Coffee #1 brings a slice of the good life to Warwick town centre

Review: Coffee #1, 22-24 High St, Warwick, CV34 4AP

Rating: ★★★★★

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Boldly proclaiming itself ‘the UK’s best coffee chain’, this recent addition to Warwick’s High Street certainly knows how to make an entrance.

For sure, Coffee #1 hasn’t been short of fans since launching in Cardiff fifteen years ago. Among the famous faces captured in a menagerie of framed pictures on the wall are Carol Vorderman, Huw Stephens, Melinda Messenger and Mel C. At first glance, they chose well. The open-plan interior, complete with wall art and bookshelves, has a contemporary pub feel and could just about host a Spice Girls book signing.

Parked at a table in the chain’s latest outpost, I chatted with a fellow writer about research we are conducting into the Dark Ages, when Warwick was the frontline for wars between the Anglo-Saxons and their Viking foes. Norse steel may no longer fall in Warwick, but the expanding chain has put a stake in the ground by taking over a prime street corner in a town  many thought was already saturated with coffee chains.

Make no mistake, this is the battle of the branded mugs.

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A spacious layout accommodates a busy footfall on the corner of Warwick’s High Street
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The bosco cheesecake is among Coffee #1’s star performers in Warwick

Cabinets on a bulky counter are resplendent with eats such as couscous salads and sundry sweet delights including salted caramel and pecan nut pretzels and ‘feel good’ graniola slices. The menus overhead go way beyond flat whites and espressos. I tried the steamed apple and cinnamon, an embracing, full-bodied winter warmer retaining all the zest of its original ingredients. Other caffeine-less drinks include fresh juices, delectable hot chocolates and an imaginative list of herbal teas.

There are seven coffees including three blends with flavours from around the world. For example, the house recipe is a mixture of East African and Brazilian beans. Coffee #1 stocks Fairtrade and ethically-traded products and professes to only use suppliers adhering to social responsibility codes.

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Coffee #1 is winning fans with a variety of coffees using beans from around the world
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The coffee shop offers a range of menu options including ciabattas and couscous salads

Reigning supreme on this visit was the bosco cheesecake – a berry-topped circle of pure indulgence with a soft, creamy core. We also tried a piece of orange polenta and almond cake which added a firm, crumbly texture to help our drinks sail along. Our tea break was good value, too, the apple and cinnamon coming to £2.35 and the desserts under £3 each.

On later visits the coffee shop appeared to have been a victim of its own success with queues up to 10-deep at the counter and the frothy swirls losing their shape as the baristas ground out orders.

However there is always ample space to sit and spread out the newspapers provided by the house.

Among the framed paintings on the wall is a cartoon portrayal of Aethelflaed, who liberated Warwick from the Vikings. In the battle of the brands, it seems Coffee #1 is here to stay.

For opening times and further information visit: www.coffee1.co.uk

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Such things as dreams are made on; Tempest live plays to a full house in Royal Leamington Spa

 

 

A remarkable new take on Shakespeare’s tale of love, desolation and forgiveness was broadcast live to cinemas from the RSC. Much Ado watched the towering meeting of virtuoso acting and digital trickery from the Royal Spa Centre in Leamington on Wednesday night.

Cast onto a cinema screen in the packed auditorium, Simon Russell Beale’s wondrous Prospero seemed to have the rapt audience firmly under his spell. A full house watched this masterpiece of theatre as performed live just down the road at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. The sumptuous, enchanting performance married commanding performances with breathtaking digital effects that swept us onto Prospero’s island.

To be sure, this was no awkward shoehorning of cinema, classic themes and CGI.

The digital imagery, despite its scale and ambition, blended seamlessly with the acting, costuming and every human interaction on stage. With the elements coming together harmoniously, two ages of entertainment formed a spectacle ranging from a thunderous maelstrom to a tender study of emotions. It felt paradigm-shifting, and directors of screen and stage will surely take heed to how this was achieved without Hollywood scriptwriters or 3D specs.

The cacophonous opening thunderstorm scene laid down the mantle, but every detail was realised to perfection; from the ropes around Caliban’s deformed body to the pastel tones and enveloping peacock feathers swathing the giddy dance of love between Miranda and Ferdinand.

tempest-small-snipShakespeare himself embraced new technology for performances of the Tempest that held Jacobean audiences in their thrall, director Gregory Doran told us during the pre-show talks. Doran challenged his team to find the latest cutting-edge innovations of the present day.

Boy, how they delivered.

A five-star review of the show, as watched at the RSC, can be read earlier in this blog.

Suffice to say that watching at the cinema only made the spectacle more intense, with facial expressions given high-definition sheen. In more than a decade of visiting the Spa Centre, no one in my group could remember the auditorium so packed. Even a short blackout during the pre-show talks, which left us only with audio, failed to spoil this unique show. There was scattered applause at the end. To the list of achievements can be added the bedazzling of a cinema audience.

Mark Quartley, who played Ariel, imagined Shakespeare would have loved the production in another talk broadcast during the interval.  Of course, it’s easy to wonder what the great writer would have thought about the modern staging of any of his plays.

In this case, I’d genuinely like to know.

RSC Live continues with its Rome season plays, including Julius Caesar, Antony & Cleopatra and Titus Andronicus showing at cinemas between April and August.

Links:

Spa Centre www.warwickdc.gov.uk/royalspacentre

RSC www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/in-cinemas

 

When bawdy Hull marched to Shakespeare’s county; 2017 at the RSC

How does a powerhouse of Shakespeare follow up a year like 2016? The 400th anniversary of the great bard’s death regularly saw off KimYe in the trending stakes and drew record crowds to the RSC. The theatre’s 2017 season promises to follow up with fresh takes on classic tales and a return to the might of Rome.

The city of Hull might not resonate as strongly as the state of Denmark in the minds of Shakespeare fans, but its identity is stamped on what promises to be one of the highlights of the 2017 season.

The Hypocrite by playwright Richard Bean, of One Man, Two Guvnors fame, is heading south of the border to bring a tale of high farce to Stratford-upon-Avon.

The riotous comedy is set in Hull during a Royalist siege and recently premiered in the UK City of Culture 2017 ahead of its transfer straight to the Swan Theatre.

Will it be as hilarious and successful as its predecessor? Well, its run starts late March and many will be waiting and hoping for something uplifting in the year to come.

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Antony & Cleopatra takes its place in a run of Roman plays

Another comedy with historic roots headed to the Swan is Phil Porter’s Roman comedy romp, Vice Versa, a redux of Plautus’s comedies for non-toga wearing audiences.

The world premier looks promising, not least to those of us raised on a diet of Up Pompeii! (though no doubt the resemblance will only be fleeting and its main light Frankie Howard never played Stratford).

Also in the Swan is the first Oscar Wilde production at Stratford. Modern buzz words such as erotic, enigmatic and metro-sexual apply to this story of Herod’s stepdaughter, entitled Salome. 

Wilde was in Reading jail when the play was first staged in 1896 and the tragedy receives its RSC airing to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain.

Finally in the Swan comes a recrafting of classical Chinese drama Snow In Midsummer, the first in a series of plays from a cultural exchange between the RSC and the land of the dragon. Playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig and director Justin Audibert have added a contemporary touch to the story of a young girl wrongly accused of murder.

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Snow in Midsummer begins the RSC’s exchange with China

 

The victim of injustice, named Dou Yi, will be played by Katie Leung, whose previous film and stage credits include starring as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter films.

Snow in Midsummer is among plays fleshed out by one-off writer and director talks, which can yield fascinating insights and interpretation of a play and its production.

The drama is wrapped in opportunities to find out more about how the story of a locust-ravaged Chinese town transfers to the banks of the Avon.

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Meanwhile in the Main House there are four Roman productions which along with Salome form a season with a season.

There’s an early return for Titus Andronicus, which was last performed in Stratford in 2013. If it’s half as gory in production as the last staging then it will be a shocking, disturbing and questioning voyage into morality and corruption. Described by the RSC as “murder as entertainment” it may well be worth going to director Blanche McIntyre’s talk, if not just to find out the finer details of detaching body parts on stage.

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Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar begins the Roman season in March

Julius Caesar continues the Roman thread with its story of power, control and betrayal. The game of empires, which begins the Rome series in March, is directed by Angus Jackson, who was most recently at the RSC for 2014’s superbly staged Oppenheimer. 

Finally another grand chariot, and a doyen of many A-level courses, pulls up in the form of Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Iqbal Khan, responsible for a memorable Othello in 2015. Power, decadence and corruption – such contemporary issues – vie for attention in what is likely to be a seasonal stand out. Shakespeare’s tragedy will also be broadcast live to cinemas, one of several such link-ups over the course of the year. The Roman season will close later this year with Coriolanus, also directed by Angus Jackson.

*Tickets are available for all shows except Coriolanus which goes on sale in February. For a full programme and bookings visit www.rsc.org.uk

In Person: Sanna Javid

Aspiring costume-maker Sanna is the first in our ‘In Person’ series featuring gifted and inspirational people from across the West Midlands.

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Sanna found new confidence recreating her grandmother’s wedding dress. Pic: Ken Bhogal

Who: Sanna Javid

Why: Sanna is aiming high after recreating her late grandmother’s wedding dress despite having only memories to use for the design.

Sanna was bullied at school and lacked confidence before taking part in a Heritage Lottery Fund project run by Friction Arts in Birmingham.

The 18-year-old made the exquisite cerise dress without any photographs, relying on descriptions given by her 72-year-old grandfather, Manzoor, over the phone.

The costume-maker, from Bournville, began sewing at the age of 10 but gave hints of her talent at an even earlier age by stitching doodles into nursery books.

Link: www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/news-features/changing-lives-sanna-has-designs-world-costume-making

Life in 1017; Brexit and Trump have nothing on Viking-ravaged Warwickshire

A series of high-voltage political shocks in 2016 have little on the tumultuous events of 1,000 years ago, when triumphant Viking invaders held Warwickshire in their grip.

Having scythed through the county in early 1016, the Danish ruler Cnut the Great spent the following years consolidating his power throughout most of what is now England.

Successful military campaigns against the Vikings by the talismanic leader Aethelflaeda, daughter of King Alfred, would have been a fast-receding memory by this stage.

The Lady of the Mercians is said to have laid the earthen foundations of Warwick Castle in 914, the town being created as one of her defensive ‘burghs’.

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The Viking onslaught is documented in the Victoria History of Warwickshire

Today, a plaque near the castle and a comic book-style portrayal on the wall in a coffee shop put a civic gloss on her achievements.

But the Warrior Princess’s hilltop fortifications, said to have been pivotal in a wider territorial defence against Viking incursions, would not provide a safe haven forever.

William Field’s historical account of Warwick and Leamington puts it succinctly:

“Warwick enjoyed long and uninterrupted repose: till it was doomed once more to sustain dreadful injuries, from the incursions of the Danes, under Canute, in the year 1016.”

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A Mercian weapon (left) from the Staffordshire hoard at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

When the Danes rampaged through Warwickshire, the rampart would have been no shield for the Saxon earls and everyday folk who most likely gathered there for safety.

Graham Sutherland’s ‘Bloody British History’ book about Warwick imagines a typical Viking attack:

“When the raiders arrived, nobody was spared. The men would be slain and their women raped and carried off. Any child who survived would be carried off as well.

“Their livestock was either taken or slaughtered, along with anything else that could loosely be considered as having value. The raiders would leave a smoke-covered scene of havoc, slaughter and total desolation.”

Cnut’s subjugation of Warwickshire took place in this prism of charred earth. His army “harried, burnt and slew throughout the county”, according to A History of The County of Warwick.

Ominously, the Danes were accompanied by the treacherous Edric Streona, who had switched sides. Cnut appointed Edric alderman of Mercia in 1007 but had his puppet ruler slain 10 years later.

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Warwick Castle as it looks on a frosty morning in the present day

The new king’s rule seems to have been absolute in 1017, having taken over most of England and defeated his cultured foe, Aethelred the Unready.

The Viking ruler drove potential threats into exile, including the former Anglo-Saxon king’s son Eadwig, who is thought to have been killed soon after.

Cnut also married Aethelred’s widow, Emma, having ordered her “to be fetched as his wife”, according to The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. However, she appears to have manoeuvred herself into a position of power and influence during her husband’s reign.

“The survivors would then be faced with the soul-destroying task of burying their dead and starting to rebuild their lives”

Warwick, which is thought to have been destroyed by raiders up to six times in its history, quickly adjusted to this new order and again became a prominent town.

The suffering of ordinary people along the way, however, is likely to have been as acute as it is undocumented.

Sutherland draws a picture of life in the aftermath after a Viking raid:

“The survivors would then be faced with the soul-destroying task of burying their dead and starting to rebuild their lives.

“Not all of them could cope with such tragedy: many left the area after an attack.”

Cnut was so comfortable in his position that by 1008 he had collected a ‘tribute’ of £82,500 and disbanded his army, leaving only 40 ships, according to Nicholas Higham and Martin Ryan in The Anglo-Saxon World.

Houses sprang up in Warwick as it recovered from the invasion, and most historical accounts of the county move swiftly on to 1066 and Norman times.

A thousand years on, the savagery and heroism of the Dark Ages have become central riffs in television dramas Game of Thrones and The Last Kingdom.

History shows Warwickshire had a Viking-size fleet of both in times when lasting peace was as hard as a dragon’s tongue to find.

The Tempest reigns with the magic of a new age

Review: The Tempest at the RSC. Dir. Gregory Doran 

Rating: ★★★★★

The jaw of the 14-year-old next to me dropped during the spectacular sea storm scene at the start of this magnificent production. And although much praise has rightly been given to Simon Russell Beale’s Prospero, the use of digital technology was absolutely magical and well suited to the play. Consequently all ages seemed gripped by a production which fused technological and human elements.

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The many good performances ranged from Joe Dixon’s Caliban to Ariel, played adeptly by the swift-footed Mark Quartly, whose computer-generated image floated at will around the stage  The comic elements were very strong, with a particularly effective Trinculo and Stephano, the latter played with some Indian inflection by Tony Jayawardena .

The teasing out of the complexities of Russell Beale’s Prospero proved the highlight, and was done with concision and clarity. It’s a reflective and persuasive portrayal as Prospero develops towards rejection of his magic and trickery in favour of mercy and forgiveness.

However, as a one off (and maybe it should only be a one off), the absorbing staging and visual spectacle was what made this production unforgettable. Not only for seasoned theatre-goers but also, to be sure, the young ones alongside.

*Runs to January 21st. Returns only

www.rsc.org.uk