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Rosie Kay

Rosie Kay's life in dance with the world premiere of her Adult Female Dancer next month. Pictures: Brian Slater

Absolute Solo II

Birmingham Rep

Wednesday, 19 May, 2021

It will be a back to the future moment at Birmingham Rep next month when the city’s award winning choreographer Rosie Kay returns to the stage as a dancer for the first time in five years in her one woman show Absolute Solo II.

The name tells its own story; Absolute Solo was Rosie Kay’s first solo show which she performed at the 1999 Edinburgh Festival. Its second incarnation, in a new century, includes a world premiere, Adult Female Dancer, a piece created in lockdown.

Twenty two years on, as an older dancing female, Kay has something to say about the female body and the experience of being female and being on stage. Part autobiography, part socio-anthropological study. She uses ideas of performance, identity, sex and gender to explore her new dancing spirit.

But the triple bill starts not with now and the future but the past, opening with Kay’s first public performance of Artemis Clown, originally commissioned by Eliot Smith Dance Company in 2018.

clown

Visions of beauty, humour, fragility and strength in Rosie Kay's first public performance of Artemis Clown

Kay said: “This work is about the layers of performance that a female dancer has, stripping each layer away, showing more and more authenticity and allowing an audience into another human’s soul.

“I want the work to express beauty, humour, fragility and strength, with the title referring to the goddess Artemis (goddess of wild animals, childbirth and virginity) and a reference to the clown and Pierrot. The work has three introductions, before the main work of the Ravel Pavane, then having a complete change of tone with a fast jumping section, and ending on a shimmering image of transcendence.”

The second piece is a trip, or rather a dance down memory lane with the archive film of international award-winning Patisserie, danced and choreographed by Rosie Kay in 1999. The piece uses text verbatim from interviews with Polish women, conducted when Rosie was living and working in Poland 1998-2000 with Polish Dance Theatre.

And finally, time catches up, and then becomes now in Rosie Kay’s Adult Female Dancer with its world premiere on 19 May at Birmingham Rep. Created last year during lockdown, it is a personal piece, an autobiography played out on stage, exploring the deep emotional connection between her life and dance – a connection from almost as soon as she was born having started dancing classes at the age of three.

This will be the first of two world premieres from Rosie Kay this year with the second her Romeo + Juliet, a reimagining of Shakespeare’s tragic love story set in today’s Birmingham, which opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on 8 September.

Roger Clarke

21-04-21

ROSIE KAY DANCE COMPANY INFO

BOOKING ABSOLUTE SOLO II BIRMINGHAM REP

BOOKING ROMEO + JULIET BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME

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Ladies and Gentlemen of AAAAA, this is your two month call

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, theatre is starting to stir as the promise of a roadmap out of the devastation of COVID slowly unfolds.

If the timetable remains on course for a successful easing of restrictions, theatres can begin to reopen from May 17th - if they have all all safety guidelines in place.

The Albany Theatre in Coventry is more than prepared to welcome back audiences as they gear up to host London based Proforca Theatre Company’s return to the Albany Theatre Studio, with a new piece of fringe theatre, AAAAA (FiveA), which will be performed for one night only in Coventry at the end of its London premiere in May.

The Albany is promising a new brave piece of dynamic, emotionally charged fringe theatre storytelling from some of London's most exciting new fringe theatre writers with links to the City of Coventry, and an award nominated, critically acclaimed production team in a piece which promises no two performances will be the same.

AAAAA opens on 18 May at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town running to 29 May before heading to Coventry, City of Culture 2021, for a one night show of 30 May.

As social distancing is still scheduled to be in place all the standard safety precautions (mask wearing, track & trace & social distancing) will be in place at both venues.

Tickets £12-£15, booking https://www.albanytheatre.co.uk/shows/aaaaa/

Box office: 024 7699 8964

https://www.proforca.co.uk/

Roger Clarke

27-03-21

The arts are hurting. A potent pandemic and a lack of support have brought many theatres, concert halls and venues, large and small, to their knees. Audiences are the lifeblood of the arts, without them life ebbs away, and for some places it may already be too late.

You can help. Look on websites for your local theatres or venues for online broadcasts, donations pages or book now for future productions.

 

take me there
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A world waiting in your living room

#TakeUsThere
Derby Theatre

FREE Zoom Workshop

Saturday 6 March, 2:30pm - 4:00pm

During the first lockdown international theatre company Single Shoe Productions, took us on a journey of the imagination, creating #TakeUsThere, a web series where they recreated places they love and miss using household objects.

In partnership with Derby Theatre, this playful workshop will guide participants through an exploration of that process. Looking at colour, shape, texture and place in a whole new way, participants will explore and play with recreating locations they love and miss. A perfect workshop for those looking to get inspired and spark some creativity in their lives.

The online workshop will kick off with some ice breaking games, followed by a guided making session. Participants will go on a scavenger hunt in their own homes looking for specific objects and then use those objects to recreate a location.

After booking, you will receive an e-ticket via email containing the Zoom link and meeting details to access the workshop online. Please ensure your theatre account has an up-to-date email address so we can send your e-ticket.

BOOK HERE

03-03-21 
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Oh yes it is . . . time again

Pandemic or no, you just can’t keep a good panto down – as long as you keep your distance and wear a mask of course - as Robin Hood and his band(ette) of merry men, an idle cow syndrome sufferer . . .  and a bear, head to Birmingham in the New Year.

Birmingham Hippodrome and Qdos Entertainment, which have given us a glittering, star-studded festive production year after year in normal times, have today announced that the panto is still alive and well and will be going ahead January in these far from normal times.

They have created a new production of Robin Hood which will be staged a couple of hundred yards up the road from the Hippodrome at The Alexandra Theatre, which will be staging a panto for the first time in 20 years, opening on 15 January.

The new production will star Craig Revel-Horwood, last seen on stage in these parts Miss Hannigan in Annie, who will be holding court as the Sherriff of Nottingham. Also appearing, if she can be asked, cash-in-hand and don’t tell the social, will be Doreen, the Queen of Tipton while as a bear necessity for youngsters Richard Cadell will be appearing with the legendary Sooty – still going strong after almost 70 years . . . that’s Sooty, not Richard by the way.

And somewhere in the deeds and the terms of the entertainment licence, it is rumoured that if Matt Slack does not appear then the Hippodrome cannot stage a panto, which seems a most reasonable condition.

Matt has become a firm favourite of Hippodrome audiences, a panto superstar in fact, as festive and traditional as mince pies and crackers and this will be his eighth Hippo panto in a row. It just would not be a panto without him.

The socially distanced, one-act production will temporarily change venues because of Birmingham Hippodrome’s hosting of the critically acclaimed Van Gogh Alive experience and it will run from 15 to 31 January 2021 for a Strictly limited run.

The production is able to go ahead thanks to the support of The National Lottery, which will give thousands of theatregoers, in Birmingham and across the country, the chance to enjoy socially distanced pantomime this Christmas.

The show is being staged as a result of an initiative between The National Lottery and Qdos Entertainment which is providing financial support for theatres to stage socially distanced, live pantomimes this festive season. This will make it viable for venues to open their doors to the general public, generating vital income for the theatres and helping to restore jobs while providing much-needed cheer for pantomime lovers.

craig

Craig Revel Horwood - who will play the Sherriff of Nottingham

Fresh from the ballroom, Craig Revel Horwood will star as the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham and show Birmingham his real mettle as he tries to outwit Robin Hood and win the hand of the beautiful Maid Marion. Craig is a well-known face on television in the UK and now all over the world, as a judge on all 18 series of BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing. In 2013, Craig wrote and directed a brand-new show, Strictly Confidential that toured the UK starring familiar faces from Strictly Come Dancing. He has directed and choreographed the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour, as well as appearing as a judge.

He recently returned to his roots as a performer in musical theatre, starring as Miss Hannigan in the West End and UK touring production of Annie. Craig also choreographed and directed the UK tour of Sister Act and the Dusty Springfield musical, Son of a Preacher Man. Craig has also published three autobiographies; All Balls and Glitter, Tales from the Dance Floor and In Strictest Confidence. This autumn he released his first novel, Dances and Dreams on Diamond Street. Robin Hood marks Craig’s 12th consecutive pantomime for producers Qdos Entertainment having starred as a Wicked Queen, a Wicked Stepmother and Captain Hook in Snow White, Cinderella and Peter Pan respectively.

matt

Matt Slack set to ride through the glen as Robin Hood

He will be joined by hilarious Hippodrome funny man, Matt Slack as Robin Hood. His television credits include Casualty, Doctors and EastEnders for the BBC, ITV’s Law and Order and the feature film The Rise of the Krays. On stage he has appeared in Boogie Nights and Hot Flush on their UK tours, and in Blood Brothers in London’s West End. Matt has entertained and delighted audiences at the Hippodrome pantomime for the last seven years in roles which have won him, amongst others, the Best Comic accolade at the Great British Pantomime Awards.

Craig and Matt will be joined by television icons Richard Cadell as Will Scarlet, with his mischievous sidekick, Sooty. A star of television, stage, comics, animation and movies, Sooty made his screen debut almost 70 years ago and in that time has delighted audiences of millions worldwide with his cheeky sense of humour, jaw-dropping magic tricks and hilarious mishaps, despite not ageing whatsoever. First supported by his original owner and friend Harry Corbett (and later his son Matthew) Sooty became a regular on the BBC’s Saturday Special, and fronted his own programmes The Sooty Show and Sooty & Co. Richard has presented Sooty on stage and television for over 20 years following Matthew’s retirement, with their programmes remaining ITVs most popular children’s show.

doreen

Doreen Tipton who will be Mrs Tuck . . . as long as it is not too much for her

Joining them as Mrs Tuck is Doreen Tipton, back for her second consecutive Hippodrome pantomime, following her star turn in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs last year. In her own inimitable style, the Black Country star will showcase her dry wit, penchant for doing as little as possible and helping Robin and his Merry Men as they rob from the rich and give to the poor.

Joining them will be hilarious pantomime dame and Hippodrome regular Andrew Ryan and west end musical leading ladies Landi Oshinowo, Nicola Meehan and Lauren Chia.

Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Birmingham Hippodrome, Fiona Allan and Managing Director of Qdos Entertainment Michael Harrison, who has directed the Hippodrome pantomime for the past 10 years, said: “We’re delighted to be working together to make sure that our loyal audiences in Birmingham don’t miss out on the magic of pantomime this year. Presenting Robin Hood at The Alexandra allows us to see two of the city’s key cultural institutions open with social distancing in place. Although on a different stage, this year’s show will be designed and created by the usual Hippodrome panto creative team, and will feature all the comedy and laughter our audiences have come to expect”.

This new production will be packed full of comedy routines, audience-safe participation and all the unmissable magic that Hippodrome audiences know and love from their annual festive pantomime in their temporary theatrical home at The Alexandra for this year only.

Lisa Mart, Theatre Director at The Alexandra added: “Words can’t quite express how thrilled we are to be working with Qdos Entertainment and our friends at Birmingham Hippodrome to bring this much loved annual tradition back to the city this festive season! This cross-venue collaboration is one of many examples of cultural organisations in Birmingham working together to provide audiences with entertainment during what has been a challenging time for the sector. We are incredibly grateful to the National Lottery for their support, without which we would not have been able to proceed. The opportunity to bring our team back to the venue to prepare for this special socially-distanced experience is the Christmas present we have all been dreaming of!”

Roger Clarke

16-11-20

Tickets for Robin Hood will be on sale to Birmingham Hippodrome Friends and ATG Cardholders from today, Monday 16 November and on general on sale from Wednesday 18 November. Tickets can be booked by visiting https://www.atgtickets.com/venues/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/ or by calling 0844 871 7615*

*Calls cost up to 7p per minute, plus your phone company’s access charge.

The previously advertised production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears starring Jason Donovan and Matt Slack will be staged back at the Hippodrome in December 2021 and existing bookers have already been contacted with details of their new tickets.

The support of The National Lottery will ensure that socially distanced panto can take place this year in Birmingham, and other theatres across the UK. Up to 20,000 free tickets to pantomimes across the country, will be made available to National Lottery players to thank them for making it possible for this Christmas tradition to go ahead. National Lottery players raise on average £30M each week for Good Causes.  This year has seen up to £600M in National Lottery funding being used by charities and organisations affected by the impact of the coronavirus outbreak across the arts, community and charity, heritage, education, environment and sport sectors.

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Birmingham Royal Ballet arrive to set up the staging for their 30 year celebration at Birmingham Town Hall

A birthday present . . . on line

We are all invited to a Birthday party, thanks to Birmingham Royal Ballet and Birmingham Town hall. It is thirty years since the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet packed its bags in October and boarded a train, with an engine newly named The Birmingham Royal Ballet, and headed to Birmingham Hippodrome, their new home.

That December the director of the newly named BRB, Sir Peter Wright, gave the city a gift for welcoming the company, a new version of The Nutcracker, a version which was to be seen around the world and regarded as one of the best interpretations of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece ever seen.

This year sees the 30th anniversary, one that in normal times would have warranted a gala evening attended by the great and good but times are far from normal, as could be seen by BRB’s critically acclaimed live performances of Lazuli Sky at Birmingham Rep and in Sadler’s Wells in London last month.

It played to socially distanced, masked audiences in enforced numbers a fraction of those to be seen in happier times.

Now Birmingham Royal Ballet has announced Birmingham Royal Ballet at 30 – Supported by Birmingham City Council; a celebratory free online show, broadcast to audiences worldwide.

It was filmed at Birmingham’s iconic Town Hall, celebrating its 186th birthday last month, and the the special programme will be hosted by BRB Director Carlos Acosta who will be joined virtually by Leader of the Birmingham City Council, Coun Ian Ward and Coun Jayne Francis, Cabinet Member for Education, Skills and Culture. The performance will be available to view worldwide on the BRB’s Facebook channel from 19 November for seven days.

The show will marks 30 years since the Birmingham City Council had the visionary foresight to invite Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet to move to the City, building the Company a new home and studios attached to Birmingham Hippodrome in Thorp Street.

Over the past three decades Birmingham Royal Ballet has cemented its place as one of the jewels in the crown of the City of Birmingham – displaying the city’s name as the Company has toured nationally and internationally entertaining millions and premiering 58 brand-new ballets. Birmingham Royal Ballet has been proud to take the spirit and name of Birmingham across the globe on tours including China, Hong Kong, Italy, Thailand, the USA, South Africa, Spain, Germany and Japan.

Leader of the Birmingham City Council, Councillor Ian Ward said: “I am delighted that this performance was captured at Birmingham Town Hall - another of the jewels in the cultural crown of our wonderful city. Birmingham is truly a global city for the arts and Birmingham Royal Ballet helps spread the city's name and reputation for supporting the arts around the world. Sadly, this performance was filmed without an audience, as a result of the current Covid regulations, but all of our arts organisations in Birmingham are fighting to keep active and entertaining audiences in safe and innovative ways. We all need to keep supporting these organisations as they are not only the cultural heart of our city, but important generators of jobs, education and our entertainment economy.”

Birmingham Royal Ballet is also at the heart of the local community, for over 21 years the company has delivered free workshops for 2,500 local primary school children every year, to identify young talented dancers with raw talent who Birmingham Royal Ballet then provides free ballet training and dance clothing to for up to two years, helping them achieve their dreams. For the last fifteen years Birmingham Royal Ballet has run the ground-breaking Freefall Dance Company for local Birmingham young adults with learning disabilities who train at the Company every week and regularly perform.

As England enters another period of lockdown, this online show is being broadcast as a gift to the city of Birmingham from BRB who want to thank the city and audiences for all their support and to welcome new audiences, who may not have yet seen the company perform. The show will be available across the globe and offers a message of hope to audiences in a time when people aren’t currently able to enjoy live performances in person.

Staying true to the city of Birmingham’s motto, Forward, BRB last month announced a specially adapted production of the classic Christmas fairy tale The Nutcracker, which will run at The REP from 14 – 22 December 2020 followed by the fully staged production at the Royal Albert Hall.

Birmingham Royal Ballet at 30 – Supported by Birmingham City Council will feature 11 Company dancers, accompanied by live music performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s own orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, performing three pieces: Ben Stevenson's contemporary pas de deux End of Time, Jorge Garcia's Majisimo set to music from Massenet’s opera Le Cid and Valery Panov's emotive solo piece, Liebestod.

Artistic Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Carlos Acosta, said: “Circumstances this year have meant that we are not able to celebrate our 30th Anniversary in person but we are so pleased that we are able to give this gift to the City of Birmingham to say thank you for 30 years of support and memories. I’m so happy we can perform on the stage of the wonderful Birmingham Town Hall which has been a feature of the city for nearly 200 years. Thank you to Town Hall Symphony Hall and Birmingham City Council for their support of this special event.”

Town Hall has been a hub of civic and cultural life in Birmingham since 1834. From classical to comedy to rock to pop, it’s now one of the city’s most versatile venues having featured artists such as David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Caitlin Moran and more. Famous classical premieres include Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, The Apostles, The Kingdom and The Music Makers.

Nick Reed, Chief Executive Officer at Town Hall and Symphony Hall Birmingham said, “I’m delighted that Town Hall will welcome Birmingham Royal Ballet for this broadcast. History has been made many times over at this iconic venue, from Charles Dickens' reading of A Christmas Carol through to the world premiere of season five of BBC’s Peaky Blinders – this virtual performance will be another significant moment for the city.”

Click for BRB Facebook page

Roger Clarke

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Saturday will see a visual lockdown chronicle with a difference, one that follows the lives, hopes and experiences of a disparate group of women throughout Birmingham and the Black Country.

The film, Women in Lockdown, will premiere on Women & Theatre’s YouTube channel and is available for free from 7.30 on Saturday, 14 November.

The project started when W&T artistic director, Janice Connolly, who many will know as her alter ego Barbara Nice, interviewed more than 35 women in the region over Zoom.

From that raw material followed the phases of writing, devising, music composition, some socially distanced filming, as well as numerous rehearsals and recording sessions over Zoom.

The result is a short film which highlights the experiences of and impact on women during this unique period of time, covering the period from early March to 30 June

Women in Lockdown features an ensemble community cast of local women and combines varied footage from Zoom sessions, mobile phones and some socially-distanced filmed sequences, accompanied by an engaging score of commissioned new music. Developed from research with women of different ages and cultural backgrounds, including disabled and D/deaf women, this ambitious project captures the experiences of real women living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Janice Connolly, W&T’s Artistic Director “This is a unique moment in history and we feel it’s important that the lives of ordinary women are shared and represented. Women & Theatre remain committed as always to making deep work about things that matter.”

While on of the participants said: “Women in Lockdown took me out of my comfort zone, I tried things I never thought I would do. The project gave me a great break away from family stress and work. I found it so relaxing and it gave me a sense of belonging.”

The Women in Lockdown artistic team included W&T’s Janice Connolly and Jo Gleave, composer Nicola McAteer, filmmaker Sima Gonsai and D/deaf creative practitioner Maral Mamaghani. The film is performed by a community cast of more than 40 women and for many it is their first performance piece.

Despite the lockdown closing theatres, W&T have continued to make work by adapting their pioneering approach to theatre making for digital platforms; continuing to engage with audiences and participants. Women & Theatre is a charity that received a grant from Arts Council England’s Covid-19 Emergency Fund, which enabled them to develop this new piece of work.

Roger Clarke

11-11-2020

The film premieres on Women & Theatre’s YouTube Channel on Saturday 14 November 2020 at 7.30pm and is free to watch. It is fully captioned and is accessible to D/deaf audiences. 

There will also be a Facebook Watch Party beginning with an introduction with members of the creative team beginning at 7pm. After the film we will be back on Facebook for a post-show discussion.

You Tube Channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoWF2G4tt1MtC_dBR1jRBvw

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BRB carries a torch for Christmas

We all know Christmas this year will be different, celebrated under the dark clouds of a pandemic, but Birmingham Royal Ballet is promising a glimmer of normality with the return of festive favourite, The Nutcracker.

It follows in the dance steps of last week’s sold-out BRB performances of Lazuli Sky at Birmingham Rep, and this specially adapted production of Tchaikovsky’s classic Christmas fairytale ballet will run at The REP from 14 – 22 December 2020.

Sir Peter Wright’s celebrated production was BRB’s gift to the city as a thank you for giving the company a home in 1990 and this year marks the 30th anniversary of a production many regard as one of the finest ever created.

It will be the first time it has been seen at The REP and in these COVID times has been adapted for not only a different stage from its usual home at Birmingham Hippodrome, but the adaptation has reduced the running time from its usual two act performance of two hours and ten minutes or so with interval to 80 minutes with no interval – a move which cuts out audience mingling.

The REP has created a COVID safe environment with socially distanced seating allocated to households and bubble groups only, while BRB will be telling the enchanting Christmas tale in a way that is equally safe for the performers, musicians and production crew.

To ensure the performance is COVID-safe BRB will also engage a second corps de ballet of extra dancers to perform the iconic snow scene, offering much needed performance opportunities to students and recent graduates from Elmhurst Ballet School and the Royal Ballet School whose career beginnings have been impacted by the pandemic.

Although shortened the adaptation will retain all of the spirit and main characters of the full length production. It will whisk audiences from the Christmas Eve party where Fritz and Clara meet the magician Drosselmeyer, witness the battle between King Rat and the toy soldiers, drift through a flurry of Snowflakes and enter the Kingdom of Sweets where Clara meets the Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince - all to the familiar symphonic Tchaikovsky score performed live by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

This new iteration will receive new creative direction from Birmingham Royal Ballet Director, Carlos Acosta and The REP’s Artistic Director, Sean Foley.

Carlos Acosta said; ‘Following the fantastic experience of staging our first shows since lockdown at The REP, we are so happy to continue our collaboration with this very special version of The Nutcracker so that audiences in Birmingham and the West Midlands can have something to look forward to this Christmas. The Nutcracker is an essential part of our annual season and we can’t wait to welcome audiences back to The REP in December for this celebration.’

Sean Foley added; ‘It was wonderful to collaborate with Carlos Acosta and Birmingham Royal Ballet for the World Premiere performances of Will Tuckett’s Lazuli Sky - and a particular thrill to welcome audiences safely back to The REP for the first time in seven months. We are just as excited to reveal the next stage in our ongoing creative partnership as we bring a special version of The Nutcracker to The REP for the very first time. A visit to theatre is an on-going Christmas tradition, and we can’t wait to share this magical experience with our audiences this festive season.’

Roger Clarke

30-10-20

 The Nutcracker at The REP, 14-22 December, tickets from £20 - booking Information HERE

Lazuli Sky was filmed at The REP and will be available to stream globally via the BRB website from 1 – 8 November and is on sale now

Lazuli Sky Stream Midday 1 November – 8 November.Tickets £10 - £20 per device available HERE

Will Tuckett’s Lazuli Sky, also has  a sold out run at Sadler’s Wells to re-open the London venue (29-31 October). Birmingham Royal Ballet’s full production of The Nutcracker will also be performed the Royal Albert Hall this Christmas (30 Dec 2020 - 2 Jan 2021).

In line with current Government regulations, The REP has taken a number of carefully managed steps and precautions to help audiences feel safe and enjoy their chosen performance. The theatre has introduced a series of new safety measures such as socially distanced seating within household bubbles only, hand sanitising stations, temperature checks and additional cleaning. More information can be found at birmingham-rep.co.uk.

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The spectacular moving workings of a clock coming together in the dramatic countdown to midnight when Cinder's spell will turn into rags, mice and pumpkin with Elisha Willis as our eponymous heroine in the 2010 premiere . . . Picture: Bill Cooper.

Cinders having a ball I

Cinderella not only has a wicked stepmother and evil stepsisters to deal with before she can get a ticket for the ball, she now has COVID-19 to contend with – so, will she still get to marry her prince and dance off into the sunset?

Well, you can find out next year with tickets now on sale for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Sir David Bintley’s version of the famous tale. The ballet is set to open at Birmingham Hippodrome on 31 March running to 10 April.

This is no laugh-a-minute, slapstick panto version, although it has wonderful moments of delightful comedy, particularly involving the stepsisters, Skinny and Dumpy, parts that demand supreme skill to dance so badly, if you see what I mean.

Bintley takes the original fairy tale as his inspiration, with a darker tone, opening with the funeral of her mother, when we first see stepmother and sisters and a hint of what the future holds for our young heroine.

The ballet is set to Sergei Prokofiev’s sumptuous score and designed by John F. Macfarlane who was also responsible for Sir Peter Wright’s celebrated BRB version of The Nutcracker. In that ballet he gave us the brilliant Christmas tree transformation, here we have the equally spectacular giant mechanism of a clock coming together as midnight approaches at the ball.

Incidentally this will be the first show to feature BRB’s new branding which was laumched at the start of October with a new look website.

Inspired by founder Dame Ninette de Valois’ famous request that the royal ballet companies ‘respect the past, herald the future, but concentrate on the present’, Birmingham Royal Ballet began researching how the Company was currently perceived by its partners, artists, staff and most importantly, by its audience, as part of its preparations ahead of Carlos Acosta’s arrival as Director earlier this year.

In Autumn 2019, thanks to a grant from the Michael Bishop Foundation for this specific project, Carlos Acosta and Birmingham Royal Ballet's leadership team began work with the award-winning NB Studio.

The visual identity not only celebrates the physique and technique of the Company’s dancers, but also its commitment to champion its home city of Birmingham, as well as its national and global audience.

Full details and booking on the new look website click here BRB

Cinders having a ball II

Meanwhile Cinders, the panto, has not been completely forgotten over Christmas and she will be on her way to the ball in the East Midlands with Nottingham Playhouse taking bookings for a cut down version running from 27 November - 16 January.

For those unable to obtain tickets or attend the 75 minute panto, or indeed those who live nowhere near Nottingham but would like to see a live panto, it will also be live streamed on a pay per view basis from 19-24 December and an on demand ticket will go on sale shortly.

The suggested minimum age for the panto is six but the young ones have not been left out with Jack and the Beanstalk running from 9 December to 2 January and aimed at three to eight-year-olds.

The theatre is also running an Unlocked Festival from 21 October to 9 November with readings, small cast productions, drama, comedy, music, ghost stories for Halloween with Mark Gattis and stand-up with Daniel Kitson, all with socially distanced and pre-booked audiences.

Full details for all bookings click here Nottingham Playhouse.

Roger Clarke

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Thespian battlecry rises above pandemic
The Thespian battlecry is that the show must go on and Birmingham based Paperback Theatre are doing just that with their outdoor festival Little But LIVE in Moseley park this weekend (18-20 September).

It has taken a great deal of planning and logistics, as well as courage, for this young company, formed by University of Warwick graduates in 2016, to put together a varied programme ranging from comedy and improv to jazz, folk to showtunes and vocal harmony to Paperback’s own one hour Romeo and Juliet.

It will all take place in Moseley Park and Pool, supported by Moseley Together, and will be housed in the Chapel of Many, a performance space designed by Coventry University lecturer Sebastian Hicks.

The Chapel of Many is a space of non-denominative gathering that was used for Coventry’s #RefugeeWeek 2019 in the ruins of the city’s cathedral. The walls of this ingenious structure are created from folding chairs, the more people to seat, the more chairs are removed and the more open the chapel.

It was part-funded through the European Union sponsored, Migrant Friendly Cities initiative, and supported by Coventry University.

The festival is aimed at being a community affair for the people of Moseley, south Birmingham and beyond with admission to every event being £5 - with some events free to Under 12s.

Organisers say pricing has been pitched to make it accessible to all after Covid-19 measures have hit many incomes.

No event will last more than an hour and tickets must be booked in advance to help track and trace details and to allow socially distanced seating arrangements for the booking for each perfomance to be set up.

The programme includes Paperback Theatre’s own comic production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Lucy Bird. The play will be a draw for many - admirers of Shakespeare, fans of its tragic story or couples relating to the pangs of long-distance love after months in social isolation. But this tale of star cross’d lovers, (shooting star cross’d in the one hour version presumably), also aims to spark the imagination of children who have missed enjoying the work of Shakespeare with its place on the GCSE English curriculum.

The twist for newcomers and long-time fans of the classic tragedy, the greatest love story ever told, is the production’s efforts to weave social distancing guidance, masks and gloves into the fabric of the performance. Social distancing ultimately reflects the play's themes about forbidden intimacy and being kept away from those you love.

Also included in the festival are musical concerts from jazz duo One Voice, One Cello & A Mad Belgian and the West Midlands’ own vocal harmony group The Violettes. Hosts of a regular Birmingham city centre comedy night, The Kamikaze Club are curating a night of comedy as well as Giggle on the Green, an hour of the brightest young female stand-up comedians Birmingham has to offer. Box of Frogs are bringing their anarchic and silly improv show and each morning is being kicked off with a drum and bass aerobics work-out from DubNBounce.

The festival team, incidentally, is made up of four creative freelancers who have lost out on work as a result of Covid-19 and are volunteering their time towards delivering some cultural provision to the people of Moseley and south Birmingham.

Bookings can be made on the Paperback Theatre website where you will also find details and timings of events.  

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Hippodrome set for starry nights and days

Next month sees Birmingham Hippodrome open its doors for the first time since March when it hosts the UK premiere of the world’s most visited multi-sensory experience – Van Gogh Alive.

Vincent van Gogh was one of the most famous and important figures in Western Art, an artist whose influence is immeasurable. He is one of the handful of artists who is universally known, a painter who had a prodigious output, more than 2,000 works, including 860 oil paintings.

His artistic genius was tempered by his personal demons. He suffered from mental illness and depression, was singularly unsuccessful as a painter in his lifetime, even considered a failure, and, at the aged of 37 died in poverty after an almost botched suicide – dying two days after he shot himself.

A tragic figure in his lifetime, today his paintings sell for eight figures with the most expensive – so far - Portrait of Dr. Gachet selling in 1990 for the equivalent today of £129.4 million.

Van Gogh Alive, produced by Grande Exhibitions, opens on 8 October after being visited by more than six million people in 50 cities and will see the Hippodrome’s auditorium transformed, immersing visitors into a multi-media world celebrating the genius of van Gogh. The exhibition runs from October through the starry nights of Christmas to 31 December.

Van Gogh’s works have been exhibited and admired for over a century – but this multi-sensory experience provides an opportunity venture into van Gogh’s world through beautifully curated projections accompanied by a stunning classical soundscape.

Fiona Allan, Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer, Birmingham Hippodrome said: “Having been closed to the public since March, and it being financially unviable for Birmingham Hippodrome to reopen for live performance until social distancing guidance is relaxed, we have had to completely rethink how to use the building and how to serve our public. The opportunity to do something completely different with our spaces, and still provide a high quality and compelling cultural experience, came at exactly the right moment.

"I’m proud we are partnering with Grande Exhibitions to host the UK premiere of Van Gogh Alive. Make no mistake, this is no ordinary art exhibition it is a ground-breaking and breathtaking multi-sensory experience, unlike anything seen before in the region. It gives us the reason we needed to reopen the Hippodrome to the public. Best still, we can operate it safely under social distancing guidelines, and I just know our visitors are going to be absolutely blown away.”

The already vast Hippodrome stage area – an area that includes a vehicle lift that can take a 45 ft artic trailer – is being extended out into the auditorium to accommodate this huge exhibition, a large-scale art event which provides a COVID safe environment that exceeds government public health guidelines. Controlled visitor capacities and managed visitor flow mean visitors can easily respect government social-distancing guidelines.

Grande Exhibitions, the creator and producer of Van Gogh Alive, use state-of-the-art SENSORY4™ immersive gallery technology, combined with a tailored exhibition space to allow crystal-clear projection of over 3000 inspirational images. Set to an evocative classical score, visitors are surrounded by a vibrant symphony of light, colour, sound and fragrance that has been called an ‘unforgettable’ multi-sensory experience. The technology brings Van Gogh's masterpieces to life and gives visitors the sensation of walking right into his paintings, a feeling that is simultaneously enchanting, entertaining and educational.

In addition to the main exhibition and gift shop, Van Gogh Alive will also feature interactive art stations, interpretative areas, a re-creation of Van Gogh’s ‘Bedroom in Arles’ and the hugely popular ‘Sunflower selfie room’.

Bruce Peterson, Owner of Grande Exhibitions, said: “We are incredibly excited that Van Gogh Alive is set to make its UK debut in Birmingham. The global exhibition is a perfect COVID-aware experience for the whole family that will provide some escapism and education. We find that adults and children enjoy the experience in different ways, finding their own meaning in Van Gogh’s work as they explore the galleries.

"We visited a number of venues in the UK, but as soon as we entered Birmingham Hippodrome, we knew we had to bring our Van Gogh Alive here. It is a unique, iconic venue and we truly believe once we tailor the experience to come alive in The Hippodrome, visitors won’t believe their eyes at the size, scale and beauty within."

Since announcing the opening in Sydney and re-opening in Mexico City with COVID-safe measures in place, demand for tickets has been even higher than pre-lockdown. We are confident that the experience will be extremely popular in Birmingham and we can’t wait to open the doors to our first ever UK showing!”

Having enjoyed enormous success in iconic cities such as Madrid, Singapore, Beijing, Abu Dhabi, Milan, and Rome, the experience in Birmingham will provide a welcome morale boost to the whole Midlands region.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased from Birmingham Hippodrome or vangoghaliveuk.com  Adult ticket prices start from £15. Child and concession discounts available.

Roger Clarke

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Van Gogh Alive on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

faustus 

Harry Boaz as Doctor Faustus in Mike Wilson Productions' one-man interpretation which opens next month

Live theatre returns at Malvern

It has been six months, but we can finally say once again what’s on at one of our theatres as Malvern Theatres reopens this autumn with a short season of its own productions, featuring Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads and Peter Terson’s Mooney and his Caravans.

The announcement marks an new chapter for Malvern Theatres as it creates new work to fill the cultural void left by the Covid disaster. The works will be the first live performance since theatre went dark in March. 

A new one-man version of Doctor Faustus from Mike Wilson Productions which opens a limited tour at Malvern completes the autumn line-up.

Chief Executive Nic Lloyd said: “At Malvern Theatres, we are doing all we can to help the arts industry survive this crisis.

“Creating new productions in a safe way is an expression of optimism for our audiences; they have supported us through this disaster and, going ahead, we intend to thrive and return to support our community as we always have. We also want to offer hope to other theatres that the show can and will go on.

“Until we can reopen fully, our Covid-19 Emergency Appeal is ongoing as financially the theatre is not yet out of danger.”

Malvern Theatres’ Covid-19 Emergency Appeal has now reached £175,000 and Mr Lloyd hopes it will hit £200,000 before the end of the year.

“We have been overwhelmed by the support that our campaign has received," he continued.

"None of us knows what the future of theatre will look like following this pandemic and we are doing everything we can to ensure Malvern Theatres is at the forefront as it always has been.

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“We would like to thank everyone for their support and ask that, if you haven’t already and you can manage it, please visit our website and donate now – no matter the amount. Every penny we receive today will help protect tomorrow.”

Talking Heads became one of the talking points of lockdown after a star-studded new adaptation broke the television tedium of reruns and received rave reviews.

Malvern Theatres will stage A Chip in the Sugar and Her Big Chance (performed by Martin Freeman and Jodie Comer respectively in the recent television version). 

Mooney and His Caravans, directed by Lloyd, opens the new season in the Festival Theatre on 15-19 of September and stars Toby Burchell and Moa Myerson  in a bittersweet drama about an inadequate young couple victimised by the owner of a caravan site. The pair started their careers with Malvern Theatres Young Company.

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Roma Farnell directs Harry Boaz in a bold new one-man interpretation of Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan classic of the doctor who makes a deal with the devil. The good doctor will be dealing on 22-26 September.

Moa Myerson returns in Alan Bennett’s talking heads which runs from 13-17 October, In Her Big Break she plays Lesley, an aspiring actress, who, with a CV of bread and butter extra roles on TV finds what she thinks is her big break as the adventurous Travis in a new film for the . . . er . . . West German market.

Another former youth company alumni, Rhys Harris-Clarke plays Graham Whittaker in A Chip in the Sugar, takes the role of Graham Whittaker, a devoted son whose life begins to unravel when he discovers his ageing mother has taken up with an old flame.

All performances are subject to government Covid restrictions; please visit malvern-theatres.co.uk for more details. Donations to the theatre's Covid appeal can also be made online.

Roger Clarke

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clock midnight

Cinderella set to have a ball

Theatres may be dark with no chink of light yet to be seen but Birmingham Royal Ballet is about to remind us what a wonderful world we are missing with a performance of Sir David Bintley’s celebrated Cinderella.

This is the world premiere of the fairy tale ballet filmed in 2010 at Birmingham Hippodrome and stars Iain Mackay as The Prince and Elisha Willis as Cinderella.

Mackay, incidentally, is now Director of Yorkshire Ballet Seminars while Australian Willis might have retired from dancing but she is pursuing a new career in designing and making ballet costumes.

The ballet, danced to Sergei Prokofiev’s symphonic score also features BRB’s Assistant Director Marion Tate who brings an elegantly delicious aura of evil to the role of the wicked stepmother.

Bintley’s creation is a darker version of the folk tale than the familiar panto version . . . Oh yes it is! . . . opening with the bleak and gloomy funeral of Cinderella’s mother – and for the first time we see of her father slipping into the clutches of Cinder’s future stepmother.

Mackay and Willis

Iain Mackay as The Prince and Elisha Willis as Cinderella. Pictures: Bill Cooper

The scene is then set for the traditional tale with the dashing prince, a put upon Cinders, a touch of magic from Victoria Marr’s Fairy Godmother, frogs and lizards and a fairy coach and some wonderful laughs from Skinny and Dumpy the by no means ugly pair of stepsisters.

The names are enough to suggest that the tradition of the cruel step sisters as a comedy act has not been lost and Gaylene Cummerfield and Carol-Anne Millar squeeze every last laugh out of their roles, showing some wonderful technique in their performance – it takes real ability to dance that badly - and Millar even manages it in a fat suit!!

Ten years ago I sat in the audience for what was BRB’s Christmas show, and, as it turned out, a BBC festive offering, and now that magical evening can be seen on line for the first time, a wonderful ballet full of drama, passion and comedy.

Theatres may be dark with no chink of light yet to be seen but Birmingham Royal Ballet is about to remind us what a wonderful world we are missing with a performance of Sir David Bintley’s celebrated Cinderella.

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Comforting bun in hand, Carol-Anne Millar flies through the air as stepsister Dumpy.

Back in 2010 this was a production costing £1 million, a considerable amount for any ballet company, even one with the kudos of BRB, and look out for a wonderful piece of design in the ball as the clock strikes midnight. No digital effects or CGI, just good old-fashioned stagecraft.

The set design was by the legendary John Macfarlane, who was also responsible for that other BRB festive favourite, The Nutcracker. Music is from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by BRB’s music director, Koen Kessels.

The online broadcast opens at 7pm on Tuesday, 25 August on both BRB’s website and BRB’s YouTube page and will be available to watch for seven days.

The broadcast of Cinderella will be free to watch; but in lieu of a ticket, from those who feel they can, BRB would welcome any donations via the brb.org.uk/watch-cinderella page after what has been a difficult year.

BRB’s Cinderella is scheduled to tour the UK, in the flesh so to speak, next year with dates and venue information available at brb.org.uk/cinderella

Following an uncertain year BRB, under its director Carlos Acosta are back in training this week and is planning a programme of live Autumn performances including work outdoors, in the community and in socially-distanced arena spaces and using augmented reality and technical innovation. Details are expected to be announced shortly.

Roger Clarke

03-08-20

TUESDAY, 25 August 7 p.m. on YouTube and BRB.org.uk 

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Lachlan Monaghan as Mercutio and Valentin Olovyannikov as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. Picture: Bill Cooper

Less than a month into his role as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Carlos Acosta has announced plans for world premieres, classic revivals and new partnerships in his opening year with opportunity, talent and inspiration the key ingredients underpinning his vision and ambition for the company.

He said: “Bringing major new works to the stage will forge a new direction for this wonderful company. I plan to present international choreographers whose work will be new to British audiences. I want BRB to be surprising and unpredictable, whilst continuing to be world class exponents of the classical repertoire that means so much to me personally.

“Continuing to drive, develop and support initiatives such as Freefall, Dance Track and First Steps connects directly with my desire to ensure the future, on and off stage, is more reflective of our experience and society today.

“I embrace this responsibility and hope to bring new audiences to ballet by being accessible, by nurturing talent and by creating opportunities to experience and be inspired by this beautiful artform, in many different ways. I am grateful to Arts Council England for their vital funding of BRB and to Aud Jebsen, for generously supporting my artistic vision in my first year as Director.”

His vision will be first seen on stage in June this year with a three-week summer festival spanning London and Birmingham that brings together dancers and musicians; visual artists, writers and thinkers who inspire him under the banner Curated by Carlos (10 – 13 June Sadler’s Wells; 19 – 27 June Birmingham Hippodrome). The programme gives an insight into Carlos’ cultural influences and his vision for BRB as a company hungry for creative collaborations.

At the heart of the festival is a mixed bill of ballet that showcases BRB’s versatility and includes the world premiere of a new duet for legendary ballerina Alessandra Ferri and Carlos Acosta by Spanish choreographer and resident at Acosta Danza, Goyo Montero whose work Chacona, set to J S Bach, receives its UK premiere.

It also includes the latest Ballet Now commission, Imminent, from British/ Brazilian London-based choreographer Daniela Cardim featuring commissioned music by Emmy Award winning composer Paul Englishby receives its world premiere, and Theme and Variations, George Balanchine’s love letter to classical Russian ballet, set to the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite No.3 completes the programme. All music is performed by BRB’s acclaimed Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

For the second half of the Curated by Carlos festival, BRB will perform Carlos Acosta’s stunning production of Don Quixote at the Birmingham Hippodrome (19-27 June), opening as part of the final weekend of Birmingham International Dance Festival which runs throughout June celebrating Birmingham as a world leading destination for dance (#DestinationDance).

This will be the first time this vibrant production will be presented in the UK outside the Royal Opera House in London. This 19th century classic is drawn from Cervantes’ renowned novel and set to Ludwig Minkus’s score. Don Quixote showcases the technical brilliance of the dancers, and is packed full of the the most exciting fireworks ballet has to offer - huge jumps, electrifying pirouettes and gravity defying lifts.

Alongside mainstage shows in both venues, Acosta has invited acclaimed visual artist Conrad Shawcross to present his artwork, The Ada Project featuring contemporary musicians responding to the movement and physicality of his robotic instrument. The exhibition will be open to audiences at both the Lilian Baylis Studio in London and the Patrick Studio in Birmingham (Lilian Baylis Studio 10-13 June, Patrick Studio 23-27 June).

Ada Lovelace, the Victorian mathematician, computer visionary and daughter of Lord Byron, serves as a springboard for the artwork. Shawcross has programmed choreographic pathways, based on various mathematical aspects of her life’s work.

As part of the exhibition programme there will be special evenings of talks and live music performances with the robot, hosted by Conrad Shawcross. The talks series titled Meetings of Minds, sees Carlos Acosta inviting a number of artists, writers and thinkers to appear in conversations about their creative. Speakers include journalist, writer and presenter Mariella Frostrup, philosopher and author AC Grayling and novelist and journalist Howard Jacobson, author Katie Hickman and novelist, biographer and critic Miranda Seymour, writer of In Byron’s Wake, a book about Ada Lovelace and her mother.

There will be a panel discussion focusing on the music in the festival (Lilian Baylis Studio 12 June), titled Bach, Tchaikovsky and Beyond. Chaired by Sarah Kirkup, with Paul Murphy, Principal Conductor of BRB, composer Paul Englishby and James Murphy, and Chief Executive of Royal Philharmonic Society (further speaker to be announced). The discussion is supported by the RPS Drummond Fund.

The Curated by Carlos festival culminates in a free Family Day at Birmingham Hippodrome on Saturday 27 June. Alongside the two shows that day of Don Quixote and The Ada Project exhibition, families will have the chance to immerse themselves in the world of ballet and explore Birmingham Hippodrome as the company animates and transforms the foyer spaces with a variety of fun-filled activities including costumes displays, arts and crafts, face painting, a talk for families by artist Conrad Shawcross, technology and art workshops, ballet training led by BRB artists and National Youth Ballet, flamenco sessions, music workshops led by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, touch tours and audio descriptions for sight impaired children and adults, the chance to watch BRB dancers take class and watch BRB’s production team set up the sets on stage, and more.

For autumn 2020 BRB’s Triple Bill (1 – 3 October, Birmingham Hippodrome; 27 & 28 October Sadler’s Wells) features Seventh Symphony by Uwe Scholz (d.2004 former director of Leipzig Ballet) whose work has never been presented in the UK before, in a celebration of Beethoven’s music in the year of the 250th anniversary of his birth, this huge work fills the stage with 36 dancers; the world premiere of Ballet Now commissioned choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple with 2019 Linbury prize-winning design by Sami Fendall and a new music score to be announced while renowned Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián’s epic and melancholic Forgotten Land, set to Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem brings the evening to a thrilling climax.

Kenneth Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet, a ballet very close to Carlos’s heart is performed in Birmingham in October and will travel to Plymouth, and London while in January - March next year David Bintley’s Cinderella, in tandem with BRB’s First Steps version of Cinderella for children aged three to seven will be at the Hippodrome and on tour to Southampton, Salford, Plymouth, Sunderland and Bristol. First Steps is a children’s introduction to ballet with a storyteller explaining what’s happening and crucial mime elements, as well as the full Royal Ballet Sinfonia orchestra - BRB being the only major ballet company to include a full orchestra playing for its children’s shows, rather than recorded music.

Additionally, there will be a tour in May 2021 which will include Jorge Crecis’ Ten, originally created for Acosta Danza, and a new commission to be announced shortly, bridging a gap for Ballet provision in smaller towns and cities in the UK. Venue and full programme details to be announced. 

BRB’s successful An Evening of Music and Dance will return to Symphony Hall Birmingham on 12 February 2021. Following the success and sell out of last year’s Royal Albert Hall concert, the Company has been invited back by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to perform with them at the Royal Albert Hall in an evening titled The Beauty of Ballet conducted by Music Director Laureate, Barry Wordsworth on 4 November 2020.

There are new partnerships in the pipeline including the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire whose orchestra will perform for BRB’s Swan Lake Dreams on 23 February 2020. This outstanding Birmingham orchestra of young talented musicians will have the opportunity to perform for a ballet for the first time, conducted by BRB’s Principal Conductor, Paul Murphy and led by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia's Leader, Robert Gibbs.

BRB is also partnering with two Festivals in 2020, with Wayne McGregor inviting the Company to perform his duet 2Human at Dance@Grange Festival (10 & 11 July). BRB will also perform for the first time at The Latitude Festival in Suffolk also in July 2020.

BRB is committed to supporting and offering creative opportunities for local children and young adults. The company’s talent identification programme Dance Track visits a quarter of all Birmingham primary schools annually. Every year 80 children, aged six to eight, showing a natural talent for ballet join Dance Track and are given free weekly ballet lessons taught by BRB staff, as well as free uniforms and ballet shoes. Talented Dance Trackers are supported to apply for both the Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst Ballet School associate programmes. These special programmes provide children with more advanced training to refine their dance technique and are the first step on the long journey to become a professional dancer. The Dance Track children will give end of year celebration performances at Patrick Studio in Birmingham on 9, 14 and 16 July with the Learning Engagement Access and Participation (LEAP) Ambassadors Celebration on Friday 17 July.

Freefall Dance Company, BRB’s own company of highly gifted dancers with learning disabilities, returns to the Patrick Studio for its annual performance showcase on 12 November 7pm. Tickets will be on sale from June 2020.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of BRB moving to Birmingham, and what better way to celebrate than by returning to the Hippodrome and Royal Albert Hall with Sir Peter Wright’s version of The Nutcracker. The ballet  he created as a gift to the City of Birmingham 30 years ago in 1990. To mark the occasion BRB is refurbishing John Macfarlane’s stunning sets, supported by funding from loyal audiences.

BRB will also be celebrating by partnering with fellow Birmingham arts organisation, Sampad South Asian Arts & Heritage which also celebrates its 30th Anniversary in 2020. BRB will host a choreo-lab residency bringing together two dancers and choreographers from both organisations, to share practice and explore each other’s dance languages. Bharatanatyam dancer and rehearsal director with Akram Khan Company, Mavin Khoo, and First Soloist with BRB, Kit Holder, will spend a creative week at BRB working on new choreography. They will share their findings with local colleagues at the end of the week (29 June – 2 July, sharing date on 3 July).

Celebrating the company’s rich history, BRB will join its sister company The Royal Ballet and Yorke Dance Project at The ROH’s newly refurbished ,Linbury Theatre in May 2020 as part of an evening celebrating the choreographers who have shaped the Royal Ballet companies’ shared history. The evening, titled Heritage, will feature BRB performing Sir Frederick Ashton’s Dante Sonata (1940, performed at the Linbury Theatre, 14-19 May 2020).  

Acosta’s first year will culminate in the company’s jubilant return to The Royal Opera House in summer 2021 after an absence of twenty years. It promises to be a spectacular homecoming to mark the end of the BRB’s 30th anniversary year, programme information to be announced.

In BRB’s continued efforts to make ballet more accessible, in 2020 there are over 20,000 tickets available across the season for £20 or less.

Acosta said: “This is just the beginning of the journey. As I get to know the city of Birmingham and meet more and more artists from all walks of life, the more I see the opportunity to collaborate as a major part of my role. I look forward to announcing further exciting projects and embedding my vision and ambition in the very heart of this great city. Watch this space.” 

Glorious comedy is homeward bound
2019 cast

When Jeremy Sams’ adaptation of Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de La Patellière's award winning 2010 play (turned into a film two years later), Le Prénom, (translates as first name) premiered at Birmingham Rep three years ago it was the funniest thing I had seen in years – the comedy sensation of the decade.

It was witty, clever, sophisticated, laugh lots, long and loud funny and surely destined for the West End and more – international tours, an English version of the film, who knows. Instead . . . nothing. What’s in a name? went black, awash with rave reviews, it ended its run at the Rep and vanished into the theatrical ether.

With the sort of five star pedigree from its brief appearance at the Rep, Joe Thomas didn’t hesitate when he was asked to star in the first tour which set out last year.

The actor, best known for The Inbetweeners and Fresh Meat, said “It’s such a great script. I read it really quickly, which is always a good sign. It’s so light on its feet and you think it’s going to be about class and education and the battles we fight over culture, but it moves really laterally and then it turns a corner.”

The play becomes about family and chinks in each characters’ armour. Joe said his  character Vincent “seems like a complete wind-up merchant in the beginning but by the end he’s deeply cut-up”. Sams, who is also the director, has moved the play from Paris to Peckham – one a capital and the other having a capital P – and Vincent is a father-to-be who, along with his partner Anna, is invited to dinner at his sister Elizabeth and her husband Peter’s flat where childhood friend Carl is also invited.

A pleasant family gathering until Vincent drops a bombshell about the name he’s chosen for his offspring and, as the siblings and their significant others begin to pick at old sores and long-held resentments, Carl has his own bombshell to drop.

At times political correctness flies out of the window as they bitch and bicker, with Sams’ script artfully straddling the fine line between funny and offensive.

After three Inbetweeners seasons and two feature films Thomas is no stranger to straddling the same line himself, saying: “It’s an incredibly precise act of judgement that’s required but this play is an exploration of what PC actually is and I think that’s interesting territory. It shows the intelligence of the writing, how funnily and deftly that idea is explored.”

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The production is by Adam Blanshay Productions, with Adam saying the play is “very funny but also very sophisticated and dark and a little sardonic”, adding with a smile, “And it’s written from a neutral standpoint so everyone is offended and applauded in equal measure.”

Delaporte and de La Patellière’s original production premiered at the Théâtre Édouard VII, named in honour of King Edward VII, a regular visitor to Paris, in 2010 and went on to notch up more than 300 performances and garner six Molière Award nominations (equivalent to the UK’s Olivier Awards). The 2011 film version won two César Awards, the French equivalent of the Academy Awards; there have been Italian and German movie versions, and the play has been translated into more than 20 languages.

Having seen the French-Canadian adaptation in his homeland of Montreal, Adam was thrilled to be able to bring it to the UK with Jeremy Sams’ acclaimed adaptation. A few tweaks have been made for the touring production, with the producer pointing out: “We’re very much setting it in 2019 and Jeremy has done a great refresh of the script to make it relevant to today. One of the things I’m keen to explore is how in a play that’s driven by men the female characters have the upper hand in the end. The last time we did the show it was pre-#MeToo and now we’re looking at it post-#MeToo and bringing that female empowerment theme to it.”

Alex Gaumond, the Canadian actor most recently seen in the West End revival of Company, is relishing playing Carl. “It’s one of those roles that simmers. He’s rarely the one who is driving the conversation but he has this massive secret so he could at any point drop the bombshell.”

When he finally does then all comedy hell breaks loose, although the actor points out there are universal truths amongst all the laughs. “It’s essentially about a family and everybody has a family, whether they’re connected with them or not. And most people, if not everyone, have been at a social dinner with family where everybody falls into the category they’ve evolved into over time, like ‘the joker’ and ‘the sensible one’.

“When all of those roles are completely twisted and turned around, as they are in the play with plot twists and people finally telling other people what they think of them, it’s thrilling and hilarious to watch.”

Completing the cast is Bo Poraj as Peter. The Miranda and Musketeers star feels What’s In A Name? really taps into the spirit of the times, Peter and Elizabeth having given their children very quirky names.

“The fashion for strange names for kids is not something I’ve seen picked apart in public discourse before,” Bo notes. “The play also picks up on universal themes like friendship and secrets and family.”

Poraj also feels audiences up and down the country are ready for a cracking good comedy. “This is 90 minutes of escapism and laughter. I hope people will find it entertaining and a sort of release. We definitely need a bit of levity in these crazy times we’re living in.”

Also announced in the cast is Louise Marwood (Emmerdale) as Anna with the role of Elizabeth to be confirmed shortly.

Roger Clarke

06-02-20

Rep review from January 2017

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A Carmen for today

carmen cast 

New production explores Carmen’s story

Bizet’s Carmen is a 19th century opera classic of dark-eyed gypsies, flamenco and castanets set in hot and sultry Seville. But Welsh National Opera’s new production takes Carmen out of its traditional home and moves it to Latin America in the 1970s.

It’s a decision aiming to give us a contemporary Carmen which comes to Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre on November 5 and 8. Stripped of its stereotypes, the new production brings us a Carmen we can recognise as a working-class woman facing the difficulties of women across the globe – how to survive in a male-oriented and money-dominated world.

In moving Carmen away from its typical setting, director Jo Davies is keen to ensure audiences experience the core of Carmen’s story – the tale of a woman whose free will in love results in tragic consequences.

“When you look at the score and the themes that are embedded in Carmen, you realise that Bizet was telling, in quite a radical way, the story of a working-class woman who wants the freedom to express her own sexual choices,” Jo says.

“That is a story one can look at in any scenario. And I think one of the dangers of the familiarity of Carmen in a sunny Spain with castanets is that you stop looking at the real story because you’ve seen it so many times. It doesn’t make you look afresh at the characters or investigate what’s really going on.

“We were particularly keen to look at the economic circumstances of Carmen – she’s a woman working on a minimum wage within a very tight community that is also under the control of a military state. So, there are all these potential factors which could limit Carmen’s freedom to be who she wants to be.”

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Welsh-born flamenco and contemporary dancer Josie Sinnadurai. Pictures: Bill Cooper

Latin America gives the production the opportunity to explore these themes in a hot-blooded climate.

“We started to look at favelas in Latin America and realised the energy of those communities,” says Jo. “There’s a real energy in their religious and mystical beliefs and there’s also a heavy military presence in some of these countries where the communities are pitched against the army. This is the environment which Carmen is growing up in - and it’s a hostile environment.”

The production isn’t tied down to a specific country or year – a deliberate decision.

“Allowing it to take place in a setting which is a bit ambiguous allows it to retain a story which is still mythic,” Jo says. “You need a world which can feel very real and cohesive where all of the characters are utterly tethered but which country or which year or which politics are less important.

“It’s the sexual politics we are looking at. Carmen has very much had to learn to use her power as a woman. She has no education, no money or economic standing, no family network that we know of and no real social standing. So, she’s had to find a way to get through. She’s a woman by herself so uses all the tools she has.”

For Jo, an important part of telling this story and creating the energy of Carmen lies in Bizet’s music – but it also lies in the physicality of movement and dance.

“There’s always a big focus on dance in Carmen,” she says. “In part it’s because of the bohemian gypsy energy that’s there with Carmen’s wild spirit.

“There are lots of references within the opera to dance – moments when Carmen dances in front of Don José, she also dances for the soldiers and there’s the physicality of the bullfighting. We wanted this strong physicality to be an integral part of the story - we were keen that those moments didn’t feel isolated and were truly integrated into the piece and that they felt part of the world.”

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Josie Sinnadurai and Latin ballroom champion Carmine De Amicis

This physicality comes to life in many different ways – in a packed chorus moving round the stage, in fighting and in dance. Jo is familiar with the abilities of WNO, having directed the company’s Kiss Me Kate in 2016, so was keen to use the skills of the chorus but also introduce professional dancers into the cast.

Together with movement director Denni Sayers, Jo auditioned for two dancers to perform duets and solos - finding the perfect combination in Latin and ballroom champion Carmine de Amicis and flamenco and Welsh-born contemporary dancer Josie Sinnadurai.

“I was very confident that the chorus could present a huge physical energy on the stage even if they didn’t have particular dance skills,” says Jo. “And what we wanted to do was to also ensure some performers with a higher degree of technical dance skill who we could focus on and pull out when we felt we needed to. That ensures a strong physicality all the way through the opera but also opportunities to really draw on dance at certain points.”

Carmine and Josie appear throughout the opera but there are moments when they take centre stage as dancers rather than actors. Denni explains how the choreography has been created specifically for this production to bring alive the spirit of Latin America while also progressing the story.

“I’ve tried to create a fusion dance style so you wouldn’t say we’re in Buenos Aires or La Paz – it’s something which is much more about the story we’re trying to tell about the relationship between this man and this woman rather than about following one dance style slavishly and accurately,” says Denni.

“I’m using a lot of the idea of tango in that there’s a lot of hesitation in tango and it’s quite combative and I’m also quoting several other Latin American dance styles like lambada and salsa. It’s creating a fusion that is unique because the dance has to serve the drama. It’s a very conscious decision for the dancing to be quite combative and to highlight the challenge between the man and the woman.”

carmen and don jose

Virginie Verrez as Carmen and Dimitri Pittas as Don Jose

Denni has choreographed previous WNO productions including Aida, Chorus, Don Carlos, Ariadne auf Naxos and last year’s War and Peace. Working with Jo, Josie and Carmine to develop the choreography for Carmen, she is also ensuring the production makes the most of the dancers’ strengths.

“Josie and Carmine have a very wide dance training and a real wealth of physical vocabulary to call on because they’ve had classical training, contemporary training, ballroom training, flamenco – all of those things inform what we are doing.

“The dance needs to be organic to the dancers’ way of movement and we’ve been very blessed with Josie and Carmine. They have a wonderful physical chemistry – they really spark off each other and improvise wonderfully together. They can tell a wonderful physical story on stage.”

Carmine, who grew up in Italy but is now based in the UK, is not only an internationally renowned Latin and ballroom dancer but has also studied contemporary dance and classical ballet. For Carmen he is both performer and assistant choreographer. And he says the flavour of the dance is strongly influenced by the production’s setting and how dance is a natural part of life in Latin cultures.

“Because it’s set in South America we have been exploring different elements of different dances to create choreography which reflects the culture of dancing together and rhythmical movement,” he says.

“Bizet’s score is not a Latin score so it’s more about creating atmosphere than a particular dance. In South America you don’t have to be a professional dancer to know how to dance. You step up and you have your cultural rhythm and you just get on with it – it’s more a social thing than going to dance classes.”

Josie grew up in Brecon and was determined to be a dancer after watching a flamenco show at the age of three. She studied dance in London and Cardiff and is now based in Spain but performs internationally as both a flamenco and a contemporary dancer. Carmen is her first opera and, although not directly performing flamenco, she is able to draw on her experience of the Spanish dance.

“There is something about the attack of flamenco which is shared with the Latin dances even though the dance steps are very different,” says Josie. “It’s something to do with the way you carry yourself and the eye contact and the presence that you bring to the dance so I don’t feel I’m in a completely different world from flamenco.

“But moving the show to South America does give it another aspect – it’s saying this story could have happened anywhere, rather than pinning it down to Spain. Carmen is usually known as the ‘Spanish opera’ so the country becomes really important while other operas are known more for their story. Moving it to another setting contributes to it feeling more like a real story with real people.”

*Welsh National Opera perform Carmen at Birmingham Hippodrome on Nov 5 and 8 alongside Rigoletto on Nov 6 and 9 and The Cunning Little Vixen on Nov 7. For more information and tickets see  www.birminghamhippodrome.com or call 0844 338 5000.

Diane Parkes

11-19 

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Hit musical Once on it's way to the Midlands

The multi-award-winning musical Once is heading to the Midlands next year on its first major UK tour

Based on the award winning 2007 Irish film written and directed by John Carney it featured the Oscar winning original song, Falling Slowly, written by the film’s stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who also wrote all the music and lyrics.

The independent film, incidentally, was made on a budget of $150,000, around a thousandth of the cost of the average Harry Potter or Batman movie, or the likes of Dunkirk. So far it has brought in $23,323,631 at the box office excluding album, video, DVD, TV and streaming sales. A return that surely has had Irish eyes smiling.

The film was adapted for the stage, with a book by Irish playwright Enda Walsh, opening in New York in 2011 before transferring to Broadway the following spring, being nominated for 11 Tony awards picking up eight that summer including best musical.

The following year the cast album picked up the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, while the musical itself crossed the Atlantic coming home first, if briefly, to Dublin before transferring to the West End where it was nominated for six Oliviers, picking up two, losing out for best new musical to The Book of Mormon, but picking up best original music from Whatsonstge.com.

Now the musical is about to embark on its first major UK tour from December, calling at Coventry Belgrade (10-14 March), Malvern (23-28 March), Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham (1-6 June).

Once tells the uplifting story of two lost souls - a Dublin street busker and a Czech musician - who unexpectedly fall in love It follows their relationship over five short days, days when big changes happen to both of them in little ways. It was celebrated for its original score and its spellbinding, heart-warming story of hopes and dreams.

MP3 of Falling Slowly

The Hansard and Irglová roles as Guy and Girl are played by Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia who return to the roles after receiving critical and audience acclaim in the production’s premiere last year at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich and Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.

Daniel is a singer-songwriter, musician and actor, who has co-written songs for multi-platinum artist Ronan Keating including the single Breathe, which topped the BBC Radio 2 Playlist. Theatre credits include Backbeat and Once, both in the West End.

Emma made her professional debut as Marilyn and understudying Carole King in the UK Tour of Beautiful, before taking on the role of Girl in Once.

The duo have just released a new recording is released this week of the Academy Award-winning song Falling Slowly and we are indebted to The Alexandra Theatre for sending a copy we can share with you.

Roger Clarke

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Calendar Girls – The Musical

Birmingham Hippodrome – 28 May to 8 June, 2019

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They will probably be needing bigger buns at Birmingham Hippodrome next week as Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s Calendar Girls – The Musical brings smiles, a few tears, and sunflowers to the stage.

Firth wrote the screenplay of the 2003 film based on the true story of a Yorkshire Dales Women’s Institute who produced a nude calendar to raise funds for Leukaemia Research in memory of the husband of one of their members who had died of the disease.

The firm was a rip-roaring success and Firth went on to adapt the film for the stage in 2008 and it became another huge hit and now Firth has turned the girls into a musical with words and music by the multi-talented Gary Barlow.

The show opened in 2015, appropriately in Leeds, some 30 miles or so from the home of Rylstone and District Women's Institute where it all started.

It went on to become a huge success in the West End with five-star reviews and now comes to Birmingham for the first time with a cast that includes Lesley Joseph of Birds of a Feather fame and who has also appeared in the Calendar Girls play. She will be playing Jessie.

Also in the cast are Sarah Jane Buckley (Blood Brothers and Hollyoaks) as Annie, Sue Devaney (Dinnerladies, Casualty, Coronation Street, Mamma Mia!) as Cora, Julia Hills (Broadchurch, The Archers) as Ruth, Judy Holt (Cold Feet, Scott & Bailey) as Marie and Lisa Maxwell (Loose Women, Hollyoaks, The Bill) as Celia and Rebecca Storm (Evita, Les Miserables, Chess) as Chris.

The cast also includes Phil Corbitt as John, Ian Mercer as Rod, Sebastian Aberneri as Colin, Alan Stocks as Denis, Pauline Daniels as Lady Cravenshire, Ellie Leah as Miss Wilson, Danny Howker as Danny, Isabel Caswell as Jenny and Tyler Dobbs as Tommo.

The original 11 Calendar Girls, aged between 45 and 65, launched their Calendar in April 1999, hoping to raise £5,000 for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, as it was then, in memory of John Baker, the late husband of WI member Angela. It sold 88,000 in the first year with a further 240,000 in a 2001 calendar in the USA the follow year.

The hoped for target was a modest £5,000 – the humble calendar of 20 years ago launched a phenomenon which so far has raised almost £5 million for Bloodwise, as the charity is now called.

It opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday 28 May and runs to Saturday 8 June, 2019.

Tickets birminghamhippodrome.com or 0844 338 5000 (4.5p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge). 

Roger Clarke

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10 SOLDIERS
World Premiere
Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 May, 2019

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It was in 2008 when Birmingham based choreographer Rosie Kay joined the 4th Battalion The Rifles to watch and even take part full battle exercises. She also visited the visited the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre near Epsom. The result was the award winning five-star work 5 SOLDIERS in 2010 telling the stories of the man and women serving on the front line.

It was to become a work in progress. Five years later the work was revisited, a fresh look, with another premiere at Birmingham Rep. Now the 5 have become a full British Army squad, 10 SOLDIERS. It looks afresh at the lives of men and women whose bodies are the front line, including the issues of equality and diversity.

The latest recruits will be on parade for their world premiere of 10 SOLDIERS at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday, 21 May, 2019.

Here Rosie Kay talks to Behind the Arras about the new production and its evolution.

The dancers have been rehearsing at DanceXchange in Birmingham and we caught them as they went through their paces in readiness for their Premiere performance.

Roger Clarke

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1984o:p>

Friday and Saturday, 24-25 May

Derby Theatre

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Any piece of writing, or film, about the future, inevitably meets its day of reckoning, when the future becomes the present; 1984 was first published in 1949, thirty-five years prior to the title date.

We are now thirty- five years after that title date. A quirk of auspicious, serendipitous, synchronicity for this new production of Orwell’s masterpiece by the Contemporary Theatre students, Derby University productions.

Behind the Arras was privileged to meet the production team and cast, as rehearsals for the show reached their climax. It is a measure of the credibility of Derby’s Artistic Director Sarah Brigham, and Director Amanda Wallace, that they secured the rights to put on the play, adapted and written by Nick Lane, from the notoriously demanding Rights Holders.

Lane is an actor turned director, as well as playwright. From 2006-2014 he was the Associate Director and Literary Manager of Hull Truck Theatre, a company with which he has had a long association and with whom he shares a connection with Sarah Brigham.

Sarah and Amanda were at pains to emphasise that the power and importance of this production is that it is the student’s show, which aims to educate, inform and entertain a fresh audience.

The young actors are responding to a historic piece about the future, now. The set design is also student produced, complete with screens for the slogans, which have now entered the English Language in their own right (Big Brother is Watching You), and audio visual backdrops.

Orwell wrote the book in Jura, a remote Scottish island, whilst recovering from tuberculosis, at the end of the Second World War. A time when the Nagasaki and Hiroshima nuclear bombs threatened global apocalypse, and the world was dominated by men, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, the great war victors.

CChelsea Forde, who plays Julia, emphasised her determination to put a 20th century female imprint on her role for a story in which the other female characters fight for prominence.

Director Amanda has sought to redress this gender imbalance by creating an all- female team of narrators amongst the fifteen strong cast who also serve to inject energy and colour into a sometimes otherwise bleak dystopian vision. She commented that the book transfers to stage well, three hundred pages condensed to a running time of around two hours.

Ewan McConnall plays Winston, and observed that the future Orwell warned about is the reality for young people now, with twenty- four hour surveillance, ubiquitous CCTV, and computer farming of users data the norm.

He commented that for a 21st Century audience the story, as warning, is as relevant now, as it was then. But now it is as much about complacency with what is here now, as about what is to come.

Some stories beg for re-evaluation and reinterpreting. 1984 is one of them. How does the imagined world of Winston Smith, and his choices, shape up seventy years later? Is the spy O’Brien irredeemably malevolent, or is he too a victim? How would Feminism shape Julia’s outlook? I cannot wait to have these, and other, questions answered when the show opens on Friday 24th May. Thanks to Sarah Brigham and Amanda Wallace for offering me access to the creative process for this important new production which promises so much.

Gary Longden

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Is this a potted plant which I see before me?/h1>

Elsie and Norm’s Macbeth

By John Christopher-Wood

The Nonentities

Rose Theatre Studio, Kidderminster

Monday 8 April to Saturday 13 April

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Elsie and Norman Grimethorpe are a bit fed up with their middle-aged, humdrum existence. The monotony of Trivial Pursuit and never-ending episodes of Dallas every Saturday night, has taken its toll.

They’ve decided to go a bit wild and put on a performance of Macbeth, just for us - in their own front room!

Set against the back drop of their trusty sideboard and collection of Royal memorabilia, Elsie and Norm set about capturing the essence of ‘one of the greatest pieces of literature what has ever been wrote in the English language’.

Norm undertakes his own rewrite, missing out what he considered the boring bits, while at the same time questioning Shakespeare's abilities not only as a playwright, but also as a poet as not a lot rhymes in his original version. The result is . . . well, the result is a sort of Scottish play, sort of.

acbethy

LLouise Fulwell as Elsie and Tom Rees as Norm in the famous dead panda scene from Macbeth (Is this right? Ed)

Picture: Colin Hill

So raise your can of Irn Bru and join them on this madcap roller coaster ride as they attempt to play all the parts themselves, with the help of a variety of house plants; two stuffed pandas and a fine collection of tartan dressing gowns.

 ‘Piece of cake’, says Norm – ‘as long as I can find my teeth’ . . .

Starring Louise Fulwell and Tom Rees and directed by Sue Downing, Elsie and Norm will be bringing the Scottish Play to a loving room near you from Monday 8 April to Saturday 13 April.

Tickets available on-line at www.rosetheatre.co.uk or call the box office 01562 743745

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On Macbeth, education and living up to a name/p>

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The sell out National Theatre production of Macbeth came to Wolverhampton Grand in March and the National's artistic director has been talking about a play which was popular with the public, less so with the critics.

He also talks about the importance of arts education in schools and colleges and making the National Theatre into a truly national theatre.

Roger Clarke

09-03-19

Grand

mamma mia rock you

Birmingham Hippodrome have announced that tickets will go on sale this month and in April for two blockbuster musicals that arrive at the theatre next year. We Will Rock You (20 Apr – 2 May 2020) and Mama Mia! (12 -31 May 2020) will go on sale to Hippodrome Friends and Patron members on 11 March, Groups on 26 March and general on sale from 2 April.

Following triumphant 2009 and 2011 UK theatre tours and a 2013 10th anniversary world arena tour, the smash hit Queen and Ben Elton musical, We Will Rock You returns to Birmingham in a reimagined production.

Since 2002 more than 15 million people in 17 countries have seen We Will Rock You showcasing a number of Queen’s well known hits, including We Are The Champions, Radio Ga Ga, Killer Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites The Dust and, of course, We Will Rock You.

Producer of We Will Rock You, Phil McIntyre said: “We are really looking forward to bringing this true rock theatrical back to the Birmingham Hippodrome.  We had standing ovations night after night last time round, so we can’t wait to see that happen all over again.  May the Rhapsody play on forever!”

The sensational feel-good musical Mamma Mia! will return to Birmingham Hippodrome as part of a UK Tour celebrating 20 years since the record-breaking production premiered in London in April 1999. From West End to global phenomenon, the show is Judy Craymer’s ingenious vision of staging the story-telling magic of Abba’s timeless songs with a sunny, funny tale of a mother, a daughter and three possible dads unfolding on a Greek island idyll. To date, it has been seen by over 60 million people in 50 productions in 16 different languages. 

Fiona Allan, artistic director and chief executive at Birmingham Hippodrome said: “The arrival of these two major musical juggernauts in 2020 continues Birmingham Hippodrome’s reputation for bringing the very best in theatre and live entertainment to Midlands audiences.

Both We Will Rock You and Mamma Mia! have enjoyed sell-out success here in previous years and I have no doubt that returning audience members, or those visiting for the very first time, will be up on their feet at the conclusion of these two blockbuster productions.”

& For more information on becoming a Friend visit birminghamhippodrome.com or call 0844 338 5000 (4.5p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge). Hippodrome/a>

06-03-19 

panto cast

Ready for action, the cast of Lichfield Garrick's Dick Whittington  Picture: Pamela Raith Photography

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Dick Whittington

Lichfield Garrick

29 November to 31 December 2018

Where Behind the Arras at the preview of Dick Whittington, this year’s pantomime at the Lichfield Garrick? Oh, yes they were!

Local actor Sam Rabone, who hails from Streetly, is now not only the Dame, but also this year, for the first time, the director for the show. Appearing for his third consecutive year, he should be able to find the stage door without directions and have a cheap taxi fare home. He is fitting this year’s pantomime in between directing children’s shows in Dubai.

TThe cast includes  Katrina Bryan (CBeebies),  and Ben Thornton, the show  is written by Paul Hendy (Evolution Pantomimes),  and produced by the same team behind the Lichfield Garrick’s previous pantomimes, Aladdin and Sleeping Beauty.

Children's television star Katrina Bryan stars as Fairy Bowbells with Joanna Hayward playing her nemesis as Queen Rat. Katrina, is best known for playing Nina in the CBeebies series Nina and the Neurons.

She has recently finished filming in Scotland for a new CBeebies family drama series called Molly and Mack about an eight-year-old girl called Molly and her brother Mack, who is 18. The series is all about Molly's fun adventures with Mack, her friends, and the eccentric but loving group of adults - one of whom is played by Katrina - who run the stalls in an indoor community market. It is due to be showing round about the time Dick Whittington is playing at Lichfield.

The Garrick pantomime is now a Christmas institution in Lichfield, Staffordshire, and beyond, always funny, quick paced and suitable for all the family.

Dick Whittington runs at the Lichfield Garrick from Thursday 29 November to Monday 31 December 2018, with a variety of schools, matinee and evening performances. Prices start from £15 for children and £19.50 for adults and can be booked online at www.lichfieldgarrick.com or by calling the Box Office on 01543 412121.

Gary Longden

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Sting on the Tyne

Sting on the Tyne, bringing The Last Ship home. em>Picture: Mark Savage, for Northern Stage

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The Last Ship

The New Alexandra Theatre

16-21 April

Sting’s The Last Ship is a rare beast these days – an original musical, with original music and as English, or perhaps in this case, as Geordie as newkie broon or pan haggerty

So many musicals these days are revivals from a golden age, musical versions of popular films or jukebox affairs while anything truly original is usually an import from America.

As was The Last Ship, in a roundabout way. It premiered in Chicago, before moving to Broadway, New York being where Sting lived – and despite being set in Wallsend, pet, America has seen enough of its own factories close and industries die, devastating the communities that depended on them, for the harsh reality to resonate.

After all, it was America’s disillusioned and largely forgotten towns of the rust belt that helped elect Trump.

With a quintessential British musical opening in the USA it is perhaps fitting that it is an American producer who lives in Britain, Karl Sydow, who, in his words, brought it home, declaring it contains what he considers “some of the most beautiful music ever written for the stage.”

Sting might be known as a rock star but the music is neither rock, nor pop. It is music which at times is folksy, at times ballads, sometimes powerful and emotive - narrative songwriting, part of the story, taking it forward, never just a pop song squeezed in as a musical interlude. These are songs as gritty, tender or poignant as the story the musical tells.

It is set in Wallsend, Sting’s home town and home to shipbuilders Swan Hunter’s now closed West Yard

The story is one of struggle. When Gideon Fletcher returns home after seventeen years at sea, he has to confront both his own and his town's past while each of their futures is in turmoil. The town’s shipyard, around which the community revolves, is closing and no-one knows what will come next, only that a half-built ship towers over the terraces. With the outlook looking bleak picket lines are drawn as foreman Jackie and his wife Peggy fight to hold their community together in the face of the gathering storm.

The musical, directed by Lorne Campbell, has its UK premiere at Northern Stage in Newcastle upon Tyne on 12 March then on tour arriving at The New Alexandra Theatre on 16 April.

Below is video of the launch with Sting singing some of the show's songs along with Coronation Street,, West End and Broadway star Richard Fleeshman who plays Gideon; Charlie Hardwick, best known as Val Pollard in Emmerdale, who plays Peggy; and Joe McGann, Elf The Musical /em>and The Upper Hand who plays her husband Jackie.

The trio also talk about the show and their parts in it.

Roger Clarke

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From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

15-16 January

Derby Theatre

I was fourteen when one summer’s day I heard another worldly sound coming through the open window of the house next door where a friend lived.

II called around and asked who the artist was? “David Bowie, Moonage Daydream from Ziggy Stardust,” came the reply. There started a personal fandom which endures to this day.

On Monday 15th January, em>From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, written and directed by Dave Berry, appears at Derby Theatre as part of a national tour.

One thousand three hundred and ninety- five miles apart physically, many will identify the words as being from Bowie’s Life on Mars.

The play is a one-man show with Martin (Alex Walton) a teenage boy living in Norwich its focus, and a Bowie soundtrack. It is touring on the back of an award -winning sell out run at the Edinburgh Festival last year.

When some popular singers die there is a spasm of interest, hyperbole, and acclaim, then a more sober period of assessment follows. With a handful, their reputation grows. David Bowie falls into that category.

In TThe Bewlay Brothers, the protagonist declares himself to be “Chameleon, comedian, Corinthian and caricature”. It is not a bad summation of Bowie and his work.o:p>

The artistic world is wrestling with how to pay homage to Bowie’s legacy. Tribute band tours abound, his play, Lazarus, has played on Broadway and in London. Like many Bowie fans, I am intrigued to see how Berry presents his story.

Artistically, Bowie changed image, sound and persona many times in the 1970s. There are many different David Bowies. Which one will Martin latch on to from his Norwich home?

Lyrically, Bowie was enigmatic. Early material was dense and obtuse (TThe Bewlay Brothers; Cygnet Committee; Width of a Circle), then, from Aladdin Sane ,he adopted a cut and paste method of randomly assembling words and phrases into songs.

This may well leave Martin a little confused. It also leaves Berry with considerable room for manoeuvre as you can make of them what you will!

I cannot wait for Monday night at Derby, the opening night of a tour which plays across the country and finishes in London in March. Bowie has a huge fan base, and the cognoscenti will be out in force casting a critical eye on this production.

Gary Longden

Tickets https://www.derbytheatre.co.uk/ibiza-norfolk-broads

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Andrea Dunbar, pictured by the BBC in 1987/p>

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Rita, Sue and Bob Too

Derby Theatre 21-28 November, 2017

This revival of a play which enjoyed considerable success as a film, comes to Derby Theatre on the 21st November. It is impossible to discuss the play without discussing the playwright, and rather than burden the review of the opening night with too much background, I thought the production worthy of a preview.

Andrea Dunbar was the Amy Winehouse of her theatrical generation, a glowing, glowering, talent, who died young at twenty- nine years of age. When someone quotes “twenty years experience” in something, I am often moved to ask “Twenty years experience? Or one year’s experience twenty times?

Dunbar was the obverse of this. A young woman who achieved much professionally from the time of the inception of her first play “Arbor” as a fifteen year old, to her untimely death. Personally, life crammed an indecent amount into her short time, the George Michael line “What we learn we rarely choose” a fitting epitaph to those years.

DDunbar was raised in Bradford in Brafferton Arbor on the Buttershaw council estate, one of seven brothers and sisters, and attended the local comprehensive secondary school. There she began writing her first play The Arbor in 1977 as a classroom assignment for CSE English. It was autobiographical in part, and the sum total of a multitude of first hand experiences and second -hand anecdotes. The combination of her bright, sharp writing style, and the gritty realism of her subject matter was a recipe for success.

It was premiered in 1980 at London's Royal Court Theatre, directed by Max Stafford-Clark and jointly won the Young Writers' Festival, before progressing on to be performed in New York./p>

The play described the experiences of a pregnant teenager with an abusive drunken father, and was widely acclaimed leading to her being featured in the BBC's Arena arts' documentary series. Director Max Stafford-Clark said; “When Andrea wrote her first two plays, she was a teenager from a rough council estate who’d never been to the theatre. Now, thirty-five years after its premiere, Rita, Sue and Bob Too takes its place in the Octagon and Royal Court’s seasons in the role of Classic Play. It’s one of the privileges of my career that Andrea’s astute, fresh and funny writing reached my desk, and it is exciting to bring her vivid, albeit alarming world to life again with these fine actors.”

Dunbar was quickly commissioned to write a follow-up work, creating Rita, Sue and Bob Too, first performed in 1982. The play explored similar themes to The Arbor, in this case depicting the lives of two teenage girls who are both having an affair with the same married man.

cast

SSamantha Robinson, Taj Atwal, Sally Bankes, David Walker, James Atherton and Gemma Dobson.

The film version of em>Rita, Sue and Bob Too (1987) was adapted for the cinema by Dunbar and directed by Alan Clarke. It divided opinion on the Buttershaw estate, with several residents becoming hostile in an area where she still lived.

Her personal life was chaotic. She had fallen pregnant at 15, but the baby was stillborn at 6 months. She later had three children by three different fathers. The first, Lorraine, was born in 1979 to an Asian father. A year later, in 1980, Lisa was born, again while Andrea was still a teenager. As a single mother, Dunbar spent 18 months in a Women's Aid refuge and battled a dependency on alcohol. Her relationship with Lorraine was strained, seventeen years after Dunbar’s death, Loraine, a heroin addict, was convicted of manslaughter for causing the death of her child by gross neglect after the child ingested a lethal dose of methadone. /p>

JJust before Christmas in 1990 Dunbar  was in her local, The Beacon in Reevy Road West, on the Buttershaw estate, a pub which had featured in the film of Rita Sue and Bob Too when she collapsed and died of a brain haemorrhage. She was just 29.

All of the above is infused into her three plays. Written in Thatcher’s Britain, her writing now plays in Austerity Britain. The characters, and characterisations, can seem awkward. Working-class life is depicted awash with alcohol, casual sex and debauchery, against a backcloth of squalor, deprivation and poverty with sex free upfront, and no price to be paid after.

The central dynamic of the play, an older man bedding two15-year-olds, is as unsettling now, as it was then, probably even more so with the grooming gang scandals which have beset several towns and cities, including Bradford. /p>

YYet this is no moralistic polemic. Dunbar just tells it as it is with an authentic voice that disturbs because of its verite rather than a result of the subject matter. Her gift is of story -telling and dialogue, dialogue that is witty, sharp, acerbic, melancholic and brutal. although the political landscape may have turned full circle the position of women in society has shifted. Superficially, women’s confidence in themselves seems greater now, whether that is true on the The Arbor, I am not so sure.

I know we are guaranteed some bawdy laughs on Tuesday night, how Tour Director Kate Wasserberg plays the female roles will be the intriguing part. The Rita, Sue and Bob Too UK tour is co-produced by Out of Joint, Royal Court Theatre and Octagon Theatre.

Gary Longden

Rita Sue and Bob Too runs at the a href="https://www.derbytheatre.co.uk/">Derby theatre from 21-11-17 to 28-11-17. REVIEW

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On the ball: Beverley Knight, Matt Slack, Suzanne Shaw, Phil Randall and Ceri Dupree. Picture: Simon Hadley

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Cinderella

Birmingham Hippodrome

Mon 19 Dec 2017 - Sun 28 Jan 2018

It’s Panto time again!

Oh no it isn’t!

Oh yes, it is!

(repeat until February)

Birmingham Hippodrome headed off to Villa Park with its fairytale horse drawn coach complete with instant snowstorm to launch this year’s spectacular, Cinderella.

This year also sees the panto debut of Wolverhampton born actress and singer Beverley Knight who will be taking to the stage, and no doubt the air, as the Fairy Godmother.

The soul diva will be joined by Suzanne Shaw, who first came to fame with Hear’Say,but who is not only a well known TV and West End star but a seasoned panto regular. She is taking on the role of Cinders while joining them will be Strictly Come Dancing’s Danny Mac as Prince Charming, The Grumbleweeds as The Broker’s Men and, to put a downer on things, dame divas Ceri Dupree and Phil Randall as Voluptua and Verruca, the ugly sisters.

And of course, firm favourite Matt Slack, who is now part of the panto furniture - there are rumours he never actually leaves – who will be appearing in his fifth consecutive Hippodrome pantomime, this time as Buttons.

Beverley Knight said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be coming home to the Midlands for my first ever panto this Christmas. I’ve never felt so sparkly and I’m already very attached to my magic wand! Birmingham Hippodrome has such an incredible reputation for panto and I can’t wait to celebrate Christmas here in ‘Gods own country’ with friends, family and my wonderful co-stars. Speaking as a local girl, Midlands audiences really are some of the best in the world – they know how to enjoy themselves and they’re always game for a laugh. We’re going to have an absolute ball!”

Producer and director Michael Harrison said: “This year’s fantastic line-up will ensure another smash-hit pantomime for the Hippodrome. With so many stars across the worlds of music, theatre, dance and comedy I’m delighted we’ve assembled such a stellar cast. Once again there’ll be plenty of laughs, surprises and audience participation to look forward to.”

Fiona Allan, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Birmingham Hippodrome said: ‘We are hugely excited to play host to Beverley Knight in her pantomime debut this festive season. Pantomime is incredibly important to us at Birmingham Hippodrome and we’re extremely proud of our longstanding relationship with Qdos, who continue to entertain and delight audiences from across the region year on year with their unique mixture of storytelling, lavish special effects and hilarious comedy. This year’s star-studded line-up promises something for everyone and with the clock already ticking, it’s never too early to start planning in some Christmas fun. See you at the ball!”

Cinderella runs at Birmingham Hippodrome from Mon 19 Dec 2017 until Sun 28 Jan 2018.Tickets from £15.50* can be booked on 0844 338 5000 or from birminghamhippodrome.com.

*Prices and discounts subject to change, 5% transaction charge applies (excluding cash sales in person), postage from £1.
† 0844 calls cost 4.5p plus your phone company’s access charge

Roger Clarke

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Belinda Lang and Oliver Cotton as Stephanie and Dr Feldman. Picture: Robert Day

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Duet for one

Birmingham Rep

22 September, 2017 - 7 October, 2017

There are no prizes for guessing the inspiration for Tom Kempinski’s play, Duet for One, about a world-famous musician struck down by multiple sclerosis.

Jacqueline du Pré was one of the finest cellists of her generation – listen to her Elgar, in particular, on Spotify or Amazon music – and she was married to internationally renowned conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, the perfect golden couple.

From 1971 though she started to lose feeling in her fingers, her music became less precise and by 1973 she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and despite battling on for a while, she was forced to stop performing – at the age of 27. She was to die, aged 42 in 1987.

In Kempinski’s play Stephanie Abrahams is a world-famous violinist, diagnosed with MS, no longer able to perform, visiting psychiatrist Dr Feldman just to keep her famous composer husband happy. He thought it might be a good idea, she knew it was a complete waste of time, but anything for quiet life, so here she was. There was nothing wrong with her, after all MS just meant a change in direction, a change of priorities, nothing more, why would she need a psychiatrist.

Why indeed. This is not so much a psychological drama as a psychological descent with layer after layer of confidence, hope, belief and even a future stripped away in six painful therapy sessions as the dismissive, even scornful Stephanie slowly sinks into the depths of despair and self-loathing, lashing out at everyone, before finally starting to come to terms with her very stark reality.

The play opens at Birmingham Rep tonight and is as moving and emotional piece of theatre as you are likely to see, completely absorbing theatre, with Belinda Lang as Stephanie and Oliver Cotton as Dr Feldman. It runs to 07-10-17.

Roger Clarke
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requiem

 

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Requiem for Ground Zero

Stage2

Crescent Theatre

19-22 July, 2017

‘For victims everywhere.’

At 8.46 on the morning of Tuesday, 11 September, 2001, the world we knew, the world we had grown up in, was changed for ever.

Two hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Centre in New York, a third ploughed into the Pentagon in Washington DC and a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania heading for the capital after passengers fought with hijackers. From start to crash and burn end took just 77 minutes.

There had been acts of terrorism before, too many to mention, with the likes of the left wing Baader-Meinhof Gang in West Germany or Basque separatists ETA in Spain, and, at home, the IRA and UDA/UFF in 30 years of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

But this was different, not only in scale, audacity and its brutal disregard for human life, a new slaughter of the innocents, but in ideology. This wasn’t militants with a defined cause to overthrow a dictator or regime, or to bring down the establishment, or to gain independence or recognition, this was war rooted in religion, almost a modern crusade, a militant form of Islamic fundamentalism against the West.

The exact death toll may never be known but, officially, at least 2,977 people lost their lives along with the 19 terrorists. The remains of more than 1,100 of those who died in the Twin Towers have still to be identified 16 years on.

The roots of those attacks, or at least the theories for the origins were many, the Crusades have been cited, a 700 year old blood feud. Others claim past exploitation of Arab states by the developed powers for oil, or the creation of Israel at the expense of Palestine all played their part in the equation. The religious differences of Shia and Sunni, Middle Eastern tribal differences all provided internal divisions but fingers can point decisively at the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1978/79 in support of a communist government as the catalyst for the current wave.

Islamic fundamentalists carried out attacks from Mumbai to New York throughout the 1980s and 1990s but the 2001 9/11 attack took terror into deeper, darker uncharted water. Behind it was Al Qaeda, the militant Sunni Islamist group formed by Osama bin Laden in 1988 from groups who had battled against the Soviets, a group which has spawned many followers and disciples and led to the creation of ISIS.

zero double

A year after 9/11, at the Edinburgh Festival, theatrical giant Steven Berkoff performed his 100 verse epic poem, Requiem for Ground Zero.

It was written in English poetry’s most common meter, iambic pentameter, the meter of Shakespeare, 100 verses of four lines each and staff and members of Stage2 were in the audience.

On his website www.stevenberkoff.com, Berkoff says:

“Requiem for Ground Zero is a poem written to pay homage to the unknown victims, such as the window cleaner Roko Camaj, who died in the nine eleven tragedy.

“At that period of time I had been trying to get dates for my play Messiah: Scenes from a Crucifixion (Fringe award winner in 2000), and naturally had been turned down by every subsidised theatre in London. So we toured Britain and we opened Messiah in Oxford at the Oxford Playhouse the night of the twin tower disaster.

The play was timely you might say and the inflamed passions and pain that most people felt that day were to some extent assuaged by being able to identify with another tragedy. I found myself penning this poem as if there were a need in me to give something to it; to mourn and at the same time to pay homage, to grieve and to also express rage, anger, fury, compassion and ultimately, understanding. I take no sides but merely try to express the atmosphere of the time... take the temperature so to speak…”

Two years later it was premiered, with Berkoff’s support, by Stage2 in January 2004, no longer one man performing a poem but an ensemble piece. Since then the litany of terror has lengthened almost by the day, in the past months attacks in Paris, Brussels, Nice, Munich, Berlin, and this year we have endured the suicide bombing in Manchester and the three-man knife attack in Borough Market in London.

The decision to reprise the 2004 production was taken a year ago but with recent events it has become more relevant. The youth theatre is a microcosm of the cultural diversity of the West Midlands and, although Requiem was written as a response to events in the past, in the hands of the youth of Stage2 it is also an emotive plea for the future. 

‘We have the right to live our lives in peace,
By common consent with all humanity.
Mankind must offer shelter to all faiths;
We were humans before we had a creed

Incidentally more than a thousand people have died from diseases contracted from the toxic dust and debris from the Twin Towers attacks and subsequent collapse and more than 37,000 are officially recognised as being ill from exposure to the wreckage, many with cancer or severe respiratory disaease.

It is estimated that by as short a time as 2021 the number to have died from exposure to the toxic dust and ash will exceed those who died in the attack itself.

It is 13 years since Stage2 first performed the piece and they perform it again in the aftermath or new attacks. Long regarded as one of the country’s leading youth theatres, renowned for innovation, they will stage this powerful piece at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre 19-22 July including a Saturday matinee.

Roger Clarke

Stage2 Box Office

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Million Dollar Quartet

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Million Dollar Quartet

Mention Sun Records and people think Elvis Presley and rock ‘n’ roll - but Sam Phillips? That’s another story.

But Phillips was Sun records, a virtual one-man band who had founded the label in Memphis, Tennessee, and who had launched the careers of King of the Blues B B King, blues and soul legend Howlin’ Wolf and country star Charlie Rich among others.

Yet more was to come as Philips started Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis on the road to stardom following up that million dollar quartet with Roy Orbison.

And that is what they were, a million dollar quartet. On 4 December 1956 Phillips had brought Perkins into the to try a new song and was hoping to use new arrival Jerry Lee Lewis on the backing. Elvis, who by then had left Sun for RCA, was calling by the studios, so Phillips called Cash into the studio which ends in a jamin session by rock ‘n’ roll royalty.

There are clashes between Perkins and Presley, and Perkins and Lewis, and Lewis and . . . well about anybody. That boy had . . . issues.

And that is the story of Million Dollar Quartet which passed through the Midlands late last year.

Phillips is played by Jason Donovan who talks about the show and his role.

Former King Edward’s Camp Hill pupil Matt Wycliffe from Kings Heath, Birmingham, has an impressive West End CV from Outspan Foster in The Commitments, Bob Guadio in Jersey Boys and Buddy in The Buddy Holly Story. He might really be a piano player but plays a mean guitar as Carl Perkins, and he is talking here about the role.

Johnny Cash is played by Robbie Durham), Jerry Lee Lewis by Martin Kaye  and Elvis Presley  by Ross William Wild, along with Presley's girlfriend Dyanne played by Katie Rae.

The first thing that strikes you about the musical is the gifted musicianship. Forget Simon Cowell, if you really want to see that Britain truly does have talent, just watch this show. The quartet are live and brilliant and playing in the style of the people they are portraying. Martin Kaye, incidentally, is like Jerry Lee Lewis on speed – the piano probably needs to cool down at the end of each show.

The show is packed with early numbers from the quartet, 23 of them, starting with Blue Suede Shoes and ending with a everyone on their feet singalong. Not that this is just another jukebox musical, the songs serve a purpose and there is a story to tell.

We talked to the cast at the Theatre Royal Nottingham and below are a couple of jamming sessions, with Matt on electric guitar and Martin on Piano and a number from the Show, Down by the Riverside.

It will give you a taste of show full of good music, nostalgia and brimming over with feelgood factor and great balls of fire.

Roger Clarke

Matt Wycliffe has released an eponymous CD on which he plays all the instruments with songs ranging from Dream to Madonna.

Million Dollar Quartet:

 

 

 

kiss me kate
Petrucio and Katharine,  sung by Quirijn de Lang and Jeni Bern

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Kiss Me Kate

WELSH National Opera are no strangers to the Birmingham Hippodrome. With each season, they grace us with wonderful performances, from the great operatic classics to modern versions of operas and, more recently, musicals such as last year’s five star Sweeney Todd.

The company celebrated their Seventieth anniversary this year and bought In Parenthesis and Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci to Birmingham. It received Four and a half stars from the Arras.

This is a dynamic and forward thinking company. Their outreach programmes show a pride and belief that opera is for all. Their ‘Under 30s’ ticket offer allows young audience members the option to purchase tickets at £5 per performance. This is only one example of their work with the wider community. 

Within their current touring season, WNO’s production of Kiss Me Kate will grace the Birmingham Hippodrome stage from Thursday 10th to Saturday 12th November, as part of their Shakespeare400 season. It is an operatic tribute to the anniversary of the Bard’s death.

 The season contains a trilogy of Shakespearean performances with Verdi’s Macbeth, the UK premiere of Polish composer André Tchaikowsky’s The Merchant of Venice and Kiss me Kate, Cole Porter’s Broadway take on The Taming of The Shrew.And in Cole Porter’s classic WNO show that their expertise extends to all musical genres. Kiss Me Kate arrived on Broadway in 1948, Cole Porter’s response to Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! five years earlier which had advanced the idea of a book musical where words, lyrics and music were all used to advance the plot.

It was the Golden Era of musicals and director Jo Davies produces a marvellous, witty and outright magical performance. 

Cole Porter’s work is a genius tribute to Shakespeare’s play with a solid plot in a book by Samuel and Bella Spewack that directly parallels Shakespeare’s comedy. The clever interweaving of its own story with Shakespeare’s tale catapults his work into the modern day and educates the audience about one of Shakespeare’s most controversial works. The production is a play within a play that takes place backstage during a production of The Taming of The Shrew, a sort of Shakespearean Noises Off.

Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi are a fierce divorced couple who happen to be cast as the principle roles of Katharine and Petrucio. Quirijn de Lang and Jeni Bern pay homage to the conflicting struggle between gender and fiery personality and are both excellent in both their roles.

Colin Richmond’s design is a fantastic view into the world that the audience never see, but are probably itching to get a glimpse of. Cleverly, the essence of backstage chaos is now in full view of audience with a set of wooden flats, dressing room tables and costume rails. Excellent choreography from Will Tucker is the shining light to the mad and wonderful panic that reveals the secret to the audience. Beautiful choral numbers such as Another opnin, another show, Too darn hot and of course Brush up your Shakespeare are sure to instantly lift up moods and are performed perfectly.

With Kiss Me Kate the audience have the best of both worlds, as we see both the play being performed, as well as the backstage action, giving way to hilarious moments of playfulness and teasing. Davies is not afraid to highlight Shakespeare’s more fruitful humour, as is particularly highlighted in the song Tom, Dick or Harry.

I saw this production at Bristol Hippodrome and it is a fantastic addition to WNO’s Shakepseare400, a wonderful example of musical theatre at its best. WNO know exactly how to entertain and most importantly, they understand how to make all audiences feel welcome in the world of opera.

Elizabeth Halpin

Kiss Me Kate runs at Bristol Hippodrome to 15 October and will be at Birmingham Hippodrome 10-12 November.

The Merchant of Venice is at the hippodrome 8 Nov with Macbeth 9 Nov.

Box office 0844 338 5000, HIPPODROME

mandela top
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Mandela Trilogy
Cape Town Opera
Birmingham Hippodrome
20-21 September

Elizabeth Halpin has been to the Royal Festival Hall to see Cape Town Opera’s stunning production of the Mandela Trilogy which is coming to Birmingham Hippodrome on 20 September.

THE internationally renowned Cape Town Opera with Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra are heading to Birmingham Hippodrome later this month with Mandela Trilogy.

This will be their third visit after their acclaimed productions of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in 2012 and Jerome Kern’s Show Boat in July 2014, both receiving five stars from Behind The Arras.

Mandela Trilogy is a moving operatic tribute to the man who so fought long and hard against the desperately against apartheid, the official policy of institutionalised racisim brought in by the Afrikaner dominated National Party after winning the 1948 General Election.

Black people were barely second class citizens and in 1970 lost even that dubious honour, being denied political representation and even citizenship, becoming instead forced citizens of 10 tribal homlands.

And through it all, including 27 years in jail, stood Nelson Mandela. In this three act opera, laced with musical and jazz tones, the company capture the sacrifice of the man and his nation and consummates his eternal legacy.

The production is a reflection of not only the personal plight of Mandela as a man, but gives the worldly impact that was influenced by his passion for peace and the liberation of black South Africans.

Mandela takes us through each important time period of Mandela’s life, from growing up as the adopted son of a respected African Chief, to his long awaited freedom from prison. It perfectly perfectly bridges the gap between South Africa during Apartheid and the reconciliation phase that the country sees itself with today.

It gives us hope that the people can fulfil Mandela’s simple wish of peace for which he was prepared to give his life.

Director and writer Michael Williams said in regards to his reaction of Post-Apartheid South Africa: ‘During this period South African Society seemed preoccupied with making peace with its troubled past, negotiating its way through the present and attempting to set foundations for a sustainable future. The timing of the creation of these operas, written during this emotionally-charged cubicle in our history, was both reactive and serendipitous.’

The trilogy contains three very distinct acts which portray defining moments of Mandela’s life that we know to have shaped the cause of the ANC and the fight for peace. Mandela is played by three performers, each representing ages of life. Mandla Mndebele portrays Mandela 3, within his oldest years and through the poignant time of imprisonment. We also see Peace Nzirawa as the activist and influencial peace protestor as Mandela 2. Thato Machona depicts Mandela 1 as a young boy, making his early transitions into manhood. Act one shows the time from 1934-1941 and we see Mandela’s childhood influences, against a backdrop of an operatic score. In Act two, Mandela’s political stance and the rise of the ANC starts to gain traction, while the final act tells us of the fight that was continued by others, especially his wife Winnie, on the outside, while Mandela fought imprisonment.

The production has distinct musical features, which brings out Mandela’s very human and personal life within personal relationships and family, as well as the political surge against oppression. Music is taken directly from its South African roots and composers Mike Campbell and Peter Louis have created a breath-taking opera with undertones of upbeat rhythms direct from cool Sophiatown. Graeme Farrow is the Artistic Director at Wales Millennium Centre and says ‘The music matches the vastly different phases of Mandela’s journey from freedom to fighter president. The upbeat jazz and swing-influenced songs of Sophiatown are framed by musical styles more familiar in contemporary opera – with a dash of Xhosa folk music that grounds the production in its African roots. Indeed, there is a distinct change in each act which allows the trilogy to be followed with ease, heavily determined by the strong music that lays tribute to the passion of the cause. It is conducted by Tim Murray, of which is explained ‘each act is in stark contrast to the others, but with an over-arching dramatic theme that shines a light on the life of an extraordinary man.’

The production was made in 2010, as part of Cape Town Opera’s season which also paralleled South Africa hosting the FIFA World Cup in the same year. Now in 2016, Mandela’s message continues to remain strong due to the tasteful and passionate opera company, who influence reaches audiences all over the world. Director Williams says that ‘Mr. Mandela never attended a live performance, though he did receive a recording of the production.’

It is a beautiful tribute to a truly special fighter for peace and reminds us of a time in South Africa’s modern history when the rest of world responded. In Cape Town Opera’s unique style of African song, dance and atmosphere, we see the changes Mandela brought to his own country and his influence on the world. A five star show worthy of the man

Elizabeth Halpin

Mandela Trilogy is at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday and Wednesday, 21-22 September. Box office 0844 338 5000, http://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/mandela-trilogy/