Finding Patterns: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on Tour

The Curious Incident of the Night-Time UK Tour

Deeply unsettling and deeply funny, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is an emotional whirlwind of a play that opens its audiences eyes to the world it inhabits by channelling it through someone who sees things differently. It alerts us to the things we take for granted, the things that we ignore, and the things that we often, rather foolishly, obsess over.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME UK Tour 2014/2015Joshua Jenkins has real star quality as the remarkably resilient Christopher, both a comfort and a distress to his emotionally fragile father, played with painful and touching integrity by Stuart Laing. Elsewhere, Clare Perkins is hilarious as the grumpy head of Christopher’s special school, while Geraldine Alexander is likeable and engaging as his teacher-come-narrator, Siobhan. Siobhan is reliable, open and honest, a port in the storm of Christopher’s life. She seems to understand him more than most, perhaps mainly because she listens and tries. She is the one person who permits Christopher to tell his own story in a world where everyone else typically controls the plot and decides how best to direct him – although she is wrong about the maths problem.

Mark Haddon writes in the programme that he regrets that the term “Asperger Syndrome” appeared on the original book cover. In a world where diagnoses are all too often seen as catch-all explanations, such terms can limit and close-down our understanding as much as they expand it, and it is becoming more important than ever that we recapture a sense of people’s individuality. The play does not name Christopher’s condition, and its greatest achievement is to put its audience inside Christopher’s head through clever staging, lighting and structure, as much as through any feat of acting. Masterfully directed, it allows us to feel the world with him: overwhelmed by the glaring sensory overload of London; in awe of the intricate wonders of the universe and how small they make our human problems seem; angry at the deceit of his loved ones; and instinctively enamoured of the tiny puppy he eventually receives from his father.

The Curious Incident of the Night-Time UK Tour

Most of all, we enjoy the hunt: we want Christopher to succeed and find his answers. We might spot the solution before he does, but in what detective story is that not true? Half the fun of Sherlock Holmes or similar fiction is the gratification derived from discovering the answer before the supposedly ingenious detective gets it. Of course, it is always easier to understand a problem that is not your own. In Christopher’s situation, caught up in a web of lies, confusion and complex sexual and emotional politics, how many of us would have been able to see the wood for the trees? Or even allowed ourselves to?

This is, after all, as much a story about self-deception as it is about deceiving others: Christopher’s mother convinces herself that her family would be better off without her, his father that Christopher is better off not knowing what has happened to her. These are only falsehoods in the same sense that Christopher understands plays and metaphors as lies: just because they are not facts, doesn’t mean that they are not, in some sense, true. In the programme, Haddon suggests that Curious might really be more about us than it is about Christopher. Here’s another contention: Curious, like many (arguably all) good stories is more about storytelling than anything. How do people write the world? What do they see? What do they miss? How do we narrate our lives? Curious allows us to understand the nuanced and varied perspectives of all its different characters, despite the fact that it is this very nuance and difference that Christopher struggles most with. The stories his mother and father and all the other people around him tell serve the same function for them as mathematical equations do for Christopher: they are a reassurance, a means of imposing a kind of order and logic on a bewilderingly chaoticTHE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME UK Tour 2014/2015 universe. Changes to these stories frighten them, as much as change unnerves Christopher, which is precisely why his father feels the need to suppress narratives written by Christopher and his mother that conflict with his own.

The structure of Curious on stage reflects this, with Siobhan acting as the placid voice of reason as she reads from Christopher’s book and offers him encouragement. As a result, the ending – or rather, the lack of one – becomes even more poignant. Christopher’s story is left incomplete. He closes the play celebrating his successes so far and believing that they mean that he can now do anything. To his mind, the narrative of his future life is already written, and all that remains is to turn the pages and read it. His teacher, on the other hand, doesn’t seem so sure. Whatever kind of calm Christopher has found for the time being, in five, ten, twenty years, like any of us, he will be a different person, in a different story.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 6th June. To book tickets, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website or call the box office on 0844 338 5000.

The Curious Incident of the Night-TimeUK Tour

“If you’re blue and don’t know where to go to” – Top Hat on Tour at the Birmingham Hippodrome

TOP HAT THE MUSICAL DRESS REHEARSAL

Last night theatre-goers flocked to the Birmingham Hippodrome in posh frocks and dinner suits, “spending every dime for a wonderful time” at the special “Top Hats and Tiaras” themed opening of Top Hat.

Based on the classic 1935 RKO movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Top Hat is an Olivier Award-winning musical adapted by Matthew White and Howard Jacques. The original film was the first to have a score comprised entirely of brand-new songs by the Golden-Era master, Irving Berlin, and proved a phenomenal success, breaking box office records and inspiring new dance trends while cementing the burgeoning popularity of its songwriter and stars. Already a soaring success in its own right, the stage production is the first Irving Berlin movie to be adapted for live performance, packing out theatres and kindling a love of the songs and story in a new generation.

TOP HAT THE MUSICAL DRESS REHEARSAL

Returning to the Birmingham Hippodrome after its previous run in 2011, the show has been hotly anticipated by attendees, with many avid attendees booking their tickets many months in advance. And if last night’s smiling faces and thunderous applause are anything to judge by, it seems that it more than lived up to expectations.

The performances were top notch, with Alan Burkitt deftly capturing Jerry Travers’s cheeky charm, while John Conroy as the Hardwicks’ in cognito butler, Bates, and Sebastien Torkia as ambitious Italian fashion designer, Beddini, left the audience giggling like children. Despite a few vocal slips, Charlotte Gooch made a charismatic and beautiful Dale Tremont, expertly and energetically pulling off some very difficult dance moves. Dancing and choreography were faultless all round, and both Burkitt and Torkia delivered Berlin’s iconic tunes with pitch-perfect gusto They were helped along by an excellent orchestra (led by Jae Alexander) who alone would have made this show worth attending.

TOP HAT THE MUSICAL DRESS REHEARSAL

It wasn’t just the viewers looking fabulous, either – there were some truly stunning costumes on stage. My personal favourite was a radial pleated gown in shimmering gold that made its wearer shine like a sunbeam, followed a close second by Madge’s saucy, red satin number, complete with a low, draped back and offset by a dazzling white crystal choker.

Even more striking than these, however, was the lavish yet versatile set which allowed for fluid shifts in location from New York to London to Venice. The portrayal of Jerry tap-dancing with a hatstand in the hotel room above Dale’s was particularly well-designed, using a clever trick to allow us to see both rooms side-by-side at once.

TOP HAT THE MUSICAL DRESS REHEARSAL

The performance closed with an unquestionably deserved standing ovation and extra renditions of songs that will no doubt be stuck in viewers’ heads for weeks. Definitely a show worth every dime.

Time of Your Life – Dirty Dancing Workshop

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Following numerous sell-out runs in Britain and beyond, smash-hit musical Dirty Dancing will return to the Birmingham Hippodrome this year as part of its 2015 UK tour. Based on the film by Eleanor Bergstein, the stage adaptation has already broken numerous records, becoming the fastest selling show in West End history when it opened in 2006, and going on to take an unprecedented £42,000,000 from its first tour of the country in 2011.

Ramping up the already palpable buzz for its hotly anticipated spring visit to Birmingham, a special Dirty Dancing workshop took place at the theatre on Thursday, with fans invited to relive the show’s powerful energy through lesson’s with choreographer Glenn Wilkinson and dancers Lisa Welham and Albey Brookes.

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A brief introduction from producer Karl Sydow kicked off the afternoon, explaining how the stage show had come to be and emphasising the huge popularity of both the musical and its movie counterpart. A video clip showed thrilled theatre-goers, including members of the public and celebrity fans, gushing about their experiences, and their excitement was mirrored in the enthusiasm with which attendees took to the dance floor as we were led into the next room.

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I’m definitely no dancer – three moves was about as much as I could manage – but it was still fun watching from the sidelines, especially since my fellow First Night Blogger, Becky, made a much better job of it than I did!

The three dancers led the workshop with participants split into two groups, and one lucky lady even had the chance to dance with one of the professionals. Her partner, Albey Brookes, will join the Dirty Dancing ensemble cast when the show arrives in Birmingham in April.

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Afterwards, we had chance to talk with choreographer about how he ended up working on the show. While his own background is in contemporary dance, his introduction to the world of musicals came through his wife, who also works in the business. With several years experience of working on Dirty Dancing and other shows now behind him, however, he’s had plenty of time to get used to creating big, showstopping numbers. His contemporary training has even come in handy for Dirty Dancing, allowing him to add his own twists and flourishes to its rock-and-roll style, resulting in a truly unique production.

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Dirty Dancing opens at the Birmingham Hippodrome on Thursday 30th April and runs until Saturday 23rd May. To book tickets, call 0844 338 5000 or visit the theatre’s website. Full UK tour dates can be viewed on the Dirty Dancing UK Tour site. If you plan on going along, don’t forget to share your experience via Twitter using the hashtags #DDTour2015 and #BHdirtydancing.

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Frightfully Festive – The Frozen Scream by Christopher Green, Sarah Waters & CC Gilbert

On a stormy winter night in 1928, a young cB63Xuh4IcAAgR6xouple on their way to a party find their car stuck in the thick snow surrounding their destination. Unable to press on, they take refuge in an abandoned lodge, where they’re soon joined by two fellow party-goers who have also been having trouble with the weather.

Determined to keep their spirits up and make the most of their “chance” encounter, the members of the little gathering share drinks, show off their fancy dress costumes and, in the spirit of Christmas, begin telling ghost stories. It all seems like harmless fun, but in that cold, dark and intimate space, tension builds, with desire, jealousy and fear bubbling just beneath the surface.

So far, so straightforward: with its period setting and sexually charged undercurrent, The Frozen Scream starts out feeling like a classic Sarah Waters story. But don’t get too comfortable: as the characters gradually lose their grip on reality, struggling to distinguish fact from fiction, you might find yourself starting to get lost in their nightmare, too….

Created by Sarah Waters and Christopher Green, The Frozen Scream is a festive ghost story with a difference. Inspired by CC Gilbert’s 1928 novel of the same name, the show playfully merges the layers of history within the tale with the history of the novel itself. Partly inspired by Norse mythology and folk traditions, the story deals with the figure of Jack Frost, contrasting cuddlier, modern takes on the character with the more menacing shape he originally assumed. At the time of publication, it caused something of a stir, but today, The Frozen Scream has been all but forgotten after widespread belief in a curse surrounding the novel frightened potential readers and drove it from popularity.

Rumours of a curse first began with the curious death of the book’s publisher, Braithwaite Judd, who was mysteriously found frozen to death in an old ice house – in the middle of July. Soon afterwards, a critic who had been working on a review of the novel found himself stuck in a chiller cabinet at the Savoy Grill while trying to find his way to the bathroom. Finally, the author herself was killed in a flurry of snow and ice on a skiing trip in Zermatt. All three incidents occurred in the same year, and according to Gilbert’s partner, BoBo Miles, the novelist’s last words were “It’s through my heart, the ice is right through my heart!”

Arthur_Rackham_Jack_Frost_1913-Whether or not you’re inclined to be superstitious, Green’s and Waters’s take on the tale is certain to leave you on edge, masterfully building and undercutting suspense throughout. Nervousness grows, only to be deflated, leaving viewers in a constant state of uncertainty, distrusting everyone even as they doubt their own fears.

The cast is wonderful, in equal parts spooky and hilarious, and the visuals are fantastic, including a gorgeous set, sparkly costumes and some brilliant special effects. A little more use of sound beyond knocks and scratches might have been made to heighten the drama further: this feels like a production that will only get more polished and compelling through more performances, so here’s hoping it will eventually tour elsewhere beyond the Wales Millennium Centre and the Birmingham Hippodrome. As it stands, though, it’s a hugely entertaining, thoroughly unique and very affordable night out that comes highly recommended to anyone brave enough to give it a try.

Without running the risk of giving anything away, there’s not much else that can be said, other than a warning to viewers to trust no one and to “Beware the ice!”

The Frozen Scream continues its run at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 17th January, and comes with 16+ age guidance. Tickets can be booked via the theatre’s website.

Clever Silliness – An Interview with Panto Star Matt Slack at the Jack and the Beanstalk Rehearsals

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The opening night of the Birmingham Hippodrome panto draws near, and the stars are now kitted out with all their colourful costumes. With just one more sleep to go, Jack and the Beanstalk is looking amazing, a truly dazzling set having taken over the theatre’s main stage.

Earlier in the rehearsal process, I had chance to speak to actor and comedian Matt Slack, who is returning to the Hippodrome after taking up the role of Oddjob in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs last year. This year, he’ll playing Jack’s daft brother, Silly Billy, alongside his returning co-stars, Paul Zerdin (Simple Simon) and Gary Wilmot (Dame Trot).

You’re returning to the Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime for the second year running. How is this year’s panto comparing to 2013’s?

I’m really thrilled to be back. It’s going to be difficult to follow last year’s because it was such a huge success. The response from the Birmingham audience was just incredible! It is the best in the country, and I’ve done a lot of these now. We set the bar really high so we’ve got a lot to live up to, but already in the rehearsals there’s a fantastic vibe and we can tell it’s going to be funny and spectacular!

DSCF3467It’s great to be back with Paul and Gary. Duncan James [Jack] and Jane McDonald [The Enchantress] are both brilliant to work with too. Jane’s never done it before but she’s a natural.

Normally it feels a bit daunting at the start, but in this case, I don’t have a bad word to say about anything. I’m going to be doing some new material – obviously you don’t want to repeat anything. But hopefully it will be all the same quality as last year.

Has it been fun reuniting with your co-stars from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?

Yeah! Me and Paul are good mates anyway. I think it makes it more exciting to have all three of us together again, and it’s helped the rehearsals to move along a bit more quickly because we’ve already broken the ice and we know each other – there’s none of that “first day at school” kind of awkwardness.

Tell me about your character. Is it quite similar to last year’s?

Yeah, it’s been a funny old year for me, actually – I’ve played an array of characters on stage and TV, but I’ve ended up in a very similar role to the one I was in at the start of the year. Silly Billy is a lot like Oddjob: it’s basically just me being me – a bit stupid, a bit silly, but sort of clever at the same time. It’s a clever silliness. He’s a big, bold, funny character. I just hope the kids enjoy the performance as much as the adults. We want to get every generation there laughing. There’s nothing better than when someone comes up to you and says, “You made me laugh, and my kids, and my mum.”

Have you had chance to have a look at your full costume yet?

I’ve just tried it on. It’s brilliant! Something happens when you put the costume on – it just instantly puts you into “panto mode”. It’s almost the same as my costume last year except for the colours, which is good because it means I’m already comfortable working in it. All of the costumes are specially made, this being the biggest panto in the country. It’s quite imDSCF3517portant that they’re comfortable because the performances can be very physical, and because of the number of shows we do.

Have the rehearsals got you feeling festive and ready for Christmas?

Well, this panto starts so late that it will be very close to Christmas when we start performing. It doesn’t actually open till the 19th December. It can sometimes be hard to be in the Christmas spirit when you’re working so hard, but ultimately panto is Christmas for me, so yes, I am starting to feel festive.

Jack and the Beanstalk opens at the Birmingham Hippodrome tomorrow evening. To find out more and to book tickets, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website

About Town – Video Art in Birmingham’s Southside

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Wednesday night saw the launch of About Town,  a video art exhibition presented by the Hippodrome in collaboration with Ikon Gallery. As its title suggests, the exhibition is spread out across a different urban spaces, all within the Southside area, from the Back-to-Backs and the theatre itself to Hurst Street’s Gallan Car Park. Free of charge, the exhibition is currently open to the public from 4-10pm daily until Sunday 16th November.

Intended to present some of the best in international video art and to provide viewers with a fresh perspective on familiar environments, About Town incorporates work ranging from intimate interviews to large-scale, multi-screen installation pieces. As the Hippodrome’s Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths explained, the exhibition was initially inspired by a visit to La Biennale international art festival in Venice, and the diversity of art on display reflects that of Birmingham itself.

About Town falls within the remit of Hippodrome Plus, the theatre’s continually expanding outdoor and outreach branch that also oversees things like Summer in Southside and the youth ambassador scheme. For Ikon, meanwhile, there was another motivation for getting involved: as the gallery prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, now is a great time to look back over some of the work it had displayed over the years.

Beginning in the Hippodrome’s own Qdos Lounge, Marjolyn Diikman’s Wandering Through the Future takes viewers on a journey through things to come as envisaged in the movies, with a series of film clips arranged chronologically according to their setting, from 2008 through to 802.701. This fun, playful exhibit prompts questions about the things we want and expect from the future.

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Meanwhile, in the foyer, Kelly Mark’s Hiccup #2 shows the Canadian artist sitting in the same position on the steps of the old Birmingham Library at the same time for five consecutive days. The fact that, each day, many of the same people pass her without noticing her performing the same actions calls attention to both the many things we ignore in our daily routines and the monotony of modern life, themes that crop up again in various other exhibits.

Scattered around the theatre are a series of clips entitled Happiness in Mitte, depicting stray cats drinking milk left out by the artist, Adel Abdessemed, in Berlin’s Mitte district. This proved popular among conscious attendees, though the small, inconspicuous screens are easy to miss if you’re not looking for them, leading to parallels being drawn between this and Hiccup #2.

In the Back-to-Backs, a very ‘meta’ piece called Video Times shows the artist, Kevin Atherton, watching television, staring back at viewers from the screen he appears on. The film is accompanied by a magazine containing scripted directions for his actions, printed in the style of a TV listings guide like the Radio Times. Created in 1984, this self-reflexive yet oddly cosy and domestic piece predates not only reality shows like Gogglebox and Big Brother, but also the culture of CCTV surveillance to which we’ve now become accustomed.

Upstairs, Heather and Ivan Morison invite viewers to enjoy the simple pleasures of an English country garden, while next door, a series of fascinating extracts from Cornelia Parker’s interview with Noam Chomsky demand a little more of our time. Santiago Serra’s Person Saying a Phrase deals with the issue of homelessness, another subject that emerges more than once in this exhibition.

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One of About Town‘s most eye-catching and instantly engaging pieces is Birmingham-born Grace Ndiritu’s The Nightingale, showing in Route 2 Havana Car Park opposite Southside’s Nightingale gay club. Her piece explores issues of identity and stereotyping with regards to race and gender, using the simple tool of a red, patterned scarf. By variously becoming, through a series of transformational movements, a headscarf, blindfold, hajib, burka, veil, bandanna, turban, gag and purdah, the scarf playfully references an assortment of different cultures, all present in the multicultural melting pot of the West Midlands.

The exhibition culminates in a sensory feast in Gallan Car Park, where a series of huge installations are displayed side-by-side, surrounding viewers with light and sound. Like Saying a Phrase, Roy Arden’s Citizen tackles the issue of homelessness, showing a young man in the centre of a traffic intersection as seen from a moving car. Like Hiccup #2Citizen also prompts reflection on the things we often fail to see.

Junebum Park’s 1 Parking and Oliver Beer’s Pay and Display are well-suited to the car park setting. The latter features some eerie choral work by Ex Cathedra and some slightly scary, emotionless performances from children: it’s certainly one to hold your attention, as long as you’re not put off by its creepiness! Meanwhile, Yang Zhenzhong’s Let’s Puff places viewers in between two screens, one showing a busy Shanghai Street, the other showing a woman blowing air in sharp bursts. As she exhales, the scene opposite shifts, and we find ourselves thrown into another part of the street.

The most instantly emotive and visceral of the exhibits, however, must be Gillian Wearing’s Broad Street. In this (at times uncomfortably) immersive piece, viewers find themselves ringed about with screens showing club-goers courting, arguing and otherwise interacting in central Birmingham, with lots of alcohol involved. Experiencing this in a dark, chilly car park has the effect of making us feel as though we’re really out at night on Broad Street. Troublingly voyeuristic though strangely fascinating, the installation is sure to inspire a variety of reactions depending on viewers’ own experiences of similar nights out.

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About Town is showing across Southside until Sunday 16th November, from 4-10pm. For more information, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

All images by Mark Rhodes except still from Grace Ndiritu’s The Nightingale.

Ringside: Film, Music and Adventure Inspired by Richard Wagner

ringsideTo celebrate the Mariinsky Opera’s upcoming performance of the Ring Cycle at the Birmingham Hippodrome, a series of special events were held over the weekend, each inspired by Richard Wagner’s iconic work. Across Saturday and Sunday, visitors were invited to enjoy a wide range of free and cheap performances around Birmingham’s Southside area.

Saturday’s Ringside programme kicked off at 11am with One of Our Singers is Missing, an interactive show that took the form of a kind of treasure hunt or murder mystery game, suitable for kids and grown-ups of all ages. Every 15 minutes throughout the day, small teams were sent off to search for a purportedly missing Mariinsky Opera singer named Albert. All was not what it first seemed, however: a simple walk round Southside soon turned into an epic adventure, that saw participants encounter a range of otherworldly beings who assisted them in the discovery of an all-powerful ring. A fun, free way to pass a Saturday afternoon with friends and family, One of Our Singers is Missing also offered a great opportunity to get to know Southside and perhaps to visit somewhere new.

DSCF3348[1]At 4pm, dramatist, author, musician and composer Neil Brand discussed the impact of Wagnerian opera on film music through the ages in the theatre’s Patrick Centre. His engaging two-part talk, Film Music and the Ghost of Wagner, explored explored the emotional and psychological effects of soundtracks on audiences, and how styles and dramatic structures first used by Wagner have always played an important part in making the movies what they are. Using examples ranging from early silent films to contemporary superhero blockbusters, Brand offered a fascinating and enlightening insight into the relationship between sound and pictures. In addition to examining the work of some of his favourite film composers, Brand also demonstrated how subtle changes in music can completely alter our perception of a story by playing two different versions of an accompanying score alongside silent footage of a shipwreck.

Neil Brand (credit TOM CATCHESIDES)The talk was immediately followed by a free concert in the theatre foyer, with students and former students of the Birmingham Conservatoire performing the “Siegfried Idyll”, a beautiful melody based on one of Brunnhilde’s songs from Der Ring des Nibelungen, thought to have been composed by Wagner as a sort of love letter to his wife. The Conservatoire played the piece perfectly: it was magnificent to listen to, and a great taster for the Ring Cycle itself, which will be staged from Wednesday through to Sunday this week. The evening then rounded off with cabaret from Kit and McConnel, who performed their opera-inspired comedy show The Fat Lady Sings.

Conservatoire SIEGFRIEDOn Sunday afternoon, The Electric Cinema played host to a special screening of Fritz Lang’s Siegfried, widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of the silent era. The film was accompanied by a live piano score from Neil Brand, who played throughout the film (over two hours) with an unflagging energy. The movie itself is a really interesting take on the myth that makes some significant changes to the story, notably that Brunhild is actively scorned by Siegfried rather than him being tricked into forgetting her. It also features an amazingly impressive dragon that actually breathes fire and smoke, which must have been some feat of engineering!

788px-Nibelungen_film1Ringside continues on Saturday 8th November with Brunch with the Brunnhildes: a brunch discussion with sopranos Susan Bullock and Catherine Foster who will discuss their experiences of performing in the Ring Cycle with Front Row‘s Matthew D’Ancona. For more information, click here.

Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen begins on Wednesday 5th November with Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold), and concludes on Sunday 9th November with Götterdämmerung (Ragnarök). For more information and to book, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Neil Brand photo by Tom Catchesides.

Explosive: Dance Consortium Presents Grupo Corpo at the Birmingham Hippodrome

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A truly explosive feast of a show, last night’s Grupo Corpo transported the vibrancy and liveliness of the Brazilian carnival to the darkness of an autumn evening in Birmingham.

Combining fluid, fast-paced dancing with a rich musical tapestry woven from diverse instrumental strands, Part 1 begins slowly before bursting into a series of breathtakingly dynamic set pieces. The South American dance troupe leap across the stage, each dressed in intricately decorated, individually-made suits designed to give the impression of full-body tattoos. All classically trained, their work is a unique, innovative fusion of traditional ballet and the movements of everyday life in Brazil’s urban centres. On Tuesday night, the pounding rhythms of the music soon proved irresistible even to viewers, who struggled to sit still in their seats.

PARABELO3520MIt isn’t all relentless energy, however: the buzz occasionally subsides to make room for more intimate, gentle duets. As the group explained in a post-show Q & A, parts of the performance draw on centuries-old stories of women who lost their men to the sea. The sadness and longing of the stories lend these quieter moments an immediacy and emotional resonance that makes them deeply moving even without the background information. The historical inspiration is also carried through elsewhere, surfacing in the swaying, tidal movements that flow throughout Act I.

In Act II, the brilliant, summery colours give way to a darker, more sombre vibe. Dressed in autumnal greens and browns, the dancers move more thoughtfully and purposefully against an eerie backdrop of expressionless heads. Towards the end, this backdrop is transformed into a collage of faded photographs, evoking all the joy and sadness of a nostalgic look through an old family album. This serves as a background for dance sequences with more modern inspirations, that mark a return to the fast-paced energy and bright colours of Act I.

SEMMIM3054MIn addition to showcasing some fantastic dance and music, the evening also served as a trial for a new project the Hippodrome is embarking upon, with members of the press invited to participate in “Tweet Seating”. Light-shading boxes were distributed, and those taking part were seated in a side section in order to minimise disruption to surrounding audience members. It was really fascinating to read the thoughts and observations of fellow audience members during the show, and you can now read a Storify selection of what people had to say about it. However, it did prove tricky to concentrate on more than one thing at once, and this is probably something that would only work for particular kinds of shows. In a more narrative, dramatic performance, it would be easy to lose the thread of a story by attempting to tweet about it live. Still, it was a fun experiment, and it will definitely be interesting to see where the theatre takes it next!

Find out more about Grupo Corpo and watch the trailer by visiting the Birmingham Hippodrome website, or read about Tweet Seating on the Birmingham Hippodrome blog.

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.

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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.

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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