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.

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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.

The Birmingham Hippodrome Celebrates a Record Year

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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.

Hotel La Tour to Lead Hippodrome Fundraising Gala in May

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Scheduled to take place on Saturday 10th May, the Birmingham Hippodrome’s fifth annual Gala Dinner will take place on the theatre’s grand stage, with Hotel La Tour as headline sponsors. All proceeds from the event will go to Hippodrome Plus, the new name for the Hippodrome’s Education, Access, Community and free outdoor performance work. 

Visiting the theatre in advance of the Gala, Hotel de la Tour’s Managing Director Jane Schofield said:

“The on-going partnership since 2013 with the Hippodrome has proved enormously successful for us and we are thrilled to be part of this very special event.  Both businesses are part of the city’s incredible visitor offer and we are committed to being at the forefront of that positive story.”

Almost 300 guests from businesses across the city will be welcomed to the event, packed full of specially commissioned entertainment, along with some “trademark Hippodrome surprises”. The evening will kick off with a champagne reception sponsored by Matthew Clark and Champagne Taittinger. Later, a live auction sponsored by law firm Shakespeares and presented by CP Bigwood’s Rory Daly will also give attendees the chance to win some fantastic prizes.

Said Hippodrome Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths:

“It’s great to be working with Jane and her team again. The generous support of Hotel La Tour means that we can achieve our aim of providing inspirational theatre experiences throughout the community.  This will be the fifth time we have run this special event on our stage, with funds raised grossing nearly £400,000 since 2005 going directly to supporting the theatre.”

One sponsorship slot still remains to be filled, and brands can also show their support with sealed bids prizes, goodie bag gifts or advertising. Those interested should contact the theatre’s Corporate Development Manager, Judith Greenberg by calling 0121 689 3082 or emailing judithgreenberg@birminghamhippodrome.com.

Find out more about Hippodrome Plus here.

Birmingham Hippodrome Listed in Top 100 Not-For-Profit Organisations

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The Birmingham Hippodrome has been ranked 76th in the 2014 Sunday Times list of Best Not-For-Profit Organisations To Work For. To create the list, the Sunday Times surveyed 250,000 employees at 897 different organisations, making this the UK’s largest workplace engagement survey.

With 111 members of staff and many more casual employees, the Hippodrome is amongst the UK’s largest presenting venues. The Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust is an unsubsidised, independent charity with a volunteer board of trustees. In a survey conducted by the Sunday Times, 89% of employees felt they were making valuable contributions to the theatre’s success, and 84% said that they felt proud to be working there. 88% were happy with the theatre’s environmental management and commitment to reducing its energy usage, and a majority of staff have good working relationships with their managers, feeling able to speak honestly and openly with them.

Birmingham Hippodrome boxThe full list of organisations was revealed at an awards ceremony in Battersea last night. Said the Hippodrome’s Chief Executive, Stuart Griffiths:

“This is our first time in the well-known Sunday Times listing, so we are very proud to have been ranked in the top 100 companies.   We strive to do the best we can by working closely with our excellent team across all areas of this complex and unpredictable business.  This means we can then deliver the best possible theatre experience for our diverse and growing audiences.”

For more information, check out the About Us section on the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Cape Town Opera’s Show Boat Sails Into Birmingham on its First UK & Ireland Tour

ImageThis week, the Birmingham Hippodrome is releasing tickets for its summer run of Cape Town Opera’s Show Boat. As the first stop on its upcoming UK and Ireland tour in July, the Hippodrome and its audiences will be treated to the country’s first ever performance of this production.

Based on a novel by Edna Ferber, Show Boat is set in the old American south, and was first performed on Broadway in 1927. It tells the story of the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River Show Boat, following the lives of its performers, stagehands, and dock workers over a 40-year period.

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In the Cape Town Opera production, the theme of racial tensions is given added significance, reflecting South Africa’s troubled past while looking forward to the bright future ahead. The company has performed to great acclaim around the world, and its chorus was last year named Best International Opera Chorus at the International Opera Awards.

Glad to welcome Cape Town Opera back to Birmingham after its 2012 tour of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, the Hippodrome’s Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths describes the booking as part of the theatre’s “ongoing ambition to bring the city the best in international performance from the finest companies across the world”.

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Directed by Janice Honeyman and accompanied by the Cape Philarmonic Orchestra, the show features set design by the renowned Johan Engels, and over 200 carefully crafted period costumes.

Said Michael Williams, Managing Director of Cape Town Opera:

“We are thrilled to bring Cape Town Opera’s production of Show Boat to the UK for the very first time, with an exceptional cast, our award-winning chorus and joined by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. This first UK visit of this production will showcase the talents of the company whilst offering a wonderful spectacle and experience for all the family.”

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Cape Town Opera’s Show Boat will be showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Wednesday 2nd to Saturday 5th July. Member tickets are on sale from today, and tickets will be available for the general public from Wednesday 12th February, priced at £17.50-£43. To book, call 0844 338 5000 or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome Website. If you’re aged 16-23 and using the First Night scheme, don’t forget to tell us what you think.

Images by Malin Arnesson.

4 Squares Weekender – Free Theatre to Launch the New Library of Birmingham

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If you’ve been following the news this week, you may well have spotted that the new Library of Birmingham was opened on Tuesday by Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who survived being shot by the Taliban for championing girls’ rights to education.

Speaking on the day, Malala described books as weapons for beating terrorism, claiming that “the only way to global peace is reading, knowledge and education”. With characteristic eloquence, she went on to explain that,

“Books are precious. Some books travel with you back centuries, others take you into the future. Some take you to the core of your heart and others take you into the universe. […] It is written that a room without books is like a body without a soul. A city without a library is like a graveyard.”

Malala also spoke about the importance of Birmingham as a city, describing it as “the beating heart of England“.

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Following on from this official launch, a weekend of free live performance across Birmingham City Centre will celebrate the library’s opening, beginning at 9.30pm tomorrow with As the World Tipped, a spectacular, aerial outdoor show by Wired Aerial Theatre, set on a huge 12 metre screen against the night sky. Watch this space for updates: I’ll be attending and reporting back on both the show and the media launch beforehand. If you can’t make it tomorrow, the performance will be repeated at 9pm on Saturday.

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Across Saturday and Sunday, you’ll be able to see a diverse range of shows taking place across Birmingham’s Oozells, Centenary, Chamberlain and Victoria Squares, with something for all ages to enjoy. In the words of Peter Knott, Regional Director of Arts Council England, 4 Squares Weekender is, “a spectacular weekend to celebrate arts and culture”, offering “something to suit all tastes”.

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In Oozells Square and Brindleyplace, there’ll be a series of performances and activities organised by mac Birmingham. Inside Ikon’s galleries, there will be music by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, as well as dance from Sampad and contemporary circus by Pif-Paf. Outside, you can take part in family-friendly activities, helping to build a giant city out of clay.

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A musical picnic will take place in Centenary Square, courtesy of Town Hall Symphony Hall, and featuring performances from Birmingham-based saxophonist Soweto Kinch. Meanwhile, inside four converted caravans, the Birmingham REP will be providing impromptu acting and storytelling, and inside the new library itself, there’ll be music from Ex Cathedra and the Birmingham Opera Company.

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TippaIrie2013In Victoria Square, NoFit State Circus will be providing performance and circus skills taster workshops. If you missed them at Summer in Southside, this is a great chance to catch up with their incredible acrobatics, as well as to take part and learn some skills yourself!

Finally, in Chamberlain Square, The Drum’s Simmer Down stage will be hosting a range of reggae, ska, bhangra, sufi and hip-hop music, including performances from Tippa Irie and Musical Youth. Inside the Town Hall, you’ll be able to see dance performances from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and DanceXchange, including opportunities to take part, while the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery will be presenting a full day of film courtesy of Flatpack Festival.

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Said Stuart Griffiths, Chief Executive of the Birmingham Hippodrome, “”Birmingham’s arts organisations offer some of the most vibrant and exciting programmes in the country. We are delighted to come together to welcome the new Library of Birmingham at this incredibly exciting time for our city.”

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If you’re attending, don’t forget to tell us about your experiences on Twitter, using the hashtag #bham4sq. As with the Summer in Southside festival, I’ll be hanging around over both days, so check back here if you’re curious about anything you don’t manage to attend.

Hope to see you there!

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