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.

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Have You Bean to Brum? Jack and the Beanstalk: The Birmingham Hippodrome Panto 2014

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Another year, another hilarious Hippodrome panto – it’s hard to believe that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was so long ago, but here we are again.

DSCF3552This Christmas, Jack and the Beanstalk sees its murderous giant brought to life in stunning 3D by Whizzbang 3D Productions before a squealing audience. On press night at least, there were also a few squeals of a rather different sort directed at the show’s leading man, Blue’s Duncan James. Assisting the wicked giant is the slimy, treacherous Fleshcreep, played by Coronation Street‘s Chris Gascoyne, looking excellent in a sweeping black coat, top hat, shades and thick eyeliner. Meanwhile, helping out our hero on the good team are Jane McDonald’s glamorous Enchantress and returning comedy trio Gary Wilmot, Paul Zerdin and Matt Slack, as Jack’s mum, Dame Trot, and his two bonkers brothers, Simple Simon and Silly Billy.

As ever, the show is an absolute visual feast – and not just because it features enough beans to feed a family for weeks and a comedy routine centred on the names of different chocolate bars. Stunning sets, beautiful backdrops and gorgeous, glittering lights are all in abundance, while the fabulous array of costumes includes the Enchantress’s dazzling dress, Fleshcreep’s gothic get-up and a whole host of fluffy farm animals who gallop, trot and pad across the stage for a charming dance sequence with the Dame. As well as the giant, the special effects also encompass a beanstalk so tall it looks as though it might topple (don’t worry – no audience members were harmed in the staging of this performance, as far as we know), and an amazing helicopter and animatronic giant that operate with a similar mechanism to last year’s Black Country dragon.

DSCF3526Throughout the show, there’s a brilliant chemistry between Jane McDonald’s and Chris Gascoyne’s constantly clashing helper characters, and Wilmot, Zerdin and Slack are back on form, bouncing off each other and providing the driving energy behind this production. There are some great set pieces in Act I, including the aforementioned chocolate bars skit, some well-timed slapstick from Silly Billy, and a couple of nice moments with Simple Simon and his cheeky puppet, Sam. However, it’s in the second half that the comedy really picks up, with a hysterical 12 Days of Christmas routine which last night saw one viewer almost knocked out by flying loo rolls. Up in the giant’s castle, Dame Trot and her boys keep up their spirits with a rendition of “All About That Bass”, and the end of the show features some audience participation when Paul Zerdin invites some of the little ones up onto the stage for a sing-song – and, of course, some human ventriloquism.

But the gags aren’t the only thing guaranteed to have you leaving the theatre with a smile on your face: brilliantly choreographed, the big dance numbers to the classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and Pharrell’s irresistible “Happy” will have you grinning and humming along whether or not you mean to.

Once again, Michael Harrison and Qdos bring you panto at its finest. Oh yes they do.

Jack and the Beanstalk is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday 1st February, with a special relaxed performance on Thursday 29th January. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Hippodrome website, and don’t forget to watch out for a Radio 2 broadcast about Britain’s biggest pantomime on Christmas Day.

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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

Oh no they didn’t! Jane McDonald and the Hippodrome Panto Stars Begin Rehearsals in London

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It’s December, and with panto season well underway, rehearsals for the UK’s biggest pantomime have just begun, with the stars of this year’s show, Jack and the Beanstalk, getting into character in London’s Jerwood Space.

Yesterday, members of the press were invited to sit in on some of the first read- and dance-throughs. Although we caught the cast early on in their rehearsal process, from the short scenes we saw, it was clear that both the comedy and choreography were already taking shape.

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First up, we got a glimpse of the opening dance number, with the chorus getting jamming along to Pharell’s ‘Happy’. Next, Jane McDonald (The Cruise, Loose Women, Star Treatment) and Chris Gascoyne (Coronation Street, New Street Law, Soldier Soldier) took to the floor to face off in their respective roles as The Enchantress and the Giant’s assistant, Fleshcreep. Returning for his second Hippodrome panto running, ventriloquist Paul Zerdin (who plays Simple Simon) and his puppet, Sam, then rehearsed a scene involving a complicated gag centred around the names of three neighbours. Zerdin was later joined by returning comedy co-stars Gary Wilmot (Dame Trot) and Matt Slack (Silly Billy) as well as Blue’s Duncan James (Jack), who discussed the hard times the family had fallen upon, and made a good early attempt at some very complicated lines! Finally, a second dance sequence ended with a number from TV songster Jane McDonald.

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After lunch, I had chance to interview some of the stars about their roles in the show. Here’s what Jane McDonald had to say about The Enchantress.

Tell me a bit about your character in the panto.

My character is The Enchantress and she is the magic spirit of all that is good. I come in and fix everybody’s lives and make sure that nobody gets hurt and that the love is shared all around. So it’s the perfect role for me, really!

You’ve not long started, but how are the rehearsals going so far?

No, we’ve only been doing it for two days, but I have never laughed so much! The cast are the funniest people I have ever met in my life! I’m really looking forward to it now. I’ve never done panto before – this is my first time – and a lot of people have said it’s hard work, but to be quite honest, I go out and do my own shows for two and a half hours every night, so to actually work with a cast is a lifesaver for me! I’m also looking forward to being in the same place every day and sleeping in the same bed every night. That’ll be complete luxury!

DSCF3412Sounds like the tour has left you feeling worn out!

You could say that, yeah! I only finished on Sunday night and then it was straight into the first rehearsal on Monday, so I’m at the stage where I’m not sure how I’m even managing to talk to you right now! But it has been fabulous fun, and you just keep going in this business.

This is your first pantomime, but it won’t be your first stage musical, so how does it compare to other things that you’ve worked on in the past?

I did Romeo and Juliet in the West End, which was very dark, so this is obviously much lighter! It’s very camp and very funny. The script is hilarious. Even my opening line is about my knickers coming off! When I first read it, I thought, “Blimey, that’s a bit much!” But it is funny. It’s all typical English humour, which we don’t see a lot of, nowadays.

I think I caught sight of your magic wand earlier on. Have you had chance to try your costume on and see how everything looks yet?

How heavy is that wand?

I think it’s about half the size of me!

Ha, it is, actually! It’s massive, isn’t it? And it lights up and does everything. I think you can probably see it from space! It is very heavy, so I’m going to have to get used to handling it. It’s phenomenal though. It’s got its own credit, that wand.

How about the dress? Have you had a look at that?

Yeah, it’s lovely. Lots of Lycra! So that’ll give me a bit of breathing space – built-in underwear, that’s me. It’s actually very easy to wear.

And sparkly, I bet.

Yeah, of course it is!

That doesn’t light up as well, does it?

No – not yet! That’s an idea, though!

DSCF3398[1]You’ve previously worked with Duncan on Loose Women. How has it been reuniting with him in a different context?

Yeah, we’ve done a couple of shows together. It’s great, actually. You get to know people a lot better when you’re doing something like this, because we’re going to be working together for eight weeks. He’s a cracking singer, you know. When he started up singing in the rehearsals, I was like, “Blimey!” He’s got a really strong voice, and he’s a great actor as well, so I think it’s good for him to be doing this in his own right.  I think a lot of people will be impressed. I was certainly wowed when I saw him, even though I’d seen him in the West End before so I already knew he could do it. He’s hilarious, too – not at all like his character. He’s very very funny and very dry.

Have you had chance to have a look at the theatre yet or will it all be new to you when you arrive there?

I went over to have a look and to do the press day before, and it’s absolutely stunning! The Birmingham Hippodrome is like the place to perform. Apparently everybody’s coming to this place and everyone comes to watch the Birmingham panto, so I’m hoping they’ll all come and see this one – otherwise it’s not going to reflect very well on me! I must admit I’d go and see a show there. It’s a very comfortable theatre. It has really nice seats and fantastic views. I’m really looking forward to performing there.

What about Birmingham more generally. Do you know the town much?

You’ve got everything there, haven’t you? Selfridges and all the shopping. I’m well excited!

So has starting the panto rehearsals put you in the Christmas spirit or have you resisted the festive pull so far?

I think I’ve avoided it a bit, just because I haven’t really had time to think about it. But all the adverts on telly are starting to get me now. I think once I’m in Birmingham that’s when I’ll start to feel really festive. I’ll have my partner there and my mum will come to visit, and my best friend. I think it’s gonna be lovely!

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Jack and the Beanstalk will be showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Friday 19th December until Sunday 1st February. Tickets are available from the Birmingham Hippodrome website. Keep an eye on this blog for my interviews with panto co-stars Matt Slack and Gary Wilmot

DanceXchange – Arthur Pita’s The Little Match Girl at the Birmingham Hippodrome

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The season of festive shows is now well and truly upon us, with Arthur Pita’s The Little Match Girl following hot (or should that be cold?) on the heels of the recent run of Slava’s Snowshow at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Presented by DanceXchange, Pita’s production is a beautiful, enchanting and surprisingly funny adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Andersen story that sees the little match girl (here named Fiammetta) transported to an unnamed Italian town where Christmas festivities are well underway.

The show is in large part an exploration of the meaning of Christmas, bringing together an eclectic mishmash of traditions with the kind of sombre, poignant reflections that tend to creep up on us on long winter nights towards the end of the year. Fiammetta’s own joy and wonder at the the beauty of her surroundings reminds us of the happiness of any young child anticipating presents and games on Christmas Eve. Then there’s the mouth-watering, Neapolitan-style Christmas food list rattled off by the wealthy and gluttonous Donnarumma family. The flamboyance and grotesqueness of that little trio, complete with its own ridiculous dame of a mother, is obviously inspired by a long history of British pantomime. Nevertheless, as self-absorbed as they are, the Donnarummas also on some level communicate the idea of Christmas as a time for family, a theme more sensitively dealt with in Fiammetta’s visit to her grandmother’s grave, where she, like many others at this time of year, spares some time to think of absent loved ones (that “auld acquaintance” that we so often toast on New Year’s Eve).

The_Little_Match_Girl_-_Bayes_1889Sensitively, Pita opens up both the meaningful and the shallow sides of Christmas, like two sides of Fiammetta’s single shiny penny, highlighting the hypocrisy of much of what goes on. While the Donnarumma family and others like them give gifts and eat together, the notion of Christmas as a time for sharing does not extend as far as poor Fiammetta, left barefoot and empty-handed in the cold. Rather than simply allowing her to drift by, ghostlike and unnoticed, however, Pita brings her into direct conflict with a jealous pair of rival match-sellers, as well as with the obnoxious Donnarummas.

The design of the show is utterly gorgeous, from the giant full moon hanging low in the inky sky to the rows of little houses that disappear and reappear onstage. The lighting is also beautifully atmospheric, with pools of streetlamp glow highlighting little patches of falling snow. Even more crucial to maintaining the mood is Frank Moon’s fantastic music. Performing onstage, Moon is drawn in to the world of the show, sometimes as a kind of incidental street musician, other times as a more direct part of the story, in a role he aptly described in the post-show discussion as something akin to that of a narrator. Interestingly, his music evolved symbiotically with with the movement, rather than being set to the dancing or the action being choreographed to a ready-made score, a process which has worked fantastically well. Moon attended creative sessions with the cast and director throughout the development of the production, and the result is a wonderful meeting of violins and theremins, haunting, Danny Elfman-esque sounds and jolly Christmas tunes.

The little cast of four is utterly brilliant all round, with Corey Annand convincingly innocent and vulnerable as Fiammetta (though with a surprising strength and determination when necessary), and Angelo Smimmo, Karl Fagerlund Brekke and Valentina Golfieri hilarious in show’s various other roles. The one thing that let the show down, however, was an apparent reluctance to allow the darkness in the story room to breathe and to sink in with its audience. It’s understandable that for a festive family show, something a little more light-hearted was called for than Andersen’s almost unbearably bleak tale, which is enough to reduce grown-ups, let alone children, to blubbering wrecks. Nevertheless, the fact of the match girl’s death was so lightly skimmed over that at least one of my fellow audience members was left confused and unaware of what had actually happened. Shifting a single scene to a point a little later in the show would probably have been enough to resolve this lack of clarity. Another, related issue was Smimmo’s semi-comedic take on Fiammetta’s grandmother who, like Clementina De Magistis Donarumma, is played by a male cast member in drag. For me, her heightened singing and pantomime dame qualities took away too much from the emotional resonance of her reunion with the little girl, a touching moment in the story that should have been more joyous, as well as more sad.

That said, the show gets an excellent and powerful ending when we are transported to a more contemporary town where, over a century later, another young girl attempts to sell cigarette lighters on the streets, which left me feeling as though there should have been some kind of charity collection on the way out.

Overall, what this production loses in Andersen’s devastating emotional blows, it makes up for in irresistible charm and a sense of genuine magic. Guaranteed to warm your heart like a handful of matches in a snowstorm, it’s a perfect Christmas treat for kids and adults of all ages.

“Like being in a giant wallet” – Chris Gascoyne gets into costume for the Jack and the Beanstalk Panto

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With this year’s Hippodrome panto, Jack and the Beanstalk now just a month away, the cast are beginning to get to grips with their scripts and prepare for their parts in the show. Last week, I caught up with Coronation Street’s Chris Gascoyne – who plays the giant’s accomplice, Fleshcreep – to find out more about the show.

So how are things going with the panto so far?

Well, we haven’t started rehearsals yet. We start rehearsing in London in about two weeks’ time, and then we come to Birmingham. Normally rehearsals for a panto are only a week. It’s crazy really. When you see the size of it, all the costumes and the routines, you wonder how they’ve managed to do all that in a week, but it’s just because you have to, really.

Our director, Michael Harrison, is working on two pantos at once – I think the other one is in Southampton. We’re all rehearsing in the same building in London, so he’s running from one room to the other. I think it might be the same show, so maybe I’ll have a look next door and see how the other bloke’s doing it, once we start! [Michael] has written the script for this one as well, and it’s one of the best panto scripts I’ve ever read.

Tell me a bit about your character, because it’s not one that’s in the original story, is it?

The character that I play is called Fleshcreep, and he’s the giant’s “second-in-command”, so apart from the giant, he’s the baddie of the show. The giant himself will be mainly in 3D. About six years ago I did a pantomime in Cardiff and they used 3D in that and it was incredible! But apparently this is new technology and it’s supposed to be even more amazing. Maybe one day it’ll be so good that they won’t need actors any more!

So is it Fleshcreep who’s really in charge, or is the giant still the big boss?

No, the giant’s definitely in charge of me! Fleshcreep is his minion.

Do you know what the giant will look like?

I haven’t seen him yet. I won’t get to see the giant until the technical rehearsal.

So you’ll just have to use your imagination in the meantime, then?

Pretty much, yeah. I remember with the one that we did in Cardiff, I played Abanazar and I had to talk to the genie, but because it was in 3D, I couldn’t even see it on stage. So while everyone else had got their got their glasses on, I had to look at a certain point in the auditorium and talk to him. All I had to go on was a recorded voice, and if I was a second too early or a second too late with my lines, it just carried on anyway, so the timing was the most difficult part. Also if I forgot my lines, he’d just carry on speaking as if I’d said them!

Your character on Coronation Street has a reputation for being a bit of a “bad boy” too. Do you think it’s more interesting playing characters with a mean streak?

Yes, I think so! But I don’t think Peter is really a baddie – he just makes mistakes and makes bad choices, just like anybody. He’s not a bad person, and even if he gets himself into situations where it looks pretty bad, he’s not someone who would intentionally hurt anyone.

Chris-Gascoyne-Birm (2)Have you done a lot of pantomimes before? How does this compare to others you’ve been involved with?

This is my fourth panto, and it’s bigger than any of the others I’ve done. I’ve been pretty lucky really: apart from the first one, all the other pantos I’ve been involved in have been with Qdos, which is the biggest pantomime company, and this is their biggest show. Everyone tells me that the Birmingham audiences are great and the cast is great and I know the script is good, and there’ll be all the 3D and special effects so I’m really looking forward to it! But really, I’ve got no idea what to expect!

You haven’t started rehearsing with the other cast members yet, but have you had chance to meet many of them?

No, not really. I met Duncan James this morning for the press photos. It was quite funny, because I came up to his dressing room head to toe in black leather, and he said, “Oh hi – are you playing the baddie, then?” and I said, “Well, I’d guess.” So I’d just met him and then the next thing I know I’m trying to strangle him in the foyer for the pictures!

Was this your first time seeing the costume today as well?

No I’d seen that before for some other photos we did earlier, but I’ll slightly modify it, I think.

What’s it like to wear it? It doesn’t sound especially comfortable!

It’s very warm! It’s all leather, and it’s a little bit like being inside a giant wallet.

Obviously Fleshcreep is a completely new character. Can we expect to see anything else new or surprising in this version of the Jack in the Beanstalk story?

Based on the script, I think that without it completely moving away from the story, there are going to be lots of really brilliant, interesting surprises. But I don’t know that much yet, so I’m as intrigued as you are to see how it all comes together.

What do you have lined up next for when you’ve finished with all of this?

I don’t know yet. Hopefully I’m going to go and do a couple of plays, though I can’t say what they are yet because they haven’t been 100% confirmed. I’ll probably do a bit of TV and just carry on and see what happens. I think all you can hope for as an actor is that luck will keep smiling on you and you’ll keep on working.

Has being involved with the panto made you start feeling festive yet?

Yeah – it always makes you feel Christmassy. I think the best thing about doing a panto is when you’re performing on Christmas Eve and all the kids are so excited! It’s great to be a part of that. It’s not really that far away now and all the lights are up so I’m looking forward to Christmas.

Jack and the Beanstalk will be showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Friday 19 December until Sunday 1st February. Click here to read my interview with star of the show, Duncan James, or for more information and to book, visit the Hippodrome’s website.

An Experience Like No Other: Slava’s Snowshow at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Yellow clown in storm (V.Mishukov)

An experience like no other; an explosion of unrestrained joy and delight: beyond this, it’s close to impossible to describe Slava’s Snowshow without saying at once too much and too little. At the risk of falling into this trap, however, here are some of the things you can expect to find, should you decide to attend.

Subtle, thoughtful and contained yet somehow simultaneously buzzing with a mischievous, child-like energy, Slava Polunin is both a traditional clown and something altogether fresh and unique. Having raided a long and well-established history of silent performance to create this show, he refashions what he finds there into something truly remarkable, the gleaming treasures and dusty clichés all radically transformed through his own comic genius and that of his collaborators.

Storm with drape (A.Lopez)

What makes this show so different from anything else you will ever see, then, is not so much what happens, but how it does so. Everyone who attends the Snowshow will enter the theatre thinking they know something about clowning, and will be met there with plenty of the things they expect to see. Yet they will also have their every expectation subverted. The most familiar gags and gestures startle and surprise, appearing so suddenly and in such imaginative ways that we almost fail to recognise them when we see them.

Trudging gloomily onto the stage, the Yellow Clown begins the show by fashioning a piece of rope into a kind of noose. By the end of it, he’s showering his audience with snow and bombarding them with giant, multicoloured, inflatable balls, leaving the room filled with smiles so big that ear-to-ear doesn’t do them justice. Between these two points is every emotion in-between: the show is perhaps best described as a kind of rollercoaster ride through the highs and lows of life, triggering a similar adrenaline rush that’s undoubtedly better shared than experienced alone. To steal a brilliant description from my fellow First Night Blogger, Amy Stutz, it’s also “like having a good dream and a nightmare at the same time”.

Slavas Snowshow at the Royal Festival Hall  Photo by Vladimir Mishukov  4 (2)People may come to see Slava’s Snowshow, but they soon find themselves becoming a part of it: to describe the audience members as “viewers” seems wholly inadequate. If you choose to participate in this show – and I urge you to do so – you’ll be covered in snow and cobwebs, possibly soaked, surrounded by bubbles and generally invited to relinquish your inhibitions and play. It’s hard to imagine a single person making it through this show without cracking a smile – most of us won’t be able to wipe the grins off our faces for days. And why would you want to? The only bad thing to say about Slava’s Snowshow is that eventually, it has to end.

Slava’s Snowshow runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome tonight and tomorrow. For more information and to book tickets, visit the theatre’s website.

_MG_0819Photo credits: A. Lopez, Vladimir Mishukov