The Urban Guide to the Countryside

Muddy arts in Herts

29 Jan 2017

Everyone seems to be gleeful about the end of January and some of us are already talking about half term. It’s time for a bit of thinking ahead and for booking up, particularly as so many shows across the county have been selling out and we don’t want to disappoint. There’s Bowie, Motown and Tango Fire for starters. A sober and dignified tour of a brewery, Rory Bremner and Stephen K Amos, and two new musicals. Oh, and a storytelling festival.

Fireside Festival, Baldock, Thurs 23 Feb – Sat 4 March

To mark the start of National Storytelling Week, what better than to sit down comfortably and listen to someone narrate this year’s Fireside Festival programme? I spoke to the founder last week, who is full of stories herself. Joanna Bowen started Fireside in Baldock four years ago, initially to save the Town Hall. Her festival now attracts storytellers who are known all over the world. Tickets are selling fast which is why you need to act quickly. Many of the performers were first spotted by Joanna at Edinburgh. This is Sarah Kendall who will be in Funny Women and Fizz. The festival will be on during half term, and there are loads of things for kids, so I’ll include some of them in my half term guide.

Fireside Storytelling Festival

Stephen K Amos, Radlett, Fri 3 Feb; Hertford, Thurs 9 Feb; Tring, Weds 8 Feb 

He’s all over Herts in Feb and you’ve got three different locations to catch him. Stephen K Amos is being billed as the globe-trotting laughter master for this world tour. All I can think is that he must be exhausted, he literally has been all over the world and is now gambolling around the county. See him at the Court Theatre in Tring, the Hertford Theatre, or the Radlett Centre before he heads off to Tasmania.

Hertford ticketsTring tickets; Radlett tickets

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Letchworth Broadway, Tues 7 Feb

It’s new! A concert presentation of a new musical based on the Disney Fantasia story. Before it goes to the Smoke, the very first performance is in Letchworth, the world’s first Garden City. Age 8 and above.


Farr Brew, Behind the Doors of the Brewery tour, Wheathamstead, Sat 25 Feb

Farr Brew started life as a couple of friends making beer. Now this micro brewery is a force to be reckoned with. A brewery, a tap room and a bottle shop are all now housed in a barn in a field. I went to the launch party there and it was quite exciting. People saying, ‘Are you sure we’ve got the right place?’ as we arrived in the dark and made our way towards the building. And then, the door opened, and it was full of people, and wall to wall with Herts beer. You can do a tour of the brewery. Very popular, which, given that they include two pints – two! – is hardly surprising.

Farr Brew tours

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, Hertford Theatre, Fri 23 Feb

An evening of Bowie’s music alone would surely be enough? Yet this story will reel you in and add more to the music. Think fandom: a young boy obsessed with Bowie. It’s a solo show, featuring Alex Walton. You also hear Bowie, but it’s the voice of comedian Rob Newman. After the performance there is a Q&A with Alex Walton, and the writer and director Adrian Berry.


How Sweet It Is, Rhodes Theatre, Bishops Stortford, Fri 17 Feb

A blast of Motown that’ll have you jumping out of your seat and shimmying into the aisles. The music of Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers, the Four Tops and Stevie Wonder among many others, live in Bishops Stortford. Appropriately uplifting for Feb.


Rory Bremner, Rhodes Theatre, Bishops Stortford, Fri 24 Feb

One thing’s for sure, Rory Bremner is not going to be short of new material when he takes to the boards at the Rhodes Theatre. As an aside, I caught up with tailor Alexandra Wood the other week. She’s a Herts based, Savile Row tailor with a fantastic shop in Stortford. She once made a suit for Rory Bremner. Will he be wearing it, I wonder? I kind of feel he’s been around my whole life, and he’s still at the top of his game.


Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Hertford Museum, until Sat 18 March 

Take a look at how Hertford used to be and how parcels arrived on our doorstep when we only thought of yodel as something from the Sound of Music.

Hertford Museum

Tango Fire, Alban Arena, Fri 24 Feb

Get ready to sizzle. Tango superstar German Cornejo and his Tango Fire Company of Buenos Aires have had a phenomenally successful world tour. This is the best tango-ing you’ll ever see without going to Argentina, and even then it’s hard to imagine who has better flicky leg action than these dancers. You can have a peek here. This is an evening likely to involve tight twirls.


I Capture the Castle, Watford Palace Theatre, Fri 31 March – Sat 22 April

‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’ This is a new musical based on the novel by the 101 Dalmations author Dodie Smith. It’s been developed at Watford Palace Theatre and it opens here before going on tour. And while it may seem light years away, tickets will fly so I wanted to give you first dibs. It’s the perfect spring story. Cassandra is the diarist and narrator, observing her 1930s family life in a crumbling castle. Her father is a blocked novelist and they’re all surviving on a diet of oatcakes and eggs. But hello, who is this? It’s the new American landlord, who just happens to have a younger brother who is particularly easy on the eye. Could things be looking up? You bet they are. This has gal pals written all over it, and the Palace Theatre knows that, which is why if you book five tickets, they throw in a bottle of Prosecco. Dodie Smith would approve.

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The Urban Guide to the Countryside -
Hertfordshire Edition