The Second City on a Friday summer night is a vibrant thing. Brummies know how to have a good night out, and Colmore Row was buzzing with weekend revellers, England cricket fans celebrating a three day Ashes win, and England cricket fans with tickets for the fourth day drowning their sorrows. Inside the grand and imposing Old Joint Stock, the downstairs was packed with drinkers, the upstairs theatre packed to capacity for the debut performance of “Grimm Up North” by the Rachel Green Drama Queen Company, part of Birmingham Fest.
The pre- show theatre bar discussion was of exactly what it was we were about to see. No-one was quite sure, adding to the frisson of expectancy for curtain up ( if there had been one). As show time approached, a flat-capped Yorkshireman moved amongst the masses, handing out bingo cards and raffle tickets. This was to be no ordinary show.
To get everybody in the right ( northern) frame of mind, Bushy Brenda ( don’t ask!) delivered a prologue, making use of the bingo and raffle tickets only tangentially , to hand out prizes and abuse in equal measure. Northern Working Men’s clubs have a gritty, no-nonsense reputation, but in Brenda they would have found their match. Rachel as Brenda unleashed a formidable matriarchal persona, with a tongue so acid, and wit so quick, that it made Liverpool’s Lily Savage look like Florence Nightingale.
With Brenda’s credentials established, we were then treated to Brenda’s backstory- her abuse and murder of her hapless menfolk, for which she also multi-roles as Patsy Tipper. Her doomed love interests, Big Al and Tommy Tipper are engagingly played by Richard Nunn. Amidst the murderous mayhem Kirsty Mitchell innocently narrates from a high backed chair as favoured by storytellers in the children’s programme Jackanory.
Part stand up , part revue knockabout, and part macabre Grimm northern fairy tale, the show had the audience involved, and laughing, from start to finish. Rachel Green’s indefatigable energy and enthusiasm carried the show, ably supported by a talented cast. Her Doncaster roots were grimily evident as the grotesque Brenda careered around stage intoxicated by tinnies and an audience, always encouraged to participate, more than happy to feed her worst excesses. Although the tale itself is scripted, the rest is largely ad- libbed around a framework driven by Brenda.
Rarely have I seen an audience leaving a show with broader smiles, or a cast more exhausted by their exertions. I do hope that it will now tour more widely, the format not only has considerable space to develop as is, but it also has potential to take Brenda to new places and challenges.