Tag Archives: Birmingham

The Threepenny Opera @ The Birmingham REP

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Before the performance began, the audience were greeted with a motley crew of cast members chanting “no ifs, no buts, no disability cuts!” in front of an, assumedly, once glamorous now tattered red show curtain thinly veiling an ensemble of musical instruments and actors milling around, preparing to perform the opera for the poor. Around the auditorium were banners spray painted with powerful messages such as ‘Keep your filthy tax out of my bedroom’ and ‘Old people are worth more than the pennies we give them!’ The rawness and unabashed nature of this introduction set the audience up to confront some uncomfortable and challenging world views, perfectly aligned with the original intentions of Brecht.

As the Musical Review aptly put it, the play was “no-holds barred”. From the adapted and highly satirised lyrics tarring ‘Tories and their minions’, paedophilic priests and Jimmy Saville with the same brush for their ‘sexual imperatives’, to the highly ironic song performed in a prison cell by Macheath (Milton Lopes) ‘Live Life in Luxury – That’s What it’s For’, the audience were presented with a vivacious performance that served its purpose in reinventing Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera.

Almost every taboo imaginable was confronted in the performance, to the extent that some audience members were unsure whether to applaud or wince at the audacity of their presentation. For me, this only served to make it more enjoyable. The messages of the play were confrontationally presented by an awe inspiring cast, the majority of whom were disadvantaged – either in terms of their sight, mobility, hearing or their height. The casting was a stroke of genius; as the performance did not aim to make you feel sorry for the cast members, or empathise with them for their disadvantages; it aimed (and succeeded) to challenge and question the way our society works. It also demonstrated how extremely versatile the cast were, as the majority were not only actors and singers but also talented musicians.

Musically, the levels were sometimes a little unstable, and a few hiccups were had with the subtitles projected onto the walls, but these minor hindrances didn’t affect the overall experience to any substantial extent. 

The success of this performance was enhanced for me by the extremely talented signers, with a special mention for actress and signer Jude Mahon. During the songs, she delivered as compelling a performance as the actors singing, and was remarkable in her ability to bring several different characters’ personalities to life through sign language; undoubtedly she captured the essence of the songs for deaf audience members. Other notable performances were given by Mrs Peachum (Victoria Oruwari), Polly Peachum (CiCi Howells) and Tiger Brown (Will Kenning), a chief of police who served in the army with the notorious but oh-so-charming murderer and rapist, ‘Mack The Knife’.

All in all, if you are looking for a theatrical performance that will challenge your views and beliefs, and prompt your thoughts towards questioning the structure and hierarchy of our society as it is today once you leave the theatre, this is the play for you. Utterly fascinating.

by Hayley Yates

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Apples & Snakes Present: Lit Fuse @ Birmingham mac

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“I want a man who pulls kindness out of his back pocket.” This was the beautiful and intriguing opening line of spoken-word artist, Nafeesa Hamid, during her performance on Friday night.

Nafeesa spent last week working alongside three other brilliant artists, Amerah Saleh, Carl Sealeaf and Sipho Eric Dube, making up the quartet of poets that brought Lit Fuse, a spoken-word collaboration, to the Birmingham mac on the 7th March 2014. This event, developed jointly by mac Birmingham and Apples and Snakes poetry collective, is a series of events showcasing brand new work devised by UK poets in collaboration with top directors and producers, encouraging poets to write and perform outside of their comfort zone. This set of poets were working with the help of Birmingham-based writer and director, Caroline Horton.

The four poems were part of the current season of work at the mac, ‘Exit Strategy’, a theme exploring death and its effects.
The event combined poetry and theatre, using lights, sound effects and short films to create atmosphere and background for the spoken word pieces. The performance began with all four poets speaking at once, moving from various areas of the intimate space of the Hexagon Theatre, before gathering together on stage. The effect of the clashing of lines and styles, and interrupting of each other made for a disconcerting and slightly wild beginning, and I struggled to make out what each individual was saying, let alone find any kind of meaning in the cacophony of noise and sound effects. Indeed, as each poet left the stage and then returned one by one, performing an individual 10-20 minute monologue, the level of intensity remained high, due to the heavy and sometimes controversial content, and the fact that the overall performance was only just over an hour in length.

Although four very different poets, all creating various interpretations of the topic of death, the pieces were beautifully crafted to fit perfectly together, moving seamlessly from one to another. The themes ranged from a heartbreaking monologue by Carl Sealeaf on the breakup of previous relationships and the death of a loved one, to a touching and intimate insight into a story of childhood, heritage and loss from Sipho, and an uncomfortable but beautifully important piece on rape in marriage from Amerah Saleh.

The influence of theatre was reflected differently in each piece, some of the poets choosing to use props. At the beginning of Amerah’s piece (written largely using stories collected from girls with real experience of rape in marriage), all the props, including a desk lamp (left over from Carl’s piece moments before), a mop bucket and a mug were turned on their side, and set right way up as the poem progressed. Using everyday objects reinforced the setting of a domestic home, and the act of setting them right reflected the healing process that took place throughout the poem.

The performance ended in the same way it had begun- all four poets speaking at once, and moving together to gather on the stage under dim lighting. This time however, the words and phrases they were saying had a poignant clarity – now I recognised them as lines from each of their poems. The idea that all these pieces shared the same subject matter, yet had wildly different interpretations of it was reinforced by the clashing and uncomfortable jarring of these lines, yet combined, at the end, a subtle and carefully crafted shared understanding and acceptance.

 by Alice Cudmore

CBSO presents Ultimate Vaughan Williams @ Symphony Hall

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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

Hetain Patel: At Home exhibition @ mac

at home‘Family’, one of the most obvious subject matters in the world, is filled with secrets and traditions. A side that no-one else in the world will ever see. The most universal topic in the world, yet rarely can its complexities be unravelled, if ever. Hetain Patel with this exhibition gives us a glimpse inside small characters, and scenarios involving his family. With a combination of video and photography he attempts to show us the personal with his own life being the centre of it all.

The exhibition includes the video ‘The First Dance’ which involves Patel’s wife as one of the main protagonists. She is involved again in the self-titled photographs ‘Eva’, showing us a glimpse into the couple’s relationship. Another installation, called ‘To Dance Like Your Dad’, focuses on the father – son relationship, and reminds us of our family legacy with its points on imitation.

Probably the most moving of all installations was the five-channel digital video titled ‘Mamai’. A portrait of Patel’s own grandmother going about her daily ritual of prayer every morning. It is quite affectionate, and in all of them she exhibits Patel’s recurring notions of faith and tradition, displayed through clothing in ‘The First Dance’ too. But, it’s Mamai which will pull on your heart. Perhaps because of the melancholy and sadness that is displayed on all of the screens, as through it all this is just an elderly lady sitting on a couch by herself singing hymns. After the decline of the body and memory with old age what is so poignant is the passion we witness as she is singing. This idea that keeps on coming up that our lives are our homes and families, and it is the small (considerably mundane) things we do daily is what define us. Mamai herself is a testament to this; she wipes her eyes one moment, picks at the seam of a nearby blanket and even fidgets with a napkin which never leaves her hands.

In 9 minutes with ‘Mamai’ Patel nearly brings you to tears, and a man who could do that in one installation is probably going to dwell in your mind, as with others who have seen the exhibition, for a long time.

By Shantok Jetha

The Birmingham Christmas Market

cm figuresEven after twelve years successful years, Birmingham’s German market is still attracting over 3 million visitors each year. Having become quite a popular and profitable Christmas tradition, numerous German-style Christmas markets have cropped up all over Britain in the last fifteen years. However Birmingham’s market has managed to remain the largest German-style Christmas market outside Germany and the German-speaking countries. Running from the 14th of November until 22nd December, the population of Birmingham and the many tourists who flock to the city centre around Christmas have ample time to pay the market a visit. The market follows the length of New Street, winds up around Victoria and Chamberlain square and concludes in Centenary Square by Symphony Hall. In order to have a proper look around the stalls I’d advise avoiding the weekend, going on a week-night evening, so as to avoid the crowds whilst still soaking up the evening atmosphere.

In terms of what the German market has to offer; to ask what it doesn’t have to offer seems more appropriate. For me, the food stalls were especially appealing, and one recommendation would definitely be to go there hungry. With so much food on offer, and the impossibility of being able sample it all, I would choose carefully. The authentic Bratwurst sausages, cooked on an open fire, or the pulled-pork rolls are just some of the hot foods that the market has to offer. However for those with more of a sweet tooth, there are a plethora of sweet food and chocolate stalls too. One stall that caught my eye was serving handmade chocolate that had been carved into different pieces of extremely realistic looking machinery and tools.

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Whilst food takes prominence in the market, there are also a tempting range of
hand-crafted gifts which you can spend a great deal of time and money on if you’re not careful. The market provides a perfect opportunity to buy Christmas gifts with a personal touch, from beautifully hand-crafted toys for children to silver jewellery, handmade soaps and candles, to authentic sheepskin rugs and clothes.

Another stall which I found fascinating was selling metal figures that had been crafted to resemble famous characters from films, one of which was a very ominous (too big for my liking) predator figurine.

cm modelsAs well as being great for picking up unusual gifts and trinkets, the market also has a number of bars where you can stop and get a drink. A few are set up outside but there are also a handful which have indoor areas, all wooden-clad, they are usually tucked away behind the bar. On the rare occasion there’s some free space to sit down it provides a welcome break from the cold outside where you can enjoy some mulled wine or hot chocolate.

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The one thing I love about this market and what is ever-present in it year after
year, is its authenticity. The wooden cladding of the stalls and their produce look like they’ve been plucked straight out of a small German town and dropped in the middle of Birmingham. The dual-language of the stall signs in both German and English contribute to their authentic nature, and even most of the stall-owners seem to be German. I think this aspect is what makes them particularly attractive, and provides a different take on the high-pressure, stressful process that is Christmas shopping.

CM chocolatesThere have been recent arguments about the clichéd nature and dwindling novelty of the German market tradition since their success has created a ripple effect all over Britain. One article in The Guardian said, “What was once a charming, mildly exotic ‘alternative’ has now become about as painfully predictable as a trip to Boots.” Maybe I haven’t visited the market enough to become bored of its “predictability,” and whilst some of what you find that it can be tacky and clichéd, I stand firm by the idea that the German market is and will remain an enjoyable, alternative evening out for friends, couples and families who will always prefer something a little different to the overcrowded highly commercial shopping centres.

By Elin Morris
@ElinMorris2509

Birmingham Royal Ballet Presents: The Nutcracker @ Birmingham Hippodrome

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When this event became available, I could not help but grab it at the first opportunity, and had waited avidly for it ever since. Having been familiar with the astounding music composed by Tchaikovsky, I expected nothing less from the production itself.

I had not seen a ballet before, and it is not something I had ever really considered; my main interest being big shows and musicals. However, from my experience of the ballet, I could not recommend it more highly. First of all, the venue was out of this world. The Hippodrome has definitely gone all out to decorate with the most beautiful, homely and welcoming Christmas decorations I have seen so far this year – not to mention the grand ornate interior of the theatre itself.

Flicking through the programme waiting for the show to start, the orchestra began to warm up and instantly a warm Christmassy feel took over me. There is no better sound than a live orchestra, with each instrument adding its own individual timbre. The curtain rose and on stage laid a huge pile of presents, shadowed by the most humungous Christmas tree I had ever seen – and it got bigger! It definitely brought out the big kid in me; the set being composed of a grand log burning fire, accompanied by warm crimson lighting. I wanted to jump up on stage and ransack all of the presents myself … that was until the dancers came prancing gracefully onto the stage – I somehow don’t think I would have fitted in!

Tracing back 127 years, the story of The Nutcracker is constantly evolving to this day; each producer adding their own touch to the festive ballet. The performance is built upon the musical foundations of the breathtakingly enchanting musical suite composed by Tchaikovsky. The music and choreography work interdependently to portray the narrative of Clara’s magical journey.

The story tells of a family holding a Christmas party for all their family and friends. The jolly atmosphere takes a mysterious turn when the magician, Drosselmeyer, enters the stage, bringing gifts for all of the children and performing tricks which leave the children dazzled. The whole play then turns into a magical fantasy performance when all the toys come to life at the stroke of midnight. The Second Act commences with Clara flying across the stage on a beautiful white Swan where she enters an enchanted land inhabited by a number of magical characters, including the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Snow Fairy. This section included much of the well known and well loved music by Tchaikovsky such as the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ and the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’.

The performance was astounding to say the least. As I mentioned earlier, as a typical fan of musicals boasting big performances shaped by bold beaming voices, the ballet dissimilarly entranced me in its absolute silence. The story was told completely through the music and dance; ranging from the jubilant opening ‘Christmas Scene’, to the sudden change of a mysterious minor key upon the magician’s arrival.

It was a real traditional family production, putting emphasis on all generations: the excitable children eagerly waiting to open their presents, the graceful adolescents, the proud parents, and topping it all off with the comedic duo of the grandfather and grandmother. It was so nice to see young girls in the audience leaping and dancing around after the performance, and it really hit home for me how inspiring the performance must be for young children, particularly those aspiring dancers.

If you have not had the pleasure of attending a performance by the Birmingham Royal Ballet as of yet – it is an absolute must! The next show being performed by the spell-binding dancers will be Swan Lake (running from Wednesday 5th – Saturday 15th February.)

by Victoria Williams

Freedom From Torture present: The Festive Freedom Fringe

The Freedom From Torture society at Birmingham is an up and coming society doing fantastic things all in the name of freedom, liberty and human rights. The society is only in its second year and is a fundraising-based charitable society that seeks to help people from all walks of life that have suffered horrendously and seek asylum in this country. The society is the only UK-based student society that represents a charity at student level in the UK. It works closely with West Midlands Freedom From Torture charity and all money raised is donated to them.

     When talking to some members of the society they said that they felt it was important to support the local centre. The society seeks to lift the stigma around people who are often dubbed ‘illegal immigrants’ and offer rehabilitation and counselling for the atrocities they have faced in their home countries.

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     Freedom From Torture are putting on a fantastic event on Wednesday the 4th of December to help raise money for their cause. The Festive Freedom Fringe is much more than your average student event; held at the beautiful canal side venue ‘The Flapper’ it’s set to be a fun-filled festive event! In the wake of last year’s Fringe, that raised £300, this year is set to be bigger and better. The event will include a whopping five hours of entertainment, with everything from music to comedy and spoken word. There will even be an opportunity to browse some Christmas stalls and pick up the odd Crimbo present! A lot is on offer for the entry fee of just £4 (or £5 on the door) and knowing your money is going to such a worthy cause will add to the warm feeling of festive cheer, no doubt helped by the great drinks available throughout the night!
    

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     The night will include varied and well-known acts, such as  singer song-writer Emma Crowder, who has a loyal YouTube following and who recently supported Gabrielle Aplin on her November 5th  gig at The Institute.  If heartfelt acoustic melodies aren’t your thing then fear not as also appearing on the line up are Vexxen a ‘riff-based thrash metal band with injections of metal-core and dashes of progressive’. Or, if you fancy a bit of alternative rock, then Blank Parody might be more your thing. It’s clear to see the night has something to offer everyone, and there’s even a cheeky bit of spoken word and comedy thrown into the mix.

     This is a brilliant charity and a fantastic event to kickstart the festive season. With a mulled cider, some good music, great company and the warm feeling that your money is going towards making a difference, don’t sit in this cold Wednesday night. Come along to Festive Freedom Fringe at The Flapper and support this fantastic society.
    

Tickets are available here for £4  http://www.theticketsellers.co.uk/tickets/festive-freedom-fringe/10029021?ref=let_aft and a limited number will be available on the door.

      Feel like this society is something you might be interested in? Well the society will be changing hands this February and they are looking for keen and enthusiastic students who feel they really want to make their voice heard and have an opportunity to really make a difference. Come along to Festive Freedom Fringe and all information will be available, as well as a chance to chat to existing members.

By Noemi Barranca

@NoemiBarranca