dolly head 

Well, hello Dolly! The indefatigable Dolly Levi is back and ready to demonstrate her famed skills at matchmaking – and meddling - at Sutton Arts Theatre in June.

All she needs, or to be more accurate, all Sutton Arts needs, is a cast and to that end will be holding open auditions at the theatre on Sunday, 15 January from 11 am.

The company staged its first musical for many years in 2015 with West Side Story, perhaps the most difficult, and expensive, choice for any amateur company, particularly one with a stage with no wings or flies. Directed by Dexter Whitehead the result was nothing less than a triumph.

That was followed by another slick and polished production from Whitehead last year with The Wedding Singer and with a growing reputation for a first class, big budget musical every year, Hello Dolly is the next to get the treatment, directed this time by Whitehead and the experienced Emily Armstrong, the pair who produced SAT’s excellent Jack and The Beanstalk panto last month.

Choreography, a strong point of the previous two musicals, is by the experienced Sarah Haines who was Anita in West Side Story inciddolly posterentally, and who is choreographer for the Old Joint Stock Musical Theatre Company among others.

The theatre is on South Parade, Sutton Coldfield, B72 1QU and auditions start at 11am on Sunday 15, January with the show running from 15-24 June, 2017.

Hello Dolly! has a long past starting in England almost 200 years ago with John Oxenford’s one act farce A day Well Spent. Seven years later the play had been extended by Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy into a three act musical comedy Einen Jux will er sich machen (literally He will make a joke or He will have a good time) which opened in Vienna in 1842.

Jump on almost 100 years and Thornton Wilder adapted the Austrian play, moving it to the USA, as The Merchant of Yonkers which opened on Broadway in 1938 and bombed, closing after 39 performances. Move on to 1955 and Wilder reworked his flop into The Matchmaker which became a big hit.

The biggest change in Wilder’s rewritten play was the role of Dolly Levi who was merely a minor character in his first unsuccessful attempt of bringing the story to Broadway, but in 17 years she had grown up to become the star of his reworked version.

Nine years later legendary Broadway producer David Merrick used Thornton’s play for yet another adaptation to become Hello Dolly! one of the longest running, most decorated and most loved musicals of all time with book by Michael Stewart and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman who has a host of Broadway shows including Mame, Mack & Mabel and La Cage aux Folles to his credit.

Incidentally the musical was going to be called Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman, a snappy title if ever there was one, or Call on Dolly. By chance, in December 1963, Louis Armstrong’s manager had persuaded him to record a demo of the song Hello Dolly! for the song's publisher to use to promote the show; this was in the days when sheet music was still popular and a highly profitable business remember.

The same month Kapp Records released the demo as a single giving Armstrong his first No 1 on the Billboard charts, ending a 14-week run in top spot by The Beatles. Legend has it Merrick heard the Satchmo demo version and the musical at last had its name, opening on Broadway on 16 January, 1964.

Roger Clarke


Moorpool Hall

MOORPOOL Players in Harborne has decided to bring down the curtain for the final time after 39 years.

There is somehow a great sadness when an established amateur theatrical company folds, it is as if a little bit of our shared cultural heritage dies with it.

Founded out of the Silver Jubiliee celebrations in 1977, returning amateur stage to the area after a gap of 50 years, Moorpool Players was, literally, at the centre of its community, performing in Moor Pool Hall on The Circle, the large roundabout at the centre of the estate, one of the first Garden Suburbs.

It was also one of the few amateur companies to call a Grade II listed building home with the hall first opening its doors in 1910.

As a theatre it has its limitations with no flies and little in the way of wings, a real WYSIWYG stage, what you see really is what you get. There is no technical gallery for sound and light, which are controlled from mobile desks plugged in on a table at the back, and as it is a community hall, with everything from dance classes to keep fit, there is no raked seating, chairs have to be put out and stacked before and after each performance, nor is there a permanent bar or refreshment facilities, which all adds a sort of charm to proceedings, overcoming limitations with a smile. Attending plays at Moor Pool was a step back in time to a more innocent age; if Captain Mainwaring had appeared in the audience he would hardly have looked out of place.

Don’t get me wrong, it was not some old fashioned affair, just a comfortable hint of nostalgia, a glimpse of things as they once were simpler times. With home-made cakes and baked potatoes on the refreshment stall and a hall-long second hand book stall, cheaply priced and relying only on honesty for payment, you always felt that this was a real community effort.Moor Pool Hall

With a mix of traditional plays mixed with modern, and spoof Victorian melodramas thrown in for good measure, it has provided a varied programme, and, like any theatre company, amateur or professional, it had its highs and lows, so perhaps it is fitting that they went out on a high – a high that exemplified the root of their problem.

The interior of Moor Pool Hall, denuded of its rows of chairs.

Moorpool’s last production, Talking Heads has turned out to be an excellent swansong, garnering a 5-star review from Behind The Arras (REVIEW).

It played to packed houses, indeed every Moorpool production seemed to be well attended, but the accolades for the three actors highlighted a glaring truth; it was a production that required just a cast of just three people. It had little in the way of scenery, scene changes or costumes.

It was a minimalist production in everything, and most importantly in cast numbers and backstage crew. The Players have had good attendance from a loyal audience but treasurer and Players’ stalwart of 37 years John Healey, has explained in a letter to more than 500 regular supporters, there are just not enough actors to mount regular productions and the number of front of house, administrative and backstage staff is dwindling.

After the difficulties mounting a production in May John said that finding a cast and support staff for the next scheduled production in November was looking impossible so it was decided to call it a day.

The Players was under threat two years ago when landlords Grainger wanted to sell its holding, including the hall and other facilities, but offered it first, at a fair price, to the Moor Pool Heritage Trust, which managed to raise the required £325,000 funds securing the future of the Grade II listed hall for the Players and a host of other groups and activities.

But that was only a short respite and the Players’ problems have reached a stage were John and his committee feel it is impossible to continue.

In his letter, warmly thanking everyone for their support over the years, John said: “Following the May production we started to plan for our next show but, unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that we would not have enough people to ensure that we could stage another show in November.  Additionally, it was clear that there was no prospect of that situation improving.”

Talking heads was directed by John and secretary Norma Mason, who has been involved with Moorpool for the full 39 years, with a loyal, regular band, providing technical expertise and front of house.

John continued: “We are sure that you will understand that staging a major production is not just about finding actors. There needs to be a large group behind the scenes providing a range of administrative and technical support services.  In the last year we have lost many of these people and no replacements have been found.

“Our survival for so long has, of course, not only been made possible by having enough people to stage our plays but also, and crucially, by having sufficient numbers coming through the doors to support and sustain us financially and through their applause, to give us the belief that what we’ve been doing has been worthwhile. The reception that was given to Talking Heads affirmed that this continued to be the case.”

Moorpool has been an affiliate since Behind The Arras started seven years ago, reviewed first by the late John Slim, and then by myself; we have always been made most welcome and it has always been a pleasure to watch their performances.

They will be missed.

Roger Clarke


marriage head


SHE was the girl who couldn’t say ‘no’ in the Manor MusicalAndy and Beth Theatre Company’s production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma!

That was two years ago, in Sutton Coldfield Town Hall, when Beth Willis played the comedy role Ado Annie, the pretty girl who too easily fell for the sweet talk of various young men.

During the show Beth had to sing I cain't say no, but cowboy Will Parker was determined to win her over after her father agreed to the marriage . . . as soon as he could save fifty dollars.

Playing opposite Beth, as Will, was Andy Hooper, and now the stage romance has turned into the real thing.

So when Andy proposed earlier this year, Beth had the perfect answer: Yes.

Andy Hooper as Will Parker and Beth Willis as Ado Annie in Manor MTC's production of Oklahoma

Now the couple are preparing for an August wedding at Banners Gate Community Church, when many of the theatre company will be present.

Andy, a BT employee from Tamworth, and Beth, a New Oscott primary school teacher, are also rehearsing for the company’s next show, Calamity Jane, which runs at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall from April 26-30. And they have romantic roles in this one – Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin and Katie Brown.

The theatre group used to be called the Manor Operatic Society, but this year changed their name to the Manor Musical Theatre Company in a move to encourage more new members to join.

Paul Marston


Stage 2 stalwarts march on

STAGE 2, that Birmingham hotbed of youthful talent and springboard for many a thespian career, is keeping an excited eye on news of former members.

Ellie Jurczak, who  is returning to the city  to work at St Mary's Hospice as a fundraiser later this month, will be a special guest at the group's next fundraising meeting to tell everyone how her Stage2 experiences led to the successes she has enjoyed so far.

Yolanda Kettle is opening as Jane Bennett in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in the Open Air Theatre at Regents Park in London.

John Light is Oberon and Theseus in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe in London – playing right through in rep until November.

Lauren Crace is currently filming the second television series of Mr Selfridge.

Matt Hill has just been at The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham playing the lead in the National Tour and Premiere of Carnaby Street The Musical.

Arthur Darvill is starring in Once on Broadway.

Wayne Fitzsimmons is still strutting his stuff in the NO1 Tour of Priscilla,Queen of the Desert.


Bless all who sit in her . . .

AND with that Sir Derek Jacobi wielded the scissors to cut the ribbon to officially open Hall Green Little Theatre's newly refurbished auditorium in his role as president.

Included in the refurbishment was new life for the auditoriums seats - which have lost a row to improve leg room.

The seats were second-hand when they were installed in 1950, and have been reupholstered and re-covered at a cost of some £22,000. Further contributions will be greatly appreciated.

Sir Derek Jacobi, scissors in hand officially opens the refurbished auditorium with, in the background, Hall Green chairman, Alex Bradshaw and Hall Green Theatre Council member Louise Price

The official opening also included a showing the film Greasepaint and Girders, the story of the building of the theatre in 1951 by members who, with no formal construction training, got stuck in and created a theatre to be proud of.

Introducing Sir Derek, Hall Green Chairman Alex Bradshaw revealed that he and Sir Derek had a lot in common: they had been born on the same day  (22 October 1938 for those interested) although he was momentarily lost for words when Sir Derek asked innocently: "I was a mistake, were you?"

Sir Derek was impressed with the new-look auditorium. He said: "I think it is great. I love the colour they have chosen. The seats are very comfortable and it is beautifully raked so that everyone has a very good view, which is very important - and the front of house is beautiful too.

"It is a big stage and I looked backstage at the dressing rooms and wardrobe and it is a wonderful setting. They can fly things too and some professional theatres can't fly stuff, I spent the summer down in Chichester at the Festival Theatre and they can't fly in stuff."
Meanwhile waiting in the background was this year's pantomime Dick Whittington, which runs from December 7-17 who found Sir Derek an interested observer at their latest rehearsal. See below.

Interview with Sir Derek