At this time of year, we all love a bit of festive fun, and this show provides just that. A show for all the family, Dr. Seuss’ tale comes to life onstage as we come up close and personal with the green monster who learns to love Christmas once again. The costumes and makeup for this production are quirky and stunning, taking us on an adventure to Whoville where the citizens look like they’ve just walked out of a Mr Blobby music video. The ensemble did a splendid job of waddling around onstage and making us truly believe they were creatures from another world.
Isla Gie as Cindy Lou is very cute, and this incredibly talented child will surely go far. Her vocals were flawless and her choreography so perfectly timed, you’d believe she’d been performing for as long as the rest of the cast! Every time she sang it made my heart hurt, and no matter how much of a scrooge you might be, she is undeniably adorable. Edward Baker-Duly as the Grinch was thoroughly entertaining, channelling the Jim Carrey style-performance we love so much but putting his own twist onto the role. The children couldn’t get enough of his crude jokes and vulgar noises, shouting out to him and erupting into fits of giggles whenever he pranced about onstage in his green gorilla-like costume. Steve Fortune also deserves praise for his careful story-telling as Old Max, captivating all the children in the audience as he looks back on his adventures with the Grinch.
The set in the first half of the performance, however, left a lot to be desired. Sparse and unnoticeable, I was left wanting more as little was seen of Whoville and nothing at all of the Grinch’s lair. It appeared that too much of this half of the show was performed on an empty, or almost, stage. Although, in the second half the set was far more exciting, painting a picture in the audience’s mind of the inside of Cindy Lou’s house. Nevertheless, the orchestra’s performance was fantastic, performing the iconic soundtrack we all know, and creating a veritable festive extravaganza for all the family. Not to mention the surprise fake snow that covered the audience near the end of the piece which made the whole room laugh and sing along. How The Grinch Stole Christmas is a magical show filled with festive cheer and not to be missed this Christmas season.
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen is one of the most iconic shows for families during the festive season, and although we are still in November, this show got me fully in the festive spirit. Having followed the journey of the Birmingham Ormiston Academy (BOA) Ensemble and the costume, set and lighting design teams for weeks now, it was wonderful to see it all come together in a magical show perfect for all the family. From my interviews with these various departments I learned exactly what goes into making a Christmas show such as this (these interviews can be found on the Birmingham Local TV website, Facebook and Twitter pages), and I must commend the Old Rep for creating a brilliant show on a very modest budget.
In this 1980s style production, the music and costume were reminiscent of a David Bowie music video. The Snow Queen hurtles across the stage on her glowing motorbike, and stomps around in her dramatic silver outfit looking like a human icicle. Amy Carroll has done a wonderful job of bringing this iconic decade to life onstage and the Snow Queen’s glowing cape was definitely a highlight for me! Christina Harris as Gerda was a stand-out performance, believably innocent, genuine and loving, and her character’s unwavering devotion to her best friend was heart-warming – even for the adults in the room.
The children in the audience appeared to love the show, laughing, shouting and being shocked at all the right moments: proof that this show has achieved what it set out to do which was to entertain and amaze the children of the West Midlands. What’s more, Charlie Keable as Hader and Tom Sturgess as Crow also deserve a mention, as these two talented performers added just the right amount of light-hearted humour to the piece, making the children erupt into fits of laughter and getting them to clap and shout out to the characters onstage. The BOA Ensemble did themselves proud, multi-roling and even going into the audience at one point to scare the children. Despite some clumsily performed mirror choreography, the Ensemble added a sense of splendour to the piece and supported the main characters effortlessly. Congratulations to the Old Rep and to BOA for a fantastically festive, fun-filled family show!
One Under is a play exploring the concepts of family, loss and reality, as we are transported into the heart of a tragedy that unites all the characters. Cyrus, a traumatised train driver struggling to come to terms with a horrific experience goes on a quest for answers that might help him understand and come to terms with the recent events in his life. However, as things spiral out of control, reality becomes less and less certain when he begins to find clues that could lead him to the answers he seeks. I was impressed by the creative captioning and audio descriptions available to the audience, making the piece accessible to all – something that more theatres need to be doing to make the Arts more inclusive and open.
Although in need of some fine tuning, this piece raises some important questions about mental ill-health, guilt and trauma, and how one’s judgement can be clouded by grief, but I found that the piece lacked momentum. It felt overly-long, so I would have like to have seen an increase in pace as some scenes stagnated at times. Moreover, the plot felt unnecessarily convoluted as if it were trying to do much. I found it difficult to keep track of what was happening and the significance of the events in the play, and I think this worked against the production as it was off-putting for the audience. Certain scenes felt redundant, adding to the excessively slow pace of the production, and I noticed myself thinking about the time and how long was left of the show.
Nevertheless, the show offered a thought-provoking analysis of what happens to those left behind once someone has committed suicide. As the characters appear desperate for an explanation or someone to blame, we see how their struggle to make sense of the truth tears them apart. As someone who has experienced a friend committing suicide, I related to the characters and the frustration of all the unanswered questions they had, but felt that some of the plot was a little far-fetched. This is a promising piece of theatre performed by a talented cast, but is in need of some tweaks and changes. s
As the relatively new Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Carlos Acosta has fast become a huge part of the cultural scene in the West Midlands, so I was keen to see what his own dance company would bring to the stage and I must admit, it was more diverse and exciting that I had anticipated. The four pieces, ‘Satori’, ‘Paysage, Soudain, la nuit’, ‘Faun’ and ‘Rooster’, were a wonderful ensemble of contrasting choreography in varying styles, tones and paces, which gave the evening a sense of adventure as the different performances took the audience to different places and back within the space of just a few hours.
‘Satori’ was beautifully choreographed and wonderfully performed, however, I did not find myself moved by the piece. I was not convinced by the huge purple sheet used for a large part of the piece to connect and/or trap the dancers, (reminiscent of Motionhouse’s Charge, but the wrong material was used in the case of ‘Satori’) which felt clunky and lacking elegance. However, after a surprisingly uninspiring first Act, ‘Paysage, Soudain, la nuit’ was, for me, the highlight of the show. The duets were breath-takingly executed, and I was utterly consumed by Lidberg’s spellbinding choreography. As well as this, the ensemble was outstanding: the trust between them so great that not even a twinge of hesitation could be detected for even the most difficult of manoeuvres. Two stand-out performances in this piece were Marta Ortega and Mario Sergio Elías who captivated the audience making everything look effortless.
The choreography in ‘Faun’ I found to be rather self-indulgent, but Zeleidy Crespo’s outstanding performance deserves high praise. In stark contrast to the first three pieces, ‘Rooster’ was a fun and light-hearted performance full of vibrant colours, a well-known soundtrack and a brilliant appearance from Carlos Acosta himself. The block colours used for the costumes reminded me of Mark Morris and Ethan Iverson’s Pepperland, and the playful tone of the piece was the perfect way to end the show – the audience fell into laughter as the lights went down. It was great to see such significant roles for Zeleidy Crespo, as tall female dancers are not often seen onstage in certain dance styles, though this begs the question of whether the dance world is complicit in and contributing to the homogenisation of the female body in society. It should not be surprising to see a female dancer of a certain height or body shape, yet it is. I have never seen a female dancer with a body shape like my own onstage unless it was in a hip-hop style production, why is that? Why are female dancers obliged to be petite and small-breasted in certain dance genres associated with class, elegance and femininity?
Carmen is the tale of a free-spirited working-class woman who finds herself briefly in love with a soldier before tiring of him and choosing another lover. The soldier then murders her out of jealousy and spite. As well as the recommendations I had received, I was eager to see this piece as I had been obsessed with the 1954 film, Carmen Jones, as a teenager, singing “Dere’s a Café On De Corner” for a Musical Theatre Exam. Despite being written in the 1800s, this opera is incredibly current in 2019, where women are not treated as equals to their male counterparts. The gender pay gap in the UK is still a shameful stain on our society, and women continue to struggle to achieve the same level of professional success that men have had for generations. Carmen, a woman who refuses to be owned or controlled, dies for her beliefs, and it is saddening how much I identify with her character over 150 years on from its inception.
The modern, favela-inspired set was an interesting idea, although anyone who has seen a favela will know that they are much less clean-cut than the set for this production might suggest. Moreover, Virginie Verrez’s vocal performance was impressive, however I did not feel that her performance possessed enough sex appeal for such a larger-than-life character who causes a stir because of her sexual appetite. Carmen has little to no money, education or social standing, so her physical appeal and sexual prowess become her way to gain agency in her life.
The other prominent female personage in the piece, Micaela, is in stark contrast to Carmen. She is the woman that women are ‘supposed to be’ – meek and mild, weak and anything but wild. Although she represents an ideal of femininity that Carmen refuses to adhere to, she too is made miserable by Don José’s actions. Micaela’s survival in juxtaposition to Carmen’s demise suggests that women who express sexual desire and independent thought will come to a sticky end. The heartbroken Don José is an embodiment of the consequences of hegemonic masculinity and a male inability to accept rejection from women. When he learns that he cannot possess Carmen, he decides to destroy her, burying any evidence that might question his masculinity. Bizet’s daring orchestral score was masterfully performed by the Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera, with perfect timing and execution from both the musicians and the vocalists. This thrilling production brings Bizet’s masterpiece into the 21st century, with great performances from Verrez and Pittas, and a charming contribution from young performers too!
With Halloween, Bonfire Night and of course Christmas well on their way, and temperatures dropping to the single digits, now is the perfect time for the circus to come to Birmingham and fill us all with some laughter and cheer. Marking the 120th anniversary of the Birmingham Hippodrome, originally known as the “Tower of Varieties and Circus”, what better way could the occasion be marked by the circus coming to town? This deliciously magical show showcases a wide range of weird and wonderful acts for all the family, so be prepared to be shocked, amazed and entertained.
As I was transported back to my childhood, the show brought back some wonderful memories of me as a child playing with a baby elephant on stage at the circus in France – little did I know that the baby elephant was in fact a dog in an elephant costume! No matter what your age, this show promises to be a thrilling evening with some audience participation along the way. As the Ringmaster invited numerous children up on stage to try their luck at his tricks and games, the whole audience was in fits of laughter, especially as the adorable three-year-old, Penelope, got stuck in with the other children despite not being asked up on stage.
The technical ability of the performers was spellbinding: two highlights for me were the aerial duet, The Flying Fredonis, and the beautiful African Elephants controlled with astonishing mastery by the puppeteers. Reminiscent of War Horse, it was heart-warming to see the puppets brought to life so effortlessly, playing with the children on stage and making the audience laugh at their naughty behaviour. I should also mention Les Incredibles for their unbelievable display of strength and trust, and The Elastic Dislocationist for making many audience members, including myself, shout aloud in shock and awe at her ability to run around her own torso…
This show is a perfect fun-filled family night out that got the whole audience shouting out, cheering and all-round in a great mood – it created a veritable circus atmosphere. The show is well-balanced and varied, bouncing back and forth between high-intensity acts that keep you on the edge of your seat and the Ringmaster’s tricks and jokes involving the children from the audience. Circus 1903 is a whirlwind adventure in the heart of Birmingham playing until 2nd November, and I can honestly say, I didn’t want it to end!
Dada Masilo is a South African dancer and choreographer, known for her seminal adaptations of traditional ballets such as Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake. She has now returned to the UK for the tour of her newest piece, Giselle. Having not seen the original, I had nothing to compare this piece to which in some ways made it more of an organic experience for me. This powerful dance production may not be the most accessible of performances, but Masilo’s choreography is extraordinary in its bold and daring nature. Arguably in the style of dance theatre, the use of speech overlapping with music created a sense of chaos in the South African village of Act One.
The company’s use of breath was highly affective, and the contrast between the costumes of Act One and Act Two changed the tone of the piece drastically, setting the scene perfectly for the dark intentions of the Wilis/Spirits. Something Masilo spoke about in the post-show discussion after the performance was that she had wanted to make the characters less two-dimensional and more fleshed out, and she achieves this effortlessly as the vengeful Wilis dance full of fire and passion – much unlike the spirits of the original Giselle.
Weaving together elements of comedy, nudity and drama, this piece exposes the shame women all over the world are made to feel about their bodies, their sexuality and their emotions, and the damage that it can do when we as women do not stand up for one another. This sense of female solidarity, however, comes into the piece as the Wilis and the terrifying Sangoma band together for revenge. These vicious spirits performing Masilo’s threatening choreography appear androgynous, playing with gender roles, subverting the audience’s expectations of female stereotypes (especially within the ballet aesthetic), and proving that indeed, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. This piece challenged my thinking, made me question my own expectations of dance, and has inspired me to see the original.