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    Culture, Theatre

    Motown the Musical at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

    A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. ©Tristram Kenton

    “All we need is music, sweet music, there’ll be music everywhere.” Written by Marvin Gaye, William “Mickey” Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter, Dancing in the Street is one of Motown’s signature songs, amongst the many well known classic released by the label and it was the song stuck in my head the entire journey home after the West End hit show, Motown the Musical.

    Inspired by the autobiography of Motown founder Berry Gordy, Motown the Musical starts the story immediately before the 25th anniversary concert celebrating the birth of Motown.  Gordy is reluctant to attend, feeling betrayed by the artists he feels he made stars, only for them to leave him when better offers were on the table.  The audience is then transported back to see Gordy’s childhood, the impact of a conversation with his father, a few lost years before he ultimately manages to get enough money together to start his record label – and the birth of Motown.

    Whilst the musical might be loosely based on Gordy’s autobiography, it is clearly his personal interpretation of the past and doesn’t always give away a lot about the man himself.  His relationship with Diana Ross and subsequent break up is referenced, as is his feelings towards the artists he felt abandoned him.  But if you’re hoping for a theatrical biopic of his life, you’ll be disappointed.  But then again, that’s clearly not the point of the play – the audience is here for the songs.

    A scene from Motown The Musical, UK Tour @ The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. (Opening 11-10-18) ©Tristram Kenton 10-18 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

    Motown the Musical is all about the music – as it should be.  There is simplistic, almost scant plot, which is not a criticism as it allows for a plethora of hit songs to be included without feeling forced.  There can be a tendency amongst similar plays to shoehorn in the songs to the narrative, which often feels clunky, but Motown resists doing this and the few songs that are used to drive the story forward feel fitting.  Instead, most of the songs are performed more naturally by the artists embodying the characters they play either as auditions or concerts, which allows the audience to really enjoy them.

    With over 50 songs credited in the musical, it would be impossible to include full length versions of all of them, but there is certainly something to suit everyone who is a fan of the record label.  One of the biggest cheers of the evening goes to the cover of the Jackson 5’s ABC, likely due to the admirable performance by the young actor playing Michael Jackson. Although it is perhaps the songs sung by Diana Ross and the Supremes which are consistently some of the best of the evening, thanks to a consistently strong performance by Karis Anderson.  Edward Baruwa as Berry Gordy does a lot with the character, drawing out more emotional depth that the story gives him and is responsible for a number of of the big numbers.

    For a musical which stays away from the more complex parts of the history of Motown it is not afraid to mention the issue of racism at the time.  It would be easy for the musical to gloss over the racial elements and discrimination faced by the artists but thankfully it doesn’t and references are made to the artists being defined by the colour of their skin, the problems with getting black artists on the radio and the segregation of audiences at the time. It is not a major part of the storyline, but an important point to the narrative of many of the figures during the time.

    Motown the Musical does exactly what it says; it provides hours of high energy Motown music, much to the delight of the audience. It is a lot of fun and thoroughly enjoyable to spend a few hours immersed in the sounds of the era.

    Motown the Musical is at the newly refurbished Alexandra Theatre from 11 October to 3 November, and tickets can be purchased here.

    This was a press event. Photos and their copyright belong to Tristram Kenton.

    Culture, Theatre

    Three Winters at The Old Rep Theatre

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    I can’t say I knew much about Three Winters before I showed up to the theatre, jogging up the road thanks to Birmingham’s Saturday early-evening traffic.  I try not to read much about a performance, be it theatre or film, before I go because I like to make my own mind up, and then read the reviews after.

    Three Winters, it turns out, is a play which takes place during three different winters; just after the Second Word War in 1945, during the Balkans war in the 1990s, and finally in contemporary Croatia in 2011.  Written by Croatian playwright Tena Štivičić, premiering in London in 2014, the play takes place in a house in Zagreb, where Štivičić grew up and follows generations of the Kos family.

    Whilst the story is about the Kos family throughout the three time periods, it’s very much the women that are the central characters.  We first meet Rose King, who secures a home for her, her husband and their daughter Maša, in part of the house during the Communist era of the country.  In the 90s Maša has grown up and married to history-teacher husband Vlado, but still living in the house with their two young daughters.  With the 2011 scenes take place on the eve of Maša and Vlado’s youngest daughter Lucija’s wedding.

    Of the play itself, the narrative is slow to start as it introduces the elements of the story the play will weave together.  Growing up, the Balkans war was often something on the news but something my knowledge of is hazy.  So whilst the story works with little understanding of the time period, as a family drama through several generations, I do wonder if more historical context might add more richness to the audience’s understanding of the play.

    Produced and performed by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (final year students from what was formerly known as Birmingham School of Acting), there is little to show that this was not an entirely professional production of graduate actors.  The acting was strong and compelling and the use of projected images and music during the transitions added another layer of history to the stories of the family members.  For a play where two thirds of the eras take place just before or after war, it is a surprisingly funny play which elicits genuine and knowing laughter from the audience, often as a result of family dynamics, and delivered perfectly.

    I wasn’t overly sold on the dance performance piece at the beginning of the play, which may well be part of the original, although with the more celebratory dance at the end, it did add a sense of bookending the play.

    I can’t remember what made me book a ticket to see Three Winters at the Old Rep Theatre, but having enjoyed the production I will be checking out other shows by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

    Theatre

    Madagascar The Musical at the New Alexandra Theatre

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    Cynics would tell you that Madagascar the Musical is just an attempt to jump on board the success of another screen-to-stage animal adaptation. But here’s the thing: the much loved film translates well to stage and Madagascar the Musical is actually a lot of fun.

    In preparation, I watched the 2005 Dreamworks movie the night before, and Madagascar the Musical is faithful to the script, sanding off some of the edges to make a relatively short but lively theatrical show. If you don’t know the story, it’s a pretty simple one; Marty the zebra is fed up of life in a New York zoo and escapes to find some space, but before he can get very far, his friends Alex the lion, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo come to bring him back to the zoo. Sadly for them this doesn’t go to plan, and rather than be returned to the zoo they’re released back into the wild – or at least would be if their ship wasn’t hijacked by penguins and they end up in Madagascar. Life in the wild isn’t quite what these four pampered animal imagine, and they’re keen to get back to their old life, particularly before a starving Alex eats one of them.

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    With producers Selladoor Family condensing down the story, the theatrical version feels like much more of a foursome than the film. I don’t have a TV so I don’t really know how much of a draw, 2016 X Factor winner Matt Terry in the role of Alex the lion is, but it’s a solid performance which actually seems to tone down some of the melodramatic moments of the character’s counterpart, and actually allows for a stronger quartet of main characters than the film. Marty the zebra played by Antoine Murray-Straughan has a good chemistry with Matt Terry’s Alex and his energy is impressive, particularly in that padded costume. Actor and puppeteer Jamie Lee-Morgan plays the role of hypochondriac Melman the giraffe, which is skilfully done as he blends in the lankiest of the characters within the quartet. Timmika Ramsay has the strongest voice of the evening, and her performance of Gloria the hippo brings a sassy female touch to the four main characters.

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    And the penguins! They were my favourite characters from the film, and they’re just as entertaining in the musical, often the source of humour and plot development – be it throwing things off course or inspiring the break out at the beginning of the story. The penguins are puppets controlled beautifully by actors Shane McDaid, Laura Johnson, Jessica Niles, Victoria Boden and Matthew Pennington who each manage to give their penguin their own personality from behind the puppet. Whilst it might not have the grandeur of other animal-based productions, the casting is solid and seem to work well together.

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    The first act of Madagascar the Musical paces along nicely, but at times in the story feels a little rushed, particularly in the second half, where the Alex’s hunger and ejection from the tribe isn’t given much chance to affect the audience. But the chances of anyone in the audience not being familiar with the source material is slim and so the emotional resonance isn’t much of a requirement for a production that celebrates its whimsy. This is further enforced during Alex’s hunger, where he begins to hallucinate steaks and an eccentric song feels oddly consistent. Whilst Madagascar the movie might be aimed at children, the musical is careful not to ignore its adult audiences by feeding in some of the more mature jokes.

    And what of the infamous I Like to Move It song, which is performed in all films? Thankfully this is one of the scenes which makes it into Madagascar the Musical and it is by far the stand out song of the night. The hilarious King Julien, played by Jo Parsons, performs the now-infamous 90s song and it feels like being in one of the strangest raves ever. It is sublimely silly and wonderful and captivating – exactly what I was hoping for. And the second performance of it as an encore it even more well received.

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    Madagascar the Musical is a fast paced, high energy musical which combines the best of the film with a freshness on stage which is infectious. The story is a little thin on the ground, but that didn’t stop the film becoming a huge franchise and it’s a story which translates well from screen to stage. There’s plenty of good giggles and a lot of fun to be had at Madagascar the Musical.

    Move it move, down to see Madagascar the Musical at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from Tuesday 31 July – Saturday 4 August. Tickets can be purchased here.

    This was a press event. 

    Culture

    Real Bodies The Exhibition at the nec

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    I find the human body endlessly fascinating.  I grew up with a nurse mother, a chronically ill father, sneaking away to read my cousin’s copies of How My Body Works books and grossing out my little sister with my mum’s books on foot fungus.

    Unlike my mum, my interest in the human body never went beyond an AS level and a stint working in hospital communications, but the human body continues to awe me.  A few years ago, thanks to a very morbid map of London, I discovered The Hunterian Museum, hidden in the Royal College of Surgeons building.  The museum holds around 3500 anatomical specimens, including preserved tumours, skeletons affected by syphilis, the full skeleton of ‘the Irish giant’ Charles Byrne and a number of animal skeletons.  It’s closed for a few years to undergo a major refurbishment, but in the mean time, Real Bodies The Exhibition has landed in Birmingham.

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    Over 200 anatomical specimens make up Real Bodies The Exhibition, and the displays are separated out into several galleries with topics like breathe, move, rhythm, think and love.  The bodies on display are real adult bodies, preserved using Polymer Preservation, which uses liquid silicone rubber and the process can take up to a year, but it allows for the bodies on display to be presented in dynamic poses to show how extraordinary the human body is.

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    According to the FAQs, the specimens are all unclaimed bodies (meaning no next of kin have come forward to claim them) that have been donated by relevant authorities to medical universities in China, donated legally and provided to the exhibition by Dalian Hoffen Bio-Technique Co Ltd.  Some of the specimens are specific parts of the body, including lungs, hearts, veins and reproductive organs, whereas others are full specimens.

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    So whilst the exhibition doesn’t sensationalise, if you’re squeamish, this probably isn’t for you (although you’ve probably given up reading by now if you are).  Another gentle warning is presented toward the end of the exhibition in the Life gallery, which shows different foetus at different developmental stages.  Visitors which may find this gallery distressing are able to miss it out, if they should so wish.

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    As part of Real Bodies The Exhibition, visitors attending on Thursday 2nd August 2018 are invited to attend, free of charge, one of four one-hour classes looking at a perspective on human anatomy, including Yoga in the Repair Gallery, Real-life anatomy art class, Philosophy of the ‘Self Being’ and “Why donate your body to science?”

    To book tickets, visit www.theticketfactory.com/realbodiessessions or for tickets to Real Bodies The Exhibition, which is at the nec until Sunday 19th August, visit http://www.thenec.co.uk/whats-on/real-bodies/

    Culture

    Dippy on Tour at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

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    I blame seeing Jurassic Park at an impressionable age, but I’ve always had a soft spot for dinosaurs.  I think they’re an easy thing to romanticise, the idea of these big majestic beasts roaming a land, the big bad of the T-Rex, the mischievous velociraptors.  But for me it’s all about the awe, the reminder of these giant creatures roaming the lands well before we got here and the idea of what will come once humans have left too.

    So when the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery announced they were playing hosts to dippy, the Natural History Museum’s famous diplodocus, I knew it would be a case of not if but when I would go see him.  It’s a bit of a tour of the country for Dippy, who is staying in Birmingham until early September, but all in all going on an eight-location tour with the hope of 1.5 million people across the UK seeing Dippy in person whilst he’s on his adventure.

    IMG-4133In the end I booked myself a half-day at work.  I’d heard that the Edwardian Tea Rooms at BMAG were doing a Dippy-themed children’s menu and never one to be embarrassed by these sort of things, I ordered myself a two-course children’s men; turkey dinosaurs, chips and peas, followed by hot chocolate volcano and ice cream.  I even blogged about it over on my food blog Full to the Brum.

    Understandably, at 21.3 metres long, 4.3 metres wide and 4.25 metres high, Dippy takes centre stage in the Gas Hall and he’s an impressive sight.  Dippy isn’t actually the bones of a diplodocus, rather a plaster cast made of one discovered in the Wyoming, USA.  King Edward VII saw the sketches of the bones at the Scottish home of Andrew Carnegie (he of Carnegie Hall, among other notable things), who then in turn agreed to donate a cast of the bones to the Natural History Museum.  Even still, the height and choice of black plaster makes Dippy an impressive sight, looming like a gentle giant over guests to the hall.

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    Around the hall are supporting displays of other creatures.  Back to that fondness for Jurassic Park, I was rather taken with the velociraptors.  Anyone who knows anything about them will tell you they’re not the size of the ones in the Jurassic park/World franchises, usually they get likened to the size of a turkey.

    Due to a fire evacuation, I didn’t manage to grab a good photo (this might be a good excuse to go back) but I liked that it wasn’t all just about the past.  In the corner of the exhibition is a look towards the present day – and the future.  There is a display of the evolved meat-eating theropods, or birds, to you and me.  It’s an interesting look at what made birds survive and dinosaurs die out, and also a gentle reminder to visitors (young and old) to be grateful that we can see some of these creatures in the wild, and not confined to bones in a museum.

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    Dippy is in Birmingham from 26th May – 9th September 2018.  Tickets to see him and the exhibition are free, but Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery recommend you book in advance to ensure you get in – particularly good advice now it’s the school summer holidays! To book a ticket, head over to BMAG’s website.  And if you’re a fan of dinosaurs then it’s well worth checking out the Lapworth Museum at the University of Birmingham too.

    Music and Movies

    The Italian Job at Birmingham Symphony Hall

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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.

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    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.

    Birmingham, Culture

    Brum Zine Fest 2018 at Impact Hub Birmingham

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    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.

    DhA_H36X4AE8ZfoStorytelling Masterclass

    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

    DhBLTufW4AIneVGMy First Zine workshop

    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.

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    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!

    https://twitter.com/BrumZineFest