Almost as soon as I headed out of New Street station towards the Hippodrome and the Southside area, I could feel rhythm pulsing through the streets. As I approached, music filled the air, laden with enough sunshine of its own to chase away the faintly autumnal chills that crept into this Saturday.
This was the second part of Summer in Southside, a double weekend of free live performance around the Birmingham Hippodrome, and the source of the sound was the African music accompanying the acrobatic displays of the Black Eagles dance group.
Immediately afterwards, the crowd shuffled into Inge Street, where a fairytale forest of leaves, poles and cling film was waiting to provide the backdrop for The Red Shoes, a magical fairy-tale performance by Upswing . Beautiful, atmospheric and thoroughly entertaining, this show perfectly captured the spirit of traditional tale-telling, carefully blending humour with the threat of hidden dangers. I’ve never enjoyed a dance performance so much: I loved that the movement and skill were clearly used to serve the story and setting, rather than the other way around.
Next up were some spectacular circus skills by NoFit State Circus, including trampolining, dancing on roller skates and a record attempt at the largest number of people hula hooping on the streets of Birmingham. The display culminated in spectacular, rope-based acrobatics from a performer who seemed almost to swim through the air as if it were water, and was accompanied throughout by a brilliant live band who promised to make a song out of whatever their audience requested.
A sign spinning showcase followed featuring Hollywood-based performers Max Durovic and Justin Brown, star of the Daft Signz video (below). Sign spinning is a strange mix of advertising and dance, with large signs incorporated into urban dance moves. Like the NoFit State’s Open House, this performance was particularly good at involving its audience, with the performers encouraging enthusiastic children to get involved.
A little tired and thirsty by this point, I headed for the sweet shop on the corner to grab myself a drink, but before I could reach the counter, a street band dressed in Sergeant Pepper-style outfits appeared outside the door. As they struck up the opening notes of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, and began to make their way down Hurst Street, I realised I’d have to put down the Dandelion & Burdock and come back for it later. The band was Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, a New Orleans-style six-piece playing 90s pop classics. Walking with the band, a group of people travelled towards Arcadian, serenaded with a bizarre version of Black Box’s “Ride on Time”. After this, we were treated to unique renditions of songs by Orbital, Happy Mondays, Michael Jackson and Daft Punk, with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as the finale. Without a doubt, listening to them was my favourite part of the weekend. Click here to hear some of their music on Soundcloud.
Just a couple of shows were left to see: Graeae Theatre’s Iron Man and Captive by Motionhouse. The former was a fun, family friendly show that saw Ted Hughes’ Iron Giant brought to life to fight against the terrible Space Bat. The puppetry was incredible, and the show also taught its audience some sign language, offering positive representation through performers with a range of disabilities.
The final show was an acrobatic dance piece in which four characters become trapped together in a cage. It explored the relationships between its characters and how these were affected by being forced together in a confined space, finally ending with the possibility of escape and freedom.
Summer in Southside was a fantastic opportunity to experience a range of different kinds of performance. It was great to see so many people not only watching but interacting with shows, especially children and families.
If you missed Summer in Southside, or if you were there and enjoyed the weekend, you can catch more free outdoor theatre in a couple of weeks’ time at Birmingham’s Four Squares Weekender event. The Four Squares Weekender will take place across a range of Birmingham venues from Friday 6th to Sunday 8th September to celebrate the opening of the Library of Birmingham. It will feature performances by the CBSO, NoFit State Circus and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, along with a range of street theatre, dance, live music, exhibitions and plenty of opportunities to get involved. Click here for more information.