In 2016 we launched our Primo Weekender, a new concept in mini-break entertainment. Travel writer Stuart Render went along to find out more, and found himself spoilt for choice.
The diners are transfixed. In front of them, professional illusionist Brendan Rodrigues is making a large crystal ball dance between his hands. He passes the ball to one of the women watching.
‘Wow, it’s really heavy,’ she exclaims. ‘How do you do that!?’
Taking the ball back, Brendan produces a smaller ball, which quickly becomes a pen, and then several pens. Then, as his audience look on in utter amazement, Brendan waves his hands in the air, and the pens all disappear.
A member of the Magic Circle, Brendan is performing at the Primo Weekend, a new break at Mill Rythe delivering 13 sensational acts across the three nights. It’s non-stop entertainment ranging from the vintage to the modern, from street entertainers to burlesque and a multitide of bands. It’s not just the evenings where the Primo Weekender has thrown away the rule book.
During the daytime, there are around 15 different events and activities including a murder mystery, gift-making, cocktail making lessons and quizzes. For example, parked outside the main reception area is an old London Transport red double-decker bus. It’s been converted into a bar downstairs and a lounge and performance space upstairs.
“This is the party park, and the people who love evening entertainment flock here.”
As I step on board and climb the stairs, I come face to face with an ABBA tribute act. Members of Mill Rythe’s entertainment team are putting on a show. It lasts for an hour and then the team disappear, off to prepare for their next activity. All holiday villages have entertainment teams, but I sincerely doubt that anyone can show me a more hardworking, enthusiastic and talented team.
Walking back into the main building, I walk into the ballroom, a spacious performance area that forms the beating heart of Mill Rythe. In the evening, it’s the setting for the majority of the floor shows, but this afternoon it has become the venue for a Roller Disco.
For a few hours, brave, foolhardy adults are putting on roller skates and launching themselves around the ballroom floor. I have a go, making sure I’m fully kitted out in protective knee, elbow and wrist pads. I was never much of a roller skater when I was young, so it comes as a surprise that I soon successfully complete circuits.
As I’m recovering from my exertions I see another member of the smartly dressed entertainments team leading a group of women off to another part of the complex. I tag along, but I’m spotted. ‘Sorry Stuart, we’re heading for the burlesque workshop, and it’s girls only!’
I’m not sure exactly what burlesque is, but all becomes clear later in the evening when guests gather to watch professional burlesque performer Miss Polly Rae, billed as ‘Britain’s finest burlesque performer’. She’s one of three acts performing in the Boathouse bar, decked out in red drapes, with subdued lighting.
The Swing Ninjas get the programme under way, four guys delivering the best of the UK new swing movement with classic tunes and patter. On next is stand-up comedy artist Steve Royale. It’s very silly and great fun, and the audience love every minute.
Then it’s time for Miss Polly Rae. In recent times, helped by films such as ‘Cabaret’ and All That Jazz, burlesque has become known for bawdy comedy and female striptease. Miss Polly Rae doesn’t disappoint. An older gentleman on the front row finds himself the centre of attention, and yes, there’s striptease. No-one can accuse Miss Polly Rae of being shy.
Entertainment is at the heart of the Primo Weekender. On the Friday night the programme began with Southern Union, a country duo, then Hill Valley Joes, a contemporary bluegrass trio. The Houndogs brought Mill Rythe alive with rock and roll, with the resident Jetset Band rounding off the evening.
On the Saturday, Doolally Tap introduced the sound of New Orleans jazz to Hayling Island. The aforementioned Steve Royale provided a first-class warm-up to Mick Miller, a standup comedian who has had a long career on TV and the live comedy circuit, and is instantly recognisable from his trademark bald head with long hair down the sides.
The Sunday line-up, often an anti-climax after the Saturday, was particularly strong. A band called Junk generated some magnificent music from, well, junk, including flip-flops, pipes and water drums. String Fever, a contemporary string quartet, delivered a spectacular performance that combined musical prowess with some very funny theatre.
Rounding off the evening, and bringing the weekend’s entertainment to a close, was Rockaoke. It’s the same as karaoke, but guests get the opportunity to sing with a live threepiece band. I was encouraged to have a go. The Beatles’ classic ‘Hey Jude’ will never sound the same again.
Talking with Max Barraclough, Away Resorts’ creative director, I discover more about the thinking behind the weekend.
“We wanted to break away from the usual mini-break format,” he says. “The weekend is designed to make guests laugh, help them experience something new, meet a star, and enjoy the chance to dance, learn, relax and be inspired. Put simply, we’ve thrown all sorts of things together in a new mix. No one else is doing anything like this. It’s breaking the mould; it’s the next step for a new generation.”
Pat Palser, from Essex, is here with her daughter Michelle. ‘I’ve been coming here with Michelle since the early ’80s,’ she says. ‘This new weekend is really great. I like the layout here, with the ballroom acting as the hub. I’ve tried other holiday parks, but this is my favourite. The staff are really friendly. We know them, and they know us. It’s like coming home.’
So what happens at Mill Rythe during the other 51 weeks of the year? Well, it’s a holiday park by the sea, so during the school holidays in particular, it’s bustling with families looking for fun, games and a nice dose of relaxation. There’s a packed programme of activities that’s guaranteed to keep the kids happy from dawn til dusk.
But Mill Rythe has always had an extra emphasis on entertainment , more than Away Resorts’ other parks. This is the party park, and the people who love evening entertainment flock here.
Throughout the year, there are special themed breaks put together by an entertainment team that would not look out of place on a West End stage. The themed breaks also include performances from chart-topping bands, comedians and cabaret acts. Some of the breaks are adults-only, but during the school holiday, the evening entertainment is perfect for parents and kids.
As I leave Mill Rythe on the Monday morning, I’m met at the main entrance by three of the entertainment team. They’re standing by the roadside holding signs that say ‘Ain’t no sunshine now you’re gone’, and ‘Missing you already’. You get the feeling that they mean it.
Primo Weekend 2017
Primo Weekend returns for 2017 for another action packed weekend and a stellar cast including Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and Whitney Queen of the Night.