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Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark

Stephen Sondheim is not your average writer of musicals. Froth, glamour, jaunty tap-dancing and hummable songs are not part of his repertoire. His musicals are, in fact, more like dramas with words, and serious and meaningful drama at that. What other writer of musicals has taken as subject matter the westernisation of Japan (Pacific Overtures), the attempted assassination, successful or otherwise, of US presidents (Assassins) or the dark side of fairytales (Into The Woods), to name but a few? His work is not to everyone’s taste, but Sondheim fans are a fervent bunch and I’m one of them!
He had a good grounding in the subject having befriended as a young man the son of Oscar Hammerstein, partner to Richard Rogers for countless memorable musicals of the mid 20th century. Sondheim’s parents had divorced and though he remained with his mother there was no love lost between them. Oscar became almost a surrogate father to him and when he realised the talent that his son’s friend manifested, gave him a thorough education in the writing of musicals. Sondheim decided to make his career in music and he never looked back.
His first breakthrough was writing the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s score for West Side Story. Not long after, he was writing both words and music for his musicals although he was to collaborate with other lyricists in several instances. Not all were great hits and some were memorable failures, for example Merrily We Roll Along which lasted for only 16 performances on Broadway. But not for the first time Europe was to embrace what the US had rejected, and the 2001 UK production of Merrily scooped the Laurence Olivier award for best new musical.
Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 11.49.49Now it has been revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark, home to most of London’s theatres in Shakespeare’s time and becoming a popular theatrical area again in the 21st century. Starting in 1980 (around the time it was written) it adopts the novel approach of running the story backwards. So we first meet the central three characters, friends from 20 years back, as their lives have become jaded and all youthful enthusiasm and joie de vivre has ebbed away. As the years count back to 1957 (and in particular to the launch of the Soviet sputnik satellite) we see how different ambitions and accidents of life have formed their character and driven them apart. Why backwards, you may ask? Well, it certainly concentrates the mind and makes the audience more aware of changes that have happened, in contrast to the rather lazy way the mind follows events in chronological order.
Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 11.51.07The production values at the Chocolate Factory are extremely high. Although there are three central lead players, this is definitely an ensemble piece and everyone pulls their weight and expresses music, lyrics and emotions to the full. The balance between the orchestra and the actors is spot-on, something that is not always the case at the fringe, and the whole experience is mesmerizing and absorbing. The run has been extended by two weeks due to extremely high demand, so you now have the opportunity to see this until 9th March. There are also rumours that, like several Chocolate Factory productions before this, it may transfer to the West End and possibly even Broadway. If you are a Sondheim fan, you probably don’t need any more persuading to go; if you’re not, this could well be the one to convert you!
jeannette-adjusted31Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

Unique Accommodation in the World!

Have you ever thought about sleeping in a tree-house, or in a light house? Or perhaps on a jumbo jet?

Hostelling International, one of the world’s largest budget accommodation providers, has hostels in many of the world’s most inspiring and interesting countries, in some of the most unique buildings.

A Jumbo Jet

You may have slept on a hot, stuffy plane before, on the way to a destination; however Jumbo Hostel in Stockholm offers a completely new and unique experience, which is far more pleasant. Located in a refurbished Jumbo Jet, in Stockholm this (static) hostel offers modern amenities, en-suite guestrooms (double and private rooms available), in addition to a café. Jumbo Stay is located within close proximity to Stockholm airport, so it also works well as a great stopover hostel. Prices start from £37.08 per night.

A Prison (but you’ll have the key)

Offering a completely unique experience, the Langholmen hostel in Sweden is located in the original Crown Remand Prison (Kronohäktet), but has been completely renovated to a luxury standard. Built in the 1840’s, the hostel offers accommodation in 2 and 4 person ‘cells’, as well as a café and shop containing prison inspired souvenirs. Prices start from £20.51 per night.

A Tree HouseKadir Tree House, Turkey   tourism destinations

For the ultimate way to experience nature, why not stay in our Kadir’s Tree Top Houses Hostel, where after a day’s hiking and climbing in the picturesque town of Olympos, guests can return to a bed located in their very own tree house. Situated just 1km away from Olympos beach, one of the world’s only known breeding grounds for the loggerhead turtles, this guesthouse offers a variety of nature based excursions and adventures, for families, groups and adventure seekers alike. Prices start from £9.64 per night, per bed.

A Castle

For the real fairy tale feeling, why not stay in our Stayokay Heemskerk Hostel, an impressive 13th century castle, complete with a moat, turret rooms and royal décor. The hostels central location in North Holland makes it a great base for tourists, as well being close to shops, cafes and a national park. Prices start from £22.67 per night.

On The Beachshowimg-4

You may have stayed near the beach before or perhaps within view of the sea, but perhaps not directly on the beach, within reaching distance of the waves. Our Kaikoura YHA Hostel in New Zealand, located directly on the beachfront, maintains a glass exterior, allowing guests to enjoy the stunning surroundings in their full glory. Animal lovers can also walk along the beach to experience the fur seal colonies, or take a marine cruise, which sets off nearby. Prices start from £17.44 per night.

A Lighthouse

Built in 1875 to work as a fog signal station, this gorgeous lighthouse building has been lovingly preserved and refurbished by HI to now offer 45 beds to guests. Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel, in California has its very own secluded beach, with a four-mile stretch of tide pools, as well as a bar and landscaped gardens. The coast side location also makes the hostel a perfect base for horse riding, surfing, kayaking and surfing. Prices start from £16.44 per night.

A Cubeshowimg-3

In the centre a bustling city (Rotterdam, Netherlands), Stayokay Rotterdam is situated in striking cube houses, overlooking the river. The unusual accommodation, designed by the Dutch architect Piet Blom in 1984, offers stylish private rooms, family rooms and multi-share rooms in your very own cube!Prices start from £19.19 per night.

On A Husky Farm

Located next to the Karasjohka River, close to the Arctic Circle, the Karasjok hostel is in the perfect location to view the Northern Lights whilst also offering guests a variety of unique activities to enjoy. Nestled within a Husky Farm, the hostel is fantastic in welcoming families and animal loving groups, who are encouraged to join in the all-year-round puppy and dog training workshops. Prices start from £46.95 per room, per night.

For more information on any of the hostels above, or to book, please visit

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We usually only write about our own travel experiences but this list was so enticing we wanted to share it with you! We can’t decide which one we would like to visit … something to chew over during the Christmas break. What about you?

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor


Protect Skin from Winter Cold with Creams


Verveine (Lippia citriodora)

One of my most enduring memories of a year long stay in France, as an au pair, was a hot drink made from verveine, a plant we refer to as lemon verbena. It was wonderfully comforting, had a familiar lemony aroma and sugar really enhanced its flavour. So when I heard about a hand cream with that wonderful scent I just had to try it out.

Winter time is one when my cuticles have a tendency to crack, resulting in that really long period of pain. The lemon verbena hand cream has a 20% shea butter base. It’s creamy texture is easily absorbed, leaving hands soft and supple and I find especially effective when rubbed round the fingernail.

IMG_6709On my desk at the moment are the final contestants in my Strictly Skincare  hand cream choice. I started with about 20 different products. The five are, in no particular order of preference – they are all used regularly:

Energizing Verbena Hand Cream – Panier des Sens, en Provence that comes with very pretty packaging

Morrisons Unscented Hand Cream, Concentrated – a glycerine based cream it is useful when you don’t want to wear a second scent that might conflict. It is very creamy, softening  dry skin and useful to add before you start to work in the garden.

Q10 by Pharma Nord is another hand cream that conditions and protects at the same time. It contains ginkgo Biloba, Pycnogenol and Vitamin E. All ingredients considered highly beneficial by skincare aficionados.

Lotil Original is specifically designed for cold weather and I always check there is a small tube in my handbag at this time of year.

On a recent visit to The Dales I took my tube of English Weather Cream. I always use this in cold weather because my face dries out in cold windy weather and this cream works absolutely fantastically. However, it has been recently discontinued …  Made by Lotil it is no longer available – such a shame. I’m looking for a replacement product and will let you know if I find one.

Wearing silk lined gloves helps to keep my hands warm and in conjunction with any one of these handcreams I’m able to keep them in good condition, safe from damaging cold weather.

All are available online but of course in store is always a good place to try them out!

Kate Campbell, Health Editor

Kate has worked with editor Val Reynolds since 1996 and they are constantly looking for top quality, effective skincare products. Do you have a favourite? Do let us know and we will pass on your recommendations.

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