Review: Monty Python’s Spamalot

Review: Monty Python’s Spamalot

I feel very ashamed to admit I know very little of the work of Monty Python; the closest I have gotten to exploring their comedic offerings was catching ten minutes of The Life of Brian when I was a student. It therefore seemed very opportune when I got an invite to see a production of Monty Python’s Spamalot, which is being performed by the Ulster Operatic Company at the Grand Opera House until Saturday (14 October).

Adapted from the 1975 film Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Spamalot is a musical comedy which tells the story of King Arthur as he travels around the land gathering his Knights of the Round Table. This band of hapless adventurers is then tasked with a divine mission to locate the elusive Holy Grail – with uproarious consequences. On arrival, I wasn’t sure what I had let myself in for, but a few minutes into the production and after the absolute surreal rendition of ‘He’s Not Dead Yet’, I soon knew: prolonged fits of laughing which ultimately resulted in a stomach ache. It is fair to say Spamalot was bonkers from the get go, but it was the absolute best kind of bonkers; slapstick comedy, hilarious musical numbers and physical comedy all combined together to create a performance than had me grinning from ear to ear.

Superb guidance from director Neil Keery, musical director Wilson Shields and choreographer Brooke Allen was evident from start to finish; in my opinion the overall performance would not have looked out of place on the West End. The cast likewise put on exceptional performances. From the authoritative and determined King Arthur (Colin Boyd) to his ‘trusty’ Knights; Sir Robin (Brian Trainor), Sir Lancelot (Jamie Johnston), Sir Galahad (Ross David Chambers) – who looked like a medieval Thor, and Sir Bedever (Paddy McGennity), each brought a high energy and pitch perfect performance that thoroughly entertained me; there were that many stand out moments that I can’t even list them all. It is hard to think how Spamalot could be made even better, but the seemingly impossible was accomplished by the stellar performances of Jordan Walsh as Patsy and Ciara Mackey as the Lady of the Lake. From the outset Jordan had me in hysterics through his expert use of coconuts, whilst his ability to convey as much with his facial expressions as his lines was a remarkable feat. Ciara Mackey completely mesmerised me as the Lady of the Lake. Unbeknownst to me at the time of viewing, I have had the pleasure of seeing Ciara perform several times as part of the excellent Pleasuredome band, who are regulars at The Belfast Empire. I already knew she was a talent but after Spamalot my eyes have been well and truly opened; not only is she a phenomenal singer, she is also sassy, cool and has impeccable comedic timing.

Whether you are a Monty Python super fan or only being introduced to their work, Spamalot is definitely for you. This superb piece of comedy is clearly in capable and trustworthy hands with the Ulster Operatic Company. After an evening that was spent literally laughing out loud (a lot!), Spamalot has shown me what I have been missing when it comes to Monty Python. Right you book your tickets to Spamalot and I am away to check out the remaining 85 minutes of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Monty Python’s Spamalot by the Ulster Operatic Society runs until Saturday 14th October at the Grand Opera House. For more information: 

https://www.goh.co.uk/spamalot

Posted 12/10/2017

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#AnswerTheCall: Whiskey & Muses

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Marie-Louise Muir talks to Dean Kane AKA Visual Waste at the preview of his first exhibition, at The Gallery, Belfast as part of the Bushmills® Irish Whiskey #answerthecall series.
I love street art. When I got my own house, the first thing I bought was a Banksy canvas. One of my all time favourite documentaries is Exit Through the Gift Shop. I am no wizz in the kitchen but when I do decide to cook up a storm it is a recipe from The Urban Cook Book: Creative Recipes for the Graffitti Generation. What I love most about street art is that by its very essence there are no rules. A piece can be a colourful homage to a much loved cultural icon or it can be a commentary on the mood of a nation. By turning the buildings and landscapes of a city into life-size canvases, street art is a way to provide a talking point for every section of a community.
       To further celebrate creative visionaries, the latest in the  Bushmills Irish Whiskey® #AnswerTheCall series is a unique collaboration with street-artist, Dean Kane AKA Visual Waste. Entitled ‘Whiskey & Muses’, Visual Waste was tasked with bringing his unique style of art from the street of Belfast to the walls of The Gallery, Belfast for his first ever exhibition. Having spent months creating this urban interpretation which features portraits of artists who have inspired his career, as well as Northern Ireland legends who have defied convention and answered their call, Visual Waste’s foray into fine art is definitely one to get excited about as I discovered when I was lucky enough to attend a preview of the exhibition last night alongside my husband Keith.
       In addition to being treated to a selection of Bushmills Irish Whiskey cocktails and canapés, we also were treated to a Q&A between broadcaster and art lover Marie-Louise Muir and Dean Kane, where he discussed how the birth of his child gave him the push he needed to quit a job he loved to pursue his passion as well as discussing some of his own creative influences. After Dean announced the exhibition was officially open I couldn’t wait to get a peek at the works on display. From an exquisite portrait of Seamus Heaney to a dramatic rendering of Andy Warhol, plus so many more, each and every piece is bold, colourful and remarkable.
       #answerthecall is without a doubt one of my favourite series of events to have come to Northern Ireland. This has been the second one I have been lucky enough to attend and in addition to feeling proud of the talent on display in our wee country, I felt truly inspired to answer my own call and make my mark on the world.
       For a taster of the event, check out my video below, but don’t miss your chance to see it in person if you can!
The ‘Whiskey and Muses’ exhibition runs in The Gallery, Belfast until 31 August 2017.

For more information on the #AnswerTheCall event series, visit answerthecall.co.uk

Tea x Two

It is now a running joke how much my sister Gail and I love afternoon tea and we really put our love for finger sandwiches, scones and sweet treats to the test recently by indulging in not one, but two sittings during a long weekend.

First up, during a much anticipated weekend to see the gorgeous Frankie, our sister from a Geordie mister, we, joined by the lovely Suzy and Kirsty, headed for Tipsy Tea in 97 & Social. This cocktail and gastro bar, which is located in the Jesmond area of Newcastle Upon Tyne, combines innovative drinks and delicious food with a charming interior and relaxed atmosphere; I fell in love with it as soon as we entered. And with small and quirky touches, such as a moustachioed Mona Lisa, it oozed a fun vibe from the get go.

The menu was just as fun as the decor and with such offerings such as ‘The Limited Darjeeling’ tea (which combined a blend of Indian whiskey with Darjeeling reduction, mango juice and lemon, finished off with a hint of spice) to ‘It’s A Jamaica ‘Ting’ tea (which mixed Appleton white rum with Velvet Falernum, sorrel squash and sparkling Ting), all served alongside a fresh selection of sandwiches, scones, macaroons and sweet surprises, we were spoilt for choice. After much debate (I would have been happy to sample all of the teas if I am honest), I opted to share a double teapot of the ‘Old Blighty’ tea with Gail which included Tanqueray gin, elderflower liqueur, orange marmalade and Earl Grey tea topped with Fentimans Victorian lemonade. The teas were served in gorgeous China teapots, which really added to the afternoon tea vibe whilst the contents offered a quirky twist.

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(Left to right) Kellie, Suzy, Frankie, Kirsty and Gail.

The pairing of the continental inspired cocktails with the delectable selection of food, as well as the addition of attentive service from our entertaining waiter, made for the perfect girly afternoon. And, at a very reasonable price (Tipsy Tea with a single teapot for one was £9,95; a double teapot for two was £15.95; and two double teapots for four was £29.95), I would definitely recommend giving it a go if you find yourself in the toon!

For more information: https://www.97social.co.uk

Our second sampling of all things sweet took place back in Belfast. For a while now we have been trying to plan a family trip to Parliament Buildings at Stormont Estate, but we haven’t been able to get the timing quite right. However, as my sister and I had booked the Monday we returned from Newcastle off work, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to get the parents, as well as my brother in law and niece, together for a trip ‘up the hill’. As well as offering free tours inside this iconic landmark, Parliament Buildings also offers Afternoon Tea in its Members’ Dining Room on Mondays to Fridays from 2-4pm, and so we thought we would make a day of it and try both!

When booking in for Afternoon Tea at 3pm, we were informed that a tour of the Buildings was scheduled for 2pm which would last for a maximum of 50 minutes, and so it would be over in perfect time for Tea. After clearing security on arrival, we picked up visitor passes at reception before joining the tour in the Great Hall. Mark, our tour guide, was extremely knowledgeable and engaging as he took us through the history of this remarkable building. From pointing out the several examples of the striking symmetry and symbolism in the architecture, to explaining the many uses it has undergone over the years as well as allowing us a behind the scenes look at the Senate and Assembly chambers, which you can usually only see on the news, the tour offered an informative and fascinating insight into one of the best known structures in Northern Ireland.

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Afternoon Tea for one at Parliament Buildings, Stormont Estate.

Tour done, and photographs a plenty snapped, it was time to make our way upstairs to the Members’ Dining Room for Afternoon Tea. We were shown to a table that was beside stunning floor to ceiling windows that offered fabulous views down the mile hill stretching from the front steps of Parliament Buildings to the bottom of Prince of Wales Avenue. As well as gorgeous views, the Members’ Dining Room boasts an opulent interior befitting such a noteworthy building. As well as tea and coffee served in individual pots, the selection of food on offer consisted of sandwiches (including smoked salmon; roasted Angus beef; Hillsborough honey roasted ham; organic duck egg and Heggarty’s vintage cheddar), fresh scones served with lashings of jam and clotted cream and a choice of pastries (including a Choux bun; Green Tea cone; mandarin and spiced fig tart; fig compote with mandarin curd and orange glee and a Macaron Éclair).

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The view from the balcony outside the Members’ Dining Room.

With a serving of decadent afternoon tea and a dollop of history, I loved every minute of our visit to Parliament Buildings. The highlight for me however, was being allowed onto the balcony outside the Members’ Dining Room to not only soak up a rare burst of sunshine but to also enjoy an unrivalled view of Belfast and its surrounding areas. If you haven’t been before, it is really a must do whether you live in Northern Ireland or are simply visiting.

The tour of Parliament Buildings runs Monday – Friday at 11am and 2pm (or on the hour from 11am to 3pm during the summer) and is free of charge. Afternoon Tea costs £15 per person (or two for £25, with a children’s option for £6). For more information visit: http://parliamentbuildings.org

Posted: 07/08/2017

I’m On A Boat ⛴ 

The Mona, the Lagan Boat Company vessel we sailed on.

For a recent family day out we decided to try and do something we haven’t experienced before in Belfast. After much Google research, I came across the Lagan Boat Company. Established in 1998 by Derek Booker and Joyce Anderson, the company offers daily sailings upon which you can hear the ever changing story of Belfast’s rich maritime heritage and industry and how the Port has developed and changed from its ship building roots to a major tourist attraction. 

After collecting our tickets at the ticket office, a few minutes away from the ‘Big Fish’, it was all aboard The Mona to embark on The World’s Only Titanic Guided Boat Tour. We hit it lucky weather wise as we were treated to the sun shining and clear blue skies and as we were setting sail from Donegall Quay, my two-year-old niece was delighted to spy a seal playing in the water around the boat. 

As the boat, which was filled with families, friends and tourists soaking up the city’s history as well as the sun’s rays, set sail along Belfast Harbour, we were provided with unrivalled views of the the Harland and Wolff cranes, Samson and Goliath, as well as the Titanic Quarter. From the SSE Arena, to Titanic Belfast and the Titanic Studios as well as T13 it is remarkable to see how thriving this area, which was forgotten about for a long time, now is. 

The Titanic Quarter

It was also lovely to pass active fishing boats, as well as to spy other nautical draws to the area, such as The SS Nomadic and the new HMS Caroline. The highlight of the tour for me, however, had to be when the boat cruised along the Musgrave Channel. The Lagan Boat Company is the only pleasure craft operators that have access to this wonderful area where you can view Belfast’s large breeding seal colony. I was as excited as the two year old when we saw several seals resting along the shore as well as some mischievous pups having a splashing good time in the water. 

The seals relaxing in the Musgrave Channel.

As we headed back to Donegall Quay, with the sun shining, a refreshing breeze coming from the water and exceptional scenery that had me snapping picture after picture, it made me appreciate what we have on our doorsteps. I hadn’t heard of the Lagan Boat Company’s Titanic Guided Boat Tour before and so I wanted to spread the word for anyone else who isn’t aware of it as it is a fun adventure, made all the better by the friendly and professional tour guides, and I couldn’t recommend it more! 

The HMS Caroline.

www.laganboatcompany.com

Posted: 18/07/2017

Join the Fast & Furious Family

I am a huge fan of the Fast & Furious franchise. I remember when the original film was released in 2001, changing gears had never looked so bad ass. For someone who was learning to drive at the time, the film had me pumped with adrenalin and ready to hit the road. However, whilst the film made driving look epically cool, my chugging along in third gear was anything but. After several films in the series, and several years experience on the road for me, I finally felt it was the right time for me to put my driving skills to the test with the FF8 experience at Victoria Square. The unique green screen experience, which has been created by Universal Pictures Ireland ahead of the release of Fast & Furious 8, will be at Victoria Square for this weekend only; not only does it put you in the driving seat but it also lets you create your very own personalised #F8FeelTheSpeed video to share across your social media platforms.

I was literally first in line today to try the experience in Belfast and it was everything I hoped for. Danielle Hibbert from Clearbox Communications and the team from Universal Pictures Ireland could not have been more welcoming. I was slightly nervous before hand, but I was quickly put at ease and after a few run throughs of the script it was time to call ‘Action!’ The experience is incredibly good fun and it doesn’t take very long at all to complete. Although I now have my own personalised video of my stunt driving skills, which you can view below, I don’t think Hollywood is beckoning but at least I can say I got my 10 seconds of fame!

If you want to get into the mood for Fast & Furious 8, which opens in Irish cinemas nationwide on 12th April, get down to Victoria Square pronto and put the peddle to metal yourself! Participation is entirely free, but remember the FF8 experience is only at Victoria Square until Sunday 2 April!

https://youtu.be/tp8T7EUcAsw

Tickets for Fast & Furious 8 are available now via www.fast8.ie

Posted: 31/03/2017

St Paddy’s Day Outing

Last St Patrick’s Day the sun was blazing and I went on an adventure with my sis and wee bro-in-law, as well as their tiny human, to Slieve Gullion. This year we were scratching our heads as to somewhere that would be just as scenic. However, then we looked at the weather and for once it was 100% accurate: not only did it rain, there was lashings of the stuff. And so, plan B was thought up and put into action. 

Step one of plan B: lunch. There is an amazing array of eateries in and around Belfast so when it comes to food you really are spoilt for choice. We opted to try the Eastpoint Entertainment Complex in Dundonald. With a cinema, Funky Monkeys, enough restaurants to satisfy any craving, not to mention Dundonald Ice Bowl across the road, this is the perfect place to spend a rainy day. We made a beeline for Blue Chicago Grill which boasts cosy booths and a blues/jazz feel. We were warmly welcomed before being seated by the window. The menu is extensive and offers everything from pulled pork to American style chicken dishes. I was immediately sold by the Philly Cheese Steak which featured strips of steak, onions and peppers smothered in cheese and served in a warm ciabatta with French fries. It tasted as good as it sounded and although I couldn’t finish it all, it wasn’t through a lack of trying. 

Once our stomachs were fit to burst it was on to our next stop of the day: Connswater Shopping Centre for some retail therapy. I haven’t been to Connswater before but I was impressed by the selection of shops on offer. And, with a few sales on I managed to pick up a couple of bargains in Peacocks not to mention my favourite purchase of 2017: an Elf t-shirt from New Look that was reduced to £4. That’s me ready for Christmas! 

With my purse alot lighter it was time to progress to step 3 of Plan B: test out the new Starbucks Drive-Through at Connswater. I love a gimmick and I won’t lie, the idea of Drive-Through coffee totally tickled me. The person who took our order was so friendly and upbeat and our order was ready very promptly. I got the mocha, and it was the perfect balance of hot chocolate and unadulterated caffeine. I loved the coffee stopper they also put in the hole of the lid, it was very cute and more importantly very practical; take it from someone who has managed to throw coffee around themselves before with the lid on. 

As I sipped my delicious coffee and made my way home it was with a smile on my face. Although this year was a St Patrick’s with a difference I enjoyed every minute. Getting to spend time with some of favourite people enjoying my favourite city, sure what could be better?
Posted 21/03/2017

We Are Scientists 

Last night I dusted off my lab coat, got the Periodic Table out of storage and put on my protective eyewear to attend LaTe LaB3 at the Ulster Museum

LaTe LaB is just one of over 100 events which took place across the province for the NI Science Festival. With experiments, science shows and live music, all set under the watchful gaze of a ‘living fossil’, this promised to be a science party with a difference. 

My companions for this experiment with the elements were my husband Keith, and friends; Andy, Mark, Paul and Beth. When we arrived at the Ulster Museum we were reduced to childhood levels of excitement by the giant bubbles that were drifting through the night sky. There was already a lengthy queue of people wanting to get their science on but once we entered we were welcomed with a glow stick bracelet, a tube of bubbles (which I am treasuring!) and an element badge (I was Fe – or Iron – for those who were wondering). We were also given a programme of all the events that were taking place throughout the Museum and so it was time to explore.

From printing your own art and finding out the difference between G&Ts and MRI scans to stargazing with Armagh Planetarium, it was hard to know where to start. Our first port of call however enjoying some tunes from a lab coat wearing DJ, before donning some light refracting glasses that made the world look that bit more colourful and magical. From here it was time to imbibe some ‘Chemistry Cocktails’. From a flavour morphing daiquiri to a colour changing margarita, who knew science could taste so good?

As we worked our way through the different experiences we got to do a lot, including; witnessing a hilarious live science show that saw Andy and Mark ‘switch brains’ as well as the scientist (accidentally) make his German accent disappear; play ping pong on special custom-made CNC-machine-milled table that reacted to where the ball landed; watch how dry ice can provoke colour change and make smoke rings; as well as enjoy a demonstration that truly highlighted the explosive power of hydrogen. 

My personal highlights from the night, however, were watching Andy literally holding a ball of fire in his hand, getting the chance to sample delicious ice cream made before our eyes with liquid nitrogen, and getting imprisoned in a giant bubble.

As the night came to close I can honestly say I have never enjoyed science, or the Ulster Museum, so much. From learning new information in a fun way to getting to participate in science shows first hand, LaTe LaB3 was as entertaining as I hoped it would be. I am already getting my lab coat dry cleaned in the hope that LaTe LaBs returns next year, as this is one experiment I would really love to repeat! 

Posted: 25/03/2017