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Tots the stars of new Hippodrome productions

Catch ‘em young seems to be the new motto of Birmingham Hippodrome with a new series of term-time daytime sessions for pre-school youngsters from the theatre’s creative team.

Mondays sees Music Shakers with Fiona Howe which is designed to be an introduction to music and rhythms, with different instruments, song birds, chimes and jolly seaside songs. It runs from 10.15 to 12 noon for children from newborn to four – and of course their parents, grandparents or carers.

Tuesday brings Sing and Sign with Ellie Shaw which is for the same age range and is a fun, relaxed introduction to baby sign language through song and story, startinghippo at 10.30 and ending again at noon.

We went along for Theatre Fun with David Eden which runs on Thursdays from 10.30, where my grandson showed uncharacteristic shyness – apart from riding in the lift, pointing out the lights on the bar and visible dismay when parents stopped for coffee and no hot chocolate appeared for him – but he came around eventually with a confident, enthusiastic goodbye . . . just as the session ended at noon.

This week was out but, as he declared he enjoyed it as we returned home, next week beckons.

The age range here is slightly older, two to four, as there needs to be an element of understanding as children find themselves making animal noises to animate a story, running and stopping on command or with music, making faces that are happy, angry or whatever in a mirror, jumping, singing and generally having fun.

Eden tailors his programme to his charges, and as anyone who has ever tried to control two and three-year olds will know, it can be like herding cats, which means it is very relaxed, with children joining and leaving activities as whims take them, drifting in and out the various activities of mime, movement, stories, even throwing squeezy, spiky balls.

Each of the activities is free for children with parents, grandparents and carers paying a modest £2 each – pay on the day.

It could be just the thing for cold wet, winter days, educational fun.

Roger Clarke

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E′li, E′li, la′ma sa bach tha′ni?

Jean Wilde has given some acclaimed performances at Hall Green Little Theatre, from Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe to Shirley Valentine, and now, like Shirley she is heading for pastures new, opening at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in another one-woman play.

This time she is the eponymous character in Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary based on his 2012 novella, which in turn represents a return to the professional stage for Wilde after a 10-year absence.

Mary is the mother of Jesus but this is not a play about religion, not some theological thesis making points for or against Christianity; it is a play about a mother who has lost a son in the cruellest of ways.

When it comes to hard facts little is really known about the crucifixion of Jesus. We have the accounts in the canonical gospels, references from contemporary historians and records and a number of non-Christian sources so that the fact that it happened is not in doubt.

But as for detail? That is thin on the ground. Two thousand years ago there was no rolling news and brutal executions were commonplace, the crucifixion of a Jewish upstart and, according to the Gospels, a few criminals, would have been a minor, local event in a distant province of the Roman Empire.

Few could have predicted that the execution of the Galilean preacher would spawn the greatest and largest religion on earth with 2.3 billion followers, roughly a third of the world’s population.

Paul’s letters describing Jesus’s death were written a quarter of a century or so after the event, while the first gospel, most scholars agree was by Matthew, was written some 40 years after the crucifixion.

We have names but not the people behind them such as Jesus’s mother Mary. The Roman Catholic church reveres the Virgin Mary, but who was she really, what went through her mind after her son was taken from her not once but twice?

Jean Wilde as Mary

Jean Wilde as Mary

First he was taken by his growing fame as his reputation grew as a preacher, a saviour, travelling Judea billed as the Messiah, the ultimate celebrity while his mother warrants hardly a mention.

Finally her son is taken from her and crucified, with Mary witnessing his death. How does a mother cope with that?

That is the premise of Tóibín's play, a Mary who is not a religious icon surrounded by a halo and angels but a mother whose son had been built up as a religious and political superhero and who suffered a lingering, painful and indescribably brutal death. After 2000 years she has finally been given a voice.

The play brought controversy, a Broadway run closed after two or the scheduled 12 weeks but it did pick up three Tony nominations along the way. Some religious groups saw any play about Mary as blasphemy so to give her a voice, feelings, a say in the life of Jesus brought even more of a religious hullaballoo.

But Tóibín never intended to question religion or faith. He said: "The text, what I wrote and what they're doing, is very serious. It's not as though we're attempting to get involved with the mockery of icons. It's almost that we're recreating or exploring an icon, rather than reducing the iconic. So I would imagine people will respect that. I am serious."

The result is a play which sees Mary as not the Virgin, Mother of God, but as an ordinary, earthly mother, who lost an extraordinary son in a violent state execution. Years later, and cared for by his followers, or as she sees them, a group of misfits, she is still angry, still feeling the pain of her son's death, questioning his divinity, his miracles, his life – all the things that carried him to his inevitable death. There is also humour as she looks back on his life and her situation, along with poignant expressions of a mother’s love, but amid the fury, the sorrow, bitterness and helplessness there remains one single question . . . was it worth it?

Jesus's final words, E′li, E′li, la′ma sa bach tha′ni? My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? could just as easily have been uttered by Mary in her moment of despair. 

Roger Clarke

If you are heading to the Edinburgh fringe festival this year then this Old Joint Stock production runs at C venues – C cubed (Venue 50), Brodie's Close, Lawnmarket from 3 August to 20 August (NOT August 15) at 11am. Running time 90 minutes.

FESTIVAL INFO

From Miss Saigon to Matilda at the Hippo

Birmingham Hippodrome has held a second season taster to launch its summer and autumn season and into 2018.

Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Birmingham Hippodrome, Fiona Allan and Heart FM Breakfast Presenter, Ed James, welcomed actors, directors and producers from a range of spectacular shows.

Top Hat and Strictly Come Dancing star, Tom Chambers was here to talk about his new show Crazy for You with words and music by George and Ira Gershwin, a big production musical which reunites him with fellow Strictly co-star Caroline Flack. The Show arrives at Birmingham Hippodrome on 24 October.

In a wide ranging talks about the show, being on tour and Strictly, Tom also talked about his start in show business.

 

Another guest was  Jean-Pierre Van Der Spuy, Associate Director of Cameron Mackintosh’s acclaimed new production of Boublil and Schönberg’s legendary musical Miss Saigon.

The West End musical closed last year after a two year run and now that production is set to go on the road with Jean-Pierre promised a griiter, more cinematic production that the more operatically staged tour of more than 10 years ago.

Miss Saigon opens at the Hippodrome on 26 July and runs to 23 September.

Another guest was Paul Kerryson, director of the international hit musical comedy Hairspray which arrives with a new production from 9-14 October. He said: “I’m so thrilled that Hairpsray is coming to the Hippodrome because it’s going to look great on this stage . . . this is not just a bubble gum show – it’s a great show that deals with a lot of important issues. It’s about acceptance rather than triumph over adversity. Tracy gets bullied but she also gets her man, brings her community together and becomes the star of the show. She’s got a big heart, a big voice and big hair!”

He also revealed the search for Tracy is the subject of an ITV documentary with the choice, secret until transmission, a surprising one.

On home ground to discuss the Hippodrome’s forthcoming B-Side Hip-Hop and Summer in Southside festivals was Director of Creative Programmes Graham Callister.

The audience was also treated to a performance by Welsh National Opera’s Natalya Romaniw, accompanied by Bernard Tam on piano. The Hippodrome is a second home to Welsh National Opera and Swansea born soprano Natalya – her surname coming from her Ukranian grandfather who settled in the Principality during the World War II – sang, Un bel dì vedremo, the most famous aria in Madam Butterfly.

 

The opera opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on June 27 as part of a triple bill, Madam Butterfly 27, 29 and 30 June, Die Fledermaus on 28 June and Der Rosenkavalier on 1 July.

Natalya will return to the Hippodrome on 3 Nov in WNO’s revival of Eugene Onegin when she takes the role of Tatyana in her WNO main scale debut in a four opera visit with Khovanshchina on 31 October, Die Fledermaus, 1 and 4 November, and From The House of the Dead on 2 November.

The panto this year, starring Matts Slack, is Cinderella, opening on 19 december to 28 January next year and 2018 sees the return of Wicked (4-29 April), Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella (6-10 February) and War Horse (10 October – 3 November) and the first tour of the RSC’s brilliant musical of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel, Matilda (3 July – 8 Septermber.

For a full programme at Birmingham Hippodrome Click Here.

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BIRMINGHAM Repertory Theatre has announced its new season for Autumn and Winter 2016, including three world premières new stagings of classic plays and brilliant stories.

It has also announced a new initiative, Furnace, which furthers The REP’s commitment to making world class theatre with and for people across Birmingham.

Among the highlights is the world première of What Shadows by Chris Hannan, directed by Rep artistic director Roxana Silbert with Ian McDiarmid as Enoch Powel

Other high points include the legendary film and novel, The Exorcist is unleashed on the stage for the first time in the UK and a thrilling, swashbuckling adventure sets sail for Christmas in a new staging of Treasure Island, adapted by Bryony Lavery and directed by Phillip Breen. 

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is given a contemporary spin in a co-production with Leicester Curve, directed by Nikolai Foster while The REP joins forces with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for an epic world première - Cold Calling: The Arctic Project, with music by Nick Powell and text by Anthony Neilson.

The story of Olympic Gold ice-skater and forgotten hero, John Curry, who was born and lived in Acocks Green, comes to life in the world première of Looking For John by Tony Timberlake, directed by Tessa Walker.

Michael Morpurgo’s novel, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, is brought to life by Emma Rice in a co-production with Kneehigh while Love by Alexander Zeldin considers the strains on families who are placed in temporary accommodation in a co-production with the National Theatre.

And booking for Autumn 2017, the National Theatre’s bold and dynamic production of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre ends its UK tour at The REP.

BEST NEW PLAYS

Talking about the programme for the season ahead, Artistic Director Roxana Silbert, said: “We continue to attract fantastic audiences by commissioning the best new plays, writers and directors in the country and hosting the cream of national and international companies and theatre makers. I’m particularly proud to be premiering three plays next season that have local, national and international resonance.

“As we near the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s explosive ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech I’m excited to be working once again with the brilliant Ian McDiarmid for Chris Hannan’s, What Shadows, a moving and timely exploration of the human impact of this most provocative of speeches.

“The season also sees us in a unique collaboration with one of the country’s great orchestras, the CBSO, for composer Nick Powell’s beautiful, haunting observations on loneliness and loss in Cold Calling: The Arctic Project. During this Olympic year, we also shine a light on a quiet hero - Birmingham’s ice-skating champion, John Curry, who was famously ‘outed’ after winning gold at the 1978 Olympics – in Looking For John.

“Nikolai Foster’s fresh and stylish production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest launches the season and Halloween offers a terrifying production of The Exorcist.  We have two outstanding family shows, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s touching novel and Bryony Lavery’s swashbuckling version of Treasure Island, a Christmas treat for all the family.”

Over the next three years, The REP’s new initiative, Furnace will bring together local communities with extraordinary stories to tell and world class artists to create epic experiences of startling quality.

Starting this summer with a large-scale UK wide community project, Furnace will bring theatre to a wider audience, and builds both on The REP’s successful REP Foundry programme for developing emerging theatre talent by giving its graduates the chance to work on large scale international productions and new commissions, while also continuing the theatre’s programme of offering local community members the opportunity to perform on The REP’s stages and beyond.  More details of individual projects within Furnace will be announced in early July.

Roxana Silbert said: “Over the last three years we’ve opened our doors to local emerging artists, writers, directors and theatre companies giving them space and support, so it feels only natural that our next step is to involve the people of Birmingham and the West Midlands in making theatre with them for our stages and elsewhere. We are constantly striving to attract new audiences and widen our appeal and Furnace is an exciting way to open up our building as well as taking theatre to the heart of a range of communities.”

Season Overview:

The Autumn and Winter season in the main auditorium, The HOUSE, opens with a stylish contemporary spin on Oscar Wilde’s classic play, The Importance of Being Earnest (9 – 24 September), in a co-production with Curve, directed by Nikolai Foster. Following this, and visiting The REP the week the Conservative Party conference takes place in Birmingham, is Dead Sheep (26 September – 1 October) by ITV’s Tonight reporter Jonathan Maitland - a play about former chancellor Geoffrey Howe’s savaging of Margaret Thatcher in one of the greatest resignation speeches ever made. Dead Sheep stars Steve Nallon (Spitting Image) as Margaret Thatcher and Graham Seed (The Archers) as Ian Gow.

Acclaimed theatre company, Kneehigh return with an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips (6 – 15 October) in a co-production with The REP and Berkeley Repertory Theatre.  Michael Morpurgo is one of the UK’s most beloved and successful authors whose work includes War Horse, Kensuke’s Kingdom and Private Peaceful. The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips retells Morporgo’s novel about the preparation for the D-Day landings and is directed by Emma Rice.

The Exorcist (21 October – 5 November) is unleashed on the stage at The REP for the first time in the UK. This classic novel and legendary film adaptation terrified a whole generation, and now it is brought to life for a special Halloween season at The REP.  Programmed alongside The Exorcist is Séance by Glen Neath and David Rosenberg (18 – 29 October) – a 15-minute immersive performance that takes place in absolute darkness inside a shipping container outside The REP in Centenary Square.

Following last year’s record-breaking Christmas show, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The REP is set to thrill audiences once again with a swashbuckling voyage to Treasure Island (25 November – 7 January).  Adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavery and featuring newly composed music, director Phillip Breen will bring this timeless classic to The REP’s epic stage. The Christmas season also sees two shows for younger audiences: Room On The Broom (22 December – 8 January) and the ever-popular, The Snowman (11-15 January).

RIVERS OF BLOOD

In THE STUDIO, Ian McDiarmid leads the cast as Enoch Powell in the world premiere of What Shadows (28 October – 12 November) by Chris Hannan. Starting with the explosive ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech that he gave at the Midland Hotel, Birmingham in 1967, What Shadows brings to life the community that inspired it and 30 years later, its effects on a woman trying to make sense of her life after her childhood was shattered by the toxic situation that followed.

The REP and the CBSO come together for an epic world premiere: Cold Calling: The Arctic Project (8 – 12 November). Commissioned by The REP from acclaimed composer Nick Powell, and set against a backdrop of beautiful Arctic landscapes, this innovative piece explores love, loneliness and loss. Featuring actress Jan Pearson performing text by Anthony Neilson accompanied by live music from the CBSO and projections from Simon Wainwright, this promises to be a captivating and inspiring live experience.

Love (26 January to 11 February) by REP Associate Director, Alexander Zeldin and his company in a co-production between The REP and the National Theatre considers the bonds of love that keep people together and the strains on those bonds on families who are placed in temporary accommodation.

In 1976, 19 million people watched Birmingham-born ice-skater, John Curry win Olympic Gold. Just hours after his victory, he was “outed” as gay by a German tabloid. Written and performed by Tony Timberlake and directed by The REP’s Associate Director Tessa Walker, Looking For John (15 – 19 November) is a heartfelt and comic story of one man’s obsession with a forgotten icon and his journey to get his hero celebrated once more.

Visiting The REP during the forthcoming season is Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, who make a welcome return following last-year’s Lord of the Flies, with their critically acclaimed staging of Jane Austen’s most beloved-novel, Pride and Prejudice (8 – 12 November). 

Plays visiting The Door during the autumn include Girls by Theresa Ikoko (20 – 24 September) - a fierce new play about three teenage girls kidnapped from Nigeria, and Enda Walsh’s contemporary classic, Disco Pigs (29 September – 1 October) which sees Pig and Runt on their 17th Birthday binge.  Actor Tim Barlow talks about life at 80, memory, hearing and the art of theatre, in Him (6 – 8 October) by writer and theatre-maker Sheila Hill.

POLITICAL THEATRE

Women and Theatre in collaboration with The REP present Starting Out (12-15 October) – a new piece of political theatre that shines a light on the experiences of young women entering the world of work in 2016.  Written by five exceptional female playwrights - Janice Connolly, Charlene James, Lorna Laidlaw, Manjeet Mann and Susie Sillett - and based on research interviews, the plays explore the human stories behind issues such as zero hour contracts.

Sleepwalk Collective bring their latest show, Domestica (17 October) as do Told By An Idiot with Heads Will Roll (1 – 5 November) - a phantasmagoric adventure inspired by the search for El Dorado – the mythical city where rivers ran with gold. Shakespeare, His Wife And The Dog (21 – 23 November) by actor Philip Whitchurch and his wife, Sally Edwards continue The REP’s Shakespeare 400 celebrations. Broken Biscuits (29 November – 3 December) by Tom Wells (writer of Folk which premiered at The REP in April) is a beautiful, laugh-out-loud, coming-of-age story directed by James Grieve of Paines Plough. One of the leading voices in French theatre, Mohamed El Khatib returns to The REP with a beautiful moving portrait of a cleaning lady, I, Corinne Dadat (12 – 13 December). The monthly Cabaret XXL returns (October – December) with the hottest, brashest and most irresistible performers including East End Cabaret, Jonny Woo with Night At The Musicals, Le Gateau Chocolat, Barbara Nice, Dusty Limits and Lucy McCormick.

Looking further ahead and following a critically acclaimed season at the National Theatre, Jane Eyre visits The REP in September 2017. A collaboration between the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic, this innovative re-imagining of Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece is directed by Sally Cookson.

Tickets for the Autumn and Winter Season go on sale to members on Monday 16-05-16 and to the public on Friday 20-05-16..

Box Office: 0121 236 4455 Online Booking: Birmingham-rep.co.uk

Twitter @BirminghamRep | Facebook / Birminghamrep  | Instagram @therepbirmingham

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New mum Shona Jorkowski returned to Birmingham Hippodrome yesterday, just over four weeks after her waters dramatically broke during a performance of Mary Poppins at Birmingham Hippodrome.  

Visiting with new born baby Kasper, delighted sisters Seren and Cally and her mother-in-law Angie, Hippodrome staff surprised Shona by unveiling a new seat plaque dedicated to her son, which reads Baby Kasper 16.3.16 Practically Perfect in Every Way.

Mary Poppins cast members Zizi Strallen (Mary Poppins) and Matt Lee (Bert)kasper and fans joined Shona and family for photos, along with Front of House staff Jonathan Thompson and Kirsty McTighe who were there on the night to help.

Shona & Kasper are pictured with (from left the right) Kirsty McTighe (Hippodrome), Angie Hahmer (Mother in law), Zizi Strallen (Mary Poppins), Cally (8), Seren (10), Jonathan Thompson (Hippodrome) and Matt Lee (Bert). Pictures Simon Hadley

Shona said: “We booked the show last year, not long after finding out I was pregnant. The date was close to my due date but as I went overdue with both of my daughters I wasn't worried.

“A few days beforehand I was getting niggles but nothing to signal I was close to giving birth. I remarked to Angie, my mother-in-law and my daughters that the baby was being very active during the songs, joking how big a fan of Mary Poppins they were. The second act started and I was looking forward to “Step in Time" however just as the scene started I all of a sudden felt a pop and realised my waters had gone!

“The usher was very helpful and we were soon joined by Front of House staff Jonathan and Craig. I started to feel very shaky and they were brilliant, making me a cup of tea and providing a snack.

“My contractions were just starting and they helped me backstage to contact my husband and midwife. They kept my mind off it all and I appreciate their help and support and their name suggestions of ‘Mary’ or ‘Bert’. They stayed with me until my husband arrived and waved us off.

“We welcomed our baby boy Kasper Jorkowski into the world on 16 March and in his memory box is a programme and poster from the show and we have such a great story to tell. Everyone at the Hippodrome was very supportive and their kindness will stay with us.”

Birmingham Hippodrome’s Head of Customer Service Jonathan Thompson added:“It was hot water and towels at the ready in the office, just in case Kasper decided to arrive during the show, but thankfully this was only needed to make a cup of sweet tea! It’s such a pleasure to welcome all the family back today and surprise them with the seat plaque dedicated to Kasper”.

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Let it Be

Birmingham Hippodrome

Monday 25 April - Saturday 30 April 

THERE is no need to explain the musical origins of Let It Be which opens at Birmingham Hippodrome this month.

The Beatles were and, 46 years after the acrimonious break-up, still are a pop phenomenon with a huge bac catalogue of hits and an influence which spans the generations.

The musical based on their career opened in the West End in September 2012 and producer Jeff Parry has been talking about the show – starting with his reaction to the verdict of the first night audience.

He said: “It was quite surreal. A Canadian producing a show about England’s greatest band – I’m still trenying to get to grips with that even to this day. We have taken the show across the world but were told that the West End audiences may not get on their feet, but the critics were very wrong. Just as in Tokyo, New York and Moscow, the London crowd reacted in a similar fashion demonstrating the universal appeal of The Beatles.”

This will be the show’s biggest tour to date. Did you ever believe that almost two million Beatles fans would see the show?

We launched the first phase of the production as Rain in 2004 so audience figures are rapidly closing in on two million. It really is incredible when you stop and take a moment to think about it. The show sells on word of mouth – there are obviously a lot of mouths telling their friends to see Let It Be.

Would you describe Let it be as a family show?

What really excites me is seeing three generations at the show. It is so encouraging and heartwarming to see younger generations discovering the music. And hopefully we are doing our bit to create new Beatle fans and keep the magic of the band strong for years to come.   

The Beatles have such a colourful and exciting history, how did you choose the specific eras and songs to feature in the show?

They changed as did the times. It seems like a lot happened in the Sixties from post war England and The Cavern Club, Hard Days Night, Shea Stadium, Sergeant Pepper and the Magical Mystery Tour. Through to grown men who did not need costumes to relate to the changing times. What makes The Beatles so special, aside from their songs, is that they stayed ahead of the curve and were totally representative of the changing times and themselves. No other group came anywhere near being able to do that so successfully in my mind.

How difficult is it finding the right cast, was it an international search for talent?

This is an extremely difficult part of producing the show. The performers have to be able to play their instrument without looking down and be able to sing, it’s not an easy task by any means. Our litmus test is simple – to find the right musicians who don’t necessarily have to look exactly the part. We should be able to close our eyes and hear The Beatles and I think that has been our magic and contributed to the success of the show. A perfect example is that when we cast in London looking for Brits to take the slots, our best Paul was from Italy who flew himself in to audition. Never in a million years did we think that a right-handed Italian would take on the role of Paul McCartney, but when he played and sang he absolutely nailed it. He has since learned English and to play left-handed to demonstrate how committed he is to the role. I think that putting this cast together is like putting a football team together – you strive to have the best players on the field as the fans want to see the best.

The ethos of the show is a celebration of the music of The Beatles? Is that a conscious decision to make the show more of a concert?

 People really do seem to like the fact that they don’t have to sit through a story to hear the songs in context to the archival footage we use to depict the times. It’s quite a refreshing take on a show.

How has the show been developed from its early days?

I started the original show Rain in 2004 using a band from Reno Nevada. The first show was in a parking lot outside of radio station in my hometown of Calgary Albert, Canada. The show started as five guys (one on keys) playing on a basic stage with some video. As the show became popular in North America we added more to the production in the hope the show would be accepted by theatre audiences. In 2010 LET IT BE opened on Broadway – this ultimately meant that we had arrived at that level. It was a very special moment indeed.

Vintage tv sets show original band footage, plus there are live black and white video feeds to cleverly make audiences feel like they’re actually back in the heyday of Beatlemania first time round. What was the idea for those?

The original concept for using footage came from the show ‘Beatlemania’, which I believe originated in the late Seventies. That show ceased to exist but their concept did not. We took it a few steps further but wanted to maintain the era at the same time by using black and white footage. It’s proved extremely popular and a real highlight fans.

Usually frowned upon in theatres, audiences are actively encouraged to take photographs and video to share on social media. It's unique for a theatre show.

We are all products of the internet era. As far as I am concerned, if a fan wants to take a picture or video of the show and share it with their friends then that is excellent exposure for the show. Word of mouth goes such a long way and the best form of marketing, so allowing pictures and video only adds to the overall experibeatlesence. Let the audience help sell the show.

There is a fantastic rapport between the cast and audience. From the outset, fans are encouraged to sing and dance. It's very interactive and generates a lively atmosphere. Again this is quite different for a theatre show.

People always ask, what makes the show special? My take is simply that I can almost guarantee that you will feel better about yourself at the end of the evening than how you did when you arrived. It is impossible to leave the theatre without feeling good. I have a distinct memory from Chicago of a couple who were in their fifties or sixties, who were up on their feet singing along to Hey Jude like they were actually seeing The Beatles. They were so taken up in the moment and gave each other a big hug at the end – and it looked like they hadn’t done that much lately. It was like they had been transported back to their youth and naivety of just having fun. It was a very special moment. We’ve also had a promoter from New Zealand want the show merely because he witnessed people leaving our show in the West End laughing and singing Beatles songs. He wanted to share that experience with his audiences too.

Favourite beatles song and why?

 This can change with my mood. Sometimes I want to hear, I Want To Hold Your Hand. While other times it would be Within Without You. But special songs to me are ones like, I’ll Be Back, which allows for three-piece harmony on the verses. The blend of their voices creates a very special unique sound.

With such an extensive back catalogue, how did you choose the show’s set list?

People want to hear the really popular songs and I strongly believe we have accomplished that, although we get asked all the time if we can add even more.

You got your first Beatles' record as an 11-year-old in canada. What impact did it have on you?

My Dad’s secretary gave me the first album featuring Twist and Shout and She Loves You. It definitely changed my life as I became a youngster who really started listening to music as a result. I then bought every Beatles album as it was released and also became a fan of The Kinks and The Rolling Stones before venturing into other music genres. This led to me choosing a career in music, and I’ve been a promoter and producer since 1980, ironically the year John was assassinated. I have no idea where my career path may have gone if I had not heard that first album. Sometimes it really scares me to think that I could have become a banker!

Did you ever see The Beatles perform live?

No, I was too young unfortunately.

Are your family Beatles fans?

Yes they have to be! My family has seen the LET IT BE at least 50 times. They now need a little persuasion after living and breathing the show with me for over a decade. However once the lights go down and the show comes to life, they are soon on their feet just like the rest of the audience. I truly relish that sight, seeing my own family enjoying the music of my heroes as much as I do.  

Where were you when you heard the news about John Lennon’s death?

I had just started booking bands in clubs and was heading to a gig that night. I’d been for a swim at the local YMCA. It was a rainy night in Calgary, not typical for Calgary at that time of year. I got into my Honda Civic to head to the club and heard the news and went totally numb. I travelled to the club where I was told the band could not perform after they had heard the news. It was such a shock and a tragic loss.

The Beatles changed music and culture, inspiring a lot of today's artistes. What

Impact do they still have on your life?

Their music is something which has been with me all of my life and, by some coincidence, has been the road map to my career. I never intended to create a show about The Beatles, in fact, I wanted to

avoid that as I thought their music was too important for a ‘tribute’ show. I had seen many and usually left at the interval. The fact that Let it be has risen above the masses to such a great degree is something which I still cannot explain but supports destiny. And it makes me feel extremely proud of what we have created. I have no idea what things are left in store for the balance of my life as I’m now aged 60, but I feel that The Beatles will still be involved whether intended or not. As opposed to most music, I can honestly say I never get bored of their music although I am careful to only listen to it on occasion, somewhat like enjoying a fine wine. You can drink the cheaper stuff daily – but you only open the premium wines on very special occasions.

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William Bracewell

William Bracewell as the Sun King, Louis XIV in the world premiere of The King Dances. Picture: Bill Cooper.

BIRMINGHAM Royal Ballet Soloist William Bracewell has won the Outstanding Male Performance (Classical) award in the Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards 2015. William was nominated for his role as King Louis XIV of France in David Bintley’s one-act ballet The King Dances, which received its world premiere at Birmingham Hippodrome in June 2015.

Bintley created the role of King Louis XIV on William, a role which saw him take on the character of the 14-year-old King of France.

William, 24, has been performing with Birmingham Royal Ballet since 2010 and in that time has danced lead roles throughout the UK and abroad in ballets such as The Dream, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Prince of the Pagodas.

He is currently rehearsing for the role of Romeo in Kenneth Macmillan’s production of Romeo and Juliet, which opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on Wednesday 24 February before embarking on a UK tour.

At the same awards ceremony Birmingham based Rosie Kay Dance Company was named Best Independent Company. The award recognizes the hard work that goes into creating dance work independently, and celebrates the company’s talent whilst supporting its growth. RKDC was also nominated in the Best Modern Choreography category for the critically-acclaimed 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline.

5 Soldiers will tour to five venues in Scotland  this year while with support from Arts Council England  the company will create and tour a new double bill of duets in autumn 2016. Company dancers Shelley Eva Haden and Oliver Russell will recreate the acclaimed, award-winning Double Points: K and Rosie Kay will choreograph the new duet Motel inspired by the work of visual artists Huntley Muir.

Double Points: K is is a pure abstract study in form, vocabulary and stamina. Motel is a slick, sexy, dark and entertaining duet that explores the concept of hotel rooms, what goes on in them, and what ghosts are left behind. The double bill will premiere at mac birmingham on 9 September 2016 and will tour in autumn 2016 (dates to be announced).

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Happy New Year for Lichfield Garrick

THE New Year was rung in in style with a bumper donation for the We Love Lichfield Fund, as Lichfield Garrick’s pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk, clocked up a box office record with more than 27,000 seeing the show.

Collections and donations at the Garrick raised £6,063 for the fund, in what will be one of the biggest organisational donations in the its history.

The fund was mentioned on stage in each Jack and the Beanstalk performance to help raise awareness, and the staff and cast collected donations throughout the theatre after the performance.

Karen Foster, Lichfield Garrick’s Executive Director, said: “During the Garrick’s pantomime season, we are proud to have supported We Love Lichfield.Our staff, as part of ourcast commitment to our community, have raised £6,063 for the fund. We are delighted that this will enable We Love Lichfield to reach many community groups and benefit a wide range of local good causes.Our thanks to audience members for their generosity.”

This is the second year the Lichfield Garrick and We Love Lichfield have worked together during the Christmas season, having raised just over £3,000 in 2014’s pantomime, Cinderella. It’s the perfect start to the new year for the fund, which distributes grants of up to £1,000 to voluntary groups and good causes across Lichfield District.

Simon Price, Patron of We Love Lichfield, said: "One word. Wow.This is one of the biggest amounts we have received and I am so grateful to the panto's performers and the Garrick staff for their hard work in raising this amount."

Writer Ian Adams as Dame Mary Trott, Graham Cole as Hemlock and Jo-Anne Stevens as Princess Jill and Dominic Griffin as Jack Trott.

Julian Fisher, from We Love Lichfield, said: "And it isn't just amount the money raised.We had a special mention in every panto performance which spread the word about the work of the Fund across the district."

Produced by Artistic Director, Tim Ford, Jack and the Beanstalk has been widely regarded as the best pantomime the Lichfield Garrick has produced and has been thoroughly enjoyed by its patrons.

In what will be Ian Adams’ (Dame Trott) last pantomime at the Lichfield Garrick, Tim Ford, said: “We have had a fantastic Christmas this year at the Lichfield Garrick. I am incredibly proud of the whole team and I thoroughly enjoyed making the show with Ian. We are truly grateful to him for all the hard work, energy and passion that he has given to the Lichfield Garrick over the last few years and he will be missed. However I am delighted that we already have plans in place to ensure that Christmas 2016 will be another fantastic show.”

There is no rest for the team who put together Lichfield Garrick’s pantomime as preparations have already begun for 2016’s enchanting production, Sleeping Beauty – The Pantomime of Dreams.

The theatre will be announcing more information on this year’s pantomime in the spring with early bird tickets now on sale from the Garrick Box Office on 01543 412121 or www.lichfieldgarrick.com

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New Street awakes after a night of bombing

SEVENTY five years ago Birmingham found itself a target for the Luftwaffe.

Five nights after the devastating raid on Coventry in 194installation0 it was Birmingham’s turn with three consecutive nights of heavy raids.

The first raid had happened in August that year, a single aircraft dropped its bombs on Erdington.

 One person died and six were injured. There were other small raids on factories in the city of a thousand trades but on November 19 came the first concerted heavy raid – The Birmingham Blitz had started with around 440 heavy bombers.

Between the 19th and 28th of that month around 800 people were killed and 2,345 injured, with 20,000 civilians made homeless.

The following night 200 bombers attacked and the third night the raids lasted for 11 hours. The last raid on Birmingham was April 23, St George’s Day, in 1943.

The art installation around The Tree of Life memorial by St Martin's Church in the Bull Ring markets

In three and a half years of bombing an estimated 1,852 tons of bombs fell on Birmingham making it the third most bombed city in Britain behind London and Liverpool.

In all 2,241 people died with 6,692 injured, while 12,391 homes, 302 factories and 239 other buildings were destroyed with many more damaged.

On 8 October 2005 a memorial sculpture, named The Tree of Life sculpted by Lorenzo Quinn, dedicated to the victims of the Blitz, was unveiled adjacent to St Martin’s Church.

Now a a special art installation, 2,241 Reasons To Remember: The Birmingham Blitz, commemorates the 75th anniversary of the first devastating air raid with VIP guests and children from Birmingham schools completing the instalation.

Created by Birmingham Hippodrome and award-winning arts organisation, Metro-Boulot-Dodo, it is a illuminated multimedia art installation.

2.241 Reasons to Remember has been funded by Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, Birmingham City Council, Southside BID and The Limoges Trust, with support from Birmingham City Council.

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Freya Sutton, who toured as Tracy Turnblad in 2013, is back as the unlikely hero in a completly new 2015/16 production of Hairspray.

IT’s going to be back to the future come December when The New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham takes us back to 1962 Baltimore with a completely new production of hit musical Hairspray.

And to give a taste of what is to come the leads and many of the cast came up from Malvern, where they were appearing, put on a special preview show at the Alex and from the audience reaction, Birmingham is in for a festive treat.

The show will see Freya Sutton back in the star roll of Tracy Turnblad, the girl with a big heart . . . and pretty well everything else, the role she made her own in the UK and Ireland tour of the previous production in 2013.

Delighting in playing the baddie, Velma Von Tussle, the racist and pretty well every other disparaging ist word you can think off, is Claire Sweeney, who has become an in demand musical theatre star since leaving Brookside 12 years ago.

Her CV is packed with top shows including the likes of Chicago, Dirty Dancing, Legally Blonde, Guys and Dolls, and, a well a critically well-received tour of Educating Rita with Matthew Kelly.

Set against her is the formidable Edna Turnblad played by 6ft 4in – and that’s without the high heels - Tony Maudsley, best known as hairdresser Kenneth in Benidorm, and returning to the stage for the first time in a dozen years in a career which has been firmly lodged in TV and film with roles from Harry Potter to BBC’s Ordinary Lies earlier this year.

His . . . her . . . Edna’s husband is the somewhat less than 6ft 4in Peter Duncan, ex-Chief Scout, writer and director of pantomimes, actor, including star of Barnum, yet in a long career he is perhaps best known as a presenter of Blue Peter in the early 1980s or the daredevil (posh for mad as a hatter) exploits in Duncan Dares.

Yet it is easy to forget that when the young Duncan was starting out he spent two years working in the National Theatre Company under Sir Laurence Olivier at The Old Vic, working with some of the finest acting and directing talent of his generation.

Meanwhile loudest, by a long way, is Brenda Edwards, and her magnificnt voice with its lovely shades and incredible power. Since appearing in X-factor she has become a musical comedy goto whenever a soul, R&B or gospel singer is needed which has taken her into Chicago, Carmen Jones and We Will Rock You and now she puts some real, old fashioned wellie into Motormouth Maybelle with one of the highlights of Hairspray Edwards’ emotional rendition of I Know Where I've Been, which cuts through the froth and fluff to bring the serious note to the heart of the story, the call to end racial discrimination and the battle for civil rights in the USA with the likes of Martin Luther King Jnr, and folksingers such as Joan Baez and Pete Seager. It is a poignant moment.

Edwards also has a parallel career as a singer and her debut album, Bring it Back, recorded with her band, is a self-penned soul album apart from one Queen track, Another One Bites the Dust.

This new production is directed by Paul Kerryson, former artistic director of the renowned Curve Theatre in Leicester, who has a wealth of experience in musical theatre while choreography is by the equally experienced Drew McOnie with new musical arrangements from musical director Ben Atkinso, who was md on the recent tour of Oklahoma!

Hairspray dances into The New Alexandra Theatre on 14 December 14 and runs over Christmas and New Year to 2 January, 2016.

Roger Clarke

Review at Malvern

Book at the Alex

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09-15

billy

SMASH hit musical Billy Elliot has announced its much awaited first tour of the UK and will be dancing into Birmingham Hippodrome for an eight week run in March 2016.

The show is based on the 2000 film written by Lee Hall. The music for the stage show was written by Elton John with Hall adapting his screenplay and writing the lyrics while the film’s director and choreographer, Stephen Daldry and Peter Darling carried on their roles on stage.

Set in the coalfields of County Durham amid the social devastation of the miner’s strike of 1984-85, the musical tells the story of Billy, a young lad who has to stay behind after a boxing class and discovers another world in a ballet class and decides to trade boxing for ballet.

With ballet hardly seen as a natural progression, much less a profession, for a miner’s son from the sweat and grime of the Durham coalfields, Billy’s journey is never going to be easy especially amid what had become a fight to the death between Margaret Thatcher’ government and not just the National Union of Mineworkers and but the whole mining industry.

The last deep coal mine in Britain, Kellingley Colliery in North Yorkshire, is scheduled to close in December this year – 60 years ago we had more than 1,300 deep mines.

With the miners battling for their future Billy had his own battle fighting for his in a musical which mixes laughter and tears.

The show has been seen by a staggering 10 million people around the world and picked up more than 80 awards, including 10 Tony awards on Broadway.

Tickets for Billy Elliot at the Hippodrome will go on sale from April 2016 and there will be an advance priority booking period for Birmingham Hippodrome Friends.

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09-15

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new bar

BIRMINGHAM’S latest swish bar has opened in the most unlikely of places – the New Alexandra Theatre which has had its old, dated front of house transformed by a £250,000 remodelling into a chic, spacious, piano bar.

The new bar, complete with speciality cocktails, wines and champagne,  also provides a touch of elegance form a past age with, as the name would suggest, a baby grand piano and pianist.

The bar, converting two public areas on different levels to a single, stylish open space, brings investment in the theatre to more than £1 million since Ambassador Theatre Group bought former owner Live Nation’s portfolio of 16 theatres in 2009 – and General Manager of the Theatre, Andrew Lister promised there is more to come.

Once ATG had incorporated the newly acquired theatres into its own portfolio it set about planning refurbishments and restorations and Mr Lister said: “Since 2013, over £1million has been spent on the New Alexandra Theatre as part of ATG’s ongoing investment to ensure we can continue to offer a World Class theatre experience in the heart of England.

“As one of the leading venues in Birmingham city centre, I am sure our customers will greatly welcome these ongoing developments. We look forward to unveiling the new face of the New Alexandra Theatre to you very soon.”

The investment has seen new seats and carpets in both the stalls and dress circle using ProBax technology which provides more comfort in a design which has also seen a significant increase in legroom. The same improvements are planned for the Grand Circle.

The toilet facilities in the dress circle have also been refurbished and provided with extra capacity. The box office has been redesigned to make it more user friendly and accessibility for wheelchair users at the Easy Access entrance in Station Street has been improved.small bar

Other changes are less obvious such as a redesigned orchestra pit which means it can be removed allowing extra rows of seats when it is not needed bring artists and audience closer together, or can be extended to two different sizes depending upon the numbers in an orchestra.

Other improvements are unseen and will go unnoticed but will help enhance performances with a new sound desk and improvements to the flying system which allows scenery an props to . . . fly, vanishing to or appearing from high above the stage.

The smaller bar in what was the general lounge area

The Alex has 53 flying bars each able to lift 250kg, 13.25 tonnes in total, or just over 13 tons in old money.

There has also been a new fire alarm system

ATG’s ongoing refurbishment and modernisation is transforming a theatre which was going through the doldrums after its days under the Apollo Leisure Group ended, days when the likes of Oliver! and Les Misérables appeared and its acclaimed production of West Side Story went on to a successful run in the West End.

And those days could be returning with a whole host of shows lining up including The Shawshamk Redemption starring Ian Kelsey and Patrick Robinson which opens on Monday, 28 September.

There is also a £2.5 million production of Guys and Dolls opening on Tuesday 24, November, starring Sophie Thompson, David Haig and Gavin Spokes and with choreography by Cuban ballet superstar Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright (Singin’ in the rain, Barnum), which arrives in Birmingham on its way to the West End.

The good times are coming back which is good for theatre and the city and we can all drink to that – and listen to the piano at the same time.

09-15

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The ins and outs of ballet

With the 2014-15 season now ended with the final performance of David Bintley’s Silvia, Birmingham Royal Ballet has announced promotions, comings and goings for next season.

American dancer Mathias Dingman, (pictured) who played Eros on the opening night of Sylvia, is promoted from First Soloist to Principal.dingman

Céline Gittens is promoted from Soloist to First Soloist.

Yvette Knight is promoted from First Artist to Soloist.

Karla Doorbar is promoted from Artist to First Artist.

Miki Mizutani is promoted from Artist to First Artist.

Lewis Turner is promoted from Artist to First Artist.

The following dancers will join the company:

Letícia Dias Domingues from Brazil, graduate of the Royal Ballet School, will join as an Artist.

Miko Fogarty from London, graduate of the Indiana Ballet Conservatory, will join as an Artist on a one-year contract.

Beatrice Parma from Italy will join as an Artist from Turkish State Opera and Ballet.

Rachele Pizzillo from Italy, graduate of the Royal Ballet School, will join as an Artist.

Brooke Ray from New Zealand, graduate of Royal Ballet School, will join as an Artist.

Mitsuru Ito from Japan will join as an Artist on a one-year scholarship as a Prix de Lausanne prize winner.

The following dancers leave the company:

Natasha Oughtred leaves Birmingham Royal Ballet after eight years with the Company, six of those years as a Principal. Natasha recently became a mum and has chosen to retire from ballet.

Benjamin Soerel leaves Birmingham Royal Ballet after six years with the Company. Benjamin is returning to the Netherlands to study for a degree in Physiotherapy at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

Lorena Agramonte leaves Birmingham Royal Ballet after a year with the Company.

Laetitia Lo Sardo left Birmingham Royal Ballet earlier this season after seventeen years with the Company, two of those years as a First Soloist. Laetitia is now teaching ballet and enjoying life as a mum.

Sofia Rubio Robles left Birmingham Royal Ballet earlier this season. Sofia has returned to Gran Canaria.

The 2015-16 season opens with Swan Lake, first at The Lowry in Manchester on Wednesday 23 September before BRB return home with Sir Peter Wright’s stunning, internationally renowned production  from 28 September to 6 October.

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The lady of the dance

Jan Teo has been appointed as chief executive of Birmingham Royal Ballet after serving on the BRB board for the past twJan Teoo years.

She takes over from Chris Barron, who was appointed in 2005 and announced last year that he would be standing down at the end of the current season. He was awarded an OBE in the latest Queen’s birthday honours for services to arts administration. 

Ms. Teo joined Deutsche Bank as a Director in 2009, heading up the Change and Infrastructure Group in Birmingham and became Chief Operating Officer for Deutsche Bank’s European Service Centres in early 2011.

She has also worked for Legal and General, Barclays Bank, RAC Motoring Services, Lex Transfleet and the Fraikin Group. 

She joined the BRB board in 2013, and the Company’s Finance and General Purposes Committee in 2014 and she is also a director of the Birmingham Museums Trust, where she chairs the Finance and Operations Committee.

She has played an important part in the annual Deutsche Bank Creative Awards and the Women in European Business diversity group. She also sits on a steering group of Birmingham’s Creative Partnership Board looking at alternative funding models for arts and creative businesses.  

Jan Teo said: “I am delighted to combine my corporate skills with a personal and lifelong passion for the arts and cultural pursuits, and am looking forward to working with the immensely talented and dedicated team at Birmingham Royal Ballet. Having been a member of the Board, I have had the privilege of getting to know the Chair and the Company well, and vice versa. It is a double honour to be following Chris Barron and all his achievements in the role of Chief Executive and to be working toward the future alongside David Bintley.”

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Coronation of the Sun King

carmina burana

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in a scene from Carmina Burana. Picture: Bill Cooper.

DAVID Bintley celebrates his 20 years as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet tomorrow with the world premiere of his latest ballet, The King Dances.

This is a re-imaging of the origins of ballet through the eyes of 14-year-old Louis XIV, who in 1653, danced the role of Apollo, the Sun God in Le Ballet de la Nuit, a role which earned him the sobriquet The Sun King for his 72 year and 110 day reign, the longest by any major European monarch

The ballet was remarkable in many ways by modern standards, not least in it lasting 12 hours, from sundown until morning, and it consisted of a staggering 45 dances with the young Louis, makinlouis XIVg his debut in court, in five of them. The most famous dance saw him as the Sun King.

These days, occasionally, you are unlucky enough to come across a production, not from BRB I hasten to add, which just seems to last 12 hours.

Bintley explores the events  surrounding the King’s passion for ballet at its very beginnings when men were, quite literally, the kings of dance. 

Tony Award winning designer Katrina Lindsay has created a world full of Kings, werewolves, witches and demons with twenty three wigs, nearly fifty brand-new period costumes and ten specially sculpted and shaped masks. 

Louis XIV as Apollo, the Sun God, in Jean-Baptiste Lully's Le Ballet de la Nuit, in 1653.

Inspired by Louis’ epithet, light plays a crucial part in Bintley's vision for the piece created alongside Olivier Award winning lighting designer Peter Mumford.

The pair recently collaborated on the critically acclaimed E=mc², Faster which was created to celebrate the 2012 Olympics and also Carmina Burana which will form the second part the summer season’s double bill.

The production will also be the focus of a BBC Four documentary due to air in early September where David Bintley will retrace the steps of Louis XIV in locations around France with cameras going backstage during the creation of The King Dances. The programme will also feature a full screening of the production.

Louis was no absolute monarch using, or abusing his position and power, merely to indulge his passion for dance. The equivalent of the boy who owned the ball taking all the throw-ins, penalties and free kicks.

The Sun King performed 80 roles in 40 major ballets, which is approaching the realms of a professional dancer. The roles includes characters in Molière's comédies-ballets as well as lead roles which were suitably royal or godlike to be fitting for an absolute monarch but it seems his abilities and flair for dance were much admired beyond court sycophancy indicating he was indeed a talented performer.

The total number of performances Louis gave along with the diversity of his roles also are indicative that he had a feel for not only dance but the arts in general, supporting writers, artists and musicians as well and transformed a hunting lodge into the magnificent and opulent Palace of Versailles.

He supported public works in Paris, replacing city walls with tree lined boulevards, creating a police force installing street lighting and founding the Hôtel des Invalides, which still cares for old and infirm soldiers today.

The second piece in the double bill tops and tails Bintley’s tenure at BRB with his first ballet for the company, from 1995, set to German composer Carl Orff’s dramatic cantata based on a collection of 24 mediaeval poems in Latin, Middle High German and old French covering subjects such as the fickleness of fate, fortune, love and the coming of spring, as well as the perils and pleasures of eating, drinking, making merry and lust – which is seems was a typical night out then as now.

This is a huge work with not only a large cast of dancers but the Royal Ballet Sinfonia are joined by Birmingham’s Ex Cathedra. O Fortuna, the opening and closing poem has appeared as a theme in too many ads, films and TV programmes to mention.

It has been described as “the most overused piece of music in film history” and Scott Harper, a human rights and armed conflict lawyer and contributor to Harper’s Magazine, said that its over-popularisation had detracted from its effect and its use "in movies and commercials, often as a jingle, detached in any meaningful way from its powerful message."

Bintley’s commanding ballet with full orchestra and choir brings the piece back into its powerful context, making the message clear again.

BRB then perform Sylvia, another Bintley ballet with music by Léo Delibes, the composer of Coppélia, the following week. On hearing Delibes score Tchaikovsky wrote that his own music for Swan Lake was ‘poor stuff’ in comparison. High praise indeed.

The King Dances and Carina Burana opens on Wednesday, 17 June and runs to Saturday, 20 June BOOK

Sylvia runs from Wednesday, 24 June to Saturday 27, June. BOOK

Roger Clarke

06-15

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Stars announced for panto

BIRMINGHAM Hippodrome has announced its line-up for this year’s pantomime, Aladdin, which sees the return of Matt Slack, Julian Clary and Andrew Ryan – Oh yes it does!– and Marti Pellow as the baddy, Abanazar.

The panto also stars Lee Mead, winner of BBC TV’s Any Dream Will Do in 2007, who plays Aladdin.

Matt Slack, a panto favourite with his jokes and physical humour, will be appeamarti pellowring in his third consecutive Hippodrome panto in his 16th year with producers Qdos Entertainment. He will be playing Aladdin’s brother Wishee Washee.

Their mother is Widow Twanky, one of the great dames of panto, played by Andrew Ryan in his 30th panto and 25th as a dame. Ryan played the Dame, Mrs Crusoe, in Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates in 2012.

Julian Clary, comedian, actor, novelist, children’s writer, entertainer and seasoned panto star was in Dick Whittington at the Hippodrome in 2010 and was up the road at Wolverhampton as Dandini in Cinderella at the Grand last year. He will be playing the Spirit of the Ring.

Marti Pellow, who will b playing the traditional panto baddy, Abanazar. Picture: Simon Fowler

The show will have its usual special effects and is promising a spectacular 3D magic carpet ride.

Michael Harrison, who has directed the record-breaking Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime for the last four years, said: “I am delighted that Marti, Julian, Lee, Matt and Andrew are starring in Birmingham’s favourite pantomime. Each member of our stellar cast is hugely talented and, combined with the special effects, comedy and top-drawer production values, Aladdin promises to be another unmissable Christmas show at Birmingham Hippodrome, the home of pantomime.”

Chief Executive of Birmingham Hippodrome Stuart Griffiths said: “The hugely successful pantomime team of Qdos Entertainment and Michael Harrison are bringing back another terrific family show.  The pantomime is already selling fast so make tickets to Aladdin one of your three wishes this Christmas!”

Aladdin runs at Birmingham Hippodrome from Saturday 19 December until Sunday 31 January 2016. Tickets are on sale now priced from £14 and can be booked online at www.birminghamhippodrome.com or by calling 0844 338 5000.

Performance times vary please enquire when booking. Sunday performances available. 5% transaction charge applies (excl. cash sales in person) postage from £1. Phone calls from 5p per minute.  Prices and discounting subject to change.

26-05-15

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Mary flying into Brum

The multi award-winning musical Mary Poppins will be flying back to Birmingham Hippodrome  next year.

Cameron Mackintosh said “It’s hard to believe that it is already 11 years since Mary Poppins first landed on the London stage. My goodness . . . time flies even faster than our beloved Nanny! I’m delighted to be bringing her back to Birmingham Hippodrome, one of my favourite theatres, after spreading her magic around the world.

“Since we originally staged the production we have found even more magical ways to stage this timeless tale and I’m sure you will find our new Mary practically perfect in every way”.

The magical story of the world’s favourite Nanny arriving on Cherry Tree Lane has been triumphantly and spectacularly brought to the stage with dazzling choreography, incredible effects and unforgettable songs. The stage version of Mary Poppins is adapted from the wonderful stories by PL Travers and the much loved Walt Disney film.

The show runs from Wednesday 9 March to Saturday, 26 April next year and tickets from £25-£60 are available from www.birminghamhippodrome.com or telephone 0844 338 5000.

www.cameronmackintosh.com/

05-15

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New boss for Hippodrome

FIONA Allan, chief executive of the acclaimed Curve Theatre in Leicester, has been appointed the new CEO of Birmingham Hippodrome and will take up her new role in the autumn.

Australian-born Allan takes over from Stuart Griffiths who is leaving in July to join ATG, the Ambassador Theatre Group.

A board member of both UK Theatre and Dance Consortium UK Ltd she has been chief executive at the Curve since 2011 during which time it has had a growing reputation for both its own and co-productions as well as the expansion of its conference and events business and the development of community and learning programmes.

Prior to that she was the inaugural Artistic Director at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff from 2004 and brings not only a wealth of experience in Britain but also from Australia to her role at the Hippodrome.

In the 1990s she was Artistic Administrator for the Australian Youth Orchestra, including a tour of Europe, and with a Churchill Followship spent time as artistic liason Fiona Allanwith the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Back to Australia and she was Major Events Producer and Head of Programming at Sydney Opera House from 1998 to 2001, a key role with the eyes of the world on the city during the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

She lectured at the University of Technology in Sydney as she completed an MBA before becoming Chief Executive of internationally renowned Sydney Film Festival where she oversaw a 40 per cent increase in attendance.

Fiona Allan, the new CEO of Birmingham Hippodrome

Announcing the appointment, Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust Chair, John Crabtree said: “We are delighted that Fiona has agreed to join us at such an exciting time in our continued growth. Our diverse programme and loyal audiences, our fantastically engaged education and community programmes, and our commitment to world-class standards in all that we do puts us in the perfect position to achieve future ambitions with like-minded partners under Fiona’s leadership.

“With my fellow Trustees and the whole team at the Hippodrome, I look forward to working with Fiona as we enter a new phase in our history.”

Allan said: “I could not be more thrilled to be joining the brilliant team at Birmingham Hippodrome at this exciting moment in the venue’s journey.

“It’s a nationally acclaimed organisation with infinite potential that has achieved so much under Stuart Griffiths in recent years, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to be part of its, and Birmingham’s, future.

“At the same time, after an extraordinary four years at Curve, it is with sadness that I say goodbye to the many wonderful friends and colleagues I have made here. I leave in the knowledge that the organisation is in terrific shape, and that Artistic Director Nikolai Foster has exciting plans for further developing its reputation as a producing powerhouse.”

Birmingham Hippodrome enjoyed record-breaking admissions last year with more than 625,000 paying customers and along with its varied programme, including the world’s biggest Panto, is a second home for Welsh National Opera and is home to Birmingham Royal Ballet and DanceXchange, and has been co-producer of the the award-winning International Dance Festival Birmingham since its inception in 2008.

30-04-15

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Mamma Mia! set for Brum date

mamma mia

BIRMINGHAM Hippodrome has announced that the first UK tour of the international smash hit Mamma Mia! will open at the theatre on Jun 28 next year for a 10 week run.

Mamma Mia! is Judy Craymer’s ingenious working of Abba’s timeless songs into enchanting tale of family and friendship unfolding on a Greek island paradise.

To date, it has been seen by more than 54 million people in 49 productions in 14 different languages while the move is the highest worldwide grossing live-action musical film of all time.

One in four UK households in the UK has the DVD, which is now Amazon UK’s biggest selling DVD ever while the London production of Mamma Mia! has now been seen by more than 10% of the entire UK population. It is one of only five musicals to have run for more than 10 years both on Broadway and in the West End, and in 2011, it became the first Western musical ever to be staged in Mandarin in the People’s Republic of China.

With music & lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Mamma Mia! is written by Catherine Johnson, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast.

Creator and Producer Judy Craymer said: “It’s fantastic to be bringing Mamma Mia! to Birmingham for the first time with the UK Tour. I feel sure that Birmingham audiences will love Mamma Mia! and its feel-good story and the much-loved music of ABBA. We are really looking forward to welcoming new audiences as well as those who would love to see it again – it’s huge fun!”

Birmingham Hippodrome’s Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths added “Birmingham Hippodrome has a great reputation for staging the city’s big summer musical and we are thrilled to continue that by presenting the acclaimed production of Mamma Mia! as part of its first ever UK tour.”

Tickets are on sale now to Birmingham Hippodrome Friends and go on general sale from 10am on Thursday, 26 March

Mamma Mia! UK Tour opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday 28 June running until Saturday 3 September 2016.  Tickets are priced £28-£60.  Performance times:  Eves 7.30pm; Weds mats 2pm; Sat mats 2.30pm. To book tickets call 0844 338 5000 or online at birminghamhippodrome.com.  5% transaction charge applies (excl. cash sales in person) postage from £1. Phone calls from 5p per minute.  Prices and discounting subject to change.

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Lords of the dance

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The Mark Morris Dance Group with L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato in IDFB 2010

WHEN Stuart Griffiths, OBE, steps down as Chief Executive of Birmingham Hippodrome this summer after 13 years at the helm, his legacy to the city will not only be his leadership which has made the theatre the most popular in the country – more than 625,000 paying customers last year – but a dance festival which is now making waves around the world.

Griffiths leaves in July to become programming director for Ambassador Theatre Group, (ATG) with 39 theatres under his wing, including The New Alexandra Theatre within shouting distance of the Hippodrome.

But history may well find Griffiths's place in Birmingham’s cultural heritage is cemented not so much by the mark he has made on theatre but by the creation of the International Dance Festival Birmingham, a venture with DanceXchange

This week saw, if not exactly the launch, at least a look ahead to 2016 and the fifth IDFB which will run from 2 May to 29 May.

From its beginnings in 2008 it has rapidly grown into one of the major dance festivals in the world, attracting some of the biggest names in dance such as Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company and Sylvie Guillem.

Last year saw 19 venues from city streets to a children’s playground, 84 dance groups from18 countries, nine world premieres, four commissions and audiences of 34,000 people.

Since 2008 172,000 people have attended 416 free events and 164 ticketed events. People have enjoyed more than 25,000 participatory experiences and artists from 36 countries have been welcomed to the city.

The festival has worked with a multitude of critically-acclaimed companies, such as the Mark Morris Dance Group, choreographers and dancers such as Akram Khan, Arthur Pita, Sylvie Guillem and Crystal Pite, plus a host of rising stars such as Aakash Odedra, Alexander Whitley, French B Boy superstar Salah and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Kit Holder.

Griffiths, co-artistic director of IDBF, in what was almost a valedictory speech, said: “As Birmingham’s signature festival, International Dance Festival Birmingham is firmly placed at the heart of Birmingham’s cultural offering. The festival goes from strength to strength and having won Event of the Year at The Heart of England Excellence in Tourism Awards in 2010 and a UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Dance in 2014, we are very proud that the work of Birmingham Hippodrome and DanceXchange in attracting the finest international dance to the city has been recognised nationally.”

David Massingham, hosting the launch, artistic director of DanceXchange, and co-artistic director of IDFB, said: “IDFB 2014 truly was ‘a world of dance in one city’. IDFB 2016 will build on ten years of festival programming experiences and deliver another exciting line up of performances and events. The focus in 2016 will be Destination Birmingham, selling the city as a city of dance. There will be more world-class dance contentsylvi guillem to look forward to, performances, community engagement and participation, talks and debates, city, region and world-wide collaborations, strong digital elements and more world premieres. IDFB 2016 will showcase Birmingham as one of the world’s leading dance cities.”

The festival has the major support of the Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England and Coun Penny Holbrook, Cabinet Member for Skills, Learning and Culture said: “Birmingham City Council is enormously proud of the city’s cultural sector and one of the many success stories is International Dance Festival Birmingham. The festival places Birmingham on the world stage which is why it was awarded the city’s signature festival status in 2012. Every two years companies and artists flock to the city, while closer to home many young people, schools and audiences new to the arts get involved through the festival’s community engagement and participatory events. Everyone is entitled to engage in the arts and at Birmingham City Council we salute IDFB for working on making this a reality. Long may the festival’s success continue.” 

Sylvie Guillem, who is retiring this year, at IDFB 2014

While Peter Knott, Director of Arts Council England Midlands said: “Birmingham is a dance hub and the biennial IDBF reinforces this by allowing the world to look to the city for a vision of the future, what’s fresh and what’s happening in dance. The Midlands’ arts scene is diverse and vibrant and IDFB is a huge part of its success. IDFB helps to build audiences for dance in the West Midlands and develops the dance ecology for companies and professionals to flourish in the region.”

The look back and look ahead saw a performance by French choreographer Mickael 'Marso' Riviere, known for his innovative fusion of breakin' and contemporary dance, who presented a duet from his latest production The Nutbreaker based on The Nutcracker.

Plans are already well under way for the next festival and part will be focused on both contemporary and traditional South Asian dance but engaging people on the street will again pay a key role and planned activities include The Festival Hub, a fringe style destination in the city centre where people can meet, hang out and talk about dance. Paint the Town Red returns and will work with local promoters to bring the best of social dance activities to festival audiences and participants.  

IDFB is about outdoor and unusual spaces, city centre surprises and pop-up performances.  Free events have always been a major part the festival encouraging as many people as possible to watch and participate.  Khora, an arts project about belief and the body, will involve Birmingham people of all backgrounds. A major community engagement project, All of Birmingham is a Stage, is currently in development aiming to create performance spaces in neglected or disused local spaces, and it is hoped it will be supported by The Big Lottery Fund.  

The culmination of IDFB 2016 is planned to be an ambitious new project Metropolis - Future City of the Imagination. IDFB has applied with partners from five European cities, for funding to create a series of performances and events which will showcase across Europe in the summer of 2016 inspired by themes such as culture, digital technology, architecture, manufacturing, transport and the environment. Driven by creative engagement, Metropolis will utilise the digital and performance arts to imagine a city of the future. The first Metropolis presentation will premiere during IDFB, followed by partner countries’ presentations, ending in Siena, Italy in September 2016. 

The evening was completed as guests watched 2Faced Dance's new double bill Dreaming in Code consisting of  Milk Night and Lucid Grounds in The Patrick Centre as part of DanceXchange’s spring season 2015.

Roger Clarke

06-03-15

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Back to the start for new Grand chief executive

THE year 1978, and a 12 year old Wolverhampton youngster, two months short of his 13th birthday, took to the stage at the Grand Theatre as Winthrop Paroo, the shy, lisping, little brother of the town librarian Marion in a West Bromwich Operatic Society production of The Music Man.

The week-long run was an epiphany moment for the young Adrian Jackson. He said: “I had been a musician almost from being born but this was my first time on stage. I decided there and then that this was what I wanted to do to make a living. The Grand was where it all started."

And now Jackson returns to the grand, not on the stage admittedly, but as Chief Executive, replacing the much respected Peter Cutchie, who has retired after ten years at the helm.

He joins the Grand from his current role as chief executive and artistic director of the Lichfield Garrick where he has been in charge for the past nine years having successfully taken the theatre from Lichfield Council control to become a charitable trust.

That is only one string to the Jackson bow though aadrians he has a second career as an international conductor and arranger and he is the Musical Director and Principal Conductor of the City Concert Orchestra and is also the founder and Musical Director of the Midland Symphony Choir.

 

Adrian Jackson , centre, with Alain Boublil (right) and Claude-Michel Schönberg (Les Miserables, Miss Saigon) at Birmingham's Symphony Hall at the premiere of their joint concert venture

Although he does not take up his role officially until August Jackson will be working a couple of days of week at the Grand getting to know the existing team and planning for the future in a theatre fell in love with when he first saw the glorious 1894 Charles J Phipps’ interior.

He said: "I’ve enjoyed my time at the Lichfield Garrick immensely over the years, working in a very special venue and meeting a huge range of fascinating and talented people.

“I will leave behind a fantastic and capable team who are committed to bringing great theatre and community projects to Lichfield audiences and beyond. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with them all.

“I am very much looking forward to moving to the Grand and I wish the Lichfield Garrick the very best for the future.”

Roger Clarke

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Rooms with a £2.7m view

Darcey Bussell

Darcey Bussell with Dance Track student Richard Kamara (age 10), Pictures: Roy Smiljanic

WHEN Birmingham Royal Ballet arrived in Birmingham their new facilities were state of the art – among the best in the ballet business with rehearsal studios, offices, space and a huge theatre, the Hippodrome, next door.

Twenty five years on and the world had not only caught up but forged ahead, state of the art had become merely an echo of the 90s.

But one fund raising appeal, and £2.78 million later, and BRB’s facilities are once more the envy of the rest with a transformation which has not only been completed on time but also within budget.

The new facilities, completed over the Christmas and New Year break, were opened up for a visit by sponsors and donors including, Darcey Bussell, the President of BRB’s £15m Campaign for the Future appeal.

She said: “As President for the Campaign for the Future it is so rewarding to see the results of a fundraising effort that has enabled a company close to my heart to continue to be a first-class rehearsal facility for its dancers, staff and the wider public who can all enjoy this marvellous creative space.

 “The new facilities will allow Birmingham Royal Ballet to welcome the community, nurture the talent of the future and maintain their position at the forefront of both British and international dance.

“The transformation of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s building is a key milestone of our Campaign for the Future. Our goal now is to secure the remaining £2.5m of our £15m target to ensure the studios are bursting with new work by world-leading choreographers as well as creative Dance Trackopportunities for local people to discover, take part and excel in classical ballet.”

Christopher Barron, BRB’s Chief Executive said: “The refurbished facilities will enable an increased delivery of community work in-house offering unique, first-hand experience of dance and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Rachel Hester teaches a Dance Track class in one of the new studios - BRB's Dance Track scheme works with 30 schools to give dance opportunities to talented youngsters.

"The optimal studio configuration will enhance the Company’s scope for rehearsing and staging large-scale ballet and provide outstanding facilities to attract, retain and care for elite dancers.”

It is the dancers and those who direct them who will benefit most from the facilities though and soloist Jonathan Caguioa, who arrived at BRB from the Royal Ballet School as an 18-year-old 13 years ago, said: “It is going to make a huge difference. The space where you create, where you rehearse, is the space where you become inspired every day; it is a space where you work intensely, not only physically – you need the space to move – but mentally as well. You need to be able to see yourself clearly, to have good lighting. It is imperative in our work, we need to be able to see our bodies constantly and how they move. We have to be more versatile these days.

“The triple bill coming up includes In The Upper Room and Serenade and then there is Carmina burana as well, which is also very modern, which needs you to move in very different ways. new BRB STudioIt is like a gallery, you can’t really enjoy beautiful works of art unless the lighting is correct and the space is good to view.”

Assistant Director Marion Tate is the grande dame of BRB, the ballet mistress in charge of all the female dancers and still commanding the stage in her character roles from Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty to The Stepmother in Cinderella, and she is delighted with the new facilities for both rehearsals and teaching.

The Clore Learning Studio, with its retractable seating

She said: “We are now in such lovely surroundings and we now have more people applying for jobs here than we have ever and so obviously what we are doing is right. The important thing is to continue what we are doing in the way that we do it and the surroundings will enable us to do it easier.”

BRB’s home has been brought up to date with new sound systems, lighting and a dance studio with retractable seating to enable demonstrations and performances before an audience.

After a week of special events, with more than 1,000 visitors, BRB will be hosting a public open day at its refurbished Thorp Street home on Sunday (25 Jan) from 11am to 4pm with a host of family friendly activities, tours and performances.

The Campaign for the Future appeal will continue to raise the final £2.5 million of the £15 million target.

Roger Clarke

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Simple - with an emphasis on dead

dead simple Jamie Lomas and Tina Hobley in rehearsal. Pictures: Honeybunn Photography

DEAD SIMPLE, Peter James’ best-selling novel, is brought to life on stage for the first time by the same team who took The Perfect Murder, another James’ novel, on tour last year.

Shaun McKenna’s adaptation is directed by Olivier award-winner Ian Talbot with a cast led by Tina Hobley who returns to the stage after spending the past 12 years as ward sister Chrissie Williams in the BBC 1’s Holby City.

She will be joined by award-winning TV heartthrob, Jamie Lomas who is perhaps best known for his roles as the murderous Jake Stone in Eastenders and bad boy Warren Fox in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, a role he played for five years.

Gray O’Brien, (Coronation Street, TV series Titanic, Peak Practice and Casualty and Sleuth and the West End) who played lover boy Don an The Perfect Murder, returns as Det Supt Roy Grace in this gripping, chilling, thriller that has all the classic suspense, twists and turns of a best-selling Peter James novel.

Completing the cast are Rik Makarem (Emmerdale, Torchwood) in the role of Mark Warren, Michael McKell (Doctors, Emmerdale) as Bradley Cunningham, Joshua Brown as Davey Wheeler, Marc Small and Detective Sergeant Glenn Branson, Sarah Baxendale as Zoe Frame and Alan Freestone as Robbo.

The plot concerns Michael Harrison, who thinks he has it all; great career, good friends and a beautiful fiancée. But when his stag night prank goes horribly wrong, Michael finds himself alone and staring death in the face. As time runs out and the terror grows, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace tries to solve his mysterious disappearance, but begins to fear that Michael will never be found in time.

Peter James has gone straight in at no 1 in the Sunday Times bestseller charts seven times in the last four years with his Roy Grace series – with last year’s Roy Grace novel, Dead Man’s Time going straight to No.1 in the Autumn of 2013.

He has sold more than 15 million books of his Roy Grace series, and is published in 36 languages. Dead Simple has sold more than two million copies around the word and has been a No.1 best seller in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Holland and Russia.

Dead Simple runs at the Belgrade from Monday Jan 26 to Saturday Jan 31. Box Office: 024 7655 3055 or book online: www.belgrade.co.uk

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IDFB wins top dance award

stuart Griffiths and dance award

  • Lords of the dance: Stuart Griffiths, chief executive of Birmingham Hippodrome, Wayne Sleep & David Massingham, DanceXchange artistic director.

BIRMINGHAM Hippodrome and DanceXchange have won the award for Achievement in Dance at the 2014 UK Theatre Awards for the International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014 (IDFB).

The Internationally recognised festival which has a growing importance faced strong competition from other contenders included English National Ballet and Rambert Dance Company.

The award, presented at the City of London’s Guildhall, went to the joint partners in recognition for their “bold, extensive programming and presentation of International Dance Festival Birmingham 2014”.

Accepting the award Stuart Griffiths, Chief Executive of Birmingham Hippodrome and IDFB Festival Co-Director said “We’re absolutely thrilled to receive this award. This truly is a festival with an international reach securing the involvement of some of the world’s most prominent dance companies which has helped to establish Birmingham as a major cultural player within the UK.

“Thanks go to all the talented artists, companies, producers, and for a great team effort. And of course, we want to recognise all our sponsors and funders such as Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England for helping to make the festival so successful.”   

David Massingham, DanceXchange Artistic Director, and IDFB Festival Co-Director, who also accepted the award, added: “We are delighted that the partnership between DanceXchange and Birmingham Hippodrome to produce IDFB has been recognised by the UK Theatre Awards.

SHEER DIVERSITY

“Over four festivals, IDFB has become known for the sheer diversity of amazing dance performances from across the world presented in very different venues and unusual or outdoor spaces across the city of Birmingham. The festival joins up the city, connecting across the arts from visual arts to music, bringing a world of dance to the city.”

International Dance Festival Birmingham has become an important biennial event in the international dance calendar attracting dance companies and artists from all over the globe.  Since its launch in 2008 more than 172,000 people have enjoyed 164 performances in venues and spaces across the city including the Town Hall, Symphony Hall, Crescent Theatre, The Rep, Birmingham Hippodrome, the Patrick Centre and, in recent years, Warwick Arts Centre as well as 416 free events across the city.

Artists who have performed include dance superstars Sylvie Guillem and Carlos Acosta, The Kirov Ballet, Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant, Hip Hop Festival Breakin’ Convention, Royal Ballet Flanders, Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, National Ballet of China, Birmingham Royal Ballet and large scale free outdoor performances including Wings of Desire and the recent B-Town in Victoria Square.

Productions which start life at IDFB have since gone on to tour the world, such as 2012 festival hit show Spill which has featured in festivals from Dublin to Sydney through to New York in 2014, with 139 performances in 51 parks to over 28,500 people.

The UK Theatre Awards are the only nationwide Awards to honour outstanding achievement in regional theatre throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In 2010 International Dance Festival Birmingham was awarded a Gold Award in the Heart of England Excellence in Tourism Awards.

The next International Dance Festival Birmingham is scheduled for spring 2016.

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Top hat, tails and . . . pork pie

alan burkitt

IT’S a safe bet that when lead actor Alan Burkitt arrives in the West Midlands with the magical musical Top Hat he will waste no time seeking out a tasty pork pie shop!

Unlike so many people who are desperate to lose weight, the song and dance man has to find ways of putting it on after numerous punishing routines in the Irving Berlin show based on the famous RKO 1930s movie starring the legendary Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Alan, 32, seems to be rarely off stage playing Broadway sensation Jerry Travers who dances his way across Europe to win the heart of society girl Dale Tremont.

When I suggested it was a good way of keeping trim, though, he smiled: “The problem is keeping weight on!

“It’s incredible the amount of weight you lose in this show. I’m always being asked ‘are you eating?”, and I need vitamin shakes to help, as well as having to keep shovelling down the pork pies. But I love it.”

Alan, who has also done some chorography for the new Strictly Come Dancing series, is in the touring production of Top Hat which arrives at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre on October 21, and he must have been destined for the role from his boyhood when a woman at his dance school saw him in action and asked: “Are you training to be the next Fred Astaire?”

He said: “I asked my mother….’who’s Fred Astaire, mum’, but since then I have loved him. I admire everything about him. What he did was so natural, easy and clever. He was just a genius, so this is an absolute dream role for me.”

Alan was understudy for the part when the show opened in the West End, and he had to take over on opening night when the lead developed a voice problem. “I was more excited than nervous,” he recalled. “It was an opportunity, and it was brilliant. I got a great review and Jane McDonald mentioned it on TV’s Loose Women the following day”.

If he needed any confidence boost after winning the part, it came when the touring show opened in Wimbledon. In the audience was Astaire’s daughter, Eva, and after the final curtain she went backstage to meet the cast.

BEST FEET

“She said she loved the show and told me I had the best feet she had seen since her father’s . . . and I will take that,” Alan explained.

Top Hat is beautifully staged, and it’s easy to see what it won three Olivier awards for Best New Musical, Best Choroegraphy and Best Costumes as it brings back the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age.

And of course it is packed with wonderful Irving Berlin hits like Cheek to Cheek, Top Hat, White Tie and Tails, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, and Puttin’ on the Ritz.

Playing alongside Burkitt is the delightful Charlotte Gooch who fits snugly into the role of Dale Tremont, the stunning blonde Travers falls for after she complains of the noise caused by someone tap dancing in the suite above her hotel room in London. This leads to a case of mistaken identity which threatens to keep them apart.

Charlotte, who has been dancing since she was three, had been playing the lead role of Penny Johnson in Dirty Dancing before switching to Top Hat.

She said: “It’s been good to see so many young people in the audience, especially during the school holidays, and they have loved it. It’s a great show, beautifully put together and choreographed. My six-year-old cousin loved every minute of it.

“I feel very emotional when the audience give the cast a standing ovation, and I get goose pimples. Everyone will leave the theatre tapping their feet and singing the tunes. What more can you ask?”

Top Hat runs at the Grand Theatre from October 21 to November 1.

Paul Marston

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Bintley says sayonara to Tokyo

BIRMINGHAM Royal Ballet’s Director David Bintley heads off to Japan this week for his swansong production as Artistic Director of th National Ballet of Japan.

Bintley became artistic advisor to the Japanese company in 2008 and took over as artistic director in 2010 for three years, which has been extended for an extra year.

Hs final production will be restaging of The Prince of the Pagodas which he created for the National Ballet to critical acclaim in 2011.

The production will run to 15 June when Bintley will say arwell to the company.

His tenure in Japan further enhanced the existing relationship between Birmingham Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Japan following the hugely successful staging of his own production of Carmina burana in Tokyo in 2005.

 Since then he has created two major full-length cdavid Bintleyo-productions with his Birmingham and Tokyo-based Companies; Aladdin and The Prince of the Pagodas. Aladdin premiered at the New National Theatre Tokyo in November 2008 before arriving to the stage in Birmingham in February 2013, while The Prince of the Pagodas was created in Japan in 2011 and was performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet in January this year.

BRB Director, David Bintley

 

Christopher Barron, Chief Executive of Birmingham Royal Ballet said: “It was a truly collaborative relationship between Birmingham Royal Ballet, David and the National Ballet of Japan. David was able to combine both posts, creating many opportunities for cooperation between the two Companies, both on and off stage.

“The sharing of production costs of making two brand new full-length ballets has meant that Birmingham Royal Ballet has been able to showcase new work at an enviable rate. There have also been opportunities for Company dancers, technical and Artistic staff to work with the National Ballet of Japan in Tokyo and vice versa, thereby providing valuable experience for members of both companies.  

“It has also been an unquestionable boost to the international reputation of Birmingham Royal Ballet, showcasing David’s work, the Company and what is excellent about the city of Birmingham.'

Bintley said: “I have enjoyed immensely my four years with the National Ballet of Japan. I have a deep respect for the dancers there as well as all the team at the New National Theatre Tokyo. Over the time I spent in Japan I had the pleasure of watching individuals at all levels of the Company grow as they faced new challenges under my direction. I know that they will continue thrive under the new leadership of my successor Noriko Ohara.”

Birmingham Royal Ballet return to Birmingham Hippodrome on 4 June with Darkeness and Light to 7 June and then  La Fille mal gardée, June 11-15. 

www.brb.org.uk    www.birminghamhippodrome.com

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28-05-14

Your chance to help Behind The Arras

BEFORE you rush off to another page or another site, we are not asking for money - or indeed anything that will cost you anything but, particularly with Christmas spending coming up, there is a chance for you to help Behind The Arras without doing anything different.

The recent problems caused when our hosting service went out of business (see below) have resulted in additional expense  to sort out with lost fees for two years hosting, three figure redemption fees to release the domain names from the cyberspace equivalent of debtors' prison and setting up new accounts – where we have secured registration and hosting for the next five years incidentally.

Behind The Arras was never set up to make a profit but it would be nice to offset some of the extra costs - which is where our readers can help.

On our front page http://www.behindthearras.com/index.html are banner advertisements for Amazon. We do not receive payment for these advertisements but if anyone enters the Amazon site by clicking on one of the banner ads, then we receive a small commission on any sales of Amazon's own products. It costs the buyer nothing – you pay the same whether you go through our site or not - but it could provide Behind The Arras with a small amount of funding from Amazon.

So, if you are intending to buy from Amazon, click on their ad on our site and, at no cost to yourself, your purchase could assist Behind The Arras.

Similarly down the right had side of the home page is an advertisement for TopCashBack. This is a site which gives you cashback on goods and services you buy. You don't buy through TopCashBack itself. You merely log on to the site, search for specific items or retailers,  and then go through TopCashBack to sites you want to visit such as Curry's, Argos, Boots, Tesco and so on  - and even Apple and Microsoft. House and contents and car insurance can give big saving as can mobile phones and there is even cashback on holiday bookings.

As an example we recently saved £400 on a house and contents insuance renewal quote- and got almost £60 cashback.

If you are interested in at least having a look then click on the TopCashback ad and if you decide to join – it costs nothing – then Behind The Arras will receive an introduction fee when you make your first purchase. The cashback amounts will appear in your TopCashBack account and can be paid directly into your bank account, into your PayPal account or as Amazon vouchers where you will  get a five percent bonus – 105 per cent of cash value.

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Battlelines drawn to save theatres

AS politicians warn of austerity and central and local Government search for areas where savings can be made without too much outcry or the loss of too many votes at the next election, the arts and culture in general is under increasing threat.

Birmingham has made a huge investment in its new library and expanded, refurbished REP, but in other areas of the country the libraries are closing, hours are being cut and staff are being shed.

Theatre, opera, music, ballet and even our film industry are being hit by cuts in Government spending and while local authority spending has increased by almost £4 billion in the current year, spending on culture and the arts has actually fallen by 4.2 per cent – the largest percent cut of any sector.

But the theatre is fighting back with the My Theatre Matters! A campaign not for luvvies fearing for their jobs but relying on ordinary people, in ordinary jobs, leading ordinary lives to whom a local theatre is an extraordinary place, a window into another world which, without financial support, will either be lost or become so expensive that it becomes a luxury to be only enjoyed by the wealthy. Theatre just for the elite is of no value to anyone.

At the curtain call for Press night for Twelve Angry Men, actor and director Samuel West appeared on stage to make a curtain speech on behalf of the campaign and postcards were available to send to councillors - messages can also be sent via the campaign website www.mytheatrematters.com.

When a theatre closes its doors history tells us that it seldom reopens, it is lost forever. The My Theatre Matters campaign is important so we print Mr West's speech in full: 

“I'm here to tell you about a campaign called My Theatre Matters. I'm here because, like you I hope, I love this city and this theatre, and theatres like it up and down the country.

"Although Birmingham is well-known as the place where 200 years ago Washington Irving wrote Sleepy Hollow, nowadays it's neither hollow nor sleepy.  Amongst other things it's now famous for culture: a massively influential rep theatre, brilliantly relaunched, a world-class orchestra, a great new library (where I wrote this). I've always loved it for its canals, along which I first went aged nine, and the fact that ten years later this place gave me my first job, a studio production of Rattigan's The Browning Version in 1985. 

"But I'm not here to pat you all on the back (or not too much). And I'm also not here to ask you for money. You have paid hard-earned cash to see the show tonight - some of you, anyway - but you must know that theatres like this don't survive on ticket sales alone. This theatre, like most, is supported by your taxes and that gives you a relationship with the place. It also allows them to put on plays like the one you've just seen, and not to charge a fortune for tickets.

"When Twelve Angry Men transfers to the non-subsidised West End in November, top price tickets will be more than twice what you pay here in Birmingham. That's what your support does. It's no exaggeration to say that without it, this theatre would probably not survive. 

"Now grants for this theatre and others like it are under pressure. Times are hard and there are some who think, perhaps understandably, that going to the theatre is a luxury and that we can no longer afford to give grants to theatres. I don't believe that, and I hope you don't. I think the arts ought to be on the menu for everybody, a filling and nutritious part of the public meal we offer our citizens.

"What we saw tonight was the essence of what it is to be human - democracy unfolding in real time; “reasonable doubt” - an antidote to fundamentalism. It gets to the heart of the questions “Who are we, and who do we want to be?” These theatre values are human values.  And we're really good at this stuff. The designer of the 1985 Browning Version I did here was a young graduate called Alexandra Byrne. In 2007, after four nominations, she won her first Oscar.  Every Rep has proud stories like this to tell. We have a centuries old tradition of theatre and a world-beating theatre industry, and I want it to survive the current short-term financial difficulties. If we let it die, we'll never get it back.

"So.

"We're trying to get every theatre in the country to talk to its public, and get those audiences to shout loud for an excellent, affordable night out. We're trying to turn audiences into advocates. Through articles, postcards, curtain speeches like this one, we're trying to build a movement; hundreds of grassroots champions every theatre can call on to say how that theatre has changed their life.

"Friends' organisations, volunteers, hairdressers, taxi-drivers, even people who just like the café. So that by the next round of funding, theatre staff can sit down with local councillors and a big pile of postcards and say "we matter".

THRIVING THEATRE

"It's important that this campaign isn't about artists. It's about you. About audiences; about the electorate; about community.  We must trumpet the economic benefits of a thriving theatre and how culture can revitalise a city centre. But we must also speak fluent human, and talk of civic pride, of happiness, of the intellectual thrill, the camaraderie - even the tears - that a good night out can give us.

"We aren't just here to work our arses off for fifty years and then die.  As Alan Ayckbourn says “We're always being told that it's theatres or hospitals”, he said. “But what do you go to a hospital for? To get better. Why? So you can have a good night out at the theatre. We need both.”

"And on the subject of a good night out, I'd like to say to the business people in the audience: thank you for your support. Thank you and please, carry on. The life of a city shouldn't be limited to the work of a city. Newcastle City Council tried to cut arts funding by 100%. One of the forces that made them change their mind was local industrialists, who reminded the council that they would think twice about investing in a cultural desert.

"I want to say one last thing, about the people who work here:

"What's the best thing you've seen in the last two years (apart from Twelve Angry Men)? For me, the Olympic Opening Ceremony is right up there: not just a celebration of Britain but a grand piece of theatre. It was directed, as I'm sure you know, by Danny Boyle and produced by Stephen Daldry.

"Both of them are now directors of very successful, profitable films, but Boyle started his theatre journey as an usher at the Bolton Octagon. Daldry began at the Crucible in Sheffield. What's less well known is that Daldry grew up in Taunton, and joined a youth theatre group there when he was fourteen. This came back to me when I heard that this summer following Somerset County Council's 100% arts cut, the Brewhouse in Taunton had closed. 

"We can't say whether the lack of a Bolton Octagon or a Taunton Brewhouse will be the reason why the next Daldry or Boyle doesn't reach Hollywood; and we may not get the Olympics back for forty years; but maybe, just maybe, the director of our next Olympics opening ceremony is standing at the back right now, ushing. We must keep this place safe for them, too. 

"Will you help us in this campaign? Will you sign one of these postcards and put it in the box outside? Will you shout, proudly and loudly, about how brilliant this place is, to anyone who'll listen, particularly someone in power?

"There are plenty here tonight. Take one of these for a friend too: it would be so good if instead of counting postcards, the councillors had to weigh them. There's also a dedicated website at mytheatrematters.com where you can find out more. Last month they ran a competition to decide “Most Welcoming Theatre”. 55 000 people voted.

I"n the end, securing funding the arts like this has only one purpose: to make life better. It's art for our sake; for our potential, our imagination, our joy, our sense of ourselves.

"Please, do what you can to spread the word."

 

Twelve Angry Men review plus video of 1954 CBS original teleplay

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