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Confession: until this evening I’d never seen The Italian Job in full. I’m not entirely sure how this happened; I’ve always watched a lot of films, both at the cinema now, and growing up as a child on video and taped from the telly, and yet somehow I never got round to watching it. Perhaps it’s one of those films most people see thanks to their parents, but my dad grew up in rural Ireland, where there didn’t appear to be much in the way of cinemas and he was too busy riding horses into the city centre to watch a British blockbuster. I know all the classic bits from the film, the “you’re only meant to blow the bloody doors off”, the self preservation society song, and yet I managed not to watch it, even in 2003 when the remake was released.
So when there was an opportunity to see a HD remastered version of the 1969 version of The Italian Job, performed ‘in Concert’ with a live orchestra (for the first time), playing the famous soundtrack by legendary composer Quincy Jones, I figured it was about time I got round to seeing it.
And what a way to see it, it was.
The plot of the film is a fairly simple one, by modern standards. Recently released from prison Charlie Croker, played by Michael Caine, is left the plans for a multi-million pound heist by an old friend who has been murdered by the mob. Convincing a major British crime lord to finance the plan takes some work, but eventually it’s full steam ahead and even intimidation and the destruption of their beloved cars (integral to the plan) by the same mafia mob who killed his friend isn’t enough to stop Croker and his gang. They head to Turin to enact their plan, which involves disrupting the traffic lights and causing a major jam, steal several bars of gold and engaging in a cat-and-mouse car chase.
Sure it’s a bit predictable, but it’s a fun, comedic film, evokes full on nostalgia for the 1960s and has some well known British actors, including Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill, to name a few. And it’s easy to see why it gets included in lots of the top British film lists, as lots of being have a soft spot for it.
I really can’t believe it has taken me this long to see The Italian Job, but I’m glad that when I finally got round to it, this is the way I got to see it in full for the first time. The orchestra were a brilliant edition adding a real richness to the screening, really bringing the film to life. At times I’d forgotten that the band weren’t always part of the show, it was that well timed and knitted together. I adored their rendition of “Getta Bloomin’ Move On” or as it’s more commonly know “The Self-Preservation Society” – I did wonder how they’d do it with the cockney accents, but they’d retained this from the original acre, layering them over the live big band music. It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday evening.
It looks like Birmingham Symphony Hall are showing a few other films in a similar format, including the beloved British movie Brassed Off with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band to provide the soundtrack. Although the one I’m most excited about is Jurassic Park with a full symphony orchestra performing John Williams’ legendary and magnificent score live.
There’s a quote from Roald Dahl about magic, which says “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” It always reminds me to look for magic, no matter how ordinary it might seem because when I’m feeling pretty rubbish, everyday magic is exactly what I need.
And walking through the doors of Impact Hub Birmingham feels like walking into somewhere magic, it’s in the air, and it was even more so on the eagerly anticipated return of the Brum Zine Fest. After a six year hiatus it was back, and it was well worth the wait. I vaguely remember the old BZF, held in cool upstairs of willing pubs, well before Impact Hub existed, with zines of people I sort-of knew and a whole pile of ones from further afield of people I really didn’t. But the light and airy Impact Hub gave it a sense of freshness, a newness but an openness. It felt like the ideal place for a rebirth.
I’d signed up to one of the first workshops so I made sure I was there early. With enough time to grab a coffee and head upstairs for the first workshop, where I bumped into a few people I know and who it is always a pleasure to see; hearing Anneka talk about Enrol Yourself and Lorna and storytelling for adults reminded me to keep looking for that everyday magic.
Wolverhampton-based Baljinder Kaur hosted the first workshop, which was a look at her journaling habits or drawing every day, by collecting the pockets of time and everyday truths. She showed the variety of ways she has done this, narrating her life through drawings, some of herself, some of commuters she encountered
She inspired and challenged us to pick something personal to us that we had with us and document it, in whichever way we wanted. Despite wishing I could, I can’t draw for toffee, so I chose the Batman keyring given to me by my friend Jude when I moved into my flat. The keyring has certainly seen better days but it reminds me of friendship, of resilience and perseverance and of small gifts with big impacts.
Zines and lunch
I had a look round the stalls and despite trying to set myself a budget, I bought far too many zines. There were a few music ones including one that felt like a mixed tape my friend Louise would’ve made, so I bought the two issues as a reminder to go back and discover some new old favourites. I really enjoyed the variety of zines on display, some were created by people with a clear talent for drawing, others who focused more on words.
After that I couldn’t ignore the calls from my stomach to check out the food that I’d spotted being set up earlier. Bombay Tapas were selling a few things, but I stuck with the tapas offering and the samosa was so good I went back for seconds.
Outside they were setting up for Box Wars, a showdown with cardboard. This mainly involved watching the sheer determination from a collection of very cute children work together to dismantle a very structurally-sound bull piñata. It was also great to chat to
I signed up for this in a fleeting moment of thinking I could be more am more hands-on creative than I actually am. I love the idea of creating a zine, probably partly why I like blogging so much, but realistically I never really know where to start. Or what to do with it when it’s done.
Early as ever, I headed up to grab my seat for the workshop and spotted the table of example zines that workshop facilitators Megan Boyd and James Wilkes had laid out. And sat amongst the pile were a couple of copies of Atta Girl, zines from around the time of the previous Brum Zine Fest and a nice blast from the past. After reading through and reminiscing about those zines, I took my seat ready to have a go myself.
Megan and James gave us a run through of the history of the zine, its originals in sci-fi fandom and punk counter-culture, and then showed us the relatively simple and yet kind of amazing way to take an A3 bit of paper and create your own eight-page booklet without and staples.
With glittery stickers, magazines and pens, we were left to our own devices to create our very first zine. And that’s when writer’s block struck. Whilst I really liked the idea of creating a zine, at that point I had no idea what I wanted to create one about. And so I decided to get all meta and create a zine…about the zine festival.
Once our time was up we showed off our creations to the rest of the group and it was wonderful to see what other people had created. Some very talented artists had drawn cartoons, others drawings of life events, it turns out there was a fellow blogger Nati, from Life After Coffee, who was also in the workshop, something I didn’t discover until after.
After that my head and heart were full and I knew it was time to take my bag full of newly acquired zines home and digest the day. It was a truly delightful experience, an absolutely pleasure to be part of and considering I’d spent most of the weekend feeling quite on the outside, it was really lovely to feel welcomed and part of the fun. It felt inclusive and
I cannot wait for next years. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a zine to showcase by then!
I’m trying really hard not to say “how are we half way through the year already”, because it’s such a massive cliche. But seriously, how are we?!
As I mentioned in the first of these blog posts, I’m not overly keen on New Year’s Resolutions, but I do like to try and set myself fun challenges. This year I went for a trinity of books, film and theatre, and this is the mid-way look at how I’m getting on. In terms of the numbers, I’ve already completed one, am well on course to completely the other and failing miserably at the third. But numbers rarely tell the whole story.
I’ve really enjoyed how much having these challenges have kept the idea of going to the cinema or theatre more front of mind. What this means is that if I’ve got some time free I’ll have a look at what’s on and see what my budget can afford. It means I’ve seen some really interesting pieces of theatre around social issues, but also some things which are a bit more off the wall (I’m looking at you The String Quartest’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety). I worried with taking up cycling that I’d lose my cinema days, but I’ve managed a few and now instead I cycle down and feel a bit less guilty at spending the day lounging around watching films when I’ve cycled a few miles to get there.
50 films at the cinema
I was well on track in the first quarter of the year, and was almost close to completing it by the halfway point, but after going on holiday for two weeks this would’ve meant cramming in a few films for the sake of it, rather than the enjoyment. So I didn’t, but I am still at a respectable
Ready Player One | Isle of Dogs | Midnight Sun | A Quiet Place | Ghost Stories | Love Simon | Funny Cow | Beast | Avengers Infinity War | The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society | Journeyman | Avengers Infinity War (IMAX) | Tully | You Can Dig This | Hereditary | Adrift | Love Sonia | Ocean’s 8 | Deadpool 2 | The Book Club | Cycle = 45
Read 24 books in a year
Looking very likely that I won’t get anywhere near this one. With health struggles this year, I’ve really struggled to be able to focus on reading for any length of time, of even shorter bursts like on the bus (I’m usually having a nap instead). I’ve been carting round Holly Bourne’s new book, an author I have enjoyed all of her previous work and have similarly for this one, but just struggling to maintain focus. Must try harder.
The Exact Opposite of Okay | Nina Is Not Okay
See 12 theatre shows – DONE
I’d set this at twelve shows for the year thinking one a month was doable, but in the second quarter of the year I steamed ahead and managed to get to 17 shows. I’ve got a few more lined up for the upcoming months, but rather than create a stretch target, I’m just going to keep trying to fit in shows when I can.
Fat Friends | Police Cops From Outer Space | This House | Love From a Stranger | The String Quartest’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety | Legally Blonde | Summer Holiday | Birdsong | Woyzeck | Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Right then, onto the second half of the year…
Licensed for the first time in the musical’s history for performance by an amateur company, BMOS Musical Theatre Company’s production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was every bit as professional as some of the productions of seen on stage.
Childhood classic, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the story of widowed oddball inventor Caractacus Potts and his children, Jeremy and Jemima Potts, who find out their beloved toy, an old racing car, is at risk of being sold off.
Both a film and musical, based off the novel by Ian Flemming, of James Bond fame, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s plot can differ slightly. Nevertheless, it’s essentially the story widowed oddball inventor Caractacus Potts and his children, Jeremy and Jemima Potts, who restore their beloved toy, a previous European Grand Prix winner, and keep it out of the clutches of the tyrannical Baron of Vulgaria.
In BMOS Musical Theatre Company’s production, garage owner, Mr. Coggins is about to sell Chitty off for scrap but offers to sell it to the Potts family if Caractacus can find the money. His invention of a whistling sweet fails to succeed in being sold to confectionary manufacturer Lord Scrumptious, despite the help of his daughter Truly Scrumptious.
Instead, Caractacus sells one of his inventions at the local fair, buys the machine and fixes it up good as new – or better, the previous European Grand Prix can now fly. But the villainous Baron of Vulgaria has his eyes on Chitty, and dispatches two spies to find and recover the vehicle. Instead of kidnapping Caractacus, they manage to spirit away his father and the Potts family, joined by Truly, go off on a rescue mission.
The more I think about it, the more I realise just how entirely ridiculous the story of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is, but it also places it perfectly to be a proper night of escapism.
Dick Van Dyke plays the role of Caractacus in the 1960s film, but BMOS welcomes back stalwart James Gorfanifar for his fourth stint with the company in three separate decades. He is every bit the Caractacus you would want, with an earnestness to play the main character of such a whimsical play. Carys Wilson plays Truly Scrumptious equally well, putting with such a well-spoken English accent it’s a good job the Alex give us plastic cups, because it could cut glass. Daisy Green and Rui Greaves who played Jemima and Jeremy on the evening I saw it were superb and I look forward to seeing them in many more productions.
There are some hiccups, like misbehaving dogs but the audience are so utterly bought into the charm of the play and BMOS’s production that no one seems to mind. In fact, the confidence to use live animals shows just how well put together BMOS Musical Theatre Company’s production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is. The only real low point, and even calling it that is a stretch, is an overly long scene with the Child-catcher running through the audience.
The rest of the production is superb, there is nothing amateurish about it and it’s easy to see why Birmingham’s oldest and largest amateur theatre company have had a long and successful history. Long may it continue; BMOS Musical Theatre Company, you got me off my feet and put shaved off the jaded edges of a beaten down soul. Well done.
BMOS Musical Theatre Company’s production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang plays at the New Alexandra Theatre until 30 June – go see it. Tickets are available here.
This was a press event.
My A Level comparative literature module was on the topic of World War One literature, and so whilst very familiar with stories of The Great War, I had somehow managed to skip actually reading Sebastian Faulks’ seminal novel, Birdsong. Most likely because I was busy fangirling over Wilfred Owen poetry. But I knew the impact of Birdsong as a well respected portrayal of life in the trenches, and more aptly I knew it was a long novel. So I was interested to see how Rachel Wagstaff’s highly acclaimed adaptation wold bring a weighty story, with even weightier subject matter to life on the stage.
Jumping between different time periods, Birdsong tells the story of Stephen Wraysford (played by Tom Kay) as he leads his men from the trenches, raw from a passionate love affair which ends abruptly. Through clever transitions from current to flashbacks, we see how Stephen, an Englishman in pre-war France, meets and falls in love with Isabelle Azaire, played by Madeleine Knight, whose film and tv credits include credits include Poldark and Florence Foster Jenkins. Kay and Knight are a compelling duo and their performances are faultless.
Stephen’s story is weaved in with that of Jack Firebrace, played by Tim Treloar who is simply stunning. Jack is an ex-miner digging the London Underground system who signs up to help the war effort because they pay is better. His father-like role in the trenches and loyal friendship with Arthur (played by Simon Lloyd) forge stronger bonds which hurt all the more when they unravel. Whilst most of the action may centre around Stephen, both his love and torment, the heart of the play belongs firmly to Jack, whose everyman character makes his easy to identify with in a world which is anything but.
Discarding the 1970s elements from the novel is a sensible decision, as the play is still packed full of story but at times still feels a bit clunky transitioning from the pre-war to war period. This is remedied in the second half when the flashbacks catch up with wartime and the actions becomes more of split narrative, which is an impressive sight.
There is no way a stage adaptation could recreated the horrors or World War One, nor would anyone want to see it fetishised, but the play does a fine example of addressing some of the darker elements sympathetically, but without glossing over the conditions of war – shell shock (known now as PTSD), suicide, absence from family life and the sheer futility of millions of people who lost their lives. Well timed sound and lighting means that the audience never quite feels at ease,
Birdsong certainly won’t be a play for everyone; it’s not a feel-good kind of show, but it’s a powerful, well told story adapted sensitively and certainly a memorable piece of theatre. If you enjoy the nuances of a well told story or have even a passing interest in World War One, then this is a must see.
Birdsong is at the New Alexandra Theatre until 23 June, which means you’ve got no England match excuses to miss it. To buy tickets, visit the ATG website.
This was a press event.
I love living where I do and I love seeing films that make me think. And lucky for me the two combine with Kopfkino, a quarterly film club that shows a film or documentary aimed at getting you thinking.
Kopfkino, which literally translates from German is “head cinema”, has previously put on I Daniel Blake and a documentary about the Syrian crisis. This time round it was a bit more upbeat, with a documentary called Can You Dig This.
Set in South Los Angeles, infamous for gangs, drugs, liquor stores, abandoned buildings and vacant lots, Can You Dig This follows the lives of several of South LA’s local residents through their urban gardening, showing how they are trying to transform their neighbourhoods through an urban gardening, and changing their own lives in the process.
The evening started with a talk from Northfield Eco Centre, in the process of rebranding to Eco Birmingham, about the work they do on encouraging sustainable living through grass roots activities, events and programmes for the local community. One of the projects, Edible Brum, helps people to learn how they can grow it themselves, and looks at ways to tackle food poverty and waste.
I’d seen the TED talk of Ron Finley, one of the subjects of the documentary as a previous TEDxBrum and adored his no-nonsense attitude to wanting to change the food desert in his neighbourhood. But Can You Dig This went one step further, looking at other residents on south LA, including two men who had previously been released after a long stint in prison, a woman who had dreams of becoming a healthcare professional and a somewhat lost man who found belonging in the community gardens. It is a charming and uplifting documentary that made me want to go plant a vegetable garden – sadly the lack of garden hinders that somewhat.
For a taster of the documentary, here’s Ron Finley’s TED Talk…
Whilst a British summer can be decidedly unpredictable, the brand new stage musical version of Cliff Richard’s iconic film Summer Holiday is guaranteed to bring the warmth of summer and put a smile on your face.
I grew up watching Summer Holiday, a favoured film of a childhood friend. It is the story of Don, played originally by Cliff Richard, and his friends who are all London bus mechanics. Low on money, the group want to escape the dreary shores of a gloomy British holiday for the south of France, but lack the funds. Don convinces London Transport to lend the group an old red London bus, which they convert to a holiday home on wheels intending to drive it across Europe. On route, they meet a girl group whose car has broken down, convincing them to re-route their holiday to Athens, and end up with a stowaway too, a famous female singer who is incognito as a young boy. It is silly, Shakespearean and perfect example of a bygone era.