Rita Sue & Bob Too – Derby Theatre Preview

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The 2017 Touring Cast – Samantha Robinson, Taj Atwal, Sally Bankes, David Walker, James Atherton, Gemma Dobson.

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

Andrea Dunbar was the Amy Winehouse of her theatrical generation, a glowing, glowering, talent, who died young at twenty- nine years of age. When someone quotes “twenty years experience” in something, I am often moved to ask “Twenty years experience? Or one year’s experience twenty times? Dunbar was the obverse of this. A young woman who achieved much professionally from the time of the inception of her first play “Arbor” as a fifteen year old, to her untimely death. Personally, life crammed an indecent amount into her short time, the George Michael line “What we learn we rarely choose” a fitting epitaph to those years.

Dunbar was raised in Bradford in Brafferton Arbor on the Buttershaw council estate , one of seven brothers and sisters, and attended the local Comprehensive secondary school. There she began writing her first play “The Arbor” in 1977 at the age of 15, writing it as a classroom assignment for CSE English. It was autobiographical in part, and the sum total of a multitude of first hand experiences and second -hand anecdotes. The combination of her bright, sharp writing style, and the gritty realism of her subject matter was a recipe for success.

It was premiered in 1980 at London’s Royal Court Theatre, directed by Max Stafford-Clark and jointly won the Young Writers’ Festival, before progressing on to be performed in New York. The play described the experiences of a pregnant teenager with an abusive drunken father, and was widely acclaimed leading to her being featured in the BBC’s Arena arts’ documentary series. Commenting on the play, Director Max Stafford-Clark said; “When Andrea wrote her first two plays, she was a teenager from a rough council estate who’d never been to the theatre. Now, thirty-five years after its premiere, Rita Sue and Bob Too takes its place in the Octagon and Royal Court’s seasons in the role of Classic Play. It’s one of the privileges of my career that Andrea’s astute, fresh and funny writing reached my desk, and it is exciting to bring her vivid, albeit alarming world to life again with these fine actors.”

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

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

Her personal life was chaotic. She had fallen pregnant at 15, but the baby was stillborn at 6 months. She later had three children by three different fathers. The first, Lorraine, was born in 1979 to an Asian father. A year later, in 1980, Lisa was born, again while Andrea was still a teenager. As a single mother, Dunbar spent 18 months in a Women’s Aid refuge and battled a dependency on alcohol. Her relationship with Lorraine was strained, seventeen years after Durbar’s death, Loraine, a heroin addict, was convicted of manslaughter for causing the death of her child by gross neglect after the child ingested a lethal dose of methadone. In 1990 she died of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 29 years old.

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

The central dynamic of the play, an older man bedding two fifteen year olds, is as unsettling now, as it was then, probably even more so with the Grooming Gang Scandals which have beset several towns and cities, including Bradford. Yet this is no moralistic polemic. Durbar just tells it as it is with an authentic voice that disturbs because of its verite rather than a result of the subject matter. Her gift is of story -telling and dialogue, dialogue that is witty, sharp acerbic, melancholic and brutal. Although the political landscape may have turned full circle, the position of women in society has shifted. Superficially, women’s confidence in themselves seems greater now, whether that is true on the Arbor, I am not so sure.

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

Rita Sue and Bob Too runs at the Derby theatre from 21/11- 28./11/17.

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Aladdin, Lichfield Garrick – A Preview

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This Christmas the Lichfield Garrick Theatre has Aladdin as the pantomime show. A strong cast includes CBeebies’ Cat Sandion who will be playing the role of Jasmine .
Cat, one of the leading presenters on the Bafta award winning channel, is best known for her singing and dancing, and will be familiar to many pre-schoolers and parents alike with her new hit show ‘Magic Door!’
The Garrick also welcomes back Sam Rabone as Dame Widow Twankey, and Ben Thornton as Wishee Washee after their stand – out performances in last year’s sell out show, Sleeping Beauty .
The production also features Lizzie Wofford as The Spirit of the Ring, Adrian Bevan as Aladdin, Ian Billings as The Emperor of China, James Mitchell as PC Pongo and Robin Johnson as Abanazar.
This is the second year that the Lichfield Garrick have teamed up with Evolution Productions to co-produce the show. Evolution Productions are led by television presenter Paul Hendy and his partner Emily Wood who produce shows throughout the UK.
I know Sam Rabone from having performed with him many years ago in amateur pantomime when I was rubbish, and he was good. I am still rubbish, but he has become outstanding! Sam took time out to chat with Behind the Arras to talk to us about his forthcoming residency at the Garrick.
Q1 – Sam, you are a local lad who has performed all over the country. Where have you been performing, and how does it feel to “come home?”
This year has taken me not just all over the country, but a few places in the world. I’ve managed to take shows out to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sweden, which has been a right treat for me this year. Usually I perform in holiday parks all over the U.K. so this year has been a little different, but a great experience. And with all that travelling it makes coming back home even better!
Q2.- As a veteran of many pantomimes, how strongly do you rate Aladdin as a show?
Aladdin is one of my favourite titles, I think Dick Whittington is my favourite, but Aladdin is up there. I love Aladdin because we get to “travel” starting in Egypt, and heading over to China, and then out into the country and the mountains. The transformation in the cave is up there with the Cinderella and Mother Goose transformation for me, the rags to riches, but also a whole cave transforming to a cave of jewels. The children get to see people fly on magic carpets, they get the magic of not one, but two magical characters. So for me, Aladdin is a great pantomime!
Q3.- You specialise in playing pantomime dames, how did that come about?
I think Gary has a bit of inside information here. I never really planned to be on the stage, I joined the Vesey Players to help out back stage. After being in the stage management team, I was asked if I could go on stage the following year, I wasn’t keen but they said they didn’t have enough men, so, I asked to do a smaller part and appeared in Aladdin as one of Abanazar’s henchmen. After that I auditioned and ended up playing dame for the Vesey Players, the rest, as they say, is history.
Q4 – The pantomime dame is a complex role, difficult to pull off. How do you see the role, and what do you try to bring to the part?
For me, the dame is a bloke in a dress, everyone knows this, and that’s the joke. Drag is a completely different art form and one that I would struggle with, as my dame, is me, a short, portly bloke in a dress. The dame I think, when played best is an extension of yourself, mine has characteristics of my grandma, my mom and some Julie Walters in there somewhere, as how can’t Mrs O feature in a Brummie dame!
Q5 – What do you like about the part of Widow Twankey specifically, and how important is the dynamic with Ben Thornton as Wishee Washee?
LONG INTERVAL – as soon as they go to the cave, the kettle is on! I joke (I don’t) – really Twankey for me is everything a dame should be, a mother, down on her luck, still working to make a living, single and on the prowl (watch out!) but of course she gets rags to riches too. I think the Dame and Comic dynamic is so important, I think it shows in a show when they don’t get on. Ben and I got on instantly, we had a similar sense of humour, and a very similar work ethic. Some comedy duo’s try to out to each other and get the last laugh and top the other ones, the best out there get a laugh, and don’t mind who’s achieved it. We just want the audience to love the show. So for me, the comic and dame dynamic is one of the most important in the show, we need to get on, and understand each other and each others tempo. Hopefully that comes across.
Q6 – You have performed at the Lichfield Garrick many times before, what is your impression of the venue as a performer?
One of the friendliest theatres to work at in the country, we have been welcomes with open arms every time. The team want us to be happy, knowing if we are happy we’re going to be doing our jobs even better. The venue itself I love performing in. I can see every row, and I try and have look round to see as many faces as I can, that myth that we can’t see you…… LIES! I can see all your faces.
Q7 – How closely is the show scripted, do you have any flexibility to ad lib? Is every show the same?
Evolution write a fairly tight script, tighter than a lot of other companies I have worked for. BUT he does this knowing it works, and knowing what’s funny. We have a bit of flexibility in rehearsals if a joke isn’t working for us, or if something more topical comes along. HOWEVER no show is the same as the audience is also a member of the cast, the influence the show more than they realise.
Q8 – A pantomime run of shows is exhausting- what do you do to relax between performances?
Head to the bar! Mines a G&T. I enjoy reading, and baking and find this helps me relax, but also going to see other pantomimes, I love going to see what other people are doing and how their shows are going. A busman’s holiday if you will.
Q9. – Are there any parts in pantomime that you have not played yet which you would like to?
Smee! I would love to play Smee in Peter Pan one year. But the dresses keep coming back!!
Q10 – Pantomime always sells well. What is the secret of its enduring success?
Moving with the times, yet keeping with tradition, and being one of the true fully British things we have left. This genre works very rarely anywhere else in the world. Choosing strong casts who know pantomime, getting better scenery and costumes year on year, and creating a cast that people want to come back and see year on year. What better way to spend Christmas, a time to be spent with family and friends, than at the theatre with you’re nearest and dearest laughing until it hurts!
MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Aladdin runs from Thursday November 30 until Saturday January 6 in the Garrick’s main auditorium.
For tickets visit http://www.lichfieldgarrick.com or call the box office on 01543 412121.

Gary Longden

This review appears in behindthearras.com

 

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Legally Blonde- Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

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****
This story is now in its third incarnation. First came the book by Amanda Brown, daughter of a lawyer, and Stanford Law student herself. Brown drew upon her own experiences for inspiration. The 2001 film starring Reese Witherpsoon , adapted for the screen from the book by Heather Hach, was the breakthrough to a mass audience, resulting in this stage show premiering on Broadway in 2007.

It is light, it is frothy, it is pink. On stage, dogs, “Bruiser” and “Rufus” provide the “aah” factor, a trial provides the drama, and lots of up -beat song and dance numbers set the tempo. The set, designed by Mathew Wright, is a 21st century/1950’s mash up. The songs are a long way off being standards, but Musical Director James McCullagh drives a talented, vibrant, band. A functional set is skilfully enhanced by some excellent lighting, and Elizabeth Dennis’s vibrant costumes , which are predominantly – pink. . The first half is shorter than the second. Oddly, the opening “OMG You Guys” is staged with static bikes, and it does feel like a while before everything gets going. But once it does, the fun starts.

 

Lucie Jones stars as Elle Woods, the girl determined to prove that blondes can have fun and brains. X Factor brought her to prominence and she can certainly sing, and carry the acting part. Set piece numbers abound, choreographed by Anthony Williams and Dean Street.

 

 

The highlight of the dance numbers is undoubtedly ‘Whipped into Shape’ featuring Helen Petrovna and Brooke Wyndham, with fluorescent skipping ropes which kick starts the second half in dynamic style .

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Bill Ward , of Coronation Street fame, is well cast as Professor Callaghan, his unwanted stolen kiss with Elle, abusing his relationship and position of trust, was serendipitously contemporaneous . Rita Simons, another soap star, this time from East Enders, as beautician Paulette, steals the comedy honours as the trashy tart with a heart. She can sing too. Her vocal for “Ireland” was superb, the Irish dancing sequence joyful. The ladies in the audience are spoilt for (pink) eye candy. Hunky delivery man Ben Harlow as Kyle? Ugly duckling to swan David Barrett as love interest Emmett? Or Liam Doyle as bounder Warner Huntingdon? Everyone seemed to have their favourite.

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The plot founders a bit when it tries to deliver some uncertain messages, the gay and lesbian themes seem awkwardly handled- then picks up when the song and dance returns, never more so than during, “ There Right There” . But nothing here is meant to be taken too seriously, the story, and staging are fantasy, and pink. Lucie Jones justifies her star billing carrying the part of Elle with warmth, energy, a fine voice, and plenty of pink shoes and dresses.

The audience overwhelmingly comprised young women who stomped and cheered from the start, and danced in the aisles to an encore medley of the show’s greatest hits. It is cheesy, it is awash with kitsch, but the target market loved it. At two and three quarter hours, no-one will leave the theatre feeling short-changed.” Legally Blonde” runs till Saturday 12th and continues on tour.

Gary Longden

 

 

 

 

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Around the World in 80 Days- Derby Theatre

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*****

Jules Verne’s classic story has obvious cinematic possibilities, and equally obvious drawbacks as the basis for a stage adaptation. How do you portray a worldwide journey on a theatre stage? Yet that conundrum is also the basis for this dramatic incarnation of the tale. You don’t. You allow the audience’s imagination to do the work.A cold November Tuesday night in Derby is not the obvious starting point for theatrical magic, but magic did indeed descend tonight for a very special show.

 

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Fogg and Passepartout

 

Chicago born Laura Eason is a screenwriter and playwright, this production as much the product of her imagination, as the original was of Verne’s. Her adaptation, first performed in 2013, is both homage, and playful hybrid of the original. Nominated for both the UK Theatre Awards ‘Best New Production’ and the Manchester Theatre Awards ‘Best Show for Children and Families’, this is the production’s first national tour. An adaptation by an American woman of a French novel about an English gentleman has “danger” stamped all over it- instead we see triumph. Anyone tired of baggage check-in at East Midlands airport, or delays at Heathrow can rest easy. In Director Theresa Heskins’ capable hands,co-produced with the New Vic in Stoke, you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. At the front you will be part of it!

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Phileas Fogg ( Andrew Pollard) , places a £20,000 wager with his fellow Whist players in London’s Reform Club that he can circumnavigate the world in only 80 days, and so the fun begins. Lis Evans’s minimal but clever set design provides a hugely effective canvas for the actors and audience to work with. The eight actors play one hundred and twenty five characters, and props assume chameleon like qualities with the suitcases working particularly hard. “There is no balloon in the book!” declares Fogg, as his valet, Passepartout ( Michael Hugo), searches for a connection to get them home on time, and a miniature balloon appears.

Hugo’s performance is the comic beating heart of the production, endearing, accident prone, and very funny. Pollard skilfully unwraps his Fogg from a taciturn, cold fish, to a warm hearted hero. His hapless nemesis, Inspector Fix, is joyfully played by Dennis Herdman, as he frantically tries to satisfy his suspicions that Fogg is a bank robber. Borrowing freely from the  John Cleese school of physical acting, Fix’s constant frustration is a delight. Kirsten Foster is entirely convincing as the woman, Mrs Aouda, to win Fogg’s heart, and help him discover his humanity. The first half at 75 minutes is longer than the second at fifty minutes, but the first half does not drag and the second half is enlivened by a pre-performance comedy routine from Passepartout.

 

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Kirsten Foster

 

The story itself has a surprisingly light touch . The spirit of adventure and possibility which epitomised the Victorian era is captured, but the characters do not take themselves too seriously. We are presented with an affectionate sketch of what it was to be English at the time of Empire, with excesses not airbrushed out. At drama school, the endless rounds of improvisation can dull the spirit, but here every ounce of improvisational ingenuity was required. Physical drama and humour abounds, there was laughter galore, serial rounds of mid show applause,  stunning fight sequences, and a spontaneous standing ovation at the end. The music and special effects impressed throughout.

“The impossibility of it, that is what inspired us” declares Heskins in the programme notes. The company have not let her down, the beaming glows from the audience perfectly mirrored onstage. Runs from Tuesday 7 until Sunday 12 November and continues on tour.

 

Gary Longden

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Bernard Davis – Midlands Poetry What’s On November

Garyswordz used to carry a midlands poetry what’s on. But Gary became lazy. Bernard is not, check his listings out:

FESTIVALS AND MAJOR EVENT

LGBT Arts and Culture 9th – 19th November
LISTINGS Throughout November

Black Country: The Pit to The Pen Poetry by present day Black Country poet Elinor Cole is presented alongside etchings by Richard Samuel Chattock depicting 1870’s industrial life. The Pen Museum, The Argent Centre, 60 Frederick Street, Jewellery Quarter Museum Admission £5

Wednesday 1st November 10.15 a.m. Writing Group , Sutton Coldfield University of the Third Age (for those no longer in full time employment), Writing includes short stories, poetry, novel writing, scripts. Will be producing a poetry anthology in 2018 United Reformed Church, Sutton Coldfield town centre. Charge £1

Wednesday 1st November 12.00 midday to 2 p.m. Crunch lunchtime creative writing session, Artefact, Pershore Road, Stirchley

Wednesday 1st November 6.00 – 8.00 pm Birmingham Writers Group includes poets. Manuscript reading and feedback session. Discussion of works Look at their website http://www.birminghamwriters.org before attending. Downstairs at St Martin’s in the Bullring , City Centre. Meet outside 5.50 pm

Wednesday 1st November 6.30 – 8.30 p.m. Waterstones On The Mic, Poetry, storytelling, music. Waterstones, High Street, Birmingham. Open Mic slots available from 6.00 p.m. Free Entry. This event has been rescheduled from Wednesday 25th October to avoid an events clash at Waterstones.

Wednesday 1st November 7.00 p.m. Freemine Writers Group Food, drinks and poetry. Share your work and meet like minded creative people. Rose Villa Tavern, Warstone Lane, Jewellery Quarter Free

Wednesday 1st November 7.30 – 10.00 p.m. Wednesday Mic Fever and Shakers Past and Present. Poetry, spoken word, singing and music. Mango Lounge, 118b Aldridge Road, Perry Barr. Entry £3
Thursday 2nd November 10.15 – 11.30 a.m. Poetry for Pleasure for those who like reading poetry, writing poetry, listening to poetry. Reading in the round. Erdington Library, Orphanage Road, Erdington. Free entry.

Thursday 2nd November 12.00 midday to 1.30 p.m. Poetry At Lunchtime. In the round reading of your own or favourite poems. Artefact, Pershore Road, Stirchley. Free.

Thursday 2nd November 7.00 p.m. The Hill by Angela France The poet reads from her new collection that gives voice to the people who went up Leckington Hill to stand up for their right to ramble – and asks – what is their relevance today – and whose land is it anyway? Waterstones, High Street, City Centre. Free Entry

Thursday 2nd November 7.00 – 10.00 pm Grizzly Pear: Spaces Hosted by Writers Bloc, the Birmingham University creative writing society. Features Jemima Foxtrot, Jess Davies and Bethany Slinn. Bristol Pear pub, 676 Bristol Roadd, Selly Oak. Open Mic Slots available . £3 Entry

Thursday 2nd November 7.30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Hatstand Poetry, storytelling, song. Kitchen Garden Café, York Road, Kings Heath. Entry through Fletchers Bar 2 doors down. Performers free Audience £5/£4 Pop up shop for artworks and merchandise.

Thursday 2nd November 7.00 – 9.00 p.m. Poetry Jam Beatfreeks Open Mic poetry evening. Coffee #1, 12 Newhall Street, City Centre. Free Entry, Open Mic slots available . Arrive 6.45pm to sign up for open mic list

Thursday 2nd November 8.00 – 10.00 pm Cannon Hill Writers Group all genres of writing including poetry, sharing of work and constructive discussions. Horseshoe Bar 1214 Stratford Road, Hall Green. £2 per session/£1unwaged

Friday 3th November 7.30 p.m. till late Spoken Word, Comedy and More at the Ort, Ort Café, Balsall Heath (No. 50 bus route). Poetry, music, storytelling, occasional comedy. Open Mic slots available Suggested Donation £4

Saturday 4th November 10.00 am to 4.00 p.m. How To Be A Poet A one day workshop with the authors of new poetry handbook and manifesto How To Be A Poet – Poet Jo Bell and Jane Commane, editor at Nine Arches Press. Focuses on how to improve your poetry and get it into print. Birmingham and Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, City Centre £45 more details on Writing West Midlands website

Saturday 4th October 12.00 noon to 2.00 p.m. Writers Without Borders meeting. Writers of poetry and prose from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds at all levels from starting out to professional. New members always welcome. The Community Hub, John Lewis Store, Grand Central, City Centre

Saturday 4th November 2 p.m. to 4.30 p.m Poetry Workshop with Chris Fewings. Includes looking at poems from books ‘to absorb them, not to dissect them’ and some short writing activities. Birmingham Buddhist Centre, 11 Park Road, Moseley . email chris.fewings@rw5.uk to book place, cost £10.
Saturday 4th November 3.00 – 5.00 p.m. Poets Place. Bring poems for sharing and feedback, with a poetry writing exercise in the second hour. Mezzanine Level, Rep Theatre, Broad Street, City Centre. Free Event.

Sunday 5th November 2.00 p.m. Cannon Poets Meeting, The Moseley Exchange 149-153 Alcester Road (Next to Moseley Post Office), Moseley £3 Sharing poems with feedback, 30 min coffee break, ‘read round’ of participants poems.

Sunday 5th November 7.00 – 9.30 p.m. ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ Huw Warren and Friends present a Jazz Suite based on the poetry of Dylan Thomas Blue Orange Theatre, 118 Great Hampton Street, Jewellery Quarter enquire for price

Monday 6th November 2.00 – 3.00 p.m. Reading for Wellbeing A friendly group who read stories and poems together, reflecting and discussing how they connect with our experiences Sparkhill Library, 641 Stratford Road, Sparkhill Free

Monday 6th November 7.00 – 9.00 p.m. New Birmingham Part One: Craig’s Room A story set in Birmingham 2053 exploring mental health issues. Created by poets Carl Sealeaf and Jasmine Gardosi. It’s a game, a physical installation and a website. Open mic poetry slots available on the optional theme of DYSTOPIA. The GAP Arts Centre, Alcester Road, Balsall Heath. Suggested Donation £3

Tuesday 7th November 1.00 – 3.00 pm. Pens of Erdington fortnightly creative writing group including poetry. This meeting will discuss whether the group needs a social media platform. Community Room, Erdington Library, Orphanage Road, Central Erdington. £2 per meeting.

Tuesday 7th November 1.00 – 3.00 p.m. Poetry for Empowerment Poetry Club explores how to express ourselves and improve confidence through poetry. Sutton Coldfield Baptist Church, Trinity Hill, Sutton Coldfield. For more details email Robin Surgeoner info@whyfestival.co.uk

Tuesday 7th November 2.00 p.m. Shakespeare Studies Sutton Coldfield University of the Third Age (for those no longer in full time employment). Analysis of the language of the script, helping understanding of the plays. United Reformed Church, Sutton Coldfield town centre. Charge £1

Tuesday 7th November 6.00 p.m.- 8.00 p.m. University of Birmingham Slam Team Auditions Only open to University of Birmingham Students. Audition is to compete in UniSlam. No need to memorise poems. See Facebook Events page for more details. Green Room, Guild of Students

Tuesday 7th November 7.30 – 9.30 p.m. Stirchley Speaks, Artefact, Stirchley, Poetry andoccasional music. Featured Poets Sophie Sparham and Aliyah Denton. £3. Free entry for open mic poets, slots available at 7.00p.m.

Wednesday 8th November 10.15 a.m. Writing Group, Sutton Coldfield University of the Third Age (for those no longer in full time employment), Writing includes short stories, poetry, novel writing, scripts. Will be producing a poetry anthology in 2018 United Reformed Church, Sutton Coldfield town centre. Charge £1
Wednesday 8th November Howl 7.30 p.m. till late. Beat poet inspired night hosted by Leon Priestnall Some slots available on the door. Upstairs at The Dark Horse, Alcester Road, Moseley Entry £5

Thursday 9th November 10.15 – 11.30 a.m. Poetry for Pleasure for those who like reading poetry, writing poetry, listening to poetry. Reading in the round. Erdington Library, Orphanage Road, Erdington. Free entry.

Thursday 9th November 12.00 midday to 1.30 p.m. Poetry At Lunchtime. In the round reading of your own or favourite poems. Artefact, Pershore Road, Stirchley. Free.

Thursday 9th November 4.00 to 6.00 p.m. Poetic Eroticism: Sex in Contemporary Poetry Workshop led by Samantha Roden including a writing exercise titled Tackling Taboo. Waterstones, High Street, Birmingham City Centre. Tickets £20 on eventbrite including entry to Brum Poets Showcase

Thursday 9th November 7.00 – 9.30 p.m. Brum Poets Showcase in association with Verve Poetry and Waterstones A live recording of the Brum Poets Radio show featuring poets Solomon OB, Samantha Roden, Sean Colletti and Lexia Tomlinson. Waterstones, High Street, Birmingham City Centre. Tickets £5 on Eventbrite Thursday 9th November Womanly Words 2.0 Launch Event Shakti Women present a night of words by women to launch the second Womanly Words book . Jojolapa Nepalese Bar & Kitchen 55-59 Newhall Street, City Centre £10 Entry, £15 with copy of book

Thursday 9th November 8.00 – 10.00 pm Cannon Hill Writers Group all genres of writing including poetry, sharing of work and constructive discussions. Horseshoe Bar 1214 Stratford Road, Hall Green. £2 per session/£1unwaged

Friday 10th November 6.00 – 9.00 p.m. New Heights Evening of Creativity hosted by Erdington Arts Forum, features a range of performances including music and poetry Tuesday, New Heights Community Café, 108 Warren Farm Road, Kingstanding. Pay-as-you-feel

Friday 10th November 7.00 p.m. Uncommon Ground contrasts the commitment of the women who protested at Greenham Common and the neglect of this important piece of history today. Written and directed by 2011-12 Birmingham Poet Laureate Jan Watts MAC Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park, South Birmingham. Tickets £5

Saturday 11th November 6.30 p.m. Coffee Catch Up Sessions: An LGBTQ+ Space Monthly creative event for artists and poets top meet, share ideas and create. Artefact, 1464 Pershore Road, Stirchley. Entry free/donations welcome Sunday 12 November 7.00 p.m. doors open for 8.00 start Duke Special performs songs and music based on the poetry of Belfast writer Michael Longley. Glee Club, Arcadian Centre, Hurst Street, City Centre Tickets £15

Monday 13th November 2.00 – 3.00 p.m. Reading for Wellbeing A friendly group who read stories and poems together, reflecting and discussing how they connect with our experiences Sparkhill Library, 641 Stratford Road, Sparkhill Free
Tuesday 14th November 7.00 – 9.00 pm Poetry Society Stanza Group, open to all. Run by former Birmingham Poet Laureate Roz Goddard. Includes feedback on poems. Waterstones, High Street, City Centre, Free Entry Tuesday 14th November 7.30 – 10.30 p.m. What’s The Word hosted by Glyn Phillips, RJJZ Jazz Café Bar, Arch 24, 208 Livery Street, City Centre. Free Entry

Wednesday 15th November 10.15 a.m. Writing Group , Sutton Coldfield University of the Third Age (for those no longer in full time employment), Writing includes short stories, poetry, novel writing, scripts. Will be producing a poetry anthology in 2018 United Reformed Church, Sutton Coldfield town centre. Charge £1

Wednesday 15th November 12.00 midday to 2 p.m. Crunch lunchtime creative writing session, Artefact, Pershore Road, Stirchley

Wednesday 15th November 6.00 – 8.00 pm Birmingham Writers Group includes poets. Reading and feedback session. Look at their website http://www.birminghamwriters.org before attending. Downstairs at St Martin’s in the Bullring , City Centre. Meet outside 5.50 pm.

Wednesday 15th November 7.00 p.m. Freemine Writers Group Food, drinks and poetry. Share your work and meet like minded creative people. Rose Villa Tavern, Warstone Lane, Jewellery Quarter Free

Wednesday 15th November 8.00 pm Brainstorm open mic including poetry. The Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick Street, Digbeth. Free Entry.

Thursday 16th November 12.00 midday to 1.30 p.m. Poetry At Lunchtime. In the round reading of your own or favourite poems. Artefact, Pershore Road, Stirchley. Free.

Thursday 16th November 7.30 p.m. to 10.30. p.m. Hit The Ode Poetry Night with featured poets The Victoria, John Bright Street, Birmingham City Centre Tickets £5 on the door. Thursday 16th November 8.00 p.m. Barbara Brownskirt Poetry Theatre Show. Barbera, unsuccuessful poet in residence at the 197 bus stop, Croydon Road, Penge is trying to find out who she is as she tries to survive in 21st century Britain. Part of Shout Festival. The Old Joint Stock Theatre, 4 Temple Row West, City Centre Tickets £10. Thursday 16th November 10.15 – 11.30 a.m. Poetry for Pleasure for those who like reading poetry, writing poetry, listening to poetry. Reading in the round. Erdington Library, Orphanage Road, Erdington. Free entry.

Thursday 16th November 8.00 – 10.00 pm Cannon Hill Writers Group all genres of writing including poetry, sharing of work and constructive discussions. Horseshoe Bar 1214 Stratford Road, Hall Green. £2 per session/£1unwaged

Friday 17th November 1.10 – 2.00 p.m. Baudelaire in Song Professor Helen Aboott explores song settings of poems by 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire aided by Soprano Mary Bevan and pianist Joseph Middleton. Barber Concert Hall, Birmingham University, South Birmingham Free Entry
Friday 17th November 6.00 – 9.00 p.m. Evening of Creativity hosted by Erdington Arts Forum, features a range of performances including music and poetry. Oikos Café, 58 High Street, Erdington. Pay-as-you-feel

Friday 17th November 6.00 – 8.30 p.m. In Conversation & Reading with Roy McFarlane and Open Mic Poetry Night. Contact Serena Trowbridge at serena.trowbridge@bcu.ac.uk for open mic spots (6 minutes) Birmingham & Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, City Centre £5/£3 for members

Friday 17th November 7.30 – 9.30 pm Funkenteleky Four Poets perform with Four Musicians. The Poets are Leon Priestnall, Bethany Slinn, Tarik Ross Cameron, Andy Owen Cook. Poetry Open Mic without music accompaniment.

Sunday 19th November 1.30 p.m. Jamal Gerard Poet and Performance artist, includes his alter ego Fabulash Jones who draws upon the black LGBT ballroom culture of New York Free Venue to be announced

Monday 20th November 2.00 – 3.00 p.m. Reading for Wellbeing A friendly group who read stories and poems together, reflecting and discussing how they connect with our experiences Sparkhill Library, 641 Stratford Road, Sparkhill Free

Tuesday 21st November 1.00 – 3.00 pm. Pens of Erdington fortnightly creative writing group including poetry. Community Room, Erdington Library, Orphanage Road, Central Erdington. £2 per meeting

Tuesday 21st November 2.00 p.m.Shakespeare Studies Sutton Coldfield University of the Third Age (for those no longer in full time employment). Analysis of the language of the script, helping understanding of the plays. United Reformed Church, Sutton Coldfield town centre. Charge £1

Thursday 23rd November 10.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. NAF CAF Northfield Arts Forum Presents a pay as you feel surplus food café with live music, dance, poetry and arts and crafts workshops. Weoley Castle Community Church, 115 Quarry Rd, Weoley Castle.

Thursday 23rd November 12.00 midday to 1.30 p.m. Poetry At Lunchtime. In the round reading of your own or favourite poems , Artefact, Pershore Road, Stirchley. Free.

Thursday 23rd November 10.15 – 11.30 a.m. Poetry for Pleasure for those who like reading poetry, writing poetry, listening to poetry. Reading in the round. Erdington Library, Orphanage Road, Erdington. Free entry.

Thursday 23rd November 6.00 to 9.00 p.m. NAF CAF Northfield Arts Forum Presents a pay as you feel surplus food café with live music, dance, poetry and arts and crafts workshops. Northfield Baptist Church, 789 Bristol Road South, Northfield.

Thursday 23rd November 7.00 – 9.00 p.m. Verve Present: A Burning Eye Showcase Spoken Word Poetry from poets published by Burning Eye, Britain’s first Spoken Word Poetry Imprint Kate Fox, Toby Campion and Shagufta Iqbal perform. Waterstones, High Street, Birmingham City Centre Entry £5.90

Thursday 23rd November 7.30 for 8.00 p.m. Lorca! The Poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca Dramatic and sensual poetry arranged as songs and performed by guitarist Keith James. Kitchen Garden Café, York Road, Kings Heath Tickets £10

Thursday 23rd November 8.00 – 10.00 pm Cannon Hill Writers Group all genres of writing including poetry, sharing of work and constructive discussions. Horseshoe Bar 1214 Stratford Road, Hall Green. £2 per session/£1unwaged

Friday 24th November 6.00 – 9.00 p.m. Evening of Creativity hosted by Erdington Welcome Centre and Erdington Arts Forum, features a range of performances including music and poetry. Erdington Welcome Centre, Erdington High Street, Erdington. Pay-as-you-feel

Saturday 25th November 1.30, 4.00 and 7.00 p.m. Rocking The Wire present the stories of the Greenham Common protest through the eyes of Deborah who recalls them and how they shaped her life and inspire protest today, using theatre, spoken word and poetry. For ages 12 up. Hexagon Theatre, MAC Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park, South Birmingham Tickets £6 Saturday 25th November 5.30 to 9.30 p.m. Akwasi’s Open Mic Night Hip Hop, Spoken Word, Comedy and Rap. Tower of Song café, 107 Pershore Road South, Cotteridge. £5 Entry

Saturday 25th November 7.30 to 11.00 p.m. Songs and Poetry at The Lamp Tavern Generally 3 or 4 songwriters and one poet 157 Barford Street, Digbeth Free Entry

Sunday 26th November 1.30, 4.00 and 7.00 p.m. Rocking The Wire present the stories of the Greenham Common protest through the eyes of Deborah who recalls them and how they shaped her life and inspire protest today, using theatre, spoken word and poetry. For ages 12 up. Hexagon Theatre, MAC Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park, South Birmingham Tickets £6

Sunday 26th November 5.00 p.m. Sunday Xpress Poetry & Music Open Mic 5.00 p.m. Bands from 7.00 p.m., The Edge, Cheapside, Digbeth. Free Entry.

Sunday 26th November 4.00 – 6.00 p.m. Poets With Passion, bring poetry you love or some of your own to share. Myrtle Cottage, The Old Print Works, Balsall Heath (on No. 50 Bus Route). Free.

Monday 27th November 2.00 – 3.00 p.m. Reading for Wellbeing A friendly group who read stories and poems together, reflecting and discussing how they connect with our experiences Sparkhill Library, 641 Stratford Road, Sparkhill Free

Tuesday 28th November 10.30 a.m. Poetry Group, Sutton Coldfield University of the Third Age Poetry Group (for those no longer in full time employment), United Reformed Church, Sutton Coldfield town centre. Charge £1

Tuesday 28th November 7.30 pm Poetry Bites. Open mic poetry night featuring Anthony Owen. Kitchen Garden Café, York Road, Kings Heath. Tickets £5/£4 concessions Wednesday 29th November 12.00 midday to 2 p.m. Crunch lunchtime creative writing session, Artefact, Pershore Road, Stirchley
Wednesday 29th November 6.00 – 8.00 pm Birmingham Writers Group includes poets. Social Evening. Venue to be confirmed. Their website is http://www.birminghamwriters.org .

Wednesday 29th November 6.30 p.m. Waterstones On The Mic,. Poetry, storytelling, music. Waterstones, High Street, Birmingham City Centre Open Mic slots available from 6.00 p.m. Free Entry

Wednesday 29th November 7.00 p.m. Freemine Writers Group Food, drinks and poetry. Share your work and meet like minded creative people. Rose Villa Tavern, Warstone Lane, Jewellery Quarter Free

Wednesday 29th November 7.30 – 10.00 p.m. Spoken Trend Poetry and Spoken Word. Featured Artists and Open Mic slots available on the door. Door 7 pm. Entry £3, free for performers. The Bulls Head, The Green, Kings Norton. B38 8RU.

Thursday 30th November 12.00 midday to 1.30 p.m. Poetry At Lunchtime. In the round reading of your own or favourite poems , Artefact, Pershore Road, Stirchley. Free.

Thursday 30th November 10.15 – 11.30 a.m. Poetry for Pleasure for those who like reading poetry, writing poetry, listening to poetry. Reading in the round. Erdington Library, Orphanage Road, Erdington. Free entry.

Thursday 30th November The Grind Live A night of rap and spoken word fusing genres and supported by a full live band. Featuring Angnezia, Casp, Casey Bailey, Infamous Dimez and P Shand. Hare and Hounds, High Street, Kings Heath. Minimum age 18 Tickets £8 advance

Thursday 30th November 8.00 – 10.00 pm Cannon Hill Writers Group all genres of writing including poetry, sharing of work and constructive discussions. Horseshoe Bar 1214 Stratford Road, Hall Green. £2 per session/£1unwaged
List compiled by Bernard.S.Davis 80 Events 28 10 2017 7.3 hours

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“Our House”, Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre, Lichfield Garrick

madness

I saw Madness play live twice. They were fabulous, raucous, and with a touch of Music Hall about them. I am also a veteran of the era when they formed. Their incubation was not seamless. They morphed from what might best be described euphemistically as a “lad” band, through innovative interpretations of traditional Ska and  Two Tone , to a band whose lyrics were known verbatim by junior school age children. That trans- generational travel has served their longevity well. Their milieu is the three minute pop song, accessible lyrics, ubiquitous subject matter, and vocalist Suggs’ deadpan delivery. All of which does not necessarily equate with a hit musical, so I approached the night with an ear expectant of familiar songs, and an eye curious as to what I would see.

 

SCMTC are good at this sort of production, big dance numbers have always been their strength, and with a thirty plus cast, they can handle what is needed. Great singing is not a requirement to sing Madness songs, attitude and enthusiasm is. Fortunately, you will never find this company lacking in that department. The winner of an Olivier Award, “Our House “ was written by Tim Firth, who also wrote “Calendar Girls”, and was first performed in 2002. It tells the story of Joe Casey ( Matt Branson) who, on the night of his sixteenth birthday, commits a petty crime in a bid to impress the girl of his dreams, Sarah (Sophie Hammond). When the police arrive he faces a life changing decision; does he stay and own up like an honest man, or make his escape and go on the run? The opportunity to perform the Clash song “Should I Stay or Should I Go ?” is surely missed here. Unfortunately, Branson is miscast, looking both too old, and awkward in the part. His love/lust affair with Sarah never convinces.

our house ensemble

 

Joe’s world splits in two, and, in a “sliding doors” moment, two very different paths unfold before him. Whilst offering dramatic possibility, particularly when there are two “Joes” on stage, the narrative can feel a little muddled, as we are offered two very different outcomes for Joe, depending on which decision he had taken. Themes explored include love, family values, growing up, responsibility and dealing with losing the people that shape us, throwing a bit of “Blood Brothers” into the “Sliding Doors” mix.

 

Ben Addams enjoys playing villain Reecey. Mark Skett is convincing as Joe’s Dad, a part played by Suggs for a time in the original stage show.his performance of “One Better Day” being the solo highlight of the night. Elisa Gorle ( Angie), Chloe Child (Billie) Adam Coulthard (Lewis) and Anil Patel ( Emmo) provide welcome comic relief as  two comic double acts. The big production numbers are well handled by choreographer Maggie Jackson, she imaginatively incorporates a “42nd Street” interlude into the middle of a stretched out “Embarrassment” by introducing a female chorus line, sequins and all. Musical Director Sheila Pearson produces an authentic period sound, whilst still offering musical theatre production values. Saxophonist Jen Pollock will have gone home exhausted.

 

our house car

You will never guess which song this set introduced…

 

 

A greatest hits medley  opens  an instrumental overture  before kicking into a storming “Our House”, and from there the musical fun never really stops. Unfortunately the narrative never really gets off the ground. All the songs were written by the band, with the exception of Labbi Siffre’s, “It Must Be Love”. “Tomorrow’s Just Another Day” and “One Better Day” are great, superbly crafted, songs, even if at the time of release they were not the best sellers. English, laconic and wry, they are strong counter-points to the obvious rabble rousers “Our House” “Baggy Trousers and “Embarrassment”. When in doubt, “Our House” appears again to keep things moving musically.

 

There are some issues with the production. Vocal cues were routinely missed, some of the chorus harmonies were off key, “NW5” was so dreary that even the cast started to read newspapers, a coffin which appeared at the end of the show probably contained the libretto, and the set piece dance number around “Sun and the Rain” had the dancers in long loose fitting trousers, masking some well drilled dance moves, in a bizarre, ill-conceived routine. Costuming was anachronistic and inconsistent. I also wondered whether the Director had ever seen Madness live or watched a live recording. The majestic “Night Boat to Cairo” was emasculated into an “It Aint Half Hot Mum” pastiche. the eponymous call to arms being uttered with all the confidence of a year seven child asking a sixth former where the toilets were on their first day in Big School. it cried out for the saxophonist to perform from the balcony in full view, instead she was hidden in the pit. Equally, for the finale of “One Step Beyond”, the “Hey You-, don’t watch that watch this…” intro was ditched, robbing it of its build up.

 

The main problems with the show goes beyond any production. Madness songs require a central focussed narrative. When the vocal duties are shared out, the strength of the songs drains out.

But  the songs and singing were rousing, nostalgic and entertaining , once the cues had ben picked up. No fan of Madness, or anyone who listened to the radio in the 1980’s, will leave the auditorium disappointed. But it is the songs that carry the night, with Director Faye Easto doing a valiant job at driving a libretto which often has a tangential relationship with the music. The show is still a bit of a mess, despite the Company’s best efforts and it is not difficult to see why the West End run did not complete twelve months.  Fortunately, the finale is just for fun with the Company blasting through “One Step Beyond” and the other best bits with conviction and commitment, brio and elan, but it was too little, too late to save the show. Runs till 21st October.

 

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Hairspray – Birmingham Hippodrome

Hairspray-400x400 poster
*****
This show is beguilingly deceptive. Its title implies froth and artificial glamour, yet when heated, hairspray can be explosive. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s adaptation of John Waters’ 1988 film for stage was itself based on the book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan. First appearing on Broadway in 2002, it is both glitzy and gutsy. Stage adaptations of films have a chequered history, this is a rarity, an incarnation which is more powerful on the boards than on the screen.

 
There is a political message. That can be good in offering substance to a show, but it can also date it. Fortunately, and sadly, the themes of casual racism and mistrust of immigrants were a feature of the Brexit debate, and legislature corruption dominated the US Presidential Trump v Clinton battle, offering a contemporary dimension to the original screenplay. “Hairspray” focusses on the integration debate in early 1960’s America, body image, and how outsiders fit into mainstream society. But this is no dour, didactic dirge. Instead it is a celebration of diversity, hope, and the talent of youth .

 
Resident Director and choreographer Lindsay McAllister has managed to successfully tiptoe along the tightrope of delivering a show which musically fairly fizzles with high octane effervescence, whilst retaining the integrity of playing out a dramatization of the Civil Rights struggle in America. A brash, clever set nicely reflects the time and place. Takis earns his corn as set and costume designer, producing a riot of colour and flared dresses. The costumes are as much a star of the show as the actors boasting an operatic look, a cut above simple sixties kitsch

 
Rebecca Mendoza, taking the lead role of Tracy Turnblad, blazed into the opening number “Good Morning Baltimore”, and never looked back. It was as if she, and the cast had plugged themselves into the mains electricity socket. This role is her professional debut and Rebecca is superb in the role, offering a powerful vocal and a commanding stage presence. Yet she isn’t all front. Her love interest with Link Larkin is nuanced and believable, helped considerably by Edward Chitticks’ assured vocals and charisma.
Gina Murray, as producer and scheming mother Velma Von Tussell, comes close to stealing the show. She specialises in a withering glare that could turn milk sour, ostentatiously enjoying her role as villain of the show, injecting a healthy dose of Cruella De Ville into her character.

 
The musical score is fabulous featuring 1960s-style dance music and “downtown” rhythm and blues, played by a live onstage band under the musical direction of Ben Atkinson. Not skimping on musicians by using a pre- recorded sound track makes such a difference. All the vocalists, without exception, rose to the occasion, none more so than Miss Motormouth (Brenda Edwards) whose spoken rhyming couplets morphed into a huge interpretation of signature ballad “ I Know Where I’ve Been” sending tingle down the nape of my neck. She is a talent who has developed far beyond her X Factor appearances.

 
Tracy Turnblad’s parents have almost as much fun as the audience as a sparkling comedy duo. Norman Pace ( of Hale & Pace) gives a masterclass in timing and facial expression, while Matt Rixon appears in drag, breathing fresh life into the “man- in- a -dress” gag in a little and large pairing .Both come together for a very well received duet, “You’re Timeless to Me”.

 

Hairspray-UK-Tour-2017-78-small

Norman Pace

 

 

 
A compelling part of this show’s success is McAllister’s choreography. There are no back line shirkers, the shapes, footwork and movement are a delight, and she shows commendable discipline in not flooding the stage with chorus unnecessarily. Inevitably, she works “You Can’t Stop the Beat” until it is wrung dry, and why not? It is a great song, with unusually satisfying lyrics, the performance of which demands, and receives, a deserved standing ovation at its close.

hairspray cstb

 
Delightful cameo’s abound. Layton Williams (Seaweed Stubbs) is a striking performer, as slender as a microphone stand, but with seemingly nuclear powered dancing energy playing opposite love interest, ugly duckling turned swan, Annalise Liard- Bailey ( Penny Pingleton) The two of them imbue their roles with comedy and poignancy. Little Inez (Monifa James) gives a big performance. Jon Tsourus entertains hugely as the oleaginous television host Corny Collins.

 
Amidst the infectious song and dance a witty, and occasionally risqué, script is brought to life by the cast with some great lines, my favourite being from Velma ;“ It pays to have a politician in your pocket and a polaroid in your safe”.

 
This is an exuberant slice of musical theatre, beautiful to look at, kind on the ear, and with a big smile on its face. Runs till Sat 14th Oct.

 
Gary Longden

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