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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The Girl on the Train at the Grand Opera House

The last film I went to see in the cinema before my daughter was born was “The Girl on the Train” in 2016. I remember it clearly because I didn’t get to the cinema again for about a year and a half after that!

As a big fan of mystery thrillers, I really enjoyed the film. A few months ago I saw that “The Girl on the Train” had been adapted into a stage production and it was coming to Belfast’s Grand Opera House. I wasn’t sure how it would translate on stage, particularly the scenes set, well as you can imagine….on the train.

I was invited along to review the show and in short, the production worked very well on stage as a dark psychological drama.

The story is about Rachel Watson (played by Samantha Womack of Eastenders fame), an alcoholic whose husband left her for another woman.

Her life is a mess, she has black-outs, she misses her old life and she yearns for a baby that she cannot have. Her only escape is watching a couple from the train she catches every day. This perfect couple.

But when Rachel learns the woman she has been watching, Megan, has disappeared, she finds herself tangled up in the police case, both an unreliable witness and suspect. What happened to the woman with the seemingly idyllic life?

The show was slick, with subtle and clever lighting, fast set changes and an convincing representation of a fast moving train. (Even costumes play a part, with the missing woman’s dress slowly changing from red to black throughout the production.)

Every character is flawed, not least Rachel who drinks vodka straight from water bottles to escape her dark reality, and Megan’s husband Scott (played by Oliver Farnworth from Coronation Street) who has a few “Could it have been him?” moments.

You don’t need to have read the book, or seen the film, to enjoy this “Whodunnit?” stage play. It’s an intimate show, focusing on peoples’ lives and how they are linked, rather than a big flashy production. Who holds the key to Megan’s disappearance?

The Girl on the Train is running at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 15th June.

TGOTT 9 Naeem Hayat and Samantha Womack Photo by Manuel Harlan (2)TGOTT 11 Oliver Farnworth and Samantha Womack Photo by Manuel HarlanTGOTT 2 Samantha Womack and Adam Jackson Smith Photo by Manuel Harlan

These tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review.

Footsteps in the Forest at Slieve Gullion

Last weekend we were invited to a special preview of a wonderful family event taking place this weekend.

The 2-day Footsteps in the Forest event at Slieve Gullion, just outside Newry, is returning on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd June after a huge 12,500 visitors descended on the forest park last year!

Families will set off on their journey to free Finn McCool and save the fairy kingdom, meeting lots of interesting characters along the way!

The event celebrates the ancient folklore and stories of this magical kingdom and there will be artists, musicians and performers bringing the forest to life.

Niamh absolutely adored the trail, finding the fairy doors and taking part in the interactive activities. How her wee face lit up as we encountered each and every fairytale character!

This event is free (brilliant!) and there will be face painting, arts, crafts and a food market so a really lovely family day out. Here are my pics so you can see what to expect!

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For more information, visit http://www.visitmournemountains.co.uk/footstepsintheforest

Madagascar The Musical

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Madagascar The Musical at the Grand Opera House on its UK Tour.

The musical is based on the 2005 DreamWorks film about a group of animals who live at Central Park Zoo in New York. After ten years, Marty the zebra is growing bored of his daily routine and longs to see the outside world, or “the wild”.

What follows is mayhem as energetic Marty, followed unwillingly by “the King of New York City” Alex the Lion, confident Gloria the Hippo and hypochondriac Melman the Giraffe, escape the zoo.

Soon, they find themselves washed up on the shores of Madagascar, after four conniving penguins take over the ship destined for a wildlife preserve. In Madagscar they come across a community of lemurs, led by the wacky King Julien, who loves a dance and a party. But, in the end, is “the wild” all it seems?

Alex the Lion is played by X-Factor winner Matt Terry who captures the role perfectly – a seemingly confident lion who loves to perform for the daily visitors, but is vulnerable and a loyal friend to his fellow zoo-mates.

The film translates well on stage, with catchy tunes, puppet penguins, toilet humour and more adult-friendly one-liners, including a birthday present consisting of a rectal thermometer.

For me the star of the show was King Julien, played by Jo Parsons, who won the most laughs of the night. (I think the audience was more engaged in the second half when the animals arrived in Madagascar). I loved seeing King Julien sing “I like to move it, move it”, synonymous with the film, which got the audience clapping and dancing in their seats.

The show is shorter than other productions I have been to (about 1 hour 45 minutes, including the break) so it’s perfect for little ones. The production is funny, cheesy and family-friendly. You’ll love it!

Madasgcar The Musical is running at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 27th April.

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Disclaimer: These tickets were #gifted in exchange for a review.

Curious Fairies at Cushendun

Last Friday we attended a wonderful Curious Fairies event hosted by the National Trust in Cushendun.

Children searched high and low around the grounds of Glenmona House for the fairies emerging from their winter slumber, talking to elves and wizards along the way.

It really was such a lovely afternoon and Niamh had so much fun trying to find the fairy doors in the trees, and spotting little clues along the way, such as a washing line covered in tiny outfits and miniature tables and chairs.

Thanks to the National Trust for putting on such a magical event which the kids loved!

Santa at Hillmount Garden Centre

In a few weeks time my daughter will be two and this year, she’s starting to recognise Santa.

I’m not sure she knows exactly who he is or what he does, but she’s pointing him out on TV and in decorations! (Maybe it’s just the beard and the red outfit she recognises!)

We were invited along to Santa’s Grotto at Hillmount Garden Centre in Castlereagh and having been last year, I know that the set up is brilliant.

There are lots of different sections and things for kids to see and do before they even get to see the ‘big man’!

This includes meeting Mrs Claus who gives the kids a present and the adults a drink of mulled apple juice (or something a little stronger if you’re not driving!)

The displays are so well done and a lot of thought has clearly gone into the grotto. In another part of the garden centre there are “singing reindeers” and we finished up in the cafe where we enjoyed some tea and cake!

If you haven’t been to see Santa yet, consider Hillmount because the kids will love it!

It’s a Wonderful Wee Christmas

With Jack and the Beanstalk on at the Grand Opera House, The Elves and the Shoemaker showing at The Mac, Beauty and the Beast at the Waterfront, and Alice The Musical on in The Lyric, when I was invited along to see It’s a Wonderful Wee Christmas at the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey, I thought it might be another panto/family-friendly play.

When I looked into it, however, I realised that this was an adult comedy bringing a unique Belfast twist to the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

The play is based around Geordie, the manager of a credit union on the Falls Road and takes place on Christmas Eve.

Geordie is an ordinary bloke, well-respected and well-liked in the community, who would do anything for anyone. But he believes he is a failure and that he has let those closest to him down, not least his wife, whom he promised the world.

Enter a sassy angel Cara who, in order to gain ‘her wings’, must convince Geordie his life is worth living. Can this unconventional angel do it? We’re transported back to happier (and sad times) in Geordie’s past, including watching the beginning of his relationship with his loyal wife Mary.

The play is very easy to watch and funny (including a reference to a Christmas hit ‘Yer da sells Avon at Christmas’ on the local radio station), but it’s not just a comedy full of one-liners and groan-worthy Belfast references; it has a very serious message too.

The play touches on the themes of poverty, depression and suicide. This is covered very well without feeling in poor taste.

The play is written by Caroline Curran (angel Cara) and Julie Maxwell, (Mary), the writers of last year’s comedy The Nightshift Before Christmas. It’s a charming play with a wholly important message and I really enjoyed the evening.

It’s a Wonderful Wee Christmas is on at the Theatre at the Mill until 31st December. image1 (2)

‘The Band’ at the Grand Opera House

Last year when I watched Let it Shine, a BBC show to find the five guys who would play Take That in a new musical, I thought the production would be about the history of the band.

I assumed we’d see how they were formed, reenact their auditions, and learn about how they ‘gelled’ in the early days and months.

So, when I started reading about the production and the fact it centered on the story of teenage fans, I was surprised! Where would the band come into it? What would they be doing?

Well on Tuesday night I headed to the Grand Opera House for the opening night of ‘The Band’ and in the words of Gary Barlow, “that were absolutely fantastic!”

The show, set in 1993, features five 16-year-old girls obsessed with ‘the band’. They know all the words, they record their songs of the radio, they’re learning the dance moves, and they have posters in their school lockers and bedrooms.

The girls’ bond is unbreakable, despite the fact they all have very different personalities and different desires in life.

One wants to be a dancer on Top of the Pops, one wants to go to university, one wants to win an Olympic medal for diving, one is liked by all the boys and wants to have lots of children, and one longs to be happily married.

The story focuses on the girls going to their first concert and then shifts to 25 years later. Has the unbreakable bond broken? Have their dreams come true? What has changed since way back in 1993?

Well, what can I say? The show is exceptional. There are some extremely sad twists along the way which made me cry (and the person beside me!), but overall it is hugely funny with great one-liners.

And where does the band come into it? Well, they feature all the way through it. Popping up at convenient (and some inconvenient) moments!

The band sings slow songs during the sad parts, but they also put on a full-on show at times, complete with bright lights, costume changes and famous Take That dance moves.  You’d be forgiven for thinking you were at a concert!

All the classics feature, including Never Forget, Back for Good, A Million Love Songs, Relight My Fire and Rule the World.

The audience were absolutely loving it. Cheering, screaming, doing the ‘Never Forget’ hand clap, and dancing at their seats. This was heaven for Take That fans! I was transported back to the 1990s when I, too, had posters on my walls and knew all the words.

The show is really well done and has been one of my favourite productions this year.  The Band is on until Saturday 24th and I would urge you to book the remaining tickets!!

Faye Christall as Young Rachel (centre) with Five To Five as The Band in The Band, credit Matt Crockett

LtoR Rachelle Diedericks, Sarah Kate Howarth, Faye Christall, Lauren Jacobs & Katy Clayton in The Band, credit Matt Crockett

LtoR Jayne McKenna as Zoe, Rachel Lumberg as Rachel, Emily Joyce as Heather & Alison Fitzjohn as Claire, with Five To Five as The Band in The Band, credit Matt Crockett

Shrek The Musical at The Grand Opera House

This week Shrek The Musical opened at The Grand Opera House following a record-breaking UK and Ireland Tour. Shrek is one of those films you can watch every time it’s on TV and it never gets any less funny!

If you don’t know the story (and I’m sure you do) the musical follows Shrek, the ogre, and his tag-along Donkey as they set off on a quest to rescue Princess Fiona from her tower, which is guarded by a fire-breathing dragon.

Shrek’s swamp has been taken over by fairytale misfits, exiled by the ‘vertically challenged’ Lord Farquaad, and the only way to regain control of his swamp is to bring the Princess to the Lord so they become husband and wife (and Farquaad can become king!)

The musical is based on the Oscar-winning film, with familiar characters, and even more familiar lines (You’re so wrapped up in layers, onion boy!).

I had high expectations for this show, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The cast includes X-Factor star Amelia Lily as Princess Fiona, who plays the beautiful, if slightly crazy, princess perfectly. What a singing voice!

Then there’s Shrek, played by Steffan Harri who takes over two hours in makeup every night to transform into the big, green ogre! Steffan captures the awkwardness of Shrek well, with his one-liners and self-conscious, if aloof, manner. Of course, Shrek wouldn’t be Shrek without his ‘noble steed’ Donkey, played by Marcus Ayton, who is bold and sassy, with plenty of attitude!

But for me, the star of the show was Lord Farquaad, played by Samuel Holmes. He had the audience eating out of this hands. Samuel was on his knees with some comical short legs to depict Farquaad’s short stature. The way he pranced around the stage, with creepy actions to match, was just hilarious.

Over 23 actors sang and danced their way through the 2.5 hour musical, with stunning set design (especially the huge dragon!). It ended just as I hoped it would- a big rendition of ‘I’m a believer‘.

I would highly recommend you go to see the show if you’re a fan of the film. It’s clever, it’s funny and it’s heartwarming. What a great night.

Shrek The Musical is running at The Grand Opera House until Sunday 21 October.

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Under the Hawthorn Tree by Cahoots NI

I read Under the Hawthorn Tree as a teenager and back then, it was one of my favourite novels. I’d forgotten all about it until I recently saw that it was being performed at The Mac by children’s theatre company Cahoots NI this autumn.

I was invited along to watch the play and although I don’t live in Belfast anymore, I couldn’t say no, as I had to see the story I’d loved so much.

Under the Hawthorn Tree tells the story of three siblings, Elly, Michael and Peggy, during the Great Irish Famine. The children’s baby sister has died and is buried under the hawthorn tree in the garden. Their hungry and desperate father goes to find work on the roads and when he doesn’t return, their mother leaves to search for him, telling her children she will be back soon. When she, too, doesn’t return they decide the only way to survive, and not end up separated in the workhouse, is to make the long journey across Ireland to find their great aunts whom their mother has told them stories about. (Particularly that they make delicious cakes!)

The play follows the young children as they battle sickness, hunger, weakness, danger, and the elements on the long and difficult journey. Despite the fact that the parts are played by adults, the children’s’ innocence shines through in their words, actions and movement.

The 1 hour play is by Charles Way and directed by Paul Bosco McEneaney, with an original score by Garth McConaghie. The band sits around the stage and the traditional music which accompanies the singing, a mix of hopeful song and lament, is really very moving.

Once again, Cahoots NI, excels at using limited staging, with most of the action taking place on a raised circular stage, with props emerging from trap doors.

The play, while following the story of the young children, also focuses on a very important part of Irish history, and the mass starvation, death and emigration it caused. One chaotic scene in particular sees actor Adam Dougal play the part of an English soldier who is frantically trying to control angry and starving Irish people who see food being shipped to England.

I found the story to be hopeful, funny, terribly sad and very moving all at the same time. Well done to all involved- it was as good as I remembered.

Under the Hawthorn Tree runs until the 7th October. Ticket prices are £10 per child and £12.50-£25 per adult.

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