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Diaries out! What’s on in Essex this May

Culture vultures, unite! We've got dog festivals, excellent exhibitions, thumping good theatre, gorgeous garden shows, and so much more happening across Essex this May.

EVENT: All About Dogs Show Hylands Estate, 1-2 May May

Calling all dog lovers! This two-day doggie extravaganza is full of stuff to wag your tail about. Expect arena displays, expert advice, stalls to peruse, and various have-a-go activities. If your pet’s up-to-scratch, enter them in one of the Fun Dog Shows for the chance to win rosettes (and concrete proof that he is the best boy). There’s also the intriguing-sounding K9 Aqua Sports, talent competitions, live music, and much more besides.

THEATRE: The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Chelmsford Civic Theatre, 1 May

Direct from the West End, everyone’s favourite childhood picture book comes to life on stage with plenty of tea-guzzling, orange stripes, and clumsy chaos. Arguably just as much of a treat for nostalgic parents as for the targeted little ones.

FAMILY: Fairy Elf Walk, Audley End Miniature Railway, 1–2 May

This is too cute for words, but we’ll give it a go. Take a mini train ride deep into the Audley End woods, where kids have to keep lookout for the many animals, teddy bears and objects around the track. Hop off the train and have a stroll through the pathways, finding all of the itsy-bitsy fairy folk (and one ugly ol’ troll) living in their handmade tree houses on the way. (Just don’t think about how creepy it’d all be at night.)

EVENT: May Day Fair, Hedingham Castle, Halstead, 1-2 May

Maypole dancing, early 20th century

Don your festive flowers and dig out the May pole – it’s May Day! Hedingham Castle is pulling out all the stops for the bank holiday weekend with Maypole dancing, reenactors, and a special performance by theatre company The Pantaloons of The Earls of Oxford, a brand new comedy about Hedingham Castle’s ancestors, the de Veres. Throw in some falconry, axe-throwing, food stalls, and a full Medieval village to explore, and you’ve got a cracking day out.

THEATRE: ‘Roman Season‘, Castle Park Theatre, 3 May – 11 June

Dig out your best toga, the live theatre at Castle Park is looking decidedly Roman this month. You can catch performances of Ben Hur (3-14 May), The Boadicea of Britannia Street (17-28 May), and Julius Caesar (31 May – 11 June). All performed outside, and rather atmospheric for it.

NATURE: Bluebells Weekend & NGS Open Day, Green Island Gardens, Ardleigh, 7-8 May

With woodlands carpeted in bluebells and the vibrant azaleas, now’s the perfect time to visit the privately owned Green Island Gardens – all 20 lush acres of them. You’ll also get to enjoy all the most gorgeous sights and smells of spring, with alliums, rhododendrons, tree peonies (to name just a few) showing off their fanciest colours. Fill up on all the spring-time beauty you can handle, and treat yourself to a cuppa and a cake at the tea rooms while you’re at it.

FAMILY: Dino Discovery Day, Colchester Zoo, Colchester, 7 May

Now this is the day to visit the zoo: included in admission price is the chance to discover extinct species from millions of years ago, as well as your standard, you know, parrot. Gigantic carnivores, graceful herbivores — all the Jurassic hits, plus a bunch of activities on offer.

MUSIC: Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Palace Theatre, Southend-on-Sea, 7 May

Okay, at first glance we thought this said ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers’ and were like: what?! — but actually, this Celtic rock band with bagpipes (and aggressive Scottish accents) churns out some surprisingly serious bangers. Who knew Tom Walker’s Leave A Light On would sound so much better with bagpipes.

NATURE: Hyde Hall at Sunrise, RHS Garden Hyde Hall, Chelmsford, 7 May

Don’t let the (painfully) early start put you off: this sunrise guided tour of Hyde Hall’s stunning gardens is well, well worth the lack of sleep. Led by wildlife experts, you get to appreciate the full force of the spring dawn chorus, and see the way the blushing, early morning light hits the flowers. Maybe just, you know, nap later?

EVENT: Colchester Record Fair, Firstsite, Colchester, 7 May

Does what it says on the tin, but does it well: an extensive collection of vinyl and CDs across the genres, delightful for collectors and casuals alike. Come along for a browse and a bargain, whether you’re interested in hipster creds or a healthy hit of nostalgia.

OPERA: Carmen, Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea, 8 May

Expect sweeping Bizet arias from this beloved opera, featuring huge vocals from the Ukrainian National Municipal Opera Kyiv. Passion, swishing skirts, soaring voices… high culture vultures, you’re welcome.

THEATRE: The Comedy of Errors, Mercury Theatre, Colchester, 13-28 May

Shakespeare’s earliest comedy (and the origin of an entire genre name) gets a fun restaging into the roaring 20s. Celebrating 50 years of the Mercury Theatre, it’s set to be a rip-roaring, entirely raucous production.

THEATRE: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Stansted Mountfitchet / Little Bromley, 14 / 24 May

The Sussex-based, indie travelling theatre group This Is My Theatre comes to Essex this month with their production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s a charming, cleverly done performance on a budget, playing at St Mary’s Church in Stansted Mountfitchet on 14 May and then a different St Mary’s Church in Little Bromley on 24 May.

WORKSHOP: Zoo Photography for Children, Colchester Zoo, Colchester, 14 May

Colchester Zoo

Got a budding zoologist? Designed for ages six to ten, this workshop teaches young photographers how to capture their favourite animals around the zoo, observing them and looking for the best angles. The class is taught by a professional wildlife photographer, and accompanying guardians can benefit from the advice, too.

EXHIBITION: Furtherance, Beecroft Art Gallery, Southend-on-Sea, until 25 June

Combining artists from across Essex, this exhibition celebrates the resilience of Group East, a diverse artistic group working in a range of mediums, united by their roots. Expect a thought-provoking collection of contemporary pieces.

FOOD & DRINK: Vintage Afternoon Tea, Hylands Estate, 15 May

Treat yourself to a traditional tea set at the Hylands Estate’s monthly open day. Sittings are at 12pm and 2.30pm and take place inside the Terrace Room, overlooking the back lawn. Very refined! Extra clotted cream, please.

RACE: 10K Stampede, Colchester Zoo, Colchester, 15 May

Lace those trainers! This charity race has you running past baffled tigers and tickled baboons (and then through some local roads for a while), and grants all participants free entry to the zoo once it’s done. Oh, and a shiny, shiny medal if you complete it.

EXHIBITION: Slaves of Fashion, Firstsite, Colchester, 7 May – 11 Sept

A stonking good art exhibition coming to Firstsite this month. Exploring narratives of Empire, enslavement, conflict and luxury consumerism in Indian-inspired art, this display is colourful and entirely thought-provoking. It’s by artists The Singh Twins, and uses a variety of materials and textures to reflect on sustainability in fashion today and colonialism in fashion’s history.

COMEDY: Rob Beckett, Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea, 18 May

Self-dubbed ‘Mouth from the South’ Rob Beckett is bringing his show Wallop to Southend. Expect plenty of cheeky-chappie, class-based jokes, and the inherent affability that’s earnt him such a prime-time comedy career.

EVENT: National Flower Show, Hylands Estate, 20-22 May

This annual favourite returns for a three-day gardening extravaganza. Grab your trug and head over for gorgeous flower displays from the hundreds of exhibitors, stalls bursting with plants for the purchasin’, food and drink offerings, and a Home and Country Pavilion with a selection of original handmade giftware, jewellery and more.

MUSIC: The Stables Summer Series: Beans on Toast, Hylands Estate, 21 May

This summer, Hylands Estate will be welcoming a series of upcoming music acts to perform in intimate little concerts at The Stables. Think: cocktails, warm evenings, and good music. Up first is the excellently-named Beans on Toast (love it, no notes!), a cult folk legend and festival veteran.

FAMILY: Spring Spectacular, Marsh Farm, Chelmsford, May weekends

Marsh Farm

From Pygmy goats and pot-bellied pigs, to parrots and alpacas, Marsh Farm in South Woodham Ferrers offers the dream day out for families with a penchant for making furry friends. To celebrate the height of spring, on May weekends the farm will also feature stilt walkers, bouncy castles, fairground rides, and more.

FAMILY: Big Dinosaur Day Out, Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park, Waltham Abbey, 28 May – 3 June

Perhaps your kids are of the opinion that if it ain’t got scales and died 66 million years ago, it ain’t worth their attention. Just for them, we have Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park at Waltham Abbey and their Big Dinosaur Day Out. Guests can meet dinosaurs, learn facts, and dig for prehistoric fossils – and that’s on top of the usual Lee Valley farmyard favourites.

Need more ideas for things to do? Try these 11 beautiful local bluebell walks or our insider guide to Southend for a day out at the seaside.

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