Two Upcoming Productions: Anything Goes and Beautiful Thing

Anything_Goes_AUG14_AWTwo exciting productions will be coming to the Birmingham Hippodrome next year, making use of both the main stage and the more intimate Patrick Centre venue. In Spring, the Patrick Centre will play host to Nikolai Foster’s anniversary production of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing. Then in September, Cole Porter’s classic musical comedy Anything Goes will take over the theatre, with tickets for the show going on sale today!

A brand new production directed by Daniel Evans and choreographed by Alistair David, Anything Goes will stop off at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Monday 14th until Saturday 19th September 2015 as part of its UK-wide tour. The musical tells the story of the attempts of Wall Street broker Billy Crocker to win the heart of rich English heiress Hope Harcourt from her fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. With the help of second-rate gangster “Moonface” Martin (“Public Enemy Number 13”), and his girlfriend Bonnie, Billy stows away on the S. S. American, a luxury cruise liner aboard which Hope and Lord Oakleigh are bound for Southampton.

The multi-award-winning show is packed full of iconic Cole Porter songs such as “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “It’s De-Lovely” and of course the titular tune “Anything Goes”, all accompanied by a fabulous live orchestra and energetic, 1930s-style dancing. The new production will be performed from a new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman, adapted from the original by P.G. Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.

Said Rebecca Quigley, CEO of Stage Entertainment UK:  “I’m very excited to be working with Daniel and Alistair, whose work I have loved over the last ten years. They’re the perfect creative team to stage this hugely entertaining musical comedy.”

Priced at £17-39.50, tickets are currently available to book via the Birmingham Hippodrome website, or by calling 0844 338 5000. With just six dates scheduled for Birmingham, they’re likely to go fast, so make sure you book early to avoid disappointment!
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Meanwhile, from 30th March until 11th April 2015, Jonathan Harvey’s acclaimed drama Beautiful Thing will be showing in the Patrick Centre, under the direction of Nikolai Foster, who will take up the mantle of Artistic Director at Leicester’s Curve Theatre in January.

Set in the post-war council estates of South East London, Beautiful Thing tells the moving story of a budding romance between teenagers Jamie and Ste, who must grapple with dysfunctional families, gobby neighbours and obnoxious classmates, as well as coming to terms with their feelings for each other. For all that, the play’s serious subject matter is offset by a strong sense of humour and an optimistic attitude that makes this as much romantic-comedy as gritty social commentary.

Following the winter run of Christopher Green’s and Sarah Waters’s The Frozen Scream at the theatre, the decision to book Beautiful Thing seems to demonstrate a commitment on the theatre’s part to branching out into new territory and increasing the diversity of its programme. As Birmingham Hippodrome Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths explained,

“The arrival of Beautiful Thing in the theatre’s Patrick Centre continues an expanding programme for the venue and Birmingham Hippodrome’s commitment to presenting an expansive and varied list of performances for a diverse range of audiences.”

Originally written by Jonathan Harvey when he was just 24, Beautiful Thing premiered at the Bush Theatre in 1993, and has since gone on to be adapted into a well-loved film. Over the years, its various reimaginings have starred the likes of Jonny Lee Miller, Suranne Jones, Hugh Bonneville, Philip Glennister, Andrew Garfield, and Rhys Ifans.

Beautiful Thing 2015 - Charlie Brooks, Sam Jackson, Thomas Law - photographer Anton Belmonte

Co-produced by the Nottingham Playhouse, the Curve Leicester and Tom O’Connell for QNQ, this particular production will star Sam Jackson (Skins, Drifters) and Thomas Law (EastEnders, Casualty, The World’s End) as young lovers Jamie and Ste, while Charlie Brooks (EastEnders, Bleak House, I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!, Strictly Come Dancing) will take on the role of Jamie’s ambitious single mother Sandra. Said Executive Producer Tom O’Connell said:

“Having produced the original anniversary production, I am honoured to now partner with Nottingham Playhouse and Curve theatre, Leicester, two fantastic producing theatres, to bring Jonathan’s hit comedy to the stage one more time. Nikolai and I made a promise to each other that if we ever re-visited his production it would play cities and theatres that it hadn’t been to before. We feel with this new cast and with some new elements added to the show, this new production will have audiences smiling all the way home.”

Beautiful Thing runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre from Monday 30th March until Saturday 11th April 2015, with tickets currently available to book from the Hippodrome website, or by calling 0844 338 5000. The first 100 tickets for each performance will be priced at an early bird rate of £25.

The Nominees are…us!

UK Theatre Awards – The Birmingham Hippodrome has has two productions nominated for awards. Cape Town Opera’s Show Boat is up for Best Touring Production, and International Dance Festival 2014 is nominated for the Achievement in Dance Award. You can read my thoughts on both of these in previous posts.

The Official Birmingham Hippodrome Blog

We are thrilled to learn that two of the major projects we have been involved in over the past twelve months have been nominated in the UK Theatre Awards 2014.

The UK tour of Cape Town Opera’s Show Boat, co-produced with Wales Millennium Centre, is up for Best Touring Production. The show was a major undertaking in bringing Cape Town’s full premiere opera company of performers, orchestra, technical and administrative staff over to the UK from South Africa but the result was breathtaking. Mark Shenton wrote in The Stage, “It’s rare indeed to see a musical produced on this sort of scale and even more extraordinary to hear one both sung and played so beautifully”.

International Dance Festival 2014, co-produced with our partners DanceXchange is nominated for the Achievement in Dance Award. The month long festival sees the city transformed into a hub of dance and performance as international companies from…

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Rula Lenska to star in The Frozen Scream – a chilling tale for Winter!

Casting news for the upcoming production of The Frozen Scream by Sarah Waters and Christopher Green. Really excited for this one!

The Official Birmingham Hippodrome Blog

Rula Lenska, Christopher Green, Sarah Waters Rula Lenska, Christopher Green, Sarah Waters

TV actress and stage star Rula Lenska will join the cast for the chilling winter tale The Frozen Scream which will be performed in our Patrick Centre studio next January (2015).

The  play is based on a largely forgotten murder-mystery novel and brings the chilling tale back to life for the stage, offering a unique show for the winter season – think Jack Frost, an abandoned lodge and fictional horror!

The production is co-written by Olivier-award winning performer and writer Christopher Green and best-selling novelist Sarah Waters and is presented by Wales Millennium Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome and Christopher Green.

Click here to find out more ……

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Out There Festival, Great Yarmouth – Hippodrome Youth Ambassadors Trip

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The second arts festival trip of the scheme saw the Hippodrome Plus Youth Ambassadors head out to Great Yarmouth for a performance-packed weekend at Sea Change Arts’ Out There Festival. Considerably bigger than Birmingham’s own Summer in Southside, Out There is a huge, international festival of street art with a focus on circus, that brings together some of the best new work from across Europe while providing a platform for emerging artists to try out in-development projects in front of live audiences.

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Arriving late on Friday evening, the first show we caught was Hallali by Compagnie Les Philébulistes. Set against an atmospheric, misty seaside backdrop, the piece showcased some amazing skills and set pieces, but seemed to end a little unexpectedly, without any obvious build-up or climax.

Saturday morning gave us the chance to meet up with some other outdoor arts ambassadors from across the country and learn about the things they’ve been working on. It was great to hear from them and have chance to share ideas: though still in its early stages, the ambassadors scheme seems a lot bigger and more comprehensive than we were previously aware, and so hopefully has the potential to become something really exciting.

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After this, we headed out to St. George’s Park, where 15ft6 presented their explosive show Dynamite and Poetry, a riveting, energetic blend of acrobatics, poetry and physical and spoken comedy that made for one of the weekend’s most fun, engaging and accessible performances.

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At 12.30, we moved on to experience the brilliantly bonkers Looking for Paradise, a two-part journey that encourages participants to unlock their own inner Paradise by travelling down either the path of Belief or the path of Desire. Part I: The Walk, began with Hawaiian lays and an audio introduction, followed by the discovery of some cryptic and weirdly distributed instructions that led us through the streets of Great Yarmouth. There we encountered a series of strange and unexpected street performances, before finally being led into a room to take part in a sort of meditation which happened to involve fruit yoghurt. We were then released into Part II: The Garden where a few of us were invited to paint our own pictures of Paradise and to enjoy some specially made snacks and drinks. Less a traditional show than an immersive, multi-sensory experience, this piece was one of the weekend’s major highlights (though one I’m reluctant to give away too much about!), giving “audiences” a chance to step outside their busy schedules and indulge in a few brief moments of bliss.

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Throughout the day, comedy troupe The Galloping Cuckoos took on the personae of wandering fisherwomen, hauling a fishing hut through St. George’s Park and sharing songs and stories with passers-by as part of their aptly named, roving show Driftwood.

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At 2.45, Dot Comedy staged Lost on Earth, the strange story of a runaway alien, stranded on Earth in a stolen spaceship. It was well received by an audience of enthusiastic kids and families. Meanwhile, in Wires, Dizzy O’Dare skilfully explored themes of friendship, bullying, sisterhood and childhood, transforming their tight wire set into a school playground rich in nostalgic memories and familiar images of growing up. While not as slick and polished as it might be, this work-in-development was full of great ideas with the potential to grow into something much more sophisticated.

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At 3.15, Les P’tits Bras performed their circus spectacular The Scent of Sawdust, a show featuring a stunning set and some amazing costumes. Though full of impressive stunts, this show did take a little too long to get off the ground, with an over-lengthy introduction and set-up describing each of its characters’ personalities.

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At 4.15, I was finally able to catch Wired Aerial Theatre‘s Straw Dog, a show raved about at this year’s Summer in Southside that I unfortunately missed at the time. This elegant, graceful piece conveyed a simple yet powerful conceit about inner conflict through beautiful, well-paced choreography. At just 15 minutes long, it flew by, making it easy for audiences to follow and enjoy.

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Immediately afterwards, Lost in Translation Circus commenced their hilarious Cirque Bordello, with larger-than-life characters and a B&B setting that made use of an actual local house as part of its set. At Mint Fest, we’d heard this idea being pitched, and so were excited to see the show in action. This innovative and entertaining piece is still in development, but was easily as polished and perfected as many of the bigger shows on the programme. Sadly, I wasn’t able to stay until the end, but would love the chance to see the rest at some point.

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The festival’s next big highlight came with Artonik‘s The Colour of Time, beginning with a bold, sensual street performance and parade that gave way to a Holi Festival-inspired explosion of colour. Viewers and passers-by were invited to join the actors in literally painting the town red (and orange, yellow, pink, blue and green) using packets of powdered colour distributed by designated helpers. The result was a glorious, magnificent mess that offered an opportunity to set free your inner child and delight in something silly.

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After washing away as much of the paint as we could manage, we rounded off the evening with Salon Clair de Lune, a long night of cabaret and dancing at STARS Showbar. Hosted by comedy trio Richard Garaghty, Goronwy Thom and Jon Hicks from Slightly Fat Features, the cabaret was an eclectic mix of snippets presented by the various performers present at the festival, giving attendees a chance to get a brief glimpse of things they might have missed throughout the day. Highlights included a surprisingly philosophical wheelie bin-bound comedy routine and a couple of English songs translated into French by Compagnie Kitschnette, including a version of Radiohead’s “Creep” that involved pancakes (I’ll leave you to work out the gag there). This short showcase was followed by some rousing live music from the dynamic Juke and the All Drunk Orchestra. Drinks, dancing and DJing then went on until 4am!

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On Sunday, GlassHouse‘s beautiful You, Me and Everybody Else took to a tucked-away location on the seaside pier, where passers-by little expected to find themselves becoming an audience to a pop-up performance. Tender and touching, this three-part show took viewers on a journey through relationships in different stages, beginning with a young couple in the throes of love. A middle-aged pair clearly undergoing difficulties then stepped in, expressing the difficulties of staying together when things start to get tough. Finally, a couple of elderly picnickers shared lunch on a bench, before breaking into song and dance routines. In a truly heart-wrenching sequence, one finally slips away, making for the most moving moment of the festival.

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Changing the tone completely, Garaghty and Thom delighted audiences in the park with a quickfire comedy show interspersed with some impressive juggling and tricks. Rather than simply following a rehearsed script, the talented double act reacted to things around them, creating comedy almost exclusively out of what their audience presented them with.

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Finally, acclaimed dance group Motionhouse depicted a family’s efforts to stay afloat as their house sank below rising flood waters in Cascade. Played out against a fantastic, visually striking set, this fast-paced show told a clear, easy-to-follow story that could work well in a range of locations, despite being particularly well-placed in a seaside town!

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At this point, it was time to head home and sleep it all off, with another 5 hour journey still ahead of us. For all that, it was certainly a trip well worth making!

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Life as a First Night Blogger…

The Official Birmingham Hippodrome Blog

Heather Kincaid started as a Birmingham Hippodrome First Night Blogger just over 12 months ago, now she takes on the role of our First Night Ambassador as we look to recruit new members of the blogging scheme. In this blog Heather talks about her experiences over the past year…

Heather Kincaid Heather Kincaid

From Wicked to Wagner, War Horse to the Four Squares Weekender, my year working as a blogger for Birmingham Hippodrome has been nothing if not varied. Since being picked to take part in the theatre’s still expanding and improving First Night scheme, I’ve been lucky enough to be offered tickets to everything from smash-hit West End shows on tour, to experimental works-in-progress by emerging, independent artists.

One of the best parts of the job has been getting to experience shows I might not otherwise have seen, whether out of choice or because of other obstacles. Not…

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Cool for CATS – CATS on Tour at the Birmingham Hippodrome

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As incomprehensibly weird and now rather dated a show as CATS is, the touring production currently stopping off at the Birmingham Hippodrome has its fair share of pleasures, with some incredible spectacle that’s quite unlike anything you’re likely to experience elsewhere.

GusIf this sounds like faint praise, the cast and crew should think nothing of it, since it’s pretty much impossible to fault any of them. Right from the off, the set is stunning, with enough fascinating little details to make you wish you’d been around to see it all assembled and created in the first place. There’s some brilliant lighting and wonderful (if slightly bonkers) costumes and props. Most importantly of all, though, every single one of the actors in the show is on top form, by turns funny, touching and breathtaking in their skill.

The cast inhabited their characters perfectly – even when lurking in the background of a scene, the little, incidental movements of the ensemble created a realistically feline impression. Callum Train was excellent as Munkustrap, and Dawn Williams and Benjamin Yates were delightfully mischievous as Rumpleteazer and Mungojerrie. Paul F Monaghan’s Asparagus was poignant and compelling, while Filippo Strocchi’s Rum Tum Tugger was utterly hilarious, particularly in certain scenes involving a set of makeshift bagpipes… Ultimately, though, with all his formal ballet training, Joseph Poulton easily stole it as Mistoffelees: his energy, expressiveness and physical finesse were beyond compare.

MistoffeleesOne thing that did cause a few issues was the pyrotechnics. There were moments when, under the light conditions in the theatre, the fireworks became painfully blinding, and made it genuinely difficult to watch parts of the Mister Mistoffelees sequence, otherwise the best part of the show. It’s a relatively minor point though, that didn’t ultimately take too much away from the strength of the direction and technical team.

The impressiveness of how the actors opened up the Jellicle world to the audience is not to be understated: they succeeded in bringing their characters to life in spite of the material they were working with. It’s just Andrew Lloyd Webber’s head I’m not sure I can get inside on this one. Not only does the whole thing largely fail to hang together, but even taking each individual part on its own merits, the episodes are hit and miss, and the show’s most famous song, “Memory”, seemed to me to be lacking in the sort of emotional resonance that it has become known for, for all Sophia Ragavelas gave it her all and performed brilliantly as the thinly drawn Grizabella.

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Earlier in the day, during a backstage tour I was invited onto, I happened to overhear some people saying that CATS is a show where, “you either get it or you don’t,” and having now seen it, I have to confess to counting myself among those who don’t. At best, it might be said to be “of its time” – the 80s was, after all, a great “experimental” era, so it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that making a collection of children’s nonsense poems into a musical for grown-ups seemed like a good idea at some point. At worst though, it makes the English Lit student inside me cringe to consider what the author of The Wasteland might have made of this becoming his best-remembered work. For that reason, it’s a difficult show to make allowances for if you’re at all passionate about literature. Yet, if the massive audiences CATS continues to draw in more than 30 years after its debut are anything to go by, it seems I’m in the minority on this one. When all’s said and done then, I suppose it’s all very well, if you like that sort of thing.

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Photos by Paul Coltas and Alessandro Pinna.

Make Up Magic – Backstage with the Cast of CATS

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Today, the CATS musical tour begins its hotly anticipated run at the Birmingham Hippodrome, where it will be presented to excited audiences until 27th September. In advance of this evening’s first night performance, members of the press were invited backstage to watch the cast prepare for the show, with actors Filippo Strocchi and Callum Train giving us an exclusive glimpse into the creation of their characters, Rum Tum Tugger and Munkustrap.

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Unsurprisingly, learning to turn yourself into a cat is a tricky and sometimes slow process. Though the musical was first performed over 30 years ago, the make-up designs are subtly changed for each production to suit the faces of the actors involved. Callum and Filippo described the first time they got into full make-up, when a professional artist painted half their face and they were left to copy her designs on the other side. Detailed instructions on how to recreate each look are issued to the actors early on, and it can take a fair few attempts before they’re happy to take their chances without using these.

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Now, with practice and confidence, it typically takes 20-30 minutes to get fully made-up, but there have been some efforts made to get finished faster: after discovering that Marlene Danielle, who performed in CATS on Broadway for an astonishing 17 years, claimed that, with all her experience, she could get ready in just 7 minutes, the cast instigated their own “7-minute challenge”, with varying degrees of success…

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But despite the thick layers of make-up, and all the effort that goes into the feline transformation, the final result is apparently nothing like as uncomfortable as it looks. According to Filippo, even with sensitive skin, the high-quality make-up the actors use causes no irritation, though removing everything from around their eyes can be tricky! The costumes too, though not the easiest to squeeze yourself into, are specially made to fit each actor, rendering them quite snug and comfortable to wear. “It’s like a second skin,” said Callum. 

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Of course, another good reason to have fresh costumes for each performer is that, once worn on stage a few times, they won’t be left in a particularly pleasant state. CATS is a breathtakingly energetic show, that includes one of the longest, toughest dance sequences to appear in any musical. It’s partly thanks to the Jellicle Ball scene that the actors need a lot of powder on their faces, in order to prevent their make-up from running when they inevitably start to sweat!

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Since every single member of the ensemble cast has a named, recognisable part, CATS is a show where no one can get away without looking and sounding their very best on stage. Because of this, it’s a brilliant show for actors, giving everyone a chance to shine and make their presence known. On the other hand, it’s truly exhausting work, and the huge demands it places on its actors can make it very difficult to cast. 

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For Italian Filippo, being a part of CATS has some special, personal resonance, this being the show that originally inspired his career. “When I was ten, I saw CATS in London,” he explained. “Before that, I had been mostly interested in football and rock music, and I didn’t really know anything about musicals. It changed my life.”

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Who knows – perhaps through his own performance as Rum Tum Tugger, Filippo may go on to inspire a new generation of young actors….

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CATS will be showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from 10-27 September. To book tickets, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

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