

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London | A bittersweet trip to the Caribbean with Cottons

imageI’ve had people ask me before whether I really like things as much as I say in reviews, whether I’m just sugar-coating because I got to eat or stay somewhere for free. I can’t help but laugh when I hear this, because anyone who knows me well will agree that’s it’s almost impossible for me to hide how I feel about things, and lying just isn’t in vocabulary. I’m always honest and have just been lucky that so far I’ve never really had a bad experience when I’ve reviewed products or places, but that doesn’t mean I would hide it from my readers if I did. I actually had my first disappointing experience at a restaurant review a few weeks ago and wanted to make sure I shared this with you, because my blog is about life – the good, the bad and the ugly. No sugar-coating and no editing out the bad bits, just honesty about my experiences so that perhaps they can help you to plan yours.imageYou guys will already know I went on a little weekend jaunt to London a few weeks ago when I stayed at the gorgeous Mandeville Hotel – find my review here – well I actually went to London because I had a series of restaurant reviews booked in. Lucky me, I love food and I love visiting new restaurants so this is a serious perk of running this blog, and I wanted to make sure I squeezed them all in quick before I head back to Australia. The first restaurant review of the weekend was actually the one I was looking forward to the most, and sadly it was the most disappointing. Cottons Rhum Shack and Restaurant in Notting Hill was where we were headed and I was looking forward to a night of Caribbean cuisine and rum cocktails. It was a cute little restaurant with all the colour and character a Caribbean restaurant should have and the Rhum Bar looked like a fabulous place to sip on a cocktail. So what was the problem?imageWell, from the second we walked in the door, we just didn’t feel very welcome. The service sucked, big time. The staff barely looked up when we came in and just seemed like they couldn’t be bothered to chat to us or welcome us as we went to our table. It took about 15 minutes before anyone even came over to ask if we actually wanted any drinks or if we understood the menu, I could understand if they were busy but this was a quiet Sunday night. For me, the service really makes a restaurant – whether it’s a fine dining or a budget chain, the level of attentiveness can turn an average dinner into a really lovely evening. As someone who has worked in hospitality across pubs, restaurants and bars, I know full well how much it sucks to work the Sunday shift when perhaps you’re tired or hungover from the night before, but that doesn’t mean you offer lower quality service. It’s always so important to remember that each customer who comes in is paying for top quality service and food and I just didn’t feel like that was a factor in our meal.imageWe indulged in rum cocktails – I went for the Wild Tiki which was spiced rum flavoured with Maraschino liqueur, passion fruit, pineapple, kafir and lemongrass. It was delicious, like a slightly more exotic Pornstar Martini. While my friend went for the Reggae Rum Punch – going for Wray and Nephews rum mixed with fruit juices – always pretty tasty. The cocktails were a real highlight of the night because I’m pretty picky about the quality, I hate when you get a cocktail and it is just watered down juice. Then our dinner arrived, I’d ordered the Spiced Coconut Seafood Casserole which was packed full of clams, squid, crab and red mullet, annatto potatoes and was served with scotch bonnet rouille. It was fantastic, the coconut flavour was absolutely delicious and I loved the mix of seafood as I’m a big fish fan. But my friend was left rather disappointed by the Montego bay Jerk Pork and Ribs – he actually ordered off the Caribbean Classics menu so we expected that to a lot better but there was a real lack of meat served. As someone who has worked in a Caribbean restaurant and who loves the food, he was pretty disappointed with his meal.imageIn the end it was a pretty bittersweet evening, while the cocktails and my dinner were good, my friend’s meal and the service on offer left a lot to be desired. I personally wouldn’t eat there again, if I fancy Caribbean food in future I would probably try to track down a different restaurant. It’s a shame because the restaurant was in a great location in Notting Hill and had most of the ingredients to be a success but it just didn’t quite make it. Here’s hoping the staff were just having an off-night, but having someone walk off as I started to place a drinks order wasn’t a good sign. I’d be curious to know if anyone else has eaten at one of the Cotton’s Restaurants and whether you enjoyed your experience – please leave a comment below and tell me about it.

How was your Cotton’s experience? Can you recommend any other Caribbean restaurants in the UK?

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London | Dining on Dim Sum at Royal China

It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten Chinese food, but anyone who has been following my travels through Asia will know how much I loved the food there. Asia food is one of my absolute favourite cuisines and something I just know I could eat every day for the rest of my life. I love how fresh, light and healthy it is, and I’m a huge fan of their colourful dishes whether Thai, Vietnamese or Cambodian. When it comes to Chinese food, I’ve always been a little put off by memories of greasy Chinese takeaways filled with stodge and feeling really sick after scoffing one. It put me off for years but when I was invited along to try out the special Dim Sum menu at Royal China’s Queensway Restaurant, I figured it was time to give Chinese food another try at one of Royal China’s eight restaurants.royal-china-queensway-restaurantWe were welcomed by the staff as we arrived and were taken to our table – I was astonished by the size of the restaurant, it was huge, but was told that it has recently been extended and yet still has queues out of the door some days. It seems Royal China is a bit of an institution in the area and after being there for 20 years, who can be surprised? You walk in and see a room filled with 85% Asian people and quite frankly you know the food must be good if they’re choosing to dine out here. I was impressed by the decor at the restaurant, instead of the bright and colourful designs of most Chinese restaurants they had gone for a much sleeker and more elegant look that really gave the place a great atmosphere for a dinner. We were just having lunch but already the restaurant was mostly full on a Monday lunchtime, you can understand how busy it must get at peak times.royal-china-queensway-barI really felt the restaurant would be a great place to come with a larger party, the tables are big and could easily seat bigger groups and if you ask me, Asian food is always great for sharing with friends. We ordered several items off the Dim Sum menu including the sesame prawn rolls and the plain Cheung Fun with peanut sauce, seafood pancakes and the roasted duck dumplings, then picked others off the larger menu such as the aromatic duck, the spicy prawn stir fry and the pak choi. The food was delicious and served quickly but goodness me there was a lot of it. It would definitely be a place to go with friends, between the two of us we struggled to eat everything but really enjoyed the flavours. Although I have to admit, I’m still not entirely sure what Cheung Fun is – it was a very strange dish I have never tried before. The service was excellent throughout and the staff kept coming over to check if we needed anything at all, or just to talk to us about the dishes.dim-sum-at-royal-china steamed-prawn-dim-sum-at-royal-chinaOverall I would say the restaurant was lovely, we really enjoyed the meal and the atmosphere of Royal China. But we did find the dishes rather expensive for the size of the meal, perhaps it would have been less noticeable if you were sharing the meal with a group and were sharing lots of dishes but for two people I think it would have been an expensive meal out if you wanted to taste several dishes. However, the food was of a very high standard and very well prepared, it wasn’t at all greasy and had lots of flavour. If you were going to eat Chinese food, this would be the place to do it. For me personally, I don’t think Chinese food is for me, I’m glad I’ve given it another shot but I think I’ll stick to Thai and Vietnamese food from now on. If you fancy trying out Royal China, you’ll find restaurants on Baker Street and in Bayswater, Fulham and Canary Wharf. More information about Royal China available online.steamed-chilli-pork-dumplings

Have you eaten at Royal China – what did you think? What’s your favourite Chinese dish? What other restaurants would you recommend in London?

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London | A taste of the AbFab lifestyle at The Mandeville Hotel

imageSo many bloggers focus on one type of travel, but for me that’s just not possible. You see, I like to vary my travelling style as much as I do my clothes. While sometimes I’ll be backpacking on a budget, I still see the importance and the fun in enjoying a slightly more luxury stay whether for a holiday or city break. For me, it’s all about finding that balance between big blowouts and treating yourself, to the times when you’re making every penny stretch. I find you appreciate one so much more when you’ve experienced the other, and you learn a heck of a lot more about money along the way. I was lucky enough to live the Absolutely Fabulous lifestyle of dreams last weekend when I was invited to review The Mandeville Hotel. In a collaboration with Maison Christian Lacroix, the entire fifth floor of this luxury boutique hotel was redesigned with each room telling a different story from the French Riviera, based on Maison Lacroix’s “Belles Rives” Collection. It was perfectly timed as the final weekend I would get to spend in London before I jet back off to the other side of the world, and as a couture treat before I head back to a life of hostels.imageimageSituated just a five minute walk from Bond Street Station, the hotel is perfectly located for a weekend of shopping and sightseeing. Actually, I was so impressed at how close it was to one of the busiest parts of London, and yet the hotel seemed a million miles away from the hustle and bustle. It was actually a lot more peaceful in the streets surrounding the hotel with people sitting out to eat and drink in restaurants. As we walked up to the hotel excited to experience the decadence of Lacroix, we were greeted by the friendly staff who offered to take our bags to the room and organise any restaurants or taxis we might require during or after our stay. As we headed up to our room, we were left to check out the fifth floor makeover. All the rooms have their own individual flair and style, from The Jardin Exotique to Midnight Blue telling the story of the secret midnight bathing society, all telling beautiful stories with inspirations from Lacroix’s upbringing combined with Grace Kelly’s ‘To Catch a Thief’.imageIf you’re like me and have grown up on the antics of Eddie and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous, you’ll probably have been just as excited as I was when the new movie came out. So to get to stay in a hotel that was every bit as fabulous as the crazy pair was one of my best London experiences yet! You’ll see from the photos the decor was over the top in all the right ways and combined bright, clashing patterns and accessories with sleek designs to ensure maximum comfort. We were staying in The Jewel Box room, which combined Classic Lacroix with whimsical colours and bejeweled designs inspired by Grace Kelly’s stolen Cartier jewels. The lace and mantillas worn by women in The Camargue inspires the Macarena lace wallpaper around the room, balanced with classic Lacroix silver and black striped wallpaper, a true haven for fashion lovers. I was completely taken aback by the room when I walked it, it just screamed Absolutely Fabulous and I was so excited to be staying there. After the long journey, it was nice just to pop on the robes provided and have a coffee from the Nespresso machine in our room (I know where was the Bolly darling?!) and just take in the luxury.  Heading into the gorgeous white marble bathroom, there were a selection of lovely products there to enjoy as I got ready.imageimageThat night, after dinner and cocktails, we headed back to the hotel and I couldn’t wait to get a good night’s sleep. It turned out the room was the perfect place to relax on a Sunday evening, not a single sound from the street outside or the other rooms could be heard while we watched a movie. And when it was time for lights out, the room fell to complete darkness and silence. Combined with that incredible comfy bed and the lovely turndown service that had cleaned the room and organised the pillows for us, I was in heaven. It was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. I woke up with a big smile on my face and ready to take on the hotel’s breakfast – we’d been booked in for the full English breakfast with continental. Now I never normally order a full English breakfast so I was quite excited to have one for the first time in years – and I was so impressed with the high quality of everything on the plate, including the perfectly poached eggs. Plus over on the continental table there was plenty of fresh yoghurt, juices, fruit and muesli to choose from, as well as platters of croissants and pastries. It was the breakfast of dreams and with checkout not being until 12pm, I took advantage of the opportunity to go back to bed and catch up on even more sleep.imageimageI’d just like to say a huge thank you to all of the staff at the hotel for making our stay there exceptional. I felt so welcome from the second I walked in the door and they really worked hard to make sure every tiny detail was thought of and catered for. It really is a mark of excellence when you don’t have to think of anything the whole way through your stay and come away from a weekend in London feeling rested and content – normally my weekends there leave me feeling exhausted. The Mandeville Hotel is perfect for a luxury treat if you’re visiting London for a special occasion, at £317 a night for the room and full English breakfast, it is expensive but I can assure you it is worth every penny. Staying at the hotel is a whole experience that goes far beyond just a bed for the night, and one I would really recommend to anyone who fancies treating themselves. Find out more or book to stay at the website.

Have you stayed at The Mandeville Hotel – how was your stay? What other luxury hotels would you recommend in London?

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Melbourne | Art & blogging with Andy Warhol & Ai WeiWei | Australia

12801410_10153322204992617_812625605486026040_nI wrote a post last week about how social media really affects your travelling experience by bringing you closer to people you might never have crossed paths with otherwise. Well the other week I had the perfect example of this when I finally had the opportunity to meet up with someone who has been supporting my travels every step of the way. Starting out with a few comments on my blog and a passing tweet or Facebook comment, we soon started chatting regularly, providing each other with a wealth of travel information and a listening ear. I love the way we became much like modern-day pen-pals, always keeping in touch along our independent journeys through Australia. Finally the day came when we found ourselves in the same city and couldn’t resist meeting in person for a day of art, culture and chatting blogging, Amy and I headed to the National Gallery of Victoria for the incredible Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei exhibition.1622071_10153879755861093_7085872547509599261_nThis major international exhibition has brought together the works of two of the most significant artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It explores the huge influence of Warhol and Weiwei on modern art and contemporary life, focusing on the parallels and points of difference between the two. The NGV exhibition presents more than 300 works, including major new commissions, immersive installations and a wide representation of paintings, sculpture, film, photography, publishing and social media. As described on the website: “Presenting the work of both artists, the exhibition explores modern and contemporary art, life and cultural politics through the activities of two exemplary figures – one of whom represents twentieth century modernity and the ‘American century’; and the other contemporary life in the twenty-first century and what has been heralded as the ‘Chinese century’ to come.”12803150_10153322204432617_4795580638982975734_nWhether you know a lot about art or not – and I admit that while my interest and curiosity continually finds me poking around in galleries, I actually have very little knowledge about art – this exhibition is fantastic. I was so impressed with the cross-cultural diversity of the pieces and the way they made poignant comments on society, offering great similarities over huge periods of time. The historical significance and the cultural significance is the part that really interested me, learning about how these stunning pieces reflected the politics and state of society at the time of making. And how these beautiful installations were still so accurate decades later – it really highlighted how our concerns in society can become timeless, that they may appear in lightly different forms but essentially boil down to the same issues. Ones that particularly stood out were concerns over mass-production and commercialisation as it took over the world, others included communication – from the basic right up to social media, and another that really interested me was the mass production of food and whether we can trust those who provide us with it.12802700_10153322204922617_6607751453238181792_nI loved learning about Ai Weiwei, while Andy Warhol is someone everyone knows of, I hadn’t yet come across Weiwei and it was a fantastic opportunity to learn about his history and his life’s work. He was a fascinating man and I’ve actually found a documentary about him on Netflix that I’m looking forward to watching to find out more about him. I was really impressed with the interactive nature of the exhibition, it was brilliant to be able to get involved with some of the installations, to experiment with making your own pop art and to have all of your senses targeted by the pieces. It was easily the most diverse exhibition I have seen yet and it really appealed to all ages – I saw people of all ages and backgrounds there taking in the sights and sounds of the pieces. It was great to see such a mixed crowd and really showed the wide appeal of this exhibition, that it was something all could relate to and understand, that it spoke of issues still so poignant in our modern day society.12794576_10153322205037617_2327204439043988776_nSome of the highlights definitely helped draw in the crowds as the exhibition was also featuring a brand new suite of installations from Ai Wei Wei including an installation from the Forever Bicycles series, composed from almost 1500 bicycles; a major five-metre-tall work from Ai’s Chandelier series of crystal and light; Blossom 2015, a spectacular installation in the form of a large bed of thousands of delicate, intricately designed white porcelain flowers; and a room-scale installation featuring portraits of Australian advocates for human rights and freedom of speech and information. All fascinating pieces with interesting motivations behind them – definitely ones to make you think. Plus you’ll get to see classic pieces from Warhol including the famous Campbell’s soup paintings, his own self-portraits and the images he made of Marilyn Monroe and various other famous faces. The exhibition is running until April 24th, so there’s just over a month left to check it out – at just $26 entry I’d call that a bargain for getting to see some of the most famous pieces of modern art and some of the most current pieces by an internationally renowned artist. It’s well worth a look, and there are also a huge range of special events, tours and talks happening in the evenings including the popular Friday Nights at NGV. Find all details at the website.10391817_10153322204927617_2833230169451327107_n

Have you been to the NGV’s Warhol Weiwei exhibition – what did you think? Can you recommend any other galleries in Melbourne, or across the world?

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Walking in a Winter Wonderland & a Martian Invasion

FullSizeRenderWith my last few days at work well under-way (I literally have just four days left now!!) I still had some holiday to take from work, and I figured how better to spend it than with a trip to visit my sister in London? It coincided perfectly with a weekend trip I had already planned with my boyfriend and his family for a show, and meant I would get a few extra days away and a chance to visit the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, and to head to the Southbank for the Christmas Market. Obviously in true blogging fashion, I snapped as many moments from the weekend as I could in order to share them with you guys. I know that lots of you have been visiting both of these festive delights, and I wanted to share my favourite parts with you – to help share a bit of Christmas spirit.FullSizeRender (3)

FullSizeRender (2)My weekend kicked off with an early start and a train ride sound-tracked by the rather delicious Paolo Nutini and the soulful tunes of George Ezra – both albums I am listening to on repeat at the moment. When I arrived in London, me and my sister headed straight out for brunch at The Breakfast Club, a restaurant I have been dying to try after spotting a few pics of the amazing food on Instagram. I wasn’t disappointed – it was absolutely delicious and just what we needed as we were both ravenous by the time we ate. I had the rather tasty Huevos Al Benny (poached eggs, chorizo, roast peppers, avocado and fresh chillies on toasted English Muffins, with home-style fried potatoes – it was just perfect. Laura went for a veggie sausage sandwich and we also shared a portion of mac & cheese. To drink, I couldn’t resist going for a Green Is Good smoothie (spinach, mango, apple and mint) which just so happened to match Laura’s jumper in colour!FullSizeRender (1)

After our delicious meal, we went over to Southbank to take a walk along the Thames, see all the beautiful sparkling lights and to check out the Christmas market as the sun set. I really love this part of London, it really is beautiful at any time of year and I was there just a few months ago in blazing sunshine – equally perfect. In the middle of the market, we stumbled across the cutest Christmas tree maze and an adorable Rekorderlig shack where they were selling all the brand’s beverages including some rather delicious hot mulled cider which went down a treat. As it started to get dark, we started making our way to Hyde Park, finding that thankfully as it was still early it wasn’t too busy. We managed to avoid the queues and head straight in to mosey our way round the stalls selling pretty marzipan cubes, fake snow and great big greasy sausages. Unfortunately as we were there a bit early, we didn’t get to see any of the bands playing, which was a shame as I find the atmosphere is much better when they have live music. I didn’t think it was quite as well laid out this year, but I’m not sure if that was perhaps just because I have been a few years in a row now and it is becoming very over-commercialised. I would have liked, if I had time, to check out Winterville which is over at Victoria Park. The rest of the evening was spent at a pub in Shoreditch before we made our way to a food market to pick up some dinner – I had a delicious Patty & Bun Jose Jose burger and it was that good it’s actually making my mouth water now to think of it.FullSizeRender (6) FullSizeRender (7)

FullSizeRender (5)The next morning, I met the boyfriend for  a wander round London and a catch-up in a lovely Camden pub, before we headed to a fabulous Indian restaurant to review the food. (Review will be posted on Friday) After a lovely afternoon there, we went to meet his family at Marble Arch, where they had booked us rooms at Victory Services Club, which was really nice. This place had the comfiest beds and, even better complete silence when you closed the door which gave a perfect night’s sleep and was much needed after a busy few days. The staff were so friendly and helpful, we had a great breakfast and the bar was nice and cosy with a roaring fire. Why were we staying there? Well it was a rather lovely Christmas present from boyfriend’s dad and step-mum, who bought the whole family tickets to go and see The War of the Worlds at the O2 Arena on Saturday night. It has officially been almost a whole year since I last saw a show in London, and as a big musicals lover, that was seriously starting to make me twitch. So I was more than excited to be heading there, particularly as this was such a huge show and yet I knew very little about it.

IMG_0264As a literature student, I had read HG Wells’ The Time Machine, but had never read The War of the Worlds, so I had an idea of the type of writing that inspired the performance but that was about it. A friend at work had lent me the programme from when he went to see the show, which I flicked through and it certainly helped fill in a few blanks. He also lent me the CD of the soundtrack, which I listened too very briefly on my 10-minute drive to work – but anyone who knows the music and the show will know that is not enough to really get a feel for it. So I was blown away when I finally saw the full performance live on stage at the O2 – the combination of live actors, a full orchestra, a film and a giant mechanical martian spewing fire and lasers across the audience was more than I ever could have believed. It sounds crazy, but it really worked and crazy is good in a story about invading martians! I won’t give away the storyline, but the music really stole the show, Jeff Wayne has really captured the drama, the emotion and the suspense in every single note. This combined with the special effects, and you have a spectacular show on your hands. It certainly is not a show I would have thought of going to see, but I’m so glad I have seen it now so that I understand what all the hype is about. And I’m also very glad that I have short legs and didn’t have to suffer like the guy sitting behind me with his knees up to his chin.


 All in all, it was a pretty good weekend full of Christmas cheer, sparkling lights and plenty of good food – some of my favourite things. I love getting to spend a long weekend in London every now and again – it really gives you much more time to do stuff at a leisurely pace. I can’t stand when you have to rush everywhere and end up missing things. It definitely makes me realise that I could really love living in London in the future.

Have any of you guys been to see The War Of The Worlds? Or Have you been to the Winter Wonderland? What did you think of them? Or are you a big brunch fan and love The Breakfast Club?

Ab Lucy sign off

Page-turners and screen saviours

killingThis year has been a particularly good year for me in terms of actually watching stuff and seeing them through to the bitter end. I’m not the greatest at watching TV series or knowing what everyone is talking about from that latest episode of (insert current series of the moment here). I hold my hands up and say I never watched Breaking Bad and Gossip Girl… my only defence is that I was too busy and that I’m far too easily distracted to remember to catch up! I always start out with good intentions, but then end up missing an episode and forgetting to catch up, before you know it I’m a series behind and lose all interest. But this year, something magical happened. I gave up on my laptop and got an iPad that has changed my life. The boyfriend signed me on to his Netflix account, and since then I haven’t seen the light of day.. Okay I’m not that bad, but I have seriously been loving watching things at my own pace. But which series have hooked me in?

The Killing

Please tell me you have all been watching this? I used to be addicted to CSI – I’m not sure if loving programmes about sick individuals is normal, but I know I’m not alone in this so no judgement here. I find the whole psychology of murderers and others who commit serious crimes really quite fascinating, and I love how fast-paced and gripping the programmes are. The Killing in particular has a brilliant way of keeping you completely detached from the murder itself, yet you really become attached to the characters – I adore Holder. But I also love the twists and turns – the way you’re convinced one thing has happened and you know who is guilty, and then something happens that turns all your expectations on their head. It really is very well-written and I love the way it has been filmed – so dark. I’ve been watching the American version, but I hear the Danish version is even better – it’s definitely on my list to watch that one as well. Just as a sidebar, me and the boyfriend also steamed through Luther this year – which I absolutely LOVED. It helps that Idris Elba is ridiculously sexy, but the story-lines are also brilliant.

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Orange Is The New Black

Easily the best series centred around an all-female cast for years, in fact I don’t remember watching another that I found quite as engaging since Sex & The City. The characters were brilliant, funny and original, the story was completely unlike anything I have watched before, challenged the viewer and kept us hooked from the beginning to the end. Everyone my age was watching and loving it – and I don’t think I have heard such a buzz about a programme since Breaking Bad, but this offered a totally different viewing experience. There’s something very different about an all-female cast that really provides you with a totally different storyline, if the same had been done with an all-male cast I’m sure it would have been a very different programme. I wasn’t really that bothered about the main storyline that followed Piper, but I loved the bits between her and Crazy Eyes, and all the supporting characters – they were all so funny and worked really well together. I really can’t wait for the next series.

The Passage & The Twelve

Sadly, this hasn’t been such a good year for reading. As a former literature student I am embarrassed to admit how few books I have actually read this year, but again, the time has got away from me and working three jobs does cut back on your reading time. I certainly plan to more than make up for it next year while relaxing on a beach in Thailand, and already have a huge reading list of books to finish over the next 12 months. I am pleased that of the few books I have read, some of my favourites have been among them including one that I never thought I would have the chance to read. I’ve still managed to read some pretty interesting and diverse books – one series about the drug smuggling industry and life in prison in Bali based on a selection of interviews conducted by a journalist in the nineties – these were a fantastic read and I would really recommend them (Hotel K, Snowing in Bali). I also really enjoyed re-reading the Hunger Games books ahead of the release of the latest film, and I re-read some of my favourite books by Margaret Atwood – Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood – ahead of the release of Maddadam (a sequel I never even realised was being written!)

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These were all brilliant reads, but my absolute favourite of the year had to be reading a book called The Twelve, which was the sequel to a book that I happily declare as one of the best reads I have found yet, The Passage. This dystopian horror story was released in 2010 by Justin Cronin, beginning in 2014 and spanning more than 90 years, the novel details an apocalyptic and, later, post-apocalyptic world that is overrun by vampire-like beings who are infected by a highly contagious virus. What begins as a project to develop a new immunity-boosting drug based on a virus carried by an unnamed species of bat in South America eventually becomes the virus that transforms the world. The story follows colonies of humans who attempt to live in a world filled with superhuman creatures who are continually on the hunt for fresh blood. It’s officially one of the longest books I have ever read, and yet I never once saw my mind wandering from the plot. Even Stephen King has described it as “enthralling”, and I spent every second of reading time picturing every scene as though it were already a movie. Cronin is amazing at creating a whole world in your mind and it would clearly be fantastic on screen – the rights have apparently been sold to Ridley Scott and it is in line for a screen adaptation – I can’t wait!

I was ecstatic when I stumbled across The Twelve, a sequel to The Passage, while in Waterstones one afternoon and immediately bought it and took it home to start reading. Apparently it is actually the second book in a trilogy – so I have more to look forward to – and is also planned for another screen adaptation by Ridley Scott. What I love about this book is that it is not set further into the future, but it actually takes a leap back to the start of the plague and answers all those questions readers were left with about the origin of the plague at the end of The Passage. You meet the creators of this deadly virus and see the full horrors unfold through the eyes of whole host of new characters, including the virals who are spreading the virus and are creating factions of the vampire-like characters. If you love dystopian literature like I do, you’re in for a treat – even horror fans will adore the author’s writing style and imagination. Take all those sickly vampire stories and unimaginative films like Twilight, and lock them away please – I like something a lot darker and more twisted with a storyline you can really get your teeth into. I like a read that really challenges me and forces you imagination to run wild – if you like the same, you’ll love this.


This post is also my entry to the #Currysfiresidefiction challenge to write about my favourite film/TV show I’ve watched this year and my top reads. I had to steer clear of films because quite frankly I’ve seen so many amazing movies this year, I only just managed to narrow it down to these books and TV series!

I’d love to hear about your favourites from the year in case I’ve missed any. Why not leave a comment and share your top picks?

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Frankenstein: A spectacular reimagining of a timeless tale

frankensteinThose who read my Halloween post on Friday will remember I mentioned my plans for the night – I was off to the cinema to see a special screening of Frankenstein. A bit of a different way for me to spend Halloween and I was looking forward to a slight change, although I have to admit part of me was gutted not to be dressing up for the first time in years. But I was hugely looking forward to seeing the stage show on the big screen – directed by Danny Boyle and with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller taking up the leading roles – we were in for a treat! Loaded up with the chocolate I probably should have been giving out to cute little kids in pumpkin costumes, I headed to Lynn’s Majestic Cinema with the boyfriend to check out the show. Rewritten from the classic novel by Mary Shelley by Nick Dear, the production was being screened by National Theatre Live for a limited time, due to unprecedented audience demand. Previously a sell-out hit at the National Theatre in 2011, the production has now become an international sensation, watched by almost half a million people in cinemas around the world.

Of course, any production or film that Danny Boyle works his magic on is usually pretty spectacular, but for me, Frankenstein really showed what a visionary he is. The production shows he sees the potential for everything around us to be spectacular, and that he can translate this from screen to stage with ease and finesse. This was the first time I have seen anything directed by him other than films and the Olympic Opening Ceremony, so I was really excited to see how he would come across on the stage. I couldn’t say I was anything less than blown away – the staging for the production was magnificent and really took the story to a whole new level for the audience. I particularly loved his use of lighting at various points in the show – the use of hundreds of lights above the stage to mimic the movement of electrical currents and emotion. The muted lighting throughout really helped set a sinister tone, and I thought it was hugely effective to use the shadows of the characters almost as characters within themselves during the farmhouse scenes.Frankenstein9_1833302bI was so impressed with the stage itself – not having previously seen any theatre at the National Theatre, I am now chomping at the bit to see a production there. I have seen many stages in my time as a bit of a theatre lover, but none so high-tech and spectacular as this one. I loved the way every part of it came alive, moving and changing with the scenes – it played such a huge part in the show and really added to the pace of the story.

But my favourite part of Frankenstein had to be – as it should be – the relationship between the two lead actors. Wow. For two people who I believe have never acted together before, the pair had incredible chemistry and worked amazingly together. I was gripped from the very first scene – which although in any other situation would have seemed ridiculous and could have brought laughter – was met with dead silence as the audience looked on. You could have heard a pin drop. After having never seen much of Jonny Lee Miller, I was looking forward to seeing what kind of actor he was. While with Benedict Cumberbatch, I had high expectations after having seen and loved him in several films. The pair together was something I was not expecting and I was astonished by how intense the scenes were between them. This is one of the many reasons I love theatre more than film – it is so much more real and you connect with the characters on a different level.benedict-cumberbatch-frankenstein-c-catherine-ashmoreOne quirk of Frankenstein, and one that I really enjoyed, was the two actors spending a night playing Dr Frankenstein, and another night playing the creature. This swapping of roles gave you a chance to see the pair play two very contrasting characters and trust me, it left you wanting more. We went to see the production starring Cumberbatch as the Creature, and I came out of the cinema desperate to see the alternate show. I still really want to see the show with Lee Miller playing the creature as well because I know he would play the character completely differently. It is a rare thing, to get the opportunity to see such excellent actors switching roles and taking them on with such ease. You could tell how much time and energy had been put into preparing for the performance, which was faultless. The effortlessness of the whole show just showed how much chemistry the pair had – not once did you waver from the story, question it or lose interest – everyone was completely engrossed and I love that about a show. It is so important to be entirely stuck inside the story until the very end, I hate if I watch a show and feel removed from the whole thing – that is when the cast have not done their jobs well. I also really liked the comic element to the story, written into the script were some fantastic lines that had the audience in fits of laughter. Adding to this, Cumberbatch was also very aware of his physicality as the creature – movement was a huge part of his performance and he did very well to turn some of these movements into comedy moments for the audience.

Find out more about the production and where you can see it, by clicking here.

Did you see Frankenstein – what did you think? Which version did you see?

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The time I ran away with the circus and scaled the high wire

MLNF14PM09200After talking just the other day about the amazing opportunities journalism has given me, I headed to Mr Fips Wonder Circus for a feature for work – the chance to scale the high wire and interview the man who does it daily for a living – how could I resist? It was a great excuse to get out of the office, try my hand at some circus skills and to let that Enid Blyton-inspired part of my imagination loose in the circus for an afternoon. After spending my childhood reading amazing books about the magic of the circus, the acrobats, beautiful dancers and ringmaster with the booming voice – it was a dream come true! When I arrived, with the photographer in tow, I was quickly swept up by the hurricane that is Mr Fips himself, Jan Erik Brenner, who talks nineteen-to-the-dozen and leaves you completely dizzy. He had me trying on the ringmaster’s top hat and joining the other artists for a huge group photo, as above.MLNF14PM09193Then, it was straight into a demonstration by the one-and-only Marco Polo, a Mexican clown who has been walking the high wire since he was just a boy and is now 56-years-old. I was astounded even then as he balanced precariously on the rope suspended high above the circus ring. We all watched on as he posed for photos in a sombrero, smiling and waving while holding a balancing stick that i later found weighed about half my bodyweight. When he came down, the circus hands grabbed a rope and placed it on the floor for me to try balancing along it while holding the balancing stick. I could barely make it across the stick was so heavy and my balance was so off – perhaps that high wire career was further out of sight than I had previously thought? But still, I couldn’t resist the chance to scale the platform and balance on the wire, so the circus hands harnessed me up and before I knew it I was balanced high on the platform under the roasting hot spotlights.MLNF14PM09189Lucky I don’t have a problem with heights, the ladder to get up was little more than a pole with hooks to step on. In my mind, I could hear the health and safety team back in the office frantically checking through the insurance paperwork. But as the ringmaster happily informed me, he had lost a bet thanks to me being the first journalist who had ever dared to go up onto the wire and hadn’t chickened out when they arrived. Once up on the platform, myself and Marco Polo had to manoeuvre around each other so he stood behind me to hold on to my waist and keep me upright as I stepped out onto the wire with the heavy balancing pole in my grasp. Phew, just that alone was bloody hard work. I have a pretty strong core from all my workouts at the gym, but even I was knackered within minutes from keeping myself upright and balancing on the wire.MLNF14PM09186I couldn’t understand how this little Mexican guy could have such strength to scale the wire several times a day for the show. All I can say is that he must have been made of pure muscle! I had a great time with the circus team and a huge thanks to them for inviting me along, also thanks for the free tickets and refreshments at the weekend. I went along with a few friends to watch and loved the show, which featured acrobats, jugglers, dancers, hula-hoopers, Shetland ponies and much more. It really is an amazing circus and I loved every second, especially the final act. Marco Polo’s act was fantastic and had us all on the edge of our seats, faking a slip and a hurt leg – my nerves were in tatters! He even stood on a chair balanced on the wire and walked it blindfolded with washing baskets on his feet! If you get a chance to go, don’t miss it!

Read the feature in full here.

Do you love the circus? What’s your favourite act and why?

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Dawn French on tour – heartbreaking and hilarious

Dawn FrenchLifelong fans of The Vicar of Dibley will understand my sheer joy at securing tickets to see the one-and-only Dawn French live on her first stand-up comedy tour. On Tuesday night, with my parents and Grandad in tow, I headed to Lynn’s Corn Exchange for the show, and was brimming with excitement. I have long loved Dawn French, not just for her part in this classic comedy series that I remember watching from a young age with my family. But also for her relationship with Lenny Henry, her fantastic attitude to life and for the role model she provided for young women – so much better, funnier and wiser than all these so-called “celebs”. I have to admit, that part of me, deep down, was worried that after so many years since I last saw her in any shows, I was a little worried she wouldn’t match up to my memories of her. But I needn’t have even considered the possibility, because she blew me, and the rest of the audience away with her energy, her happiness and her incredible comic talent.

As my Grandad said as we left the Corn Exchange, she really did have the audience in the palm of her hand, from the moment she strutted on stage and began talking at 90mph, to the crazy funny dance routines, to the tributes to her loved ones and the final moments of the show. We were gripped from start to finish and I genuinely have to say that she is easily the funniest comedian I have ever seen live. Her show was heart-warming and a true testament to her timeless character, it took us through highs and lows as she talked us through a brief look at her 30 Million Minutes (that’s 56 years to the rest of us), leaving no stone unturned. Proclaiming to be completely mad, Dawn instantly won the hearts of the audience as she proceeded to talk us through the greatest highs and lows of her life and career. The show gives us a rare insight into the true life of a household name, on her own terms, and doesn’t shy away from what were clearly some of the hardest times for the actress and comedian.dawn french showWhen reading about the tour, you are given no indication that Dawn will be tackling such personal subjects such as her own body image, attacks from the media, the loss of her father, her fertility problems, the adoption of her daughter Billie, the breakdown of her marriage and further health problems. They are not the usual topics associated with a comedy sketch, but she pulls them off with a heart-wrenching grace. She flits between moments that have the audience brimming on the edge of tears, to pure hysterics as we desperately try to catch our breath. Only a true comic talent could achieve this without losing her audience. There were points when I felt completely winded, hearing about her heartbreak and confusion over the suicide of her father and her struggles to become the person she is today. Introducing us to her family is a huge part of the show and it just shows how her values don’t seem to have changed a bit, just another reason why I adore her so much. Her family, whether blood or chosen, are the world to her and that is just one of many reasons why I think she is a great role model.

Strangely, I found myself being one of the youngest in the audience, I did expect to see more young people there as I really do feel she appeals to all age groups and many, like myself, would have watched her growing up. I do think it was probably more a case of not being quick enough to secure the tickets as they did sell out fast and it was only by luck I managed to snag a few! I’m sure many other shows nationwide have sold out already, but if you get a chance to go, don’t miss out. She is truly one of the best comedians I have ever seen live and you will come away from the show feeling completely uplifted. Find tickets for more dates here.

Have you seen Dawn French live – what did you think? What do you think of Dawn French as a role model for young women?

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