10 Dec 2018

Stick Man at The Lowry, Manchester

Scamp Theatre are responsible for bringing Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's delightful book,  'Stick Man' to life, and it is back at The Lowry in time for the festive season. We are huge fans of Julia Donaldson’s books and we love family theatre. So when The Lowry invited us to a showing, we decided it would be a lovely way to spend a rainy morning this December.

The story is about Stick Man and his adoring family of Stick Lady and three little Stick Children. 

After going for a jog one morning, Stick Man encounters a bounding dog, who just wants to play fetch with what he thinks is just an ordinary stick. This sparks a series of unfortunate adventures, which lead poor Stick Man far away from his home in the Family Tree. Time goes by, and just when Stick Man has abandoned all hope of ever seeing his family again, along comes Father Christmas to save the day. Stick Man is re-united with his family just in time to celebrate Christmas with them.

Stick Man is brought to life by a trio of extremely talented actors, who between them, portray a myriad of characters including the ones Stick Man encounters on his adventures. They sing, dance and treat us to some delightful live music. They manage the prop changes with effortless ease and discreetly change costumes to flit between characters.

What makes Stick Man even more enjoyable during the festive season is the not-so-subtle references to a traditional pantomime show. Like when the actors encourage the audience to scream, “Behind you!” in response to a question. There is plenty more audience engagement, like a game of beach ball when Stick Man accidentally ends up on the beach. And there a few jokes and gags scattered throughout aimed specifically at the grown-ups in the crowd. So really, there is something for everyone in Stick Man.

With a running time of 60 minutes, Stick Man is absolutely perfect for young children and their families to enjoy together. Shows at The Lowry continue all through December and into the New Year, and are proving to be extremely popular. So make sure you book your tickets and not miss out.

Disclosure: We were invited to attend a performance of Stick Man in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own. All photos copyright The Lowry.

6 Dec 2018

Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas At Waterside Arts

It’s becoming something of a Christmas tradition in our house to kick off the festive season with a visit to Waterside Arts in Sale, Manchester to watch their Christmas family show. Last year, it was Raymond Briggs’ The Bear, and this year it was Father Christmas. Pins and Needles are well known for their fabulous quality theatre for early years, families and young adults, and Father Christmas is no exception. From clever set designs and ingenious use of props, they have brought Raymond Briggs’ much loved book to life, staying true to the original from start to finish.

The story revolves around, you guessed it, Father Christmas. Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas comes across as a grumpy old man going about his business and moaning about his job like any other person. Only difference is he has this really special job of delivering presents to children all over the world in a magic reindeer sleigh!

We follow him from the moment he wakes up on Christmas Eve, all the way through to the end of Christmas Day. We watch him as he complains about the miserable weather as he goes about preparing breakfast, feeding his reindeer, loading his sleigh with presents and packing some sandwiches and a flask of tea (and his radio), ready to fly off delivering presents. There are moments of pure hilarity, like when he is doing a number 2 (yes, that detailed!) What is it with children and poo is beyond me, but it had the young ones in the audience and some of the parents chuckling. And then when he tries to wriggle down a particularly challenging chimney.

Mike Aherne in the lead role of Father Christmas is simply delightful. He looks so at ease playing his part, you almost wonder if he is the real thing and you are actually getting a sneak peek into the normal, ordinary working life of Father Christmas. Richard Booth is the talented puppeteer who works all the animal puppets and goes about efficiently changing the set. We were sat right at the front and it was mesmerising to watch him mimic not only the sounds but the facial expressions and the body language of the animals he was controlling. He was purring like the cat and bouncing around like the excitable little dog.

Katy Sobey was outstanding as the musician of this entire piece. I could only marvel at her immense talent. She played a range of musical instruments like the ukele and the saxophone. She used all sorts of everyday objects to provide the sound effects to reflect what was happening on stage. So when Father Christmas poured a cup of tea from his kettle, she was pouring water from a jug in front of a microphone to create the sound. Her timing was spot on and she switched between musical instruments and this plethora of objects effortlessly. It’s not often you actually get to see the music makers in a theatre show, and my 7 year old mentioned this too. He thought Katy’s sound effects were simply brilliant.

The most memorable moment for him and me as well, was when Father Christmas came out in his reindeer sleigh. We were just a couple of feet away from the reindeer; I could have touched their noses with an outstretched hand. They were puppets, but created the illusion of being alive. It was just magical.

Father Christmas has a running length of 50 minutes with no interval, making it perfect for children aged 3+ and their families. It is showing at Waterside Arts all through December and will make a fantastic festive treat for all the family. You can make your experience extra special by ordering a milk and cookie pack for £2. All evening performances are slumber shows, so feel free to turn up in your pyjamas or onesies.

Disclosure: We were guests of Waterside for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own. All images are courtesy of Waterside.

26 Nov 2018

Meccano Ferrari Grand Prix Racer Car

The Meccano Ferrari Grand Prix Racer Car is a great piece of kit, not just for Meccano fans but also for anyone who enjoys racing cars or Ferrari as a brand. It does have an endorsement of authenticity from Ferrari, after all.

The kit comes with 325 parts, 2 tools, 1 sticker sheet and 1 instruction sheet. It is recommended for experienced builders aged 10+ and has an estimated construction time of 1- 3 hours.

We love defying recommendations, possibly just as much as we love a challenge. The Meccano Ferrari is one that we warmed to immediately. J is nearly 8, and has a penchant for building and construction. He enjoys taking things apart and loves trying to piece them together. He also loves making his own models, using paper and other bits and bobs from his craft box.

Last year, he built the Meccano Max with help from Daddy M. This year, he decided he wanted to have a go building this Meccano Ferrari Grand Prix Racer Car all on his own. He is, after all, a year older and infinitely more self-assured! His logic was that this set would be easier than Max as there are no electrical circuits involved in the build.

Game on! My job was to open the box and lay everything out where he could find it. The sheet of stickers was a bit crumpled, but that didn’t bother us. My biggest gripe was that all the pieces were packed in four packets, but in entirely random combinations. It would be infinitely more helpful if the parts were put together based on where in the build they are needed, say steps 1 to 10 in one pack and so on. This will prevent the hassle of using a wrong part and then going back to change it later on. (This happened to us. J used a long 3-holed strip in step 9 instead of a short one. It was only towards the end of the build when he needed the long one that he realised something was amiss. The child flicked through the instruction manual, spotted the one he had used in step 9, and replaced it after a few quick manipulations.)

J set about bringing this Ferrari to life, one step at a time. He spent hours on this build. He worked on it in the mornings before school and then again for a little while in the evenings, one little piece at a time.

He needed my help with step 24, and he needed M to intervene towards the end when tightening some of the parts became really tricky due to sharp angles and tight spaces. Other than that, this was entirely J’s project. He looked at the diagrams, picked up the recommended parts and checked them to make sure they were the correct shape and size. He aligned strips of metal and held them together with a nut and bolt, his clever fingers deftly working the screwdriver and spanner to secure them in place.

Meticulously and painstakingly, my nearly 8 year old pieced together this Meccano Ferrari over 15 days. So yes, it is a moderately difficult build and yes, it does take much longer than 3 hours. And no, our end result does not look anywhere near as neat and tidy as the picture on the box. But it has been done by a determined nearly-8 year old. And of that, I am proud.

“I want to be an engineer and work for Meccano!” J proudly declared as he held aloft his model Ferrari. The kit has not only helped my son work on his dexterity and STEAM skills, it has taught him important lessons in patience and perseverance.

Disclosure: We were sent this set for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own.

29 Aug 2018

EasyRead Time Teacher 24-Hour Wall Clock

Time is a concept alien to most children! At 7 years old, my son is no different. He does not understand the importance of being on time or what it means to be wasting time. For him, as with most children his age, time is endless. It has no beginning and no end.

It sadly falls to me as his parent to teach him that time is not limitless. There are 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes to the hour and 60 seconds in every minute. A visual reminder is always good to reinforce a new concept. Something like the EasyRead Time Teacher 24-Hour Wall Clock, with its striking bright red and blue colours, is likely to get J interested in telling the time and keeping track of it.

8 Aug 2018

What The Ladybird Heard Live at The Lowry

We’ve loved reading Julia Donaldson since J was a little baby. And we have enjoyed watching stage adaptations of her fabulous books.

What The Ladybird Heard Live is no exception. Based on the best-selling picture book by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks, we enjoyed watching the stage production by Kenny Wax Family Entertainment in association with Matthew Gregory.

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