The Stagey Gift Guide - Don't Rain On My Parade Shower Gel (Lush)

For years I've struggled with what to buy my theatre fanatic friends for their birthdays...or when christmas rolls around... or really on any occasion where gifts need to be bought. 

Most stageys (that's what my theatre loving friends shall be known as henceforth) buy every new cast album they are interested in as soon as they are released, and already own every piece of merchandise from their favourite show. And as much as buying tickets is a wonderfully thoughtful gift, it's not exactly an inexpensive one! 

I'm sure this is a struggle which as lot of people with stagey friends face several times a year, and so for this reason I have decided to start a new series on my blog...

I'll update this series whenever I find fun, unique theatre-related gifts, and hopefully by the time secret santas get allocated in December, there'll be a long list of potential gift ideas to refer back to. 

And so, without further ado, here's the first ever installment of The Stagey Gift Guide!

Don't Rain On My Parade Shower Gel - Lush

In honour of Funny Girl opening on the West End, I popped into my local Lush store and purchased the aptly named Don't Rain On My Parade shower gel. 

In the bottle, the product is a gorgeous dark teal colour, but when I poured some into my bath it turned the water a lovely light blue, and filled the air with a gorgeous smell, reminiscent of palma violet sweets, but not as overbearingly sickly-sweet. This is probably due to the fact that the ingredients list includes a violet leaf and vanilla infusion, as well as blueberry juice, sandalwood and ylang ylang oil. 

The mixture of light floral scents, and sultry, earthy ones meant that the overall scent was gorgeously warm and woody, and rather sophisticated. It was the sort of scent you'd associate with getting ready for a big, glamourous party, and put me in a really lovely mood. What else could be expected though? When a product is named after one of the most uplifting musical theatre songs ever, it only makes sense that the product has an equally uplifting effect on the user! 

Don't Rain On My Parade also left my skin feeling soft, and the scent lingered for several hours afterwards. It'd be nice to see a body moisturiser with the same scent, as the smell of Don't Rain On My Parade was so lovely that I didn't want to mask it with one of the more citrusy moisturisers already in my possession. 

This luxurious Lush item is the perfect gift for that special stagey someone, and at £4.95 for a 100ml bottle, it'd make a perfect stocking filler (hey,  it's never too early to start thinking about xmas gifts!). 

The shower gel is also available in larger sizes (250g, 500g, 1kg), and an interesting looking  Don't Rain On My Parade 'wash sheet' is also available to buy, although I'm not 100% sure what it's supposed to do! Also as an added bonus, all Lush products are cruelty free. Totally fabulous! 

Have you tried Lush's Don't Rain On My Parade shower gel yet? Or maybe you've tried one of the other shower gels with musical theatre inspired names (Beautiful and Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair), both of which are on my to-try list! Or maybe you've got some other stagey gift ideas? Let me know...

Review - Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace Theatre, London)

Billy Elliot has been entertaining audiences on the West End since 2005, and yet until its closure was announced a few months ago, it had never really been on my radar. Probably because as it had been running for 11 years, I didn't really anticipate it closing any time soon, and expected that one day I'd just finally get around to it! However, as Billy Elliot's final performance will take place on April 9th, I took a trip up to London with a few friends in order to finally cross it off my list. 
Based on the classic british 2000 film of the same name, Billy Elliot the story of a young boy who discovers a passion for dancing when he stumbles into a ballet class which takes place right after his usual boxing lessons. However, while Billy's dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson encourages him to strive for success, his father and brother are more preoccupied with the coal miners strike, which, if unsuccessful, threatens to destroy life as they know it. 

In as show which is predominantly about dance, it is unsurprising that Billy Elliot features some really fantastic choreography, from Solidarity, where the bitter clash between miners and policemen is juxtaposed with the innocence of Mrs Wilkinson's dance class' rehearsals, to the Swan Lake sequence, in which Billy dreams of his life as a dancer and dances a stunning pas de deux with his older self. 

With regards to the music of the show, while a couple of numbers are perhaps a little bit repetitive, for the most part Billy Elliot is packed with brilliant songs. There were several standout numbers too, such as Shine (sung by rapturously by Ruthie Henshall's Mrs Wilkinson) and The Letter, a heartbreaking exchange between Billy and his deceased mother. 

Set and lighting design is striking, with muted colours and an intentional drabness which symbolises the bleakness of life in a coal mining town in 1984. 

But really the whole show rests on the young actor playing Billy. The role requires a performer with exceptional dance skills, brilliant comic timing and a fantastic grasp of the emotional moments in the show. Happily, Brodie Donougher (one of the four young actors who currently share the role) gives a faultless performance. His dancing skills in particular are enviable and he will no doubt go on to join the ranks of other past Billys who have made a names themselves after leaving the show (such as George Maguire and Layton Williams). Particularly entertaining are scenes which take place in the Elliot household, as Gillian Elisa, Deka Walmsley and Matthew Seadon-Young as Billy's grandma, father and older brother respectively all have absolutely brilliant chemistry, and offer a glimpse into the hardships of their family, thus making their individual conflicts and prejudices with Billy's dancing aspirations more understandable. 

Billy Elliot is clearly a benchmark for other British musicals which draw their inspiration from real life events, such as Made In Dagenham and (to a lesser extent perhaps) Kinky Boots, which were both adapted from films too. But both pale in comparison to the gritty realism presented on stage in Billy Elliot. 

If like me you took it for granted that Billy Elliot would be on the West End indefinitely, and as a result, you've not seen it yet, then there's still time. The West End production closes on April 9th, but the UK tour visiting venues up and down the country in 2016/17. Make sure you see it somehow! 

The Day Seat Survival Checklist

If you've walked around London in the early hours of the morning, then you've probably seen a line of people snaking around the outside of most West End theatres. These people, often seen sitting in camp chairs or (in more extreme cases) sleeping bags, clutching travel mugs with determination in their eyes are probably queueing for day seats!

Day seating is one of the easiest ways to secure great tickets for popular shows at cheap prices. If a theatre is offering day seats (check the website of the show you want to see to make sure that they are, and if they are, then make sure you check how expensive each ticket is (usually around £20-£30), and how many each person is allowed to buy (usually it's 2 per person)), then all you need to do is arrive at the theatre early in the morning and wait for the box office to open.

Yes, the queueing can be tedious, and if it's cold (and this is England, so it will be!) or rainy then you might not be too comfortable, but for a couple of hours of sitting you could end up with front row tickets to one of the hottest shows in town!

Sounds like a good deal, right? Then here's what you'll need to survive the day seat queue...
  • A friend! Sitting alone outside a theatre for hours on end can get very tedious, very fast, so bring a friend along to help you pass the time. Plus, don't forget that usually each person can purchase up to 2 day seats (but make sure you check the website because this isn't always the case!) so if you are planning on bringing friends with you, you'll need to make sure that it's possible to buy all the tickets you need.
  • A hot drink (preferably caffeinated to the max as you'll have probably been up since the early hours of the morning, frozen to the spot on a street corner in soho. If you're queuing for tickets to an evening show and you don't live close enough to central London that you can just go home and sleep then drinking excessive amounts of caffeine is going to be the only way to make it through the day, and don't end up snoozing in the front row at 7:30!). If you've brought a friend along to queue with you then you take it in turns to nip to Caffe Nero and replenish your coffee stores.
  • Some breakfast! You'll probably join the queue at 7 o'clock, and as most box offices open at around 10-10:30am, you're going to want to bring at least a cereal bar or an apple with you!
  • A watch (or some other way of telling the time) so you can keep track of how long you've been waiting, and reassure your bladder of how little time there is left to wait when it gets to 9:30ish. (N.B. you will always need to toilet at 9:30, but hold on, you're almost there!)
  • A warm (preferably waterproof) coat. The last thing you want is to be sat in one spot for hours on end, shivering to death.
  • Your phone. If you live in the 21st century then this is probably already with you 24/7, but it is imperative that you take your phone with you when you go day seating. If nothing else it'll provide you with an almost endless source of entertainment. Not only can you use it to listen to music, check the time etc., but if you're day seating a show because you want to see a specific lead or understudy, you can check for any twitter announcements that they might make. (You may also want to think about bringing a powerpack charger with you. You're going to be out in London all day and your phone might not have enough power to make it through the day without a bit of extra charge.
  • Your purse! Imagine how crushed you'd be if you queued from 5am for tickets and when the box office finally opened you realised that you didn't have any way of paying for the tickets. It's also a good idea to check the website of the show you want to see, and make sure you've taken note of all of the details, because often day seats can only be paid for in cash, and not with a credit or debit card.
  • A map. If you're not familiar with the area then a map is essential, especially if you're arriving in London while it's still dark! Make sure you know which tube station is closest to where you need to go, and which direction you need to walk in once you're out of the station. The last thing you want if to get lost and end up miles back in the queue, worrying about whether or not you'll get tickets.
  • backup plan! This is very important. Day seating can be a pretty risky way of getting tickets, depending on the popularity of the show you're queuing for. If you arrive at the theatre and the queue is already miles long, then you're going to have to make a decision; queue anyway, and risk having to pay extra for non day seat tickets, or quickly run to another theatre and try your luck in quieter day seat queue. 
So there we have it, a complete list of what to bring with you in order to survive the day seat queue. I hope this was useful for any first time queuers. 

Travel - New York City

I will start off by saying that this post is very late. It was actually just over a month ago that I jetted off to America for my first visit to The Big Apple. I'd been dreaming of exploring New York City for years and years, so when an opportunity finally arose saying yes was a no-brainer!

My trip was actually organised by the University of Kent school of arts, where I currently study. Thankfully, we were given to freedom to pretty much plan our days independently, which gave me and my friend the chance to see and do almost everything we wanted to do. This included pretty much every main tourist attraction in New York City, which we visited unashamedly!

We spent most of day one wandering around like zombies as we tried desperately not to succumb to jetlag. Our 8 hour long flight with United Airlines was comfortable (and we got so. much. food on board!!!)  but by the time we checked into our hostel I was ready to crawl in to bed. Not wanting to waste the day though, we headed out to explore the area, work out how the subway worked (turns out it's not that different to the tube. And MUCH cheaper.) and just generally get a feel for New York.

That evening we travelled down to Times Square for the first time, and it was just as beautiful as every film and TV show set in NYC had led led me to believe.  After wandering around in awe for a while we headed to the Empire State Building and got a breathtaking view of New York City at night. I could have stayed up there for hours but the freezing cold winds and the fact that I was almost definitely only awake because I'd drank an unspeakable amount of coffee meant that after admiring the view and taking a few photos we headed back to the hostel for a good night's sleep.

Our second day in the city was absolutely amazing. We woke up early and travelled down town and caught a ferry to Liberty Island. It was a gorgeous sunny day and the Statue of Liberty looked breathtaking. The ferry then took us to Ellis Island where we visited the museum and I found my family's surname on a list of people who immigrated to America via Ellis Island decades ago! After that amazing morning we headed to the 9/11 memorial, a sobering sight, but touching and appropriate.

Feeling hungry, we stopped off at Serendipity 3, an incredibly kooky cafe on 225 East 60th Street. I ate a lovely mild vegetarian chili and drank a peanut butter chocolate frozen hot chocolate so big I could have probably swam in it! Well worth a detour if you're visiting Central Park. And then, later that evening something very exciting happened... I saw my first ever Broadway show, Allegiance, starring George Takei, Telly Leung and one of my favourite singers ever; musical theatre legend, Tony award winner and two time Disney princess Lea Salonga! Allegiance told the story of the Kimura family, one of many Japanese-American families who were incarcerated in internment camps during world war two. The story highlighted shocking truths about a part of American history which I was completely unaware of and was both harrowing and enlightening. Sadly, the show closed shortly after I saw it, but the cast album is available to buy, and is well worth a listen. Songs such as Our Time Now and Higher are really breathtaking and Lea Salonga's soaring vocals are unparallelled!

On day three we went to the top of the Rockefeller building and got a fantastic view of New York City in the daytime. We easily picked out the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Central Park and even the Statue of Liberty on the horizon. After lunch we trekked around Central Park for hours on end until we finally found the Central Park Zoo. Admission was very reasonable so we paid the animals a visit. Sadly, time was going by way too fast and soon the evening was upon us. Excitingly though, that evening I saw my second Broadway show, The Color Purple. The cast was stunning (British musical theatre star Cynthia Erivo was making her Broadway Debut opposite Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson) and the story was so awe-inspiring and emotionally draining. I truly felt like I was witnessing an extremely special piece of theatre, and I've been listening to the new cast album ever since I got home! 

We got the train down to Brooklyn on day four and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, which was stunning, if exhausting. New York is such a Photogenic city and we spent ages taking pictures before heading to Soho to check out Black Tap, a milkshake and burger bar with the most incredible looking milkshakes EVER! Without internet, the tiny bar was almost impossible to find, and when we finally managed to locate it we were met by a queue of probably around 30 people. Spurred on by the promise of incredible shakes, we joined the queue and two hours and $15 later, we had purchased a couple of Sweet 'n' Salty shakes. They were honestly the most ingenious, yet sickly, yet spectacular milkshakes I have ever seen and had the pleasure of tasting. Incredible!

That evening we saw our final Broadway show, Finding Neverland, a musical based on the 2004 film of the same name. As a big fan of the film, I wanted to love Finding Neverland, but sadly, despite a couple of catchy songs and some spectacular staging elements, Finding Neverland was a little bit underwhelming. I found the comedy elements quite out of place and some of the characters were a bit to cartoonish. Tony Yazbeck was likable as J.M Barrie, and Laura Michelle Kelly gave an outstanding performance as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. Her showstopping ballad All That Matters Now was spine-tinglingly good, but sadly no other song in the show reached the same emotional depths. I still really enjoyed myself, and the show was certainly entertaining, but it didn't give the gut wrenching punch that the film gave, and I left feeling slightly underwhelmed. I'll be interested to see how British audience members will respond to the show (which I found extremely 'Americanized'), as a UK transfer was announced recently.

Snow fell on the morning of day 5, and so we decided to take another stroll around Central Park, which looked like something out of a fairy tale. Then having done almost everything we set out to do (and spent almost all of our money!) we headed to Times Square again. We were now subway using pros (at least on the 1 Train) and did a bit of last minute sight seeing and souvenir shopping before heading home to get an early night. 

Flying home on day 6 felt bittersweet. On the one hand, I'd eaten way too many breakfast muffins, had missed a week's worth of uni work, and was running out of spare jumpers! But on the other hand, I had well and truly fallen in love with New York City. I mean, I didn't love its busyness, or the fact that people pestered you every couple of steps in Times Square, or having to convert everything from dollars to pounds in my head before I even considered a purchase. But New York seemed to pulsate with life, and there was something new to discover around every perfectly right-angled corner. And it's an absolutely beautiful city. Full stop. Long before I boarded the plane back to the UK I was already planning my next trip.

I'm almost certain that New York City is on everyone's to-visit list, but I'd honestly return without a second thought and really would recommend a visit to anyone.

Charlotte xx