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2021 farewell

It’s that time of year again, the time when we look back on the highlights of a year that is now drifting into memory, proclaiming the best musical, play, production of all we have seen on stage in 2021.

This year is no different except for 2021 the award for best everything, musical, drama, ballet, interval drinks, everything you can think of is shared by every production that managed to step out on a stage or appear streamed on screen.

It has been a year like no other, at least not since 1593, the last time theatres were closed by the Government in an attempt to curtail the spread of disease – then it was the Black Death, now it is COVID-19.

Theatres and production companies, and their audiences, have not known what the rules are from one day to the next as confusion reigned. Musicians, actors, technicians, electricians, set builders, stage hands, wardrobe, dressers, set, costume, lighting and sound designers, directors and all those people you never see or don't even know about for any show, indeed everyone in the arts, galleries to grand opera, suddenly had no work, and, as many are freelance, no income either as there was no furlough to soften the blow.

Theatre staff, or those on PAYE, did at least have that furlough safety net but as those rules changed, closures went on and belts had to be tightened to survive, there were inevitable casualties and jobs were lost.


Layton Williams as Jamie, the one everyone was talking about at the Alex, especially on its initial opening night when it fell foul of the first lockdown back in 2019. Picture: Matt Crockett

Running a theatre, even an empty one, has a crippling cost without bums on seats, or more importantly, cash in tills. Utilities still have to be paid while business rates and insurance don’t stop even if performances do; at the same time maintenance, cleaning and all the run of the mill jobs still have to be done and, even with costs mounting, theatres were doing their best to retain as many staff as possible.

While for producers and companies simple economics came into play . . . actors, performers, musicians and backstage staff all have to live, they have bills and mortgages to pay. So, off they went for auditions as delivery drivers, short order chefs, fast food servers, supermarket shelf stackers – any job they could find to earn a crust.

When it came to attempting to put on a production funds were tight after more than a year of theatres going dark, social distancing was in play, some rehearsals were on Zoom, a positive Covid test would put a production back by a fortnight and there was no guarantee of when theatres would open, nor the rules that would be in place if they did.

april in 2021

Sarah Earnshaw as Bet and Joe Pasquale as Al in April in Paris, which was May in Coventry at the Belgrade

So, anything that appeared on stage deserved an award. First out of the traps back in May in the Behind The Arras hall of fame 2021, was John Godber’s bittersweet comedy April in Paris with Sarah Earnshaw as Bet and Joe Pasquale as Al, quickly followed by The Turnip Field at Stoke Repertory Theatre.

In amateur theatre it was The Nonentities at The Rose Theatre in Kidderminster who first took to the stage, this time in June, with Talking Heads, swiftly followed by the Highbury Players in Sutton Coldfield with David Tristram’s Lockdown in Little Grimley.

Every production has faced difficulties and problems, large and small, touring shows even more so, but, in truth, all deserved five stars just for being there, for keeping theatre alive.

As 2021 came to an end the final professional production to take to the stage, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, at Birmingham Hippodrome, summed up the year when its leading light, Matt Slack tested positive for Covid and had to be replaced during his isolation by Johnny Mac, who had just finished panto in Glasgow and went on stage in Birmingham after one rehearsal 24 hours later.

That was mirrored in amateur theatre where Sutton Arts Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty fell foul of Covid among cast members, which meant postponing final performances and a show due to end the week before Christmas ended on New Year’s eve.

jason debut

Jason Donovan made his panto debut in Goldilocks at the Hippodrome in a five star performance, oh yes it was . . .

It was a year that saw us review small cast plays such as the beautifully acted A Splinter of Ice and Copenhagen at Malvern, a world premiere with Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the Alex, my two grandson's favourite, and sparkling new musical, What’s New Pussycat? at Birmingham Rep while Everyone’s Talking About Jamie opened, eventually, at the Alex, the same show that was about to open when theatres suddenly went dark back in 2019.

There was Derby County's FA Cup win in Extra Time at Derby Theatre, School of Rock passed its exams at Wolverhampton Grand and old friends such Chicago at the Grand, Priscilla – Queen of the Desert and The Play That Goes Wrong at the Hippodrome and Grease and Rocky Horror at the Alex along with Dirty Dancing at the Belgrade provided comfort theatre through the uncertain days of 2021.

We saw a new, at least as far as Brum was concerned, The Nutcracker from Birmingham Royal Ballet. It is the production BRB normally danced at the Royal Albert Hall, but was brought to the city while the sets and costumes of the original Peter Wright production are refurbished.

And then came the Festive season with The Play What I wrote at the Rep, Treasure Island at Derby and Jersey Boys at the Alex, which had its own covid drama - see article below. Peter Pan was still refusing to grow up at Lichfield Garrick and Malvern (don’t ask, panto exists in a parallel universe where anything is possible), Goldilocks was in the circus at the Hippodrome while Cinderella ends every performance with a shoe fitting at Wolverhampton Grand.

Highbury Theatre gave us the twists and turns of thriller House Guest and a touch of history with Nell Gwynne, while Grange Players focussed on Elton John’s Glasses. In Kidderminster The Nonentities sent shivers down spines with psychological thriller Gaslight while Sutton Arts had lighter fare with An Ideal Husband. Hall Green Little Theatre meanwhile had their own Goldilocks and her circus in the run up to Christmas.

As Dickens might have put it, God bless them all, every one.

What 2022 holds for the arts, and indeed the world, is in the lap of the gods. What is certain is that the pandemic is far from over. Theatres are doing all they possibly can to keep you safe, you can play your part by doing everything theatres ask and following the rules from showing Covid and vaccination status to mask wearing.

So with 2021 behind us, have a happy and above all, safe 2022.

Roger Clarke



 Ben Joyce as Frankie Valli at the Trafalgar Theatre. Picture Mark Senior

Frankie goes to . . . Birmingham

Frankie Valli is on the move as Ben Joyce, who plays the role in the West End, has hot footed it up to Birmingham today to come to the rescue of the Jersey Boys’ touring production at the Alexandra Theatre.

Due to the covid pandemic allied to the specific physical and vocal demands of the production, several actors were absent from today's performance so the call went out and Joyce answered.

The London production at the Trafalgar Theatre had to cancel performances on 22 and 23 December because of covid and no performance was scheduled for today so Ben stepped in to save the day – or at least today’s matinee.

He then gets a day off before Jersey Boys are back in action on Boxing Day, 26 December in London, with the Birmingham cast back in action on Monday 27-December.

Over in Coventry Covid has also taken its toll on Dick Wittington at the Albany Theatre which was due to open on 30 December and run to 8 January. This was the theatre’s first community panto and with infection numbers growing exponentially the theatre has decided to postpone the production to run over the February half-term holidays to keep staff, audiences and the cast from all over Coventry safe.

The Albany's CEO and Artistic Director, Kevin Shaw, said: “The Trust has taken expert, specific and local advice, and whilst there remains some uncertainty, we understand that the growing wave of infections is expected to hit a peak on or around New Year’s Day – just as our Panto starts its run. It seems likely that next week, further restrictions will be brought in anyway, as they have been in Wales and Scotland, so this decision is likely to be taken out of our hands in any event.”

Roger Clarke


mona lisa in mask
Da Vinci captures the Gioconda's enigmatic . . . mask
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Theatre mask wearing now mandatory

Theatres are doing all they can to keep their audiences safe but they can only go so far, it is up to audiences to work with them and to follow both advice and regulations to make theatre visits as safe as possible for everyone.

Mask wearing in theatres is now mandatory and refusing to wear one risks a £200 fine for a first offence.

It is not easy for front of house staff to enforce, they are there to help patrons and are not employed as bouncers or security, so mask wearing relies on compliance by consent but, it is worth remembering, a man was arrested, handcuffed and led out by police in a London theatre this week for refusing to wear a mask . . . just saying.

These days it is a social act to wear a mask, hardly a great inconvenience, and in many jobs from surgeons to woodworkers, is daily attire. The balance of scientific advice from those with far more knowledge than I can muster tells us that mask wearing protects not only the wearer but those around them.

That includes the rest of the audience, the theatre staff, who, as part of their job, cannot avoid mixing with large crowds of strangers day after day, and also, remember, your mask wearing also helps protect the cast, stage and technical crew who are also at risk.

If they succumb to covid that would be a real showstopper, as has happened at a number of West End shows that have had to close temporarily this week.

The scientific consensus is that mask wearing is beneficial and reduces transmission and is, hopefully, a short-term precaution to provide long term benefits. The better the compliance then, that word hopefully again, the shorter the term it will be required.

Proof of vaccination or negative covid tests are also required and patrons are asked to stay away from the theatre if they have covid symptoms.

All theatres have much the same basic rules in place and below are links to many Midland theatre websites and current advice if you are planning a visit over the festive period.


Birmingham Hippodrome   The Alexandra Theatre

Malvern Theatres   Birmingham Rep

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton   Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Lichfield Garrick   RSC   Derby Theatre 

Midland Arts Centre   The Old Rep Theatre


Roger Clarke


alice BOA

Alice in Wonderland

Birmingham Ormiston Academy

The Old Rep, Birmingham

20 Nov - 30 Dec, 2021

Lewis Carroll’s timeless tale Alice in Wonderland is brought to life at Birmingham’s Old Rep Theatre this Christmas. Featuring students of Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA), the show follows in the footsteps of successful productions of Pinocchio and The Snow Queen.

And while the students were unable to perform last year because of COVID-19, the academy is promising a festive spectacular with this year’s production this November and December.

Alice is a revival of one of BOA’s most successful shows – but now with a new script, some new songs and updated set and costumes.

Executive director of the Old Rep and vice-principal of BOA Michael Penn explains: “We knew Alice was an audience favourite when we performed it about four years ago. We had brilliant feedback then but we wanted to revisit it and offer the city that production again but with tweaks.

alice cast 2

“There is a brand new script from Toby Hulse and some brand new songs from Steve Allan Jones this year. Some of the original songs we’ve brought back in because we loved them so much. And with new stage sets from James Latham and costumes by Neil Hughes, everything the audience sees will be fresh and new on the stage.

“We are also doing it this year with a much larger cast. In the past we’ve used professional actors and BOA students but this year it’s just students and there are about 25 cast on stage – and that’s not including all the backstage as well.”

The script creates a slightly different angle to the usual Alice tale.

“There’s a lovely take on the story,” explains show director and choreographer Steve Elias. “It’s Alice leading her daughters Lottie, Emily and Annie through her journey of Wonderland and they grow up through their journey.

“You meet all the characters that you love - the Caterpillar, the White Rabbit, the March Hare, the Queen of Hearts, and Toby has managed to combine the two Alice books so we also have Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Through the Looking Glass. Plus, he has created some fabulous new characters - Bill the Lizard and Pat the Guinea Pig.”

The show aims to overcome the hurdle which has hindered so many stage productions of Alice in Wonderland – the lack of a clear story arc.

“The problem is everyone loves the book and thinks it’s a great piece to put on stage but it’s hard to get a narrative because it’s episodic,” says Steve, who is also director of musical theatre at BOA. “So I’ve said to the cast to think of it as a quest and how each character they meet is another clue or the next step to that quest.

salice show 4

“In Toby Hulse’s adaptation, it’s the older Alice and her three young daughters who, when they open up the book, also open up the power of their imagination – that is their quest. Toby has kept the audience right at the centre of his writing so the audience is learning - open up your imagination and be curious.”

As a creative, digital and performing arts academy, the BOA group ensures the show is run on a professional basis while also giving students opportunities to practice their craft. The cast have auditioned for their roles and backstage students, facilitated by BOA and BOA Stage and Screen Production, are making costumes, building the sets and managing the lighting.

“This is a unique opportunity,” says Steve. “The students get to work with a professional composer and he has written the music for them. They’ve had a script and new commission written for them and it gives them the chance to bring together the three disciplines they have been studying – it’s the great harmony of dance, music and drama and now they can put them into practice.

“While they are being guided by the staff, every single department for Alice is student-run both off-stage and on-stage and they really embrace that. I would hate anyone to say ‘weren’t they good for students’, what we want is ‘weren’t they a brilliant company, I didn’t realise we were watching students’.

“The students are really living and breathing the characters. They have embraced this idea of a Wonderland which is a madcap world - it’s bright, it’s intoxicating, it’s energetic and it’s fun. From the Victoriana they go into this Wonderland celebration.”

cast BOA 3

Being on stage this Christmas will be special not only for the performers but also for the audiences, adds Steve.

“This is the students’ first performance in a professional setting and they are aware they are before a discerning audience who want to be entertained. Christmas shows are so important. For some youngsters in the audience this will be their very first experience of theatre and, because of Covid, for some adults this will be their first show in two years. This show is for them.”

The Old Rep, which first opened in 1913 and is now run by BOA, is the ideal theatre for the academy’s production of Alice in Wonderland, says Michael.

“You’ve got the oldest producing repertory theatre in the country and the students are creating repertory work in a full rep company. It’s doing what the Old Rep was built for by Barry Jackson in the first place.

“BOA is ten years old, we’ve just celebrated our tenth birthday, and our students have gone on to do so many exciting things on stage and in television. Taking part in the Christmas productions helps them build and continue that legacy.

“Alice gives us some amazing opportunities for the students because there are so many characters for them to get their teeth into. Everyone gets that moment to shine which is special after the year they’ve had.”

Alice in Wonderland is performed between 20 November until 30 December. Covid-safety measures are in place, for more information see HERE A British Sign Language performance takes place at 1.30pm on Tuesday December 14. For full info and tickets for all performances see HERE

Diane Parkes


An early production shot of Nell Gwynn
Nell Gwynn
Highbury Players
Highbury Theatre Centre
14-25 September, 2021

So, we all know Nell Gwynn flogged oranges, was Charles II long term mistress and became a celebrated Restoration actress tickling the fancy of one Samuel Peyps who called her “pretty, witty Nell”, and was quite taken by her comic roles.

She could also have been what might diplomatically be called a lady of the night and her citrus selling employment consisted of working along with her even more notorious sister Rose for an ex-prostitute Mary Meggs. The pair, in somewhat revealing costumes, were orange girls, selling small sweet China oranges, probably mandarins, at sixpence a go, which would be around £3.50 today in RPI terms, or £63 in income terms!

Theatre refreshments can be a bit pricy, we know, but £63!  You would need a mortgage for a box of Quality Street or the like (which of course would be eaten slowly, extending the crackling of cellophane for as long as possible, and all during the quietest and most important part of the production).  

Nell, who was born in Hereford . . . or Covent Garden . . . or Oxford (all lay claim to her) became an actress, that we know. With Cromwell and the Puritans gone, in 1663 Thomas Killigrew’s King's Company, opened a new playhouse, the Theatre Royal in Bridges Street, which was to be later rebuilt and renamed as the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, making it now the oldest London theatre site in use. Nell was to join just as the law was about to change to allow real women to appear on stage.

With her various assignations, royal connections and all the speculation of what might or might not be true, Nell, like her oranges, is ripe for the plucking, theatrically speaking and in 2015 Jessica Swales play opened at Shakespeare’s Globe telling the tale of our Nell and her top drawer paramour Charles II and her part in the 17th century London theatre scene.

It was a production which was to pick up the Laurence Olivier award for best new comedy the following year.

nell gwynn appartments

The 1937 art deco apartment block on Sloane Avenue in London's Kensington with its statue of Nell Gwynn, she is also on the Venus fountain in Sloane Square, Chelsea, along with Charles II, the only one of his mistresses - and they ran into double figures - that made it to a statue

In it we meet celebrated actor Charles Hart, who takes it upon himself to train Nell in the art of acting . . . and other things it seems as the pair become lovers. Then there is John Dryden, Killigrew of course and a certain amount of animosity from a certain Edward Kynaston, who had taken on all the major female roles while women were banned. When productions were allowed to use the real thing instead of a bloke in a frock, he was left high and dry without even a drag scene to turn to in the 17th century, indeed it was the late 1800s before even pantomime dames appeared . . . oh yes it was . . .

Charles II, married to Catherine, was a busy boy in the trousers down department and we come across Lady Castlemaine, Charles’ more up market bit on the side, who puts the arm on poor Nell, as does Charles’ chief minister Arlington – she does get her revenge on that one though. Sex will always trump politics.

Rose makes an appearance, and even ends up in trouble as a warning to Nell for her trouble, while the French Duchess of Portsmouth provides yet another safe harbour, so to speak, for Charles - you have to admit the boy has nothing if not stamina.

It can’t last for ever though and when his highness shuffles off his mortal coil, Nell’s royal patronage shuffles off with him, so what is an unemployed royal mistress to do? How about returning to her day job an actress in The King’s Company which means she can take a curtain call and everyone can go home.

So, the result is a night of intrigue and fun through 17th century London society with one of the most famous actresses of her, or indeed, any age.

Nell Gwynn opens a new season for the Highbury Players and runs at Highbury Theatre Centre from 14-25 September, 2021.

Roger Clarke



Rhiannon Chesterman
Rhiannon Chesterman who takes on the star role of Sherrie in Rock of Ages at Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre next week
Rock of Ages
Birmingham Alexandra Theatre
9-11 September

There is raunchy and then there is Rock of Ages - raunchy with a cap R and probably cap A U N C H and Y as well, but then this is set in the era of sex, drugs ‘n’ rock’n’roll, which means there are some great rock anthems from Slade’s Cum On Feel the Noize at regular intervals, through Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Survivor, Europe, Pat Benatar, Journey, Whitesnake and Twisted Sister for starters, along with Extreme’s lovely acoustic ballad More than Words.

And into the sleazy Bourbon Club, hang-out of rockers and wannabes walks just-arrived-in-LA, Sherrie, with dreams of becoming an actress. Will her dream come true? Well Rhiannon Chesterman who plays her should know the answer to that, after all, this is her second run in the show.

In the last tour she was Regina, the rather geeky activist campaigning to stop the redevelopment of the club and the less than salubrious bit of the Sunset Strip by German father and son developers.

When that show rocked the Alex three years ago we said of Regina that it was “a lovely performance by Rhiannon Chesterman. She is only small but she can belt out a song and is the sexiest nerd you are ever likely to see.”

regina 2018

Rhiannon as Regina on the 2018-19 tour. Picture: Richard Davenport

Well, now the nerd has become a sexy rock chick, or at least a waitress in a rock club, not that it has been an easy transition, not with a global pandemic to contend with and theatres dark, apart from a few brave isolated glimmers, for 18 months. Theatres are where actors might live and breathe and follow their calling, but they are also where they earn the money to pay bills and eat – even callings have a price.

Rhiannon has been nothing if not resourceful during the succession of lockdowns though; she said: “I’ve done all sorts. It's been a bit different hasn’t it. We've all just been picking up things. I worked in Sainsbury's for a bit, I was a nanny for most of the time, and I was working in an accountants, so it has been quite busy.”

She also set up a company, Chesterman Walsh, which she set up with Luke Walsh, who plays Drew in Rock of Ages, running training courses for professionals and after school clubs around London.

“We started originally on Zoom and then started the after school clubs, so it has been quite fun. We're going to have some of the after school clubs running while we're on tour, but obviously we won't teach them, and then hopefully, while we're on tour we will be able to go to different colleges and teach there as well, senior workshops really. We just had to adapt and we decided to set up a business.”

But as for the day job, theatre . . . a couple of socially distanced concerts at Christmas at the Hippodrome in London, including a largely acoustic Rock of Ages, and that was it.

So now the lights are back on how does it feel to change from nerdy activist to rock chick? Rhiannon said: “Well Sherrie sings a lot more and she has more songs to sing, Regina, as you said, was a nerd, and the girl who is playing her now, Gabriella Williams, is incredible, I did Grease with her, and she is taking it a slightly different direction, but it will be just as fun.

“I am trying to make Sherrie not your average girl next door, making her a little bit more comedic, not playing for the laughs but she is a little bit nerdy as well, just for fun. Sherrie is very determined, she knows what she wants, so I am trying to bring out that side in her because it can be portrayed where she is a bit of a wet blanket and goes with the flow, but she’s not, she is very determined, and she knows what she wants. She wants to be an actress; she goes she leaves and she does it."

Rehearsing this week ready to open the new tour at Birmingham Alexandra Theatre on 9 September, the cast are gearing up for eight shows a week – an exhausting schedule which will need a fast build up of stamina after 18 months of no shows a week but Rhiannon said everybody is delighted to be back and ready for a live audience again.

So, what can an audience expect? She said: “Well, it's a musical comedy and it doesn't take itself too seriously, and you are sure to have a good time. It covers lots of rock anthems, such as Don’t Stop Believing, We built this city, Dead or Alive, Here I go Again, so everyone will know the songs. Joe Gash, who plays the Narrator is hilarious and he really just sets the tone.

And so if you're looking for a good night out, then this is the show for you. It's such a talented cast and the vocals are incredible, and there's definitely some incredibly sexy dancing in it. And so it really is the perfect show to come and see and lose yourself in, especially after the year we've had.

“It's a definite night of escapism, but not too serious, at the same time we'll have a lot of fun.”

The fun starts at the Alex from 09-09-21 and rocks on to Saturday 11-09-21.


Roger Clarke


Read what we said about the show last time around HERE


Sydney Opera House 

The iconic Sydney Opera House, home venue, along with Arts Centre Melbourne, of Opera Australia where Fiona Allan will be heading when she leaves Birmingham Hippodrome in autumn. Picture: Bernard Spragg

Fiona Allan, the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Birmingham Hippodrome will be leaving in late autumn to return to her native Australia as Chief Executive of Opera Australia, taking over from outgoing CEO, British-born Rory Jeffes.

She joined the Hippodrome in 2015 from The Curve in Leicester where she had been Chief Executive since 2011 and prior to that she was the inaugural Artistic Director at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff from 2004.

During her time at the Hippodrome the charitable organisation has doubled the number of people it reaches though live performance, education programmes, festivals and visual arts to over million a year, she has also guided the theatre through the dark days of the pandemic and the announcement of her leaving comes just as audiences are set to return after 18 months.

She was the first female CEO at Birmingham Hippodrome and will now be the furst female CEO at Opera Australia.

Sydney-born Fiona said: “I have loved being in Birmingham and am especially sad to be leaving on the eve of our Commonwealth Games year. During the time I’ve spent here I have enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life and have fallen in love with the city’s youthful energy.

“There is such incredible talent in Birmingham, and the arts and cultural scene is absolutely thriving. I am humbled to have played a part in helping support artists create new work here that is now touring the UK and the world.”

On her five years in charge she said: “The Hippodrome team and Board have been incredible in driving forward a change agenda that has seen us double our annual impact and become a much more inclusive organisation. We have made enormous strides forward in the past five years, pausing only for the challenges of the past year whilst our theatre itself has been closed to live performance.

fiona allan

Hippodrome CEO and artistic director Fiona Allan who is leaving Birmingham to head back to her native Australia in late Autumn.

“Despite these challenges we have still reached more than 850,000 people via art installations, the Van Gogh Alive experience, digital streaming events and our extensive work in schools and communities. I have no doubt that Birmingham Hippodrome will emerge from this period stronger, more energized and resilient than ever.”

Whilst in post as Artistic Director and CEO of Birmingham Hippodrome, Fiona Allan has served on a number of local and national boards. She currently chairs the West Midlands Regional Tourism Board, serves on both Midlands Arts and Midlands Engine Business Councils, and is a Director of the West Midlands Growth Company.  Her broad contribution to the region was acknowledged with ‘Outstanding Businesswoman of the Year’ award in 2019 from the Chamber of Commerce.

Fiona is also a prominent figure in the arts, serving in post as President of national industry body, UK Theatre for the last five year and consistently appearing in The Stage top 100 most influential lists. In 2018 she was instrumental in launching the industry’s ‘10 Principles’ to support a safe and inclusive workplace, which contributed to her being awarded the UK Women of the Year inaugural ‘Woman with Edge’ award in 2018.

Chair of Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust, Glenn Howells, said: “Fiona’s ambitions for Birmingham Hippodrome were clear from the outset; she was resolved to evolve Birmingham Hippodrome into a more diverse cultural organisation, building upon the heritage and successes so beautifully demonstrated in our 120th celebrations.

west side story

West Side Story, Birmingham Hippodrome's first youth-group production in its 120 year history back in 2019. Seen here in the final scene Maria (Kamilla Fernandes) grieves over the body of Tony (Alex Cook) with the Jets and Sharks behind. Picture: Simon Hadley

“Fiona’s triumphs in the role are too numerous to mention but particular stand out moments for me include the production of West Side Story with 40 talented young people from across the West Midlands in Summer 2019; the opening night of Color Purple in the same year, the stunning Van Gogh Alive exhibition that brought our building colourfully to life during the darkest days of the Covid crisis. Further to this, we have seen the board and leadership teams join together to push through an ambitious agenda for change in terms of inclusion, diversity and anti-racism under her guidance.”

Glenn concluded: “We are sad to see Fiona leave but are reassured that she leaves behind a strong and talented team of staff that will continue to progress and evolve her amazing legacy.”

Meanwhile Opera Australia’s Chair, David Mortimer AO, said today “We are thrilled that such an accomplished cultural and business leader has agreed to return home to Australia.

“This is a critical appointment because Opera Australia is the nation’s largest and most significant performing arts company, and our successful recovery from COVID-19 will help drive the entire arts sector by rebuilding jobs and activity.

“Fiona’s mission will be to build on the extraordinary work that outgoing CEO Rory Jeffes and Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini, together with the entire Opera Australia team have done in recent years, and continue to expand its reach and appeal to ensure the Company’s ongoing survival,”

Fiona said she looked forward to the new role with great enthusiasm. “I am hugely excited to be joining the team at Opera Australia. My career has always been about connecting new audiences with great art, so to do this with such an extraordinary company is an opportunity I relish,”

She added. “Australia has always been home to me. I look forward to rekindling connections with friends and colleagues around the country and working with other arts and cultural leaders to promote the value of a thriving Australian cultural sector,”

Roger Clarke



lion top
White Witch and Aslan face each other while Edmund lays tied in rope. Picture: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

The Alexandra Theatre

Tuesday 8 - Saturday 12 March 2022

Snow and ice will bring unseasonal chills to Birmingham next spring as the wardrobe doors open to C.S. Lewis’ mystical world of Narnia as the smash-hit Leeds Playhouse production of The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe arrives at the Alexandra Theatre.

The show broke box office records in Leeds Playhouse in 2017 and followed that up playing to packed houses and critical acclaim at the Bridge Theatre in London in 2019.

And now the magical wardrobe is set to travel across the UK and Ireland, opening th Leicester Curve Theatre, 2 - 13 November 2021.

 The Pevensie children are:  Ammar Duffus as Peter, Shaka Kalokoh as Edmund, Robyn Sinclair as Susan and Karise Yansen as Lucy. Aslan is played by Chris Jared, Mr Tumnus by Jez Unwin, Mr Beaver by Sam Buttery and Maugrim by Michael Ahomka-Lindsay. 

They are joined by Oliver Bingham (Mr Brinkworth, March Hare and Aslan Puppeteer), Kate Parr (Miss Gumley-Warmley and Phoenix), Grace Wylde (Mrs Pevensie, Robin and Falcon), Johnson Willis (Mr Willis, Professor Kirk, Father Christmas, Wise Owl and Whie Mouse), Rachel Dawson (Miss Chutney, Badger and Spirit of the Moon), Oliver Grant (Mr Wilson, Schrodinger, Red Squirrel and Aslan Puppeteer), Matthew James Hinchliffe (Mr Marsden, Mauve Mole and Professor), Sophie Naglik (on stage Swing), Anthony Starr (on stage Swing), Tash Holway (on stage Swing) and Brad Veitch (on stage Swing). Further cast are yet to be announced.

Once you step through the wardrobe you are in the kingdom of Narnia as Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter wave goodbye to wartime Britain and embark on the most magical of adventures in a frozen, faraway land where they meet a Faun, talking Beavers, Aslan, the noble king of Narnia and the coldest, most evil White Witch.

The tour will be directed by Michael Fentiman, based on the original production by Sally Cookson with original Set and Costume design by Rae Smith.

Michael’s previous productions include the Olivier Award-nominated Amélie (Watermill Theatre/The Other Palace/UK Tour and currently running in the West End), The Windsors: Endgame (also running in the West End), The Importance of Being Earnest (Vaudeville Theatre), the 50th anniversary production of Joe Orton’s Loot (Park Theatre/Watermill Theatre), Titus Andronicus and Ahasverus (Royal Shakespeare Company), The Taming of the Shrew (Sherman Theatre/Tron Theatre) and, as director and writer, CinderELLA (Nuffield Southampton) and The Last Days of Anne Boleyn (Tower of London).

Joining Michael Fentiman on the creative team are Set and Costume Designer Tom Paris, Composer Benji Bower with additional composition by Music Supervisor Barnaby Race, Choreographer Shannelle ‘Tali’ Fergus, Lighting Designer Jack Knowles, Sound Designer Ian Dickinson and Gareth Tucker for Autograph, Puppetry Director Toby Olié, Puppetry Designer Max Humphries, Aerial Director Gwen Hales, Illusionist Chris Fisher, Music Director Toby Higgins, Fight Director Jonathan Holby, Costume Supervisor Joanna Coe, Wigs and Make-Up Supervisor Susanna Peretz, Props Supervisor Lizzie Frankl, Dramaturg Adam Peck and Movement Consultant Dan Canham.  

The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe – voted the nation’s favourite book in 2019 - is produced on tour by Elliott & Harper Productions and Catherine Schreiber and based on the original Leeds Playhouse production.


simon Creed

Claire Dixon, ATG Business Director – UK Venues and Simon Creed the  Alexandra's new theatre director

Taking the helm as doors reopen

Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre, which opened its doors last week after 491 days dark, has not only got a new season but also a new theatre director with the appointment of Simon Creed.

The theatre opened last week with an audience of around 800,  about 60 per cent capacity, for a performance of Anton & Giovanni – Him & Me featuring Strictly Come Dancing stars Anton Du Beke and Giovanni Pernice at the start of a full programme taking the theatre into 2022.

Over the past 25 years Simon has worked for some of the best known arts and entertainment venues and organisations in the Midlands including Alton Towers, Birmingham Hippodrome, Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham Town Hall/Symphony Hall and Roundhouse Birmingham (National Trust/Canal & River Trust).

Originally from Cardiff but now living in Bromsgrove, he  said: “I am excited and honoured to be able to continue the great work of Lisa Mart (previous Theatre Director at The Alexandra) and Cheryl Taylor (Acting General Manager) and to carry on making The Alexandra a vital part of the Birmingham community – taking part in city-wide events such as Birmingham Pride, Birmingham International Dance Festival and of course Birmingham 2022.

“The key thing we have all learnt over the last 16 months is how adaptable and flexible we are and need to be. This mindset shouldn’t change now that we have reopened.

“We should always remember things need to change for the better and look at ways to evolve, listen and react to audience needs and demands. Alongside programming world-class entertainment, the priority must be the safety of our audiences, performers, and staff.”

Claire Dixon, ATG Business Director – UK Venues, said: “I am delighted to welcome Simon to The Alexandra team and the wider ATG family. His appointment comes at a significant time for the theatre and the city, as we finally got to throw open our doors after 16 months in hibernation.

“Simon has a real passion for theatre, great connections across Birmingham and a strong desire to further raise the profile of the Alex. I am confident that, with his previous experience, he is going to be just the driving force we need as we strive to delight our audiences once again; exciting times ahead!”

Theatre is in the blood in Simon’s family, with wife Suzi a professional theatre director, choreographer and actor. Prior to the pandemic, Simon was head of operations at Artrix Arts Centre in Bromsgrove where he played a key role in stabilising the venue following the withdrawal of public funding in 2018.

After Covid-19 caused huge disruption to theatre and the arts, Simon enjoyed a change of career by working with North Worcestershire Economic Development & Regeneration as Bromsgrove Centres Manager – helping to develop and improve the commercial vitality towns and centres across the district.

Highlights of his first few months at the helm theatre, celebrating its 120th birthday this year, include musicals Rock of Ages (9 - 11 Sep), Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (14 - 18 Sep), Heathers The Musical (21 - 25 Sep) and The Rocky Horror Show (27 Sep – 2 Oct). The year then concludes with The Alexandra’s gala performance of Jersey Boys (7 Dec – 1 Jan).



Anton Du Beke and Giovanni Pernice will bring light back to the Alexandra stage after 491 days on 20 July

The Alex is strictly back in business

After being closed for 491 days, and we were there the night it closed when everyone really was talking about, The Alexandra is thrilled to be reopening its doors on Tuesday 20 July 2021.

Audiences will be welcomed back with a packed reopening season which also celebrates the 120th birthday of the iconic Birmingham venue which was built by William Coutts in 1901 at a cost of £10,000 - around £1.26 million today.

The pandemic resulted in the longest closure in the theatre’s history – dwarfing the mere 22 days the venue closed during World War II – but, after huge amounts of behind the scenes work, the lights are being switched on and the curtains raised.

Sixteen months on from theatres across the country being forced to close their doors overnight - and following more than a year of Government-enforced delays - The Alexandra has proven its resilience once more and is enabling theatre-lovers to return as normal at the earliest opportunity.

Cheryl Taylor, Acting General Manager of The Alexandra, said: “I am beyond excited that we are finally reopening our doors to our wonderful customers, casts and crews.

“The pandemic hit us in ways we could never have imagined, but we stayed strong and resilient. Our unwavering faith and loyalty to our industry and our city has not been shaken - only strengthened - through these difficult months.

“With a star-studded programme of sensational shows, I’m also delighted by the return of our price promise tickets alongside our new Local Heroes ticket scheme – our way of saying thank you to some truly remarkable people.

“The Alexandra has been at the heart of our community for 120 years. This has been our longest period of closure but now we’re back again, stronger than ever and ready to lift the curtain on another 120 years of world class live entertainment.”

jersey boys

Jersey Boys will be working their way back to the Alex from 07-12-21 to 01-01-22

The Alexandra will open with Strictly favourites Anton Du Beke and Giovanni Pernice in Anton & Giovanni - Him & Me on 20 July, which opens a series of one-night performances, including sold-out Frank Skinner (22 – 23 July) and Jane McDonald (14 August). Drama is calling as The Cat and the Canary pays a visit from 3 – 7 August before must-see, sensational musicals take to the stage throughout the remainder of the year.

Among these are Birmingham premieres Heathers and Bedknobs & Broomsticks, as well as Everybody’s Talking About Jamie - the show where cast were ready to take to the Alex stage when the first national lockdown was imposed.

Also set to wow audiences are returning favourites; The Rocky Horror Show, Grease, Dirty Dancing and 9 to 5 The Musical. The festive season sees the Jersey Boys work their way back to the city and there’s a bumper season of one night only performances.

To celebrate its 120th year and the vital part the theatre plays in the heart of Birmingham culture, The Alexandra has announced that it will be giving away 120 prizes across its social channels throughout the remainder of the year.

The latest government advice means it will now be possible to reopen the theatre at full capacity. As a ‘See It Safely’ approved venue, audiences can feel reassured knowing The Alexandra is Covid-secure and will always follow the latest government advice. Some of the safety measures put in place include e-ticketing, enhanced cleaning and sanitising stations. Visitors can also book with complete confidence knowing that, if there are any further suspensions, tickets will remain fully valid for further exchanges or refunds. 

For a full calendar of shows and events at the Alex click here WHAT'S ON  

To watch The Alexandra’s reopening video – produced in partnership with Birmingham-based Ergo Films – click HERE



robert plant

Saving Grace with Robert Plant and Suzi Dian

Music coming back to live

The music charity responsible for Symphony Hall and Town Hall,  Performances Birmingham Ltd, has been renamed as B:Music to better reflect the charity’s mission: to inspire a love of live music through performance, participation and learning.

In recent years, the charity has evolved into an organisation that earns more than 90% of its turnover from trading activities, which supports every aspect of what they do, from presenting international superstars on their stages to supporting emerging talent and creating first musical experiences for children in local schools. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the charity’s income stopped overnight.

As a result of funds raised prior to the pandemic, the transformation of Symphony Hall’s public spaces has continued throughout the coronavirus outbreak. Symphony Hall’s new spaces will open to the public for the first time on Friday 16 July for a weekend of free live music featuring music from BBC Young Jazz Musician 2018 Xhosa Cole, Europe's finest female a cappella quintet Black Voices and Queer pop sensation Tom Aspaul.

As part of that opening weekend, B:Music are continuing to turn up the volume on black Birmingham artists, who have been invited to compose musical responses on the theme of individual and systemic racism, under the title Now Is Not The Time For Silence. In partnership with Girl Grind UK, the Birmingham-based singer-songwriter who competed in Series 10 and Series 13 of The X-Factor, Relley C, will share brand new music over the weekend of free live music.

relley C

Relley C in X-Factor

Speaking about performing at the opening weekend, Relley C commented, “It feels like forever since I was last on stage, performing with a live band. So, as you can imagine, I’m very excited that my first show in over a year will be held at Symphony Hall for Girl Grind and B:Music.

"I can’t wait to share my original material with a live audience again. Just to be in the same space, share the same vibe and actually feel the music together at the same time is an experience that no virtual set up could ever buy. I’m keen to get back on stage and present my earlier, recent and most exclusive songs with those lovely faces on 17 July. It’s going to be an amazing night!”

Town Hall, a B:Music venue, reopens to the public on Sunday 20 June with a socially distanced performance from Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, one of the world's foremost new music ensembles. Featuring pieces by Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Param Vir, the full-scale 15-piece performance, is called Past the Stars.

Saving Grace, a co-operative including Robert Plant and Suzi Dian on vocals is Town Hall’s first non-socially distanced performance on Monday 2 August, subject to the successful rollout of the Government’s roadmap.

Speaking about B:Music venues Town Hall and Symphony Hall, West Bromwich’s Robert Plant said, “These two majestic venues are such an inspiration, not only to play in, but to enjoy the amazing mix of artists passing through. From the mid-1960s and the American Folk Blues packages with Sonny Boy, Son House and Bukka White, right through to John Prine and Lucinda Williams, an evening at these venues is a remarkable adventure for artists and audience alike.”

Other highlights across B:Music’s venues in summer 2021 include the first ever B:Jazz Fest, in partnership with Jazz FM, from Monday 23 to Saturday 28 August. Birmingham-born pianist and singer Reuben James, best known for his ongoing collaborations with Sam Smith, will be performing on the Symphony Hall stage on Friday 27 August as part of the festival. Reuben commented, "I'm very excited to be coming back to my hometown in August to perform at B:Jazz Fest in front of my family, friends and a real audience. After the last year, I'm sure it's going to feel totally surreal. I have such a beautiful relationship with B:Music's Jazzlines programme- I was one of the educators at the very first Jazzlines Summer School back in 2012, so I very much feel like I've come the full circle to now be performing on the Symphony Hall stage at their first B:Jazz Fest. The festival is going to be a massive celebration; it's fantastic for Birmingham as there is so much incredible talent coming out of the city. There's a long lineage of incredible jazz musicians from Birmingham, and I'm very proud to be a Brummie."

Jamaican-British R&B and soul singer, songwriter and actress Ruby Turner MBE will be performing with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra on Monday 20 and Tuesday 21 December. Rescheduled from November 2020, Musician Jools Holland and his celebrated Rhythm and Blues Orchestra are now in their twenty fourth year of performing at B:Music’s Symphony Hall.

Ruby Turner

Ruby Turner

As well as adopted-Brummie Ruby Turner, Jools will be joined on the Symphony Hall stage by music legend Lulu, and original Squeeze chum, Chris Difford. Ruby Turner commented, “It’s going to be a wonderful year ahead with the return of live music to Symphony Hall. I’m really looking forward to getting back to performing live music, as I know my fellow musicians are, too. I can’t wait to see the beautiful Symphony Hall auditorium full of people enjoying themselves once again.”

Nick Reed, Chief Executive for B:Music concluded: “I believe music will play a powerful role in reuniting communities after the isolation and hardship of the past year, and I hope that our halls will be a beacon for that reconnection. Live music is a unique act of communion between performers and audience, shared just once, but often remembered forever. After a year living through a screen, we are incredibly excited to be bringing people back together to make those new memories.”

Tickets for forthcoming events at B:Music venues, Symphony Hall and Town Hall are available now at B:Music

Roger Clarke



juliet death

The tragic end of the eponymous lovers in BRB's Romeo and Juliet. Picture: Bill Cooper

Ballet's coming home . . .

After 14 months away from their home theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet has announced plans to return to Birmingham Hippodrome in October.

Director Carlos Acosta is once more creating a programme to balance new works and classical ballet, beginning with two tellings of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the greatest love story ever told.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s passionate Romeo and Juliet choreography and Prokofiev’s glorious score creates an enduringly popular, classic interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy created especially for BRB. From the balcony scene’s passionate pas de deux, exploring love in all its soaring wonder, to the lovers’ heart-breaking ends, Romeo and Juliet is ballet at its most poignant and beautiful.

Carlos Curates: R&J Reimagined sees Romeo and Juliet get a very different treatment with the company premiere of Romanian choreographer Edward Clug's Radio and Juliet, a reinvention of the classic story set to the music of Radiohead, featuring tracks from Kid A, Amnesiac and OK Computer. This version explores what could have happened if Juliet decided not to take her own life, and is an exhilarating, emotional rollercoaster that has toured the world to widespread acclaim since its premiere in 2005.

Radio and Juliet will form a double bill with a new work from Birmingham-based choreographer Rosie Kay, further details to be announced.

Carlos Acosta said: ‘Shakespeare’s timeless story of love and passion has inspired so many versions over the centuries, not least translated into dance. We’re exploring some of this rich reinterpretation in our double bill Carlos Curates: R&J Reimagined, also in October. I really love Edward Clug’s contemporary reinvention of the story and I’m also thrilled that we are continuing to build relationships with other Birmingham arts companies and that we’ll be joined by Rosie Kay Dance Company who will complete this exciting programme.’

This festive season, Birmingham Royal Ballet will bring The Nutcracker back to the city when Birmingham Hippodrome welcomes the return of Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy in November. BRB’s dancers and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia weave their magic with the timeless choreography and glorious Tchaikovsky score to create a Christmas treat for all the family.

For spring 2022, Carlos Acosta promises entertainment for all ages when he brings an explosion of Spanish sunshine, spectacular dance and vivacious comedy to the Hippodrome stage.

In a new production created especially for Birmingham Royal Ballet, Don Quixote introduces us to Cervantes’ famous knight himself, lovers Kitri and Basilio, and a host of supporting characters. As the Don sets out on a quest to track down his true love, with his loyal friend and servant Sancho Panza at his side, he finds himself embroiled in an unlikely adventure of love and dreams. 

Carlos Acosta said: ‘We can’t wait to bring a much-loved classic and some exciting new productions to our home stage of Birmingham Hippodrome.’  

Fiona Allan, Artistic Director & Chief Executive of Birmingham Hippodrome said:

"After nearly 18 months absence it’s both a delight and a relief to be welcoming Birmingham Royal Ballet back to their home on the Hippodrome stage, for Carlos Acosta’s first full season at the helm.  Personally, I can’t wait for R&J Reimagined, which will be the perfect introduction to Carlos’ bold new vision for the company." 

Roger Clarke




Bedknobs and Broomsticks
World Premiere Tour

Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham 10-14 Nov, 2021

Wolverhampton Grand 05-09 April, 2022

Theatre impresario Michael Harrison is well known in these parts as joint owner and managing Director of Qdos Pantomimes, having directed ten at Birmingham Hippodrome while the touring productions or his multitude of hit West End shows  from The Bodyguard to Joseph are regular features at theatres around the country.

Latest from his production line is the world premiere of the stage version of Didney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks, based on the 1971 film which starred Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson, it is due to open at The Theatre Royal in Newcastle upon Tyne in August.

The theatre is the home stamping ground for Wallsend-born Harrison who watched anything and everything at the Theatre Royal as he was growing up.

The show’s itinerary then reads like a modern Bradshaw’s railway guidecriss-crossing Britain spreading its magic along the way. The show arrives on its broomstick at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre on 10 November between visits to Glasgow and Aberdeen – which suggests broomsticks, circa 1940, did not come with optional SatNav.

It then returns to the Midlands at Wolverhampton Grand on 5 April, 2022, on a journey from Plymouth to Hull.

The story involves the three orphaned Rawlins children who are reluctantly evacuated from London in WWII to live with the mysterious Eglantine Price, with no idea what adventures lie ahead.

They discover Eglantine is a trainee witch, they join forces to search for a secret spell that will defeat the wartime enemy once and for all. Armed with an enchanted bedknob, a bewitched broomstick and a magical flying bed, they encounter surprising new friendships on their journey from Portobello Road to the depths of the sea.

Dianne Pilkington will star as Eglantine, the mysterious lady the three orphaned Rawlins children are evacuated to live with; her West End credits include Les Misérables, Wicked, Mamma Mia and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.

Charles Brunton plays Emelius Browne, the con artist running a witch’s correspondence course; he starred in the iconic role of Miss Trunchbull in Matilda both in the West End and on Broadway. Other credits include Love Never Dies, Chess and Scrooge.

The rest of the company includes Mark Anderson, Jessica Aubrey, Georgie Buckland, Kayla Carter, Jonathan Cobb, Jacqui Dubois, Matthew Elliot-Campbell, Sam Lupton, Rob Madge, Vinnie Monachello, Nathaniel Morrison, Conor O’Hara, Sadie-Jean Shirley, Robin Simoes Da Silva, Emma Thornett and Susannah Van Den Berg.

The Rawlins children will be played in two teams by Dexter Barry, Izabella Bucknell, Haydn Court, Poppy Houghton, Evie Lightman and Aidan Oti.

The show includes the original songs by the legendary Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), including Portobello Road, The Age Of Not Believing, The Beautiful Briny and new music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and book by Brian Hill.

The show will be brought to life by award-winning theatre-makers Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison.

Roger Clarke







Elmhurst Ballet Company in Capricious, a collaboration with Odette Hughes for Studio Wayne McGregor. Dancers Enrique Ngbokota, Leila Wright and Ben Randall. Picture: Magda Hoffman

Pupils step out once more into the light

Along with many arts organisations and theatres across the UK, Elmhurst Ballet School, the vocational school in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet is thrilled to see its theatre curtain rise again to present two dance programmes from Saturday 3 to Thursday 8 July 2021.

After a 15-month live performance hiatus at the school, the summer programme of shows kicks off on 3 and 6 July with the graduate year students of Elmhurst Ballet Company in Proxemics and concludes on 7 and 8 July with the whole school performing in Elevate.

The Edgbaston, Birmingham, based school made a full return to face-to-face teaching in April and as students continue their dance training and academics, throughout the summer term almost 200 students prepared to return to live performance in front of a socially distanced audience.

For Elmhurst’s youngest dancers, the shows will mark the first time performing at the school since starting their full-time training in September 2019. For Elmhurst Ballet Company it is an opportunity to showcase skills just days before flying the Elmhurst nest and pursuing a professional career in dance.

Proxemics highlights a range of dance styles accomplished by the young dancers in their the final year, highlighting the performing strand of the full-time course that eases the transition from student to professional life.


Students of Elmhurst Ballet Company in Proxemics

The 20-strong Elmhurst Ballet Company will take to the stage in a mixed programme of work by some distinguished names from the dance world: a classical ballet excerpt from Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère; and Capricious, a new contemporary dance work reaffirms the school’s ongoing association with the award-winning Studio Wayne McGregor. Odette Hughes, the company’s Associate Director worked collaboratively with Elmhurst Ballet Company to create Capricious, a thirteen-minute piece based on the students’ experience of the pandemic. The work marks the third collaboration between the school and the London based company.

Also part of the Proxemics programme is Lines by Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal dancer and Elmhurst’s newest Board member Brandon Lawrence and filmmaker and spoken word poet Davy Lazare; a new jazz dance piece by Zak Nemorin, recently celebrated for his Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance film; and Silem, a new work by Elmhurst Ballet Company member Enrique Ngbokota who was part of the Young Cast in Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet in 2018.

Elevate will bring Elmhurst’s entire student community together in a second mixed bill during the programme of July shows. Performed by Lower and Upper School students and Elmhurst Ballet Company, the school hopes Elevate will lift audiences’ spirits as theatres reopen and the arts and other sectors look ahead.

In Elevate and in addition to the works performed by Elmhurst Ballet Company listed above, Birmingham Royal Ballet Soloist Laura Day creates a new work for Years 7 - 9 set to Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Dances; Year 10 & 11 perform in Sleepwalkers inspired by the New Adventures’ production of Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, created by New Adventures Resident Artist Kerry Biggin.

Mark Baldwin OBE, an Elmhurst Governor and former Artistic Director of Rambert creates Melody Space set to Handel’s Messiah for Year 12 students; and fresh from their performances with Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Year 13 will present an excerpt from Sir David Bintley’s Cinderella on the Elmhurst stage; Peter Leung, a multi-disciplinary artist with a focus on choreography, stage direction and photography creates a new work for Upper School students set to Dvorák’s String Quartet in F major; and works by Elmhurst artistic faculty Gloria Grigolato and Lee Robinson (classical ballet) and Ana Garcia (flamenco) complete Elevate.



young jazz performers

Jazz on a Summer’s Day . . .

Despite what Alice Cooper might tell you, school’s definitely in for summer in Birmingham with the return of the Jazzlines Summer School from Performances Birmingham Limited, the music charity responsible for Town Hall and Symphony Hall.

This year’s free, non-residential course will run from Monday 23 to Friday 27 August for young people from Birmingham and the surrounding area aged between 11 and 19 and takes place at the world-renowned Symphony Hall in the heart of Birmingham.

The course offers a comprehensive and broad-ranging programme aimed at emerging talent with a range of abilities, from beginners to advanced, who wish to expand their horizons and playing capability. The course is designed to develop key skills in aural training, ensemble musicianship, jazz repertoire and harmony and is suitable for those who aspire to further their music studies as well as those who simply wish to learn new skills in an atmosphere which is fun, supportive and encouraging.

The Jazzlines Summer School is led by professional trumpet and bass player Percy Pursglove and professional vocalist and songwriter Sara Colman, both experts in helping young musicians build their skills in way that is best suited to each individual. They are supported by an experienced group of Jazzlines tutors, music educators and specialist jazz performers. 

Sara Colman

Singer, musician, songwriter and course leader Sara Colman

Town Hall Symphony Hall’s Jazz Programme Manager, Mary Wakelam Sloan says, “In August 2012, Jazzlines built on previous work to launch a free-to-access Summer School, consisting of a week-long course at Symphony Hall led by professional jazz musicians including Royal Birmingham Conservatoire tutors.

”This flagship project has taken place every year since and forms the basis for the year-round opportunities for young musicians via the Jazz and Gospel ensembles. Due to the pandemic, the Summer School in 2020 was cancelled and so we are thrilled that this year we can offer this unique provision to 11–19-year-olds in partnership with Jazz FM for the first time.

“This year, the young musicians will be some of the first to enjoy Symphony Hall’s brand-new state-of-the-art facilities. Combining the Summer School with the Festival means that we can offer the chance for the young musicians to see and hear some of the best British talent in action, as well as learning alongside them.”

This year, with a range of guest tutors in the city, the Summer School will run in conjunction with a Jazz Festival, in partnership with Jazz FM, where audiences will be able to enjoy free and low-cost performances at The Spotted Dog in Digbeth, on stage at Symphony Hall and in Symphony Hall’s new Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space.

Like the UK’s leading national commercial radio service for jazz, soul and blues, the week of music from Monday 23 to Saturday 28 August will showcase the full spectrum of jazz and includes performances from international touring artists to local community bands. Performers for this celebration of jazz include Yazz Ahmed (Jazz FM’s UK Jazz Act of the Year 2020), Warmer Than Blood and highly acclaimed, Birmingham-born jazz pianist Reuben James.

Yazz and Reuben

Yazz Ahmed and Reuben James appearing in the FM sponsored Jazz Festival

Jazz FM’s Content Director Nick Pitts says, “This already looks like it’s going to be a fantastic celebration of Birmingham’s young and vibrant jazz scene, especially after a year of lockdowns. Jazz FM has always been a passionate supporter of UK jazz education, and we are delighted to work with the brilliant THSH to help spread the good word on this project, including a number of music and interview specials on our nationwide platform.”

Town Hall Symphony Hall’s Jazzlines Summer School is in partnership with Jazz FM and is very kindly supported by PRS Foundation, Arts Council England, George Henry Collins Charity, Grantham Yorke Trust, Michael Marsh Charitable Trust and Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation as Talent Development Partners, supporting and inspiring the next generation of the city’s musical talent.

To find out more and apply for a free space at the Jazzlines Summer School: CLICK HERE

To be the first to hear the full line-up of Town Hall and Symphony Hall’s Jazz Festival, in partnership with Jazz FM, sign up to the mailing list at THSH




Birmingham Hippodrome put new talent in the spotlight

TEDxYouth@Brum & UniSlam

live-streamed events

Birmingham Hippodrome have announced two new live streamed events which will put emerging talent from the city in the spotlight. The two events will be the first to be streamed by Birmingham Hippodrome as part of the theatre’s ongoing commitment to providing exposure and growth for young and emerging talent in Birmingham, the Midlands and beyond.

UniSlam 2021, the UK’s largest team poetry slam tournament, will broadcast its Semi-Final on Saturday, 20 March and Grand Final on Saturday 27 March.

TEDxYouth@Brum will once again partner with Birmingham Hippodrome with a live broadcast event Insert Future Here on Tuesday 30 March.

Tickets for all streamed events go on sale at 11am on Thursday 4 March 2021 at www.birminghamhippodrome.com.

Starting as a one-off event in 2013, UniSlam has grown into an annual festival and cornerstone event of the British spoken word calendar. The Semi-Final will see the country’s top eight student poetry slam teams go head-to-head before being whittled down to the final four teams in The Grand Final as the chosen collectives compete for the champions trophy and prize package.

Viewers can also expect electrifying performances from some of the most exciting poets in the UK alongside readings from high-profile judges including Inua Ellams, Mona Arshi, Paul Tran and Deanna Rodger. Tickets are priced from £5.

poetry 9air

TEDxYouth@Brum is back again in 2021 following the successful sold-out conference in 2019 which focused on ‘An Age of Change’. TEDxYouth@Brum will capture how the spirit of innovation remains present within the city; highlighting how young people in Birmingham are refusing to wait for the future they want and are using the power they have to transform the world as we know it today. Hosted by Birmingham’s Yshee Black; speakers include Rakeem Omar, Casey Bailey and Cassandra Nelson with performances by Xhosa Cole, Lady Sanity and Darcy Holmes. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance.

TEDxYouth@Brum has also given an opportunity for Birmingham Hippodrome’s Young Advocates to work on a bespoke digital project that will feature as part of the conference. The group are part of a pilot programme which will see them receive mentoring, training and skills development to build the group as leaders – now and in the future – as they help shape Birmingham Hippodrome’s work with and for young people. The Young Advocates will also gain the experience of being TEDxYouth hosts on the conference day to further share the event with their networks of young people across the region.

Chris Sudworth, Director of Artistic Programme at Birmingham Hippodrome said; “We’re delighted to be partnering with TEDxYouth@Brum and UniSlam for a third year. We are so proud that these online streams, the first events streamed directly by Birmingham Hippodrome, will amplify the voices, creativity and ideas of our city’s young people.

“2020 was a monumental year, with multiple crises affecting people globally and locally. I can’t wait for the event to celebrate the change young people have driven already, and to hear their visions of a reimagined and fairer future. All of this chimes exactly with our own vision for the future of Birmingham Hippodrome to live out our commitment to make Inclusion central to all we do.”

The upcoming UniSlam and TEDxYouth@Brum broadcasts are sponsored by Birmingham Hippodrome in partnership with DRPG Studios. Richard Hingley from DRPG Studios said; “Our continued partnership with Birmingham Hippodrome is constantly developing and growing. At DRPG we are continuing our 40-year commitment to supporting young people in our community and I’m delighted we'll be able to take this to even greater levels in partnership with Birmingham Hippodrome. With our creative support in conjunction with our studio and streaming facilities, we're exciting to be hosting the team for this year's UniSlam and TEDxYouth@Brum virtual event broadcasts."




New Assistant Director Dominic Antonucci. Picture: Ty Singleton

BRB heads to a brave New World

Birmingham Royal Ballet has appointed Ballet Master and former Principal Dancer Dominic Antonucci as its assistant director.

He takes up the reins after Marion Tait stepped down from the role after nine years at the end of 2020, stating that the current situation with Covid was making it impossible for her to fulfil her role as she would have wanted.

Like Dominic she is a former Principal and Ballet Mistress; she has not left completely though and has taken on the part time role of Rehearsal Director and Coach.

Dominic’s appointment makes it a New World team leading BRB for the first time with Cuban ballet superstar Carlos Acosta as director and American Dominic as his assistant.

nutcrcker prince

Ambra Vallo as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Dominic Antonucci as the Prince in The Nutcracker in 2006.

Picture: Bill Cooper

An Ohio native, Dominic, has spent 27 of his 47 years at BRB and he said: “I am incredibly honoured and pleased to have been appointed Assistant Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. I have a long, rich history with the Company and care deeply about its success and its future. 

“Carlos Acosta has a tremendously inspiring and ambitious vision for Birmingham Royal Ballet and I am thrilled to be able to support his efforts as he navigates the Company through this very difficult but nonetheless exciting time. 

“I was extremely fortunate to have been mentored by the two previous Assistant Directors, Marion Tait and Desmond Kelly. I would like to express my utmost gratitude to both of them for generously passing on their wisdom, expertise and passion.

“The future for Birmingham Royal Ballet is very bright and I sincerely look forward to helping Carlos and the Company realise its enormous potential as we emerge from the pandemic and return to the stage.


Dominic Antonucci in George Balanchine's Serenade, with Ambra Vallo. Picture: Roy Smiljanic

Dominic was born in Athens, Ohio, raised in Akron in the north of the state and attended the renowned Nan Klinger School of Dance in nearby Cuyahoga Falls from the age of eight; from there joined the School of American Ballet in New York.

He joined the American Ballet Theatre, America’s national ballet company, in 1991 and came to BRB in 1994 as a soloist and was promoted to Principal in 2003, dancing all the major roles in the BRB repertoire and becoming a Ballet Master in 2009.

During the pandemic Dominic, who incidentally is also an accomplished guitarist, has been leading ballet classes for the company on-line from his home.

His appointment signals the start of a new era for BRB; for the first time in its now 31 year history, its top two artistic positions, director and assistant, are not held by members of the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet company which relocated to Thorp Street to become Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1990. A new team to take BRB into a post Covid brave new world.

Roger Clarke



klara 2020 Karla Doorbar as Clara

Nutcracker keeps up Christmas tradition

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s celebrated version of The Nutcracker is to be moved online amid the uncertainty surrounding just what COVID regulations will or will not be in place when the West Midlands Tier 3 status is reviewed later this month.

The production had already been adapted from the version that has graced its natural home of Birmingham Hippodrome for the past 30 years.

With no certainty of what might happen the company has decided to move the adapated version online and it will be streamed live from The Birmingham Rep on Friday 18 December at 7.30pm.

The following day it will become available as a video on demand recording until midnight on Christmas Eve – the night Tchaikovsky’s 1882 ballet is actually set.

Leading the cast will be Karla Doorbar as Clara. Stoke-on-Trent born Karla has made the role of the 15-year-old ballet student her own since I first saw her dancing the part in 2014.

She manages to dance with all the innocence of a teenage student in this version from Sir Peter Wright and with all the elegance and expertise we come to expect of BRB Soloists.

The Prince will be danced by dashing Chilean Principal César Morales and adding to the international line up will be the exquisite Japanese Principal Momoko Hirata in a role that fulfils every little girl’s dream vision of a ballerina.

Tchaikovsky’s symphonic score, a veritable feast of classical hits, will be played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under principal conductor Paul Murphy in a performance which runs for 90 minutes, including a short interval and some behind the scenes moments you never see from the auditorium.

You can even order interval drinks before the performance starts . . . you will have to get them yourself of course, but at least the pretence of normality will be there!


Momoko Hirata as The Sugar Plum Fairy

Carlos Acosta, BRB Director said ‘I guess you could say we’re trying to look on the bright side at the moment! By live streaming this new adapted version of our famous and much-loved production we can proceed with confidence and focus on making the event as special as possible for our wonderful audiences and now, wherever you are in the world, you can be part of it. I can’t deny it’s disappointing not to see everyone’s happy faces in the theatre, but we will plan to end the year on a Christmas high, finding ways of celebrating is important right now.’

Sean Foley, The REP’s Artistic Director said: ‘We hope this newly announced Live Stream performance of The Nutcracker at The REP will bring a flurry of theatrical magic and seasonal warmth into families’ homes this Christmas. Teams at The REP and Birmingham Royal Ballet have been working tirelessly since new safety measures were announced to make this very special, one-off adaptation of the classic festive tale. We are tremendously excited to share it with thousands of people across the world at the same time - the first time ever a performance has been streamed 'Live from The Birmingham REP’.

BRB was to have performed The Nutcracker, as in previous years, at The Royal Albert Hall, but in the light of current restrictions that full production would not have been financially viable so has been cancelled, so this will be the one chance to experience Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Christmas classic this year.

The full-length Nutcracker will be shortened to an 80-minute magical experience that will retain all of the most enchanting moments and characters you would expect and hope for Snowflakes, Drosselmeyer, Fritz and Clara’s Christmas Eve party, King Rat’s battle, the Kingdom of Sweets dances from around the world, the iconic Sugar Plum Fairy and, of course, The Nutcracker Prince.

Viewers of the pay-per-view will also be able to enjoy some extra treats the Company have tied together with a seasonal red bow to make the experience as special as possible.

Two performances featuring two different casts will be captured at The REP. The second film will feature three third year students from The Royal Ballet School performing Trepak, the Russian dance, and students from Elmhurst Ballet School dancing Snowflakes will be available for audiences to watch online in early 2021.

The Nutcracker from BRB is a Christmas tradition for many people and online will keep that tradition alive but it will also provide and inexpensive family introduction to ballet to people not just in the Midlands but around the world.

Roger Clarke

Tickets: £15 per device

Booking Information: brb.org.uk/nutcracker-online

People who have bought tickets for the original live performances The REP will be contacted by the box office

Birmingham Royal Ballet is committed to offering performance opportunities for students of the Royal Ballet School and Elmhurst Ballet School, especially at this time when such opportunities are so rare for students starting out in their careers.

Birmingham Royal Ballet and Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s social media pages will reflect a celebration of The Nutcracker throughout the run, including exclusive new dance footage, ballet lessons for the very young and behind-the-scenes insights and the premiere of a new animated film inspired by The Nutcracker created with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s second company, Freefall, whose exceptionally talented dancers have learning disabilities.




Marion Tait who steps down as BRB's Assistant Director at the end of the year

Picture: Andrew Ross

Curtain comes down on a glittering career 

A chapter of Birmingham Royal Ballet history will close, Cinderella-like, when the clock chimes midnight on New Year’s Eve and Marion Tait steps down, no doubt with her usual ballerina’s elegance, as the company’s Assistant Director.

Her unrivalled experience and knowledge will not be lost entirely though as she will take on a part-time role rehearsing, coaching and mentoring the company dancers.

She said: “The present situation with Covid-19, has made it impossible for me to fulfil such a crucial role at Birmingham Royal Ballet at this very important time in its history.

“I would have loved to have carried on supporting Carlos in his exciting vision for the Company and, in a way, I will, as I continue to rehearse and coach the dancers and try to be as useful to the Company as I can be!

“I shall still feel part of the Birmingham Royal Ballet family, which is something I am proud to be.”

Marion, who celebrated her 70th birthday last month, was born in London and studied at The Royal Ballet School graduating at 17 into the Royal Ballet’s touring company, the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet becoming a principal in 1984, six years later.


Marion Tait as Carabosse in BRB's The Sleeping Beauty

While with Sadler’s Wells she danced all the iconic roles in the classics as well as creating numerous roles in ballets by the likes of Michael Corder, Kenneth MacMillan and future boss David Bintley, as well as one created by fellow dancer and future husband, David Morse.

As Ballet Mistress Marion was never too  far from the stage and was a memorable, deliciously evil Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty and an equally delightful evil Stepmother in the role created for her in Bintley’s 2010 Cinderella. She also made her mark as a variety of grandmothers and ladies of more mature years in any ballet that featured them.

Marion became assistant director in 2011, the same year Morse retired after half a century with the Royal ballets. As assistant director she devised and created First Steps, which was a child’s introduction to ballet, starting with a cut down Swan Lake linked to the full version in October 2015. First Steps is now an established part of BRB’s programme, educational and appealing to younger audiences.


Samara Downs as Skinny. Marion Tait as The Stepmother and Laura Purkiss as Dumpy in David Bintley's Cinderella

She may be a diminutive figure but she is a giant in ballet with a career littered with honours. She was made an OBE in 1992 and a CBE in the 2003 Queen's Birthday Honours list.

She has twice been nominated for Olivier Awards (Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, 1994, and Hagar in Pillar of Fire, 1995 both with BRB at the Royal Opera House); she was named Dancer of the Year 1994 and that same year also received the Evening Standard Ballet Award for Outstanding Performance. Most recently she was awarded the De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement 2019 by the Critics Circle National Dance Awards.

Marion assisted Desmond Kelly in directing Birmingham Royal Ballet's artistic team for Ballet Changed My Life - Ballet Hoo!, the education project documented on Channel 4 during September and October 2006, for which she was presented with a special award at the Critics' Circle National Dance Awards in 2008.She is also Patron of The Edge arts centre at Alderbrook School in Solihull.

We thank her for the memories and pleasure she has given over the years and we wish her well.

Roger Clarke




Malvern Theatre given a cash lifeline of almost a million after seven month dark with no income

First aid for ailing theatres

Midland theatres are among 1,300 arts organisations given a lifeline this week with grants from the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund ranging from almost £1 million to the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry to £50.000 awarded to the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton.

The Belgrade tops the list with £999,999, followed by Malvern Theatres with £971,251 while Leicester Theatre Trust has been awarded £950,000; The Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham was awarded £851,604 and Nottingham Playhouse received £789,011 while the University of Derby Theatre Ltd, which operates Derby Theatre, was given £365,645,

Lichfield Garrick Theatre received £279,446; The Albany Theatre Trust, Coventry, £250,000; Stoke on Trent & North Staffordshire Theatre Trust, £248,990; The Crescent Theatre Limited was awarded £215,000; The Old Rep, Birmingham £60,000;, while the Arena Theatre run by the University of Wolverhampton will pick up £50,000.

Theatre companies receiving grants include the Young Vic Company with £961,455, Selladoor Productions, £755,084; English Stage Company Limited, £750,000; and the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, £497,385.

Also included were Cirque Berserk Limited; £249,486;  Hull Truck Theatre, £229,097; Birmingham Stage Co (London) Ltd, £132,000; the wonderful Fat Rascal Ltd, £71,733; and Black Country Touring, £50,156.

Nic Lloyd, Malvern Theatres Chief Executive, said: “We are beyond delighted to have received this money from the Arts Council, which will help secure Malvern Theatres’ future. The sum reflects our esteemed place in the country’s theatre scene; an eminent status that we work hard to maintain and I’m incredibly happy that the town will have this investment when it needs it most.

“This grant by no means protects the theatre indefinitely, but it does allow us to look ahead and plan more confidently for a future, whatever that may look like post-Covid. Our recovery, as for all charities and most businesses, will be slow, but there is hope. We are so grateful to everyone who has supported our campaign so far, and we hope we can continue to count on our audiences to help


The Albany Theatre, Coventry, which closed and went dark in 2008 and was under threat from developers until it was rescued and reopened in 2013 - only to face closure again after being dark once more because of Covid since March

It literally was a matter of life or death at the Albany where the theatre would have been forced to close at the end of the week.

Chair of Trustees, David Meredith said: “Everyone involved has done a fantastic job to open what was an empty theatre in 2013 and take it to where it is now. This money will help secure a sustainable future. Unfortunately, this funding did not come as quickly as we had hoped, meaning that regrettably, we have had to make some members of our team redundant, this was not done lightly. We know that many other organisations and individuals have not received this crucial help and we have every sympathy for them. We are very conscious that The Albany will be critically important as a provider of opportunities in particular for children and young people and as part of the ecology of the local arts scene. We will not let people down.”

Sarah Brigham, CEO & Artistic Director for Derby Theatre, said: "This is fantastic news and a much needed lifeline. This will allow us to cover some basic overheads and offer a small scale programme of socially distanced performances this Christmas.

Of course, we are still unable to return to running at full capacity for the foreseeable future. The Theatre lost 50% of our revenue overnight, and until we can return to allowing full audiences in once again, it is impossible to replace that funding.

I am very proud, however, that despite these challenges, our team have continued to deliver our frontline services to young people in care and the community, and we have even managed to delight our audiences through online theatre content.

When we officially re-open in December, it will be with a much reduced programme, but audiences can still expect all the sparkle of the theatre delivered in a safe and Covid-secure way, and we remain hopeful that it won't be too long before we can be running at full capacity."

old rep

The historic Old Rep, Britain's first purpose built Repertory Theatre under the auspices if Sir Barry Jackson, whose Birmingham Repertory Company could boast such distinguished members as Sir Laurence Olivier, Dame Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft, Albert Finney, Brian Cox, Julie Christie, Derek Jacobi and many more household names


Lichfield Garrick’s Chief Executive. Karen Foster, said: “This is the best news we could have had at this time. As a small, independent arts charity which has been closed for live shows since March, this award will help to sustain us whilst social distancing measures are necessary, protecting our staff, audience and performers”.

She said it would allow the theatre to look forward to a real Christmas with Jack and the Beanstalk, Freddy the Teddy’s Christmas Feast and a Santa’s Grotto all benefitting from the financial sustainability which this grant brings.

The Old Rep is a young people driven theatre in the shadow of New Street Station Station Street managed by Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA). BOA was established in 2011 as an academy for 14 - 19 year olds specialising in creative, digital and performing arts. The academy has established itself as a centre of excellence for the arts, forging strong links with creative industries regionally, nationally and internationally. This grant will support the Theatre whilst we are unable to have public performances and help us prepare for welcoming audiences back to the Old Rep Theatre.

Michael Penn, Executive Director, said: “We are very grateful to the Culture Recovery Fund for recognising the great work The Old Rep Theatre does at engaging with the community and allowing young people to access the arts and we look forward to welcoming audiences back to our theatre.”

Roger Clarke


mooney newsMoa Myerson as Mave and Toby Burchell as Charley in Malvern Theatres' production of Mooney and his caravans which opened last night (15-09-20) under Covid conditions, It was the first live theatre in the Midlands since March and we were there to see what it was like?

So how was it for you . . .

The last time we went to a theatre was back in March when we arrived at the Alex to review Everyone is Talking about Jamie – and everyone was talking about him, or rather it because the performance had just been cancelled.

It was the night the Government had declined to close theatres or cinemas, ensuring no insurance claims could be made, merely warning people not to go, effectively closing them by default.

So even to walk into a theatre again was an experience. What was it like? How about churchlike? It was rather like entering a cathedral in a city that had fallen off the tourist trail – empty spaces, short of visitors, every sound echoing around the deserted hall, a sad, forlorn shadow of past glories.

It was the silence that hit you first. Half an hour before curtain up a theatre should be bustling, a hubbub of excited chatter, friends meeting, glasses chinking, hail fellow well met, eat drink and be merry, all the world’s a stage and all that.

Instead silence, A few masked staff pointing out where to go. Entrance was rather like being in the curtain call of some panto or other. Wait for the act in front to take their bow, or at least have their names checked on the ticket list, and then move away before you made your own entrance.

In the auditorium, with its 850 seat capacity, around 60 souls sat in splendid isolation, most masked, as requested, a feature which had the silver lining that no one was chomping their way through crisps or those special theatrical sweets people choose because they have the noisiest cellophane wrappers known to man. Woe betide the first man to design a theatre mask with a sweet flap at the front!

Malvern had scattered the audience out to keep social distancing . . . and then some. No one had to pass anyone else to get in or out, no one sat in front or behind you and we all left, distanced again, by fire exits into the open air.

It had been a strange experience. Rather like in that empty cathedral, voices carried. Enter the Festival theatre in February this year and there would have been a wall of noise, people chattering, talking to neighbours, hailing friends. Last night you could hear people 60 seats away whispering to partners.

The play, Mooney and his caravans, is ideal studio material, which gave us the novelty of a studio production in comfortable seats and in these Covid times plays such as this, Shirley Valentine, Educating Rita, Duet for One, Frankie and Johnny in the Clare de Lune and the like with their one and two actor casts could well become the bread and butter of programming with musicals limited to the likes of Jason Robert Brown’s quite beautiful two hander The Last Five Years.

Malvern have made a start, it was a welcome and much needed return, a much needed test of the possible in these troubling times. The actors, Moa Myerson as Mave and Toby Burchell as Charley, played their parts superbly, coping well with the sparse audience scattered around like currants in a bun; thanks to them once the lights went down and the stage came alive, theatre had returned.

Watching in a mask was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable, it was just . . . well different, something we have to live with for the time being – live being perhaps the operative word here. Malvern’s venture worked without any visible hitch but what is clear though is that the theatre industry will need help if it is to survive.

Sixty people in an 850 seat theatre is just not viable, it is 7.06 per cent capacity and no theatre in the world can survive on that – but, the phoenix is stirring and  the first tentative steps have been taken.

Roger Clarke



POSTPONED - details
Ballet dances back on the terrace

Birmingham Royal Ballet is back! Small steps, but the journey to a semblance of normality has started with an afternoon of outdoor dance displays on Monday and Tuesday, 24-25 August, at Rowheath Pavilion in Bournville

The performance is in partnership with the Pavilion and Sampad, the South Asian Arts and Herritage group, which, like BRB, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and takes place on the picturesque terrace of the Pavillion.

The audience will sit socially distanced on the Pavilion’s grounds and are encouraged to bring their picnic blankets and refreshments and to take in the artistry of these two exquisite Birmingham companies

Starting at 1pm, weather permitting, BRB’s dancers will perform their daily ballet class accompanied by company pianist Ross Williams. This hour long class is the dance equivalent of a professional football club’s daily training session and is essential to improve technique, prevent injury and be performance ready – match fit in football terms.

They will then be treated to two solo displays by Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers, The Dying Swan and Liebestod. The Dying Swan, will be danced by First Artist Alys Shee. This poignant piece, set to Camille Saint-Saëns' Le cygne from Le Carnaval des animaux, was originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine for legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova.

Liebestod, will be danced by Principal Brandon Lawrence. Accompanied by powerful music from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, Brandon will dance choreographer Valery Panov's emotive solo piece, showcasing a wide range of technique and control.

BRB will be joined by two of Sampad’s dancers Anaya Bolar and Aishani Ghosh, who will bring TILLANA to life on the pavilion terrace. TILLANA is the concluding number in a Bharatanatyam recital and is a pure technical piece with complex movements and postures. Bharatanatyam is a Classical dance form that originates from the temples of southern India.  

Sampad’s mission is to connect people and communities with South Asian and British Asian arts and heritage and the company supports, commission, and co-produces a huge variety of arts and heritage activities inspired by diverse artforms that originate from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The Pavilion was opened in 1924 by the Quaker Cadbury family for the workforce at the nearby factory serving as both a sports pavilion for the playing fields created on the land of Row Heath Farm and as a concert, community and meeting hall.

Part of Rowheath Pavilion became a listed building in 2017, a sign of its enduring importance to the local community.

Carlos Acosta, Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet said: “I’m so pleased that we can finally get out into the city and do what we do best, especially in such a wonderful setting as Rowheath Pavilion. Our dancers have been back in the studio for three weeks and this outdoor display is the first steps to us heading back to some much-needed normality for Birmingham Royal Ballet.

This is a special year for the Company, celebrating 30 years of Birmingham being our home and we are proud to share this anniversary with Sampad - a company who has done so much to put this great city and South Asians arts on the map - and has a history of partnering with Birmingham Royal Ballet over the years.

We look forward to seeing some familiar and friendly faces!"

Piali Ray OBE, Director of Sampad added: “Sharing our 30th Anniversary with Birmingham Royal Ballet this year consolidates our continued friendship over many years as we reach this milestone together. We are delighted to join the event that is bringing together timeless Classical Dance styles of Ballet and Bharatanatyam performed by excellent young artists from Birmingham. Look forward to continuing friendship and cultural connections with BRB under the visionary leadership of the Carlos Acosta”

Birmingham Royal Ballet is currently working with other partners and venues in and around Birmingham to bring display events and shows to as wide an audience as possible, including a series of interactive Ballet? What’s that? events at Aston Hall on 20th September, as part of Birmingham Heritage Week.  Please check the Company’s website and social media pages for updates.


Rowheath Pavillion




Your call is important to us . . .

Whoever you are . . .

Stan’s Cafe premiere a new play for online audiences tonight. 11 Auguest 11, at 7.30. inspired by global call centres and the fleeting relationships between those seeking help and those attempting to supply it. 

Directed by Artistic Director, James Yarker and devised with the company, For Quality Purposes is set in a Dispersed Universal Call Centre where call handlers, working from home, field enquiries from customers with a vast range of queries in areas they are rarely trained for or qualified to deal with. Our heroes are often left floundering but cheeriness is their default setting. Funny, touching and thoughtful, this play is made especially to be performed online. 

To get into character you could watch the play in headphones.

For Quality Purposes will be performed by: Amy Ann Haigh, Bernadette Russell, Carys Jones, Lexia Tomlinson and Luanda Yasmin.

Stan’s Cafe artistic director, James Yarker, said: “I’ve always been touched by the distant but needy relationship between the call centre worker and their customers. It is an experience we have all shared, the frustrations, connections, incomprehensions and unexpected triumphs. When I was looking for a subject for a new play made by remote collaboration this seemed a rich choice, ripe for humour and pathos. Now, via For Quality Purposes we can see the faces of those who are working through on-screen menus as they try to solve our problems.” 

For Quality Purposes will be free to access, with a suggestion that audiences make a donation to one of three charitable funds: the Equity Charitable Trust (supporting performers experiencing hardship); the Theatrical Guild (supporting front of house and backstage workers); or the Ladywood Food Bank in Birmingham. 

For Quality Purposes forms part of Stan’s Internet Cafe – a season of digital performances including The Commentators’ Film on The Radio and The Anatomy of Melancholy.

The performance will continue to be available after its premiere on http://www.stanscafe.co.uk.  The running time is 25 minutes


Equity Charitable Trust (supporting performers experiencing hardship)

The Theatrical Guild (supporting front of house and backstage workers)

Ladywood Food Bank 

Twitter: @stanscafe, Facebook: /stanscafetheatre, Instagram: /stans_cafe 


10 soldiers

Soldiers fight back against virus

This year was to have seen Rosie Kay Dance Company return to the Edinburgh Festival but coronavirus has defeated that plan, as it has done with so many others, so the ever enterprising Birmingham based company has come up with plan B – fringe on-line.

In 2017 the company took its award winning 5 Soldiers to Edinburgh, where, incidentally, Scottish born choreographer Rosie Kay was brought up. This year was to be a new show but instead the company will be joining once again with Army@TheFringe to share 10 Soldiers on YouTube.

10 Soldiers had it’s premiere at Birmingham Hippodrome in May last year, expanding the group to a full Army squad taking a fresh look at life in the modern army.

There is no moral side to the piece, it is not pro or anti anything, just an exploration of life for the squaddies in today’s modern army. It looks at what we ask and expect of our soldiers, the pressures they face and shows that ultimately the human body is still the front line of conflict.

The online premiere will be followed by a live video post-show talk and Q&A with a panel that includes Rosie Kay, Choreographer and Director, Col Dame Kelly Holmes, Double Olympic champion and Honorary Colonel of the Royal Armoured Corps, Fiona Allan, Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Birmingham Hippodrome, Lt Col Wendy Faux, SO1 Arts, The British Army, Harry Parker, Former Army Captain, writer and artist.

10 Soldiers will be streamed on Wednesday 12 August at 7.30pm as part of the Army@TheVirtualFringe

Rosie Kay will also be on the Army@TheVirtualFringe channel on Tuesday, 11 August from 14-30 to 15-30 with Live every moment – creating dance for film and tv and adapting live dance for digital.

10 Soldiers will be broadcast on Rosie Kay Dance Company’s YouTube channel while Live every Moment will be on the Army@TheVirtualFringe – details HERE.

Roger Clarke

YouTube link to 10 Soldiers  https://youtu.be/MTw2PeLFjQ0

Facebook event reminder https://www.facebook.com/events/645413076331345/ 


Asian ambassadors: (L to R) Hardish Virk Jay Singh Peter Chand Jaivant Patel Vicky Price Ranjit Khutan Pushpa Alexander Ram Singh

Grand awarded £30,000 Arts Council funding

Wolverhampton Grand Theatre has been awarded £30,000 funding from Arts Council England to help in its community work.

In April Arts Council England announced a 160 million emergency response package to the Covid-19 pandemic. A proportion of this money was set aside for Non-NPOs such as the Grand. (NPO, Non-profit organisation).

Over the last three years the Grand has made huge strives with its Community and Audience Development work and this funding will be used to continue over the next twelve months.

Projects have included collaborating with every secondary school in Wolverhampton over 2018 and 2019; developing the first South Asian Ambassador group and increased South Asian Audiences by 20%; being the first theatre in the Midlands to deliver a full programme of work for patrons living with Dementia; and working with community groups including, Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline, Breast Cancer Support Group Wolverhampton and the Refugee & Migrant Centre and The Teenage Cancer Trust.

Consultant Hardish Virk has been working with the Grand for the last eighteen months predominantly leading the South Asian Ambassador group and now, thanks to the funding will continue into 2021. He said,

"The debate around diversity, inclusion, access and equality is nothing new to the arts sector, but what is satisfying is when an arts organisation commits to strategic development and change.

“Wolverhampton Grand Theatre has demonstrated over the last 18 months a cross-departmental commitment to developing South Asian audiences, who make up a high percentage of the local ethnic population but historically has not been reflected in the theatres' audiences.

“This has included a process of setting up an ambassadors' group; addressing representation on the board, staff and in the programming; developing local and regional partners; community outreach work; audience development campaigns; cultural awareness training and mentoring for existing staff.

“There has already been significant organisational development in terms of learning, representation and partnerships plus an increase in South Asian audiences but we recognise that sustainable change and development requires long-term investment. Which is why the Arts Council England investment is integral to the theatres' commitment to developing this work. I look forward to continuing my relationship with the Grand and its' partners as we move forward with this exciting and important project."

Grand Theatre Associate Director of Development and Communications, Vicky Price said:

 “We are absolutely thrilled to receive this funding from the Arts Council. The work carried out by the dedicated Grand Theatre team has created a huge sense of pride and accomplishment.

As an un-funded organisation, we have previously used our own finances to carry out this work. We are now facing a challenging in time in the wake of Covid-19, therefore knowing that we have the funds ring fenced for this is extremely comforting.”


Stan serving a virtual menu in the caff

all the world

Of all the People in all the World on tour in Adelaide last year

Stan’s Cafe, one of the UK’s most creative and innovative theatre companies, has announced a new season of work for 2020.  Known for its international touring of productions such as Of All The People In All The World, it has announced its first season of new works – Stan’s Internet Cafe - to be enjoyed by audiences online.

With all touring productions on hold, Stan’s Cafe will premiere a brand new play online in August. For Quality Purposes is inspired by global call centres and the fleeting relationships between those seeking help and those attempting to supply it. 

Directed by Artistic Director, James Yarker and devised by the company, For Quality Purposes is set in a Dispersed Universal Call Centre where call handlers, working from home, field enquiries from customers with a vast range of queries in areas they are rarely trained for or qualified to deal with. Our heroes are often left floundering but cheeriness is their default setting. Funny, touching and thoughtful, this play is made especially to be performed online.

The company are also recording a new version of The Anatomy of Melancholy. Originally staged by the company in 2013 this new production has been re-conceived as a series of 35 short, single shot films with the screen split into four. All of the series will be available to watch from 1 July online with episodes also released daily via Stan’s Cafe social media channels.

Nearly 400 years old and described by some as “the best book ever written”, Burton’s vast 1500 page tome attempts to identify the causes, symptoms and cures for all kinds of ‘melancholy’ (a term once used to cover a range of conditions, including depression). The observations and advice are fascinating and profound, anachronistic and sharply contemporary. 

Filming in the intimate settings of their bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms, actors Gerard Bell, Rochi Rampal, Graeme Rose and Craig Stephens convey Burton’s warmth and compassion, wit and tenderness. They are directed remotely by Stan’s Cafe Artistic Director, James Yarker. Burton’s book will be familiar to some from BBC Radio 4’s recent documentary series, The New Anatomy Of Melancholy.

Often found at festivals and events since 2009, Stan’s Cafe commentating duo, The Commentators, are now at home watching films. Once their voices brought major sporting events into the nation’s living rooms via the radio, now The Commentators are commentating on films they’ve never seen for a series of live broadcasts and podcasts, Film on the Radio

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: The Commentators

The commentators will be hanging up sheepskins and turning to celluloid

Film on the Radio will encourage audiences to tune in and listen to familiar films, such as Pyscho, Dirty Dancing and Back To The Future, described in a way they’ve never heard before, with none of the original music and dialogue, but in The Commentators’ own inimitable style complete with plot misunderstandings, attention to inappropriate detail, digressions, speculations and trouble with the action scenes. The Commentators: Film on the Radio is created by James Yarker and Stan’s Cafe Associate Director, Craig Stephens and will be made available online at stanscafe.co.uk/ every week from 30 June. 

Artistic Director James Yarker said: “We’re excited to share our new artistic plans for this year. At Stan’s Cafe we have always enjoyed experimenting with form and so lockdown has fired us up to create original performances from the intimacy of our own homes that we can share with audiences in their homes. 

“Tackling Robert Burton’s masterpiece back in 2013 was a fantastic revelation and we’d already started wondering how we could share it with more people online before lockdown began. As the book’s themes resonate so profoundly at the moment we moved our plans forward as fast as we could. Seeing and hearing Burton’s amazing 400-year-old text spoken by the actors in the intimacy of their self-isolation has made the piece feel even more remarkable, speaking across the centuries about how we may look after ourselves and each other.

“I’ve always been touched by the distant but needy relationship between the call centre worker and their customers. It is an experience we have all shared, the frustrations, connections, incomprehensions and unexpected triumphs. When I was looking for a subject for a new play made by remote collaboration this seemed a rich choice, ripe for humour and pathos. Now, via For Quality Purposes we can see the faces of those who are working through on-screen menus as they try to solve our problems.

“We hope that this season of new work at Stan’s Internet Cafe will enable audiences to enjoy three distinctive new visions of online performance.” 

All of Stan’s Cafe digital performances will be free to access, with a suggestion that audiences make a donation to one of three charitable funds: the Equity Charitable Trust (supporting performers experiencing hardship); the Theatrical Guild (supporting front of house and backstage workers); or the Ladywood Food Bank in Birmingham.


peter pan

Garrick bringing Neverland a little closer

Lichfield Garrick is hoping to set sail to Neverland with the swashbuckling pantomime, Peter Pan, later this year. In advance of the performance, Lichfield Garrick is searching for young local performers to join the lost boys, on their adventures. 

The theatre is seeking young performers, male and female, to audition for the juvenile cast.  The Young Company are an integral part of this, our most spectacular production, and we look forward to working with some of the most talented young performers in our area. 

We are looking for girls between the ages of 8-13 (under 5 ft 4) and boys between the ages of 9-15 with strong acting and some movement skills, though previous stage experience is not essential. 

Due to government regulations regarding COVID-19, this year we are inviting applicants to submit videos as their audition.  

 Please visit www.lichfieldgarrick.com/get-involved/juvenile-cast-2020/ for more information, including a video audition guide and application form.  All audition videos and application forms must be sent to education@lichfieldgarrick.com by Sunday 7th June.  

 Libby Buick recalls her time in the Juvenile Panto Cast

“ I have successfully auditioned for three of the Garrick pantomimes ; my first being Sleeping Beauty. Performing on stage with an amazing cast was a fabulous opportunity and a brilliant experience. The backstage crew were friendly and supportive; they were always professional and always helped us when needed.   

I made many new friends on my pantomime journey and learnt so much about theatre life. Being a member of the junior ensemble takes dedication and commitment but is also great fun and very rewarding. If anyone has the opportunity to audition for a pantomime at the Lichfield Garrick Theatre do not hesitate to do so. 

I will remember my magical Christmas’ at the Garrick as they were just the most amazing and exciting times and I look back on them fondly.” 

 All Juvenile audition videos submitted to the theatre will be held securely on our network, they will only be shown to members of staff or creative staff that it is deemed necessary by the Theatre’s Safeguarding Team to do so. 

A Garrick spokesman said: "Everyone who submits an audition video should hear back from the theatre by July 2020. Best of Luck in your audition, we look forward to hearing from you soon!"



To BEor not to BE, that was the question in these dark days of Covid-19 and lockdown, and it has been answered with Birmingham’s popular European festival of performing and visual arts festival morphing itself into one of, if not the first stay at home theatre festival in the world.

In the tradition of the show must go on, the festival will BE reversing roles this year with performers visiting the audience rather than the other way round appearing in kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, wherever you happen to be, on screens large and small.

The full BE Festival has been postponed until next year but today the organisers have announced a special lockdown festival online with work from wide range of European performers who are creating and tailoring work as a response to the current confinements imposed by the Covid-19 Pandemic.

BE at HOME FESTIVAL will run 7 – 16 May and will be free for audiences to not only watch, but also join in. A feature of the festival is its trademark communal dining and that will still be part of the digital festival . . . sort of. There will be special daily recipes and cocktail making classes (with no worries about drinking and driving) and a big end of festival party . . . all in your living room.

Created by BE FESTIVAL directors, Isla Aguilar and Miguel Oyarzun, BE at HOME FESTIVAL will explore how artists are able to present work within the context of the current lockdown. The programme offers an immediate and intimate mix of live performance in isolation including theatre for an audience of one, a circus performance from an artist’s living room as well as films and talks.

The programme offers an immediate and intimate mix of live performance in isolation including theatre for an audience of one, a circus performance from an artist’s living room as well as films and talks.

The artists include David Espinosa (Spain), Edurne Rubio (Spain / Belgium), Maria Jerez (Spain), Silke Huysmans and Hannes Dereere (Belgium), Squarehead Productions (Ireland), Francesc Serra Vila (Spain / UK) and DJ Glynn Phillips (UK). Each will offer their own aspect of how to create and share art during these unprecedented times.

Directors Aguilar and Oyarzun, said: “In these uncertain times we absolutely wanted to keep the spirit of BE FESTIVAL alive. We wanted to continue to support our network of artists and still be able to bring together a programme of innovative art from across Europe that our audiences have come to expect each year.

“Although we are currently in lockdown online platforms present an exciting opportunity for artists and audiences to connect and engage.

“The BE at HOME FESTIVAL will do just that, albeit on a smaller scale. Our ethos will still be at the heart of it but with the added potential to reach a much wider online global audience who might be looking for an inspiring diversion.

“In terms of what to expect, there will be intimate live performances, beautiful evocative films, an internet theatre challenge and a DJ party to end it all. We can’t wait to share the BE FESTIVAL communal experience online.”


BE FESTIVAL, now in its 11th year, was due to take place in June 2020. This year’s full live festival has been postponed due to the Covid-19 Pandemic until 2021, the dates of which will be announced in due course. BE FESTIVAL has honoured its commitments by paying its programmed artists their full fee for 2020 and a pledge to programme them in 2021.

The festival is run by a small team of ambitious people who are committed to supporting and presenting European art and artists to audiences in Birmingham and beyond. Charitable donations are welcomed and can be made befestival.org/support-us in order to help the festival continue deliver their vision in supporting and championing European artists. 

BE FESTIVAL is supported by using public funding by Arts Council England.

Visit befestival.org for further information.

Twitter @befestival | Facebook BE Festival | Instagram befestival



Elmhurst Ballet Company in 'L’heure sans regrets' by Sander Blommaert. Photo by Andrew Ross

Schools turn to line dancing

Elmhurst Ballet School in Birmingham, and English National Ballet School in London are two of the UK’s top ballet schools whose students go on to dance with professional companies in the UK and across the world. 

Currently in lockdown and closed until further notice, the schools have united to share a message of hope and support in footage (below) filmed by students from both schools dancing at home, kindly edited by the BalletBoyz.  

As the ballet schools and its students consider new ways and spaces to train, they hope by working together to create and share the short film, it will inspire more dancers to find their own ways to keep dancing, stay connected and feel less isolated during the lockdown.

Jessica Wheeler, Principal of Elmhurst Ballet School said: “The majority of our students live on site and they split busy days between academics and dance training. Many students have been with us for almost eight years through Lower and Upper Schools and while they are used to being together with their year groups, we encourage individual learning too.

“This strength, with the school’s ethos Live Dance Learn sees them maintaining a level of training at home during a very different Easter break for us all. Alongside English National Ballet School, it’s wonderful to see the students’ tenacity and drive, from both schools, highlighted in this timely film and collaboration.

“At Elmhurst, we are currently confirming the details of a virtual timetable for the summer term and as all departments work on ways to sustain a level of dance training and schooling for our students, our friends and supporters can continue to look online to our website and social media pages as we launch a COVID-19 interim social media campaign over the coming weeks. This will keep our supporters connected with regular updates and input from our senior leadership team, artistic, academic and health and wellbeing teams, and students.

“Until we can open our doors again, keep well and stay safe, and please stay in touch!”

Viviana Durante, Director of Dance at English National Ballet School said: “Our number one priority is the health and wellbeing of our students. With our building in Chelsea closed for the foreseeable future and with 80 per cent of our students coming from overseas, the School has moved online for the first time in its history.

Our remote learning platform is constantly growing in order to provide support and teaching that matches as closely as possible the range of provision at the School, ensuring students stay fit, positive and engaged during this time. I am thrilled with the positive feedback from our students so far, and it has been wonderful to see them continue dancing during this time.

I am delighted that students from both English National Ballet School and Elmhurst Ballet School have joined forces to offer some solidarity, inspiration and joy to everyone, wherever they may be. Please continue to stay safe, support, and look after each other however possible.”

Both schools have a programme of lessons both academic and dance while Elmhurst's association with Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) continues with the Elmhurst Ballet Company, the school's company of year 14 pupils, invited to join online classes with BRB, pointe-work classes delivered by Assistant Director Marion Tait and access to Strength and Conditioning programmes created by BRB’s Jerwood Centre.

The Elmhurst company was created, incidentally, to provide the bridge between school and professional dance.

Elmhurst Ballet School

English Ballet School  




Class act from Sander

Belgian-born Sander Blommaert is a former dancer with The Royal Ballet, an award-winning ballet teacher ad choreographer who splits a busy career between teaching at Elmhurst Ballet School, Birmingham with his own summer school, workshops and private coaching in and out of the Midlands.  

Before the UK went into lockdown, Sander noticed many artists in Italy were providing free tuition online. Inspired to do the same and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and Government guidelines closing dance studios at home in the UK, Sander started free ballet classes online, Monday to Saturday at 11am on his Instagram page.

With thanks to his successful career in dance performance and teaching, Sander has built up an impressive online presence, seeing more than 52,000 followers turning to his Instagram page to be inspired, motivated and now instructed in ballet from their living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and gardens at home.

Aimed at dancers of an intermediate experience level, but drawing interest from ballet professionals to those who are inquisitive or new to dance, the virtual teaching sees over 400 dancers regularly turning to their computer and TV screens as Sander takes participants through daily class.

sander as footman

Sander Blommaert as Footman/Fish in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

 The Royal Ballet © 2014 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper 

Teaching from his home in Birmingham, Sander said: “I am amazed at how many people are following the classes and taking part. I am impressed by the whole ballet community who have come together at this difficult time to reach out and help others. As generous as it is for professional dancers to be sharing classes online for free, I also felt there was a need for experienced ballet teachers to be offering classes, so that students, especially full-time vocational ballet students, could receive the same information they benefit from in a school setting and enable them to maintain their training at home.”

Although Sander insisted his online classes during lockdown remained free of charge, many dancers and parents of those taking part asked if they could make a donation to thank him for his support at this time. Feeling grateful to still be in paid work, Sander set up a Justgiving page so people can donate if they wish and all money raised will go to charities and organisations affected by the shutdown.

Following the success of the classes, Sander started to think about other ways he could keep dancers interested and informed during lockdown. ‘In conversation with Sander Blommaert’ invites renowned names from the ballet world to be interviewed on his Instagram Live on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings at 7pm. Many dance illuminati have agreed to join Sander ‘in conversation’ – coming up in the next few months, are: Mara Galeazzi (17 April); Céline Gittens (20 April); Edward Watson (24 April); Christopher Wheeldon (27 April); Gary Avis (29 April); Elmhurst’s Principal Jessica Wheeler (1 May); César Morales (4 May); and Aaron Robinson (8 May).  

For more information and regular updates please check out Sander’s  Instagram and Justgiving pages




Colin Townsend, a popular figure and performer in Sutton Coldfield amateur theatre and beyond has died from COVID-19. He was 69.

He died on Good Friday evening, a month before his 70th birthday, and two weeks after being taken to Good Hope Hospital.

Originally from Witney in Oxfordshire, Colin’s love of theatre has seen him appearing in productions at Trinity Players, where he was membership secretary, Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Society, where he was a life member, the now defunct Vesey Players and at Sutton Arts Theatre, where he played Weller Martin in Donald L. Coburn’s The Gin Game last year, and where he is also the bar manager and is part of the set building team.

He was also an old friend, and a fellow Manchester United fan. I have known him for half of my life starting from when I was chairman of the Parent Teacher Association at Four Oaks First and Middle Schools for many years and he was always my trusted lieutenant, spending so much time at the school he was eventually to become the much-loved caretaker there.

He was also involved with the school’s playgroup and became PTA chairman when I left, continuing the annual PTA camping trips to Weston Park.

We performed together in countless sketches I wrote for Music Halls, two old men, two old ladies, the school nativity play (adult version) and when I wrote a Cinderella panto he was my natural, go-to Buttons.

Part of the game on stage with Colin in sketches was to start him laughing. It didn’t take much, just a stray glance or a pause a second too long before a punchline and he would dissolve into fits of uncontrolled, infectious laughter which could last for minutes with the audience just as helplessly laughing as he was. He was an absolute delight to work with on and off stage and the laughs and the good times are the memories I will always cherish. We really did have so much fun.

He was always going somewhere, doing something, planning something whether it was line dancing –  square dancing for people who failed O level geometry was our joke – caravanning or even walking Land’s End to John O’Groats . . . in  bits. The last time I saw him was behind the bar at Sutton Arts and we laughed at something daft we said. And that’s how I will always remember him. Laughing.

Colin leaves a wife, Tina, and daughter Becky, who were with him when he died and a son Michael, as well as grandchildren Sophie and Ellie.

Roger Clarke



BRB – coming to a living room near you

Ballet Class Live

Friday 3 April from 11.00 BST via BBC Arts

The Swan

 Wednesday 8 April at 15.00 BST via BBC Arts and BRB


Birmingham Royal Ballet ballet Master Dominic Antonucci will be inviting the world into his conservatory tomorrow as the BBC live streams one of his thrice weekly classes aimed at keeping the company’s ballet dancers in shape and fit during the enforced lockdown.

The videocast is part of  BRB’s Home From Home, a new series of online content to give an insight into the company’s daily routine and specially curated performances as they stay fit and creative whilst in isolation at their homes across the globe.

The series will open with Ballet Class Live, a live-streamed class led from his home by Dominic which company members dial into voluntarily from wherever they are in the world, currently including Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand, the USA and UK.

One of those in the class will be BRB director Carlos Acosta who is showing himself to be very much a hands-on director. Dominic said: “The first day he started at BRB in January he was in my class, and I have never had that before. It was quite daunting.”

It also shows that ballet superstar Acosta still sees himself as very much a dancer as well as a director, and not above the daily classes the entire company undertakes.

Dominic said that the live streamed class would be based on the open classes BRB hold for the general public opening with an explanation of what it is about and giving a health and safety warning.

“We advise people if they are joining to be aware of both the space around them and of their own abilities.

“We have been doing three classes a week by zoom and dancers are doing daily exercises, but this is the only class being live streamed as far as I know.”

He said it was important for the dancers to keep fit and ready for when the company gets back together and theatres reopen so BRB was ready to hit the stage not so much running, as dancing.

Céline Gittens in swan mode as Odette in Act II  in Swan Lake last November- and just in case you are wondering, this isn't in her living room! 

Also in the initial Home from Home programming will be a special ‘living-room’ performance of The Swan, set to Camille Saint-Saëns's Le Cygne, the 13th of 14 movements in his Carnival of the Animals (Le Carnaval des animaux), introduced by Carlos Acosta and performed at home by principal dancer Céline Gittens, accompanied by principal pianist Jonathan Higgins and cellist Antonio Novais from BRB’s Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

The piece was originally choreographed in 1905 by Mikhail Fokine for legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova and is popularly known as The Dying Swan. It became Pavlova’s party piece and she was to dance it some 4,000 times around the world. It is a staple of the cello repertoire and this version, for solo piano and cello was the only one published in Saint-Saëns's lifetime.

Both projects have been created in partnership with BBC Arts’ initiative Culture in Quarantine, a virtual festival of the arts where UK Creative industries can come together to share content and ideas.

Jonty Claypole, BBC Head of Arts, said: “The mission of Culture in Quarantine is to support the arts and ensure the greatest possible access to culture in people’s homes.

"We’re thrilled to be working with one of the greatest dance companies in the world, Birmingham Royal Ballet, on this unique project.

In Ballet Class Live, anyone at home can join Birmingham Royal Ballet in warm-ups and basic steps. And in a special performance, Céline Gittens will dance the iconic ‘The Swan’ solo, which has an added poignancy at this time of isolation and national lockdown.”


Ballet Class Live

Friday 3 April from 11.00 BST via BBC Arts

The class, accompanied by pianist Ross Williams.has daily physical warm up routine of these world-class dancers, with online participants including Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet Carlos Acosta, who says:

“Every dancer needs to stay fit and flexible and maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. During this period of self-isolation and quarantine, it is vitally important that our company, based in their homes all over the world, continue to meet up online and take daily ballet class.”

The Swan

 Wednesday 8 April at 15.00 BST via BBC Arts and BRB

Carlos Acosta said: “Welcome everybody in this moment of stillness. We are going to try an experiment; I frankly don’t know how it’s going to turn out. We are going to perform for you one of my favourite pieces, The Swan. I have purposely changed the end, so this is a dance about life, about hope.

"This is a dance of promises, it represents the end of something and the beginning of something else, and in these crazy times that we are living we all need a new beginning.

"This is a gift from Birmingham Royal Ballet to you, enjoy”

Roger Clarke




Elmhurst student's fashion house

opens with grand fire sale

T-shirts. We love ‘em, buying more than two billion a year worldwide; they are universal, the global uniform of humanity; you can pick ‘em up for a fiver or less, or, if the lottery numbers came up this week, Valentino can knock you out a top of the range job for £1,400 or so, or, more reasonable for top end designer gear, Givenchy will come in at just under £900 – jeans, to complete the casual look, £565!

Meanwhile, in the real world, there is a new kid on the block and it is a kid with a cause, the brainchild of Elmhurst Ballet School sixth former Lydia Brayshaw who has launched her own clothing brand, Lydia B, in aid of the Australian Wildlife Information, Rescue and Information Service (WIRES).

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) more than 10 million hectares have been scorched so far in the bush fires all around Australia which started in September, and despite the respite of recent rain in some parts, with its doubled edged relief bringing flooding, the figure is still rising. To give an idea of the scale that is the equivalent of 76 per cent, more than three quarters of the whole of England up in flames.

Lives and homes have been lost and a staggering 1.25 billion animals have been affected. Lydia, from Ashburton, Devon, decided to do something about it, turning a school project into a business with a themed t-shirt with thsimle logo of a kangaroo cradling a koala bear in its pouch, two symbols that stand for Australian wildlife in any language.


Lydia said: “Despite being so far away I felt I needed to do something. In addition to my full-time ballet training at Elmhurst, I have always had an interest in fashion and design, especially sustainable clothing. I’m aware of the strain fast fashion is putting on the environment as the second largest polluter in the world, so when I first decided to create LYDIA B as part of a school Extended Project Qualification, I was determined it would be as green and ethical as possible.

 “The clothing is made from 100% organic cotton and is world-certified to avoid sweatshops. We use Broadside Screen Printers in Exeter who hand print the designs on to the clothing using water based inks. LYDIA B uses zero plastic, and packaging is entirely recyclable and ocean friendly.”

For every t-shirt sold, £5 will be donated to WIRES who are now rescuing as many animals as possible and battling to nurse them back to health.

That may just be the start though, Lydia said “In addition to being a professional dancer when I graduate from school in 2021, I really hope LYDIA B continues to grow so it can make an even bigger impact on the environment and support more organisations such as WIRES.”

Unisex Tshirts are £15 with £5 going to WIRES in sizes from XS to XL in white, grey, blue or pink, a child’s version in three sizes from age seven to 12 and the same white, gray, light blue and hot pink, sells at £12 with £3 going to WIRES.

There is also a Sweatshirt in the XS to XL and, as Henry Ford would put it, any colour, as long as its gray, at £30 with £5 again going to WIRES.

Details and ordering https://www.lydiab.co/product/kangaroo/

Information about WIRES https://www.wires.org.au/

Roger Clarke


shop front

Ten years of the Shop Front Theatre: Lee Colley (left, actor - Car), Julia Negus,  Chris O'Connell (Theatre Absolute  Shop Front Theatre) and Marius Mates (breaker)

Shop Front Theatre in Coventry

What a pleasure to attend a really grand birthday party to celebrate Theatre Absolute’s 10-year anniversary at the Shop Front Theatre, the smallest theatre I’ve even been to, but also the most innovative.

Many speakers simply called it a magic space and I think that is a fair description. Founders of the feast and the Shop Front Theatre, formerly Fishy Moore’s Fish and Chip shop, are Julia Negus and Chris O’Connell.

Chris O’Connell, himself a successful writer/director explained the success of Are We Where We Are? their latest project, planned to run for three years, has changed how they approach work and the new project is more collaborative than previous work.

A range of writers/performers were commissioned to take a theme and run with it. This new project follows the same route where writers/performers, often new and often from diverse backgrounds, bring a rich and varied viewpoint and will be taking Humanistan as a subject area and given free rein to explore the human condition.

The writers will take inspiration from Benjamin Zephaniah, Ben Okri and Francois Matarosso and will include break dancing among other innovations and, in what Chris explained as the ‘Age of Rage’, it will definitely provide food for thought.

The first is planned for 6/7 November from Amahra Spence looking at absurdity in everyday life and will continue into Coventry’s City of Culture 2021. The Shop Front Theatre will be taken over by final year Coventry University Theatre Practice students on 16-18th October as a provocation cum prelude to the series of Humanistan performances. I, for one, am looking forward to the new series to see what new magic Chris and Julia can conjure.

Jane Howard



Anna and the king

The award winning Broadway production of The King and I arrives at The New Alexandra Theatre on 10 December with West End star Annalene Beechey, who hails originally from Coventry and appeared in last year's acclaimed sell-out run at The London Palladium, playing the role of Anna and Jose Llana, who will be reprising the role of the King of Siam he played on Broadway in this quadruple Tony award Lincoln Center production.

The two stars were at The Alexandra Theatre for the Birmingham launch event for the show which opens at the Alex on 10 December and runs to 4 January, 2020.

At the launch Annalene, sang two of the familiar songs of the show, Hello, Young Lovers and Getting to Know You,

whil Jose, who trained initially as an opera singer, sang A Puzzlement,as the King questions why his world is becoming so complicated.  


The production has gone back to the original script from its pre-Broadway premiere days on its try out run prior to its 1951 opening and after its celebrated Lincoln Center run is now on US and international tours.




Roger Clarke


The Alexandra Theatre

The return of the student Prince

A former Elmhurst Ballet School pupil will be returning to his dance home this week in the iconic role of The Prince in Sir Matthew Bourne’s celebrated production of Swan Lake

James Lovell, 19, who was a student, and head boy, at the Bristol Road associate school of Birmingham Royal Ballet, was spotted by Sir Matthew and asked to leave his training a year early to take a role in Bourne’s New Adventures company, where he was promoted to this principal role of Swan Lake, one of the most challenging roles in contemporary dance. 


Elmhurst graduate James Lovell  as The Prince. Picture Kevin S. Persaud


Lovell said: “Dancing as a part of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures has been a dream of mine since I first saw their work when I was 15. I still wake up on our days off and have to pinch myself that I’m touring the world with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.”

The demanding part will also be danced by Principal dancer Liam Mower and Dominic North.

Also in the cast are star dancers Will Bozier and former English National Ballet star Max Westwell, who was also recently in the West End production of an “An American in Paris”.

Swan Lake returns to Birmingham Hippodrome with a fresh look for the 21st century. Retaining the iconic elements of the original production Matthew Bourne and his Associate Artists, designers Lez Brotherston (Set & Costumes) and Paule Constable (Lighting) have created an exciting re-imagining of the classic production.

Thrilling, audacious, witty and emotive, this Swan Lake is perhaps still best known for replacing the female corps-de-ballet with a menacing male ensemble, which shattered conventions and turned tradition upside down.

The original collected more than thirty international awards including an Olivier and three Tonys on Broadway and, for the tenth consecutive year, ahead of the performance on Friday 8th February, there will be a special ‘curtain raiser’ which will see twenty two young people aged between sixteen and nineteen dancing on the main stage.

The ‘curtain raiser’ gives young people the opportunity to work alongside professional dancers and choreographers in creating a piece of unique work to be performed in a large scale venue such as the Hippodrome. Throughout the ten years of the curtain raiser, Tilney financial and investment services have sponsored the project.

Swan Lake returns to Birmingham Hippodrome from Tuesday 5 – Saturday 16 February.


Roger Clarke


glen ross 

Coffee is for closers!

Grab a FREE coffee at The Alexandra this week in a dual celebration of first the new Coffee @ The Alex  service and second, the opening of the West End hit Glengarry Glen Ross.

Latte, cappuccino or espresso?... The choice is yours. To claim your delicious speciality drink simply turn up to the Alex box office between 10am and 12noon on Friday 8 February and just say the famous quote from the hit production – “Coffee is for closers”.

The immortal phrase comes from the darkly funny production GlenGarry Glen Ross, which hits the stage at The Alex from Monday 18 to Saturday 23 February and stars Nigel Harman and Mark Benton.

Set in an office of cut-throat Chicago salesmen, the TV and Stage stars play the deal-chasing cut-throat salesmen in the first UK tour of this highly acclaimed West End Success.

The razor-sharp drama comes to Birmingham as The Alex also launches its new drinks service, Coffee @ The Alex, where takeaway coffee and hot drinks will be on daily sale from the theatre box office.

And as well as picking up a free drink, the first person through the doors on Friday to say the magic words will also win a pair of tickets to the opening night of the show, on Monday 18 February.  

Other customers quoting the phrase not only receive a free drink but an exclusive promo code to claim half price tickets for the production (Offer valid on bands ticket A and B for Mon – Thu performances only)

Alex Theatre Director, Lisa Mart, said: “Following the huge success of an extensive relaunch, and amazing feedback from our first ever completely free film festival, we’re delighted to announce that we will now be serving takeaway speciality coffees and hot drinks from the box office of our beautiful venue.

“Come and join us for a free drink on Friday February 8, and remember – Coffee is for closers!”

The Alexandra Theatre

Roger Clarke



This year's dogs move over for next year's pigs

Up to 40,000 visitors are expected to be celebrating Chinese New Year as the year of the dog makes way for the arrival of the pig to welcome in and guard the final year of China’s 12 year animal cycle.

The three days of free festivities will start on Friday, 8 February with a Chinese Lion parade in the Colmore Business District from noon heading to St Philip’s Cathedral and Grounds for Chinese tea and a free lunchtime concert at 1pm in Birmingham Cathedral with performances from Birmingham Conservatoire and Dans Dance Company.

The New Year celebrations continue the next day with a parade of lion and dragon dancers through Bullring and Grand Central along with acrobatics and martial arts from Shaolin Warriors, Hip-Hop dance from Hong Kong born choreographer Si Rawlinson and traditional fan and face changing dance from Dans Dance Company.

On Sunday the celebrations move to the streets in Southside Chinatown and around Birmingham Hippodrome for acrobatics, circus, dance performances, market stalls and a fun fair. The Arcadian will host a dedicated lion and dragon dance area along with a karaoke stage and performances throughout the afternoon.

Indoors Birmingham Hippodrome will host free performances in The Patrick Studio featuring music, dance and spoken word and in the foyer and atrium spaces experience a range of Chinese craft activities, a Fan Dance workshop with Dans Dance Company and an opportunity to add your wishes to the Chinese Wishing Tree, inspired by the wishing tree tradition which is hundreds of years old.

Festivities will close with one final lion dance and firecrackers, on the mainstage on Hurst Street.

The event is organised by the Chinese Festival Committee Birmingham and  co-produced by Birmingham Hippodrome. It is Sponsored by Birmingham Airport in association with Birmingham City Football Club

.James Wong, Chairman of the Festival Committee said: “This year’s programme is hugely exciting and diverse and will see us working with all our partners to bring Chinese New Year to places and spaces across the City. We are very proud of our heritage in bringing this unique and unforgettable spectacle to life.

“About half of our Chinese New Year visitors will be Chinese. Birmingham’s celebrations are every bit as exciting as those anywhere in the world and we are looking forward to keeping the crowds enthralled.”

Graham Callister, Associate Director, Community Engagement & Festivals at The Hippodrome added: “We are delighted to be working with the Chinese Festival Committee to co-produce this year’s festivities. Over three days people from Birmingham and the West Midlands are invited to join us in celebrating. All events and activities are free, from the traditional lion dance to Hip-Hop to martial arts and traditional Chinese crafts. And if last year is anything to go by, we shall look forward to seeing people ‘battle’ it out on the karaoke stage.”


Roger Clarke


Acosta to take the helm at BRB

International ballet superstar Carlos Acosta is the new director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, taking over from David Bintley who will be leaving in July at the end of the current season.

Cuban born Acosta, aged 45, is one of the most gifted dancers of his, or indeed any generation and has been compared to the likes of the fabled Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev for his grace and athleticism.

As a choreographer, his own ballet Tocororo, named after Cuba’s national bird, the Cuban Trogon, has been well received internationally and is a tale which perhaps mirrors Acosta’s own journey from the slums of Havana to international stardom

Acosta has danced with a host of major companies including English National Ballet, National Ballet of Cuba, Houston Ballet and American Ballet Theatre becoming a permanent member of The Royal Ballet for 17 years until his farewell appearance in November 2017 in Carmen, a ballet where he was not only the star but also the choreographer; the past decade or so also saw him travel the world making sell-out guest appearances.

Since retiring as a dancer he has founded his own Cuban dance company Acosta Danza and has established his own dance academy in Havana which opened its doors to its first students in September 2017 but this takes him to a different level, at the helm of one of Britain’s and indeed the world’s leading ballet companies.

He said: “It is a tremendous honour and privilege to have been appointed to lead Birmingham Royal Ballet. I am a great admirer of its heritage and of what David Bintley has done to establish it as one of the country’s leading classical ballet companies, following on from the wonderful foundations laid down by Sir Peter Wright.

“My ambition is to build on its classical traditions, to expand its repertoire and to reach out to new and more diverse audiences. I want to define what it is to be a world leading classical ballet company in the 21st century.”


Carlos Acosta  Picture Johan Perrson

The chair of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sir David Normington, said: “This is a great moment for Birmingham Royal Ballet. We have secured the greatest male dancer of his generation to be our new director.

“I know he will bring us his legendary artistry, energy and charisma and enable us to connect with new audiences, particularly in Birmingham. It is a statement to the whole dance world that, building on David Bintley’s great legacy, Birmingham Royal Ballet intends to remain a major force for classical ballet in the UK and beyond.”

Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of Arts Council England, said: “We’re delighted to welcome Carlos Acosta CBE as the new director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, with his wealth of experience and knowledge from the international world of dance.

“Birmingham Royal Ballet is an exceptional company, with an international reputation for the artistic quality of its work, and as Carlos takes to the helm, we’d like to pay tribute to the commitment, contribution and charisma of David Bintley, who leaves behind him an extraordinary legacy.

“We look forward to seeing Carlos build on this legacy, and to the company continuing to delight audiences with their array of classical and ground-breaking ballets.”

Born in Havana, Acosta was the youngest of eleven children in an impoverished family, and went on to train at the National Ballet School of Cuba, winning the prestigious Prix de Lausanne at the age of 16.

As well as Carmen he choreographed the Royal Ballet’s production of Don Quixote plus the latest Guys and Dolls production for the West End.

He has also written two books, including a work of fiction Pig’s Foot and his honest autobiography No Way Home.

Yuli a film inspired by his life has premiered at the San Sebastian, Havana and Berlin Film Festivals to critical acclaim with the London Premiere in April 2019. Carlos has been nominated for a Best New Actor award from The 33rd Goya Awards Ceremony to be held in Seville in February 2019.  

His many awards include an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance, a Prix Benois de la Danse, an Outstanding Achievement Award at the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards and the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award from The Royal Academy of Dance. He was awarded a CBE in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List for services to dance.

Roger Clarke


The Tiger who really did come for tea

A tiger really did come for tea at Michelin starred Purnells Restaurant in Birmingham City Centre.
The tiger roared in with the rest of the cast for a spot of tea and petit fours with celebrity chef - and childrens' author - Glynn Purnell (pictured above) in between performances at Birmingham Town Hall.
Speaking after the visit Glynn said: "It was fantastic to be able to welcome The Tiger Who Came to Tea company  for tea! I wrote my first children’s book The Magical Adventures of Whoops the Wonder Dog this year, and it would be incredible to imagine it being as well loved and held in the same high regard as the classic that is The Tiger Who Came to Tea.
"It was extra special to be able to invite the cast to the restaurant in what is the 50th anniversary of the book, and the 10th anniversary of the play. I can’t wait to take my family to Town Hall Birmingham over the festive period to see my tea party guests on stage!


town hall

Meanwhile to celebrate the roaring success of the show, Legoland Discovery Centre Birmingham have created a bespoke Tiger model in honour of the show’s ravenous main star - complete with a mini Sophie sat at the dinner table ready for tea!

The model was created by Legoland Discovery Centre's Master Model Builder, Michelle Thompson.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea runs to Sunday 13th January. Tickets can be purchased via the THSH website, by calling 0121 780 3333 or at Symphony Hall box office.

Purnells Restaurant 55 Cornwall Street, Birmingham. B3 2DH


Panto star sitting down on the job

Brum's Mr Panto, Matt Slack, had a surprise when staff and cast presented him with his own dedicated seat in row L at Birmingham Hippodrome.
The dedication on the commemorative plaque read Matt Slack, making Birmingham laugh 6 years and counting -2018.

Matt said; “It’s a real honour to have been given my own dedicated named seat. Thanks to all at Birmingham Hippodrome and Qdos Pantomimes, plus my fiancé Jess. An extra huge thank you goes to the audiences for their continued support.”

Since his first appearance in Snow White in 2013, Matt has shared the stage with the likes of Stephanie Beacham, Beverley Knight, Marti Pellow, Julian Clary, John Barrowman and Jane McDonald. By the time this year’s production draws to a close, Matt will have clocked up over 430 appearances on the Birmingham Hippodrome stage; making a total of approximately 1,075 hours of performing.

Naming a seat is just one of the ways of supporting Birmingham Hippodrome and its charitable work. From remembering a loved one to commemorating a special occasion, naming a seat makes a perfect surprise gift. For more information visit birminghamhippodrome.com/giveandjoin.

Peter Pan runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until Sun 27 Jan 2019 with tickets from £16. For tickets visit birminghamhippodrome.com or call 0844 338 5000 (4.5p per minute plus your phone company’s access charge).


Rep artistic director bids fond farewell

Birmingham Rep’s artistic director Roxana Silbert is to leave Centenary Square next summer to take up a new role as artistic director and joint chief executive of Hampstead Theatre in London.

She takes over in spring next year from Edward Hall who announced his departure in August and her first season will open next September, which is also the start of the theatre's 60th birthday celebrations.

Hall, who joined Hamstead in 2010, is also, incidentally, the artistic director of the wonderful  Propeller Shakespeare company, which he founded in 1998.

Roxana was born in Argentina with a father whose family were Ukrainian and an Italian Mother and her first language is Spanish, although you would never guess it speaking to her. She she joined the Rep in 2012 from being associate director at the RSC, and steered the theatre through its centenary and its re-opening in 2013 after a two year redevelopment.

Under her stewardship the Rep has seen a number of world premieres including What Shadows starring Ian McDiarmid, One Love: The Bob Marley Musical by Kwame Kwei-Armah, Rudy’s Rare Records with Lenny Henry and Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones.

Roxana has also directed works including the first Ramps on the Moon production, The Government Inspector, which featured integrated captioning, audio description and BSL

She has championed new work, commissioning plays from the likes of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Kate Tempest, Alexander Zeldin, Rachel De Lahay and Tom Wells, and has nurtured local talent such as Steven Camden and Selina Thompson and created open and accessible artistic development programmes such as REP Foundry, Furnace, Write Away and given opportunities for directors through RTYDS, JMK Directors programme and Birkbeck University placements.

The Rep, under her direction, has reached out to communities with projects such as Furnace Hubs and saw two main stage community productions, Stadium last year and Woyzeck earlier this year.


Roxana Silbert

Roxana will direct her two final productions for The REP, the UK premiere of Edmond De Bergerac in March 2019 and the European premiere of A Thousand Splendid Suns in June 2019.

She said: ““My time at The REP has been one of the most rewarding experiences ever. I love The REP and I love Birmingham. The REP has an extraordinary team of people and it has been an honour and a pleasure to work with everyone here.

“I am very proud of everything that has been achieved since we re-opened the building and everyone who has made those achievements possible. I am eternally grateful to our audiences - for me their support is evidence that audiences both demand and deserve theatre that represents the diversity of the city around us.”

Stuart Rogers, the Rep’s Executive Director said: ““I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone at The REP in saying that working with Roxana over the last six years has been a delight.

“Her wholehearted commitment to the many roles that a large regional producing theatre plays nowadays has been exemplary, and the shows she has directed for us have been of the very highest standard. “

Roxana has undoubtedly played a significant part in this theatre’s long and proud history, putting artistic quality, diversity and access firmly at the heart of everything we do. We will miss her and wish her well.”

Roger Clarke


Iain and Jenna

Iain Mackay and Jenna Roberts dancing the emotive pas de deux in Romeo and Juliet

Final bow for Birmingham ballet star

This week will see an emotional farewell as principal dancer Iain Mackay bows out after 19 years with Birmingham Royal Ballet in a night of dance and music at Symphony Hall.

Glasgow born Mackay is an accidental ballet star. As a child he had no interest in dancing but was roped into ballet classes merely so older brother Rory, who is also with BRB and who wanted to learn ballet, would not be the only boy in the class.

It was a fortunate accident as Mackay, now 37, who joined the company in 1999, became a principal in 2003 and, like Robert Parker before him, is a dancer who sent that shiver of anticipation through an audience whenever he appeared..

He is a dancer who can command a stage, appearing to hang in the air in leaps and making even the most complex or difficult lifts or athletic routines look quite effortless.

Parker retired in 2012 to become the artistic director of Elmhurst Ballet School and Mackay is making a similar journey, leaving to become artistic director of the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School.  

He is also the inaugural Male Dance Ambassador for the Royal Academy of Dance and has founded his own dance company, Open Door Dance, which is unusual in that it is a pop-up dance company, taking dance performance out to the people, such as in the entrance to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

His final dance in BRB colours will be, appropriately, in a world premiere, an entrance and farewell in one movement, with David Bintley’s setting to the haunting adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from Khachaturian’s Spartacus with Mackay in the eponymous role and Jenna Roberts as Phrygia, a pairing that has produced some memorable moments over the years incluidng a quite beautiful and tender pas de deux in Romeo and Juliet.

The pair will earlier dance a company premiere with Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux, After the Rain, set to Arvo Pärt’s beautifully melancholic Spiegel im Spiegel.

The Evening of Music and Dance also features the pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty, which returns to the Hippodrome next month, the clog dance for La Fille mal gardée and the pas de deux from Don Quixote.

In between the dances the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, under principal conductor Paul Murphy, will show once again that Birmingham can boast two world class symphony orchestras.

They will play well known classics along with more modern pieces in a programme that will include Humperdinck's overture to Hansel and Gretel, Korngold's suite from the film The Adventures of Robin Hood and Elgar's beautiful miniature, Sospiri.

Roger Clarke


An evening of music and dance with Birmingham Royal Ballet & the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Symphony Hall, 19 January, 7.30pm.


Full programme and casting:

Humperdinck Hansel and Gretel Prelude

Tchaikovsky/Petipa The Sleeping Beauty Act 3 pas de deux.

Princess Aurora: Céline Gittens; Prince Florimund: Tyrone Singleton

Elgar The Wild Bears

Pärt/Wheeldon After the Rain (company premiere)

Jenna Roberts; Iain Mackay

Korngold Suite from The Adventures of Robin Hood

Herold/Ashton La Fille mal gardée Clog Dance

Widow Simone: James Barton; Yijing Zhang; Maureya Lebowitz; Yvette Knight; Yaoqian Shang


Dvorak Slavonic Dance Op.48 No.8

Weber/Berlioz/Fokine Le Spectre de la rose, An Invitation to Dance

Arancha Baselga; César Morales

Sibelius Valse Triste

Khachaturian/Bintley Adagio from Spartacus (world premiere)

Phrygia: Jenna Roberts; Spartacus: Iain Mackay

Falla The Three Cornered Hat The Miller’s Dance and Final Dance

Minkus/Petipa Don Quixote grand pas de deux

Momoko Hirata; Mathias Dingman



Grange Playhouse forced to close . . . for now

Grange Players have been left homeless after health and safety concerns following a fire inspection have closed the Grange Playhouse, their home for more than 60 years.

The theatre, set off Broadway North at the southern end of Walsall Arboretum. is leased at preferential rates from Walsall Council and the closure now threatens the future of one of the West Midland’s most respected and oldest theatrical companies.

Essential refurbishment including work to comply with changed and updated regulations, along with regular maintenance, have left the Players facing a bill of £60,000 including £15,000 for new automatic fire doors and £16,500 for rewiring and electrical work which, also covers the stage lighting boards and rigs.

Also required is a stage safety curtain, a sprinkler system, asbestos removal and fireproofing of seats in the auditorium to comply with the latest standards.

Acting chairman Peter Smith said that the Players had been banned from entering the building which was making raising the funds to pay for the work difficult.

He said: “If we could put on productions then we would have the means to pay for the work, a production with a full house brings in about £8,000, but if we can’t enter the building we cannot earn the money.”

He said that it also means that even if the Players found a temporary home they cannot use their building for rehearsals, or to do readings, or even build sets.


Mr Smith is hoping that a compromise with the authorities can be reached to first allow members to enter the building and then, when agreed urgent essential work has been carried out, to allow performances again with an agreed timetable for the remaining work.

Players Secretary Louise Farmer said that the company has had offers of rehearsal space from other theatre companies and were hoping to perform Funny Money – the play that was to have been the opening production of the new season-last autumn – in another theatre in March or April.

She said that a number of fund raising events, such as quizzes and a possible open mic evening are being organised with the first, a Burns Night Supper on 25 January at Walsall’s town centre landmark St Matthew’s Church in St Matthew’s Close - almost a continuation of the centuries-old Church tradition of sanctuary - with readings by Mary Whitehouse and Paul Viles. Tickets cost £10.

The Playhouse opened in 1951 and its 67-year history has seen it stage around 400 productions with the last in the 2017 season, in July, the rather ironically named Touch and Go.

Former members of the Players who have gone on to the professional stage include Jeffrey Holland, best known as Spike in Hi-Di-Hi and Tom Roberts, who has appeared in Blood Brothers in the West End and BBC’s 2point4 Children along with Doctors, Emmerdale and Coronation Street.

Both have given their support to fund raising efforts with Jeffrey Holland, patron of the Players, offering to do two one man shows.

The standard of productions at the Grange is high with attendances strong with regular full houses supported by its 300-strong membership and 50-strong acting pool. The theatre is also home to The Fellowship Players which is also having to find alternative venues with productions for the current season at the Blue Coat C of E Academy, in Birmingham Street.

For more information, offers of help with fundraising, venues and donations, as well as to book tickets for the Burns Night Supper email company.secretary@grangeplayers.co.uk or visit the Grange Players website: https://grangeplayers.co.uk/

Gary Longden and Roger Clarke



Vicki, Margaret and Zayleigh Stevenson. Picture:  Nicola Young

Three generations of Belgrade's panto family

The Belgrade Theatre pantomime is a wonderful Christmas tradition for many families across Coventry and Warwickshire, but for the Stevenson family this year’s production of Cinderella is more special than ever.  

Over the last 26 years, three generations of the Stevenson family have been involved in the Belgrade panto, both on stage and behind the scenes, however this year mother Vicki and daughter Zayleigh will be performing alongside each other for the first time. 

Vicki Stevenson, age 35, will be appearing as part of the professional cast for the first time having performed in the junior chorus in seven different pantomimes at the Belgrade between the ages of  nine and 16. Since then she has gone on to a career in performing arts, appearing in pantomimes across the country, and founded Eloquent Dance Academy in Hinckley 2002 where she is now Principal.

Following in her footsteps is her daughter, Zayleigh Stevenson, age 10, who will be performing on stage alongside her mother for the first time as part of the junior chorus made up of 27 talented young children who successfully auditioned earlier this year. Zayleigh is no stranger to the spotlight having performed in her first pantomime, Dick Whittington, on the Main Stage last Christmas. 

This family’s love of theatre stems back to Grandmother Margaret Stevenson, age 75, who began Chaperoning for the Belgrade pantomime in 1991 and continued every Christmas for 20 years, until she retired in 2011. Margaret is thrilled to see her granddaughter and great granddaughter on stage together for the first time over this festive season. 

She said, “My three girls all went to dance school, then my granddaughter Vicki came along and we knew straight away since she was 18 months old that she was a dancer. She used to love it! Of course now she has her own dance school so I’ve always been involved in dance through Vicki. I’m so, so proud to see that first night with them both on the stage because my late husband always encouraged them and went to see all their dances. It would have been so wonderful if he’d seen the two of them together so it will be very emotional too.”


Tots the stars of new Hippodrome productions

Catch ‘em young seems to be the new motto of Birmingham Hippodrome with a new series of term-time daytime sessions for pre-school youngsters from the theatre’s creative team.

Mondays sees Music Shakers with Fiona Howe which is designed to be an introduction to music and rhythms, with different instruments, song birds, chimes and jolly seaside songs. It runs from 10.15 to 12 noon for children from newborn to four – and of course their parents, grandparents or carers.

Tuesday brings Sing and Sign with Ellie Shaw which is for the same age range and is a fun, relaxed introduction to baby sign language through song and story, startinghippo at 10.30 and ending again at noon.

We went along for Theatre Fun with David Eden which runs on Thursdays from 10.30, where my grandson showed uncharacteristic shyness – apart from riding in the lift, pointing out the lights on the bar and visible dismay when parents stopped for coffee and no hot chocolate appeared for him – but he came around eventually with a confident, enthusiastic goodbye . . . just as the session ended at noon.

This week was out but, as he declared he enjoyed it as we returned home, next week beckons.

The age range here is slightly older, two to four, as there needs to be an element of understanding as children find themselves making animal noises to animate a story, running and stopping on command or with music, making faces that are happy, angry or whatever in a mirror, jumping, singing and generally having fun.

Eden tailors his programme to his charges, and as anyone who has ever tried to control two and three-year olds will know, it can be like herding cats, which means it is very relaxed, with children joining and leaving activities as whims take them, drifting in and out the various activities of mime, movement, stories, even throwing squeezy, spiky balls.

Each of the activities is free for children with parents, grandparents and carers paying a modest £2 each – pay on the day.

It could be just the thing for cold wet, winter days, educational fun.

Roger Clarke


mary top

E′li, E′li, la′ma sa bach tha′ni?

Jean Wilde has given some acclaimed performances at Hall Green Little Theatre, from Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe to Shirley Valentine, and now, like Shirley she is heading for pastures new, opening at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in another one-woman play.

This time she is the eponymous character in Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary based on his 2012 novella, which in turn represents a return to the professional stage for Wilde after a 10-year absence.

Mary is the mother of Jesus but this is not a play about religion, not some theological thesis making points for or against Christianity; it is a play about a mother who has lost a son in the cruellest of ways.

When it comes to hard facts little is really known about the crucifixion of Jesus. We have the accounts in the canonical gospels, references from contemporary historians and records and a number of non-Christian sources so that the fact that it happened is not in doubt.

But as for detail? That is thin on the ground. Two thousand years ago there was no rolling news and brutal executions were commonplace, the crucifixion of a Jewish upstart and, according to the Gospels, a few criminals, would have been a minor, local event in a distant province of the Roman Empire.

Few could have predicted that the execution of the Galilean preacher would spawn the greatest and largest religion on earth with 2.3 billion followers, roughly a third of the world’s population.

Paul’s letters describing Jesus’s death were written a quarter of a century or so after the event, while the first gospel, most scholars agree was by Matthew, was written some 40 years after the crucifixion.

We have names but not the people behind them such as Jesus’s mother Mary. The Roman Catholic church reveres the Virgin Mary, but who was she really, what went through her mind after her son was taken from her not once but twice?

Jean Wilde as Mary

Jean Wilde as Mary

First he was taken by his growing fame as his reputation grew as a preacher, a saviour, travelling Judea billed as the Messiah, the ultimate celebrity while his mother warrants hardly a mention.

Finally her son is taken from her and crucified, with Mary witnessing his death. How does a mother cope with that?

That is the premise of Tóibín's play, a Mary who is not a religious icon surrounded by a halo and angels but a mother whose son had been built up as a religious and political superhero and who suffered a lingering, painful and indescribably brutal death. After 2000 years she has finally been given a voice.

The play brought controversy, a Broadway run closed after two or the scheduled 12 weeks but it did pick up three Tony nominations along the way. Some religious groups saw any play about Mary as blasphemy so to give her a voice, feelings, a say in the life of Jesus brought even more of a religious hullaballoo.

But Tóibín never intended to question religion or faith. He said: "The text, what I wrote and what they're doing, is very serious. It's not as though we're attempting to get involved with the mockery of icons. It's almost that we're recreating or exploring an icon, rather than reducing the iconic. So I would imagine people will respect that. I am serious."

The result is a play which sees Mary as not the Virgin, Mother of God, but as an ordinary, earthly mother, who lost an extraordinary son in a violent state execution. Years later, and cared for by his followers, or as she sees them, a group of misfits, she is still angry, still feeling the pain of her son's death, questioning his divinity, his miracles, his life – all the things that carried him to his inevitable death. There is also humour as she looks back on his life and her situation, along with poignant expressions of a mother’s love, but amid the fury, the sorrow, bitterness and helplessness there remains one single question . . . was it worth it?

Jesus's final words, E′li, E′li, la′ma sa bach tha′ni? My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? could just as easily have been uttered by Mary in her moment of despair. 

Roger Clarke

If you are heading to the Edinburgh fringe festival this year then this Old Joint Stock production runs at C venues – C cubed (Venue 50), Brodie's Close, Lawnmarket from 3 August to 20 August (NOT August 15) at 11am. Running time 90 minutes.


From Miss Saigon to Matilda at the Hippo

Birmingham Hippodrome has held a second season taster to launch its summer and autumn season and into 2018.

Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Birmingham Hippodrome, Fiona Allan and Heart FM Breakfast Presenter, Ed James, welcomed actors, directors and producers from a range of spectacular shows.

Top Hat and Strictly Come Dancing star, Tom Chambers was here to talk about his new show Crazy for You with words and music by George and Ira Gershwin, a big production musical which reunites him with fellow Strictly co-star Caroline Flack. The Show arrives at Birmingham Hippodrome on 24 October.

In a wide ranging talks about the show, being on tour and Strictly, Tom also talked about his start in show business.


Another guest was  Jean-Pierre Van Der Spuy, Associate Director of Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed new production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon.

The West End musical closed last year after a two year run and now that production is set to go on the road with Jean-Pierre promised a griiter, more cinematic production that the more operatically staged tour of more than 10 years ago.

Miss Saigon opens at the Hippodrome on 26 July and runs to 23 September.

Another guest was Paul Kerryson, director of the international hit musical comedy Hairspray which arrives with a new production from 9-14 October. He said: “I’m so thrilled that Hairpsray is coming to the Hippodrome because it’s going to look great on this stage . . . this is not just a bubble gum show – it’s a great show that deals with a lot of important issues. It’s about acceptance rather than triumph over adversity. Tracy gets bullied but she also gets her man, brings her community together and becomes the star of the show. She’s got a big heart, a big voice and big hair!”

He also revealed the search for Tracy is the subject of an ITV documentary with the choice, secret until transmission, a surprising one.

On home ground to discuss the Hippodrome’s forthcoming B-Side Hip-Hop and Summer in Southside festivals was Director of Creative Programmes Graham Callister.

The audience was also treated to a performance by Welsh National Opera’s Natalya Romaniw, accompanied by Bernard Tam on piano. The Hippodrome is a second home to Welsh National Opera and Swansea born soprano Natalya – her surname coming from her Ukranian grandfather who settled in the Principality during the World War II – sang, Un bel dì vedremo, the most famous aria in Madam Butterfly.


The opera opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on June 27 as part of a triple bill, Madam Butterfly 27, 29 and 30 June, Die Fledermaus on 28 June and Der Rosenkavalier on 1 July.

Natalya will return to the Hippodrome on 3 Nov in WNO’s revival of Eugene Onegin when she takes the role of Tatyana in her WNO main scale debut in a four opera visit with Khovanshchina on 31 October, Die Fledermaus, 1 and 4 November, and From The House of the Dead on 2 November.

The panto this year, starring Matts Slack, is Cinderella, opening on 19 december to 28 January next year and 2018 sees the return of Wicked (4-29 April), Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella (6-10 February) and War Horse (10 October – 3 November) and the first tour of the RSC’s brilliant musical of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, Matilda (3 July – 8 Septermber.

For a full programme at Birmingham Hippodrome Click Here.



BIRMINGHAM Repertory Theatre has announced its new season for Autumn and Winter 2016, including three world premières new stagings of classic plays and brilliant stories.

It has also announced a new initiative, Furnace, which furthers The REP’s commitment to making world class theatre with and for people across Birmingham.

Among the highlights is the world première of What Shadows by Chris Hannan, directed by Rep artistic director Roxana Silbert with Ian McDiarmid as Enoch Powel

Other high points include the legendary film and novel, The Exorcist is unleashed on the stage for the first time in the UK and a thrilling, swashbuckling adventure sets sail for Christmas in a new staging of Treasure Island, adapted by Bryony Lavery and directed by Phillip Breen. 

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is given a contemporary spin in a co-production with Leicester Curve, directed by Nikolai Foster while The REP joins forces with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for an epic world première - Cold Calling: The Arctic Project, with music by Nick Powell and text by Anthony Neilson.

The story of Olympic Gold ice-skater and forgotten hero, John Curry, who was born and lived in Acocks Green, comes to life in the world première of Looking For John by Tony Timberlake, directed by Tessa Walker.

Michael Morpurgo’s novel, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, is brought to life by Emma Rice in a co-production with Kneehigh while Love by Alexander Zeldin considers the strains on families who are placed in temporary accommodation in a co-production with the National Theatre.

And booking for Autumn 2017, the National Theatre’s bold and dynamic production of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre ends its UK tour at The REP.


Talking about the programme for the season ahead, Artistic Director Roxana Silbert, said: “We continue to attract fantastic audiences by commissioning the best new plays, writers and directors in the country and hosting the cream of national and international companies and theatre makers. I’m particularly proud to be premiering three plays next season that have local, national and international resonance.

“As we near the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s explosive ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech I’m excited to be working once again with the brilliant Ian McDiarmid for Chris Hannan’s, What Shadows, a moving and timely exploration of the human impact of this most provocative of speeches.

“The season also sees us in a unique collaboration with one of the country’s great orchestras, the CBSO, for composer Nick Powell’s beautiful, haunting observations on loneliness and loss in Cold Calling: The Arctic Project. During this Olympic year, we also shine a light on a quiet hero - Birmingham’s ice-skating champion, John Curry, who was famously ‘outed’ after winning gold at the 1978 Olympics – in Looking For John.

“Nikolai Foster’s fresh and stylish production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest launches the season and Halloween offers a terrifying production of The Exorcist.  We have two outstanding family shows, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s touching novel and Bryony Lavery’s swashbuckling version of Treasure Island, a Christmas treat for all the family.”

Over the next three years, The REP’s new initiative, Furnace will bring together local communities with extraordinary stories to tell and world class artists to create epic experiences of startling quality.

Starting this summer with a large-scale UK wide community project, Furnace will bring theatre to a wider audience, and builds both on The REP’s successful REP Foundry programme for developing emerging theatre talent by giving its graduates the chance to work on large scale international productions and new commissions, while also continuing the theatre’s programme of offering local community members the opportunity to perform on The REP’s stages and beyond.  More details of individual projects within Furnace will be announced in early July.

Roxana Silbert said: “Over the last three years we’ve opened our doors to local emerging artists, writers, directors and theatre companies giving them space and support, so it feels only natural that our next step is to involve the people of Birmingham and the West Midlands in making theatre with them for our stages and elsewhere. We are constantly striving to attract new audiences and widen our appeal and Furnace is an exciting way to open up our building as well as taking theatre to the heart of a range of communities.”

Season Overview:

The Autumn and Winter season in the main auditorium, The HOUSE, opens with a stylish contemporary spin on Oscar Wilde’s classic play, The Importance of Being Earnest (9 – 24 September), in a co-production with Curve, directed by Nikolai Foster. Following this, and visiting The REP the week the Conservative Party conference takes place in Birmingham, is Dead Sheep (26 September – 1 October) by ITV’s Tonight reporter Jonathan Maitland - a play about former chancellor Geoffrey Howe’s savaging of Margaret Thatcher in one of the greatest resignation speeches ever made. Dead Sheep stars Steve Nallon (Spitting Image) as Margaret Thatcher and Graham Seed (The Archers) as Ian Gow.

Acclaimed theatre company, Kneehigh return with an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips (6 – 15 October) in a co-production with The REP and Berkeley Repertory Theatre.  Michael Morpurgo is one of the UK’s most beloved and successful authors whose work includes War Horse, Kensuke’s Kingdom and Private Peaceful. The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips retells Morporgo’s novel about the preparation for the D-Day landings and is directed by Emma Rice.

The Exorcist (21 October – 5 November) is unleashed on the stage at The REP for the first time in the UK. This classic novel and legendary film adaptation terrified a whole generation, and now it is brought to life for a special Halloween season at The REP.  Programmed alongside The Exorcist is Séance by Glen Neath and David Rosenberg (18 – 29 October) – a 15-minute immersive performance that takes place in absolute darkness inside a shipping container outside The REP in Centenary Square.

Following last year’s record-breaking Christmas show, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The REP is set to thrill audiences once again with a swashbuckling voyage to Treasure Island (25 November – 7 January).  Adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavery and featuring newly composed music, director Phillip Breen will bring this timeless classic to The REP’s epic stage. The Christmas season also sees two shows for younger audiences: Room On The Broom (22 December – 8 January) and the ever-popular, The Snowman (11-15 January).


In THE STUDIO, Ian McDiarmid leads the cast as Enoch Powell in the world premiere of What Shadows (28 October – 12 November) by Chris Hannan. Starting with the explosive ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech that he gave at the Midland Hotel, Birmingham in 1967, What Shadows brings to life the community that inspired it and 30 years later, its effects on a woman trying to make sense of her life after her childhood was shattered by the toxic situation that followed.

The REP and the CBSO come together for an epic world premiere: Cold Calling: The Arctic Project (8 – 12 November). Commissioned by The REP from acclaimed composer Nick Powell, and set against a backdrop of beautiful Arctic landscapes, this innovative piece explores love, loneliness and loss. Featuring actress Jan Pearson performing text by Anthony Neilson accompanied by live music from the CBSO and projections from Simon Wainwright, this promises to be a captivating and inspiring live experience.

Love (26 January to 11 February) by REP Associate Director, Alexander Zeldin and his company in a co-production between The REP and the National Theatre considers the bonds of love that keep people together and the strains on those bonds on families who are placed in temporary accommodation.

In 1976, 19 million people watched Birmingham-born ice-skater, John Curry win Olympic Gold. Just hours after his victory, he was “outed” as gay by a German tabloid. Written and performed by Tony Timberlake and directed by The REP’s Associate Director Tessa Walker, Looking For John (15 – 19 November) is a heartfelt and comic story of one man’s obsession with a forgotten icon and his journey to get his hero celebrated once more.

Visiting The REP during the forthcoming season is Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, who make a welcome return following last-year’s Lord of the Flies, with their critically acclaimed staging of Jane Austen’s most beloved-novel, Pride and Prejudice (8 – 12 November). 

Plays visiting The Door during the autumn include Girls by Theresa Ikoko (20 – 24 September) - a fierce new play about three teenage girls kidnapped from Nigeria, and Enda Walsh’s contemporary classic, Disco Pigs (29 September – 1 October) which sees Pig and Runt on their 17th Birthday binge.  Actor Tim Barlow talks about life at 80, memory, hearing and the art of theatre, in Him (6 – 8 October) by writer and theatre-maker Sheila Hill.


Women and Theatre in collaboration with The REP present Starting Out (12-15 October) – a new piece of political theatre that shines a light on the experiences of young women entering the world of work in 2016.  Written by five exceptional female playwrights - Janice Connolly, Charlene James, Lorna Laidlaw, Manjeet Mann and Susie Sillett - and based on research interviews, the plays explore the human stories behind issues such as zero hour contracts.

Sleepwalk Collective bring their latest show, Domestica (17 October) as do Told By An Idiot with Heads Will Roll (1 – 5 November) - a phantasmagoric adventure inspired by the search for El Dorado – the mythical city where rivers ran with gold. Shakespeare, His Wife And The Dog (21 – 23 November) by actor Philip Whitchurch and his wife, Sally Edwards continue The REP’s Shakespeare 400 celebrations. Broken Biscuits (29 November – 3 December) by Tom Wells (writer of Folk which premiered at The REP in April) is a beautiful, laugh-out-loud, coming-of-age story directed by James Grieve of Paines Plough. One of the leading voices in French theatre, Mohamed El Khatib returns to The REP with a beautiful moving portrait of a cleaning lady, I, Corinne Dadat (12 – 13 December). The monthly Cabaret XXL returns (October – December) with the hottest, brashest and most irresistible performers including East End Cabaret, Jonny Woo with Night At The Musicals, Le Gateau Chocolat, Barbara Nice, Dusty Limits and Lucy McCormick.

Looking further ahead and following a critically acclaimed season at the National Theatre, Jane Eyre visits The REP in September 2017. A collaboration between the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic, this innovative re-imagining of Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece is directed by Sally Cookson.

Tickets for the Autumn and Winter Season go on sale to members on Monday 16-05-16 and to the public on Friday 20-05-16..

Box Office: 0121 236 4455 Online Booking: Birmingham-rep.co.uk

Twitter @BirminghamRep | Facebook / Birminghamrep  | Instagram @therepbirmingham


kasper seat 

New mum Shona Jorkowski returned to Birmingham Hippodrome yesterday, just over four weeks after her waters dramatically broke during a performance of Mary Poppins at Birmingham Hippodrome.  

Visiting with new born baby Kasper, delighted sisters Seren and Cally and her mother-in-law Angie, Hippodrome staff surprised Shona by unveiling a new seat plaque dedicated to her son, which reads Baby Kasper 16.3.16 Practically Perfect in Every Way.

Mary Poppins cast members Zizi Strallen (Mary Poppins) and Matt Lee (Bert)kasper and fans joined Shona and family for photos, along with Front of House staff Jonathan Thompson and Kirsty McTighe who were there on the night to help.

Shona & Kasper are pictured with (from left the right) Kirsty McTighe (Hippodrome), Angie Hahmer (Mother in law), Zizi Strallen (Mary Poppins), Cally (8), Seren (10), Jonathan Thompson (Hippodrome) and Matt Lee (Bert). Pictures Simon Hadley

Shona said: “We booked the show last year, not long after finding out I was pregnant. The date was close to my due date but as I went overdue with both of my daughters I wasn't worried.

“A few days beforehand I was getting niggles but nothing to signal I was close to giving birth. I remarked to Angie, my mother-in-law and my daughters that the baby was being very active during the songs, joking how big a fan of Mary Poppins they were. The second act started and I was looking forward to “Step in Time" however just as the scene started I all of a sudden felt a pop and realised my waters had gone!

“The usher was very helpful and we were soon joined by Front of House staff Jonathan and Craig. I started to feel very shaky and they were brilliant, making me a cup of tea and providing a snack.

“My contractions were just starting and they helped me backstage to contact my husband and midwife. They kept my mind off it all and I appreciate their help and support and their name suggestions of ‘Mary’ or ‘Bert’. They stayed with me until my husband arrived and waved us off.

“We welcomed our baby boy Kasper Jorkowski into the world on 16 March and in his memory box is a programme and poster from the show and we have such a great story to tell. Everyone at the Hippodrome was very supportive and their kindness will stay with us.”

Birmingham Hippodrome’s Head of Customer Service Jonathan Thompson added:“It was hot water and towels at the ready in the office, just in case Kasper decided to arrive during the show, but thankfully this was only needed to make a cup of sweet tea! It’s such a pleasure to welcome all the family back today and surprise them with the seat plaque dedicated to Kasper”.


let it be top

Let it Be

Birmingham Hippodrome

Monday 25 April - Saturday 30 April 

THERE is no need to explain the musical origins of Let It Be which opens at Birmingham Hippodrome this month.

The Beatles were and, 46 years after the acrimonious break-up, still are a pop phenomenon with a huge bac catalogue of hits and an influence which spans the generations.

The musical based on their career opened in the West End in September 2012 and producer Jeff Parry has been talking about the show – starting with his reaction to the verdict of the first night audience.

He said: “It was quite surreal. A Canadian producing a show about England’s greatest band – I’m still trenying to get to grips with that even to this day. We have taken the show across the world but were told that the West End audiences may not get on their feet, but the critics were very wrong. Just as in Tokyo, New York and Moscow, the London crowd reacted in a similar fashion demonstrating the universal appeal of The Beatles.”

This will be the show’s biggest tour to date. Did you ever believe that almost two million Beatles fans would see the show?

We launched the first phase of the production as Rain in 2004 so audience figures are rapidly closing in on two million. It really is incredible when you stop and take a moment to think about it. The show sells on word of mouth – there are obviously a lot of mouths telling their friends to see Let It Be.

Would you describe Let it be as a family show?

What really excites me is seeing three generations at the show. It is so encouraging and heartwarming to see younger generations discovering the music. And hopefully we are doing our bit to create new Beatle fans and keep the magic of the band strong for years to come.   

The Beatles have such a colourful and exciting history, how did you choose the specific eras and songs to feature in the show?

They changed as did the times. It seems like a lot happened in the Sixties from post war England and The Cavern Club, Hard Days Night, Shea Stadium, Sergeant Pepper and the Magical Mystery Tour. Through to grown men who did not need costumes to relate to the changing times. What makes The Beatles so special, aside from their songs, is that they stayed ahead of the curve and were totally representative of the changing times and themselves. No other group came anywhere near being able to do that so successfully in my mind.

How difficult is it finding the right cast, was it an international search for talent?

This is an extremely difficult part of producing the show. The performers have to be able to play their instrument without looking down and be able to sing, it’s not an easy task by any means. Our litmus test is simple – to find the right musicians who don’t necessarily have to look exactly the part. We should be able to close our eyes and hear The Beatles and I think that has been our magic and contributed to the success of the show. A perfect example is that when we cast in London looking for Brits to take the slots, our best Paul was from Italy who flew himself in to audition. Never in a million years did we think that a right-handed Italian would take on the role of Paul McCartney, but when he played and sang he absolutely nailed it. He has since learned English and to play left-handed to demonstrate how committed he is to the role. I think that putting this cast together is like putting a football team together – you strive to have the best players on the field as the fans want to see the best.

The ethos of the show is a celebration of the music of The Beatles? Is that a conscious decision to make the show more of a concert?

 People really do seem to like the fact that they don’t have to sit through a story to hear the songs in context to the archival footage we use to depict the times. It’s quite a refreshing take on a show.

How has the show been developed from its early days?

I started the original show Rain in 2004 using a band from Reno Nevada. The first show was in a parking lot outside of radio station in my hometown of Calgary Albert, Canada. The show started as five guys (one on keys) playing on a basic stage with some video. As the show became popular in North America we added more to the production in the hope the show would be accepted by theatre audiences. In 2010 LET IT BE opened on Broadway – this ultimately meant that we had arrived at that level. It was a very special moment indeed.

Vintage tv sets show original band footage, plus there are live black and white video feeds to cleverly make audiences feel like they’re actually back in the heyday of Beatlemania first time round. What was the idea for those?

The original concept for using footage came from the show ‘Beatlemania’, which I believe originated in the late Seventies. That show ceased to exist but their concept did not. We took it a few steps further but wanted to maintain the era at the same time by using black and white footage. It’s proved extremely popular and a real highlight fans.

Usually frowned upon in theatres, audiences are actively encouraged to take photographs and video to share on social media. It's unique for a theatre show.

We are all products of the internet era. As far as I am concerned, if a fan wants to take a picture or video of the show and share it with their friends then that is excellent exposure for the show. Word of mouth goes such a long way and the best form of marketing, so allowing pictures and video only adds to the overall experibeatlesence. Let the audience help sell the show.

There is a fantastic rapport between the cast and audience. From the outset, fans are encouraged to sing and dance. It's very interactive and generates a lively atmosphere. Again this is quite different for a theatre show.

People always ask, what makes the show special? My take is simply that I can almost guarantee that you will feel better about yourself at the end of the evening than how you did when you arrived. It is impossible to leave the theatre without feeling good. I have a distinct memory from Chicago of a couple who were in their fifties or sixties, who were up on their feet singing along to Hey Jude like they were actually seeing The Beatles. They were so taken up in the moment and gave each other a big hug at the end – and it looked like they hadn’t done that much lately. It was like they had been transported back to their youth and naivety of just having fun. It was a very special moment. We’ve also had a promoter from New Zealand want the show merely because he witnessed people leaving our show in the West End laughing and singing Beatles songs. He wanted to share that experience with his audiences too.

Favourite beatles song and why?

 This can change with my mood. Sometimes I want to hear, I Want To Hold Your Hand. While other times it would be Within Without You. But special songs to me are ones like, I’ll Be Back, which allows for three-piece harmony on the verses. The blend of their voices creates a very special unique sound.

With such an extensive back catalogue, how did you choose the show’s set list?

People want to hear the really popular songs and I strongly believe we have accomplished that, although we get asked all the time if we can add even more.

You got your first Beatles' record as an 11-year-old in canada. What impact did it have on you?

My Dad’s secretary gave me the first album featuring Twist and Shout and She Loves You. It definitely changed my life as I became a youngster who really started listening to music as a result. I then bought every Beatles album as it was released and also became a fan of The Kinks and The Rolling Stones before venturing into other music genres. This led to me choosing a career in music, and I’ve been a promoter and producer since 1980, ironically the year John was assassinated. I have no idea where my career path may have gone if I had not heard that first album. Sometimes it really scares me to think that I could have become a banker!

Did you ever see The Beatles perform live?

No, I was too young unfortunately.

Are your family Beatles fans?

Yes they have to be! My family has seen the LET IT BE at least 50 times. They now need a little persuasion after living and breathing the show with me for over a decade. However once the lights go down and the show comes to life, they are soon on their feet just like the rest of the audience. I truly relish that sight, seeing my own family enjoying the music of my heroes as much as I do.  

Where were you when you heard the news about John Lennon’s death?

I had just started booking bands in clubs and was heading to a gig that night. I’d been for a swim at the local YMCA. It was a rainy night in Calgary, not typical for Calgary at that time of year. I got into my Honda Civic to head to the club and heard the news and went totally numb. I travelled to the club where I was told the band could not perform after they had heard the news. It was such a shock and a tragic loss.

The Beatles changed music and culture, inspiring a lot of today's artistes. What

Impact do they still have on your life?

Their music is something which has been with me all of my life and, by some coincidence, has been the road map to my career. I never intended to create a show about The Beatles, in fact, I wanted to

avoid that as I thought their music was too important for a ‘tribute’ show. I had seen many and usually left at the interval. The fact that Let it be has risen above the masses to such a great degree is something which I still cannot explain but supports destiny. And it makes me feel extremely proud of what we have created. I have no idea what things are left in store for the balance of my life as I’m now aged 60, but I feel that The Beatles will still be involved whether intended or not. As opposed to most music, I can honestly say I never get bored of their music although I am careful to only listen to it on occasion, somewhat like enjoying a fine wine. You can drink the cheaper stuff daily – but you only open the premium wines on very special occasions.


William Bracewell

William Bracewell as the Sun King, Louis XIV in the world premiere of The King Dances. Picture: Bill Cooper.

BIRMINGHAM Royal Ballet Soloist William Bracewell has won the Outstanding Male Performance (Classical) award in the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards 2015. William was nominated for his role as King Louis XIV of France in David Bintley’s one-act ballet The King Dances, which received its world premiere at Birmingham Hippodrome in June 2015.

Bintley created the role of King Louis XIV on William, a role which saw him take on the character of the 14-year-old King of France.

William, 24, has been performing with Birmingham Royal Ballet since 2010 and in that time has danced lead roles throughout the UK and abroad in ballets such as The Dream, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Prince of the Pagodas.

He is currently rehearsing for the role of Romeo in Kenneth Macmillan’s production of Romeo and Juliet, which opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on Wednesday 24 February before embarking on a UK tour.

At the same awards ceremony Birmingham based Rosie Kay Dance Company was named Best Independent Company. The award recognizes the hard work that goes into creating dance work independently, and celebrates the company’s talent whilst supporting its growth. RKDC was also nominated in the Best Modern Choreography category for the critically-acclaimed 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline.

5 Soldiers will tour to five venues in Scotland  this year while with support from Arts Council England  the company will create and tour a new double bill of duets in autumn 2016. Company dancers Shelley Eva Haden and Oliver Russell will recreate the acclaimed, award-winning Double Points: K and Rosie Kay will choreograph the new duet Motel inspired by the work of visual artists Huntley Muir.

Double Points: K is is a pure abstract study in form, vocabulary and stamina. Motel is a slick, sexy, dark and entertaining duet that explores the concept of hotel rooms, what goes on in them, and what ghosts are left behind. The double bill will premiere at mac birmingham on 9 September 2016 and will tour in autumn 2016 (dates to be announced).


Happy New Year for Lichfield Garrick

THE New Year was rung in in style with a bumper donation for the We Love Lichfield Fund, as Lichfield Garrick’s pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, clocked up a box office record with more than 27,000 seeing the show.

Collections and donations at the Garrick raised £6,063 for the fund, in what will be one of the biggest organisational donations in the its history.

The fund was mentioned on stage in each Jack and the Beanstalk performance to help raise awareness, and the staff and cast collected donations throughout the theatre after the performance.

Karen Foster, Lichfield Garrick’s Executive Director, said: “During the Garrick’s pantomime season, we are proud to have supported We Love Lichfield.Our staff, as part of our commitment to our community, have raised £6,063 for the fund. We are delighted that this will enable We Love Lichfield to reach many community groups and benefit a wide range of local good causes.Our thanks to audience members for their generosity.”

This is the second year the Lichfield Garrick and We Love Lichfield have worked together during the Christmas season, having raised just over £3,000 in 2014’s pantomime, Cinderella. It’s the perfect start to the new year for the fund, which distributes grants of up to £1,000 to voluntary groups and good causes across Lichfield District.

Simon Price, Patron of We Love Lichfield, said: "One word. Wow.This is one of the biggest amounts we have received and I am so grateful to the panto's performers and the Garrick staff for casttheir hard work in raising this amount."

Julian Fisher, from We Love Lichfield, said: "And it isn't just amount the money raised.We had a special mention in every panto performance which spread the word about the work of the Fund across the district."

Writer Ian Adams as Dame Mary Trott, Graham Cole as Hemlock and Jo-Anne Stevens as Princess Jill and Dominic Griffin as Jack Trott.

Produced by Artistic Director, Tim Ford, Jack and the Beanstalk has been widely regarded as the best pantomime the Lichfield Garrick has produced and has been thoroughly enjoyed by its patrons. In what will be Ian Adams’ (Dame Trott) last pantomime at the Lichfield Garrick, Tim Ford, said: “We have had a fantastic Christmas this year at the Lichfield Garrick. I am incredibly proud of the whole team and I thoroughly enjoyed making the show with Ian. We are truly grateful to him for all the hard work, energy and passion that he has given to the Lichfield Garrick over the last few years and he will be missed. However I am delighted that we already have plans in place to ensure that Christmas 2016 will be another fantastic show.”

There is no rest for the team who put together Lichfield Garrick’s pantomime as preparations have already begun for 2016’s enchanting production, Sleeping Beauty – The Pantomime of Dreams.

The theatre will be announcing more information on this year’s pantomime in the spring with early bird tickets now on sale from the Garrick Box Office on 01543 412121 or www.lichfieldgarrick.com


nw street

New Street awakes after a night of bombing

SEVENTY five years ago Birmingham found itself a target for the Luftwaffe.

Five nights after the devastating raid on Coventry in 194installation0 it was Birmingham’s turn with three consecutive nights of heavy raids.

The first raid had happened in August that year, a single aircraft dropped its bombs on Erdington.

 One person died and six were injured. There were other small raids on factories in the city of a thousand trades but on November 19 came the first concerted heavy raid – The Birmingham Blitz had started with around 440 heavy bombers.

Between the 19th and 28th of that month around 800 people were killed and 2,345 injured, with 20,000 civilians made homeless.

The following night 200 bombers attacked and the third night the raids lasted for 11 hours. The last raid on Birmingham was April 23, St George’s Day, in 1943.

The art installation around The Tree of Life memorial by St Martin's Church in the Bull Ring markets

In three and a half years of bombing an estimated 1,852 tons of bombs fell on Birmingham making it the third most bombed city in Britain behind London and Liverpool.

In all 2,241 people died with 6,692 injured, while 12,391 homes, 302 factories and 239 other buildings were destroyed with many more damaged.

On 8 October 2005 a memorial sculpture, named The Tree of Life sculpted by Lorenzo Quinn, dedicated to the victims of the Blitz, was unveiled adjacent to St Martin’s Church.

Now a a special art installation, 2,241 Reasons To Remember: The Birmingham Blitz, commemorates the 75th anniversary of the first devastating air raid with VIP guests and children from Birmingham schools completing the instalation.

Created by Birmingham Hippodrome and award-winning arts organisation, Metro-Boulot-Dodo, it is a illuminated multimedia art installation.

2.241 Reasons to Remember has been funded by Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, Birmingham City Council, Southside BID and The Limoges Trust, with support from Birmingham City Council.



Freya Sutton, who toured as Tracy Turnblad in 2013, is back as the unlikely hero in a completly new 2015/16 production of Hairspray.

IT’s going to be back to the future come December when The New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham takes us back to 1962 Baltimore with a completely new production of hit musical Hairspray.

And to give a taste of what is to come the leads and many of the cast came up from Malvern, where they were appearing, put on a special preview show at the Alex and from the audience reaction, Birmingham is in for a festive treat.

The show will see Freya Sutton back in the star roll of Tracy Turnblad, the girl with a big heart . . . and pretty well everything else, the role she made her own in the UK and Ireland tour of the previous production in 2013.

Delighting in playing the baddie, Velma Von Tussle, the racist and pretty well every other disparaging ist word you can think off, is Claire Sweeney, who has become an in demand musical theatre star since leaving Brookside 12 years ago.

Her CV is packed with top shows including the likes of Chicago, Dirty Dancing, Legally Blonde, Guys and Dolls, and, a well a critically well-received tour of Educating Rita with Matthew Kelly.

Set against her is the formidable Edna Turnblad played by 6ft 4in – and that’s without the high heels - Tony Maudsley, best known as hairdresser Kenneth in Benidorm, and returning to the stage for the first time in a dozen years in a career which has been firmly lodged in TV and film with roles from Harry Potter to BBC’s Ordinary Lies earlier this year.

His . . . her . . . Edna’s husband is the somewhat less than 6ft 4in Peter Duncan, ex-Chief Scout, writer and director of pantomimes, actor, including star of Barnum, yet in a long career he is perhaps best known as a presenter of Blue Peter in the early 1980s or the daredevil (posh for mad as a hatter) exploits in Duncan Dares.

Yet it is easy to forget that when the young Duncan was starting out he spent two years working in the National Theatre Company under Sir Laurence Olivier at The Old Vic, working with some of the finest acting and directing talent of his generation.

Meanwhile loudest, by a long way, is Brenda Edwards, and her magnificnt voice with its lovely shades and incredible power. Since appearing in X-factor she has become a musical comedy goto whenever a soul, R&B or gospel singer is needed which has taken her into Chicago, Carmen Jones and We Will Rock You and now she puts some real, old fashioned wellie into Motormouth Maybelle with one of the highlights of Hairspray Edwards’ emotional rendition of I Know Where I've Been, which cuts through the froth and fluff to bring the serious note to the heart of the story, the call to end racial discrimination and the battle for civil rights in the USA with the likes of Martin Luther King Jnr, and folksingers such as Joan Baez and Pete Seager. It is a poignant moment.

Edwards also has a parallel career as a singer and her debut album, Bring it Back, recorded with her band, is a self-penned soul album apart from one Queen track, Another One Bites the Dust.

This new production is directed by Paul Kerryson, former artistic director of the renowned Curve Theatre in Leicester, who has a wealth of experience in musical theatre while choreography is by the equally experienced Drew McOnie with new musical arrangements from musical director Ben Atkinso, who was md on the recent tour of Oklahoma!

Hairspray dances into The New Alexandra Theatre on 14 December 14 and runs over Christmas and New Year to 2 January, 2016.

Roger Clarke

Review at Malvern

Book at the Alex




SMASH hit musical Billy Elliot has announced its much awaited first tour of the UK and will be dancing into Birmingham Hippodrome for an eight week run in March 2016.

The show is based on the 2000 film written by Lee Hall. The music for the stage show was written by Elton John with Hall adapting his screenplay and writing the lyrics while the film’s director and choreographer, Stephen Daldry and Peter Darling carried on their roles on stage.

Set in the coalfields of County Durham amid the social devastation of the miner’s strike of 1984-85, the musical tells the story of Billy, a young lad who has to stay behind after a boxing class and discovers another world in a ballet class and decides to trade boxing for ballet.

With ballet hardly seen as a natural progression, much less a profession, for a miner’s son from the sweat and grime of the Durham coalfields, Billy’s journey is never going to be easy especially amid what had become a fight to the death between Margaret Thatcher’ government and not just the National Union of Mineworkers and but the whole mining industry.

The last deep coal mine in Britain, Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire, is scheduled to close in December this year – 60 years ago we had more than 1,300 deep mines.

With the miners battling for their future Billy had his own battle fighting for his in a musical which mixes laughter and tears.

The show has been seen by a staggering 10 million people around the world and picked up more than 80 awards, including 10 Tony awards on Broadway.

Tickets for Billy Elliot at the Hippodrome will go on sale from April 2016 and there will be an advance priority booking period for Birmingham Hippodrome Friends.



bar head

new bar

BIRMINGHAM’S latest swish bar has opened in the most unlikely of places – the New Alexandra Theatre which has had its old, dated front of house transformed by a £250,000 remodelling into a chic, spacious, piano bar.

The new bar, complete with speciality cocktails, wines and champagne,  also provides a touch of elegance form a past age with, as the name would suggest, a baby grand piano and pianist.

The bar, converting two public areas on different levels to a single, stylish open space, brings investment in the theatre to more than £1 million since Ambassador Theatre Group bought former owner Live Nation’s portfolio of 16 theatres in 2009 – and General Manager of the Theatre, Andrew Lister promised there is more to come.

Once ATG had incorporated the newly acquired theatres into its own portfolio it set about planning refurbishments and restorations and Mr Lister said: “Since 2013, over £1million has been spent on the New Alexandra Theatre as part of ATG’s ongoing investment to ensure we can continue to offer a World Class theatre experience in the heart of England.

“As one of the leading venues in Birmingham city centre, I am sure our customers will greatly welcome these ongoing developments. We look forward to unveiling the new face of the New Alexandra Theatre to you very soon.”

The investment has seen new seats and carpets in both the stalls and dress circle using ProBax technology which provides more comfort in a design which has also seen a significant increase in legroom. The same improvements are planned for the Grand Circle.

The toilet facilities in the dress circle have also been refurbished and provided with extra capacity. The box office has been redesigned to make it more user friendly and accessibility for wheelchair users at the Easy Access entrance in Station Street has been improved.small bar

Other changes are less obvious such as a redesigned orchestra pit which means it can be removed allowing extra rows of seats when it is not needed bring artists and audience closer together, or can be extended to two different sizes depending upon the numbers in an orchestra.

Other improvements are unseen and will go unnoticed but will help enhance performances with a new sound desk and improvements to the flying system which allows scenery an props to . . . fly, vanishing to or appearing from high above the stage.

The smaller bar in what was the general lounge area

The Alex has 53 flying bars each able to lift 250kg, 13.25 tonnes in total, or just over 13 tons in old money.

There has also been a new fire alarm system

ATG’s ongoing refurbishment and modernisation is transforming a theatre which was going through the doldrums after its days under the Apollo Leisure Group ended, days when the likes of Oliver! and Les Misérables appeared and its acclaimed production of West Side Story went on to a successful run in the West End.

And those days could be returning with a whole host of shows lining up including The Shawshamk Redemption starring Ian Kelsey and Patrick Robinson which opens on Monday, 28 September.

There is also a £2.5 million production of Guys and Dolls opening on Tuesday 24, November, starring Sophie Thompson, David Haig and Gavin Spokes and with choreography by Cuban ballet superstar Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright (Singin’ in the rain, Barnum), which arrives in Birmingham on its way to the West End.

The good times are coming back which is good for theatre and the city and we can all drink to that – and listen to the piano at the same time.



The ins and outs of ballet

With the 2014-15 season now ended with the final performance of David Bintley’s Silvia, Birmingham Royal Ballet has announced promotions, comings and goings for next season.

American dancer Mathias Dingman, (pictured) who played Eros on the opening night of Sylvia, is promoted from First Soloist to Principal.dingman

Céline Gittens is promoted from Soloist to First Soloist.

Yvette Knight is promoted from First Artist to Soloist.

Karla Doorbar is promoted from Artist to First Artist.

Miki Mizutani is promoted from Artist to First Artist.

Lewis Turner is promoted from Artist to First Artist.

The following dancers will join the company:

Letícia Dias Domingues from Brazil, graduate of the Royal Ballet School, will join as an Artist.

Miko Fogarty from London, graduate of the Indiana Ballet Conservatory, will join as an Artist on a one-year contract.

Beatrice Parma from Italy will join as an Artist from Turkish State Opera and Ballet.

Rachele Pizzillo from Italy, graduate of the Royal Ballet School, will join as an Artist.

Brooke Ray from New Zealand, graduate of Royal Ballet School, will join as an Artist.

Mitsuru Ito from Japan will join as an Artist on a one-year scholarship as a Prix de Lausanne prize winner.

The following dancers leave the company:

Natasha Oughtred leaves Birmingham Royal Ballet after eight years with the Company, six of those years as a Principal. Natasha recently became a mum and has chosen to retire from ballet.

Benjamin Soerel leaves Birmingham Royal Ballet after six years with the Company. Benjamin is returning to the Netherlands to study for a degree in Physiotherapy at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

Lorena Agramonte leaves Birmingham Royal Ballet after a year with the Company.

Laetitia Lo Sardo left Birmingham Royal Ballet earlier this season after seventeen years with the Company, two of those years as a First Soloist. Laetitia is now teaching ballet and enjoying life as a mum.

Sofia Rubio Robles left Birmingham Royal Ballet earlier this season. Sofia has returned to Gran Canaria.

The 2015-16 season opens with Swan Lake, first at The Lowry in Manchester on Wednesday 23 September before BRB return home with Sir Peter Wright’s stunning, internationally renowned production  from 28 September to 6 October.



The lady of the dance

Jan Teo has been appointed as chief executive of Birmingham Royal Ballet after serving on the BRB board for the past twJan Teoo years.

She takes over from Chris Barron, who was appointed in 2005 and announced last year that he would be standing down at the end of the current season. He was awarded an OBE in the latest Queen’s birthday honours for services to arts administration. 

Ms. Teo joined Deutsche Bank as a Director in 2009, heading up the Change and Infrastructure Group in Birmingham and became Chief Operating Officer for Deutsche Bank’s European Service Centres in early 2011.

She has also worked for Legal and General, Barclays Bank, RAC Motoring Services, Lex Transfleet and the Fraikin Group. 

She joined the BRB board in 2013, and the Company’s Finance and General Purposes Committee in 2014 and she is also a director of the Birmingham Museums Trust, where she chairs the Finance and Operations Committee.

She has played an important part in the annual Deutsche Bank Creative Awards and the Women in European Business diversity group. She also sits on a steering group of Birmingham’s Creative Partnership Board looking at alternative funding models for arts and creative businesses.  

Jan Teo said: “I am delighted to combine my corporate skills with a personal and lifelong passion for the arts and cultural pursuits, and am looking forward to working with the immensely talented and dedicated team at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Having been a member of the Board, I have had the privilege of getting to know the Chair and the Company well, and vice versa. It is a double honour to be following Chris Barron and all his achievements in the role of Chief Executive and to be working toward the future alongside David Bintley.”


Coronation of the Sun King

carmina burana

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in a scene from Carmina Burana. Picture: Bill Cooper.

DAVID Bintley celebrates his 20 years as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet tomorrow with the world premiere of his latest ballet, The King Dances.

This is a re-imaging of the origins of ballet through the eyes of 14-year-old Louis XIV, who in 1653, danced the role of Apollo, the Sun God in Le Ballet de la Nuit, a role which earned him the sobriquet The Sun King for his 72 year and 110 day reign, the longest by any major European monarch

The ballet was remarkable in many ways by modern standards, not least in it lasting 12 hours, from sundown until morning, and it consisted of a staggering 45 dances with the young Louis, makinlouis XIVg his debut in court, in five of them. The most famous dance saw him as the Sun King.

These days, occasionally, you are unlucky enough to come across a production, not from BRB I hasten to add, which just seems to last 12 hours.

Bintley explores the events  surrounding the King’s passion for ballet at its very beginnings when men were, quite literally, the kings of dance. 

Tony Award winning designer Katrina Lindsay has created a world full of Kings, werewolves, witches and demons with twenty three wigs, nearly fifty brand-new period costumes and ten specially sculpted and shaped masks. 

Louis XIV as Apollo, the Sun God, in Jean-Baptiste Lully's Le Ballet de la Nuit, in 1653.

Inspired by Louis’ epithet, light plays a crucial part in Bintley's vision for the piece created alongside Olivier Award winning lighting designer Peter Mumford.

The pair recently collaborated on the critically acclaimed E=mc², Faster which was created to celebrate the 2012 Olympics and also Carmina Burana which will form the second part the summer season’s double bill.

The production will also be the focus of a BBC Four documentary due to air in early September where David Bintley will retrace the steps of Louis XIV in locations around France with cameras going backstage during the creation of The King Dances. The programme will also feature a full screening of the production.

Louis was no absolute monarch using, or abusing his position and power, merely to indulge his passion for dance. The equivalent of the boy who owned the ball taking all the throw-ins, penalties and free kicks.

The Sun King performed 80 roles in 40 major ballets, which is approaching the realms of a professional dancer. The roles includes characters in Molière's comédies-ballets as well as lead roles which were suitably royal or godlike to be fitting for an absolute monarch but it seems his abilities and flair for dance were much admired beyond court sycophancy indicating he was indeed a talented performer.

The total number of performances Louis gave along with the diversity of his roles also are indicative that he had a feel for not only dance but the arts in general, supporting writers, artists and musicians as well and transformed a hunting lodge into the magnificent and opulent Palace of Versailles.

He supported public works in Paris, replacing city walls with tree lined boulevards, creating a police force installing street lighting and founding the Hôtel des Invalides, which still cares for old and infirm soldiers today.

The second piece in the double bill tops and tails Bintley’s tenure at BRB with his first ballet for the company, from 1995, set to German composer Carl Orff’s dramatic cantata based on a collection of 24 mediaeval poems in Latin, Middle High German and old French covering subjects such as the fickleness of fate, fortune, love and the coming of spring, as well as the perils and pleasures of eating, drinking, making merry and lust – which is seems was a typical night out then as now.

This is a huge work with not only a large cast of dancers but the Royal Ballet Sinfonia are joined by Birmingham’s Ex Cathedra. O Fortuna, the opening and closing poem has appeared as a theme in too many ads, films and TV programmes to mention.

It has been described as “the most overused piece of music in film history” and Scott Harper, a human rights and armed conflict lawyer and contributor to Harper’s Magazine, said that its over-popularisation had detracted from its effect and its use "in movies and commercials, often as a jingle, detached in any meaningful way from its powerful message."

Bintley’s commanding ballet with full orchestra and choir brings the piece back into its powerful context, making the message clear again.

BRB then perform Sylvia, another Bintley ballet with music by Léo Delibes, the composer of Coppélia, the following week. On hearing Delibes score Tchaikovsky wrote that his own music for Swan Lake was ‘poor stuff’ in comparison. High praise indeed.

The King Dances and Carina Burana opens on Wednesday, 17 June and runs to Saturday, 20 June BOOK

Sylvia runs from Wednesday, 24 June to Saturday 27, June. BOOK

Roger Clarke




Stars announced for panto

BIRMINGHAM Hippodrome has announced its line-up for this year’s pantomime, Aladdin, which sees the return of Matt Slack, Julian Clary and Andrew Ryan – Oh yes it does!– and Marti Pellow as the baddy, Abanazar.

The panto also stars Lee Mead, winner of BBC TV’s Any Dream Will Do in 2007, who plays Aladdin.

Matt Slack, a panto favourite with his jokes and physical humour, will be appeamarti pellowring in his third consecutive Hippodrome panto in his 16th year with producers Qdos Entertainment. He will be playing Aladdin’s brother Wishee Washee.

Their mother is Widow Twanky, one of the great dames of panto, played by Andrew Ryan in his 30th panto and 25th as a dame. Ryan played the Dame, Mrs Crusoe, in Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates in 2012.

Julian Clary, comedian, actor, novelist, children’s writer, entertainer and seasoned panto star was in Dick Whittington at the Hippodrome in 2010 and was up the road at Wolverhampton as Dandini in Cinderella at the Grand last year. He will be playing the Spirit of the Ring.

Marti Pellow, who will b playing the traditional panto baddy, Abanazar. Picture: Simon Fowler

The show will have its usual special effects and is promising a spectacular 3D magic carpet ride.

Michael Harrison, who has directed the record-breaking Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime for the last four years, said: “I am delighted that Marti, Julian, Lee, Matt and Andrew are starring in Birmingham’s favourite pantomime. Each member of our stellar cast is hugely talented and, combined with the special effects, comedy and top-drawer production values, Aladdin promises to be another unmissable Christmas show at Birmingham Hippodrome, the home of pantomime.”

Chief Executive of Birmingham Hippodrome Stuart Griffiths said: “The hugely successful pantomime team of Qdos Entertainment and Michael Harrison are bringing back another terrific family show.  The pantomime is already selling fast so make tickets to Aladdin one of your three wishes this Christmas!”

Aladdin runs at Birmingham Hippodrome from Saturday 19 December until Sunday 31 January 2016. Tickets are on sale now priced from £14 and can be booked online at www.birminghamhippodrome.com or by calling 0844 338 5000.

Performance times vary please enquire when booking. Sunday performances available. 5% transaction charge applies (excl. cash sales in person) postage from £1. Phone calls from 5p per minute.  Prices and discounting subject to change.



Mary flying into Brum

The multi award-winning musical Mary Poppins will be flying back to Birmingham Hippodrome  next year.

Cameron Mackintosh said “It’s hard to believe that it is already 11 years since Mary Poppins first landed on the London stage. My goodness . . . time flies even faster than our beloved Nanny! I’m delighted to be bringing her back to Birmingham Hippodrome, one of my favourite theatres, after spreading her magic around the world.

“Since we originally staged the production we have found even more magical ways to stage this timeless tale and I’m sure you will find our new Mary practically perfect in every way”.

The magical story of the world’s favourite Nanny arriving on Cherry Tree Lane has been triumphantly and spectacularly brought to the stage with dazzling choreography, incredible effects and unforgettable songs. The stage version of Mary Poppins is adapted from the wonderful stories by PL Travers and the much loved Walt Disney film.

The show runs from Wednesday 9 March to Saturday, 26 April next year and tickets from £25-£60 are available from www.birminghamhippodrome.com or telephone 0844 338 5000.




New boss for Hippodrome

FIONA Allan, chief executive of the acclaimed Curve Theatre in Leicester, has been appointed the new CEO of Birmingham Hippodrome and will take up her new role in the autumn.

Australian-born Allan takes over from Stuart Griffiths who is leaving in July to join ATG, the Ambassador Theatre Group.

A board member of both UK Theatre and Dance Consortium UK Ltd she has been chief executive at the Curve since 2011 during which time it has had a growing reputation for both its own and co-productions as well as the expansion of its conference and events business and the development of community and learning programmes.

Prior to that she was the inaugural Artistic Director at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff from 2004 and brings not only a wealth of experience in Britain but also from Australia to her role at the Hippodrome.

In the 1990s she was Artistic Administrator for the Australian Youth Orchestra, including a tour of Europe, and with a Churchill Followship spent time as artistic liason Fiona Allanwith the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Back to Australia and she was Major Events Producer and Head of Programming at Sydney Opera House from 1998 to 2001, a key role with the eyes of the world on the city during the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

She lectured at the University of Technology in Sydney as she completed an MBA before becoming Chief Executive of internationally renowned Sydney Film Festival where she oversaw a 40 per cent increase in attendance.

Fiona Allan, the new CEO of Birmingham Hippodrome

Announcing the appointment, Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust Chair, John Crabtree said: “We are delighted that Fiona has agreed to join us at such an exciting time in our continued growth. Our diverse programme and loyal audiences, our fantastically engaged education and community programmes, and our commitment to world-class standards in all that we do puts us in the perfect position to achieve future ambitions with like-minded partners under Fiona’s leadership.

“With my fellow Trustees and the whole team at the Hippodrome, I look forward to working with Fiona as we enter a new phase in our history.”

Allan said: “I could not be more thrilled to be joining the brilliant team at Birmingham Hippodrome at this exciting moment in the venue’s journey.

“It’s a nationally acclaimed organisation with infinite potential that has achieved so much under Stuart Griffiths in recent years, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be part of its, and Birmingham’s, future.

“At the same time, after an extraordinary four years at Curve, it is with sadness that I say goodbye to the many wonderful friends and colleagues I have made here. I leave in the knowledge that the organisation is in terrific shape, and that Artistic Director Nikolai Foster has exciting plans for further developing its reputation as a producing powerhouse.”

Birmingham Hippodrome enjoyed record-breaking admissions last year with more than 625,000 paying customers and along with its varied programme, including the world’s biggest Panto, is a second home for Welsh National Opera and is home to Birmingham Royal Ballet and DanceXchange, and has been co-producer of the the award-winning International Dance Festival Birmingham since its inception in 2008.



Mamma Mia! set for Brum date

mamma mia

BIRMINGHAM Hippodrome has announced that the first UK tour of the international smash hit Mamma Mia! will open at the theatre on Jun 28 next year for a 10 week run.

Mamma Mia! is Judy Craymer’s ingenious working of Abba’s timeless songs into enchanting tale of family and friendship unfolding on a Greek island paradise.

To date, it has been seen by more than 54 million people in 49 productions in 14 different languages while the move is the highest worldwide grossing live-action musical film of all time.

One in four UK households in the UK has the DVD, which is now Amazon UK’s biggest selling DVD ever while the London production of Mamma Mia! has now been seen by more than 10% of the entire UK population. It is one of only five musicals to have run for more than 10 years both on Broadway and in the West End, and in 2011, it became the first Western musical ever to be staged in Mandarin in the People’s Republic of China.

With music & lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Mamma Mia! is written by Catherine Johnson, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast.

Creator and Producer Judy Craymer said: “It’s fantastic to be bringing Mamma Mia! to Birmingham for the first time with the UK Tour. I feel sure that Birmingham audiences will love Mamma Mia! and its feel-good story and the much-loved music of ABBA. We are really looking forward to welcoming new audiences as well as those who would love to see it again – it’s huge fun!”

Birmingham Hippodrome’s Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths added “Birmingham Hippodrome has a great reputation for staging the city’s big summer musical and we are thrilled to continue that by presenting the acclaimed production of Mamma Mia! as part of its first ever UK tour.”

Tickets are on sale now to Birmingham Hippodrome Friends and go on general sale from 10am on Thursday, 26 March

Mamma Mia! UK Tour opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday 28 June running until Saturday 3 September 2016.  Tickets are priced £28-£60.  Performance times:  Eves 7.30pm; Weds mats 2pm; Sat mats 2.30pm. To book tickets call 0844 338 5000 or online at birminghamhippodrome.com.  5% transaction charge applies (excl. cash sales in person) postage from £1. Phone calls from 5p per minute.  Prices and discounting subject to change.


Lords of the dance

mark morris

The Mark Morris Dance Group with L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato in IDFB 2010

WHEN Stuart Griffiths, OBE, steps down as Chief Executive of Birmingham Hippodrome this summer after 13 years at the helm, his legacy to the city will not only be his leadership which has made the theatre the most popular in the country – more than 625,000 paying customers last year – but a dance festival which is now making waves around the world.

Griffiths leaves in July to become programming director for Ambassador Theatre Group, (ATG) with 39 theatres under his wing, including The New Alexandra Theatre within shouting distance of the Hippodrome.

But history may well find Griffiths's place in Birmingham’s cultural heritage is cemented not so much by the mark he has made on theatre but by the creation of the International Dance Festival Birmingham, a venture with DanceXchange

This week saw, if not exactly the launch, at least a look ahead to 2016 and the fifth IDFB which will run from 2 May to 29 May.

From its beginnings in 2008 it has rapidly grown into one of the major dance festivals in the world, attracting some of the biggest names in dance such as Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company and Sylvie Guillem.

Last year saw 19 venues from city streets to a children’s playground, 84 dance groups from18 countries, nine world premieres, four commissions and audiences of 34,000 people.

Since 2008 172,000 people have attended 416 free events and 164 ticketed events. People have enjoyed more than 25,000 participatory experiences and artists from 36 countries have been welcomed to the city.

The festival has worked with a multitude of critically-acclaimed companies, such as the Mark Morris Dance Group, choreographers and dancers such as Akram Khan, Arthur Pita, Sylvie Guillem and Crystal Pite, plus a host of rising stars such as Aakash Odedra, Alexander Whitley, French B Boy superstar Salah and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Kit Holder.

Griffiths, co-artistic director of IDBF, in what was almost a valedictory speech, said: “As Birmingham’s signature festival, International Dance Festival Birmingham is firmly placed at the heart of Birmingham’s cultural offering. The festival goes from strength to strength and having won Event of the Year at The Heart of England Excellence in Tourism Awards in 2010 and a UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Dance in 2014, we are very proud that the work of Birmingham Hippodrome and DanceXchange in attracting the finest international dance to the city has been recognised nationally.”

David Massingham, hosting the launch, artistic director of DanceXchange, and co-artistic director of IDFB, said: “IDFB 2014 truly was ‘a world of dance in one city’. IDFB 2016 will build on ten years of festival programming experiences and deliver another exciting line up of performances and events. The focus in 2016 will be Destination Birmingham, selling the city as a city of dance. There will be more world-class dance contentsylvi guillem to look forward to, performances, community engagement and participation, talks and debates, city, region and world-wide collaborations, strong digital elements and more world premieres. IDFB 2016 will showcase Birmingham as one of the world’s leading dance cities.”

The festival has the major support of the Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England and Coun Penny Holbrook, Cabinet Member for Skills, Learning and Culture said: “Birmingham City Council is enormously proud of the city’s cultural sector and one of the many success stories is International Dance Festival Birmingham. The festival places Birmingham on the world stage which is why it was awarded the city’s signature festival status in 2012. Every two years companies and artists flock to the city, while closer to home many young people, schools and audiences new to the arts get involved through the festival’s community engagement and participatory events. Everyone is entitled to engage in the arts and at Birmingham City Council we salute IDFB for working on making this a reality. Long may the festival’s success continue.” 

Sylvie Guillem, who is retiring this year, at IDFB 2014

While Peter Knott, Director of Arts Council England Midlands said: “Birmingham is a dance hub and the biennial IDBF reinforces this by allowing the world to look to the city for a vision of the future, what’s fresh and what’s happening in dance. The Midlands’ arts scene is diverse and vibrant and IDFB is a huge part of its success. IDFB helps to build audiences for dance in the West Midlands and develops the dance ecology for companies and professionals to flourish in the region.”

The look back and look ahead saw a performance by French choreographer Mickael 'Marso' Riviere, known for his innovative fusion of breakin' and contemporary dance, who presented a duet from his latest production The Nutbreaker based on The Nutcracker.

Plans are already well under way for the next festival and part will be focused on both contemporary and traditional South Asian dance but engaging people on the street will again pay a key role and planned activities include The Festival Hub, a fringe style destination in the city centre where people can meet, hang out and talk about dance. Paint the Town Red returns and will work with local promoters to bring the best of social dance activities to festival audiences and participants.  

IDFB is about outdoor and unusual spaces, city centre surprises and pop-up performances.  Free events have always been a major part the festival encouraging as many people as possible to watch and participate.  Khora, an arts project about belief and the body, will involve Birmingham people of all backgrounds. A major community engagement project, All of Birmingham is a Stage, is currently in development aiming to create performance spaces in neglected or disused local spaces, and it is hoped it will be supported by The Big Lottery Fund.  

The culmination of IDFB 2016 is planned to be an ambitious new project Metropolis - Future City of the Imagination. IDFB has applied with partners from five European cities, for funding to create a series of performances and events which will showcase across Europe in the summer of 2016 inspired by themes such as culture, digital technology, architecture, manufacturing, transport and the environment. Driven by creative engagement, Metropolis will utilise the digital and performance arts to imagine a city of the future. The first Metropolis presentation will premiere during IDFB, followed by partner countries’ presentations, ending in Siena, Italy in September 2016. 

The evening was completed as guests watched 2Faced Dance's new double bill Dreaming in Code consisting of  Milk Night and Lucid Grounds in The Patrick Centre as part of DanceXchange’s spring season 2015.

Roger Clarke



Back to the start for new Grand chief executive

THE year 1978, and a 12 year old Wolverhampton youngster, two months short of his 13th birthday, took to the stage at the Grand Theatre as Winthrop Paroo, the shy, lisping, little brother of the town librarian Marion in a West Bromwich Operatic Society production of The Music Man.

The week-long run was an epiphany moment for the young Adrian Jackson. He said: “I had been a musician almost from being born but this was my first time on stage. I decided there and then that this was what I wanted to do to make a living. The Grand was where it all started."

And now Jackson returns to the grand, not on the stage admittedly, but as Chief Executive, replacing the much respected Peter Cutchie, who has retired after ten years at the helm.

He joins the Grand from his current role as chief executive and artistic director of the Lichfield Garrick where he has been in charge for the past nine years having successfully taken the theatre from Lichfield Council control to become a charitable trust.

That is only one string to the Jackson bow though aadrians he has a second career as an international conductor and arranger and he is the Musical Director and Principal Conductor of the City Concert Orchestra and is also the founder and Musical Director of the Midland Symphony Choir.


Adrian Jackson , centre, with Alain Boublil (right) and Claude-Michel Schönberg (Les Miserables, Miss Saigon) at Birmingham's Symphony Hall at the premiere of their joint concert venture

Although he does not take up his role officially until August Jackson will be working a couple of days of week at the Grand getting to know the existing team and planning for the future in a theatre fell in love with when he first saw the glorious 1894 Charles J Phipps’ interior.

He said: "I’ve enjoyed my time at the Lichfield Garrick immensely over the years, working in a very special venue and meeting a huge range of fascinating and talented people.

“I will leave behind a fantastic and capable team who are committed to bringing great theatre and community projects to Lichfield audiences and beyond. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with them all.

“I am very much looking forward to moving to the Grand and I wish the Lichfield Garrick the very best for the future.”

Roger Clarke


Rooms with a £2.7m view

Darcey Bussell

Darcey Bussell with Dance Track student Richard Kamara (age 10), Pictures: Roy Smiljanic

WHEN Birmingham Royal Ballet arrived in Birmingham their new facilities were state of the art – among the best in the ballet business with rehearsal studios, offices, space and a huge theatre, the Hippodrome, next door.

Twenty five years on and the world had not only caught up but forged ahead, state of the art had become merely an echo of the 90s.

But one fund raising appeal, and £2.78 million later, and BRB’s facilities are once more the envy of the rest with a transformation which has not only been completed on time but also within budget.

The new facilities, completed over the Christmas and New Year break, were opened up for a visit by sponsors and donors including, Darcey Bussell, the President of BRB’s £15m Campaign for the Future appeal.

She said: “As President for the Campaign for the Future it is so rewarding to see the results of a fundraising effort that has enabled a company close to my heart to continue to be a first-class rehearsal facility for its dancers, staff and the wider public who can all enjoy this marvellous creative space.

 “The new facilities will allow Birmingham Royal Ballet to welcome the community, nurture the talent of the future and maintain their position at the forefront of both British and international dance.

“The transformation of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s building is a key milestone of our Campaign for the Future. Our goal now is to secure the remaining £2.5m of our £15m target to ensure the studios are bursting with new work by world-leading choreographers as well as creative Dance Trackopportunities for local people to discover, take part and excel in classical ballet.”

Christopher Barron, BRB’s Chief Executive said: “The refurbished facilities will enable an increased delivery of community work in-house offering unique, first-hand experience of dance and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Rachel Hester teaches a Dance Track class in one of the new studios - BRB's Dance Track scheme works with 30 schools to give dance opportunities to talented youngsters.

"The optimal studio configuration will enhance the Company’s scope for rehearsing and staging large-scale ballet and provide outstanding facilities to attract, retain and care for elite dancers.”

It is the dancers and those who direct them who will benefit most from the facilities though and soloist Jonathan Caguioa, who arrived at BRB from the Royal Ballet School as an 18-year-old 13 years ago, said: “It is going to make a huge difference. The space where you create, where you rehearse, is the space where you become inspired every day; it is a space where you work intensely, not only physically – you need the space to move – but mentally as well. You need to be able to see yourself clearly, to have good lighting. It is imperative in our work, we need to be able to see our bodies constantly and how they move. We have to be more versatile these days.

“The triple bill coming up includes In The Upper Room and Serenade and then there is Carmina burana as well, which is also very modern, which needs you to move in very different ways. new BRB STudioIt is like a gallery, you can’t really enjoy beautiful works of art unless the lighting is correct and the space is good to view.”

Assistant Director Marion Tate is the grande dame of BRB, the ballet mistress in charge of all the female dancers and still commanding the stage in her character roles from Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty to The Stepmother in Cinderella, and she is delighted with the new facilities for both rehearsals and teaching.

The Clore Learning Studio, with its retractable seating

She said: “We are now in such lovely surroundings and we now have more people applying for jobs here than we have ever and so obviously what we are doing is right. The important thing is to continue what we are doing in the way that we do it and the surroundings will enable us to do it easier.”

BRB’s home has been brought up to date with new sound systems, lighting and a dance studio with retractable seating to enable demonstrations and performances before an audience.

After a week of special events, with more than 1,000 visitors, BRB will be hosting a public open day at its refurbished Thorp Street home on Sunday (25 Jan) from 11am to 4pm with a host of family friendly activities, tours and performances.

The Campaign for the Future appeal will continue to raise the final £2.5 million of the £15 million target.

Roger Clarke


Simple - with an emphasis on dead

dead simple Jamie Lomas and Tina Hobley in rehearsal. Pictures: Honeybunn Photography

DEAD SIMPLE, Peter James’ best-selling novel, is brought to life on stage for the first time by the same team who took The Perfect Murder, another James’ novel, on tour last year.

Shaun McKenna’s adaptation is directed by Olivier award-winner Ian Talbot with a cast led by Tina Hobley who returns to the stage after spending the past 12 years as ward sister Chrissie Williams in the BBC 1’s Holby City.

She will be joined by award-winning TV heartthrob, Jamie Lomas who is perhaps best known for his roles as the murderous Jake Stone in Eastenders and bad boy Warren Fox in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, a role he played for five years.

Gray O’Brien, (Coronation Street, TV series Titanic, Peak Practice and Casualty and Sleuth and the West End) who played lover boy Don an The Perfect Murder, returns as Det Supt Roy Grace in this gripping, chilling, thriller that has all the classic suspense, twists and turns of a best-selling Peter James novel.

Completing the cast are Rik Makarem (Emmerdale, Torchwood) in the role of Mark Warren, Michael McKell (Doctors, Emmerdale) as Bradley Cunningham, Joshua Brown as Davey Wheeler, Marc Small and Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson, Sarah Baxendale as Zoe Frame and Alan Freestone as Robbo.

The plot concerns Michael Harrison, who thinks he has it all; great career, good friends and a beautiful fiancée. But when his stag night prank goes horribly wrong, Michael finds himself alone and staring death in the face. As time runs out and the terror grows, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace tries to solve his mysterious disappearance, but begins to fear that Michael will never be found in time.

Peter James has gone straight in at no 1 in the Sunday Times bestseller charts seven times in the last four years with his Roy Grace series – with last year’s Roy Grace novel, Dead Man’s Time going straight to No.1 in the Autumn of 2013.

He has sold more than 15 million books of his Roy Grace series, and is published in 36 languages. Dead Simple has sold more than two million copies around the word and has been a No.1 best seller in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Holland and Russia.

Dead Simple runs at the Belgrade from Monday Jan 26 to Saturday Jan 31. Box Office: 024 7655 3055 or book online: www.belgrade.co.uk


IDFB wins top dance award

stuart Griffiths and dance award

  • Lords of the dance: Stuart Griffiths, chief executive of Birmingham Hippodrome, Wayne Sleep & David Massingham, DanceXchange artistic director.

BIRMINGHAM Hippodrome and DanceXchange have won the award for Achievement in Dance at the 2014 UK Theatre Awards for the International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014 (IDFB).

The Internationally recognised festival which has a growing importance faced strong competition from other contenders included English National Ballet and Rambert Dance Company.

The award, presented at the City of London’s Guildhall, went to the joint partners in recognition for their “bold, extensive programming and presentation of International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014”.

Accepting the award Stuart Griffiths, Chief Executive of Birmingham Hippodrome and IDFB Festival Co-Director said “We’re absolutely thrilled to receive this award. This truly is a festival with an international reach securing the involvement of some of the world’s most prominent dance companies which has helped to establish Birmingham as a major cultural player within the UK.

“Thanks go to all the talented artists, companies, producers, and for a great team effort. And of course, we want to recognise all our sponsors and funders such as Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England for helping to make the festival so successful.”   

David Massingham, DanceXchange Artistic Director, and IDFB Festival Co-Director, who also accepted the award, added: “We are delighted that the partnership between DanceXchange and Birmingham Hippodrome to produce IDFB has been recognised by the UK Theatre Awards.


“Over four festivals, IDFB has become known for the sheer diversity of amazing dance performances from across the world presented in very different venues and unusual or outdoor spaces across the city of Birmingham. The festival joins up the city, connecting across the arts from visual arts to music, bringing a world of dance to the city.”

International Dance Festival Birmingham has become an important biennial event in the international dance calendar attracting dance companies and artists from all over the globe.  Since its launch in 2008 more than 172,000 people have enjoyed 164 performances in venues and spaces across the city including the Town Hall, Symphony Hall, Crescent Theatre, The Rep, Birmingham Hippodrome, the Patrick Centre and, in recent years, Warwick Arts Centre as well as 416 free events across the city.

Artists who have performed include dance superstars Sylvie Guillem and Carlos Acosta, The Kirov Ballet, Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant, Hip Hop Festival Breakin’ Convention, Royal Ballet Flanders, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, National Ballet of China, Birmingham Royal Ballet and large scale free outdoor performances including Wings of Desire and the recent B-Town in Victoria Square.

Productions which start life at IDFB have since gone on to tour the world, such as 2012 festival hit show Spill which has featured in festivals from Dublin to Sydney through to New York in 2014, with 139 performances in 51 parks to over 28,500 people.

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour outstanding achievement in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In 2010 International Dance Festival Birmingham was awarded a Gold Award in the Heart of England Excellence in Tourism Awards.

The next International Dance Festival Birmingham is scheduled for spring 2016.


Top hat, tails and . . . pork pie

alan burkitt

IT’S a safe bet that when lead actor Alan Burkitt arrives in the West Midlands with the magical musical Top Hat he will waste no time seeking out a tasty pork pie shop!

Unlike so many people who are desperate to lose weight, the song and dance man has to find ways of putting it on after numerous punishing routines in the Irving Berlin show based on the famous RKO 1930s movie starring the legendary Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Alan, 32, seems to be rarely off stage playing Broadway sensation Jerry Travers who dances his way across Europe to win the heart of society girl Dale Tremont.

When I suggested it was a good way of keeping trim, though, he smiled: “The problem is keeping weight on!

“It’s incredible the amount of weight you lose in this show. I’m always being asked ‘are you eating?”, and I need vitamin shakes to help, as well as having to keep shovelling down the pork pies. But I love it.”

Alan, who has also done  chorography for the new Strictly Come Dancing series, is in the touring production of Top Hat which arrives at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre on October 21, and he must have been destined for the role from his boyhood when a woman at his dance school saw him in action and asked: “Are you training to be the next Fred Astaire?"

He said: “I asked my mother….’who’s Fred Astaire, mum’, but since then I have loved him. I admire everything about him. What he did was so natural, easy and clever. He was just a genius, so this is an absolute dream role for me.”

Alan was understudy for the part when the show opened in the West End, and he had to take over on opening night when the lead developed a voice problem. “I was more excited than nervous,” he recalled. “It was an opportunity, and it was brilliant. I got a great review and Jane McDonald mentioned it on TV’s Loose Women the following day”.

If he needed any confidence boost after winning the part, it came when the touring show opened in Wimbledon. In the audience was Astaire’s daughter, Eva, and after the final curtain she went backstage to meet the cast.


“She said she loved the show and told me I had the best feet she had seen since her father’s . . . and I will take that,” Alan explained.

Top Hat is beautifully staged, and it’s easy to see what it won three Olivier awards for Best New Musical, Best Choroegraphy and Best Costumes as it brings back the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age.

And of course it is packed with wonderful Irving Berlin hits like Cheek to Cheek, Top Hat, White Tie and Tails, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, and Puttin’ on the Ritz.

Playing alongside Burkitt is the delightful Charlotte Gooch who fits snugly into the role of Dale Tremont, the stunning blonde Travers falls for after she complains of the noise caused by someone tap dancing in the suite above her hotel room in London. This leads to a case of mistaken identity which threatens to keep them apart.

Charlotte, who has been dancing since she was three, had been playing the lead role of Penny Johnson in Dirty Dancing before switching to Top Hat.

She said: “It’s been good to see so many young people in the audience, especially during the school holidays, and they have loved it. It’s a great show, beautifully put together and choreographed. My six-year-old cousin loved every minute of it.

“I feel very emotional when the audience give the cast a standing ovation, and I get goose pimples. Everyone will leave the theatre tapping their feet and singing the tunes. What more can you ask?”

Top Hat runs at the Grand Theatre from October 21 to November 1.

Paul Marston


Bintley says sayonara to Tokyo

BIRMINGHAM Royal Ballet’s Director David Bintley heads off to Japan this week for his swansong production as Artistic Director of th National Ballet of Japan.

Bintley became artistic advisor to the Japanese company in 2008 and took over as artistic director in 2010 for three years, which has been extended for an extra year.

Hs final production will be restaging of The Prince of the Pagodas which he created for the National Ballet to critical acclaim in 2011.

The production will run to 15 June when Bintley will say arwell to the company.

His tenure in Japan further enhanced the existing relationship between Birmingham Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Japan following the hugely successful staging of his own production of Carmina burana in Tokyo in 2005.

 Since then he has created two major full-length cdavid Bintleyo-productions with his Birmingham and Tokyo-based Companies; Aladdin and The Prince of the Pagodas. Aladdin premiered at the New National Theatre Tokyo in November 2008 before arriving to the stage in Birmingham in February 2013, while The Prince of the Pagodas was created in Japan in 2011 and was performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet in January this year.

BRB Director, David Bintley


Christopher Barron, Chief Executive of Birmingham Royal Ballet said: “It was a truly collaborative relationship between Birmingham Royal Ballet, David and the National Ballet of Japan. David was able to combine both posts, creating many opportunities for cooperation between the two Companies, both on and off stage.

“The sharing of production costs of making two brand new full-length ballets has meant that Birmingham Royal Ballet has been able to showcase new work at an enviable rate. There have also been opportunities for Company dancers, technical and Artistic staff to work with the National Ballet of Japan in Tokyo and vice versa, thereby providing valuable experience for members of both companies.  

“It has also been an unquestionable boost to the international reputation of Birmingham Royal Ballet, showcasing David’s work, the Company and what is excellent about the city of Birmingham.'

Bintley said: “I have enjoyed immensely my four years with the National Ballet of Japan. I have a deep respect for the dancers there as well as all the team at the New National Theatre Tokyo. Over the time I spent in Japan I had the pleasure of watching individuals at all levels of the Company grow as they faced new challenges under my direction. I know that they will continue thrive under the new leadership of my successor Noriko Ohara.”

Birmingham Royal Ballet return to Birmingham Hippodrome on 4 June with Darkeness and Light to 7 June and then  La Fille mal gardée, June 11-15. 

www.brb.org.uk    www.birminghamhippodrome.com



Battlelines drawn to save theatres

AS politicians warn of austerity and central and local Government search for areas where savings can be made without too much outcry or the loss of too many votes at the next election, the arts and culture in general is under increasing threat.

Birmingham has made a huge investment in its new library and expanded, refurbished REP, but in other areas of the country the libraries are closing, hours are being cut and staff are being shed.

Theatre, opera, music, ballet and even our film industry are being hit by cuts in Government spending and while local authority spending has increased by almost £4 billion in the current year, spending on culture and the arts has actually fallen by 4.2 per cent – the largest percent cut of any sector.

But the theatre is fighting back with the My Theatre Matters! A campaign not for luvvies fearing for their jobs but relying on ordinary people, in ordinary jobs, leading ordinary lives to whom a local theatre is an extraordinary place, a window into another world which, without financial support, will either be lost or become so expensive that it becomes a luxury to be only enjoyed by the wealthy. Theatre just for the elite is of no value to anyone.

At the curtain call for Press night for Twelve Angry Men, actor and director Samuel West appeared on stage to make a curtain speech on behalf of the campaign and postcards were available to send to councillors - messages can also be sent via the campaign website www.mytheatrematters.com.

When a theatre closes its doors history tells us that it seldom reopens, it is lost forever. The My Theatre Matters campaign is important so we print Mr West's speech in full: 

“I'm here to tell you about a campaign called My Theatre Matters. I'm here because, like you I hope, I love this city and this theatre, and theatres like it up and down the country.

"Although Birmingham is well-known as the place where 200 years ago Washington Irving wrote Sleepy Hollow, nowadays it's neither hollow nor sleepy.  Amongst other things it's now famous for culture: a massively influential rep theatre, brilliantly relaunched, a world-class orchestra, a great new library (where I wrote this). I've always loved it for its canals, along which I first went aged nine, and the fact that ten years later this place gave me my first job, a studio production of Rattigan's The Browning Version in 1985. 

"But I'm not here to pat you all on the back (or not too much). And I'm also not here to ask you for money. You have paid hard-earned cash to see the show tonight - some of you, anyway - but you must know that theatres like this don't survive on ticket sales alone. This theatre, like most, is supported by your taxes and that gives you a relationship with the place. It also allows them to put on plays like the one you've just seen, and not to charge a fortune for tickets.

"When Twelve Angry Men transfers to the non-subsidised West End in November, top price tickets will be more than twice what you pay here in Birmingham. That's what your support does. It's no exaggeration to say that without it, this theatre would probably not survive. 

"Now grants for this theatre and others like it are under pressure. Times are hard and there are some who think, perhaps understandably, that going to the theatre is a luxury and that we can no longer afford to give grants to theatres. I don't believe that, and I hope you don't. I think the arts ought to be on the menu for everybody, a filling and nutritious part of the public meal we offer our citizens.

"What we saw tonight was the essence of what it is to be human - democracy unfolding in real time; “reasonable doubt” - an antidote to fundamentalism. It gets to the heart of the questions “Who are we, and who do we want to be?” These theatre values are human values.  And we're really good at this stuff. The designer of the 1985 Browning Version I did here was a young graduate called Alexandra Byrne. In 2007, after four nominations, she won her first Oscar.  Every Rep has proud stories like this to tell. We have a centuries old tradition of theatre and a world-beating theatre industry, and I want it to survive the current short-term financial difficulties. If we let it die, we'll never get it back.


"We're trying to get every theatre in the country to talk to its public, and get those audiences to shout loud for an excellent, affordable night out. We're trying to turn audiences into advocates. Through articles, postcards, curtain speeches like this one, we're trying to build a movement; hundreds of grassroots champions every theatre can call on to say how that theatre has changed their life.

"Friends' organisations, volunteers, hairdressers, taxi-drivers, even people who just like the café. So that by the next round of funding, theatre staff can sit down with local councillors and a big pile of postcards and say "we matter".


"It's important that this campaign isn't about artists. It's about you. About audiences; about the electorate; about community.  We must trumpet the economic benefits of a thriving theatre and how culture can revitalise a city centre. But we must also speak fluent human, and talk of civic pride, of happiness, of the intellectual thrill, the camaraderie - even the tears - that a good night out can give us.

"We aren't just here to work our arses off for fifty years and then die.  As Alan Ayckbourn says “We're always being told that it's theatres or hospitals”, he said. “But what do you go to a hospital for? To get better. Why? So you can have a good night out at the theatre. We need both.”

"And on the subject of a good night out, I'd like to say to the business people in the audience: thank you for your support. Thank you and please, carry on. The life of a city shouldn't be limited to the work of a city. Newcastle City Council tried to cut arts funding by 100%. One of the forces that made them change their mind was local industrialists, who reminded the council that they would think twice about investing in a cultural desert.

"I want to say one last thing, about the people who work here:

"What's the best thing you've seen in the last two years (apart from Twelve Angry Men)? For me, the Olympic Opening Ceremony is right up there: not just a celebration of Britain but a grand piece of theatre. It was directed, as I'm sure you know, by Danny Boyle and produced by Stephen Daldry.

"Both of them are now directors of very successful, profitable films, but Boyle started his theatre journey as an usher at the Bolton Octagon. Daldry began at the Crucible in Sheffield. What's less well known is that Daldry grew up in Taunton, and joined a youth theatre group there when he was fourteen. This came back to me when I heard that this summer following Somerset County Council's 100% arts cut, the Brewhouse in Taunton had closed. 

"We can't say whether the lack of a Bolton Octagon or a Taunton Brewhouse will be the reason why the next Daldry or Boyle doesn't reach Hollywood; and we may not get the Olympics back for forty years; but maybe, just maybe, the director of our next Olympics opening ceremony is standing at the back right now, ushing. We must keep this place safe for them, too. 

"Will you help us in this campaign? Will you sign one of these postcards and put it in the box outside? Will you shout, proudly and loudly, about how brilliant this place is, to anyone who'll listen, particularly someone in power?

"There are plenty here tonight. Take one of these for a friend too: it would be so good if instead of counting postcards, the councillors had to weigh them. There's also a dedicated website at mytheatrematters.com where you can find out more. Last month they ran a competition to decide “Most Welcoming Theatre”. 55 000 people voted.

I"n the end, securing funding the arts like this has only one purpose: to make life better. It's art for our sake; for our potential, our imagination, our joy, our sense of ourselves.

"Please, do what you can to spread the word."


Twelve Angry Men review plus video of 1954 CBS original teleplay