15.5 C
Sunday, June 4, 2023
Home Blog

Review: Henry V, Royal and Derngate, Northampton – Once more into those ugly breeches, dear friends, once more…

Stripped back history play brings Shakepeare’s Globe and Headlong to Northampton stage

Like this pared back, stark adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V, the audience was much reduced on Wednesday’s Press Night, due to heavy snowfall.

But those of us who made it were tucked warmly into the Royal, watching the 20-something, newly-anointed King, bruised by his dying father’s distain, wreak havoc across France after being ‘dissed’ – if you will – by the delivery of a tennis ball.

Enraged by Charles VI of France’s apparent slight and determined to become a warrior king and claim France as his birth right, as his dead father had done, Henry invades, and begins a bloody campaign that culminates in the battle of Agincourt. (Read up on your history if you didn’t do Henry V at school, as it gets pretty complicated, with references to English subjugation of the Welsh, who ultimately provided the 500 longbow archers who laid waste to the French bogged down in the muddy battle.)

Georgia Frost in Henry V. Credit Ant Robling

This lauded production, a collaboration between Shakespeare’s Globe, Headlong and Royal & Derngate, started its creative life at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, essentially the indoors bit of the Globe, which seemed to use chandeliers and candlelight to give the production a switch from light to dark. On the Royal stage, the set is starker, with rows of green chairs facing each other to indicate the French and English, and a ruched green curtain drop alternating with an impressive and effective distressed mirrored backdrop. In Northampton, the chandeliers looked more like suspended light-sabres, which didn’t have quite the same effect.

Oliver Johnstone as Henry V . Photos by Ant Robling

The company of ten actors share all the parts, and while this is a very ‘male’ play (and on International Women’s Day I did feel a bit exhausted by the angry, entitled violence of it all), the mixed gender cast do a sterling job of keeping the dialogue comprehensible.

However, the adaptation has them in quite possibly the worst collection of ill-fitting chino trousers I’ve ever seen outside Twickenham on a match day.

OK, so there’s no cliched armour, swords or period frocks, but the contemporary clothing just made it more confusing to keep up with the character switches – apart from shrugging off the odd shirt to reveal white ‘wife-beater’ vests during the fighty bits.

Oliver Johnstone and Dharmesh Patel in Henry V. Credit Ant Robling (5)

Strong among the performances were Georgia Frost (Nym/Rambures/Williams) who brought a fizz of energy to every scene, James Cooney’s subtle side-eyeing which could be detected even several rows back, Joshua Griffin’s frustrated and almost controlled Fluellen and Jon Furlong’s impressive pre-interval death (no spoilers). Emotional performances from Helen Lymbery (Henry IV/Uncle Exeter) and Oliver Johnstone as the titular King must be exhausting.

Oliver Johnstone as Henry and Joséphine Callies as Katherine/Boy. Credit Ant Robling (1)

It’s a lot of story to cram into a couple of hours, and I kind of missed the context of the Pistol/Bardolph/Nym spoils of war link. And I’d have like to have lingered a little longer over the forced marriage/courtly love scene, where the teenaged Princess Katherine (of Valois, she’s buried in Westminster Abbey btw, and would go on to produce the Tudor line) is offloaded by her parents to the King who just slaughtered their citizens.

I’d be surprised if the schools haven’t snapped up the matinees because this production is a total shoo-in for an English or drama essay in future studies, especially with the sharp (and I meant total switcheroo) final scene, which slams us into a present-day immigrant citizenship exam. The roar of laughter from the audience confirmed the direct hit, although Shakespeare purists may not agree.

Henry V runs at Royal & Derngate until Saturday March 18, box office 01604 624811

The performances on Wed 15 March 7.30pm will be Audio Described and will be preceded by a pre-show Touch Tour. All patrons attending the tour should meet at the Box Office at 6.30pm, where a member of staff will then take them into the auditorium. Please email boxoffice@royalandderngate.co.uk to book the Touch Tour.

The performance on Thu 16 March 7.30pm will be performed with integrated British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation 

University of Northampton Avenue Campus demolition – the end of the start of the School of Art

Historic campus making way for housing after the main campus moved to Waterside in 2018

It’s difficult to count the number of students who must have passed through the doors of Avenue Campus in Northampton, now under demolition to make way for a housing estate.

From its official opening by the late Queen’s mother and father, the then Duke and Duchess of York in 1937, Avenue Campus in St George’s Avenue has had several names and purposes relating to education. From the purpose-built Northampton Technical College in 1924 through incarnations including the Central College of Technology, Northampton School of Art, Nene College, University College Northampton and eventually University of Northampton. Eight decades of students and staff have worked and studied on the site (and no, it was never a mental hospital as the rumours had it.)

Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and the Queen Mother

According to the University archives, On March 11, 1867, a free public lecture on Science and Art was held by the Museum Committee in the town hall (maybe the Guildhall, which had just been built in the same year?) It was so popular evening classes in painting and drawing started in October.

Art evening classes continued and expanded, closely linked to science classes, until in 1894 the Northampton and County Modern and Technical School was established.

The (ugly) central Maidwell building was reception, with the library above and classrooms below – Image
via wikimedia commons

In 1907 the evening class organisation became the Northampton and County Technical and Art School, with the Art School functioning separately. A further name change occurred the following year, to Northampton and County Technical School and School of Art.

One source states that the Northampton School of Art was re-designated the Northampton School of Arts and Crafts in 1917, but there are no documents in the archive from this date. However, two documents contained in the archive dated 1934 and 1937 use this form of name for the Northampton Art School.

The School of Art continued to grow, working in overcrowded rented accommodation, until new purpose-built premises were opened in 1937 next to the Technical College on St George’s Avenue.

In 1954, the Central College of Further Education was established, to include both the School of Art and the College of Technology. The School of Art appears to have continued to function as a separate college. It is likely that relevant papers were destroyed by a fire in a County Council records store.

The former staff parking entrance next to Newton building (now Bosworth College). At the back is Malcolm Arnold prep school on the site of the former Trinity Upper School swimming pool

In 1972 the School became known as the College of Art and 1975 saw the establishment of a college of higher education, Nene College. The Northampton colleges of Education and Technology along with the School of Art were amalgamated to form this new higher education college.

After many years as a journalist, I joined the university as a part-time lecturer on the journalism degree in 2009 and quite liked the building. My former classroom/newsroom was called MB5, later renamed the Matthew Engel room, down the hill opposite the rather useful cashpoint at the base of the Bassett Lowke halls of residence. It had a beautiful parquet floor and students in Year 1 could pretty much roll out of bed and into my lectures, but often still managed to be late. Many times the fire alarm would go off and see students having to stand on the Racecourse in their pajamas at all times of the day, waiting to be allowed back to bed. The radio studio on the same floor was named after Jo Whiley.

The old MB5 newsroom
Clive Lewis MP came to visit, having worked with me in the Chron days at Upper Mounts

I have plenty of good memories of the place, but also of the people. My first mentors were the now retired Richard Hollingum and Ted Sullivan. Avenue had plenty of great guest speakers, from Chris Mason, now BBC political editor, to the late Faye Weldon and comedian Stewart Lee.

The offices for staff were up the stairs, but due to the layout of the building, on a steep slope, they were really on the ground floor. I shared an office with the journalism and media staff, and it was a welcome hideaway where we could support each other, get marking done in peace and swear loudly when necessary.

One area, tucked away behind a large weeping fig, disposed of by the authorities in the move to the new campus, was a small sofa and this became ‘Hilary’s crying corner,’ not for me, but for students, when the pressures of academia all got a bit too much. We were lucky to have our own space and students – although they may not felt so at the time, had a brilliant location for studying – even the day I sent them out to report on a solar eclipse with paper plates.

Our media and journalism office during the clear-out before the move in 2018

Despite its whiff of furniture polish, mixed with multitude different cheap perfumes and body odour, I liked the place. Navigating it often felt like going in circles, due to its multilevel design on the only hill in the area. It had brass handrails and tiled walls in the old sections, some of which will stay – with the two ‘end’ buildings saved from destruction due to their listed building status, along with the old caretakers’ house/security building, Quinton Lodge.

It’s the second building I’ve worked in that I’ve watched be demolished, as the old Chronicle & Echo Building at Upper Mounts is now an Aldi…

Northampton Pride 2022 in full swing with huge turnout in town centre

A sunny, fun-filled day for all showed Northampton at its best #NorthamptonPride22

Northampton did itself proud this weekend with a massive turnout to support the Pride march event.

With a march starting at 11am and a huge range of stalls and performers, Pride was well-organised and attended, with the sun coming out just in time for the Market Square music performances.

Sponsored by Northampton-based Travis Perkins, the event is organised by Northampton’s LGBTQ and Allies Forum and aims to highlight the LGBTQ+ community, businesses and support organisations. 

Lots of families were at Pride, including Chanice Taylor, Kerry Marriot, Dominic Ross Whithey with Imogen and Harlie
Pic by Hilary Scott

Musicians including Ffsytho featuring Mark Ski, Joe Payne, drag acts, a brilliant Lady Gaga tribute called Radio Gaga and stilt walkers entertained crowds on the Market Square.

All over the Market Square stalls were busy and there were some fabulous outfits as the town came together to support Pride and the LGBTQ+ community. Staff from Northants Fire and Rescue, East Midlands Ambulance Service, the Police, WNC and Northampton Guardians had vehicles emblazoned with the Pride Rainbow while there was a roaring trade in flags. See our photo gallery below and video walkthrough.

A walk through Northampton Pride 2022 on the Market Square

Standing ovation as Hairspray the Musical rocks Royal and Derngate

Review: Hairspray. Royal and Derngate, Northampton (opening night January 31)

I had never seen Hairspray before. Yes, I know, I know. It’s one of the most popular musicals in the world, an award-winning tour de force combining fantastic music and storytelling and genuine social commentary that, although set in 1962 Baltimore, certainly still resonates today.

But musicals…? You either love ‘em or hate ‘em, right?

“Just admit that you loved it Mum and write ‘It was great’ over and over until you hit the word count,” suggested my 13-year-old, musical-theatre fan daughter.

“And don’t call me a fan, I’m not a fanatic.” (This is what you get bringing up four kids with two journalist parents). “And don’t call me a kid…”

photography by Mark Senior

OK, so it was great. Really great. You don’t need to go to the West End when the West End comes to Northampton. I was blown away by the skill of the huge cast – more than 20 on stage for complex yet seamless dance sequences, belting out song after song from the best known You Can’t stop the Beat finale to the intricate Mama I’m a Big Girl Now and I Know Where I’ve Been.

The show opens in ‘60s Baltimore, Maryland, with ‘gently plump’ schoolgirl Tracy Turnblad (Katie Brace) belting out Good Morning Baltimore with her trademark black flick beehive, observing the flashers, rats and alcoholics before heading home to agoraphobic mum Edna (a drag role played by Alex Bourne) and joke-shop owner dad Wilbur (Norman Pace, yes, the one from Hale and Pace, all you people of a certain age).

photography by Mark Senior

Tracy and her best pal, Penny (Rebecca Jayne-Davies, aforementioned daughter’s favourite actor of the night), tune in their TV to the Corny Collins Show, a teen dance programme, based a on a real, American Bandstand-esque show of the time. Tracy and Penny yearn to get on the show, but detention, mean girl Amber (Jessica Croll) and her pushy TV producer mother Velma (Rebecca Thornhill), plus a massive dollop of classism, racism and body-shaming, look like killing their dream.

photography by Mark Senior

But Tracy bunks off school, meets heartthrob Link (understudy Joshua Pearson did an excellent job on first night) and makes a big impression on show host Corny (Richard Meek), as well as winning the show lots more fans and a plus size clothing contract. Cue loads of amazing costume changes (bravo Takis).

photography by Mark Senior

But Tracy’s stardom is short-lived. With and with the help of Motormouth Maybelle (the extraordinary Brenda Edwards), her kids Seaweed (Reece Richards) and Little Inez (the very talented Charlotte St Croix) and others segregated by their race (despite it being over 100 years since slavery was abolished in the southern states), they storm the show and a riot sees everyone locked up. (Locked up for protesting? How very now…) Cue a race to escape and get everyone live on air for the TV show finale.  

photography by Mark Senior

Hairspray the Musical came after John Water’s cult film of 1988, which starred Ricki Lake as Tracy, Debbie Harry as Amber and drag icon Divine (in his last role) as Edna.  Waters was to cut through the discrimination of the 60s still evident in the 80s, from racism to gay rights.  

Today’s Hairspray does the same, skewering the biases and bigotry with a riotously funny musical. Bourne and Pace have a hilarious chemistry and comic timing as Edna and Wilbur, while Brenda Edwards’ voice during Maybelle’s protest ballad I Know Where I’ve Been moved many to tears – such is her power (and yes, she’s the one off Loose Women, The X-Factor and Songs of Praise). Newcomer Katie Brace as Tracy is a total star – from her voice to her movement and acting with every inch of her face. You also can’t take your eyes off Charlotte St Croix (Little Inez), who I’m confident will be one to watch.

Brenda Edwards as Maybelle

There’s not enough space here to name them all but it’s an incredible cast at the top of their game – from the skill of the dancers on a relatively small stage to the live band who sometimes appear as part of the show – we’re really very lucky to have the Royal and Derngate for these top-of-their-game touring shows.

It WAS great!

Book now if you can, it’s on until Saturday (February 5) with tickets from Derngate Box Office or on 01604 624811.

Sometimes the way they talk about Saints is pure snobbery


Twenty minutes into Saints home victory over Saracens, just after Moon and Ludlam had crossed the line to score and perhaps three more scoring chances were lost to butterfingers, BT Sport had a touchline chat with one of the visiting coaches.

He was asked to reflect on how well his side were controlling the game. To be fair, he did seem a bit wrongfooted by the question.

A lot of Sarries’ most famous names had been swapped out for this game. Duncan Taylor had been red carded for head contact in a tackle in the seventh minute. The visitors had just gone behind, a situation they would remain in for the rest of the game during which they would concede six tries and 38 points.

The narrative being offered in commentary was ‘how are they going to get this back?’

Every fumble and error by Saints, who did look like two weeks off might be good for their bodies but bad for their execution, was presented as evidence that this side (with a famously bad defensive record) was not top four material.

Now I’m not trying to alter reality here. Just like the players in any game, there is no Saints error that I wished hadn’t happened. But perhaps I am getting a little bit sick of the unconscious snobbery that swirls around the upper echelons of rugby in the coverage and the commentary.

Some of my beef is a product of the fact that the people covering rugby know the most about the most famous teams and the most famous players, so they can say more about them. The worst offenders are those covering international matches but it’s a factor in the mix. Back in the day we would have called it poor journalism.

Player pundits can give really good insights but they are most useful when talking about players and teams they know, which is of course also the most difficult stuff to talk about.

Northampton Saints match report

Breezing through some of the social media and national media match reports after the game I was reading dismissive accounts of a match rendered meaningless by a red card and the number of squad players in Sarries line-up. You would have thought Saracens had just sneaked a win in the dying moments rather than finishing two scores behind.

Saints have been in games where we got a battering and nearly clawed our way back, and we didn’t get handed a moral victory by the media afterwards. In the corresponding fixture at Saracens we lost by one score. Well, that’s pretty much a win isn’t it. I’m sure we had a couple of players missing. There were a couple of yellow cards.

It wouldn’t be so bad if we hadn’t been consistently hovering around the top four at the end of the season for the past few years. Sure, not feeling like we deserved it, feeling like the poor neighbours among rugby’s posher names, believing that we are too much of a nice community club to be a real sexy threat but it was us there, not one of the many teams with a better defensive balance sheet.

Pundits have got to stop wheeling out Saints’ defensive record as if it was conclusive proof of something when by now surely the more interesting question is the fact that it isn’t proof of anything at all.

How are Saints doing so well with that heavy chain of defensive sins strung about their necks? The only way to win a game of rugby is to find enough space between the meat to put the ball where you want it.

Tackles made154151
Tackle success92.77%83.43%
Stats from Premiership Rugby

How much difference did Saracens being a man down really make? Obviously it’s an advantage but it doesn’t play out the same way it does in football. To some extent the gap it creates has to be manufactured by the attacking team. Saints still needed to do a lot right to put so many points past Saracens.

Dave Ribbans was awarded Player of the Match for his last home game for Saints but James Ramm and Alex Mitchell put in big big shifts and Courtney Lawes was applauded off the pitch when his turn came.

Ramm runs tricky lines with afterburner acceleration and ensures contact is never neat and tidy for the tackler. He’s fast and abrasive and rarely stopped by just one defender. Hopefully the injury that took him off the field has not ended his season.

There were times in this game when it really did look like Mitchell was motoring, delivering quick ball that was arriving back at the gain line before Sarries were reset.

Saints did plenty right in this game and they couldn’t do anything more in terms of points. Five against Saracens despite the upturned noses in the wider rugby world. I’m not even saying I want the snobbery to stop, but I would like us to harness it for ourselves.

These people don’t think we deserve what we have got through bringing on young talent, buying smart and investing in the community. The snobs don’t look at Northampton and see big news stories about huge transfer payments and salary scandals. They don’t understand us. They think we’re an easy win. It makes me angry. That’s part of our story and we should use it.

Pictures by Dave Ikin

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel welcomes you in Northampton this May


The hugely popular adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s story of pensioners seeking a new life in India comes to Royal & Derngate with a star-studded cast.

Based on the Sunday Times bestseller which inspired one of this century’s most treasured films, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel comes to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate this spring, from Tuesday May 9 to Saturday 13, with a cast including Paul Nicholas, Belinda Lang and Tessa Peake-Jones.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Picture by Mikal Ludlow Photography

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel takes us on a journey to India with an eclectic group of British retirees as they embark on a new life. The luxury residence is far from the opulence they were promised, but as their lives begin to intertwine and they embrace the vibrancy of modern-day India, they are charmed in unexpected and life-changing ways.

L-R Tessa Peake-Jones (Evelyn), Paola Dionisotti (Dorothy), Shila Iqbal (Sahani) and Belinda Lang (Madge) Picture by Mikal Ludlow Photography

The cast includes much-loved comedy actress Belinda Lang (2 Point 4 Children, Oklahoma!), playing Madge, stage and screen star Paul Nicholas (Jesus Christ Superstar, Just Good Friends, EastEnders) as Douglas, Graham Seed, best known for his award-winning long-running performance as Nigel Pargetter in Radio 4’s The Archers, as Norman, Paola Dionisotti (Game of Thrones) as Dorothy and Tessa Peake-Jones (Raquel in Only Fools and Horses) as Evelyn. Nishad More (King Lear, RSC) plays Sonny Kapoor the put-upon owner of the past-its-best hotel for ‘the elderly and beautiful’.


Deborah Moggach has adapted her bestselling 2004 novel These Foolish Things for the stage, it previously having inspired the BAFTA and Golden Globe-nominated film. The play is directed by Royal & Derngate favourite Lucy Bailey, who has delighted Northampton audiences with her productions including Gaslight and Love from a Stranger, and who will be back to direct And Then There Were None this autumn.

Credit: Johan Persson/

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a joyous, feel-good comedy about taking risks, finding love, and embracing second chances, even in the most surprising of places. It takes to the Derngate stage from Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 May at 7.30pm, with matinees at 2.30pm on Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets – priced from £13 – can be booked by calling Box Office on 01604 624811 or online at www.royalandderngate.co.uk.

Weetabix pledges another three years of support for Northamptonshire food and drink awards

The Weetabix Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards is back for its fifteenth year with another sensational set of categories and sponsors. 

The Awards are a celebration and recognition of excellence within the Northamptonshire food and drink sector. It is a toast to all that is great about local produce and drink and rewarding those who work so hard to achieve the best within the culinary sector.  

The team behind the Awards are delighted to announce eighteen fantastic categories this year, which includes the introduction of a debut category: Event Venue of the year and with that, welcomes a fresh sponsor, the Hilton Garden Inn, Silverstone. New sponsors also joining the competition this year are, Greedy Gordons (Restaurant of the Year), University of Northampton (Food and Drink College Student of the year) and new Associate sponsor, Bedford College. 

New sponsor Greedy Gordons Pub Group, winner of Booker Dining Venue for the Snooty Fox at Lowick last year, is now sponsoring Restaurant of the Year. Richard Gordon said ‘we have had huge success over the last five years in this great competition and it’s time to make way for others to take these accolades and all the glory that goes with it. We could not be more thrilled to sponsor this fantastic category and are excited and looking forward to this year’s events.’ 

Thanks to ongoing support from headline sponsor, Weetabix has committed to another three years with the competition representing the Burton Latimer company’s commitment to the county’s hard working food and drink sector. The breakfast giant will once again be joined by existing category sponsors All things Business, Booker, Daily Bread, Delapre Abbey, Whitco, Heygates Flour and Animal Feed, Howes Percival LLP, Moulton College and Whitworth Bros Ltd Flour Millers. 

Stuart Branch, Group People and Technology Director at Weetabix said ‘We’re thrilled and proud to be headline sponsor to the Awards for a fourth year. Being directly involved with the judging process, seeing first-hand the impact these awards can have on local businesses growth and development is an honour. We are proud to see the vast range of venues, producers, chefs, businesses and organisations that these prestigious Awards support and celebrate.   

The full details of the latest competition were revealed by Awards Director, Rachel Mallows MBE, at the launch which took place at Silverstone Circuit, Silver Award Winners of the Healthy Food and Wellbeing Award 2022.

Rachel set off the Awards launch with: “Super close to the country’s iconic starting line, the county’s foods and drink and hospitality sector gets ready to be nominated, entered, judged, and have the chance to win and celebrate their achievements. I want to highlight the Importance of recognition through the Awards, so I start here today thinking about last year, hoping the launch of 2023 is going to be about moving into prosperity after Brexit, Covid and cost of living. We can’t kick off this competition without mentioning the hard work of this sector, the hundreds if not thousands of individuals who work so hard in Food and Drink and in hospitality. We not only nourish ourselves through food and drink consumption, but we also build friendships, we enjoy our family’s and communities through this sector, through our home cooking to eating out. Let’s see what 2023 will bring!’

Rachel also revealed an exciting change to the dining categories. Booker will now sponsor both the Young Chef of the Year and revised category ‘Gastro Pub of the Year’. 

This year’s launch also revealed new Awards Patron, David Foskett MBE, member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, Craft Guild of Chefs and a fellow of the Institute of Hospitality. He’s also been voted one of the most influential people in the hospitality public sector. The Awards team are very excited to have David on board. 

Previous Award winners like John Folliot-Vaughn, Artisan Local Drink, Gold Award winner 2022/23 Stonyfield Wine were able to reflect on their successes of the competition since winning: “You don’t realise until afterwards how much difference it can make to your business.”

Katie Steele from the Towcester Community Larder, who won Gold in the Local Food Hero category last year said: “Our success in the Awards has been fantastic for our profile and making ourselves visible to not just businesses within the community but also to users of our service. Having this acknowledgement that we are open to everyone, and our purpose is about saving food from waste and getting it out to the communities was invaluable.” 

The free-to-enter categories in this year’s Awards (with their respective sponsors) are:

Artisan Local Drink of the Year 

Artisan Local Product of the Year (Heygates Flour and Animal Feed)

Artisan Local Vegetarian / Vegan Product of the Year (Daily Bread)

Booker Gastro of the Year (Booker)

Booker Young Chef of the Year (Booker)

Community Café of the Year (Supported by The Good Loaf)

Event Venue of the Year (Hilton Garden Inn)

Farming Environment Award (Weetabix Growers Group)

F&B Achiever of the Year (Howes Percival LLP)

Food and Drink College Student of the Year (University of Northampton)

Healthy Food and Wellbeing Award (Delapré Abbey)

Local Food Hero of the Year (Moulton College)

One To Watch (Whitworth Bros. Ltd Flour Millers)

Outstanding Contribution to Food & Drink (All Things Business) 

Restaurant of the Year (Greedy Gordons)

Weetabix Sustainability Award (Weetabix)

Whitco Chef of the Year (Whitco)

World Cuisine Restaurant of the Year 

The results of the competition, which will again see finalists awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze, will be announced at the Awards celebrations taking place on 1st November 2023 at The Royal & Derngate Theatre, supported again by caterers Portfolio Events. 

For more details on all the categories in the Weetabix Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards 2023/24, including entry and nomination forms, please visit the Awards’ website – www.northamptonshirefoodanddrink.co.uk – or call Sophie on 01933 664437 or email sophie@themallowscompany.com

You can also follow the Awards on Facebook at @foodawards or Twitter and Instagram at @foodawardsHQ or on LinkedIn at @weetabixnfadawards

Copy supplied

Forwards march for Saints and deliver the reaction we were waiting for


To some degree rugby operates in its own reality of outrageous expectations. Little guys bring down big guys. Un-kickable objects get booted through impossible gaps at unlikely angles. Players go forwards but the ball goes backwards. The team that got spanked last week will do the spanking this week.

It’s the ‘reaction’ game. A team takes a shock result (like Bristol rugbying the bejesus out of us in the previous round) and takes it forward as motivation for the next week. Phrases like ‘setting the record straight’ and ‘putting things right’ get used and it works a ridiculous amount of the time.

If you play a team the week after they got a surprise monstering you will find out something about who they really are. And Saints were very determined to tell that story at home against Bath.

Northampton SaintsBath Rugby
Tackles Made110118
Tackles Missed1124
Tackle Success90.91%83.1%

Player of the Match was Saints Hooker Robbie Smith who spearheaded an all round awesome performance from the pack with two tries of his own. His lineout throwing was on point and he was busy around the pitch, putting in ten tackles.

Newly and spectacularly blond Juarno Augustus consistently skittled his way through to Bath’s defenders in Gold Mode while Scott-Young showed a sixth sense for collecting Smith’s lineout throws and also put in a shift as the home side’s top tackler.

Saints own match report here

Saints top performing players were all doing more than one thing very right, such as Fin Smith, who not only made the most metres for the home side but also slotted all six of his conversions and contributed 11 tackles.

In the midst of all this Bath still managed four tries of their own with three conversions and must be wondering what it takes to get a win with Tom de Glanville and Tom Dunn putting in noteworthy performances for the visitors.

Northampton SaintsBath Rugby
Most MetresFin Smith 64Tom de Glanville 67
Most CarriesJuarno Augustus 12
Fraser Dingwall 12
Tom de Glanville 15
Most TacklesAngus Scott-Young 14Tom Dunn 15

Saints have London Irish, Saracens and Newcastle to come with Irish and Newcastle both being away games. So far this season Saints have won at home and lost away to all our opponents apart from our derby spouses Leicester where we lost at home and won away. It sounds more like a genie’s curse than a win/loss record. You shall score the most tries but you shall also concede the most…

Nothing has been achieved yet but it feels good to be in the mix at this stage of the season with a team that blends stars with homegrown talent and entertains so much. Rugby is about taking what is dished out to you and giving more back and Saints certainly did that against Bath on Friday night. Pictures by Dave Ikin

Have we just seen Saints’ try of the season? Maybe Netflix will tell us


Northampton Saints 41-34 Gloucester Rugby * Pics by Dave Ikin

The Netflix cameras are currently circling over rugby union in the hope of emulating the success of their Formula One fly on the wall hit Drive to Survive and this Gloucester game might have been ideal subject matter.

It’s not a bad idea at all. Drive to Survive has helped me understand how the human element integrates with the technicalities of motorsport as the engineers of south Northamptonshire pit their skills against each other around the world every year.

That mix of explanation and story telling could really open up rugby which has its own context of arcane laws, conventions and objectives to unpick as well as a surprisingly diverse range of participants despite a reputation as a ‘posh’ sport.

The main problem seems to be finding a name for the series that is both meaningful but also carries the reduplicated rhyming structure of Drive to Survive. For instance: Pass to Surpass? What? Tackle to… no. Ruck to… definitely no. Lucky Rucky? Ok send the cameras away.

Sometimes it can be quite tricky to pin down what rugby is really about. Saints home victory over Gloucester is a great example. Watching the game it felt like it all came down to that period around the hour mark when Alex Moon, Sam Graham and Tommy Freeman all crossed the whitewash within eight minutes of each other.

Northampton Saints full match report

Saints now have a reputation with the punditry as a team that likes to play and run. On a surface level that kind of explains the game: a tight first half arm wrestle with both sides on ten at half-time until the Saints flying circus took off in the second half.

But the best try wasn’t in that little haul. It was Fraser Dingwall on 68 minutes, finishing off a zigzagging cascade of passes that began with Salakaia-Loto snaffling a rebounding ball, sending it to Hutchinson who found Graham who found Braley who found Dingwall who found the whitewash.

That try was pure Saints DNA. Opportunity + skill + belief = points. It might be our try of the season. However in the following 14 minutes before the game ended Gloucester managed to score three more times themselves, resulting in a tally of six tries each. So in that Netflix kinda way, it’s not the full story of this episode.

This wasn’t a BT Sport game so we didn’t have Ben Kay or Austin Healey in the commentary box to tell us who the Player of the Match was but individually James Ramm had a really strong game. His breaks ate up metres and he also provided the wow kick of the contest launching a spectacular 50-22 shot that put Gloucester back on the defensive.

(This is the rule that rewards the attacking team with a lineout if they kick the ball from their own half into the opposition’s 22 metre zone and it bounces once before going into touch. You can just imagine Netflix cutting to a rugby pundit to explain what’s going on.)

At a glance
Northampton SaintsGloucester Rugby
Most CarriesSam Graham 16Ruan Ackermann 12
Most MetresJames Ramm 107Santiago Carreras 60
Most TacklesAlex Moon 13
Angus Scott-Young 13
Ruan Ackermann 12
Stats from Premiership Rugby

If you are looking for stories in the game there is also one which gives us a salutary lesson about statistics. Former Saintsman Jamal Ford-Robinson came on for Gloucester around the hour mark. He made five metres, executed one tackle and carried the ball three times – two of which were the tries he scored against his old side in the final minutes.

The points difference between the teams came down to the fact that James Grayson nailed more conversions than his opposite number Santiago Carreras and also slotted a penalty.

You can watch your team do a lot of impressive, courageous, inspiring things in rugby without seeing them score but eventually someone has to bank actual points and Grayson, who has not had many chances lately, put in a really composed performance at fly-half.

Grayson is one of those Saints who has the burden/honour of having a famous Saint father who played in the same position, England fly-half Paul Grayson. I can imagine the collective sigh from people who already know that and who also know that comparison is unfair and not really meaningful. But let’s be honest. Netflix would lap that up. Paul and James giving each other a sheepish hello as they take their seats next to each other on a minimalist interview set. I can picture it.

I guess it is up to rugby how much it can bear to share (hmmm…) with the Netflix documentary makers but that naming problem is not going to go away. The sport is in a perilous position in the islands that invented it. The Welsh RFU is in all sorts of bother and the collapse of Worcester and Wasps proves that there are no names too big to fail.

The game really does need something that reveals its fascinating stories to new audiences so the game can grow and the balance sheets can start to make sense. Otherwise the name of the show will be Try to Survive.

Pictures by Dave Ikin

Saints survive the Sharknado to stage their biggest Premiership comeback


It was Saints biggest ever Premiership points comeback but there are Sale fans today who are shrugging their shoulders, stroking their beards and grumbling about red cards, yellow cards and penalty tries.

Sale and England centre Manu Tuilagi was shown red in the 13th minute for throwing a fending forearm into the throat of Tommy Freeman and now that the dust has settled there are some who would say that was the key moment of the encounter.

It was an exuberant offence rather than malicious and was notable for the way both Manu and Saints players went out of their way to reassure each other no offence was meant and none was taken.

From that point Sale unleashed a first half performance of such smart energy and ferocity that it ended 7-24 in favour of the visitors despite the absence of Manu watching disconsolately from the touchline. For him a red means some kind of ban, which means his Six Nations chances with England are compromised and at the age of 31 who knows what that means for his international career.

The truth is, that extra man advantage after a sending off does not work as it might in soccer where the extra space can be exploited almost immediately. Sale’s powerful forwards ensured it took all Saints manpower to stop their charges or get the ball back from our own attempts to smash through their iron defensive wall.

Yes there was a vulnerability there waiting to be found but Sale did very well at making sure that quick clean ball Saints needed to take advantage just wasn’t coming.

And if cards were an issue for Sale in this game, injuries were the issue for Saints. One minute after the loss of Tuilagi for instance, Saints captain George Furbank hobbled off the field with a leg injury depriving the home side of not only the first choice fullback but also the emergency cover at 10. Sale notched up two yellow cards in the second half and were reduced to 13 men at one point but after injuries to Fin Smith and Tom James, Saints found themselves with Rory Hutchinson at fly-half and Callum Braley at scrum-half. Mike Tyson used to say that everyone has got a plan until they get punched in the face.

While Sale had to back their physicality under the pressure of reduced manpower, Saints had to back their talent pool to ensure that their replacements brought the attacking threat required to overhaul the enormous Sharks lead. It worked.

Dave Ribbans was awarded Player of the Match by commentator Austin Healey who had been revving himself up to hand it to Tom Curry just minutes before the final whistle. That was how close this contest was.

The list of Saints notables is long: a superb shift from Dingwall; Collins smelling space like a Shark smells blood; Proctor, Ramm and Freeman making yards against the tide; Hutchinson and James for being beloved by the god of kicking; Braley for expecting the unexpected like only someone who has played 9 for Italy can.

CarriesAugustus 16Carpenter 16
MetresFreeman 69Carpenter 148
TacklesMoon 13Ashman/Curry 15
Figures from Premiership Rugby

You can look at rugby as a game that is about winning big smashes and recycling the ball out to the fast guys while the opposition defence is still picking itself up in a daze. You can have all the fancy moves in the world but they are no good to you if you are stuck under several hundred kgs of Shark. You can also look at it as a game where a lot of calories are expended on shock and awe collisions when the ultimate mission in any rugby game is to hit space, not people. That trade-off between big guy and little guy energy is the ying and yang at the heart of rugby union that makes it such a compelling sport.

Northampton Saints blow by blow match report

Sale’s fiery on the edge style gained them points but lost them manpower, we lost playmakers but we had more playmakers and by the end of the game more energy. I could make a Second World War analogy about tanks running out of fuel but that would be a bit tasteless and casts Sale in the role of the baddies. Not even their brilliant General George Ford could save them. Just saying.

Even with the cards at home in front of a rapturous crowd this win felt like an immense achievement. That is partly respect due to Sharks who many would have expected to find a way to muscle through anyway. But it is also partly due to that win against Leicester a couple of weeks back – a similar type of challenge that might have gone a different way for Saints a couple of seasons ago. Saints fans have been watching their team almost do things like this for a while, now they are doing it.

We are used to being cast as the underdog and right now Saints might be in that sweet spot before everyone else realises that’s not true. If you look at the current Premiership Team Stats, Saints are in the top two for every category (things like most metres gained, most tries etc) apart from Turnovers Won. Keep it under your hat for now, but we might be sneaking up on something here.

Pictures by Dave Ikin

Exceptional beats with a modern twist that shows child exploitation is not just history


Review of Michael Rosen’s Unexpected Twist, Royal and Derngate, Northampton

As latecomers were still taking their seats, two young male actors appear in front of the curtain to beatbox a message – this show has no instruments other than voice. And boy, do they use that voice well. Musical director Conrad Murray and song writer Yaya Bey’s work with a cast of incredible multitalented actors is the absolute heart of this show.

This is more than just an adaptation of Oliver Twist, interlinked by Michael Rosen into a contemporary setting, it’s a show, a spectacle, a musical remix of a story of exploited and abandoned children by today’s society, set to a banging original soundtrack.

Drew Hylton, Rosie Hilal, James Meteyard, Liyah Summers, Polly Lister. All photos by Manuel Harlan

Just as in Dickens’ original story of child exploitation, Roy Williams’ clever stage adaptation takes it a little further – bringing alive the truth of poverty and politics – and the message of the power of books to make sense of our society.

Reminiscent of previous R&D show Education, Education, Education, it opens in a contemporary classroom, with teacher Miss Cavani trying to get her unruly charges to engage with readings from Oliver Twist. With the exception of the keen-to-learn Rasheda (Liyah Summers), the class are disruptive and disengaged.

The staging is on two levels – a clever construction of stepped lockers and climbing bars allowing the Victorian and contemporary stories to overlap without set changes. The lighting is used effectively as an extra layer of staging – although in Row F of the stalls the light bursts into the audience are just too much – several times we had to cover our eyes to avoid another migraine-inducing blast.  

New girl Shona, (a brilliant performance by Drew Hylton), is grieving the death of her mother and frustrated by constantly moving house due to her dad’s inability to function, without recognising his own grief. Their relationship, like too many young people in poverty, has switched the parent/child responsibilities.  

The characters are all stuck in their own survival loops – Tino/Dodger (Alexander Lobo Moreno) is trapped in co-dependency and fear by Pops/Sykes while the teacher is fighting to ‘save’ pupils past and present from their fate while enduring her own unseen trauma. The child gang here is trapped by county lines and money laundering, and the bribery/blackmail of people in poverty thinking they can change their lot by agreeing to a ‘one-off’ favour that binds them to criminality.

Drew Hylton as Shona and Tomas Vernal as Dad

And the phones, the ubiquitous phones. The addiction and control that they exert is as glittery as a gold necklace to Fagin’s gang. They promise freedom but hold us back. Their presence runs through the show, brilliantly choreographed, like a poisonous fruit.

The music lifts the show in every way. Beats can scream anger and provoke laughter one minute and deep melancholy the next. Kate Donnachie stands out as disruptive Desree and her beatboxing and movement leads the entire cast, cleverly choreographed by Arielle Smith.

Alexander Lobo-Moreno as Tino/Dodger

There are some parts that grated – like the very odd attempt at cockney rhyming slang that is overused and just doesn’t land. There are some very simplistic resolutions, and by the end this was killing some of the justified rage at inequality and class bias I expect Rosen and Dickens intended. But remember this is a show for children (secondary age I’d advise) and as we went on press night, it felt odd to watch in an audience of, let’s just say it, privilege. Theatre can have a huge influence and I think, had I seen it on a matinee full of year 8s, it might have felt less awkward.

I urge any parents of teen to go and see it – the musical talent alone is worth the ticket price.

Unexpected Twist is a Royal & Derngate and Children’s Theatre Partnership production, and runs at Royal & Derngate until February 25, box office 01604 624811, before a national tour.