Annie at the Grand Opera House

With only eight weeks left to Christmas, some people are already dreaming of Christmas trees, mulled wine and mince pies! (OK, I am!)

Therefore, I was very excited to review what some consider a Christmas classic, Annie, (given it is set around the festive period) this week.

The hit musical Annie, direct from London’s West End, is at Belfast’s Grand Opera House all this week and stars none other than Birds of a Feather’s Lesley Joseph as the tyrannical Miss Hannigan!

Many will know the classic songs from the show including”It’s the Hard-Knock Life” and “Tomorrow“, but if you’re unfamiliar with the story line, the production is set in 1930s New York where young orphan Annie is forced to live a life of misery at an orphanage.

Her luck changes when she is chosen to spend Christmas with famous billionaire, Oliver Warbucks who helps her search for her true family while also questioning what is important to him in life.  What unfolds is a heartwarming story of love, sadness, expectation, hope and Christmas spirit!

Lesley Joseph is fantastic as the cruel, authoritarian Mrs Hannigan, who sings about hating little girls (a fitting job then!) while drowning her sorrows in alcohol), while the child actors playing all the youngsters in the orphanage were fantastic. Such powerful voices, particularly young Mia Lakha who played Annie on the opening night. She was just brilliant!

An extra special mention to Amber the dog who was Sandy and received “awhhhs” and cheers every time she appeared on stage!

I loved Annie and the standing ovation at the end showed that the audience certainly did too! It was great to see so many young people in the crowd, enjoying this family favourite.

Annie is on at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 2nd November.

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Disclaimer: these were gifted press tickets in exchange for an honest review. 

Belfast Restaurant Week 2019

Living in Cushendun, I always try to meet up with friends for dinner when I stay down in Belfast. (Basically a good excuse to eat out!)

I’d been planning a long overdue catch-up with my friend Eileen and suggested we should give next week’s Belfast Restaurant Week a go.

If you’re unsure what this is, Belfast Restaurant Week is a celebration of local grub, and encourages us to get out and taste what Belfast has to offer….but guilt free, because of the fantastic deals which are running!

From Monday to Thursday next week you can enjoy 2 evening courses for just £15 in over 40 restaurants, and £10 lunch deals, Monday to Friday. What a bargain! You can check out the participating restaurants on the Belfast Restaurant Week website.

Last week I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of some of the restaurants taking part, and had a lot of fun sampling really good food and drink. Someone has to do it!

The first stop on our food walking tour was Deanes Deli Bistro which has just launched its new tapas menu. There, we were treated to a Prosecco and Tapas reception.

We tucked into Spanish omelette; Fried Whitebait, Squid and Courgette Frit; and a selection of cured meats, goats cheese and olive crostinis. I’m a big fan of tapas so it was great to get a flavour of what Deanes will be offering on its new menu.

Next up, we made our way round to one of my favourite places to eat, Cafe Parisien with its class views over Belfast City Hall. There, we were treated to something I hadn’t had at Cafe Parisien before- the 5oz Rump steak with chateau potatoes, green beans and café de paris butter. The steak was cooked perfectly and I really enjoyed the accompanying sauce (a butter-based jus with a slightly curry flavour).

Finally, we headed to a new restaurant, Margot which only opened earlier this year and is situated at the former Basement Bar. It has a real laid-back, underground feel to it, and it was great to check it out.

At Margot we made room for a Raspberry Cheesecake Mouse (very delicious and moreish!) and a range of cocktails/mocktails to wash it down.

The sneak preview got me really excited about next week’s Belfast Restaurant Week, and I’m looking forward to trying out another one or two restaurants while they have great offers on!

When booking the 2 course menus quote Belfast Restaurant Week to get the offer. Don’t miss out!

Disclaimer: this was a blogger event so all food and drink was complimentary. I wasn’t paid to write this and all views are my own. 

Exploring The Argory- National Trust

A few months ago I saw pictures on social media of a new art installation at the National Trust property, The Argory, in Armagh.

I remember at the time it was described as a “Marmite” piece of art- you either love it or hate it! But not knowing enough about it, or seeing it in person, I had no real opinion until last weekend.

I got to see Artificial Sunshine, as it’s called, when I was invited down to spend a family day out at The Argory, and we headed off to Armagh last Saturday.

The Argory is an old gentry house built in the 1820s and is surrounded by a 320-acre riverside estate.

A tour of the house was just kicking off as we arrived, so we joined the tour and spent roughly an hour hearing all about the history of the property and its previous owners (the last of whom, Walter Albert Nevill MacGeough-Bond, gifted the house to the National Trust in 1979.)

And it was on this tour that I saw the spectacular neon art installation! Artificial Sunshine was created by Northern Irish artist Kevin Killen, who drew inspiration from the house. This included the colours of the different rooms, the spiral shapes found in the decor, and the bright glow, similar to acetylene gas light used in The Argory. When you hear the inspiration behind it, it really does bring it all together. And I loved it!

The tour was fascinating, with all original furniture and furnishings on display, right down to the silver cutlery on the table.

Niamh was given a task and had fun finding pieces of art around the house and ticking them off on a treasure hunt-style sheet, for which she got chocolate at the end for completing it!

After the tour we headed to the coffee shop for some lunch before we set off on a walking trail around the grounds.

We took in the riverside walk and a beautiful lime tree avenue, with the trees arching over to form their own “Dark Hedges.”

It was a lovely afternoon and thankfully it stayed dry for us to enjoy the beautiful grounds. If you’re a National Trust member, admission is free, so make the most of the September sunshine!

Press play to see our video from The Argory

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Entry to The Argory was gifted (£17.50 per family), but everything else was paid for, including lunch and refreshments. 

The Miami Showband Story- Grand Opera House

There will be few people here in Northern Ireland who haven’t heard about the Miami Showband Massacre.

As someone in their thirties, it obviously happened before my time, but it was always something I knew about, particularly given my mum often talked about the showbands and her love for them in the 70s.

And of course, Netflix then released a documentary about the killings earlier this year which brought the massacre into the forefront once again.

Therefore, I was intrigued as to how such a terrible atrocity could be made into all-singing, all-dancing musical, written by Marie Jones and Martin Lynch.

However, the show is, in the most part, about the formation of the band (the ‘Irish Beatles’) from different groups around Ireland- Belfast, Bray and Cork- and the heyday of the showband era.

The first half of the play features fantastic live performances of the band’s hit cover songs and their own original tracks, to the delight of the audience members who knew every word!  Expect to hear  classics such as ‘Simple Simon says’ and ‘Clap your hand, Stomp your feet.’ (And the audience did!)

But course, it also deals with the 1975 tragedy and the aftermath of three of the band members being killed. This was very sensitively done and you could honestly hear a pin drop as the play depicted the band members lining up in what they thought was a normal border checkpoint, as the audience knew what was coming.

It also touches on the effect the killings had on the surviving members, in particular, Des Lee’s battle with alcoholism and the difficulty he had performing on stage without his band mates.

My only negative was the fact the six male singers performed a few different roles, so at the beginning I found it a little hard to distinguish between the three bands from which the Miami Showband was formed.

An important line in the play is “we didn’t change the world with our music, but we brought people together” and this comes across very well. The band were truly a success story, loved by people right across Ireland, regardless of religion.

I was too young to know every song but you don’t need to a fan of the showband to enjoy this well-written and well-performed play, with the live music being the real star of the show! A must see for those wanting to be taken back to the Floral Hall in Belfast!

The Miami Showband Story runs at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 17 August.

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EastSide Arts Festival

The EastSide Arts Festival kicks off today and I’ve seen loads about it online!

The 11-day programme features walks, tours, dance, music, yoga and more, at venues across east Belfast.

Having a young daughter myself, I’m always interested in what’s on offer for the wee ones so here’s a roundup of the best of the best for families.

  • The first one is an event which Niamh and I will be going to next Saturday- Bollywood Baba! This is a family rave, Bollywood style, with lots of colour, props and amazing music, led by a team of brilliant Bollywood dancers.  It’s for children aged 0-10 in the Big Top in C.S. Lewis Square. Book your Bollywood place here
  • Also in the Big Top is The Irish Video Game Orchestra who create music for video games, TV and film. For kids learning instruments, why not join the professional musicians in their rehearsal before the gig and learn some of the music? Book your place on the exciting rehearsal here.
  • Next up is Pink & Blue who, through clowning and fun, explores what it’s like to be a boy or a girl…and what it means to be who you really want to be! With silliness and fun, this show is for aged 4+. Book your spot with Pink & Blue here.
  • For really little ones, check out Baby Daddy, a show for babies aged 6-18 months, featuring an all-male cast.  Three actor-musicians perform to a maximum of 8 babies (and their grown-ups) in a specially designed sensory theatre space.  Spaces limited so book now!
  • Finally, following their brilliant performances in the Big Top last year, Tumble Circus is back! A gang of acrobats, jugglers and aerialists will entertain families, young and old. Book your place at the circus extravaganza here.

For the full festival programme visit www.eastsidearts.net and follow the Festival on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram #ESAFest19.

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Review: Dalriada Festival at Glenarm Castle

What an amazing Bank Holiday weekend we had! I’m just back to work today feeling really refreshed! (if slightly sunburnt…)

One of the highlights for me was spending the day at the Dalriada Festival on Sunday at Glenarm Castle.

I’ve been to Glenarm quite a few times and always enjoy it, but I had never been to the festival.

I’ve friends who go every year and say it’s a brilliant day out, so I was looking forward to going, especially seeing that the line-up included old favourites East 17…! (I’m a 90s boyband fanatic.)

We arrived about midday and spent over 7 hours exploring the whole festival, including visiting the Walled Garden, enjoying the fun fair rides, watching fairytale performances, eating our way around the food stalls, buying local gifts and crafts, and sitting in the sun and enjoying the music on the main stage.

To be honest we were very jealous we hadn’t camped as the set up was fantastic and we could have spent even longer there, except Niamh hadn’t slept all day and was getting quite sleepy. (She was too busy on bouncy castles, dancing, and eating ice-cream and a full 7-inch woodfired pizza to herself!!)

We would definitely consider camping/glamping next year to make the most of it as there were quite a few things we just didn’t get to do in one day.

We had such a fun day out, with the weather really making it, and it was great to see the place so packed and buzzing.

If you haven’t been before, check out the my video and slideshow of the highlights below!

 

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Disclaimer: Entrance tickets were gifted, but everything else (activities, rides, presents, food and drink etc) were paid for. All views are my own. 

Dalriada Festival at Glenarm Castle

Next weekend we’ll be heading to Glenarm, a 30 minute drive down the Coast Road from Cushendun, to go to the 2019 Dalriada Festival.

The Festival is well known as a family event which takes place at Glenarm Castle every July, with music and dance performances, food demos, craft stalls, performing arts, childrens’ entertainment etc etc!

It attracts over 25,000 people annually, so I can’t believe we’ve never been before! We’re really looking forward to going.

One of the biggest highlights for me is the 90s pop stars! I was born in 1984 so the 90s for me was recording the Top 40 on a cassette! Performing at the festival this year is Peter Andre, Atomic Kitten, D:Ream, East 17, Republica and Phats & Small, as well as more recent acts including Fleur East and Samantha Harvey.

Another highlight for me will be the food stalls, with lots of local producers and vendors including the street food market, chef demonstrations, pop-up restaurant and a family dining area.

Then for Niamh (my 2-year-daughter) there’s a great selection of family favourites in the line-up such as Paw Patrol, Sam & Mark from CBBC and the little green Tractor Ted!  I can’t wait to see her face when she meets Paw Patrol’s finest Chase & Marshall!

And of course, while my husband mightn’t be a fan of Peter Andre or heroic cartoon pups, I know he’s really looking forward to seeing the historic grounds of Glenarm Estate. Festival goers will have access to the beautiful Castle, home to the current Lord and Lady Dunluce and their family.

For further information and ticket details for the festival taking place on 13th and 14th July, visit www.dalriadafestival.co.uk

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