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    Culture

    Dippy on Tour at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

    velociraptor

    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

    Theatre

    Super Hamlet 64 at the Old Joint Stock

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    A one-person, physical theatre production that somehow blends live music, the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet, and a raft of retro computer games sounds like one of those things you put together by drawing subjects out of a hat, and yet it works.  In fact, it’s almost delightfully hopeful towards the end.

    Theatre maker, poet and animator Edward Day has toured the traditional version of Hamlet, but here they’ve fused some classic retro games whereby characters which look suspiciously like everyone’s favourite Italian plumbers take on the role of the deceased King Hamlet and Uncle Claudius.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern become split between Final Fantasy IV, Crash Bandicoot, Street Fighter II and Curse of Monkey Island.  There are Mortal Kombat ‘Fatalities’, zombies, deaths and do-overs – which come to think of it is more similar to the original source material than I thought at the time.

    It’s bonkers, but it’s brilliant in sparks created when you put two things together than you have no idea could work so well.  And it is so wonderfully made believable by Day, and their energy, scene shifts and musical interludes.  There’s a spot of audience participation in a full on death scene; one man launched himself onto the floor which surprised the actor but showed just how much fun everyone was having.

    Everyone knows Hamlet doesn’t end well, for, well anyone.  And yet the ending of Super Hamlet 64 manages to untangle and re-tangle the ideas of morality in the original play, and the nature of computer games. Super Hamlet 64 is absurdly honest and sweet, and a complete rollercoaster of a production which is clever, bonkers and brilliant.

    Super Hamlet 64 is on tour around the country, and back in our neck of the woods on 21 September at the Artrix in Bromsgrove.

    Theatre

    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.