UK Culture and Lifestyle Blogger based in the East Midlands.


Hairspray is an iconic musical in its own right and the feel good, a thrilling piece has circulated through many productions over the years, even in 2016 with a UK tour. The musical production has all it should have to be a brilliant night out a quirky, tongue-in-cheek script, exciting choreography but also a cast of triple threats unlike no other. Whilst it may seem that it's a musical that is overdone, this 2017 cast has proven why it's still enjoyed by audiences throughout the country.

The story is set in 1962 where young Tracy Turnblad (Rebecca Mendoza) proves that being a big girl, with an even bigger heart can't stop you from pursuing your dreams. Tracy is determined to make it onto a popular teen TV show and win over the heart of teenage heartthrob Link Larkin (Edward Chitticks). Along the way, Tracy is confronted with continuous sneers from Amber Von Tussle (Aimee Moore) as well as wanting to create a change in segregation of race on the TV show. The topics of race, culture, class and acceptance are the backbone of this play, its issues as relevant back in the 60s as they seem to be now. Layering up with the addition of extraordinary choreography and a 5* cast. 

Tracy's parents Edna (Matthew Rixon), who is a huge presence from the beginning (and so confident in heels!) is complemented well by her partner Wilbur (Norman Pace) whose charm warms the heart. Their rendition of You're Timeless to Me is a truly beautiful piece that brings out the best in their relationship. 
Brenda Edwards is a force to be wreckened within her role as Motormouth Maybelle. The strength in her characteristics and vocal range, particularly in her solo number 'I Know Where I've Been' are spectacular and the audience roars in appreciation of her power. 
Seaweed's character, although usually in the forefront, is packed with a punch under the direction of Layton Williams, known for his character's own individual dance flare. He completely commands the role with his fun, energetic attitude and it's hard not to feel wonderfully exhausted from the amount of energy he presents. 

Tracy Turnblad is a character that demands a lot from its actor, particularly in the first half when she barely leaves the stage, but Rebecca Mendoza does a brilliant job in the title role, and also her professional debut. Her vocal range is flawless, as well as having both the sassiness, confidence and humour needed to execute this role. The production also recognises other incredible talents starting out in professional debuts with Tracy's best friend Penny Pingleton (Annalise Liard-Bailey), a remarkable voice and delightful knowing innocence makes her a real delight to watch. 

The only downfall is the set, which is slightly sparse and dull, at times slightly clumsy and did dampen some of the sparkles of the production. It definitely makes up in performance and that alone steals the show. You'll definitely be dancing along to You Can't Stop The Beat at the end and is definitely worth a watch! 

This review was also written for the Underdog Reviews website which I now contribute to. The reviews aren't copied but are both written by me. You can find my review on their website as well as more great reviews from over the UK by visiting their website here

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*I was gifted this ticket in exchange for a review, but all words and opinions are my own.
I've been to London a lot of times in my lifetime, usually visiting to take in the smells and tastes of Camden Market, shopping along Oxford Street or heading to see one of the London's West End shows. I've visited a few of London's attractions but never been to ZSL London Zoo before, so when Attraction Tix* invited me to check it out for myself it was the perfect opportunity for me and Jordan to take a well-needed day out. 

It's hard to believe that it was nearly 10 years ago that we saw George Sampson win the 2008 series of Britains Got Talent at only 14 years old. Admired for his cheeky and cheerful attitude to his break and street dancing routines that saw him win the series. George has gone onto featuring on TV programmes such as BBC's Waterloo Road and even in Emmerdale. He also appeared in movies Streetdance and Streetdance 2 which saw him once again showcase his Dance talents.

He has recently started appearing on the stage in pantomimes and now is undertaking his first major role within a musical, starring as the role of Reecey in the new production of Our House, The Madness Musical currently making its way around venues in the UK. I caught up with George recently about taking on this new challenge and whether the Madness music stopped playing once the curtain goes down. 

The musical is considered as a jukebox musical, a new genre that celebrates popular hits on the stage, Our House is exactly that but celebrates classics provided by Madness over the years. George explains that "it tells the story of sixteen-year-old Joe Casey (Jason Kajdi), but more importantly about the decisions he makes". The musical is set on the night of Joe's 16th birthday and how a split-second decision will force him to choose between himself and his heart. There are two very different paths that unfold for him, the consequences of that specific choice will change his life forever. "It's a fight between the good and bad Joe to make a decision, there's Reecey or bad Joe which is played by me. It's a nice story though, it has a love story intertwined with it and also focuses on various other relationships too". 
"Our House was our theme tune to growing up".
Playing young people is something that George has really enjoyed doing within this musical, "it's nice to be 16 again" and it's very much a throwback opportunity for him and the other cast too, "It's like going back to high school or college days, we all enjoy the opportunity to do that". 

The most iconic element of the musical is the soundtrack filled with Madness music, the 70/80s English ska band who I can guarantee has had you up and dancing at some point during a family gathering. For George it's music has always played an important part of his childhood, "I grew up listening to Madness, I grew up in a big family in a small house and Our House was our theme tune to growing up". The music is what brings in the audience and George mentioned that "it's nice to have people come to the show that have a similar connection to the music too". 

George's long-standing fanbase can expect to come along to the show and see him do the stuff that he's become so known for, the choreographer Fabian Aloise who "allowed me to be what I am and what I do, he allowed me counts and solos where I can just be George Sampson".George also reassured me that despite growing up he's still very much the same "I still throw myself around and have no fear. I'm a bit older, but mentally I'm still a nutter".
"It's very high energy, it's very loveable and British". 
We'll see George take the centre stage when he performs Baggy Trousers, his favourite song in the show because it's "my big solo and big number for me. It's the opportunity for me to show my stuff" so expect to be bopping along and singing along to that well-known Madness classic.

To finish off I asked George about what he thinks makes Our House successful and stand out above other shows that are circulating around the country at the moment because there is a lot out there right now. "We're working so hard, we've got a very small cast in consideration to a lot of the shows currently around the UK. 16 is our total cast number. We're all working and playing 3 or 4 roles each, I'm playing 3 roles and as well as my own character. It's one of those shows you can get up and dance to, it's very high energy, it's very loveable and British. It's not your average musical, it's one of those musicals that you need to go and take a chance on, you would not regret. A lot of people have seen it and it's become their favourite show. It's very different to anything that's been done with Our House before".

I would definitely urge that you give this feel good, fun musical a go when it heads to a venue near you. It heads to the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry between 8-11 November. You can check out where else it's heading to by heading over to their site and list of Tour Dates

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Whenever Autumn arrives it feels like it gives me permission to set some things into motion, to start afresh and to think about any goals I'd like to accomplish. So here I am with TOWIE on as background noise (I can't help it), a fresh cup of tea and some chocolate and pumpkin spiced brownies, they're delicious by the way and from the Coop! 

2018 is on the horizon and quite frankly, 2017 hasn't been too bad of a year. Despite there being some challenging moments, I'm referring to the fact I started a new job which isn't going to plan at the moment, 2017 has probably been one of the most fulfilling years for me.

November marks 4 years since I graduated from university and I do believe it's down to this alone that I'm reflecting on elements of my life more. I also visited Coventry recently just to have a mooch around When I try to figure out what the goals are, I think of all that has already passed me by and take notice to the things which I'm thinking I want to be better.

- Try Something New  - 
Me and Jordan tend to go on our merry way in our relationship and as individuals, comfortable with how we choose to spend our evenings doing the same thing. This can lead us to staying close to the same routine, never sampling something different and trying something new, especially as a individual. I'd like to have a go at doing some more exercise, my time is limited but hopefully, there's a chance of signing up to a local gym or joining a yoga class soon. 

- Make Time For Friends - 
To some people, this may seem like the easiest goal to achieve but when you live miles away from your friends and with commitments to other things it's not always easy to get together for a sustainable time that seems worthwhile. I want to spend a couple of weekends a month going to see some friends, and maybe just making more time to have conversations with them too.

- Read 9 More Books - 
I had the challenge to read 50 books this year, it's fair to say that I set my goal too high. I've managed to read 26 books this year but I'd love it if I could reach a goal of 35, so near but so far but far better than other years when I barely got past 10. I have created quite the list of books to read but I've decided to bring together the 9 I want to read more than any others, now I just need to make sure to make time in my schedule to relax and enjoy some reading.

- Face Your Fears Head Down - 
I am struggling more than I have in months (maybe years) with my mental health, to the point where I've been shaking in tears and fear takes control of me. It's the scariest thing and I'm unable to control it. I'm 26 and don't want it to plague my life into my 30s, I've lived with it for long enough already. I've taken it into my hands, been more proactive about seeing the doctors and organising therapy. I want to face the fears that grip my anxiety and find ways of managing it a lot better.

- Hit More Number Goals - 
'Blogging isn't about the numbers' is so cliche but I don't know a blogger who doesn't feel proud of their achievements and so they should. I have hit quite a few milestones already in 2017, over 5K on Pinterest, over 5K on Instagram (I don't know how I managed it either) and 9K on Twitter to name a few but I want to inch a little closer to some individual goals by the end of the year. I've got some work to do!

What are the goals you want to accomplish by 2018?

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English 70s/80s ska band Madness and their music are pretty iconic, I don't remember a time when I haven't busted out a few moves to their music at family discos. Most of their music which is feel good has got me incredibly excited about the West End smash-hit production 'Our House' which will be returning to Belgrade Theatre in November. It will mark a momentous time, 15 years on from its original show launch date as well as 35 years since the release of the title track by Madness.

Belgrade Theatre caught up with the creative team behind the show, including Composer Suggs and Writer Tim Firth about the continued success of this incredible show and why it continues to raise the roof, "It's a real privilege that people still love the Our House musical. I've been to see a few musicals recently and some really good ones, but I don't think many of them are better than Our House [laughs]". Tim goes on to describe that the musical isn't something that's locked in some time capsule, "I always felt the songs of Madness existed outside time, even though they started the big ska movement when I was a kid". The musical is very much a rediscovery of these timeless hits for people to enjoy, 10 or 15 years later which is great stuff. 

"I always felt the songs of Madness existed outside time" 
Bringing the combination of such hits along with a storyline that could fit within a musical Tim and Suggs agree that it was always a good fit. "We weren't aware of the fact our songs are quite narrative and we'd even sort of dabbled ourselves with the obvious" explains Suggs, "you know, we wrote songs about going to school, we wrote songs about your first girlfriend, we wrote living in the house in the street you were brought up in." There was a difficulty for Suggs to creating the musical individually which is why he gave Tim the phone call and they collaborated together to bring Our House The Musical to life. Tim wanted the songs to drive the story and create a story which fit around those songs, Suggs felt as though "it was an incredible process to watch unfold". 

Tim knew the musical could be based purely on the music "seven nutty guys turning up and going nutty for two hours". Tim believes that there was this perception that Madness came across as a nutty band when in fact their music videos "were full of comedy and full of wit but the songs were full of pure wit, which is a very different thing". Tim believes "they were bright and intelligent, the lyrics were funny and full of different colour, so I always thought there was a much deeper, more interesting, funny but also an emotional story to be had". 

The inspiration for the musical comes from the heart of the music, it's lyrics - a lot of which were about duality, the opposites. Tim said there was something about "a story that had two sides to it". The musical centres around Joe and Suggs feels as though 'there's a bit of every member of the band in Joe because the whole story of Joe is that you've still got all these choices and crossroads coming along the way and we all those in our band". 

The musical definitely packs an opportunity to sing along with some timeless hits, enjoy the music from an entirely different perspective and be swept away through a story of discovery. 

Our House The Musical stars Britain's Got Talent winner George Sampson and Emmerdale's Deena Payne as well as a collective of other incredible performers. 

The musical will be running on the Main Stage at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre from Weds 8 - Sat 11 November. Tickets are priced from £22.50 by calling their Box Office on 024 7655 3055 or visit their website. 
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Nestled just South of Northampton is Milton Keynes, a place in the UK I hadn't visited until recently. UK popular hotel brand Travelodge invited me to sample a flavour of the town along with a stay in one of their hotels located there. 2017 is a special year for the town as they celebrate 50 years since the city became a new town. In celebration of the momentous occasion, the city is celebrating all the good stuff in the town as well as sharing with the world why it is a great place to live, work and visit. 

The town's iconic American feel in its design makes it distinctively different from the other UK destinations I have visited previously. Milton Keynes is a very multi-cultured town, with over 100 different languages spoken in the school. A statistic also shows that 92% of local people enjoy living in the town. Unfortunately, I only managed to capture the main blog photo as my camera is currently on the blink (typical when you're visiting a new town that has tons of potential for gorgeous photography!)

Milton Keynes has a stunning Intu centre right in the centre of the city as well as combining the town's thecentre:mk, another shopping centre that is also a grade II listed building. Combining the two shopping centres creates the 14th largest shopping centre in the UK, with over 250 stores for you to enjoy as well as many restaurants on site too. If you enjoy a good shop then this is the place to go, it continues to have plans to develop even further and is a great asset to the town.

The town's theatre is a place of excellence in the region, managed by the Ambassador Theatre Group, itself the second largest theatre group in the UK. The 1400 seat auditorium is at the heart of the city and offers a variety in its programme of first class dance, drama, musicals, opera, comedy and always has something on offer for all ages to enjoy. I was gutted that the night we were in the town that there was nothing on we would have liked to have seen, I would have loved to have gone and experienced the theatre for myself.

Game and Entertainment
We did head over to their Xscape venue, just minutes away from the town's shopping centre. Xscape is a great place to escape and have some fun with your friends and family with so many different things under the same roof. There's Hollywood Bowl, Indoor Skydiving and the Snozone as well as a huge Cineworld complex (which we enjoyed watching the new Kingsman film in btw) along with some great restaurants for you to tuck into before or after your activity. I was kinda jealous myself that this town had such an amazing offering of activities all under one roof like Xscape and wonder when Leicester will get one eh? 

Not so far away from the centre is also Aerial Extreme at Milton Keynes' Willen Lake. If you fancy testing your fear of heights and trying something new, this is the place to be! 

Image Source: Google Search Engine
Image Source: Google Search Engine
Along with an incredible Theatre, Milton Keynes also has two excellent museums for you to go and see. These are the Milton Keynes Museum and The National Museum of Computing. Full of great information and fun for the family, especially on those rainy days.

For this visit, we stayed at the Travelodge Milton Keynes at The Hub. The hotel itself is located in the heart of Milton Keynes in the city's vibrant and lively business/retail district known as "The HUb". The variety of restaurants and bars right on your doorstep is great if you don't have a lot of time to sit down and enjoy a meal, we couldn't believe the vast of options there was for me. The hotel is also in great walking location to most of the places mentioned in this post, particularly for shopping and entertainment making it a great place to stay for both business and leisure purposes

The room was very comfortable with its king size bed, I definitely enjoyed a good nights sleep in the hotel. Also included is a breakfast where there are options for both cold and hot breakfast, the restaurant also offers tasty evening meals at affordable prices. Your options are endless in Milton Keynes and was a complete surprise.

Milton Keynes is definitely a place worth visiting, an unexpected joy of an adventure and somewhere I'd love to rediscover in time to come. Thanks to Travelodge for hosting such a great little adventure! 
thanks for reading,

*Collaboration with Travelodge UK and Talented Talkers.