An evening with Mary Berry at Birmingham Town Hall

Mary Berry is the grand dame of British cookery. The star of the Great British Bake Off, and a face in British television cookery since the 1970s, she is a real icon, has loved for her fashion sense as she is for her slightly naughty personality (soggy bottoms anyone!). Last Thursday a packed Birmingham Town Hall sat enthralled as Mary talked all things cooking and family in her own inimitable way. Here are some of the highlights of a fascinating evening with the woman rightly described as ‘one of the most important voices in food in this century and the last century.’

On the National Television Awards

I didn’t think I was going to win, I went to see all the cast of ‘Call the Midwife’. I didn’t think I would win best judge, Len Goodman was retiring and there was Simon Cowell who was bound to win, so I didn’t do a speech. I hadn’t even worked out how to get on the stage. But I was very honoured because it’s the viewers who vote, not a team.

School Days

At school I went to the back of the class so I wouldn’t be asked any questions. My best subject was domestic science or break.

Ski Days

I went to be a chalet girl in Gstaad.  We invited guests over from the UK and charged them £22 a fortnight, and we did all the cooking and skied all day.

Pigs!

I used to smuggle piglets into my bed. My dad loved animals far more than us children. I always loved the runt of the letter. I used to nip in and fetch them, wrap them in a towel and take them to bed. There was nothing nicer to take to bed.

1960s

I worked for the Ideal Home Magazine. There were only two pages of colour in magazines in those days, and the recipes were very classic. I was one of the first people to go to celebrities to get their recipes. Mary Quant was one of the first, she did a sausage risotto. She got a local restaurant to make her recipe, but she dressed the room so beautifully – she was a designer not a cook. But the recipe was delicious.

Early Television

I wrote a book on freezing for M&S at the time when people were just starting to freeze things at home. It was picked up by producers looking for a cooking segment for a Judith Chalmers  programme. I was asked if I would be interested in television and I jumped at it. They created me a kitchen in the studio from scratch – non of the cupboards opened and the sink was actually from a hose and a bucket – but it was really good fun.

Bake Off

‘There’s going to be a new TV series about cakes and baking – would you like to be considered as a judge?’ Liked to, I’d love to. I got the job but then they said you’ll also be doing bread. Now, I wasn’t very good at bread so they brought in four bread experts and asked who I would like to work with. I chose Paul Hollywood and we has seven fabulous years together, such terrific fun. I love that the format got Britain baking, particularly children. I always had a hot water bottle under my coat on Bake Off. A hot water bottle is such an old fashioned thing isn’t it.

Bake off Mantra

My Mantra is to get people to enjoy baking, to always find something good about the creation. So even if it sinks or falls apart you need to say something nice, like that it has good flavours.

Pizza!

I’ve never had a pizza delivered, and this is thought to be rather odd, but I’ve just never got around to it.

Herbs

I love growing herbs, everybody can do it whether you have a big garden and a window box. When I started cooking it was all dried herbs, now you can get so many fresh and they add so much flavour to cooking.

Finally…

I like to do a recipe, do a few things with it and suggest a few different ingredients you could use, and then suggest what to do with the leftovers.

Selfie with my Sister in Law

 

 

 

What the Ladybird heard at Birmingham Town Hall

Every year at Christmas, Birmingham Town Hall stages a family show that is based on a children’s classic story. In the past this has seen great adaptations of ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ and ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.’ This year they have turned their attention to Julia Donaldson with a dramatisation of ‘What the Ladybird Heard’. And whilst it is bright and colourful, and generally good fun, I don’t think it has the same appeal as recent productions.

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The main reason for this is the star of the show, the ladybird. My eight year old Joe said, I think the ladybird should’ve been much bigger, maybe someone in costume. And whilst this may have been the biggest ladybird in the world, I can sort of see his point of view. From our seats in the balcony, the ladybird, which was created as a hologram, was quite hard to spot at times, especially for my three year niece – we had to keep pointing it out, which sort of defeats the object.  The same is true of the cute talking cats in the windows and the tractor and vehicles seen in the distance – they are just too small for such a visual play.

But there are plenty of other things to recommend the show.  The characters are fresh and funny, with Raymond being the standout favourite for the children. The creation of the farmyard animals from things like bicycles and wheelbarrows is magical, the hog in particular is brilliant and made the children laugh and gasp, and there are some good songs, including the one about the burglars, which help to set the scene well, although I do think that most songs are overlong for the age of the audience.

Ultimately, ‘What the Ladybird heard’ is a good introduction to theatre for young children, particularly if they love the original Julia Donaldson story. At just under an hour in length, it is probably the right amount of time for young children to sit through. And there are moments of magic, but, to me, it just isn’t magical enough.

WHAT THE LADYBIRD HEARD

Click here for ticket information

‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ is a joy at Birmingham Town Hall

If you are looking for some fun, family entertainment for the remainder of the Christmas break, or to take you into January with a bang, then look no further than the festive family fare that is currently delighting younger audiences at Birmingham Town Hall. To put it quite simply ‘we’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one, what a beautiful day, we’re not scared…’Although actually, maybe we are, just a little.

630x44.fitwithoffsetWe’re going on a bear hunt is a children’s classic that celebrated 25 years since publishing in 2014. Written by Michael Rosen and with famous watercolour illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, the story of a family taking a trip through fields, water and snow to try to find an elusive bear has been delighting children of all ages for years, and now it is a delightful play that is perfect for younger audiences, particularly those who may not have seen a show live before.

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The actors create the roles beautifully, instantly recognisable to those who love the classic illustrations from the original book.  There are lively, fun songs that the audience are encouraged to join in with, along with scenes that are interactive, like when the splashing through the river sees the audience getting a splashing too (much to the delight of my niece who laughed long and loud when the water pistol was trained on Uncle Peter…). There are plenty of laughs throughout, especially from the muddy interlude, and then, of course, there’s the hero of the piece, the bear. He is cute and huge and literally every child in the Hall was totally enchanted – which is just the way it should be.

‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ lasts around 50 minutes in total, with no intervals, which makes it perfect for younger audiences. We took a 7 year old and a 2 year old and they both loved it.

We’re going on a bear hunt is at Birmingham Town Hall until Wednesday 13 January 2016

Click here for ticket information.