GMTG presents: The Comedian @ The Guild of Students

the comedian

You’d be forgiven for thinking that GMTG’s most recent musical, The Comedian, was a light-hearted comedy. It was definitely funny but didn’t deliver the happy ending the audience were expecting.

The play tells the story of Tim Adams, played by Matt McConnell: an awkward stand-up comedian who we meet on the edge of his ‘big break’ and follow as he struggles to deal with the pressure of his new-found fame. McConnell is a likeable lead who wins us over with his hilarious childhood anecdotes as he delivers a stand-up routine directly to the audience. Although a somewhat nervous singer at the start, this made him incredibly endearing and was shattered by his later solos which were angry, anguished and powerful.

Tim’s big break comes when he is offered the chance to host a panel show, the wittily titled ‘News Flush’. These episodes were the highlight of the musical for me as the audience are invited to play the role of a live audience, cheering and clapping along with the sparring between the panel show’s guests. However Tim’s inability to get a word in edge-ways results in him being panned by critics and he resorts to cocaine to boost his confidence. Whilst his drug-fuelled comeback wins the respect of the panel and the critics, he loses the love of his doting fiancée Hannah- played by Megan Probert.

Probert is a talented singer and the heart-breaking solo in which she realises she no longer recognises the man she loves in Tim gave me shivers. However the stand out role for me was that of Tim’s manager, ‘best friend’ and eventual drug dealer Ollie, played brilliantly by Ciaran Cresswell. Smarmy, suave and self-assured, I hated him and admired him in equal measure. Tim is as under Ollie’s influence as the audience are and, with Ollie’s encouragement, continues taking cocaine.

What follows are Tim’s more and more tragic attempts to win Hannah back whilst he spirals into addiction, leading to an unexpectedly disturbing ending. His quest for critical success causes him to lose everything and left me thinking about the way we constantly strive for more without realising what we have already.

What amazed me most of all, however, was that the script and music was written completely from scratch by Leo West and Josh Sood. The play was well written and the songs in particular were so catchy that you couldn’t believe they were original. At times the play even seemed to mock the emotional aspect of musicals, such as when Tim wanders on stage for a moving solo and is so upset that after several attempts to start singing he gives up and leaves. Although the anti-climax made the audience laugh, it was also very touching.

Overall it was this ability to intertwine comedy and tragedy, often in a single line or song, which I found most impressive about this musical- I never knew whether to laugh or cry.

By Ellicia Pendle

@elliciapendle

Moon On A Rainbow Shawl @ The Birmingham Rep Theatre

moon on a rainbow shawlSynchronised to the pace of a calypso beat, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl follows the lives of a poverty-stricken family living in the bustling yards of Trinidad, after the war. Considering such a premise, what I did not expect was the cripplingly humorous moments, the innovative, and at times the sheer power of the performances that were created.

We follow Sophie Adam’s daily struggles of working low paid jobs, keeping up her house, arguing with the prostitute Mavis who lives nearby, taking care of her daughter Esther and her little boy, and moralising her husband. Alongside this her neighbour Ephraim, who is having a secret relationship with the attractive Rosa, has a burning passion to leave Trinidad, and have a better life in England. Without spoiling much more of the play, this re-staging of one of Errol John’s most famous plays still remains fresh and relevant today.

With its unique brand of Creolian banter, and tongue in cheek humour the play is greatly entertaining. The most memorable of these moments are definitely between Mrs Adams and the prostitute Mavis, who are always at ends with each other. With Mavis’ distinctly high screechy voice, and elaborate gestures her role as the comical marker was key to the overall atmosphere of the performance.

But with this great humour, there is the despair. It is a powerful study of the effects of poverty on men and women, the effects of money, and more so the lack of it. And with Ephraim’s wishes, we are all reminded of, to use the well known phrase, the ‘American Dream’.  Quite appropriately Ephraim’s desires to go to England for a better life for himself, are still relevant 56 years later when they were conceived. One just has to pick up a newspaper, or overhear debates to catch a glimpse of the attitudes towards immigration in England at the moment. Yet still England remains the place where, somehow and in some way, dreams for young men and women will come true.

With the mesmerising performances from the cast due to the stellar material they have, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl is compelling, and well worth 3/4 hours of your time. And it leaves us with a greater message, something which the play exemplifies: only in poverty can one find humour in despair.

By Shantok Jetha 

Infinity Stage Company Presents: ‘In Arabia We’d All Be Kings’ by Stephen Adly Guirgus

Stephen Adly Guirgus’s first play follows the patrons of a seedy pre-Giuliani Times Square bar in downtown New York (Hell’s Kitchen) and their struggle to cope with the changing climate of the city as the streets are cleaned up under Rudy Guiliani’s regime. Lenny is a recently released ex-con struggling to hold on to his ‘badman’ image and reputation while his girlfriend, Daisy, craves a “real” life with a “real” man and abandons him at the bar in pursuit of some cheap Chinese takeout. Also at the bar is Skank, a failed actor turned junkie, who is trying to outlast the rain storm and get a buyback from the missing Irish bartender. A permanent fixture at the bar is Sammy, an old, dying guilt-ridden drunk who exists somewhere between reality and the afterlife. Demaris, a seventeen-year-old gun-brandishing single mother, wants to learn to turn tricks. She enlists the aid of Chickie, Skank’s girlfriend, a young crackhead hooker who plays cards with the simple-minded day bartender Charlie. The owner of the bar is Jake. The place was his father’s before him, and after thirty years, he longs for the chance to get out of the sewer and reinvent a life in Florida. Unaware that their last piece of home is about to be pulled out from under them, the bar patrons struggle on. Their sense of humour, their misguided hopes and dreams, and their lack of self-pity are badges that are tattooed to their souls. They will all, before the end, demand and take the chance to face head on their complicated and sad truths.

In Arabia

Cast:

Lenny – Nathan Hawthorne

Daisy – Emily Howard

Skank – Danny Hetherington

Sammy – Ben Firth

Miss Reyes – Emma Marchant

Demaris – Charis Jardim

Jake – Dan Burke

Chickie – Phoebe Brown

Charlie/Holy Roller – Calum Fraser

Greer – Ben Norris

Vic/Carroll – Nick Williams

Crew

Directors – Jack Fairley and Andy Baker

Producer – Rebekah Lucking

Assistant Producer – Katherine Grayson

DATES: (all performances begin at 19:30)

Friday 7th March /Saturday 8th March/ Sunday 9th March

TICKETS:

Members – £4

Concessions -£5

Adult – £7

Rachel Sermanni @ The Glee Club

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Scottish folk singer Rachel Sermanni has recently taken Birmingham’s Glee Club by storm. From Carrbridge, Strathspey and aged just twenty-two Rachel has already toured with and supported famous names such as Fink, Mumford and Sons and Elvis Costello. Making a name for herself with Under Mountains, her debut album in 2012, her new EP tour Everything Changes has brought Rachel back to Birmingham’s Glee Club. In the Glee Club’s studio, where she performed her set, the atmosphere was quite electric, the dim red lighting and the closest audience member only a couple of feet away from Rachel herself made for an extremely intimate experience.

Supporting Rachel was twenty-three year old Mo Kenney, a witty and dryly amusing folk singer from Nova Scotia, her beautifully melancholy songs (“Sucker” in particular) were interspersed with laconic audience interaction about stories of plastic toy snakes and terrorizing old ladies named Judy.

Accompanied by Jennifere Austin on keyboard, Rachel walked on stage modestly and quietly opening with her lead track, ‘Two Birds’, from her new EP she instantly captivated the audience, following up with ‘Breathe Easy’ and the track list from Under Mountains. Personally I didn’t know what to make of her at first as she moved erratically about the stage with her guitar, but it wasn’t long before I was completely transfixed and understood the way she truly moved with and felt her own music. Each song began somewhat soft and slow, culminating in a harmonious outburst of sound. Her fresh faced look and modesty on stage was ultimately contradicted with the power of her commanding, soulful voice and her quiet confidence and connection to her own music.

After purchasing both Mo Kenney’s self-titled album and Rachel Sermanni’s new EP and Under Mountains almost as soon as I got home from The Glee Club I cannot recommend them both enough. Both Mo and Rachel are touring the UK together until the end of March, and are definitely ones not to miss.

Elin Morris
@ElinMorris2509

The Railway Man

The-Railway-Man

A raw, powerful, and, at times, shocking, film; The Railway Man details the real-life story of war veteran Eric Lomax, played by Colin Firth, as he struggles to deal with the horrors of his mistreatment at a Japanese prisoner of war torture camp, some twenty years after he was subjected to immense torture tactics. It is based on the memoirs written by Eric Lomax himself, and was directed and adapted by Jonathon Teplitzky.

The film often jarringly juxtaposes the two distinct sections of Eric Lomax’s life. The film begins on a quaint, jovial note, as we see Eric meet Patricia, his soon-to-be wife, played by Nicole Kidman, on board a train heading towards Scotland, a mode of transport for which it is very quickly clear that Lomax has a particular affinity for. However, their idealistic, and clearly joyful marriage, is quickly brought to a halt by the appearance of flashbacks of his horrendous time in the war. It is here that Firth’s portrayal of Lomax is particularly poignant, and cements his standing as one of the most emotionally affecting actors of his generation. Being mostly known for more sarcastic, romantically-swayed roles (read: Bridget Jones), Firth’s depiction of Lomax’s utter inability to cope with the terrors of his earlier life is distressing, disturbing, and utterly heart-breaking, and something I, many years in the future, can only imagine to be an accurate dramatic portrayal of the pain experienced by the men who endured something similar in the atrocities of war.

Jeremy Irvine does perhaps one of the film’s best jobs as he plays a younger Eric Lomax, in flashbacks used to explain to the audience what it is that the film’s protagonist experienced. Such information is learned along with Lomax’s wife Patricia, whose distressed and upset reaction is often one that mirrors that of the audience. It is Irvine’s excellent and shockingly accurate mimicry of Firth that aligns the two physically different characters with the same experience. Irvine manages so superbly to embody Firth’s character in his youth that you could be mistaken in thinking it was Firth himself, in his younger years, enacting the same role. However, the film is muted and slow in its depiction of exactly what Lomax was exposed to and, as such, it is difficult to ever fully attempt to understand the true extent of Lomax’s torture.

However, the film’s over-arching issue emerges as the past begins to catch up with Eric, and he begins to realise that he must face the realities and the injustice of what happened to him all those years ago as, Nagase, often portrayed as the perpetrator of many of the horrific acts against Lomax, has been found to be alive by Eric’s best friend and fellow war veteran Finlay. In one of the film’s most dramatic and upsetting scenes, Finlay is seen hanging himself from a railway bridge, in a poignant union of two major obsessions in Eric; the war, and railways. The meaning of the death is left ambiguous, leaving the audience wondering whether it was solely a means of encouraging Lomax to hunt down Nagase as a means of closure, or a desperate attempt to end Finlay’s own internal torture formed at the hands of the war. Either explanation adds to the incredible tension and sadness of the film, as it once again reaffirms the reality of the horrific effects of the war, long after it has come to an end.  It similarly reiterates the importance of Eric’s situation, and the magnitude of the choice between revenge and forgiveness, in the face of his life-long enemy.

A film that is ultimately about the need for closure and forgiveness, The Railway Man may not possess many of the loaded, highly dramatic scenes of other war films, but it is here that I believe its strength lies. It focuses more on the bonds that are created during war, for better or for worse. For this reason, I believe the film and the cast were utterly overlooked for awards season – particularly the cast, who do the most to make this film the powerful, emotional depiction of war it is.

By Amy Hunt

CBSO presents Ultimate Vaughan Williams @ Symphony Hall

andrew manze

Ralph Vaughan Williams remains one of the nation’s favourite composers, and his enduring popularity was very evident at Symphony Hall. There was barely an empty seat in the house as Andrew Manze conducted the CBSO in an evening of ‘Ultimate Vaughan Williams’; a shamelessly indulgent programme consisting of what might be considered his orchestral greatest hits, spanning a twenty-two year period (1908-30) which saw Vaughan Williams establish himself as one of the most important figures on the British classical music scene.

We began with his Overture to The Wasps, originally commissioned to accompany a production of the Aristophanes play at Cambridge University in 1909, which abounds with wonderfully broad, expansive themes of cinematic scope, sounding at times almost like the score for a Western. And the CBSO did justice to the energy inherent in the piece, Manze energetically brandishing his baton with a charisma and deftness obviously infectious to both orchestra and audience.

Next was Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and although the turnaround of players between the first two pieces was wanting some smoothness, it was definitely worth the negligible wait. It is written for two string orchestras with a solo quartet, which – in the hands of Vaughan Williams – results in a rich and delicious sonority. The fact that several, admittedly more elderly members of the audience appeared to drift off during this piece is, I think, testament to the beauty and subtlety of the music, rather than evidence of anything condemnably soporific there. The thick strings, often moving in parallel fifths, are so typically characteristic of his style that, at times, he seems almost to parody himself, but always remains wholly earnest, creating a sound at once singularly evocative of the English countryside and yet also decidedly European. In the passages for solo viola and violin respectively, the ideas he would fully realise in The Lark Ascending are explicitly audible, but comparatively Fantasia… contains moments that seem to cry out for solo woodwind to burst through and soar lyrically above a texture occasionally clogged by the sheer number of strings the composer employs.

This concert was part of the CBSO:2020 series, which – as the famous orchestra approaches its centenary in six years’ time – features works composed in the decade leading up to their inaugural concert in September 1920. The Lark Ascending, written in 1914 (initially for violin and piano) and arguably Vaughan Williams’s best known work, therefore formed the centrepiece of the evening. And here, unlike in Fantasia…, that desire for otherness is satisfied absolutely. At the moment, say, where the beautiful solo violin might take a phrase too many, the oboe emerges, pure and defiant. It was in this piece, and the final one, where we heard the CBSO, under Manze’s skilful guidance, at their most dexterous and antiphonally fluent. Laurence Jackson was the soloist, and he did an admirable job with a notoriously delicate part, occasionally sounding hollow or airy, but commendably never dispassionate.

The concert concluded with Job – A Masque for Dancing, which Michael Kennedy (in his excellent programme notes) calls ‘a synthesis of various elements in his [RVW’s] musical personality,’ and it was thus perfectly positioned at the end of the programme. By far the most dramatic and ambitious of the evening’s pieces, Job takes the listener on a journey too nuanced to describe in this short review, but one through which the CBSO led us expertly. Jackson – with the other excellent soloists – found full voice here, making his violin sing sweetly with the nostalgic themes of a composer whose place in the hearts of the British concert-going public appears deservedly secure.

by Ben Norris
@BenNorris7

12 Years A Slave

12-years-a-slave

 

A few hundred words to review 12 Years A Slave will simply not do it justice; posing the question where on earth to begin with a film that evoked such an array of emotions? One thing I will say, to me this film was flawless in its portrayal of the characters, the setting of the plantations and most importantly in the stark reality of the hardships and brutality faced by the slave population. To miss out on such a moving, powerful film would be doing a great disservice to yourself.

Steve McQueen, British director of 12 Years A Slave, has already won himself an award for best director from the New York Film Critics Circle alongside a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture with this film. It is rumoured he may soon become the first black film-maker to win an Oscar for best director. McQueen is also known for his first feature length film, Hunger which won him the Camera d’Or award. Again starring Michael Fassbender, it is another uncomfortable yet poignant watch and after having seen both films, the parallels between them are numerous.

So what is the film about? The plot, with screenplay by John Ridley, follows the true 19th century memoir of Solomon Northup played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Solomon is a musician, husband, father and educated citizen of New York State who in 1841 is betrayed, kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. From where his journey begins, being sold to plantation owner, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) to his run-ins with Tibeats, Ford’s cruel farmhand (Paul Dano) and finally to his sale and subsequent torment at the hands of plantation owner Epp’s (Michael Fassbender). Solomon Northup is deprived of his identity, unwillingly renamed ‘Platt,’ his dignity and most of all his humanity.

Similar to McQueen’s Hunger, and what contributed consistently to the raw poignancy of 12 Years A Slave, were the long single-take scenes. From a lengthy close up of Solomon’s pained face, to being cruelly strung up to a tree, left to dangle on the edge of his life whilst the plantation quietly ambled on around him. The minutes seem to drag by as some of these single scenes made for an extremely uncomfortable watch; however their purpose is subtly yet powerfully evident. Undoubtedly what is most shocking and what appears to be the driving force behind this emotional powerhouse, is the brutality. One scene, that I can’t seem to shake off and which left me feeling sickened to the point where myself and a couple of other people in the cinema had to look away, was the whipping of Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). The uncensored and unflinching violence inflicted on Patsey during this scene as well as over the course of the film, remained just under the level of gratuitous but simply realistic stopping the film from becoming just another Hollywood blockbuster.

Whilst the majority of the focus may be on the brilliance of Chiwetel Ejiofor and rightly so, Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Epps is what struck me most. Having seen a great deal of what he’s already starred in such as Inglorious Basterds, Eden Lake, A Dangerous Method and Hunger, this is the best performance I’ve seen from him so far. His character, Master Epps bordering on psychotic and sadistic was frighteningly unpredictable, creating almost unbearable scenes of suspense. Fassbender personified the barbarianism and cruelty capable of plantation owners and did so with terrifying ease. At the other end of the spectrum, Solomon Northup alongside Patsey brought to life the suffering and struggle of the slave population. Solomon especially so with his heart-wrenchingly pure facial expressions of utter anguish and despair. Chiwetel Ejiofor skilfully never underplays or overdoes the role of his character, bringing an unquestionable and relatable quality to Solomon.

Whilst 12 Years A Slave is not an easy watch by any means, it has brought back to the forefront of people’s minds a topic that we may have become desensitized to over time. This beautiful yet harrowing film left me feeling emotionally drained and somewhat disillusioned with human nature’s brutal capabilities, yet also with reaffirmed faith in the unbelievable strength of human spirit to overcome all the odds, at all costs.

Elin Morris
@ElinMorris2509