North Birmingham Amdram Preview – What’s Hot, and What’s Not! Spring 2017

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Many theatregoers, and play Directors, have mentioned to me that although productions are well covered at the time of performance, previews are confined to often cursory summaries in brief advance publicity material. As a consequence, punters can find themselves making decisions to attend, or not attend, productions on fairly skimpy information, and Directors can find that by the time positive reviews bite, valuable performances have come and gone. This is an attempt to redress that.

The following is neither a comprehensive, nor exhaustive, list of upcoming shows, simply ones that have caught my eye. My assessments of the proposed productions are wholly subjective, and cannot anticipate how they will shape up on opening nights. Fine plays can be mangled, indifferent material made to shine by inspired acting and direction – that’s showbiz! But you will have a little more to go on in deciding which shows to back with your hard earned cash.

Sutton Arts

The Vortex  26/1 -4/2, running now.


A Streetcar Named Desire, 9/3 – 18/3.  –  A home banker of a choice. It won a Pulitzer prize, is rightly regarded as being Tennessee Williams best work, and often features in lists of the finest plays written in the 20th Century. Its mixture of taut family tension, conflicting social standing, sexual desire, and domestic violence cannot leave you bored.

Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh have played parts in the past, this will have had local amateur thespians desperate to be involved. Sutton Arts tends to be able to pull the best actors for the best productions. Claire Armstrong- Mills  was directing, Debbie “Dial M for Murder” Loweth replaces her.  . I am looking forwards to this – and so should you.

Anyone For Breakfast?  4/5- 13/5 A Derek Benfield farce. If you like doors opening and closing, women in their underwear and men without their trousers, people hiding and narrowly missing each other, and a funny foreigner, this should not disappoint. Benfield was directed by Brian Rix as a young actor whose style he emulated. If you like Rix, you will like this.

This style of fare was hugely popular in the 1970’s, and has carried that audience with it ever since. Elena Serafinas directs.

Hello Dolly 15/6-24/6 Another home banker for Sutton Arts who consistently overcome the limitations of a modest stage by finding a way of putting on a big  musical production anyway. Matchmaker socialite Dolly finds pairing couples in hometown New York, but hits problems when she becomes inadvertently embroiled in the process. Some great music and songs in addition to the eponymous showstopper. Expect big dresses, and a show with a warm heart. Premiered in 1964, it was based on a  successful 1938 farce, so expect an above average libretto.

Husband and wife Directing team Mr and Mrs Whitehead are becoming old hands at musicals. This will be well worth seeing.

Grange Players Walsall

Ladies in Lavender  15/3- 28/3  from a short story by William Locke and screenplay by Charles Dance,  adapted for stage by Shaun McKenna. This is a drama/romance, set in 1930’s Cornwall as two elderly sisters find a mysterious man washed up on the beach. Amongst his qualities are those of a gifted violinist.

Although the film dates from 2004, the play premiered in 2012. Not established in amateur rep, this will be new to most people, and offers lead roles to two older women. Expect a gentle, fey evening, and it will be interesting to see how  Director Rosemary Manjunath  manages  the pivotal musical demands of the show.

Heroes, 17/5- 27/5  A  gentle comedy, written in French by Gerald Sybleyras in 2003, but translated by Tom Stoppard, and premiered in 2005 starring Richard Griffiths, John Hurt and Ken Stott. Its lineage is strong. My old school friend, Ranjit Bolt OBE, is the leading contemporary translator of French to English drama, and rates the script very highly. The title was  an arbitrary choice after the French title, directly translated as “Wind in the Poplars” was deemed too close to “Wind in the Willows”. Ratty is nowhere to be seen here.

Seldom performed, this will be new to pretty much everyone. With three male leads, anticipate  character studies rather than a linear narrative. The three WW1 veterans  are seeing out their time  within a French Military hospital. Expect a “Last of the Summer Wine” ambience. Rosemary Manjunath and Dexter Whitehead co-direct an intriguing left field choice.

Touch and Go   12/7-22/7   A Derek Benfield farce, see my comments on “Anyone for Breakfast” for a flavour of what that entails. Benfield is a versatile talent, he starred in Coronation St for eight years as Walter Greenhalgh, and found fame as Riley in “The Brothers” drama serial. Touch and Go  itself was translated into French by Marc Camoletti and ran for a year in his theatre in Paris. My view is that the French, particularly Feydeau, are better at farce than we are, so that was quite a coup.

Of course trousers come off, and there is a running gag in this five hander as Brian uses jogging as a pretext to get out of the house from his wife Hillary for extra marital trysts with Wendy, courtesy of Brian’s friend George, who is having an affair with Hillary. Brian’s pretence of jogging is not the only thing which exhausts him. The reliable Louise Farmer directs. It will be interesting to see whether she injects any Gallic flair into this archetypal British fare.

Highbury Theatre

I Ought To Be In Pictures  24/1- 4/2 – running now,


The Thrill of Love 14/3-25/3  Amanda Whittington’s play on the life, and death, of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. It premiered as recently as 2013 at the New Vic, Newcastle under Lyme and has not been widely performed, despite receiving very positive press.

Whittington is an ex journalist, and is quite prolific having written  fourteen stage plays and five radio plays in nineteen years. Expect  a tight script, and a tale of contrasts, the dowdy Ellis chasing the bright lights, and  her relationship with her perfidious boyfriend juxtaposed with her friendship with the club char lady. Expect also a tale of love, obsession and betrayal, from dreams of Hollywood to the condemned cell of Holloway.

Although a little known play, I am anticipating much from this production.

Dangerous Corner 2/5 13/5   By JB Priestley, this is their home banker of the first half of the year. The phenomena that is “An Inspector Calls” carries an audience with it. But this is his first play, and is not as well- crafted as those that followed.

The plot is sound enough; the  Caplan’s are entertaining guests at their country retreat. A chance remark by one of the guests ignites a series of devastating revelations, revealing a hitherto undiscovered tangle of clandestine relationships and dark secrets, the disclosures of which have tragic consequences. The play ends with time slipping back to the beginning of the evening and the chance remark not being made, the secrets remaining hidden and the “dangerous corner” avoided.

It is the mix of a gay relationship, drug abuse , adultery, firearms and death which sustained its uncertain opening production. Now, the play works best hammed up, and with the melodrama quotient turned to ten.

Lilies on the Land 20/6 – 1/7 A recently premiered  (2010), so comparatively new, play about the Land Girls of WW2. Compiled from contemporaneous reminiscences, it focusses on the lives of four land girls in a feel-good  exploration of girl power which will evoke warm nostalgia from the elderly, and admiration from the young in a show of cross-generational appeal.

Expect frank, humorous and inspiring tales and an evocation of the British Spirit, so often  casually alluded to in contemporary writing, but here it is given some substance. It is written so that four women, doubling, can present it, or offer parts to as many as eleven. Will the production go small or large?

Amateur Musical Theatre

The Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company and Lichfield Operatic Society dominate in this , with their productions at the Lichfield Garrick a match for professional shows. They are well financed, long established companies able to draw upon the best of regional amateur talent, rehearse for longer than pro companies, put more actors on stage, and often put more money into production values than their professional peers. If you want to see tomorrow’s stars today check out Lichfield Garrick Youth Theatre, who despite of necessity having  a performing membership that constantly changes ,miraculously attract the best of local young  talent maintaining an impossibly high standard, a credit to the long standing management and production team

Made in Dagenham – SCMTC, 28/3- 1/4   A bold choice. The 2010 film was fabulous, the 2014 musical  stage show lasted only six months, closing in 2015, despite generally positive critical feedback. SCMTC will be hoping that the memories of the hugely satisfying film will be enough to lure the punters, despite the absence of a familiar score. The very limited number of previous nights also ensures that very few people will already have seen the show giving minimal opportunity for comparison with the professional production.

As far as I am aware this may be only the fourth run of this show beyond the opening at the Adelphi in London, after Ipswich and Hornchurch last year, and Oxford this year. The bad news is that it has a named cast of some thirty, the good news is that SCMTC have even more performing members! There are also two interesting character parts, Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle. Will they use newsreel footage or cast them?

The stage show does differ from the film with characters omitted and added. What remains is its humour, Englishness, “girl power”, women’s and worker’s rights themes, as the women of the Ford Dagenham car factory strike for equal pay with the men.. The company will be hoping that the closing number “Stand Up” will compel the audience to do just that. SCMTC have the members, loyal audience, expertise, and enthusiasm to pull this off. It will be worth checking out to see how they fare.

Annie –  Lichfield Operatic.  18/4- 22/4 Their choice  of show could not be greater in contrast with that of the SCMTC. Annie will be a cast iron, guaranteed, copper bottomed box office success. Like the other AmOpsoc favourite “The King and I”, it has lots of children, requiring teams of children with lots of friends, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who invariably take a chunk of tickets with multiple visits. The ticket manager’s dream show.

LO have performed this before, and have the money, and expertise, to match the expectations of the most demanding theatre goer with a pro class production. Expect loads of oohs and aahs as Annie belts out “Tomorrow” and perhaps a few boos for Miss Hannigan and her evil brother Rooster mid show before the cheers at the end. But it won’t be all plain sailing. “Hard Knock Life” is a fiendishly difficult song musically and vocally, with complex choreography for a young cast. Can they pull it off? This will be well worth a visit to find out.

Legally Blonde – Lichfield Garrick Youth Theatre 25/4 -29/4 Based on the hugely successful 2001 film, the 2007  stage premiere in America received mixed critical reviews, but quickly became a fan favourite enjoying runs on Broadway and the West End.

It is a  girl power  story of Elle Woods, a sorority girl who enrolls at Harvard Law School to win back her ex-boyfriend Warner. She discovers how her knowledge of the law can help others, and successfully defends exercise queen Brooke Wyndham in a murder trial. Throughout the show, no one has faith in Elle Woods, but she manages to surprise them when she defies expectations while staying true to herself.

Teenage girls love it, the show is fun, packed with song and dance and has an upbeat, uplifting message which is hard to deny. Julie Mallaband, one of the best directors around, is in charge and will have bought in plenty of stocks of peroxide blonde hair dye. As  with “Annie”, it is really impossible for this show to go wrong in this company’s hands.

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