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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
- Is This Tomorrow is a dystopian/utopian reading group which have read the likes of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World. Their next meeting is on 6th June to discuss Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.
- On the first Wednesday of every month, Stirchley Baths hosts a book club from 10-11.30am. The advice, according to the website, is simple; “Just turn up and enjoy a book with a cuppa.”
- On the second Saturday of the month from 11am to midday, Stirchley Readers meet at the library for their regular book club. It’s an all ages group, so feel free to bring your kids.
- Book Marx, the best name ever for a Marxist book club, meet every Wednesday evening (aside from the second Weds) at Artefact
- According to their website, Stirchley Primary School will be starting their own book club
in the spring term but I suspect that will only be for pupils.
- Artefact have also hosted the first Slow Food Club book club and there’s another one due in June, I believe.
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.
I have a few thoughts on this, but this is a placeholder until I get time to write them up
Sometimes you have to know when to admit defeat. After battling with a migraine since about 2am in the morning, and trying my best to do a day’s work, my colleague took pity on me / was sick of the sight of me (delete as appropriate) and told me to go home. So instead of an evening catching up with a friend and going to see Hair the Musical at the Alexandra Theatre, I went home to bed. Turns out this was probably a wise idea as the bright lights, big songs and colourful stage would probably not have done much for the monstrous headache I had. Thankfully my friend Jo-ann was still able to go along, and she was kind enough to write up her thoughts. So over to Jo-ann…
So I agreed to attend Hair on a whim as I didn’t really know much about the show apart from the scandalous banning of it back in the day. I did some cursory research on the cast and saw it featured some X Factor contestants etc. I saw plenty of posters advertising this 50th anniversary touring show around town and was excited to see a modern take on the hippie generation.
On taking my seat I was impressed by the set design and stage lighting. I certainly felt ready to go on a colourful trip back to the late 60s. The cast emerged onto the stage and the show began. From then to close it was a production full of song, colour inclusivity and hope.
Firstly we were introduced to Berger (Jake Quickenden) who charmed and enthralled the audience from the get go with his free-loving positive spirit. Through the various top tapping songs we meet other tribe members and learn about their entangled love lives and dilemmas.
The ensemble cast whip their way through the songs with no off notes and dizzying dance routines. The set design adds to the counter culture vibe and successful ingrates the musicians into the production. It’s the songs that carry you through this show for sure.
The cast interact with the audience throughout the show and this draws you into and at some points I feel like I’m under the influence. I thought I only knew one song but I was sorely mistaken as I found myself singing along to most of them, over the years they must have just seeped into my brain.
The cast were all excellent but special shout outs to Woof (Bradley Judge), Jeanie (Alison Arnopp) and Dionne (Aiesha Pease) whose characters and voices really impressed.
The underlying story is still relevant today particularly given Extinction Rebellion’s recent protests across the UK, but this is light hearted way to engage with some profound issues.
The critically-acclaimed 50th anniversary production of Hair – The Musical is on at The Alexandra Theatre from Monday 29 April – Saturday 4 May 2019, with tickets available at atgtickets.com/birmingham
This was a press event. Photos and their copyright belong to Johan Persson.
I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library…
Jorge Luis Borges said that, and I think if he’d made it over here, he’d quite like Stirchley. It turns out that not only do we have two libraries, but we also have a small press and a raft of book clubs. Not bad for a small suburb. Have a read to find out about the smallest library in Birmingham, and the best named book club too…
Built in 1905 from red brick in Flemish bond with stone dressings, the Grade II listed building on Bournville Lane sits next to Stirchley Baths and plays home to the local library. As well as being able to borrow books, the library has free WiFi, a children’s library and the ability to print and photocopy (at certain times).
But things haven’t always been plain sailing for the library. Under threat of closure, the council have agreed to keep the library open, with the support of volunteers now known as Friends of Stirchley Library (FOSL) group. The group are responsible for covering some of the shortfall in reduction of hours, as well as fundraising to help keep the library going and host some very fun events including Lego Club, late night openings and the occasional silent disco. To find out more about FoSL or to get involved, visit their website.
This photo of Stirchley Library is from Fiona Cullinan aka Katchooo over on Flickr.
Books and a brew
It seems that for such a small space, Stirchley has a *lot* of book clubs, ranging from the very general to the very specialist, so there should be something to suit everyone. Here are just a few…
Side note, as far as I know, none of the book clubs above have read Slay and I actually took this photo at Kafenion in Bournville. But if you want a (young adult) book which is about a boyband who fight demons, think One Direction meets Buffy/Supernatural, then I can highly recommend it.
The littlest library in the land
This adorable little find is nestled away on Bosbury Terrace, just behind Stirchley High Street. Part of the Little Free Library, “the world’s largest book-sharing movement”, Stirchley’s one is in fact the only Little Free Library in Birmingham. Which surely means Stirchley has Birmingham’s smallest library, right?
Run by Elenor, a confirmed bibliophile and a part-time librarian, it’s home to a handful of books and regularly topped up – but feel free to return a book once you’re done. Follow their adventures on the Little Free Library Stirchley facebook page.
Our own publishing house
Did you know Stirchley had its own publishing house? Well, technically it might be based just outside of the suburb, but Splice is Stirchley in spirit and that’s good enough for me. Not only is Splice a small press, publishing three collections of short stories as well as novels, they also release reviews on their website and then literally splice the work of their published authors.
Listen to the second episode of the Republic of Consciousness Prize podcast for a discussion on one of Splice’s titles, Nicholas John Turner’s Hang Him When He Is Not There, which was long-listed for the RofC Prize. About 45 minutes in is devoted to an in-depth conversation between four writers about the ins and outs of the sort of books Splice publishes.
To find out more about Splice, head over to Splice’s website.
This is part of the semi-regular Exploring Stirchley newsletter. To find out more visit the Exploring Stirchley page of this website.
Green Day never belonged to me, they were always my sister’s band. We were both pop-punk fans, but I never got Green Day in the way she did. I understood the impact of Dookie and started to warm up to them around the time of Warning, but American Idiot sealed it for me. It was strong, slick and full of stories. It was hardly surprising to me that it would be the album that would be a musical, especially given the whole “punk rock opera” moniker it was given, but I did wonder how it would play out.
American Idiot the Musical kicks off with the titular song. It introduces the audience to a group of disaffected teenagers, fed up of the state of their country, mass media and the deal they’ve been dealt. During a series of songs from the album we learn that a trio of the group, Johnny, Will and Tunny are unhappy with their suburban lives, with Johnny’s revelation of a broken home and living in a world “that don’t believe in me” (Jesus of Suburbia). The trio plan to escape their lives, but on finding out his girlfriend is pregnant, Will stays at home, with Johnny and Tunny heading off to the city.
Struggling to adjust to urban life, Tunny enlists in the army and Johnny turns to drugs. Injecting heroin for the first time, we are introduced to Johnny’s alter-ego, St Jimmy, which gives him a new-found courage to talk to the girl he’s had a crush on. Meanwhile, Tunny is deployed to a war zone, and Will is struggling to adjust to life at home without his friends and the impending birth of his child, both needing relief from their situations. But for Johnny, things seem to be going well, at least temporarily; in a drug-fuelled haze he gets the girl, beds her and things seem to be going well. That is until St Jimmy and the drugs take over, and surpass the love he has for his girlfriend.
Back in the army, Tunny, now an amputee, is being tended to by a nurse, known as Extraordinary Girl, who he eventually falls in love with. Will’s girlfriend has their child, and grows increasingly impatient with his loser lifestyle of drugs and lazing on the sofa. Johnny is descending into an increasingly drug-addled state and threatens his girlfriend Whatshername followed by himself. She leaves him and realising what he’s lost he gets clean and tries to get a desk job before realising it’s not for him and heading for the bus back home. Will, sees his girlfriend with her new rock-star boyfriend but eventually she and Will call a truce and he embraces his child. Tunny introduces them to Extraordinary Girl and it takes a while for Johnny to forgive him for leaving him for the army, but finally, the trio are reunited.
American Idiot the Musical is a wonderful chaotic mess. The first fifteen minutes or so feel like an attempt to cram in as many of the higher octane songs as possible to set the scene; I liked the run through of songs but less so the toilet-humour antics, which just feel a bit like watching your parents try and pretend they know what teenagers are like. Thankfully the show seems to get it out of its system once the plot starts to appear. I mean sure, the plot is superficial but the split narrative about three young men who are all searching for meaning in their lives does work and particularly in the second half does have some touching moments.
Waterloo Road’s Tom Milner as Johnny has the unenviable job of playing the link in the trio, dealing with the descent into drugs and the grittier side of Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals. It’s a hard thing to master and makes you realise just how skilled Green Day’s vocalist it, but Milner gives it heart. Perhaps the strongest performance of the night comes from local lad, West Brom’s own Joshua Dowen, who plays Tunny and delivers some of the most powerful vocal performances of the evening. Luke Friend, 2013’s X Factor third place runner-up, does a superb job playing the maniacal St Jimmy, the Fight Club style alter-ego who courts Johnny into the world of drugs and delusion.
Whether it is intentional that both Green Day and American Idiot the Musical are a trio of men, it does feel like the female characters are there less as characters and more as motivations for the male leads. But somehow, despite all the issues, I found myself absorbed in the story. Even the ending, cliched as it was, with Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) reworked so that it was more musical, got me. And maybe that’s the best way to think of it: “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right. I hope you had the time of your life.” And maybe American Idiot the Musical wasn’t the time of my life, but it left me feeling nostalgic and hopeful. And that’s not a bad way to leave a musical.
American Idiot the Musical is on at the Alexandra Theatre from Tuesday 9 – Saturday 13 April 2019. Tickets are available via the Alex’s website.
This was a press event. Photos and their copyright belong to Mark Dawson.