Tag Archives: university of birmingham

Article 19 presents: ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’

Some plays dissolve with time. As Co-Directors Lily Blacksell and Rebekah Lucking masterfully proved, Peter Nichol’s 1967 play, A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, remains pertinent.  This revival was handled with great sensitivity; to the subject matter and the script itself. 

     Nichol’s semi-autobiographical account explores the hardships faced by Bri, a schoolteacher, and his wife Sheila; a young couple raising a disabled child. Upon its original debut, critic Irving Wardle praised Joe Egg for having ‘significantly shifted our boundaries of taste.’ Indeed, this production walked the tightrope between humour and heartbreak. The frequent jokes, such as calling their daughter Joe ‘a living parsnip,’ allowed one to forget, and later question, what you should and should not laugh at; a deft exploration of why humour is so often intertwined with trauma. 

     The opening scene was electric. Standing centre stage, Bri, played by Jacob Lovick, addressed the audience as naughty school children. This provided a nice prologue to the frustrations of Bri’s life, both at work and more importantly at home. Lovick, the highlight of the play for me, was utterly convincing. As he stood there trying to command the attention of a ‘hall of children,’ he was every ridiculed teacher I’d ever had. Throughout the play, everything about his mannerisms and voice was a sigh of defeat. What’s more, he handled the music-hall, old comedy club, style of the play very well. 

10392328_603225299784422_2285308236589047729_n

     In her programme notes, Blacksell astutely pointed out ‘there is something terribly British about Bri and Sheila’s resort to comedy to help them deal with Joe’s disability.’ Indeed, as Lovick pranced around on stage like a 1960’s Michael McIntyre, with more depth, whether it was to make fun of Freddie, or to try and seduce his wife, one could not help but feel a strong mix of hilarity and pity. 

     Breaking the fourth wall often takes one out of the story, however in this production it was done so successfully you felt like a confidante of sorts and even, at points, the characters’ psychologist. Finding it easier to confide in the audience than each other, Bri and Sheila replayed key episodes in their life story. This device was especially engaging when Sheila spoke to the audience. A doting, perversely optimistic wife, it soon became clear that she was just playing along with Brian’s jokes and play-acting to keep her husband happy. 

     Phoebe Brown, who played Sheila, presented a deeply moving portrayal of a woman haunted by guilt. Brown evoked such a sense of compassion and in my eyes was the most empathetic character. Brown and Lovick made for a convincing couple; you believed they were in love, despite the complexities of their relationship.

     The second half of the play lurched into Mike Leigh territory, however thankfully never appeared cartoonish. Chloe Culpin expertly played Bri’s Mum, Grace; so uninteresting and self-righteous, the atmosphere instantly became  soporific when she spoke. Dan Burke and Emily Howard were infuriatingly funny as Bri and Sheila’s insensitive friends, Freddie and Pam. Burke’s arm-swinging, pacing the living room as if making a Presidential speech, portrayal of the socialist do-gooder was what was precisely needed to contrast Lovick’s wired Bri. Whilst the social satire might seem a little heavy handed to a modern audience, Pam’s horrific statement, ‘If I say gas chamber that makes it sound horrid – but I do mean put to sleep,’ is as shocking now as it must have been in the sixties, raising relevant questions about disability and euthanasia.

     Rachel Thomas must be commended for handling the role of Josephine with great sensitivity. Her role as a child whose brain does not allow for communicative speech or co-ordinated movement, was never reduced to a caricature. The Directors’ approach of allowing her to remain on stage, and often face the audience, even when not the focus of a scene, was effective. I often found my eyes straying to her, pondering how it must feel to be her, what my coping mechanisms would be if she were my child. Questions not easily resolved, but the beauty of Nichol’s script is that after ten years of caring for her, Brian and Sheila are no closer to understanding either. 

      Everything about this production was finely judged. From the sky-blue wallpaper and the sad, lack-lustre christmas decorations adorning the Ex-Serviceman’s Club stage, an exquisite venue for this play, to the way Joe startlingly skipped out of her wheelchair to announce the interval. A very good egg, indeed.

10385302_591009424339343_5785745697412906877_n

Grizzly Pear: A Retrospect

DISCLAIMER
This will be the last review I write for Grizzly Pear; it might also be the last review I write for Blogfest, so expect emotions, sentimentality and a good dose of self-deprecation. It’s like a review cocktail – snappy title to be confirmed.

 HISTORY (Part One)
Roughly two years ago Ben Norris had an idea: transform Writers’ Bloc much-loved but irregularly attended and unnamed open mic night into the poetry night to go to in Birmingham. Names were thrown around –Loudhailer was a rumoured favourite – Grizzly Pear was born and so were a series of questionable posters. Some of the biggest names in poetry have headlined: Tim Clare, Vanessa Kissule, Bohdan Piasecki, Katie Bonna. Ben Norris’s ego hasn’t inflated to the size of the top room of the Bristol Pear; in fact, he’s still a very humble but incredibly hardworking man.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part One)
It’s 00.16. I just attended my last Grizzly Pear.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part One)
Three years ago I joined Writers’ Bloc. In the ArtSoc room of the Guild I met most of my current housemates and many of the friends I still have now. I met a whole host of students who seemed incredibly knowledgeable and full of ideas. I met people who could write. I met people who could write fantastically. I met people who were interested in what I was writing. I met people who wanted to help me become a better writer.

At the end of my first year of university, I finally plucked up the courage to read a poem on the stage of the Bristol Pear. I basically read to about twenty people I called friends and it was the most terrifying yet comforting environment. Now they can’t get me off the stage. Okay, they can. Luckily for most I’m a get-on-stage-read-your-poem-and-go kind of girl. (Is that lucky? I’ve never reviewed my own poems.)

DISCLAIMER TWO
Yes, all the times I’ve reviewed Grizzly Pear I’ve read a poem too. Shocking, I know. I mean, writing poetry and writing a review? I didn’t get enough attention as a child.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part One and a Half)
Basically, without Writers’ Bloc and its open mic nights I wouldn’t have got over my fear of public speaking and I definitely wouldn’t be writing poetry, let alone going to do a Master’s in poetry. I’m naming my first child after all former and current committee members.

DISCLAIMER THREE
If I do actually name my first child after you all, you all have to buy it a present.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two) 
What’s great about Grizzly Pear is that it’s diverse: poems can be funny, poignant, satirical, political, emotional, reflective (and sometimes all these things at once), and Grizzly Pear’s open mic section always offers at least one of each.

Funny poem: Meg Tapp’s ‘I Look At Other Men’
A sort of love poem to her boyfriend that also gave us an insight into what it’s like to fancy anything with a pulse (or just waiters and celebrities). It was hilarious, but also contained some really well-wrought images.

Poignant poem: by Lorna Meehan
Poems about ‘big societal issues’ often come across as boring: yes, we agree that certain things are wrong with the world, but writing about it doesn’t necessarily make a good poem. Luckily, Lorna is an excellent poet and tackles such issues with a personal edge. Using an image of a woman weighing lettuce leaves, Lorna took the audience on a journey through the difficulties of eating disorders. It was a wonderfully performed and beautifully written poem.

Satirical poem: by Jack Crowe
I class Jack Crowe’s poem as the ‘satirical one’ because ‘Neil Cornwell has stated that “satire, humour and incongruity are always potential ingredients of the absurd”.’ (And that, dear readers, is also the first line of my undergraduate dissertation. Riveting, I know.) Jack Crowe does absurdism brilliantly. Basically, his poems contain the Russell Edson and Luke Kennard tone that I have spent nine months trying to perfect and haven’t. Jack Crowe’s speaker was planning a mental breakdown and the perfected factual manner complimented the black humour perfectly.

DISCLAIMER THREE:
Jack Crowe, I’ll buy your first collection when it comes out.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and a Quarter)
Political poem: by James Grady

James Grady used to attend the University of Birmingham and having performed at some festivals last summer, I’ve heard rumours that he might be doing something similar again. If he’s not, he should. I call James Grady’s poem ‘political’ in the best sense possible: it isn’t one of those ‘stand on my soapbox and rant to you about stuff’ kind of poems; James Grady is able to weave topical issues into a well-rhymed, lively performance that is full to the brim with laughs. Think Luke Wright with less hair.

Emotional poem: Lily Blacksell’s break up poem.
She said that she writes poems that aren’t just about being in love or break ups, but they’re good, so she can carry on doing so if she’d like. Actually, Lily, you can just write the former, because I’m not endorsing heartbreak. Lily does beautiful images and a dry sense of humour like no one else. Another one for the festival circuit, I think. (By the way, she’s also the new President of Writers’ Bloc, so she’s basically the queen.)

 SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Two)

This one time, in Writers’ Bloc, there was this really cool inter-university poetry slam, and Lily was on the University of Birmingham team. She was nicknamed ‘the duchess’, so her queen status isn’t really an exaggeration at all. She just climbed the social ladder. It’s like she’s Cady Heron but the Burn Book is just a book of really good poems.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and Half)

Reflective poem(s): James Dolton, Miles Bradley and Ben Norris

I think this would be an ultimate dream-team poetry combo, but alas, all three performed separately. Their work had similar themes though, so I shall group them all together. The poets considered what the last three years have meant to them in very different ways: James Dolton’s was a darker look at what one might have experienced at university, but what will be lost as a result of leaving it; resident Grizzly Pear DJ Miles Bradley made us consider that Ben Norris might have forced us to read poetry for the past two years.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Three)
Miles doesn’t get enough credit. Every Grizzly Pear he makes me want to dance. Thank you, Miles.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Two and Three-quarters)
And Ben Norris read a poem about how everyone thinks we haven’t been living in the ‘real world’ for last three years.

DISCLAIMER FOUR
I do not agree with Ben Norris’s claim that post graduate study is a way to avoid the ‘real world’. I just don’t want a ‘proper’ job yet (nor do I want one until I finish my PhD).

DISCLAIMER FIVE
I realise that these views may not have been Ben Norris’s.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Three)
Some poems fit into these categories and some don’t. The open mic section of the evening was of a particularly high standard.

DISCLAIMER SIX
This review is already ridiculously long and if I write about every single performer I will never go to bed and will therefore feed my already horrific insomnia and black coffee addiction. If I don’t write about your poem, it’s not because I didn’t like it.

 SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Four)
Tom Crossland, your poem about your dog was beautiful. I like anthropomorphised animals. I also have a dog, and now I miss him terribly.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Four)

 It’s 01.14. I’ll wrap this up.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Five)
Writers’ Bloc has been one of the greatest influences in my life, however hyperbolic that sounds. Former and present committee members should be proud of everything that this once small and badly named society has achieved.

HISTORY (Part Two)
Said former bad name was not actually the fault of any past or present Writers’ Bloc committee members. A Creative Writing society existed before Writers’ Bloc’s founding father Sean Colletti took control and thankfully revamped it.

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Five and a Half)
I wish the new Writers’ Bloc committee all the luck for the future. I also threaten you with the promise of my return should you mess things up. You’ve got it good here, and I bet you can make it even better.

DISCLAIMER SEVEN
Seriously, that threat is real. My parents don’t live far from Birmingham.

 TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Five)
I will end this review with an overall, over-generalised review of all poetry nights:

REASONS YOU SHOULDN’T GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS

1)      You don’t like poetry.
(Seriously, what are you even doing here? Why are you reading this review if you don’t like poetry? You must like it a little bit. Read the next list.)

REASONS YOU SHOULD GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS (Part One)

1) You’ll get in touch with your emotions. Bohdan Piasecki does a wonderful crowd warm-up at the beginning of Hit The Ode in which you exercise your emotions. This is basically what every poetry open mic night does. Sometimes you leave thinking that you might actually have a soul.

 2) You’ll see some incredibly talented people perform. Sometimes you talk to them afterwards and realise that they’re interesting and lovely as well.

 3) Poetry isn’t elitist.

 4) Sometimes they go on for hours so you get to drink more than usual (and on a school night!).

 5) Occasionally, they’ll be a really great headliner and you’ll think, ‘Wow! I would have paid £590453894 to see them at a festival, and that only cost me £5!’

 DISCLAIMER EIGHT

Not all festival tickets cost £590453894.

 DISCLAIMER NINE

 Not all poetry nights cost £5.

 REASONS YOU SHOULD GO TO POETRY OPEN MIC NIGHTS (Part One and a Half)

 6) You might just see the next big thing in poetry in the early stages of their career.

 7) Poetry/ rhyme/ rap/ isn’t (and you aren’t) dead.

 8) Sometimes you’re allowed to review these things; you get free entry and to write two-thousand words that people might actually read.

 9) People actually listen to you at these things.

 10) You love poetry.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Six)

It’s 01.41. Time for one last

SENTIMENTAL PERSONAL NOTE (Part Six)

I have loved Grizzly Pear, and I have loved Writers’ Bloc. To everyone who has listened to my poems and read my reviews: thank you. To all who have made me laugh, cry and feel human: you are wonderful people. This Grizzly Pear was the perfect way to end three years, and I am certain I will feel its absence once I have graduated.

TONIGHT/ THIS MORNING (Part Seven)

It’s 01.44. I’ll hand you over to Oli Clifford, who will be providing you with a review of Dizraeli’s headline set. I’m sure his review will be considerably less ridiculous. 

By Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

Interview: GMTG presents ‘The Phantom of the Opera’

10003900_1495764170651926_3727588126459720952_n

The Phantom of the Opera, the well-loved musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, is set to hit our student shores next week. Its sweeping musical score, powerful operatic voices, and choreography, not to mention the costumes and masks, are sure to make this show unmissable. Elisha Owen spoke to Director Megan Probert, and Musical Director and Producer Josh Sood to find out more. 

1) For those who don’t know the show, give us a little synopsis.

The Phantom of the Opera is essentially one of the greatest love stories ever told. A masked figure lurks in the shadows of the Paris Opera House. As rehearsals for a new production are underway, new owners take over charge of the theatre surrounded by whispers of a Phantom of the Opera. Christine Daaé, a beautiful, impressionable chorus girl, emerges from the chorus, capturing the new manager’s attention – and Phantom’s heart – with her haunting voice. Determined that Christine will be his protegée, and desperate for her love, the Phantom devotes himself to nurturing her extraordinary talents. As devotion turns to obsession, the Phantom will risk everything for her love.

2) Tell us a bit about your role in Phantom of the Opera.

M: As Director, my job was to get the Phantom on its feet, and on the stage. Helped out by an incredible crew, and a wonderfully committed cast, it has been a real joy – the sense of collaboration and team spirit has really characterised this process.

J: I’ve acted as the Musical Director and Producer for Phantom, which (as MD) has mainly involved training the cast up to be able to sing the score, rehearsing the orchestra, but as producer has meant sorting out the financial, legal and administrative side of the production.

10329188_1496241980604145_3244286530563572974_n

3) How did the audition process work? Were you ever worried you weren’t going to find your Christine and Phantom?

We held open auditions in the guild, so anyone could come and audition who1017740_1495764173985259_3422569402405726013_n fancied it. I don’t think we were ever worried about finding people to play the roles – with a show such as Phantom, it automatically draws a lot of people in as it has a huge following. It was a very exciting and nerve-wracking experience – I think we were as nervous as the auditionees! Phantom is an incredibly demanding show and there are very particular voice types that are required, so in this way it was quite daunting.

The roles of Christine and Phantom, probably the two most iconic roles in the show, are incredibly challenging in terms of vocal and acting ability. We were blown away by Andy and Abby’s auditions, and they both have taken to their roles so well. It’s really exciting to have a whole heap of music students involved in the production as music is so central to Phantom. We are very excited for everybody to hear the cast and orchestra, actually – a very, very talented bunch.

4) The musical is known for being a large-scale production. What have been the difficulties and joys of transferring it to a student stage?

It’s been great to work with the cast in recreating and reimagining iconic scenes. The biggest challenge has probably been creating the spectacle that Phantom is famous for – so elaborate sets, and so on. We’ve really stripped back this aspect as we want the focus to be on the beautiful music and on the characters. That being said, you can still expect a level of spectacle that we hope audiences will enjoy.

Also, the score is vocally very demanding, and it has taken a lot of rehearsal time and drilling to get right. We have a cast of about 40 people, so getting everyone working together is the first and most important thing to achieve. There are several special effects in the show which have caused a few issues here and there and have been a challenge to overcome, but we’re getting there with it all!

5) What has been the most fun part of the rehearsal process?

The most exciting and fun part of the rehearsal is the sitzprobe; after months of rehearsing with just a piano, to have a full 27 piece orchestra and full cast singing together is really amazing and gears everyone up for the final push before the show.

6) Why should people come to the show? What can they expect?

It’s The Phantom of the Opera! You can expect a stunning score, beautiful story, and a wonderful evening of entertainment. We have a truly amazing cast, orchestra and crew, who have worked incredibly hard over the past 3 months or so.  It’s not often that amateur productions of Phantom happen so I think people should make the most of the opportunity, as it will be a real spectacle. Please come and support us!

7) And lastly, the question on everyone’s lips – will there be a chandelier?

It wouldn’t be Phantom without the chandelier now would it…

10153919_1494354830792860_6758213772822301269_n

The Phantom of the Opera will be running 13th-17th May 2014, in the Debating Hall, Guild of Students. 

Tickets can be purchased online at: http://www.guildtickets.co.uk/GMTG

For more details and photos, like their Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/GMTG-Presents-The-Phantom-of-the-Opera/1470435719851438

Interview: Joseph Sale, Author of ‘The Darkest Touch’

University of Birmingham student Joseph Sale recently released his debut novel, The Darkest Touch, with American publishing house Dark Hall Press. If having a novel published at twenty-years old wasn’t enough, all paperback copies sold out in the first week and the novel reached #6 on the Kindle Horror download bestsellers list. Elisha Owen talks to Joseph about his writing process and experience with publication. 

Q. A huge congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. Tell us a bit about yourself.

A. Thanks very much! This is always one of the harder questions. I suppose to start I’m currently in my third year at the University of Birmingham doing an English with Creative Writing degree and about to graduate this year. I’m a fencer and a musician and I work in Bournemouth at Quantum Card Services. I loved books and literature since I was little and, unless I’ve been inserted into an artificial dream-tank, I’m a novelist and author of The Darkest Touch.    

Q. You’ve self-published novels in the past. What made you decide to try a professional press, and how did you go about doing that? 

A. The issue with self publishing is that you have to become an entire publishing house on your own: editor, reader, artist, marketer, salesman, copywriter, all at once! Unless you have an incredible understanding of the market and how to promote your work without alienating people, you ultimately can’t reach an audience. Self-publishing has become a more respected industry and professional writers are starting to use it for side projects or more experimental works, but it still doesn’t have the seal of approval that a professional publication has, and doesn’t get you the reach you need. Getting readers is more important than making money, at least for me. I want lots of people to read my work because I feel I have something to say which might change the way they think, even help them. I knew that professional publication was the way to achieve that. 

Getting your book professionally published requires a lot of work. Most people think about perfecting their manuscript, but in a way, I found that wasn’t the major issue. It was learning how to write a good cover-letter (which needs to have an elevator pitch style snapshot – something to get them excited), learning about what publishers expect from a manuscript, and learning about where to send my work that were the real challenges. Luckily for our generation, almost all of the information you need is online, you just have to find it. Though it took me roughly 1 ½  years to finish The Darkest Touch (not the first draft, but a fully edited capacity), it’s really the sum of 5 years of research. 

No one gets picked up straight away. It got rejected from one other publisher before it was accepted – but only because it didn’t fit the publisher’s aesthetic. That’s when I knew it had at least a shot. I sent it off again, just the first three chapters and a pitch, to Dark Hall Press. They said that if I didn’t hear back in 3 weeks they weren’t interested. On day 21, I’d given up, but at 9:00 in the evening they sent me an email saying they’d like to see the whole thing – talk about cutting it fine! 

Q. Give us a brief synopsis of the novel. 

A. A nuclear World War 3 has happened. From the radiated ashes of this calamity, a group of individuals ‘touched’ by a dark power assert their control over the ruined New York city, slaughtering any baby or child that displays signs of the ‘touch’. But voices speak in the deep. Rebels gather. One of the touched goes rogue. The fabric of their reign is starting to unravel. All it needs to topple is one, soft, touch. 

Q. Where did you draw inspiration from and what other writers influence you? 

A. Where to begin!? Originally, I was heavily influenced by fantasy writers – in particular Tolkien and George R. R. Martin. Several times I tried to recreate their epic fantasy worlds, but without any success. Then I encountered Stephen King and I realised that I had a whole different story inside of me I hadn’t been able to see before. 

King is quite simply a genius storyteller, and really understands how to shake you with language. Most people think horror is full of cheap scares, but King will make you laugh, cry, weep, and sing – there’s life in his writing. Everything feels so real you can touch it. The Stand, his 1800 page epic post-apocalyptic masterpiece, was obviously a huge influence on the choice of setting for my story. The stand helped me see the ancient, the fantastical, the biblical, the mythical in our own world – it was a liberating experience. 

The other thing that heavily influenced The Darkest Touch was the Bible. In fact, the whole text, in a way, stems from one quote from the Gospel of St John: “In him was life and that life was the life of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5). The darkness does not understand the light. It’s such a profound statement. How many suffering people do you know who have rejected your help a thousand times? Who will not accept help? How many people are blank to your pleas to be reasonable? We live in a world of darkness, and occasionally, just occasionally, a light shines in – a mercy, a grace, a justice – but it’s too bright and brilliant for us to get hold of. 

Whatever your beliefs, the personal, symbolic truth of the biblical stories, at least from my experience of the world, is irrefutable. Christ speaks figuratively and in parables, and the Bible as a text is hugely symbolic. These symbols speak to us in a way that scientific fact never will. Adam and Eve’s tale of lost innocence will always resonate with more emotional impact than a list of facts about puberty. Stories create truths, and the Bible is perhaps one of the deepest roots of story we know.  I wanted my own book to echo (never recreate – that’s impossible) this deep, profound mythic source and create its own web of symbols that the diligent reader might uncover. 

Q. Writing a book, while also completing your degree is extremely impressive. How do you manage balancing writing with your other commitments? 

A. It’s hard to keep up sometimes. I try to write every day – that way you build momentum and can finish projects in good time. You also don’t lose your train of thought, or lose sight of the threads you’ve woven together, so you have a clearer picture. It’s also good practice. If you want to be an Olympic athlete you train every day. Writing’s no different. Every day I’m training and hopefully improving. I never believe I’ll stop learning. 

Q. Do you have any advice for budding writers? 

A. Yes. Write every day – 500 words or 1 poem or one scene from a play/script. The first two weeks will be hell. You’ll be tired. In fact, you’ll be more exhausted than any time you went on a training camp or competed in a sport or did a midnight shift at work, but the third week it’ll get easier. Like a marathon runner you’ll have built up stamina. Writing every day is the single most important step to getting better. Don’t edit. Don’t stop. Write. Write as if you’re trying to save your life. That’s how I started anyway. When you’ve finished something big, or a collection of shorter works, then you can take 4-6 weeks off and edit. 

Q. In three words, why should people buy your book?

A. It’ll change you. 

*********

1291648_747977781912960_5231485040746013403_o

The Darkest Touch is available in paperback from:

Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Darkest-Touch-Joseph-Sale-ebook/dp/B00JJZTKL2

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Darkest-Touch-Joseph-Sale-ebook/dp/B00JJZTKL2

Check out Dark Hall Press at – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dark-Hall-Press/320319528012123 

Tweet Joseph Sale @josephwordsmith

 

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

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

Article 19 presents: ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Making a sixteenth century Shakespearean comedy appeal to a twenty-first century audience is a daunting task, but Article 19’s take on The Taming of the Shrew left the audience in stitches. Set in Padua, it portrays a battle between the sexes in which Petruchio sets out to tame his vicious and feisty bride Kate, known as a ‘shrew’ for her sharp tongue.

The adaptation stuck to the original script and included the original framing device, often omitted in some performances, where a nobleman puts on a play to trick a drunken Christopher Sly. This seemed slightly unecessary, as although it was meant to be comical, it was one of the actor’s wigs accidentally falling off that drew the most laughter from the audience.

1476570_10153517967075080_1795261862_n

The play really got going when the main characters burst onto the stage squabbling with each other and talking over one another. The music throughout brilliantly complemented this, evoking both the chaos of the play and the Italian setting very well. Zoe Fabian’s spirited portrayal of Kate was very compelling- playing her as vicious at first but later revealing her vulnerable side when she believes she has been stood up at the altar by Petruchio.

1441490_10153489641980080_130830860_n

It is in the dashing Petruchio, played by Jack J. Fairley, that Kate meets her match. The scene in which they first meet was the highlight of the play for me. The chemistry between the two actors was incredible and they really brought to life Shakespeare’s sexual innuendos and the characters’ witty sparring.

Other standout performances came from Jamie Hughes playing Gremio: a wealthy elderly suitor of Kate’s sister, Bianca. Hobbling about the stage with his cane, he was the most believable character and had me and my friend in tears of laughter with his patronising voice and false laughter. Andy Baker was also hilarious as bumbling servant Biondello, whilst simultaneously suggesting that his character is actually more socially aware than the others. It almost seems unfair to pick out certain performances though, as the entire cast were genuinely excellent.

1466078_10153517969760080_1818162842_n


What was particularly unique about this production was the way it encouraged audience participation, such as when the cast sat alongside the audience to watch the wedding ceremony- transforming the audience into fellow guests. The brilliantly raucous ending had us in stiches but most of all, and perhaps most importantly, you could tell that the cast were having a good laugh too. Because of this they were able to bring one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies to life. On the basis of this performance, I would highly recommend that UoB students go and watch future Article
19 performances; great theatre at a great price, right on your doorstep

1470043_10153517969050080_1755365268_n

By Ellicia Pendle   @elliciapendle

GMTG presents: Spring Awakening @The Guild of Students

spring-awakening

On 29th November 2013, I went to see Jake Dorrell’s interpretation of Spring Awakening, set in oppressive 19th Century Germany. Dubbed one of the most ‘controversial’ plays of its time, the original play was banned in Germany for addressing the devastating consequences of exploring the ‘mysteries of your body’ in a society that denied its youth any insight into precisely that.

Having never really been exposed to the genre of a ‘serious’ musical, I went in with fairly naive impressions. I considered the likelihood of mild peril, perhaps even the possibility of a little trouble and strife, but I did not question the ending. Surely every musical has a happy ending…right?  Wrong.

This was not a musical for the faint-hearted. The play centred on adolescent suicide, the consequences of premarital sex and homosexuality. All of these would have been taboo topics, therefore one can appreciate how daring Sater’s musical would have been at the time it was originally written.

The harrowing consequences of pubescent curiosity were extremely hard hitting, and personally I felt as though they were portrayed admirably, with each actor allowing the audience a brief yet consuming insight into their lives.

The performances were undoubtedly enhanced by the personal stories that had been offered up to cast members in rehearsals, who had the unique insights given to them by working closely with the LGBTQ society. This added another dimension to the performances, which came across as even more impressive when presented as a direct juxtaposition to the surrealism which consumed the performance.

When the musical began I felt as though I had been thrust into Tim Burton’s imagination.

The surrealist set design and costume were reminiscent of Berkoff’s The Trial, and complemented the cast perfectly in their mono-chromic attire and ghoul-like stage make-up. The quirky costume design, by Maysie Chandler, inspired visions of innocence through the younger characters and images of corrupted authority through the exaggerated shoulders of Headmaster Knochenbruch.

In saying this, it must be noted that the messages conveyed within the show maintained the focal point for the duration of the performance, which is an impressive feat when considered alongside two projection screens with elaborate videos of memories/eerie projections of the deceased, a live band performing backstage and a cast of twenty actors!

The only slight criticism I will (reluctantly) offer is that of the use of hand-held microphones. I fully appreciate that this aspect of the show is minimal (!) and was probably due to limitations of being at University and not having access to a variety of resources, however I feel as though it slightly stunted the transition from scene to song; and would have helped the musical’s fluidity.

All in all, the show was an impressive piece of theatre. It was evident that everyone involved had invested an awful lot of time and effort into making each performance immaculate, and it was fully appreciated by all audience members, me especially.

Hayley Yates

Infinity Stage Company Present: Mercury Fur @ The Guild of Students

mercury furHaving seen more than my fair share of plays, whether they are professional or student productions, I judge the quality of a show by how quickly I want to write my review after it (even if I’m not technically reviewing). It’s 11.18 pm and I finished watching Mercury Fur about an hour ago. I probably would have sat down sooner if I wasn’t physically shaking.

Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur has a history of controversy: famously banned by Faber & Faber, this play follows a set of closely intertwined characters in an almost-apocalyptic world in which butterflies are drugs and ‘party’ is synonymous with your darkest fantasies. The characters spew lines of racist slurs, beat each other and themselves, and draw the audience into their intense relationships.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting scripts I have witnessed. The characters are so distinct (with the intentional exception of the Party Piece) and complex, each simultaneously lost in a state almost akin to childhood, and sadistic. Ridley is able to showcase his prowess by writing Elliot’s insults as epic similes; this is highlighted by his ability to then undercut this often satirical and humorous style with a conversation wrought with emotion.

 I am extremely passionate about ‘in-yer-face’ theatre: Ravenhill’s and Kane’s plays are on my shelves, and yet I have unfortunately not been able to see them performed. To call a text ‘in-yer-face’ seems to miss the point, I have realised after tonight’s Mercury Fur. What makes it so disturbing, so violating, is actually being in the presence of it.

Director Jacob Lovick absolutely understood the importance of this. Staged in the basement rehearsal room of the Guild, the audience was instantly removed from the student bubble and into a dingy flat strewn with the signs of depleting life. The play utilised the whole space, creating a sense of claustrophobia: the characters moved around the audience, absorbing them into the world of the play. The lack of interval was also a nice touch (a la Shopping and F***ing): there was no escape from the unrelenting emotions.

 It really does take a stellar cast to pull off a play like this: get it slightly wrong, and the uncomfortableness you’re trying to create will be plain awkward. This cast not only succeeded in making me cry a grand total of three times (which is quite a feat; I’ve only ever cried at five films and maybe one play), but made me feel physically uncomfortable: I couldn’t sit back in my chair, I wanted to escape and stay simultaneously, my skin was crawling and I was shaking at the end of the performance.

 I was utterly astounded by the quality of the acting in this production; not only did I forget that I was watching a play in the Guild, I forgot that I was watching students act. Calum Witney was by far the stand-out member of this cast. His accent and ability to master Elliot’s swings of emotion was phenomenal. Ben Firth also made an excellent Darren: he was able to capture his naivety and pure adoration of Elliot. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Witney and Firth; I truly believed in their bond as brothers, not only through Ridley’s writing, but the actors’ execution of it.

When Naz was introduced into the mix, I instantly prickled: Ridley introduces a character that is quite frankly annoying. However, Alice Hodgson made her loveable. I felt sincere concern for the character, and was utterly horrified when I realised her fate. Additionally, Hodgson’s performance of Naz’s monologues and her character post-torture were incredibly convincing and very distressing to watch.

David Williams was a genius choice for Lola. The text calls for a man to play this part, but at times Williams’s mannerisms and expressions were so convincing I almost forgot his sex. The chemistry between Witney and Williams was also entirely believable, and I found the scenes between the characters incredibly touching.

Daisy Tudor was fantastic as The Duchess, deftly exploring her character’s tortured mental state through carefully selected movements and delivery of lines. Pairing her with Danny Hetherington as Spinx was also a brilliant move: while I was oddly intrigued by and pitying of The Duchess, Spinx’s devotion to her was unsettling, and Hetherington’s ability to switch into Spinx’s sadistic mode was excellent. Jack Fairley still made an impression with his minor role: the Party Guest was utterly creepy and disgusting from the moment he stepped into the room, let alone when he revealed his dark fantasy.

The crew of this production must also be praised highly: the effects and make-up used in the play were very convincing; I felt entirely immersed in the world of Mercury Fur.

The point of in-yer-face theatre is to push its audience to the very limits. There were points during the performance where I really wanted to leave but was oddly impelled to stay. What I struggled with was my desire to stop it – I really did feel like it was all unfolding around me – and also the range of emotions I experienced: at one moment I would be disturbed and sickened; a matter of seconds later, I would be laughing, and I felt incredibly unnerved  by this. This is why I love plays like Mercury Fur: at the end, I feel like someone has reached inside my body, pulled something out and made me really look at it. With in-yer-face theatre, the audience is made to look at themselves and assess how they would act in certain situations or evaluate their behaviour and emotions. There is betrayal at every level in this play, sadism, cruelty, anger, and love. It is a truly exceptional example of postmodern nihilism and an intense exploration of the human state, and I (strangely) loved every minute of it.

by Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

GMTG presents: Spring Awakening

After almost a year in the making, University of Birmingham’s musical theatre society, GMTG, are unveiling their take on the eight times Tony Award-winning musical Spring Awakening on 26th November. Fans should be aware that Broadway’s rock and roll musical has been transformed into a piece of expressionistic physical theatre, complete with surrealist costumes, live-art and video projections. I talked to artistic director Jake Dorrell to discover what inspired this creative process.

1458417_183521211838583_1120065514_n

The musical is based on Frank Wedekind’s original 1891 play, which explores the awakening of sexuality and identity in a group of confused young teenagers and criticises the sexually-oppressive culture of 19th century Germany. Due to its controversial subject matter, including rape, child abuse, homosexuality, suicide, and abortion, the play was often censored or banned outright. Jake described how he completely fell in love with the story but found the successful 2006 Broadway version, which starred Glee’s Lea Michele, insulting, stating that ‘it completely sexualises it’ and that ‘it’s funny when it shouldn’t be funny. I’ve forbidden the cast from watching it on YouTube!’

His interpretation of the musical focuses on the strange surreal world of adolescence that the teenagers are entering and projects that world onto the stage. Thus, you are ‘not supposed to leave thinking you’ve seen a play- it’s like stepping into a moving art installation.’ Jake has drawn on German expressionism, in which the set looms around the spectator, and is using two enormous projections to surround the audience and help them to see from a child’s perspective.

‘This summer I nearly ran away with the circus’ Jake suddenly declared, and after a hilarious anecdote he revealed that the show’s costumes are heavily influenced by the circus and clown make up: ‘Lucien Freud meets Cirque du Soleil!’ All of the costumes are hand-made and hand-painted by Maysie Chandler and everything has been sourced individually. Jake described how he found himself struggling home from the rag market carrying hula hoops, wadding and vintage clothes.

Indeed, the effort put into the production by cast and crew is incredible. Jake described the initial audition process as ‘torturous’; it took five days and included four-hour-long physical theatre workshops. In stamina classes, the cast are pushed to their limits: ‘they leave dripping with sweat and can’t walk for days,’ Jake says half-jokingly and pauses before adding with a laugh ‘I’m probably a bit of a nightmare to work with!’

spring awakening

The production also draws on the personal experiences of gay, bisexual and pansexual students and the LBGTQ society played a part in talking to the cast about ‘what it’s like to be different’. Jake wanted to ensure that all issues in the play were thoroughly explored and that the finished piece was ‘meaningful’. Local transgender arts, teenage suicide, and depression charities have been invited to collect donations after the show- highlighting the reality of the play’s issues to the audience. As summed up by Jake, GMTG’s production is a ‘social message conveyed artistically’.

Overall, Jake tells viewers not to expect a cheesy, jazz-hands musical. Nor is it a family show, given its explicit sexual content. He advised people coming to see it to be ‘be incredibly open-minded’ and to ‘expect the unexpected’ before announcing ‘we’re doing things that have never, ever been done before. I’m excited!’

Performances run from 26-30th November

Tickets are available now at http://www.guildtickets.co.uk/GMTG

£4 GMTG Members
£5 Concessions
£8 Others

Production Team:
Directer – Jake Dorrell
Musical Director – Ollie Hance
Producers – Ricky Carey and Ciara Cohen-Ennis
Choreographer – William Costello
Costume – Maysie Chandler
Stage Managers – Rachel Fulham, Katherine Grayson, Jacob Standbridge and Rebecca Maynard

By Ellicia Pendle
@elliciapendle