The Birmingham Hippodrome Celebrates a Record Year

BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME - Local schoolchildren enjoying schools matinee performance of pantomime (Parental approval granted)

With over 625,000 tickets sold, the Birmingham Hippodrome has now announced 2013-14 as a record-breaking financial year. The theatre has for been recognised for some time as the country’s most popular single auditorium, averaging around 500,000 visits per year. Representing about 85% of capacity, this year’s increase is thanks in part to a slew of major shows like The Lion King, War Horse and Phantom of the Opera.

The news follows many other important steps forward for the theatre over the last few months, including its successful energy use reductions, its nomination as one of the Sunday Times’s “Top 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For”, and its certification in OHSAS 18001 (Occupational Health and Safety Management), with the Hippodrome believed to be the first UK theatre to achieve the last of these.

stuart-griffithsSaid the Hippodrome’s Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths:

“It’s not very often that these programming moments come together so perfectly, but with more than a little help from our producer partners Cameron Mackintosh, Disney, the National Theatre and Pantomime producers Qdos, alongside others, it looks like we’ve shattered all previous known records.  It’s gratifying too that we’ve seen such a huge rise in first-time bookers with over 48% new to the Hippodrome in the last 12 months.

“Dance received a boost with our resident partners Birmingham Royal Ballet presenting its most successful Nutcracker  at Christmas; and Mathew Bourne’s sell out Swan Lake.   We ended the financial year this spring with two other huge successes, the classics Fiddler on the Roof and Singin’ in the Rain.”

In addition to a surge in ticket sales, the theatre’s Hippodrome Plus outreach scheme has been attracting a lot of attention, with the number of people involved in its creative learning projects having doubled to over 16,000. Big outdoor events like Summer in Southside, Illuminate and the Four Squares Weekender have been key to this growth. Elsewhere, fundraising has also increased dramatically, with generous donations from members of the public, as well as an expansion of the patron scheme and a rise in corporate membership of over 30%.

Neil Pugh - Building FrontEncouraged by this success, the Hippodrome team are now investing in lots of exciting new projects for the upcoming year. Said John Crabtree, Chair of the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust,

“In keeping with the successful formula created in recent years, the success of the last financial year is already being used to invest in the programme and towards further developing a diverse audience.  The month-long International Dance Festival Birmingham, co-produced with DanceXchange, starts at the end of April, South Africa’s Cape Town Opera return in July with their production of Show Boat whilst St. Petersburg’s acclaimed Mariinsky Opera bring Wagner’s Ring Cycle to Birmingham in November.”

Theatre exterior photo by Neil Pugh.

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Summer in Southside – 24-25 August

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14Almost as soon as I headed out of New Street station towards the Hippodrome and the Southside area, I could feel rhythm pulsing through the streets. As I approached, music filled the air, laden with enough sunshine of its own to chase away the faintly autumnal chills that crept into this Saturday.

This was the second part of Summer in Southside, a double weekend of free live performance around the Birmingham Hippodrome, and the source of the sound was the African music accompanying the acrobatic displays of the Black Eagles dance group.

Immediately afterwards, the crowd shuffled into Inge Street, where a fairytale forest of leaves, poles and cling film was waiting to provide the backdrop for The Red Shoes, a magical fairy-tale performance by Upswing . Beautiful, atmospheric and thoroughly entertaining, this show perfectly captured the spirit of traditional tale-telling, carefully blending humour with the threat of hidden dangers. I’ve never enjoyed a dance performance so much: I loved that the movement and skill were clearly used to serve the story and setting, rather than the other way around.

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Next up were some spectacular circus skills by NoFit State Circus, including trampolining, dancing on roller skates and a record attempt at the largest number of people hula hooping on the streets of Birmingham. The display culminated in spectacular, rope-based acrobatics from a performer who seemed almost to swim through the air as if it were water, and was accompanied throughout by a brilliant live band who promised to make a song out of whatever their audience requested.

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A sign spinning showcase followed featuring Hollywood-based performers Max Durovic and Justin Brown, star of the Daft Signz video (below). Sign spinning is a strange mix of advertising and dance, with large signs incorporated into urban dance moves. Like the NoFit State’s Open House, this performance was particularly good at involving its audience, with the performers encouraging enthusiastic children to get involved.

A little tired and thirsty by this point, I headed for the sweet shop on the corner to grab myself a drink, but before I could reach the counter, a street band dressed in Sergeant Pepper-style outfits appeared outside the door. As they struck up the opening notes of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, and began to make their way down Hurst Street, I realised I’d have to put down the Dandelion & Burdock and come back for it later. The band was Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, a New Orleans-style six-piece playing 90s pop classics. Walking with the band, a group of people travelled towards Arcadian, serenaded with a bizarre version of Black Box’s “Ride on Time”. After this, we were treated to unique renditions of songs by Orbital, Happy Mondays, Michael Jackson and Daft Punk, with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as the finale. Without a doubt, listening to them was my favourite part of the weekend. Click here to hear some of their music on Soundcloud.

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Just a couple of shows were left to see: Graeae Theatre’s Iron Man and Captive by Motionhouse. The former was a fun, family friendly show that saw Ted Hughes’ Iron Giant brought to life to fight against the terrible Space Bat. The puppetry was incredible, and the show also taught its audience some sign language, offering positive representation through performers with a range of disabilities.

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The final show was an acrobatic dance piece in which four characters become trapped together in a cage. It explored the relationships between its characters and how these were affected by being forced together in a confined space, finally ending with the possibility of escape and freedom.

Captive 14-Katja Ogrin

Summer in Southside was a fantastic opportunity to experience a range of different kinds of performance. It was great to see so many people not only watching but interacting with shows, especially children and families.

If you missed Summer in Southside, or if you were there and enjoyed the weekend, you can catch more free outdoor theatre in a couple of weeks’ time at Birmingham’s Four Squares Weekender event. The Four Squares Weekender will take place across a range of Birmingham venues from Friday 6th to  Sunday 8th September to celebrate the opening of the Library of Birmingham. It will feature performances by the CBSO, NoFit State Circus and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, along with a range of street theatre, dance, live music, exhibitions and plenty of opportunities to get involved. Click here for more information.