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- WM Air: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/gees/research/projects/wm-air/index.aspx
- Solihull School Streets pilot: http://www.solihull.gov.uk/Resident/Parking-travel-roads/road-safety/Solihull-School-Streets-Pilot/School-Streets
- Skips Clean Air Cops: http://www.skipseducational.org/clean-air-cops/
After realising in June I would easily do 50 films at the cinema in 2018, I doubled it to 100. And by the end of the year I’d seen 105 showings.
There were some duplicates: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Avengers Infinity War (once in IMAX, once is 2D), and Crazy Rich Asians I saw twice each. Three Billboards surprised me because I thought it was going to be one of those dreadfully worthy Oscar films, so I saw it early and thought it was great, so when a friend who couldn’t get to the cinema much wanted to see it again, I agreed. Avengers Infinity War I could’ve left at one viewing but a friend wanted to see it in IMAX and it was certainly worth it for some of those epic views of Wakanda, but not a film that needs a second viewing. And Crazy Rich Asians I had the chance to see on preview, and then with some friends who have Chinese heritage and I really wanted to hear what they felt about it – and I love a good romantic comedy, and Hollywood doesn’t seem to churn them out like they used to.
And I didn’t just limit it to current Hollywood blockbusters, I also saw a rerelease of Heathers to mark its 30th anniversary, a showing of 2012’s Sightseers and a Q&A with actress Alice Lowe, and two black and white Christmas movies, The Shop Around the Corner and It’s A Wonderful Life. Blue Brothers I saw as a surprise birthday celebration for Simon AKA Mr Brum Breakfast Club, and I finally saw the original The Italian Job, only it was accompanied by a live orchestra.
I saw a few documentaries too: The Prince of Nothingwood; Can You Dig This and Syria’s Disappeared, both as part of Kopfkino held in Stirchley, which aims to show films to get you thinking; Invisible Women as part of SHOUT Festival; and the problematic Three Identical Strangers.
There were a few non-English movies too, including Timecrimes aka Los Cronocrímenes, Indian comedy-drama Padman (which I adored), Love Sonia and Cycle as part of Birmingham Indian Film Festival (BIFF), A Prayer Before Dawn and Under the Tree as part of Shock & Gore festival, and the Japanese movie Shoplifters.
I tried to make sure I put my money where my mouth is and see more films made by women, including In the Fade, Pin Cushion, Lady Bird, A Wrinkle in Time, Leave No Trace, The Butterfly Tree, The Spy Who Dumped Me and The Rider.
I also spent a lot of time listening to podcasts, my favourite of which still remains Eavesdropping at the Movies. It’s locally recorded which means if I wasn’t already planning to see it, I can usually catch it on someone nearby. Hosts Jose and Mike are clearly knowledgable about film, and they discuss the movie in depth without namedropping obscure films for the sake of it, and it feels like listening to two smart friends discussing the film on the way home. Because that’s pretty much what it is.
What did I learn?
Basically, I spent a lot of the time at the cinema, and a lot of time researching what was on. I quickly came to realise that my Cineworld Unlimited card was excellent value for seeing all the big Hollywood blockbusters and very occasionally less well-known gem. I wish they’d do more of that, both from a cost perspective for me, but also because it often feels like we don’t have a lot of places doing the less well known stuff.
Thankfully we have the mac arts centre in Cannon Hill Park and the Electric Cinema, which meant that I got to see a lot of the films I’d heard about but weren’t exactly going to knock the latest superhero movie off from its multiple screening perch. Thankfully finances allowed me to spend a lot more time at both of these, partly due to taking up offers like the concession costs at The Electric with my Independent Birmingham card, and the Screensaver deal at mac, which meant I bought a chunk of tickets in advance and had something to look forward to. Because multiple trips to the cinema are expensive.
What’s 2019’s movie challenge?
Repeating the challenge feels a bit pointless, and upping the number feels a bit extreme. Whilst I’m well on my way to watching a good amount of movies this year already, I spent a lot of time at the cinema last year at the expense of other things. Having the challenge in 2018 made me spend a lot more time looking at what was on and I certainly want to keep doing that, because I saw some things I never would if I wasn’t actively looking.
I want to continue exploring cinema beyond just the big blockbuster Hollywood films. One thing I miss about the demise of video rental stores is seeing more foreign films, so I’m going to try and challenge myself to do that more (and regain the ability to watch a movie at home without getting distracted).
I also want to try and hunt out more people doing interesting things in Birmingham. I’m off to the first Stirchley Open Cinema screening of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (despite having seen it twice) to support them, and I’m going to try and make it along to more community film screenings like Journey Film Club and Birmingham Arthouse Cinema.
I’m really exited about the CineQ Queer Film Festival coming up in March, and I’m still torn between getting a weekend pass or booking for individual screenings (mainly because I like to know I’ve got a seat before I show up). And then of course there’s Flatpack Film Festival from 30th April – 5th May in my diary, and Cine-Excess and SHOUT Festival worth keeping an eye on too.
I will be continuing to get good value from my Cineworld Unlimited card, and I intend to try and spend as many of my spare pounds at the mac and Electric as time / money will allow.
The follow up to the inaugural Birmingham began with delivering the first of the previous meeting’s asks, that representatives from Transport for West Midlands be represented. And they were, in the form of Hannah Dayan, the cycling charter co-ordinator and Deborah Fox, head of demand management for Transport for West Midlands. Sadly councillors Olly Armstrong and Liz Clements had been called away to an emergency meeting (unsurprisingly given the week’s news), but had asked that the session focus on action, as they recognised that similar meetings have existed in the past and wanted to avoid having the same conversations on repeat, and instead enact some change.
Hannah Dayan started the evening with a whistle-stop history of the West Midlands Combined Authority and Transport for West Midlands, looking at its values and determination to strive to be better every day. She talked about her role within the cycling and walking development team, a relatively small team within Transport for West Midlands, but determined to do some good for active travel in the area. She admitted there were some concerns about cycling and walking being linked together in this way, but that they were careful not to dilute the two and understood the importance of working with groups.
One group highlighted as having a real impact and enthusiasm was the cycling charter steering group, which works with lots of partners including Canal and River Trust, sustrans etc. Hannah also talked about the need to be more fluid and engaged with lots of groups, and when questioned about how Birmingham compared to Manchester, admitted that Birmingham has a lot of catching up to do because of its history, compared to Manchester’s existing network, and (predecessor to TfWM) Centro’s previous focus on public transport. But Hannah believes that by staying hopeful and looking at new initiatives which show the value of what they’re asking for, that there is real chance, particularly as organisations are looking at more innovative and collaborative ways to fund new schemes. David Cox, Cycling UK’s retired chair of trustees, pointed out that Manchester having previously focussed on Oxford Road was now working on the comprehensive and co-produced walking and cycling Bee Lines project, using the same pot of money that the West Midlands Combined Authority had chosen to spend on the tram. And that whilst there are some improvements in Birmingham, other areas of the WMCA are not faring so well, with the Black Country having poor provision for cyclist and Coventry’s decision to remove bus lanes signals going backwards in terms of space for cyclists.
Cyclist Ian Wacogne talked about a recent meeting with the WMCA Mayor’s chief of staff, Andrew Browning, in which they talked about funding for transport, and that money for the tram had been pre-committed to. Ian admitted that whilst it is an expensive endeavour it is not something that he would want to see stopped, but instead he believed that the second tranche of transport funding ought to be top-sliced for cycling. It is through asking for what we as a green travel, and specifically cyclist community, and keeping the mayor to account that Ian believes we will see some improvements, and questioned the links and influence Transport for West Midlands has over organisations working with a wellbeing remit. Hannah mentioned that they are in talks with some organisations looking at housing and regeneration, but that as a small team there is only so many ways they can reach out to people. But they are try and they do get there. She also impressed upon the group the need to respond to consultations, something her team does, and of particular importance of women and families, as cycling in particular is seen to be a male-dominated arena and they need to show a wider societal impact.
Politics came up again as a question with co-founder of Impact Hub, the venue for the Green Travel Open Project Night, Immy Kaur asking about the countdown to the second election of the WMCA mayor and whether as a community, we are influential enough to have real impact, or whether it needs to be bigger, and more diverse. David Cox mentioned a hustings for the previous election organised by a cycling group which saw one of the larger attendances and that the 5000 people who signed the Protect Brum Cyclists petition showed that as a group there is a way to make an impact, particularly as the mayor joined the slow ride which accompanied handing in the petition. Hannah commented that whilst the numbers of people cycling to work are relatively small, media perception is what politicians see and that there needs to be more positivity around this, particularly by widening it out and showing the impact of liveable cities and on mental health.
Before moving on to Deborah Fox’s session, the final question was about the age-old problem of collaboration amongst the WMCA area, with another comparison to Manchester, which seems more tight knit than efforts in the West Midlands. The answer to this is complicated, and many agreed that by rotating the meetings it would be unlikely that people would regularly attend if they were having to go to other cities within the area, but that other areas are having meetings and there is a need to develop a plan which is co-productive.
And with that it was over to Deborah Fox, head of demand management for Transport for West Midlands. Deborah started her talk exploring her perceptions of starting a role in Birmingham and being confronted with the very real issue of congestion in the city, and how even four months on she can still takes the congestion. Recognising that a lot has gone into the plan around congestion, particularly with all the large-scale building works in the city, Deborah said that she knew the people in the room got it, but with congestion causing a significant amount of nitrogen dioxide, it’s about convincing the people out there in their cars to understand the problems. This is particularly important as the higher levels of congestion makes bus travel less attractive and pushes more people into cars, but Deborah believed there is a real opportunity with younger people who are used to using public transport.
And with all that talk it was time for action, with the group being tasked to think about issues and solutions for model residents in the WMCA area to use more green travel. Whilst the audience were split into several groups, there were a lot of common themes, particularly around awareness to pollution and whether it’s something that needs to be talked about more, and if schools could teach about air quality. The hope was that by educating school children it might encourage them to hold their parents to account, particularly around modes of transport to school but also around things like dangerous driving. There was also a lot of talk about trying to rebalance things so that it was made harder to drive and easier to walk, cycle or use public transport and some small initiatives like zig-zag lines on either side of school roads might be one option to consider. Deborah particularly commented on the idea of flexible working, which she thought was an interesting idea and wondered how many employers offered this and if this is something which could be encouraged.
To finish it was a look to the future, with 2019 looking like a great year for green travel in Birmingham. A number of strategies are due to be released, including the Clean Air Strategy, which will go beyond compliance, the Local Cycling & Walking Infrastructure Plan and the Birmingham Bus Survey. There are also a number of green travel related summits planned, including the Living Streets’ National Walking Summit, the first time it will be held outside of London. And of course the Birmingham Green Travel Open Project Night will be organised for a third session – date and time to be released shortly.
Having rediscovered podcasting a few months ago, there’s been one that I listen to fairly religiously. Eavesdropping at the Movies does exactly as you’d expect, it’s like listening to two people who know movies, discuss what they’ve just seen with a
I was delighted to be asked to join them to watch the fabulous Mildred Pierce movie, a 1940’s noir crime-drama starring Joan Crawford, which tells the story of the titular character who leaves her husband and raises their two daughters whilst trying to forge a path for herself. Afterwards we recorded the podcast and you can listen to it on the Eavesdropping at the Movies website, or below via soundcloud.
Climate change, traffic congestion and poor air quality have all been hot topics in the media, particularly in Birmingham where the Council’s announcement of a Clean Air Zone has brought some heated opinions from residents. London Sustainability Exchange (LSx), who have been working with residents in some of East Birmingham’s wards, arranged a question and answer session for Birmingham residents to pose questions to academics, councillors and campaigners.
Opening the evening, Alice Vodden from London Sustainability Exchange gave some background to how the evening came about; working with residents of Birmingham’s Sparkbrook and Ward End, particularly looking at poor air quality around high servies areas, they realised that a co-ordinated collection action would create more change. Realising that the residents they worked with grasped the problems, but also had a lot of questions, LSx convened a group of panellists who each have an interest in air quality in Birmingham. Each speaker was given a few minutes to talk about the subject, with the rest of the time offered up to questions from the floor.
The first person to talk was Dr Zongbo Shi, Senior Lecturer in Atmospheric Biogeochemistry at the University of Birmingham. Dr Shi talked about what exactly is air pollution and why a blue sky is not necessarily a clean sky, despite what people might think. By studying the data it was clear to see that whilst Birmingham might not have the dangerously high levels of particle matter in the air that cities like Dehli have, air quality pollutants are fairly consistent in causing problems even at lower levels, so Birmingham needs to act – particularly at roadsides where it is a bigger problems than in urban backgrounds.
Dr Shi pointed out that a few percent of GDP is lost to air pollution, giving examples of people who become sick and then cannot work because of respiratory illness. He and his team are working on WM Air, the West Midlands Air Quality Improvement Programme, which supports improvements to air quality in the area and the knock on benefits to health and education.
Next up was Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport & Environment at the Birmingham City Council who talked about the brave and bold leadership Birmingham showed by introducing Clean Air Zone class D, which means all vehicles (Buses, coaches, taxis, PHVs, HGVs LGVs and cars) but motorbikes are included within the remit. This is the toughest of the Clean Air Zones on offer but Councillor Zaffar pointed out that even this wasn’t enough, and that the council weren’t interested in merely being legally compliant, but that this would be the jumping off point, as good air quality is important to future generations and to reduce health inequalities within the city, especially as the Clean Air Zone encompasses some of the poorer communities with the city. He was also careful to point out that the council are aware these communities will be impacted by the creation of the Clean Air Zone and that they have requested additional funds from central government to support these groups, and small businesses within the zone.
Sue Huyton from the British Lung Foundation was the third panelist and she spoke about the unsafe levels of air pollution around hospitals and GP surgeries, both nationally, but also in Birmingham, where three hospitals are in areas that are unsafe and 41% of GP surgeries in areas which exceed the safe levels for air pollution, higher than the national average. Sue praised the national leadership shown by Birmingham City Council class D, but would want to see WHO recommendations for better air quality included in the Environment Bill, believing the answer to clean air lies in legislating for it.
Stirchley resident Sandra Green joined the Clean Air Parents’ Network because she wanted to engage with how air pollution affected children. Through the network she’s met with a number of interesting people, but talked about a sobering meeting with someone from UNICEF who she always thought of as working on child issues around the country, but found out that they have a campaign around UK children’s right to clean air. Sandra believed that the way to change attitudes is through hearts and minds, and that things like the reusable cup example show it is possible, especially if we get people to think of air quality in the same way.
The final speaker of the evening was Chris Crean from Friends of the Earth West Midlands. Chris expressed thanks to the organisers for arranging the evening, Birmingham City Council for persevering, even when faced with criticism from within their own party, but that the biggest thanks should go to Client Earth who have successfully taken the UK government to court three times over air pollution in the country. Recognising reports which talked about having only 12 years to act on climate change, Chris talked about the need to change how we live so that we have a sustainable economy, but also that we leave a tolerable planet for future generations to live on, and that this can’t simply be things like cleaner and green cars but less cars on the road. He also spoke about the concerns government is only interested in compliance, rather than challenging further and whether they will put their money where their mouth is by supporting local councils to make the necessary changes.
Whilst Chris praised the leadership of the council for implementing the Clean Air Zone, he did also point out a number of inconsistencies including plans to widen the Dudley Rd to more traffic and the chaos over changes to buses in south Birmingham, and what this says to residents and businesses within the Clean Air Zone. Councillor Zaffar agreed this was a fair point and that the council needs to reprioritise the road space, make a walkable city centre and connect the new cycle-ways to existing paths. Chris ended his talk suggesting that the city is not an island and that it needs to work with others in the conurbation, by sharing ideas like Solihull School Streets campaign [a pilot project which aims to address such issues by limiting traffic in the streets surrounding schools at key times, creating a predominantly car free zone] and working together to make a real impact.
And with the talks done it was over to questions. As usual, several questions weren’t actually questions but more comments, offering to install pilot air filters which have been successful in India, calls to extend the Skips Clean Air Cops from primary into secondary schools, and whether contact information for people in the room could be shared.
Questions about investment were asked, with Councillor Zaffar replying that a London-centric government does not fund transport fairly, and that the area has a long way to go in terms of charging points for electric vehicles and pushing for public transport not to move to the compliant Euro VI emissions but rely on hydrogen and electric vehicle fleets instead. Questions around the joined up thinking around cycling were also raised, with Councillor Zaffar explaining how Manchester and the West Midlands authorities had spent transport money (WMCA spent it on the metro), and how Birmingham still needed to invest more but hopes that different ways of working, like the partnership with the Canals and River Trust, would be of use.
Gavin Passmore from sustainable transport charity Sustrans asked about how receptive schools had been to the ideas around reducing parents driving to school and it was a mixed response, with Sandra Green saying teachers are keen and are thinking of innovative ways to implement it into the curriculum through things like maths and physical educations, whereas Sue Huyton pointed out that some schools are initially hostile due to concerns about how it would negatively impact the school, but that going in on a reducing carbon footprint was a more positive spin on a similar topic.
Public transport was something that came up in both the panelist and audience questions, with one audience member posing the question as to whether Birmingham could take inspiration from numerous other cities around the world and introduce free public transport. Councillor Zaffar said this was a great aspiration, and that there is certainly a need to make public transport cheaper, but that whilst the West Midlands Combined Authority Major has the right to franchise public transport, this isn’t something he seems to be looking at. But that Birmingham City Council are trying to make changes where they can by introducing bus lanes and gates which prioritise buses on the roads.
The last question of the evening was around the response to the consultation for the Clean Air Zone, which has been controversial within Birmingham. The audience member pointed out that two thirds of responses were negative, and how do we change this and get people to see what the issues are. Sue pointed at the work Client Earth had done around their Poisoned Playground campaign, as well as the British Lung Foundation’s website, which used data to show the impact on areas. She recognised the limits of the data, but said that this data has given vocal parents the ammunition to accelerate things and put pressure on bringing about change. And finally Councillor Zaffar called for a bottom up approach which saw young people as vital to encourage parents to enact change.
Whilst Ready Player One might not have been everyone’s hit film of the summer, there is no denying that the enthusiasm for seeing Birmingham on the big screen was one of the big draws for a lot of residents. Brummies have Sindy Campbell from Film Birmingham to thank for that, and bringing a lot more productions to a city which doesn’t always have the best reputation nationally. But with the success of Peaky Blinders, and the talk around its creator Steven Knight building a studio in the city, are things looking up for film in Birmingham?
Continuing a run of successful salon events, based on the seventeenth century tradition of gathering under one room to increase the knowledge of those in attendance through conversation, freelance facilitator and host Helga Henry is back with her third ‘Helga Henry in Conversation With’ event this year. Previous guests includes property developer Anthony McCourt and TEDxBrum founder Anneka Deva. Tonight, in the function room of 1000 Trades in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter, Helga welcomed Sindy Campbell of Film Birmingham to talk about the work she does bringing film to Birmingham.
Sindy spoke about a lot of misconceptions that people might have about Film Birmingham, namely that they’re not responsible for funding films, but rather supporting filming in Birmingham and making sure shoots run smoothly. She talked about how the initial disappointment and frustration of Channel Four choosing Leeds over Birmingham, but the silver lining being that some of the money allocated for that will stay in the region and might make its way back to local filmmakers. Others expressed a disappointment in the hopes that a Channel Four HQ in Birmingham might’ve brought with it more development opportunities for professionals working within the film industry in the city, which had largely disappeared with the closure of organisations like Advantage West Midlands.
Steven Spielberg on set Birmingham 5th September 2016 Picture by and credited to SNAPPERSK pic.twitter.com/wUDhcuCFcG
— SnapperSK OFFICIAL (@snappersk) September 5, 2016
Clearly the biggest thing for the city in terms of filming recently was this summer’s Ready Player One, where several scenes were filmed around Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter. Sindy talked about the huge buzz it generated in the city, how people swarmed the sets and the pride people felt seeing their city on screen (even if we were the location of a dystopia). Reconnaissance work was done months before Steven Spielberg arrived in the city, with his team flying in from LA to scope out locations.
But it’s not just Ready Player One that’s put Birmingham on screen. Films like The Girl with All the Gifts, the last three seasons of BBC drama Hustle and the first season of the superb Line of Duty were all filmed here too. But perhaps Birmingham’s biggest success is one that has never actually filmed here: Peaky Blinders. The impact of Peaky Blinders has been huge, with people all over the world watching the show thanks to Netflix and BBC Worldwide; Peaky Blinder tours, themed pub nights and stag do fancy dress have all appeared. Sindy said she would love to have the series film in Birmingham, which was proposed at one point, but the main location requested, the Grand Ballroom, was undergoing refurbishment and wasn’t ready and to make it cost effective a second location would be required.
Which of course, this brought us onto the news that Steven Knight, Writer and Creator of Peaky Blinders announced plans to open a six-stage TV and film studio, called Mercian Studios. Helga mentioned that a previous In Conversation With speaker, Anthony McCourt had talked about how quickly big spaces are being snapped up, as Birmingham seems to have no end of appetite for one / two bed apartments in the city. But the news that a large studio would be coming to the area has been well received, particularly as Sindy spoke about the massive shortage of studio space and build space in the country, but particularly around Birmingham.
She also talked about the huge economic impact having a hit series in the area could have to the city, not just for the tourism industry, but also for the hospitality industry and catering who support a large-scale production, and are often sourced locally. Sindy talked about the impact Game of Thrones had on Belfast, almost growing a film production industry overnight; the hope would be that something similar could happen to Birmingham. And that the large number of industry professionals who live in Birmingham may no longer have to travel the length and breadth of the country for work, as there would be more closer to home.
As the event started to wrap up, the conversation turned to looking at what can be done to support Sindy and Film Birmingham, which is really punching above its weight in terms of what it delivers. Inevitably the question about what the city council’s responsibility is, compared to other cities where arts and culture are given more focus and councils are more willing to take a risk, but it was rightly it was pointed out that they have a lot going on at the moment but both Helga and Sindy pointed out that it is easy to blame others, but instead of us thinking what’s the answer, should we just get on and do something. Helga suggested that people are already producing things without the big names like Channel Four, mentioning local YouTubers with large follower numbers and the rise of the popularity of podcasts.
There was also a look at how the city might use what it already has to improve, with Julia from Rebel Uncut talking about the need to have super connectors in Birmingham linking up organisations and people which could have a mutual benefit, like writers and producers. This isn’t rocket science, and is often mentioned, but is a perennial problem Birmingham faces: a lack of communication. However, there was a sense that for the filmmakers that do make it to Birmingham, people love it when they get here. The challenge is just to get here.
The next ‘Helga Henry in Conversation with…’ is scheduled for 23 January. The speakers hasn’t yet been announced, but if it’s as insightful and eye-opening as the session with Sindy Campbell from Film Birmingham, it’ll be well worth attending. To find out more, keep an eye on Helga’s website https://helgahenry.com/
Proving that it does indeed live forever, Fame The Musical is back for a 30th anniversary tour.
Based on the 1980’s phenomena, the story follows of a group of students at New York’s High School For The Performing Arts, Fame deals with a lot of contemporary issues including identity, pride, literacy, sexuality and substance abuse, which are just as relevant as they were back when the film first debuted. Opening in Manchester back in summer, the 30th Anniversary Tour of Fame The Musical proves to be just as popular now as it was then.
Fame the Musical follows the stories of ten students who successfully audition and are accepted into New York’s High School For The Performing Arts, along with their dedicated teachers, Miss Bell, Mr Myers, Mr Sheinkopf and Miss Sherman, the latter played by soul singer Mica Paris. Rather than a typical story following main characters, most of the ten students the film focuses on smaller storylines surrounding each of these. Given the original story was a film, it’s sometimes difficult to translate the nuances from film to stage, but the play does an admirable job keeping the audience up with the emotional rollercoaster of these high school students determined to make it.
Iris Kelly, a talent ballet dancer who is confused for being wealthy and snobbish, until the truth is revealed. Played by Jorgie Porter, best known for her work on Channel Four’s Hollyoaks, she’s able to put the skills learnt on Dancing with the Stars to good use as a ballet dancer, and the grace with which she and partner Tyrone (played by Jamal Kane Crawford) move together feels entirely believable. That said, at some points early into the play there were a few off notes from some of the dancers during the ensemble pieces, possibly done to show the evolution of the performers as the move through the school years.
Like all good shows, the warm up whilst not always an enjoyable as the performance is important, and the first act feels a little like this. It’s where a lot of the set up of the storylines happens; the introduction of the characters, the hopes and dreams of the students are discovered and the reality of how hard they’ll have to work to achieve it is also make clear to them. At times the first act feels a little mechanical, despite the wonderful choreography, in terms of trying to set up the plot points of the characters and it’s not always easy to see the emotional growth of the characters. But fitting this much storytelling into one musical is tricky, and whilst the first act contains the set up, it means the stage is set for act two and the powerhouse of action.
The second act feels far stronger than the first, packing in the emotional punches that have been set up by the first half of the show. The resolution to the stories are revealed, some good and some sad, a few which will see a few audience members shed a few tears. It’s also where the biggest applause of the evening so far is seen, during Miss Sherman’s solo, These Are My Children. It’s here where Mica Paris’ voice is given a real chance to shine, the soul and emotion and big notes are heartfelt. Compared to the earlier Teacher’s Argument, sung as a duet with Miss Bell (played by Katie Warsop), These Are My Children completely blew it out of the water.
The set and lighting design work particularly well, especially around the transitions between scenes, where the use of lighting casting silhouettes or shadowing the stage enhances the atmosphere. The wall of photographs, presenting the yearbook adds a nice backdrop, a reminder of the setting, both the era in which the story is set and the majority of the location in and around the high school.
There are some elements which felt like they could’ve aged a little better – the confusion over the sexuality of Nick Piazza feels clunky, saved only by the sincerity and sensitivity with which Keith Jack plays the character. The thin actress playing the overweight Mabel Washington who favours the ‘see food’ diet feels a bit over an oversight too. That said, a lot of the stories from thirty years ago resonate just as strongly then as they do now – the drive to succeed, the issues around drug addiction, ‘insta-fame’ and living up to familial expectations.
By the end of the show, everyone in the audience is up on their feet as the final song of the evening is, as you’d expect, the Oscar-winning titular song Fame, sung powerfully by Stephanie Rojas (who plays Carmen) and Mica Paris. Despite a slow start, Fame delivers an energetic show and from the audience reaction, and sorry for the cliche, but it’s easy to see why it is set to live forever.
Fame the Musical is at the Alexandra Theatre from 19 – 24 November 2018, with matinee showings on both Wednesday and Saturday. To book tickets, head to the Fame UK Tour website.
This was a press event. Photos and their copyright belong to Tristram Kenton.
Rounding off a week off, I headed over to the University of Birmingham for a couple of sessions as part of their Book to the Future festival. The festival is an annual event with a range of workshops, panels, performances and author talks celebrating literary expressions.
The final session of the Friday night was a panel discussion around blogging, Instagram, social media and influencers. With a combined following of well over one million, the panel was made up of Alice Liveing, Hannah Witton and Emma Conway (aka Brummy Mummy Of 2), and hosted by Brum Blogger and influencer in her own right, Ting of The Ting Thing.
Unsurprisingly it was full booked and I managed to bag a space at the front, before heading out to meet up with some other bloggers. One of the things mentioned in the discussion was the importance of community, about fostering relationship with other bloggers and attending gatherings. It’s one of the things I like most about blogging in Birmingham, that people are so supportive of each other and as well as being there to hear from Alice, Emma and Hannah, a lot of us were also there to support Ting.
As Hannah Witton rightly pointed out, I was scribbling notes because I find I always listen better when I do and I wanted to share some of the insights for people who didn’t manage to bag a spot on the fully-booked talk. There were a few similar themes which cropped, the importance of authenticity, of community and being a woman online. Having been to many blogging talks before, it was refreshing to listen to what felt like more of a chat between four bloggers who had both similar and not so similar experiences. Alice, Emma, Hannah and Ting were sincere about their advice and experience, particularly that some of it is about putting in the hard work, but also not knocking being in the right place at the right time and not discounting the privilege and benefits that come from being conventionally attractive.
I particularly enjoyed the conversations around authenticity. It’s a conversation I hear a lot and it has started to lose a little of its meaning. But I liked that the panel talked about being yourself online, but not having to give away your whole self, whether that be things you just won’t talk about or reclaiming some of your time for other things – be it switching off at a certain time of an evening, or having things you do away from the online world.
I said I’ve been to a lot of blogging talks, and I have, but this was one of my favourites for the flow of the conversation between the panelists, Ting’s great questions and the topics covered, many of which I had wished bigger bloggers would mention. I wrote up my notes here, if anyone is interested in reading them – they’re just bulletpoints, but hopefully useful.