Hippodrome Volunteering Opportunities – Minimum Monument & Summer in Southside

Minimum Monument

As part of its education and outreach programme, Hippodrome Plus, the Birmingham Hippodrome is offering two exciting volunteering opportunities over the summer, perfect for those with a passion for the creative arts or looking to add to their CV.

First off, from Thursday 17th July until Friday 2nd August, award-winning Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo will be working on a new public art project, Minimum Monument, in Birmingham’s city centre. Designed to commemorate the First World War 100 years on from the event, Minimum Monument will be a striking display of 5000 figures sculpted from ice, celebrating the common man and the bravery of ordinary people – not only soldiers, but also their families and all those who suffered and made sacrifices during the war.

Minimum Monument 2The finished piece will be presented to viewers in Centenary Square on 2nd August, but in order to turn the idea into a reality, Azevedo requires a dedicated team of 20 volunteers to help create the sculptures and to work alongside the exhibition production team. Volunteers will not be required to work every day, but will need to be able to commit to a minimum of 5 shifts between 17th July and the exhibition opening, and must be aged 18 or over. Those interested should fill out the online application form, or contact zaraharris@birminghamhippodrome.com for more information.

Summer in Southside

Following the exhibition, the theatre’s annual outdoor performance festival, Summer in Southside, will be making a return in three weekends packed full of short plays, dance, circus skills, live music and more. Thanks to the success of last year’s event, Summer in Southside has this year expanded from covering just two weekends, and as such, the theatre will need all hands on deck to ensure everything runs smoothly.

There are a range of roles available for enthusiastic volunteers to try out, including event promotion, stewarding and assisting artists and performers directly. In addition, all volunteers will also receive World Class Service training in Outdoor Arts and a certification of their volunteering hours. Those interested should fill out the online  application form or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website for more information. All volunteers must be aged 18 or over.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story – 25th Anniversary Tour


25 years after the very first performance of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story, the multi-award-winning musical is back on tour, stopping off at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 28th June. The show tells the tragically short story of the pioneering musician and the origins of rock ‘n’ roll through his own songs and those of his contemporaries.

KJohnnyW PhotographyThough Buddy may be essentially a jukebox musical, it’s nonetheless an ambitious show that sees the cast actually playing all their instruments and performing each of the songs live on stage, lending it that all-important edge of verisimilitude that transforms it from an familiar tale into something unique and very special. Taken as a whole, the production is like a series of brilliant concerts with an interesting story stringing them together. At times, the passionate and compelling performances make it easy to forget that this is a recreation rather than the real thing, a feeling further emphasised through nice little touches such as when members of the cast hand out flyers advertising Buddy Holly’s final, fateful tour during the second act. It’s a fantastic way of conveying the snowballing hype and excitement that existed at the time, and even now it’s easy to see why his groundbreaking music became (and remains) so enormously popular. Though the show features a few odd, pre-recorded applause tracks, these are never really needed: even on opening night, the enthusiastic audience were dancing, clapping, singing and cheering along with virtually no prompting.

KJohnnyW PhotographyNaturally, this kind of production makes enormous demands of its performers, but fortunately every single member of the cast was more than up to the challenge. Glen Joseph made a fantastic Buddy, accompanied by Scott Haining, Adam Flynn and Alex Marshall as the various members of The Crickets. Jason Blackwater and Will Pearce were both hilariously spot on as The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, while Lydia Fraser and Miguel Angel gave a flawless rendition of “Shout” at “The Apollo”, and Sarah Mahony sang and played perfectly as a  range of characters, including Vi Petty, wife of the Crickets’ producer Norman and sometime contributor on their recordings. Had this simply been a series of tribute acts rather than a longer  piece of theatre, it would still have been well worth seeing.

Despite this though, a lot of thought has gone into presenting the story and effectively recreating the period setting. There’s a painstaking attention to detail in the set and costume design. Blonde pin-up girls and images from outdated ads like something from Mad Men are painted onto the walls, while gaudy neon lights announce the names of the various radio stations jumping on the Buddy bandwaggon. The swishy gingham rockabilly skirts and sparkly evening gowns are gorgeous, and outfits worn by the flamboyant Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens (including some rather KJohnnyW Photographyuncomfortable-looking trousers) are pretty striking, but wardrobe supervisor and master Mhairi McKechnie and Jason Cook clearly know well when to tone things down too, and have even nailed Buddy’s own much more conservative look. And then, of course, there’s the brilliant moment when Vi brings in an all-American breakfast for the “boys”, consisting of bottles of Coca-Cola and some kind of fast food – the well-timed inclusion of a few simple props here seems to say more about the culture than words could.

Despite its tragic ending, this is a truly joyous, utterly uplifting show that flies by as quickly as Buddy Holly’s own ill-fated career. Instead of dwelling on the sadness of his loss, it reminds us of the importance of his vast and incredible legacy, its programme featuring quotes from the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Keith Richards and, of course, Don McLean (though Paul Bovey rightly disputes McLean’s assertion that “the music died” along with Buddy Holly), as well as observations on his influence over a myriad other artists including Elvis Costello, Jarvis Cocker, Elton John, The Shadows, The Proclaimers, Talking Heads and Weezer. It’s also worth bearing in mind, of course, that the production itself could only go ahead thanks to the support of one of the most important, influential and clearly Buddy Holly-inspired musicians alive today, since Paul McCartney now owns much of Buddy’s famous back catalogue. Though he’s no longer around to see it, there’s little doubt that young Buddy would have been proud and a little overwhelmed to see that his teenage wish for the world to “remember the name Buddy Holly” has come true in ways he could never have dreamed of with fantastic shows like this.

Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 28th June. Click here for more information and to book tickets, or visit the official Buddy website for full tour dates. Check out the trailer, plus some original footage of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, below:

“O word, you word that I lack” – The Welsh National Opera’s Moses und Aron

moses und aron Regardless of how you present it, Schoenberg’s philosophical musing on the ineffable nature of the divine in Moses und Aron could never be an easy watch – or, indeed, listen. An attempt to represent the ineffectiveness of representation, its complex ideas and jarring, often anti-musical score make for a show that is in large part just as dry as it sounds. This is not to say that it’s uninteresting or unengaging, however: in fact, the lack of easy entertainment and straightforward answers, along with the work’s literal incompletion, are not so much failures as active refusals to compromise. Through the dogged, unwavering idealism of Moses, the composer channels his own frustration and inability to convey his perfect “idea”, rendering Act II’s closing statement – “O word, you word that I lack” – all the more poignant.

Given all that, it’s perhaps unsurprising that this is a very rarely performed piece: if you’re not already an opera fan, it’s unlikely to win you over. Yet the very rarity of the opportunity to see this show more than made up for this in terms of bums-on-seats, with enthusiasts apparently willing to make the trip out where they perhaps would not normally. This was the busiest I have ever seen the Hippodrome on an opera night, and for good reason: the Welsh National Opera’s current run is only the second ever production of Moses und Aron by a British company, the last one having been originally staged back in 1965.

wnoBased on what I picked up from other audience members, the design (by Anna Viebrock) and direction (Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito) of this new production are quite radically different from the more traditional, Biblical approach taken by its predecessor. Rising effortlessly to the challenges of the piece and making no apologies for its toughness, the WNO get right to the heart of the opera’s central conflict by both offering and denying us concrete representations of Schoenberg’s great “idea”. Here, the contrast between the two brothers, with Moses’s faltering sprechgesang and Aron’s considerably more palatable tenor melodies, is mirrored in the staging of the two acts, with Act I providing a clear, contemporary analogy for the story as effective as any of Aron’s own metaphors and imagery, while Act II, superficially at least, is much more difficult to follow.

Act I is set in a sort of parliamentary chamber or lecture hall, where a white-haired and formally suited Moses is off-set by a profusely sweating Aron in a hoodie and trainers, played impeccably by John Tomlinson and Rainer Trost respectively. Revolution hangs in the air above the oppressed and discontented chorus, who are promised freedom and a better life if they agree to follow the one true God and his servants on Earth, in scenes overlaid with instantly recognisable echoes of the Arab Spring and recent Middle Eastern conflicts. Flamboyant Aron eggs the people on to their “destiny”, setting fire to an Egyptian flag and showing them wondrous “miracles” which, as far as the audience can tell, take shape only in their over-eager imaginations. Moses is unhappy with these tricks and displays that he believes debase the purity of his faith and ideals, but he eventually has no choice but to go along with them, since his own attempts to explain God’s inconceivable power and the reasons why he should be trusted prove futile.

The revolutionary fervour that Aron’s smooth-talking whips up in the people is the zenith of the show’s action: by comparison, the frenzied orgy promised in Act II is (to steal a term used by a fellow audience member during the post-show discussion) something of a “damp squib”. Rather than a barbaric mess of sex and violence around a fearsome pagan statue, we’re instead presented with the remarkably unerotic fumblings and pointless fisticuffs of a bunch of bored teenagers in the darkness of a cinema. Their “golden calf” is an apparently graphic movie whose content we can only guess at: as the audience watches the crowd onstage gazing back at them, they see the reflection of their own restlessness. The refusal of Wieler and Morabito to show us what they’re seeing or to gratify our senses has much the same effect on the audience as Moses’s similar resistance to visual representations and simple answers has on the Israelites. Like them, we’re left frustrated at the invisible, impalpable nature of the idea we’re being presented with, wondering when Moses will return to lead us out of this wilderness. Even the so-called orgy offers no relief: Aron’s permission of the indulgence of baser instincts is clearly not the right solution to the problem, a conclusion that both Moses and Schoenberg would doubtless appreciate.

There’s plenty of contemporary political commentary woven throughout the show: the rashness and disorganisation that are all too common in times of protest and revolution, the renewed restlessness, power vacuums and vulnerability often left in the wake of uprisings, the political naivety of the young and uneducated, and their uncertainty about what it is they actually want are all cleverly and subtly tackled. More obviously, of course, there’s also the out-of-touch intellectualism of would-be leaders and idealists, contrasted with the slippery real politik of rabble-rousers and “people’s politicians” who tend to fuel and feed on ignorance. Needless to say, neither of these seem like particularly appealing options, though no clear alternative is presented.

This is definitely not a show for anyone who’s after a night of easy entertainment, but if you want something to really make you think, then make sure you catch this in London next month: after all, it could be another 50 years before a new production comes along!

A Wicked Opportunity for Young Writers!


Have you got a great story to tell? Fancy spending a day with members of the cast from Wicked? In association with The Library of Birmingham and the smash hit, West End musical itself, the Birmingham Hippodrome is currently looking for the best of the Birmingham’s young writing talent to send them stories full of magic, mischief and mystery for the chance to win a truly unique prize!

Young writers aged 18 and under are being invited to send in an original tale with a theme or topic of their choice that is as clear and captivating as possible. Entries will be split into two age groups, with those aged 7-11 asked to write 250-500 words, while older children aged 12-18 can submit up to 1000 words. One lucky winner from each group will be invited to take part in “a sparklingly emerald day” that will include the chance to meet the cast at The Library of Birmingham, before taking their seats at the Birmingham Hippodrome to enjoy the show!

Said Sara Rowell, Partnerships & Marketing Senior Manager from The Library of Birmingham:

IMG_8971‘We’re delighted to partner with Birmingham Hippodrome for the Wicked Young Writers Award, which aims to encourage young creative writing talent in the city and region. Children and young people have the very best imaginations and we hope this competition – and the Wicked prize – will inspire them to let their natural story-telling abilities flow and get writing this summer.’

In order to enter the competition, visit the website for the Birmingham Hippodrome or the The Library of Birmingham and download and fill out an entry form. Completed forms should be returned to wickedwriter@birminghamhippodrome.com, posted into one of The Library of Birmingham’s entry boxes, or sent to the theatre at Wicked Young Writers Competition, Birmingham Hippodrome, Hurst street, Southside, B5 4TB. Entries close at midnight on Wednesday 9 July. Winners must be available on Wednesday 30th July.