Trans identity seems to be very much in the public eye at the moment, but a lot of the stories in mainstream media seem to be focused on the stories of trans women. The role of the trans man, whether it’s less glamorous or perhaps more hidden, is one that seems to have been somewhat downplayed. But Rhum and Clay in collaboration with Kit Redstone’s British Council Showcase play Testosterone is less a play about trans identity and more a play about what it is to be a man, seen uniquely though the eyes of someone who has been watching, and wondering, how to be a man most of his life.
Following an outstanding run at London’s West End, The Kite Runner has landed in Birmingham and it is one of the most enthralling yet haunting productions I’ve seen on stage.
Adapted by Matthew Spangler from Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling novel of the same name, The Kite Runner tells a powerful father-son story of redemption, spanning several countries and generations. It’s a powerful story that has already translated well onto a successful film, but after a raft of positive reviews for its West End run, the production has gone on a UK tour.
Celebrating 50 years since Elvis Presley’s ’68 Comeback Special,’ This is Elvis showing at The New Alexandra Theatre is a captivating part tribute act, part play which really brings the best of The King to modern audiences.
This is Elvis tells the story behind Presley’s monumental return to performing live for the first time in seven years, pivoting away from his film career back to his musical roots. More than a tribute show, the play charts the self-doubt and tensions behind the NBC show that became known as Elvis’ 68 Comeback Special and ultimately relaunched his music career. But it doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of The King’s return, depicting the fractious relationship with manager Colonel Tom Parker and avoidance of wife Priscilla, as well as self-doubt about his relevance to audiences of the time and hints at his alcohol and drug dependency.
We Are The Lions Mr Manager is the poignant, funny and heartfelt the true story of Jayaben Desai, hero of the Grunwick strike in the 70s.
Freshly arrived in England after leaving the newly-independent Tanzania and a childhood growing up in Gujarat in India, England is not what Mrs Desai expected; from the houses to the weather to the discrimination felt by South Asians trying to find employment. She begins working in the Grunwick Film Processing Factory, where the manager is a bully and overtime is mandatory – after all, you signed the contact, the workers are told.
One day, Mrs Desai has enough of the treatment and confronts the manager with a firework of a line; “What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr. Manager.” And with that she promptly resigns, and starts what was to become one of the longest and most important industrial disputes in British history.
There are worse ways to spend a grey, and drizzly Saturday, but wrapped up in Kneehigh Theatre and director Emma Rice’s retell of the 1945 Noel Coward film Brief Encounter is not one of them. The play is warm, at times funny, and sensitively portrays the ordinariness at which two married strangers can meet and fall in love.
The story is based around two people, Laura and Alec, who both lead fairly ordinary lives in pre-war England. They meet at a train station cafe, where Laura has something in her eye and doctor Alec helps her remove it. They sense an instant connection and arrange to meet again, where their friendship becomes something more, despite being married to other people.
I was lucky enough to be invited as part of my other blog, Full to the Brum, to see Miss Saigon at the Birmingham Hippodrome theatre and I thought I’d do a little write up about it here too.
Set in Vietnam, Miss Saigon tells the story of a doomed romance between a Vietnamese women and an American male soldier during the Vietnamese war in the 1970s. It’s a show based on the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly, where the geisha is instead a Vietnamese girl who works in a bar. Despite being one of the longest-running shows on Broadway, I knew little about the plot of the musical going in, but the production is a blistering and absorbing portrayal, heavy with emotion and utterly captivating.
The love story between American soldier Chris and Vietnamese village girl Kim is ultimately a tragedy, wrapped up in the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War. I found the moral complexities of the play something that were often overshadowed by the spectacle of the show, but I’m not convinced a lesson in ethics is what the writers were going for. It’s an intense and epic show with high drama, brash colourful sets and at one point a full-sized helicopter on stage – it’s very go big or go home.
The latter portion of Miss Saigon looks at the cost of war, both to the people left behind and the Bui Doi children born from American soldiers’ liaisons with local women, but it felt a bit lost in the onslaught of the striking scenes and dramatic first half. Chris, whose judgement of his fellow soldiers’ use of local women who are trying to survive a war during the early part of the play, falls apart when faced with the moral dilemma when he returns to Vietnam some years later. Rather than allow for moral ambiguity, the play seems to sweep this up quickly into a tragedy, which makes it hard to feel its poignancy.
Miss Saigon is a show I’m glad I’ve seen, and the production was certainly high-octane and did a great job with the source material on offer, but it left me with a lot of questions. The production itself was one of the most visually spectacular I’ve seen and for that reason I think it’s a show to see at least one, but the play itself feels very much of its time and I wonder how well it will stand up as the years continue to pass.
As mentioned, I was initially invited to go and see the production to test out the Miss Saigon inspired menu that the theatre’s restaurant, The Circle, offers. I really like the idea of a themed meal to go along with the show and it’s a really nice way of bringing the whole thing together with the flavours and inspiration of the show translated onto the plate. Normally I’d just head for somewhere nearby and grab something quick, but I really like the idea of making a proper night of it and going for a nice dinner too. If you’d like to read what I thought about the food, you’ll find it over here.