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- History of Camera Obscura – Sunday 9th June, 6pm
- Social Justice and Climate Catastrophe – Sunday 9th June, 8.30pm
- What is the EU? – Sunday 16 June, 6pm
- Accounts from Refugee Camps – Sunday 16th June, 7pm
- Influence of the Media on Behaviour – Sunday 16th June, 7.30pm
- Fair Trade Orange Trading Game – Sunday 16th June, 8.30pm
- Political Myths vs Historical Evidence – Sunday 23rd June, 7.30pm
- What is National Identity – Sunday 30th June, 7.30pm
There are few books that I have had such a visceral feeling whilst reading as Louise O’Neill’s devastating novel Asking For It. The novel explores sexual consent and the aftermath in such a painfully realistic way that I had to put the book down for two weeks whilst reading it because I feared that feeling in my guts might never go away.
Having been adapted for stage by Irish playwright Meadhbh McHugh, and produced by Landmark Productions Ireland and The Everyman (Cork), the play has received huge acclaim, including a sold-out season at Ireland’s National Theatre. The stage adaptation came to the Birmingham Rep for its UK premiere, and as soon as I found out it was showing, I knew I had to see it, if only to find out if nearly five years on that feeling in my gut ever went away.
Asking For It takes place in a small, close-knit town in Ireland, about a group of students going into their final year in school, when at a party something happens to one of the girls. The second half of the novel, and indeed the second act of the play, explores the aftermath of the horrific act, the impact it has on Emma, the survivor, her family, her attackers and town that unravels as people chose sides.
Lauren Coe, who reprises her role as Emma having played the character at the world premiere in 2018, is superb as she moves from the self-assured and somewhat unlikeable main character through to the hollow shell of a young woman after the attack. The family dynamics and small Irish town mentality play out well Dawn Bradfield’s Mam and Simon O’Gorman’s Dad characters. But it is likely Liam Heslin as Emma’s brother Bryan where many of the audience will see themselves, in the character who is frustrated at the unwillingness to believe the attack, despite proof, and anger at criminal justice system and community.
It is undoubtably a hard play to watch, as it invites the audience to ask themselves to explore their own feelings towards consent and instances in their own lives. The first act is much more action-driven as it sets the scene of a not particularly likeable main character and the events that lead to her being at that party. The second half is slower as it focuses on how the events on that night impact the characters. For me the second half is all the more powerful as it explores, through the microcosm of the survivor’s family and the town around them, how society reacts to those who have been sexually assaulted. It is painfully realistic and the writers are not letting the audience off easily.
It didn’t matter that I knew what was going to happen, the stage adaptation of Asking For It is just a brutal as the novel. It feels trite to call it powerful and thought-provoking but it is all those and more; Asking For It is a play which delivers a cold hard dose of reality about a sensitive and difficult subject matter that you will feel to your core.
Read the book, watch the play – enjoyable might not be the right word, but you won’t be sorry you did. I can’t recommend both enough.
Asking For It is at the Birmingham Rep until Saturday 15 February, with tickets from £10. To book tickets, visit https://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/
Following a Broadway run, a sell out record breaking season in London’s West End, the Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I has landed in Birmingham and it is gloriously lavish affair.
Set in 1860s Bangkok, the critically-acclaimed production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical is derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s, fictionalised in Margaret Landon’s novel.
The musical tells the story of the unconventional relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna, the British schoolteacher whom the King brings to Siam to teach his many wives and children. This all takes place during an interesting time for Siam (or Thailand as it is currently known), where the kingdom is facing the ever-increasing presence of the modern Western powers of France, Britain and the United States of America on its traditionally imperialistic country.
Heading to Birmingham direct from its record-breaking season at The London Palladium, the musical is directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher and stars West End’s Annalene Beechey and Broadway’s Jose Llana.
Jose Llana as the King of Siam plays a king who is strong-willed but dealing with a lot of upheaval, as Western powers close in on his country, threatening the imperialism under which he rules. These tempestuous times are echoed in his own Palace as Anna challenges the King’s views on women and fidelity in particular. But it is Llana’s ability to play up to the comedic moments of the play with such exaggerated facial expression which has the audience in stitches. Returning to Birmingham, West End’s Annalene Beechey perfectly embodies the headstrong yet idealistic schoolteacher Anna and wears the heaving Victorian gowns, floating around the stage like they’re little more than a feather.
The forbidden romantic sub-plot between Tuptim (played by Paulina Yeung) and her lover Lun Tha (played by Ethan Le Phong) adds another layer to this rich musical. The lovers catch moments together in the garden, decorated on stage with 22,000 flowers, each made by hand, which goes to show you the workmanship on display in the production.
Running at nearly three hours (including interval) it is perhaps a longer play than usual but it is utterly captivating and the time flies. As with any Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, the songs are well-known songs, and include the likes of; Whistle a Happy Tune, Getting to Know You, and Shall We Dance. It is easy to see why this classic from the golden age of musicals is so well loved.
If this truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness the very best in romantic musical theatre, then you simply must go – you won’t be disappointed.
As part of its world tour, The King and I is at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from 10th December until Saturday 4th January 2020. For tickets or more information, visit https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-king-and-i/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/
This was a press event. Photos and copyright belong to Johan Persson.
The Stirchley Dreams project was born out of frustration and a desire to reposition the community back into the centre of an immediate decision which was due to be made, as well as provide some ideas for the future. And if I’m honest, a lot of it was curiosity. Having worked in communications roles for years, assisting in campaigns which aimed to consult with the public and internally with staff, I knew only too well how hard this could be to get people to engage with consultations. But I’d also learnt a lot about why people don’t engage and I wanted to do something which would benefit my community, using the skills I had.
Why did I want to do it?
There is a tendency to create a lengthy questionnaire, send it out and expect people to fill them in. Now I love a good questionnaire, but they’re also problematic if the questions aren’t written well, if they’re too long, if they lead people in a certain way with too many closed questions (yes / no type questions) and can take a long time to collate if there are too many open questions. They’re also really easy to ignore.
A good consultation works to the people it is looking to engage with, so the consultation had to be something that reflected the area – a creative, passionate and fun community. So it needed to be something that would spark people’s curiosity, but also be relatively simple and cheap to produce as there was no funding.
The consultation requirement came off the back of an issue which was complicated and had a long of history; there were a lot of nuances but that if you boiled down what was being discussed it wasn’t about nuances of planning legislation, it was about improving the town centre. I took the core of the question, how would you like to see your high street improved, and looked at a creative way to reframe it.
And so the idea of a dream-catcher was born.
How did I do it?
Getting hold of a hula hoop and ball of wool was relatively easy, which probably says something about the creative community in the area. Watching a few YouTube videos and some practice meant that making the large dream-catcher wasn’t as difficult as anyone seems to think. Labels were made from cardboard that would’ve gone into the recycling.
If you’re asking the community to engage on something, it is at best naive or at worst arrogant to expect them to come to you. Instead I took the hula-hoop-come-dream-catcher, the labels and a pile of pens to the local monthly community market. In the space of four hours we got about 65 labels filled out – some people did more than on, others put more than one idea on a label. After that, I was donated another four hula-hoops and local venues were asked or offered to host a dreamcatcher. So I’ve made more dreamcatchers, more labels and it has engaged more people offering to help.
The project is currently ongoing, but I’ll report back once it is complete. What I do know is that it has piqued the interest of other areas, so the dreamcatchers may go on tour.
Based on the 2001 film starring Audrey Tautou and Matthieu Kassovitz, the movie was the highest-grossing French-language film released in the United States and nominated for five Oscars, as well as winning a number of awards including several BAFTAs. So it’s hardly surprising that it would be developed for the stage, although with its cutaway scenes and eccentric storyline, it was never going to be the easiest to reinterpret.
Thankfully the production does it superbly, keeping the eccentric charm of the movie, whilst also including some even more peculiarities, which will delight and confuse the audience in equal measure…which is pretty much a fair description of the storyline.
Amelie the Musical is the story of Amelie Poulain, a young woman who was sheltered from the outside world as a child, due to an over-protective father and a neurotic mother, who died in a tragic and unique accident. As an adult she works in a cafe in France, but her vivid imagination is where she takes solace. An idealist and a dreamer, Amelie sees a series of small ways in which she can bring happiness to the people around her and goes about bringing some acts of kindness. Along the way she encounters Nino, a man who collects the photographs discarded at photo booths and Amelie develops feelings for him. When she realises he is trying to discover the mystery of the man who leaves behind a series of photos in booths at train stations and she is determined to help, she risks losing her heart to Nino.
French-Canadian actress Audrey Brisson plays the titular role of Amélie Poulain and really brings her to life, offering the vulnerable, aloof, wide-eyed innocence that makes Amelie so lovable.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was the score. Whilst the music of Yann Tiersen for the movie was wonderful, the musical stage show has a completely new set of songs created by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé. Taking on a more folk style, the musicians are integrated with the performance, both as supporting characters and extras. It really adds to the charm and the idea that threads through the story of a sense of interwoven actions having consequences.
Amelie the Musical is delightfully bonkers, full of warmth and whimsy. Even if the sweltering summer heat, it was a delight to be whisked away to an idillic place where imagination and kindness win out.
Amélie the Musical is at The Alexandra Birmingham from 22 – 27 July, when the UK tour concludes in October 2019 the musical will tour internationally. Tickets for the Birmingham show are available at https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/amelie/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/
This was a press event. Photos and copyright belong to Pamela Raith.
When I think of movies which would translate easily onto film, Little Miss Sunshine isn’t one that immediately springs to mind. Yet five years after the movie made its way onto our screen, the musical adaptation hit a Californian stage before appearing as an off-Broadway show a couple of years later. What might not seem the most obvious screen-to-stage adaptation has clearly intrigued a lot of other people, and now Little Miss Sunshine the musical has landed here in Birmingham.
My memory of the movie was a little hazy, but I remember a feel-good film that almost had me crying with laughter at the final dance scene. Primarily set around a dysfunctional family; overworked mother Sheryl who is fretting about her families finances whilst her husband Richard is a wannabe life coach and author. Sheryl’s brother Frank has come to live with the family, having recently tried to commit suicide. Sheryl’s oldest child Dwayne has taken a vow of silence and Richard and Sheryl’s daughter Olive is a wannabe beauty queen whose win at a regional heat is the reason the family embark on long-road trip in a beat-up a bright yellow VW van. In essence it’s a basic story based around characters resolving difficult times in their lives, whilst in a fairly contained environment, so it’ll be interesting to see how it fits on stage.
I needn’t have worried. The show fits on stage well and despite most of the story being set in a VW van the producers have choreographed a show which uses a lot more of the stage, giving it a presence which works, whilst still inviting the audience into the claustrophobic family environment. The three tiered van and movable seats allow for much more action to take place, but I can’t help feel a smaller stage would’ve given the production the intimacy of the movie.
Mark Moraghan plays the role of Grandpa Hoover. He has an impressed back catalogue of acting roles, both on stage and screen, but most memorable to me (and probably showing my age) was when he played burly builder Greg Shadwick in Brookside. Moraghan’s Grandpa Hoover is the same heroin-snorting, foul-mouthed sex-fiend as the movie, but on stage he steals almost every scene he’s in, even the more emotional moments with Olive Hoover (played on the night I saw it by Lily-Mae Denman). Olive’s singing s a touch too nasal at first, in part I suspect due to the attempts at an American accent which several of the cast seem to fluctuate with. But Lily-Mae Denman is a wonderful Olive, performing her with the right amount of child-like wisdom and eccentricity that make her loveable.
The play strikes the right amount of ridicule around the idea of kids beauty pageants, with Olive clearly the least likely to win as the other girls mimic the more grown up versions. The idea of using the ‘mean girls’ who are used throughout the play to show the antithesis of quirky Olive works well, as does having them in identikit outfits like some sort of bullying girlband. Imelda Warren-Green is a wonderful character actress, playing the unhelpful hospital admin worker well, but the caricature of Miss California just felt a bit outdated.
If you’re expecting a show which is full of the big bellowing songs which will be stuck in your ears for days you’ll be disappointed. This was never going to be a louder than life show, it just wouldn’t fit the story. Instead, Little Miss Sunshine is an eccentric and likeable show which shows just how theatrical ordinary family life can be. Think quirky indie film versus the summer blockbuster, but with a real dose of feel-good.
Little Miss Sunshine is at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from Tuesday 16th to Saturday 20th July 2019. Tickets can be purchased from the Alex’s website.
This was a press event. Photos and their copyright belong to Richard H Smith.
you’re sure of a big surprise…If you go down to the park today, you’d better go in disguise! Just kidding about the disguise, but you’ll definitely be in for a big surprise if you haven’t been to Stirchley Park recently.
You may have noticed a big black wooden box has appeared in a corner of Stirchley Park, which overlooks the car park for Stirchley Baths. It’s actually a Camera Obscura, an ancient optical device which uses a natural optical phenomenon to flip the image upside-down. Take a look through the hole in the side nearest the Stirchley Baths’ car park and see a whole new view of the park.
The project is the latest in a series from Stirchley-based duo, Hipkiss and Graney, who crowdfunded the cost of the materials to build this impressive large-scale, permanent camera obscura. The Arts Council and University of Birmingham have also supported the project.
(This photo of the Dead Shrine is from Green Stirchley over on Twitter)
Who is responsible for this?
That would be Jonathan Graney and Dale Hipkiss, a visual arts duo who live and work in Stirchley, based out of Ingot Studios. Through large-scale interactive installations, performances and workshops, Hipkiss and Graney explore ideas around collectivity, community and counter-movements, particularly focusing on political and environmental issues.
Using magical realism to bring these ideas to life, The Dead Shrines Project is Hipkiss and Graney’s latest work; a series of public sculptures scattered throughout the West Midlands. The Shrines are designed to look out of place, like they’ve fallen from the sky into parks and high streets around the region. Whilst Stirchley Park might be the location of their latest artwork, it’s the fourth instalment of the Dead Shrines Project, which has seen pieces installed at the Midlands Art Centre, Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Arts and Artefact Projects.
You can visit their website at https://www.hipkissandgraney.com/
Learn by moonlight
As part of The Dead Shires Project, there will be a series of workshops and free talks taking place over the month of June. The workshops include learning to make your own camera obscura, personal shrines and masks – I’ll leave you to find out more about them until the booklet is released.
The free talks are being presented by a number of experts, including academics for the University of Birmingham, looking at everything from experiences of refugee camps to the influence of the media. There’s also an interactive trading game which takes place on Sunday 16th June, which I’m really looking forward to. It is worth noting that there will be limited space as the talks take place in a specific area of the park.