Review: The Northern Chamber Orchestra delivers Christmas cheer to Tatton Park

Last Friday 10 December saw the first of two Christmas concerts that day, given by the Northern Chamber Orchestra in Knutsford, And I was excited.

But it won’t be the first time I’ve misjudged an entrance and it surely won’t be the last.

It actually wasn’t even the first time I misjudged the entrance to Tatton Park but I shall never learn.

I’ll keep it brief but my best laid plan of getting the train to Knutsford, prancing down the high street with a skip in my step and a face full of cheer, and then swanning into the Christmas concert with a complimentary mulled wine in my hand and a mince pie in my belly, with half an hour’s grace to pick out the crumbs from my jumper and the red wine smile from my lips, as I calmly awaited a wonderful afternoon of music, went somewhat…

differently.

Never go on foot to Tennants Hall in Tatton Park from the Knutsford entrance unless you realise that said hall is further away than you think or you’ve read the directions correctly or you have plenty of time to reach your destination. Special thanks to the gentleman on the entrance gate who adopted a kind and sympathetic expression as he revealed my immediate fate.

Top tip – gates closer to the Hall are readily available. ditto driving lessons.

So the reality was arriving two minutes before the orchestra took their seats, mulled wine swapped for a refreshing glass of orange to counteract the wheezing from rushing 2.5 miles steadily uphill in 20 minutes, and an embarrassing display climbing over my fellow audience members as I tried to locate my mid-row seat in a massive panic.

But it was all worth it.

The Northern Chamber Orchestra, who are the oldest professional chamber orchestra in the North West, and joined by the choir of St Nicholas Catholic High School, Northwich, were on top form and quickly banished my own performance to the consigns of my collection of memories of dread and tension, ready to revisit at 3am during the next bout of insomnia.

In a room bedecked with Christmas trees (and wall-mounted stags which were actually quite beguiling), the elegant Kate Millward warmly introduced us to what promised to be (and duly did deliver) an afternoon of classic and contemporary Christmas music, including Sleigh Ride and the Overture from Hansel and Gretel, and film music such as the themes from Harry Potter and E.T., and audience carols for all to sing.

And yes, with apologies to those seated around me (for the second time that afternoon), I sang my little heart out. I don’t extend my apologies to my plus 1 as the vows taken lock him firmly into listening to me at any given point, without complaint or get-out clause.

More beautiful a sound was the St Nicholas Catholic High School choir, conducted by the School’s Director of Music, Helen McKenna, who together filled the room with their beautiful voices and melodies and complimented the orchestra wonderfully, forming a marvellous, musical partnership.

The concert took me back to school and Brownies and all those wonderful carols that did indeed herald the start of the ‘most magical time of the year’. a feeling which can often be diluted the older you get, especially given recent times. But the orchestra and choir left me feeling tingly, warm and indeed emotional, as I was taken back to Christmases past. I actually cried during John Williams’s theme from E.T. (after having successfully managed to avoid a repeat watch of the film since the age of 6 because I’m a big,baby – his little face though…).

There’s nothing in the world that provokes such emotion and memories more than music. Especially when performed as beautifully.

And so back to Christmas present, Kate Millward regaled us with readings both witty and wise and the concert drew to a close with a hand-clapping, Santa hat-wearing rendition of We Wish you a Merry Christmas as the choir returned to the stage.

Getting back out of the park after dark was a whole different story but let’s leave that one for another time. And make clear that any lunacy and confusion surrounding entering and leaving the park is solely on the shoulders of this writer. And I’d do it all again in Christmas future.

Happy holidays!

For details or more upcoming concerts by the wonderful Northern Chamber Orchestra visit www.ncorch.co.uk.

Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at The Lowry

Last night was just what I needed.

Never have I seen such a happy, smiley post-show foyer. Ok everyone was masked up (well done everyone) but the eyes and laughter had it.

In a world where we’ve entered plan B, plan A was to head to press night of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at The Lowry.

Note this was before the official start of the show – those seats soon filled up!

And in a world where we feel we’re through the looking glass and beyond most days, heading through the wardrobe to a magical land feels most appetising and possibly less scary, witch or no witch.

But enough with the dark, tenuous analogies! Last night was just lovely, lovely, lovely.

Direct from London, the smash hit production of C.S. Lewis’ classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, voted the nation’s favourite book in 2019 (and one of mine in, cough, the 80s).

This is the story of Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter as they wave goodbye to wartime Britain and embark on the most magical of adventures in a frozen, faraway land where they meet a Faun, talking Beavers, the noble king of Narnia, Aslan, and the coldest, most evil of all, The White Witch.

I’ve seen that stage on Salford Quays transformed into multiple scenarios and situations, but last night that space had me captivated. The choreography of actors, musicians, puppetry, props had me mesmerised from the opening strains of We’ll Meet Again.

Each character was a delight and brought you into their world in their own individual way. Mr Tumnus made me laugh, broke my heart, the beavers made me want them to adopt me and take me in as one of them (ditto the Professor), Samantha Womack sent a chill as cold as an eternal winter with her icy White Witch, her costumes made me want to step into her wardrobe never mind any other.

The children, daughters of Eve, sons of Adam were perfectly pitched as our eyes, ears and guide through a world of fear and fantasy.

But let’s talk about the felines, the mighty Aslan and, for me, the equally mighty Schroedinger (how I wish I’d named my cat after a paradox – I went with Bryan). I fall in love with every animal I come in contact with and thanks to the mechanics and puppetry on show, this was no exception.

With falling snow and (spoiler) leaves, flying witches, steam trains crossing the stage, and backdrops that come alive before your very eyes, this is definitely one for adults and children, lovers of the book and newbies to Narnia.

And the even better news? The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is on at The Lowry until 15 January 2022.

Visit The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for tickets and more information.

Production details:

The cast includes Samantha Womack (White Witch),  Ammar Duffus (Peter Pevensie), Shaka Kalokoh (Edmund Pevensie), Robyn Sinclair (Susan Pevensie) and Karise Yansen (Lucy Pevensie).   Aslan is played by Chris Jared, Mr Tumnus by Jez Unwin, Mr Beaver by Sam Buttery and Maugrim by Michael Ahomka-Lindsay. The tour will be directed by Michael Fentiman, based on the original production by Sally Cookson with original Set and Costume design by Rae Smith.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is produced on tour by Elliott & Harper Productions and Catherine Schreiber and based on the original Leeds Playhouse production.

Preview: The Northern Chamber Orchestra to bring in Christmas at Tatton Park this December

I have never been so ready for Christmas. Note when I say ready, I don’t mean the practicalities. No matter what I promise myself every year, I will never be that person who’s done, dusted and has Christmas wrapped up (figuratively and literally) by November.

No, after Christmas was almost cancelled last year, any jadedness and apathy that comes with getting older is gone this year.

And so I’m seeking out anything that will help me on my way.

So The Northern Chamber Orchestra playing two Christmas concerts on 10 December at Tatton Park, Knutsford, is certain to float my festive boat.

Joined by the choir of St Nicholas Catholic High School, Northwich, The Northern Chamber Orchestra, who are the oldest professional chamber orchestra in the North West, will perform a concert filled with festive music including Sleigh Ride and the Overture from Hansel and Gretel, film music such as the themes from Harry Potter and E.T., and audience carols for all to sing.

The orchestra will be joined by the Choir of St Nicholas Catholic High School, Northwich, conducted by the School’s Director of Music, Helen McKenna, for a collection of beautiful carols and choral works.

Actor, writer and director Kate Millward (whose talents include creating and performing her own material, specialising in bespoke, festive narratives) will present the concert and bring a touch of literary drama with a few specially-selected readings and poems.

If that isn’t enough to get your Christmas bells jingling, the concert ticket price includes a warming, winter drink or fruit juice, and a festive sweet tit-bit!

The concerts take place at 3.30pm and 7.00pm on Friday 10 December at Tatton Park.

Tickets are priced at £26.00, with discounts for students, under 18s and groups of 10+, and are on sale from www.ncorch.co.uk or 0161 247 2220.

See you in Knutsford on the 10th!