Category Archives: Culture

Robert Atkinson, Architect of Cinemas @ UoB Arts and Science Festival

Kicking off the University of Birmingham’s Arts and Science festival, the lecture from Dr Kate Ince introduced the work of the acclaimed architect Robert Atkinson; examining his professional progression as ‘architect of cinema’ and the principal architect of our very own Barber Institute. Atkinson’s ideological progression from designing ‘super-cinemas’ for the masses, to viewing the cinema as an institution which should be interchangeable with buildings and their varied uses, is succinctly demonstrated by the plans to equip the Barber’s auditorium to screen view – turning it into a cinema for all intents and purposes.

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The talk itself was illuminating. A snapshot of the history of cinema development, and Atkinson’s creations, Dr Ince focused on The Regent Cinema, Queen’s Road, Brighton as the epitome of Atkinson’s career. He had a particular style, easily seen through the range of black and white photographs we were shown, although they could do no justice to the bright and vivid colours Atkinson was known to use. It is a tragedy of history that most of his work has been demolished or destroyed by fire through the 1950’s-70’s, when cinema attendance was at its lowest.

Comparing the ‘Picture Houses’ of our past and today’s multiplex giants is fascinating. They had ballrooms, The Regent had an Italian restaurant on its second floor, and crucially they were so much more beautiful than, for example, the Cineworld on Broad Street. Atkinson’s style made cinemas beautifully decorated, two storey galleries, with motifs and frescos often having an art deco feel; the classic features creating an air of elegance. The Regent Cinema exemplified this beauty and, more like a theatre to our modern eyes, it seated up to 3000 people. An example of a remaining cinema today that is similar to this, although not designed by him, is the Majestic cinema in Leeds, a listed building since 1993.


In my eyes the era of Atkinson’s architecture is a romanticised view of what cinema has come to be known as. Super-cinemas of the 1930s are perhaps a snapshot into what we have come to know as the modern cinema. However, we should look more to the past and recreate the masterpieces that cinemas were. We should appreciate film as an art form, and give them the setting they deserve. Eros News Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue Piccadilly Circus was a piece of his work, and in 2002 its interior was gutted and re-opened as a Gap clothing store. It is clear this is such a shame to the heritage of Cinema.

I turn to his work designing the Barber Institute, only twenty years before his death. The Institute we have today, although having stood the test of time, does not exactly resemble his work. For example, by the 1960s the flat roof needed to be replaced and a truncated glass pyramid was constructed in 1986-9. Atkinson presented three plans to be considered. Interestingly, one of which shows how we could have had a Barber Institute which could have looked much more like the traditional cinemas he designed, with an oval shaped entrance and two sets of steps leading up either side.

There is no doubt though that the Barber Institute is a beautiful addition to the University. Borne from the mind of an acclaimed successful architect of cinema, the fact the auditorium may soon be equipped with a screen should be celebrated. Atkinson would no doubt approve of such a use for his masterpiece.

The lecture provided an opportunity to appreciate more of Birmingham’s culture and heritage. The rest of the Art and Science festival will no doubt do the same.

Holly Abel


Voice Festival Regional Final @ Bramall Music Hall

Last Saturday, on an icy Guild Elections night, many of us were elsewhere on campus. The Bramall Music Hall was filled for the semi-final Voice Festival UK event, and with standards exceptionally high this proved to be a thrilling watch. The good sportsmanship, humour and talent shown by our University’s a capella groups allowed for a light-hearted but mind-blowing evening.  Four of the six groups were from the University of Birmingham so this was a real opportunity to see the hard work of our own ensembles and those from further afield. 

The evening opened stylishly with the talented Uptone Girls taking the stage. Clad in disco pants, the girls delivered a beautiful cover of Wicked Games and showcased Lizzie Jones’s excellent beat boxing. Both The Uptone Girls and Voice Versa (also UoB) gave particularly fantastic solo performances, with Uptone’s Charlye Simpson receiving an award for hers. Elsewhere the Treblemakers shone with their innovative Video Game arrangement, one of the most original pieces of the night.


It wasn’t an easy road for UoB, however.  Songsmiths from Leeds and the Augmentals from Birmingham Conservatoire offered excellent arrangements, with a particularly amusing performance from the Augmentals. Don’t Worry Be Happy won them the crowd, towards the end of an intense programme. There was no interval during the performances, which further emphasised how tight the competition was for awards, between many of the groups.

In my eyes, however, the night was stolen by one group. We can’t discuss the event without mentioning the absolute highlight, The Sons of Pitches. Their phenomenal mix of Cry Me A River with Lose Yourself demonstrated tight vocals, choreography and an exceptional arrangement. As a result, they sailed through to the final. The Sons are known for their strong following, who were certainly in attendance; the group got a huge reaction from the audience. All aspects of their performance were virtually seamless, leaving the audience stunned by their ability.

IMG_2290Saturday night’s contest had it all: outstanding vocal performances, the atmosphere of a top-draw contest and a version of Starry Eyed which beat the original. This was an extremely fun event to attend and we wish The Sons of Pitches the best of luck for the final!

Tickets for the Voice Festival final, taking place at City of London School for Girls on 15th March, are available here:

By Eleanor Smallwood


Writers’ Bloc Presents: Inter-University Poetry Slam

Writers’ Bloc hosted a multi-team inter-university poetry slam against Pembroke College, Cambridge, and an array of poets from Birmingham (non-university affiliated), who were charmingly dubbed ‘COW’ (Coalition Of Wordsmiths) by Chazz Redhead, the compere for the evening. COW saved the day after Cardiff University pulled out of the competition.

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For those who are not familiar with slam etiquette, the format of the evening was as follows: we began with the ‘Sacrificial Poet’ round, in which a poet from each team performed, in order to display how the voting system would work (audience members held up a red ‘C’ for COW, a blue ‘P’ for Pembroke or a yellow ‘B’ for Birmingham, depending on who they thought performed the best poem). The votes from the Sacrificial Poet round did not contribute to the final scores. This round was then followed by four rounds in which a poet from each team would perform one poem, with a strict time limit of three minutes; this process would be repeated in the second half. The audience voted after every round; the poet with the most votes would win a point for their team.

By pulling slips of paper from his shoe, Chazz announced the running order of the first half: COW, Pembroke, Birmingham.

892515_10152662468525092_2108589660_oCOW’s Sacrificial Poet was Bohdan Piasecki, who is a renowned Birmingham-based poet from Poland, and also runs popular poetry night Hit the Ode. Bohdan quipped that he was going to perform something that was ‘really about the performance, rather than the meaning’ and launched into a fast-paced poem written entirely in Polish. While most of the audience had no idea what Bohdan was saying, his poem showed that slam poets need to concentrate on their performance, as well as their writing.

He was followed by Phoebe Power (for Pembroke), winner of a 2012 Eric Gregory Award and the 2009 Foyle Young Poet of the Year. She gave a very confident delivery of a poem in the voice of Dido (not the singer, the one from the Aeneid). The last Sacrificial Poet was Ben Jackson, who read a beautiful poem called Write Me in Your Diary. He took his performance to another level by interacting with the audience, which was evidently popular, as he was named winner of the round.

Now that the audience was clued in on how to vote, it was time for the main two rounds. James Walpole was up first for COW. It was quite evident that James was not used to slam poetry, as he read from the page (typically, slam poets are meant to have memorised their work) and also ran out of time. At times it was difficult to hear James, but considering the short notice he was given to be involved in the slam, he did well and the poem was very funny. A poet called Tristam was up next for Pembroke. He had a charming slam review 4stage presence, and had the audience in stitches with his poem about not being able to ride a bike until the age of nineteen. Writers’ Bloc’s Lily Blacksell concluded (and won) the round with a poem about unrequited love. It’s a topic that is frequently written about, but Lily brought something new and personal to it. Her performance was also first-class, as she used her experience in acting to make her poem completely relatable and humorous. There were also moments of beautiful poignancy, however, especially created by a line about an ‘undeniably single bed’.

It would be impossible to give you a play-by-play of the evening, so instead I shall focus on the remaining highlights. Tiffany Kang from Pembroke College quite simply stole the show. Her soothing, hypnotic voice was used fantastically in her poems. As an American poet, she brought something completely different to the competition, showing that British and American styles of poetry are completely different, but equally entertaining.

Elisha Owen’s (UoB) poem about her relationship with her father was a personal favourite. It was touching without being too sentimental, and captured the difficulties of how growing up can affect such an important relationship.

Ben Norris (UoB) performed two great poems: Disaster Sex and Dismembered Voices. He had clearly focused on the delivery on his poems, which was infallible and energetic, but his poems were also great in their own right. All of this is even much more impressive when one remembers that Ben was also organising the entire evening, and was actually responsible for the formation of COW.

Lorna Meehan (COW) dealt with comic and serious subjects in her poems, but really shone with her poem about Michael Bublé. She was engaging, entertaining and truly likeable. All the women in the audience could relate to her, but her poetry was so well written that everyone was won over.

Finally, James Grady showed that you don’t need three minutes to impress an audience, you just need a little over one. His poem Crossword was full of hilarious innuendo and was undeniably catchy. It was a short but sweet way to win the support of the audience.

Mention must also be given to the wonderful compere, Chazz. He was funny, irreverent, sarcastic and very self-aware, which helped toslam review 3 move the already entertaining evening to new heights. Some poetry nights can be a little slow-moving, but this slam was filled with boundless energy, and left the audience wanting more.

At the end of the evening, the University of Birmingham was announced as the winner of the slam, with only one point between them
and the runners-up. However, as Chazz reminded us, the night wasn’t about winning; it was a celebration of poetry and talent.

By Jenna Clake


Tell Me On A Sunday: Strange Encounters @ Ikon Gallery

Tell me on a Sunday is a series of storytelling events held at the Ikon Gallery, where selected tellers go up on stage and tell their anecdotes relating to a set theme. Before the event commenced there was a chance to socialise with other audience members, in the gallery’s cafe that serves tea, coffee and soft drinks and even muffins.This week’s Tell Me on a Sunday was based around the theme of ‘Strange Encounters’.

The dim-lit, small and social audience make the sharing of stories an intimate event. It is hosted by Cat Weatherill, one of Europe’s tell-meleading performance storytellers who set the theme after being inspired by Valentine’s Day. She responded well to each seven-minute performance, drawing us in and out of each teller’s life. Some of the storytellers told their story in a very conversational way, using hand movements to express themselves, which further added to their performance. The comedienne Naomi Paul, however, crafted her story with a performance perfect structure instead of a conversational anecdote. Her story provided a neat beginning, middle and end.

The stories range from humorous to tragic and ‘all with truth at their heart’. This just goes to show how far the theme can be interpreted. One story, by a retired teacher-turned-writer touched us all as he told us how his failed attempt at resuscitating a person has had a lasting effect on his life. Furthermore, the idea of not knowing the young man’s name still stays with him today.

Journalist William Gallagher enticed us to his story with his love of Sci-fi; he made us believe that he had actually witnessed, in his own blogfest picwords, a ‘shiny glowing disc’. Not only a shiny glowing disc, but that a woman was abducted by aliens. This ended with the humorous realisation that the woman possessed the car keys.

Through the variety of funny and emotional stories, we were able to relate to some aspect of the tellers’ experience. What I really loved about the event is that it goes back to the oral tradition of storytelling, where the teller is not restricted by the barrier of pen and paper, allowing the teller’s story to flow and touch us in an authentic way.

By Malia Choudhury

The next Tell Me On A Sunday is at the Ikon Gallery Cafe on Sunday 17th March. To reserve call the Ikon Gallery (0121 248 0708). The facebook event is:

Mark Thomas ‘Bravo Figaro’

If John Lewis were to open a tattoo parlour, Mark Thomas would be first in line. It is this middle-class spirit that would have disappointed his father, Thomas explains in Bravo Figaro, the second half of a powerfully humorous show, performed at mac last month. Bravo Figaro is an exceptionally poignant tour de force, describing in painstaking detail the build-up to his crowning moment as a son; using his connections to get the Royal Opera House singers into his parents’ bungalow in an attempt to revive his father’s love of opera.


His father’s mental deterioration is described simply, and, as Thomas assures us, is not the focus of the show. The emotional intimacy is lessened by Thomas’s matter of fact style, his simple stage setting and his brief descriptions of what is going on. Thomas does not allow his audience to indulge themselves in tears, this is not a sob story, it is just a story, stand-up mixed with storytelling, and we are required to laugh when told and not to answer back to any of his questions. It is the strict nature of these rules that gives his show its freedom; on the stage he has the ability to decide how to tell his story, and his performance in Bravo Figaro is truly startling.

He tells the simple tale of a hard-working man who somehow fell in love with opera, not so he could attend and be ‘as good’ as the other opera-goers but to say, as Thomas puts it, ‘ I’m better than you, because I worked for this’. We are not to be drawn in though. Thomas constantly warns his audience about over-simplifying the message; his father was crass, sometimes violent, and the language used to describe him was not for the soft hearted. However, our role is not to act as judge or jury, to assess whether he was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but instead to listen, and watch a story that has been told a hundred times but is never less personal.

Bravo-Figaro-Mark-Thomas-796x1024This second half of the show was a great contrast to the first, yet the sides complimented each other perfectly, his ideologies summed up in a line in the latter half ‘we’re all middle class now- tell that to your cleaner, she’ll be fucking delighted’. The first half involved Mark Thomas on an empty set, telling the audience of his latest exploits, such as The People’s Manifesto and the concept of ‘book heckling’ , yet it was clear that the class issue was an important one for Thomas, and this was explained in the second half.

Surprisingly, considering the middle-class, middle-aged demographic of the audience, Thomas had the spectators roaring with laughter at their own class status, probably because he included himself in the subject of the joke. Indeed, outside of the world Thomas created for his audience, I’m not sure I would openly admit to my more middle-class tendencies, but inside the security of the theatre it was only encouraged. Moreover, book-snobbery was applauded as Thomas described the art of ‘book heckling’, placing notes inside books to congratulate the reader if they have succeeded to read at least a part of a book that could be classed as modern-trash, he mentioned Twilight and One Day explicitly.

Outside the safety of the theatre, Thomas was signing copies of his book and we tentatively picked up some book heckling stickers for a small donation, mine are still in my coat pocket, waiting for a suitable target. My partner-in-crime, however, followed Thomas’s advice to a tee, sticking ‘Staff Recommendation: Keep the Receipt’ on Jeremy Clarkson’s memoirs; a  suitable way to end the days endeavours. Thomas told us openly and clearly what he felt, and we were so moved and amused that we entered into his world, and if book-heckling is allowed here, I think we’ll stay.

By Eleanor Campbell

Hidden Fruits of Birmingham: The Dragon Fruit

Have you ever tried to stick to a healthy diet but just lost interest in tasteless pears, boring bananas and very mushy apples? Or are you just looking for something new to try? In this series of long but not too long articles, I will introduce you to the hidden fruits of Birmingham. Located in this very city are countless exotic and extremely tasty fruits that you may have not noticed. From the Prickly Pear to the beautiful Dragon Fruit, the Birmingham fruit revelation of 2013 starts right here!

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The Dragon Fruit comes in three different species and are native to countries such as Mexico, Central & South America, East & Southeast Asia, Northern Australia, Southern China and many other countries. It consists of a leathery textured outer skin with moist melon-like flesh on the inside. The most commonly found Dragon Fruit has pink skin with white flesh (as pictured). Other species include pink skin with fuchsia flesh (generally considered to be the most delicious) and yellow skin with white flesh. Personally, I prefer the second type simply because it looks very pretty! (It looks like something out of Willy Wonka’s factor, except that it’s fruit not chocolate).

In preparation for consumption, the flesh much be extracted out of the skin. The easiest way to do this is to cut the fruit in half lengthways, and the flesh can be taken out very easily with a spoon, much like an avocado, but not as mushy or boring. I literally ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ every time I cut one of these.

The flesh itself is dotted with hundreds of Dragon Fruit seeds. However, these are extremely small are easier to eat than watermelon. The taste is not very rich. In fact, it is very subtle; similarly to a melon it has a hint of sweetness but is made up mostly of a liquid. The skin is not edible at all but is extremely pleasing to the eye. Not that it matters when eating fruits, but it does help in picking them out!

The flesh of a Dragon Fruit is quite watery and it does like to seep into your attire and create funny-looking stains, so be prepared! Make sure the fruit is prepared on a clean desktop/chopping board with plenty of space. And next to a tap preferably in case you find that you have sticky Dragon Fruit juice running down your arms.

Dragon Fruits do vary in size, but they are usually not ridiculously large; bigger than an average apple but small enough to be able to hold firmly with two hands.  They usually weigh approximately 300-500g, but there have been some which have weighted up to 1kg.

Dragon Fruits contain a lot of antioxidants which helps improve the immune system. It is also a rich source of vitamin C, B1, B2, B3 and lots of other number/letter-combinations that are good for you. It has also been proved to increase energy levels and the quality of your skin. It’s also good for people who have asthma, bad coughs and can help improve eye sight. Would it be too optimistic to hope that these will rid me of my glasses once and for all? Ah well.

Overall, if you’re looking for something that’s quite sweet and not too overbearing, rich in taste but will improve your health generally, this is the fruit for you. They can sometimes be found in many supermarkets but the best place to get them is in Asian Supermarkets where you’ll probably pay half the price for a much healthier fruit.

By Najmin Begum

The Wake @ mac

Imagine attending a wake for the past year. What is there to say? Except the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee do we have much else to celebrate? Mac in Edgbaston seem to think so. The Arts Centre hosted the Jane Packman company, who have devised a moving performance that brings the imagination to life and looks beyond the tangible.

Upon arrival, we were delighted to have our coats taken. We received complimentary drinks; the wine certainly added to the ambience. We took our seats in a small room of 30 other people, nestled on wooden chairs with bark beneath our feet. Small side tables were dotted around, with a small ‘Living Room’ space in front for the actors to begin their performance.

jane packman

Before they began, a spiral bound notebook with envelopes in was passed around. The cast members asked us to put our names and addresses on as they want to send the audience a gift during the Christmas period. Then, as an act of participation, we were asked to fill out small cards, completing sentences such as: ‘I was livid when…’ or ‘The most splendid success I heard about was’. After filling these out, they had to be placed on the ‘bed’, on the far right of the stage.


The performance then began. With a mixture of acting, singing, music, interpretive dance and even a cat of destiny it was hard to not to feel involved in the piece. Each member of the audience was also given a  bird whistle to join in the ‘autumnal’ scene. Immediately after seven lines were designated to the ‘brave’ audience members who volunteered their vocal services. When they were pointed to, their lines were read; the cast responded well to the hecklers, joking and laughing along merrily.

The actors read out the audience’s memories from 2012, which also added to the  feeling of involvement. It was an inspiring and uplifting performance that made it easy to dwell on the year in a very positive light.

At the end, a shot of whiskey was given to each audience member and the cast made several toasts: ‘to new boyfriends’, ‘to engagements and marriages’. Just before we toasted we were asked to write our goals for 2013 on little blue cards, which were then put into a box and taken away.

The performance was humorous, lively and energetic – not one to be missed.

By Hope Brotherton