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andrea dunbar

Andrea Dunbar, pictured by the BBC in 1987

Rita, Sue and Bob Too

Derby Theatre 21-28 November, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

cast

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

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 Dunbar’s death, Loraine, a heroin addict, was convicted of manslaughter for causing the death of her child by gross neglect after the child ingested a lethal dose of methadone.

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

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

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

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

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

Gary Longden

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

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cindrs cast

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

Cinderella

Birmingham Hippodrome

Mon 19 Dec 2017 - Sun 28 Jan 2018

It’s Panto time again!

Oh no it isn’t!

Oh yes, it is!

(repeat until February)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Clarke

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lang and cotton

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

Duet for one

Birmingham Rep

22 September, 2017 - 7 October, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Clarke
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requiem

 

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Requiem for Ground Zero

Stage2

Crescent Theatre

19-22 July, 2017

‘For victims everywhere.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

zero double

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Clarke

Stage2 Box Office

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Million Dollar Quartet

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Million Dollar Quartet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Clarke

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

Million Dollar Quartet:

 

 

 

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

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Kiss Me Kate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Halpin

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

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

Box office 0844 338 5000, HIPPODROME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Halpin

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