Monday, 21 March 2016

My Stagey Weekend in London | LittleEllieMae

Over the past year my blog has progressed from solely fashion content to an archive for all happenings in my life. I treat it a bit like a diary so I can look back on it in the future.

I had a super lovely weekend away with my best friends a few weeks ago and I want to cherish it forever- so what better than writing it all down?

So you know how obsessed with theatre I am... well, my friends are the same. Which is why they are the absolute best. We've been planning a theatre getaway for a while so it was very exciting for it to finally happen!

As amazing the theatre in Plymouth is, there is so much more theatre out there that we don't get experience at the other end of the country. Obviously, the West End is one of the biggest hubs for musical theatre in the world and its one of my favourite places ever. I'm at my happiest just bumbling around Shaftesbury Avenue, Haymarket and the Strand, taking in the sights of the different theatres.

I told you- I'm such a theatre geek.

After a very long coach journey, we arrived in London and went out for a meal together before making our way to the beautiful Her Majesty's Theatre. We were very lucky and extremely grateful that my family-friend treated us to a VIP experience at Phantom Of The Opera. Anyone who knows me, knows that Phantom is one of my favourite shows (despite not seeing it on stage prior to this trip... but countless rewatches of the 25th anniversary is enough to make me obsessed) so I was super excited for this. We stayed in 'The Royal Room' which was originally catered for Princess Diana (whaaat?!) and pranced about, the most excited we've quite possibly ever been (also after a bottle of wine). I'll never forget how amazingly happy and exhilarated we were at this point: quite possibly one of my favourite memories ever :) 

Despite looking forward to seeing two of my favourite lead actors in the roles, both understudies for Phantom and Christine were on that night however it didn't phase me as they were phenomenal. The show is beyond amazing- it made me laugh, cry (SOB!) and want to sing along with every word. The score for this show is one of the best of all time, it gives me shivers just thinking about it. Praise the lord for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Everything from the dances, special effects, shadows, costumes... gosh, I could gush about it all day. Absolutely phenomenal. 

After the show we were getting ready to leave when we were surprised with the opportunity to go on a backstage tour. I still can't really believe it happened, it seemed kind of dreamy as Her Majesty's is such a famous, special theatre. Its a very gothic, old theatre (perfect for Phantom) and still has all its original features like the lift. Standing on the Her Majesty's Theatre stage and looking out into the auditorium was without a doubt one of the best moments ever. It sounds silly, but for someone like me who idolises the people who have performed on that stage for 30 years, it was a big deal to be standing where they have stood. Me and my friend definitely teared up (geeeeeks). We also got to see all the iconic props like the music box, the boat and the corpse dolls. Everything about the experience was so magical and I wish I could relive it over and over again. 

To carry on the theme of our stagey weekend, on Saturday we visited the beautiful Victoria And Albert Museum to check out the new 'Curtain Up' exhibition, celebrating 40 years of the Olivier Awards. For any theatre geek, this is the most perfect exhibition ever. 

The exhibition was set out as the iconic West End theatreland, with W1 signs and funky vintage theatre maps. Basically, everything was theatre related and it was awesome. 

Still fangirling from the night before, we saw the original costume designs for Sarah Brightman as Christine from Phantom Of The Opera, as well as the legendary Michael Crawford's masquerade outfit and Phantom mask... amazing.

The exhibition consisted of props, costumes, original scripts, private letters between theatre legends like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It was all super interesting.

A real life Tony Award and Olivier Award... one day... haha...

This wasn't part of the 'Curtain Up' exhibition but I always love to visit it when I am at the V&A- its Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers costumes. They are my favourite performers of all time, seriously, my obsession with them is slightly alarming for an eighteen year old who doesn't even dance. Anyway, I adore them and its so special to be so close to them via their gorgeous outfits. 

The 'Curtain Up' exhibition is absolutely lovely and I'd definitely recommend any theatre fan to visit it. And in terms of the V&A museum, I'd always recommend visiting there. Its one of my favourite venues in the world (I always say I want to get married there... is that possible..?!) 

On the Saturday night we made our way to the Prince Edward Theatre to watch the last performance of Miss Saigon on West End.
I know right?!?! 
I still get goosebumps and teary eyed just thinking about it. 

Miss Saigon is my joint favourite musical (with Les Mis, obviously) so to be able to see its last performance on West End was unbelievably special for me. It may sound silly, but I have such a special connection with this show: with the cast, the songs, the theatre... its hugely sad to see it leave the West End but they've had the most fantastic run and are set for a UK tour next year and also a Broadway revival which is very exciting. 

From the very first note of the overture, I bawled my eyes out. I've never witnessed a show performed with complete and utter 110% effort. It was the company's last show together and you could see how much it meant to them- they put their everything into every move and note and that was so special to see. 
The theatre was full to the brim of hardcore Saigon fans and the auditorium just beamed with love. It was phenomenal, and something I doubt I will ever experience again and for that I'm eternally grateful. 

I had heard rumours about some special appearances at the end of the show but I didn't want to get my hopes up. So when the legendary Cameron Mackintosh (producer), Claude Michel Schonberg and Alan Boubil (musicians and writers) stepped out on stage at the curtain call I kind of sobbed. In the musical theatre world. they are the Kings so it was very surreal. I've watched countless documentaries and read about these guys and they inspire me, I hope one day to be as successful in the industry as they are. It was a remarkable thing to hear them speak in real time, not via YouTube video for once.

The most incredible evening ever.  

Before heading home on Sunday we bumbled around the West End for a bit, soaking up all the last bits of stagey-ness. 
Last time I was in London I stopped off at the Theatre Cafe for literally two minutes so this time I wanted to spend some leisurely time there. 

The Theatre Cafe is an adorable haven for theatre lovers, located on Shaftesbury Avenue across the road from the Queens Theatre (Les Mis). Its literally the perfect place for me and my friends: showtunes repeatedly played from the jukebox, stagey drinks names ('Chai Can Show You The World'. 'Defying Gravi-tea'...), and ALL the theatre memorabilia and posters you could ever wish for. 

We had so much fun chilling in the cafe when it was quiet on Sunday morning. You know its the perfect place for us when we can sing show tunes together without being judged, haha! I could honestly spend my whole day there, looking around at the gorgeous decor and listening to the music. It really is one of my favourite places in the world and I can't wait to go back soon!

The Theatre Cafe have different stagey exhibitions and when we visited they showcased the fantastic '3 Minute Doodles' which were drawings of lots of West End performers! They are such beautiful and very clever drawings, we were mesmerised! The new exhibition is Darren Bell's wonderful photography which I hope I can catch on my next visit. 
Oh and the toilets are THE BEST I have ever seen...

So after all of that, as you can imagine, we were all pretty tired. It took another 7 hours home on the coach then we all had to get up for school the next morning.. great. 

Anyway, it was the most fantastic weekend and one I will cherish forever and ever. 
Seeing as my friends and I will be moving away from each other to go to Uni this year, we are trying to spend as many special moments together as possible and this was definitely one of them. 
I can't wait for our next theatre trip!

Hope you enjoyed this rather long and chatty post!

Let me know what your favourite theatre show is by commenting below or tweeting me @LittleEllieMae :)

Have a great day!

Ellie Mae x

Disclaimer: This was a personal, leisure trip- All thoughts and opinions are my own!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Billy Elliot UK Tour | Theatre Royal Plymouth | LittleEllieMae

Set in a northern mining town, against the background of the 1984/'85 miners' strike, Billy Elliot is the inspirational story of a young boy's struggle against the odds to make his dreams come true.

Photo by Alastair Muir
I can't tell you how long I've been waiting in anticipation for this show. 

Five years after the hugely successful 2000 film, the story of Billy Elliot's hardship and dreams hit the theatre stage. The musical has been seen by over 10 million people across 5 continents, collecting over 80 awards along the way! After 10 hugely successful years on stage across the world, Billy Elliot The Musical has finally embarked on its first UK tour! The Theatre Royal Plymouth is the first stop on the tour, and within its first week of opening I had already seen it twice... Yep, another show I have completely fallen in love with! (And I intend to see it as many times as I can before it closes too!)

I was lucky enough to be invited to the last full dress rehearsal, a day before opening night to see the show in its final stages where Adam Abbou played the role of Billy. I also saw the show with my family at the weekend, where Matthew Lyons starred. There are four young boys who alternate the role of Billy, as well as three boys who play Billy's hilariously camp best friend, Michael, and three girls to play loud- mouthed ballerina, Debbie.

Photo by Steve Haywood
The children in this show are by far some of the most talented bunch I have ever witnessed. It honestly made me a little emotional to watch them all as they beamed with such enthusiasm. The dance routines aren't at all dumbed down to suit a youngster's level, they are completely complex and full- on but the young performers tackle each routine pretty perfectly. Not only were all the dance routines phenomenal, 'The Angry Dance' and the Swan Lake routine are my personal favourites, but the acting and singing were also second to none. For such young people to be able to sing, dance and act so well and all at once is beyond me... I am totally jealous of their talent! And I know that the young actors are just getting better and better with every performance.

Not only were the child performers impressive, but the rest of the cast were totally outstanding too. Although there are many solo routines in the show, my favourite scenes were those where the cast came to perform together- the massive finale scene was mesmerising as the entire cast tapped in complete unison to finish the show. 

Photo by Alastair Muir
Another really exciting aspect of the show was that I had watched some of the sets and props in development a few months before at the Theatre Royal Plymouth's very own TR2- it was so cool to see how they had been improved and finished over the course of a few months and to see them in use on stage! One of my favourite props has to be the giant Margaret Thatcher puppet which is used in the 'Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher' routine- it was borderline frightening when I first saw its googly eyes and menacing smile in the workshop but on stage it looked absolutely fantastic!

As with all my favourite shows, I could talk about it forever- but for your benefit, I won't. 

I'm so happy that Billy Elliot is out on its first tour, so more people than ever before can access this beautiful story and I'm super excited that its first stop is here in Plymouth! I've loved seeing it evolve into the wonderful touring show it is. Its the most heartwarming, funny and impressive show I've seen in a while and I'd definitely recommend seeing it!

Billy Elliot UK Tour is travelling all over the country, so check to see if its playing near you! The show is playing at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 2nd April! 

Have you seen Billy Elliot yet?! Let me know what you think by commenting below or tweeting me @LittleEllieMae :)

Ellie Mae x

Disclaimer: I have worked closely with the Theatre Royal Plymouth and Billy Elliot The Musical, but all thoughts and opinions are 100% honest and my own!