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    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the New Alexandra Theatre

    IMG_6219-minLicensed 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.

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    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.

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    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. 

    Theatre

    Birdsong at New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

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    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.

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    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. 

    Music and Movies

    Kopfkino at Stirchley Baths: Can You Dig This

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    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…

    Theatre

    Summer Holiday at New Alexandra Theatre

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    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.

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    Theatre

    Legally Blonde The Musical at New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham

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    Oh My God, Oh My God, You Guys…after seeing Legally Blonde The Musical you will almost certainly find yourself singing tunes from the show.  It’s the sort of feel good show that will have you grinning and dancing in your chair.

    If you’re familiar with the 2001 film with the same title (although it was actually based on a book, who knew), you’ll be familiar with the story.  There are a few minor changes, but it is essentially the same story, and same heart-warming silliness that will completely win you over.

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