Review: Sweeney Todd

My first encounter with Sweeney Todd was the Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp. This unconventional tale, which explores the themes of love, revenge and class, intrigued me. In my honest opinion, I thought this adaption of the tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street would be hard to surpass, however, a trip to the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, soon proved me wrong.

Visiting on opening night with my culture buddy Mark, the crowd were clearly eager to see how NI Opera and the Lyric Theatre would bring such a gruesome story to life on stage. With a blood smeared set (created by Dorota Karolczak), macabre make up and an orchestra setting the tone with spine tingling aplomb, it would seem the answer would be by embracing every last bit of the the dark world of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.

The central cast of this retelling could not be faulted. The musical’s namesake is played by English Baritone Stephen Page, who was last seen treading the boards at the Lyric in The Threepenny Opera – also a NI Opera/Lyric collaboration. Page is an inspired choice for Sweeney Todd; with a strong, profound and authoritative voice, both in the speaking and singing aspects of the role, not to mention a mesmerising stage presence, he wholly commands the audience’s attention and effortlessly transports them to Victorian London. Former Neighbours star Julie Mullins is also exquisite in the role of Mrs Lovett providing a finely nuanced performance, at times emotional, at others comedic, but always captivating.

Under the guidance of NI Opera theatre director Walter Sutcliffe, this reincarnation of Sweeney Todd casts a question mark over the morality of our protagonist: is he a monster or simply a man irreparably damaged by his past? One thing is for sure though, his unrelenting quest for revenge, which leads to his barber’s chair becoming something of an abattoir, creates one of the most memorable and darkly comedic moments of the play. After one particular ‘close shave’ results in a dead body being dumped by Todd from the upper level of the staging, before landing with a thunk and being unceremoniously dragged offstage by Mrs Lovett, it was hard not to laugh – although somewhat in shock – at this clever staging.

As one of best known pieces from Stephen Sondheim’s incredible canon of work, the score of Sweeney Todd is multi-faceted, transforming from dark and bleak to hopeful and then back again. This tale, which can only be called a tragedy of epic proportions, is powerful and engaging and with members of the cast frequently infiltrating the audience, the impact reached a whole new level. If you are a fan of this tale or have yet to experience it, I thoroughly recommend a trip to the Lyric Theatre where this haunting musical will linger with you long after the final curtain call.

Sweeney Todd runs at Lyric Theatre 2 – 23 February, Tues – Sat: 7.45pm, Sun Matinee: 2.30pm. Ticket prices £15.00- £24.50. For further details and booking visit www.lyrictheatre.co.uk

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Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart

I recently was invited to Mount Stewart for the Women Aloud NI literary event, which closed the Faces of Change: Votes for Women exhibition which ran in the historic property since November. The event, which was superb (for my full review check out the March issue of Ulster Tatler), gave me the perfect excuse to visit this National Trust location, located near Newtownards, for the first time. After listening to 11 super talented female writers, in the wonderful setting of the rarely used Dining Room in Mount Stewart House, it was time to explore the great outdoors. The day I visited, accompanied by my friend Bronagh, was crisp and clear and once we reached the lake, which was frozen over, I truly fell in love with the picturesque grounds. If you’ve been, you’ll know what I mean; if you haven’t, add it to the top of your must explore list. If you’re not convinced, here’s a selection of the many pictures I snapped along the way.

Posted: 7/2/2019

Bannatyne Spa Day

Bannatyne Spa Day

This Christmas my sister and I opted to gift each other a shared experience which could double up as well needed girls’ day out. After much deliberation, which saw concerts, boozy afternoon tea and cooking classes thrown in to the mix, we finally decided to try Bannatyne Spa, Holywood, for some relaxation after the hectic festive season. Our package included two treatments and use of the facilities so we arrived early so we could fit in some lengths of the gorgeous pool before relaxing amidst a sea of bubbles in the jacuzzi. To finish off we tried the sauna and steam room to really get the circulation pumping.

As our treatment time arrived, it was time to make use of our spa bags which contained robes, towels and flip flops. These require a £16 deposit at reception on arrival but you get £10 back and you get to keep the Bannatyne emblazoned bag and flip flops. Wrapped up in our fluffy robes, we made our way to the spa where we were shown to the relaxation area. As well as loungers, guests can relax on heated water beds listening to soothing music whilst waiting for their therapist to arrive.

After a brief wait I was welcomed by Rachel, who showed me to an opulent treatment room. After explaining the treatments – I was booked in for a facial and a back, neck and shoulder massage – she left me to get changed. Once I was comfortable on the heated treatment bed, Rachel returned and explained she would be starting with the massage before carrying out the facial. The massage was heavenly; I have a lot of tension in my back and the pressure throughout was perfect – I could feel the knots loosen and fade away.

After I felt thoroughly relaxed, it was time for some TLC for my face which has definitely been feeling the effects of winter. From being dry to suffering a breakout, Rachel promised a treatment which would hydrate and sooth – and she certainly delivered. My face felt soft and looked brighter.

After my treatment, I was presented with a gorgeous Bannatyne Spa toner and hydrating mask to keep. The packaging is classic and stylish and I’ve already had the chance to sample both in my daily routine and would certainly recommend them.

As our spa day came to an end I was thoroughly impressed by Bannatyne Spa. The only fault I could find was that we hoped to toast the day off with bubbles or a coffee but the cafe – which is owned by a different company – had already closed when we had finished our treatments. However, that was soon rectified back at Gail’s house where a bottle of Prosecco was chilling in the fridge. As we sipped on cool bubbles, we swapped notes about why a return trip to Bannatyne Spa was definitely on the cards; the professional and friendly staff, spacious and clean changing facilities, fabulous pool and treatments that bring pampering to a new level, ensured that from start to finish it ticked a lot of boxes.

Posted: 15/1/2019

Bah Humbug, catch it while you can!

Cast members Sophie Harkness, Alan McKee and Conor Grimes.

Over the Christmas period I got up to a lot but one of my favourite things was a trip to the Lyric Theatre for the annual Grimes and McKee festive production with my culture buddies Andy and Mark. Bah Humbug, which stars Michael Condron as Ebenezer Scrooge, is a Belfast take on the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. As Scrooge, the richest property developer in Belfast, gets set to launch his latest luxurious development on Boxing Day, he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley (with the assistance of the cloud based voice assistant Alexa) who warns him than he will be visited by a further three ghosts who will show him the error of his ways. What follows are the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future as you have never seen them before. Combining stark warnings with song and dance, can they convince Scrooge to change and repent of his greed?

Directed by Frankie McCafferty, Bah Humbug is a superb retelling of this Christmas classic. Condron excels in the role of Scrooge whilst Alan McKee and Conor Grimes are hilarious as they take on a number of roles throughout the production. The cast is perfectly rounded off with fabulous performances by Sophie Harkness and Roisin Gallagher. Whilst the message is the same – to be kind to one another – this Belfast version has its own personality. Whilst it elicited real belly laughs (such as Grimes’ mustache that had a mind of its own and the spectacular rendition of Yazoo’s ‘Only You’ as well as ‘tiny’ Tim and the whole Cratchitt family), it also touched on local issues – in an unbelievably humorous way – such as the importance of the arts, the continuing absence of a devolved government and a look at the country’s more troubled past.

Bah Humbug is an incredibly fun night out. Although Christmas is over, it runs at the Lyric until 5 January so why not start your new year by giving your funny bone a work out, you won’t regret it.

Bah Humbug, runs until 5 January 2019. For more information:
https://lyrictheatre.co.uk/event/bah-humbug/

My culture buddies Mark and Andy.

Posted: 1/1/19

Time to Travel

I haven’t blogged in a very long time and so I have missed recapping several adventures. So this is a whistle stop tour of what I have been up to over the last few weeks.

DAY TRIP TO DUBLIN

Recently myself and my culture club mates decided to take in a play in Dublin. After breakfast at St. George’s Market, we hopped on the train from Lanyon Place station to Dublin. The train was packed but we managed to get seats close together and after two hours we rolled in to Connolly station.

The River Liffey

After a cheeky pint (or two) we made our way to Smock Alley Theatre, right on the edge of Temple Bar. The play we were seeing was the matinée showing of Colin McPherson‘s St. Nicholas. The one-man-show featuring Brendan Coyle, tells the story of a disgruntled theatre critic whose life begins to unravel when he becomes infatuated with a young actress. When it seems he has hit rock bottom, he meets the enigmatic William, who just happens to be a vampire.

Smock Alley is a fantastic space with the stage nestled at the heart of raised green leather backed seating; the result is an intimate and at times unsettling experience. Audience members were seated in touching distance of Coyle as he paced the floor whilst recounting his tale. It’s testament to how powerful his performance was that once he delved into the world of vampires you unquestioningly went with it.

St. Nicholas is an absorbing tale that illustrates McPherson’s skills as a storyteller and Coyle’s superb talents as a performer. From start to finish I was gripped, and every so often I had to remind myself to keep breathing.

After escaping from the dark world of McPherson’s creation, we had time for dinner in Porterhouse, Temple Bar before getting the train back to Belfast. With another helping of culture a mere train journey away, this definitely will not be the last culture club day trip to Dublin.

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

24 HOURS IN LONDON

I love London, there’s something about big cities that get my heart going, and so when the opportunity arose to attend the PPA Independent Publishers conference and awards in the city, I jumped at the chance. Although the conference and awards were taking place on the Friday, I arrived on the Thursday and had a chance to see some of the city. After dumping my bag at the stunning Hilton Bankside Waterloo – also the venue for the conference and awards – it was time to explore.

First stop was The Marquis of Granby on Rathbone Street. The former haunt of Dylan Thomas and T. S Eliot, this traditional pub has a unique character and was bustling with people enjoying the rich history and eclectic atmosphere. A short walk from here was Siam Central on Charlotte Street. It been a while since I had Thai food and this eatery had me questioning why. We were seated in the basement area, which was still bright, airy and welcoming. The menu was extensive and had something to suit all moods. I ordered the pad thai which was a generous portion and I honestly savoured every mouthful. To round the night off it was to The Toucan in Soho Square. The Toucan is an intimate Irish pub that specialises in Guinness and whiskey and once featured a remarkable gig from Jimi Hendrix in the basement.

The following day saw an early start for registration at the conference. After coffee and networking, we were invited to take a seat as we listened to talks from such industry experts as Juan Senor, President, Innovation Media Consulting/ Author of the FIPP Innovation Report and Catrin Griffiths, PPA Editor of the Year for 2018. We also had the opportunity to participate in roundtables, getting to chat to professionals who gave key advice on dealing with different challenges affecting publishers.

After the scintillating conference we were invited to a drinks reception whilst the room was transformed for the awards. Once complete the conversion was so impressive, especially in such a tight time frame. The awards, which were presented by comedian Stuart Mitchell, were expertly run, the food was delicious and the atmosphere was superb. After the winners were announced, it was straight to the Tube to head to Gatwick and make my way back to Belfast.

Although a speedy visit, my 24 hours in London have got me wanting to return for a proper visit as soon as possible.

A WEEKEND IN TORONTO

It’s not every day you can say you spent the weekend in Toronto. But last weekend I could say just that. I was invited to visit the city by Tourism Toronto to explore what is on offer in this part of Canada throughout the winter. The answer is a lot! I’m writing a complete review of my journey for Ulster Tatler but I thought I would share some of my picture highlights here. From the light installations at Ontario Place, the Christmas tree light switch on at Nathan Phillips Square, and the Christmas Market at the Distillery District, this was the perfect place to kick of the festive season. In addition to food and drink tours, art at Royal Ontario Museum as well as Graffiti Alley, and the chance to see local NBA team Toronto Raptors wipe the floor with Miami Heat at Scotiabank Stadium, my time in Toronto was very special and I would return in a heartbeat.

For my full review, check out the January issue of Ulster Tatler.

Posted: 2/12/2018

From Dippy to a Hole in One

This week I had a lot of firsts, from family fun to nights out. Here is just a snippet of what I got up to.

WINE TASTING AT TITANIC HOTEL

I love wine, but know nothing about it, and so when I found out that Laithwaites were hosting a wine tasting at the Titanic Hotel, it seemed a fun way to spend an afternoon. Accompanied by mum, dad and big sis, we arrived to a welcome glass of Prosecco and a brochure detailing all the wines (and spirits) that were being showcased on the day. As we made our way around the room, sampling as we went, it was lovely to soak up the buzzing atmosphere in the Hotel’s Drawing Room. We also had the chance to explore a bit more of the Hotel and the wonderful exhibitions on display throughout, as we sipped our way through the days offerings, finding a few favourites along the way – I’m looking at you La Fonte D’oro. This was definitely something a little bit different; we had a great giggle, consumed a lot of cheese from Fivemiletown Creamery, and a few purchases were even made.

For more information on upcoming events from Laithwaites, visit: https://www.laithwaites.co.uk

DIPPY THE DINOSAUR

Excitement has been building since word came that Dippy the Dinosaur was making a visit to Belfast. We couldn’t wait to see the Natural History Museum’s iconic Diplocodus skeleton. It’s free to visit the exhibition at the Ulster Museum but you need to book a time slot. When we arrived you could see why. Dippy is clearly a draw but the allocated time slots ensured that you were able to take it all in – and snap a few pix – without excessive crowds overshadowing the experience. Dippy is truly a wonder to behold and definitely worth checking out, whatever your age.

To book your tickets to see Dippy, visit: https://bit.ly/2On2CtH

THE LOST CITY ADVENTURE GOLF

Myself a few of the ladies of work have been trying to find a few fun activities to try out after work. After a checking bowling off the list – where I am sure I broke a record for the lowest score – our next quest was golf. Not the Rory McIlroy variety, but more the crazy golf kind. We decided to try The Lost City Adventure Golf at Citywide Leisure and Retail Park. Containing two separate 18 hole indoor golf courses, this turned out to be a fantastic way to spend the evening. Each hole varied in difficulty but it was great fun from start to finish, whether it’s a hole in one, or a putt that takes nine attempts. Whatever the weather this is a fantastic outing for young and old alike and I will definitely be back.

For more information: https://www.lostcityadventuregolf.com/belfast/

Posted: 13/10/2018

Bao Bun, Belfast

Last night I enjoyed a long overdue sisters’ night. As it’s been a while since we grabbed a midweek bite to eat we decided to try somewhere different: Bao Bun.

Located on Botanic Avenue, this Bring Your Own establishment – which is ideally located for students, workers grabbing a quite fix during lunch breaks or catching up with friends in the evening – offers the option to sit in or take away.

Bao offers Taiwanese street food that’s fresh, tasty and healthy. The menu, located behind the counter, is clear and simple, meaning ordering could not be easier. The first step is to pick your base; although fries, rice and salad were on offer, we both wanted to sample the Bao Buns. Next up you pick your filling; we went for chicken but you could also select beef, pork or – for vegetarians – tofu or jack fruit. Next you pick your combo, which is a mixture of sauces and garnishes, which top off the creation; I went for the Mild combo (Hoisin, Asian Slaw, Pickled Cucumber, Coriander & Spring Onions) on both my Bao Buns whilst Gail settled on BBQ (Korean BBQ, Lettuce, Pickled Cucumber & Peanuts). We also decided to split a portion of Katsu Fries between us as well.

Your food is prepared in front of you, so you know exactly what’s gone into it. It’s prepared quickly, but still looks good, and before long we were tucking into our Bao Buns. They were light, fluffy and bursting with flavour. The buns are made with moderate gluten and so they were satisfying without leaving you with that uncomfortable bloated feeling. The Katsu Fries were also a gem of a find and we savoured every last bite.

As we were finishing our meal we were offered fried Bao Buns coated in cinnamon and sugar served with chocolate dipping sauce. They were amazing; I am drooling just thinking of them!

Bao Bun, Belfast is a superb eatery which offers fast food dining with a twist. Along with mouth-watering food, which can also be vegan friendly, it’s flexible allowing you to mix and match dishes or to order one of the meal deals on offer, meaning there’s something to satisfy all appetites. The staff are incredibly professional and welcoming and the interior is intimate and inviting – oh, and did I mention the food is amazing? I am already plotting when I can return!

Posted: 12/09/2018