REVIEW | Annie | Birmingham Hippodrome

 

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This impressive production follows the life of the orphaned redhead, Annie, a young girl in a 1930s New York orphanage run by a mean and spiteful Miss Hannigan. As Annie finds herself in exceptionally lucky circumstances entirely by chance, she embarks on an adventure to be reunited with her parents after her time at the orphanage. This fun-filled family show is a must-see for adults and children alike with its iconic soundtrack and heart-warming plot, it is truly an irresistible production. The young performers are incredibly talented and their well-rehearsed songs and flawless choreography are a pure delight for the audience to watch! Not to mention Freya Yates as Annie, who plays the protagonist so brilliantly and with such vigour that she deserves a special mention for her fantastic performance.

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Despite the cheery tone of the piece, it does however touch upon some rather difficult topics and political issues. Set during the American Great Depression where the USA’s financial and social landscape had changed drastically after the hedonism of the roaring ‘20s, we encounter the down-and-outs of the New York City slums where people struggle to make an honest living to feed themselves, and where we see the consequences of capitalist behaviour and greed that must come to an end. The rich/poor divide represented onstage is still a harsh reality for cities such as New York, and we must not be naive in thinking that this is a thing of the past that we read about in history books – where there is extreme wealth there is extreme poverty.

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Although the show explores some difficult political questions, I find the message, optimism solves all, to be rather naive and unrealistic – will optimism reduce the rates of homelessness crippling Britain today? Nevertheless, the beautifully crafted set is highly effective and adds texture and vibrancy to the piece, and the costumes are not just historically accurate but they also cleverly reiterate the class divides between the different characters. Annie is a thoroughly enjoyable show playing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 11th August, and I can promise that it’s not just for kids!

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REVIEW | The Color Purple | Birmingham Hippodrome

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Based on Alice Walker’s iconic novel, and later turned into a film featuring the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, The Color Purple is an energetic and profoundly moving musical that everyone must see! As we follow Celie’s journey through abuse, loss and hope, her inspirational story lifts the audience into a state of mind where we are reminded of the power of determination and of the human capacity for endurance. This show is neither a comedy nor a tragedy, but something in between, or both. We are taken into twentieth-century USA where black people had little rights or freedoms despite the Transatlantic Slave Trade having supposedly ended. The legacy of Western slavery, racism and prejudice seep into every nook and cranny of this piece, demonstrating to the audience how such horrific events did, and still very much are, have damaging consequences.

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As the young women in the piece struggle against their many oppressors, the outstanding vocals of the cast and the slick and subtle choreography not only compliment the scenes but embellish them, bringing them to life and adding colour to an already vibrant piece of theatre. As a singer in a Gospel choir, I was truly blown away by the vocal performances in the show, with their flawless harmonies and stunning solos, the cast of this show are spectacular. The set was cleverly constructed and highly effective, with its huge towering wooden beams alluding to the old plantation houses you still see in the Caribbean and USA, as well as the shabby wooden houses poor black folk often had to live in at that time. Karen Mavundukure as Sofia is sublime, and it was so wonderful to see an all-black cast on stage directed by a young black female director! The audience reaction was truly overwhelming as the show received a standing ovation, and all throughout the piece the audience didn’t stop laughing, gasping and crying. Be warned, this show really is an emotional rollercoaster.

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Something I remember thinking to myself when leaving the theatre was, “I wish I had seen that as a young girl”. This piece is tremendously powerful, full of joy, heartache, pain and longing, and it forces us to confront ourselves about our own privilege and how things have changed for us in 2019: if Celie can triumph after all she has been through, then so can we. And as a black woman this is particularly important for me as although our history of slavery, racism and exploitation in the West is not something to be proud of, I am reassured that, like Celie, my ancestors endured profound suffering so that I could be where I am today and have the opportunities they were never granted. Congratulations to Tinuke Craig for her magical production so that people like me can be reminded of this.

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REVIEW |Deadtown | Birmingham REP

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So, BE (Birmingham European) Festival has returned for another year and to kick it all off the Forman Brothers have brought their new whacky and wonderful show to the brummuie stage. As I was watching this piece, I was picking my brains how on earth I would write my review for it as it is truly like nothing you have ever seen before… Imagine a Western that pays homage to silent film with a bit of circus thrown in and that’s what you get! This show is the perfect piece to launch BE Festival as it is high energy and fast-paced, taking the audience on an extraordinary journey to the Wild West like they’ve never seen before.

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When I read up about the show before going to see it, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw; the performers were exquisite, making us all laugh constantly throughout the show, as well as showing off their acrobatic, musical and physical theatre skills. Although this show contains no dialogue, the use of song and a few cleverly-placed subtitles was more than enough to keep the audience up to speed on what was happening and the ingenious scenes mimicking old silent movies spoke for themselves. When the show was over the audience were invited up onstage to join the cast for a drink at the saloon bar while listening to the sweet sounds of the musicians and vocalists. This was such a fantastic feature to the show that really solidified the tone of the piece, as the audience then became part of the production and crossed the fourth wall to be able to engage in the piece on another level.

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It is always such a pleasant surprise to have a live band onstage, as all too often these days pre-recorded sound is used in productions instead. However, Deadtown featured a magical live band that brought so much vigour, energy and fun to the show, featuring of course a harmonica and other traditional instruments from the time period to create an authentic setting for the Western extravaganza. I enjoyed this piece so much that I would see it again, and I am so pleased that the Forman Brothers came all the way from the Czech Republic to open up BE Festival with such a wonderous piece of theatre. If this piece is anything to go by, this year’s BE Festival is going to be something very special indeed!

 

REVIEW | Calendar Girls |Birmingham Hippodrome

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Based on a true story, Calendar Girls follows the members of the Women’s Institute in a small town in Yorkshire who, after the tragic and sudden loss of a loved one, decide to spice up their annual calendar with a bit of bare flesh to raise money for the local hospital. Best friends, Annie and Chris, set out convincing the more reserved members of the WI to whip their clothes off in the name of charity, however it proves more difficult than they had anticipated. Littered with vibrant vocals and a joyous soundtrack, Calendar Girls the Musical is not one to be missed.

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Tackling themes of loss, self-doubt, confidence, and friendship, Calendar Girls reminds us that beauty is not lost with age, but develops with age, and that the beauty a woman possesses is all about her self-respect and her self-confidence. As Annie struggles to come to terms with her loss, her comrades at the WI show her how taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone can be an enlightening experience, and a lot of fun along the way! This laugh-out-loud comedy is a fantastic night out, full of feel-good songs and hilarious awkward teenagers, demonstrating that anything can be achieved if you have the will and determination (and some great friends) to see it through.

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This display of female solidarity and women’s strength is an uplifting tale of the possibilities that are out there if we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and find a way through our tragedy and despair. The stunning set was evocative of the majesty of the Yorkshire countryside, changing and shifting with the moods of the characters and their experiences, and with minimal props the cast perfectly painted every location in the audience’s mind with rich colour and detail. This brilliantly funny show is a joy to watch, full of heartfelt moments, fist-pumping victories and exhilarating surprises, while at the same time raising awareness for blood-related illnesses. The show received a standing ovation as the crowd cheered and whooped, and after it had finished I couldn’t stop smiling – the positivity is infectious!

Calendar Girls is on at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 8th June 2019.

REVIEW | The Worst Witch | Birmingham Hippodrome

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When I found out that The Worst Witch was coming to Birmingham Hippodrome I was absolutely over the moon, as I used to love the TV programme as a child and would always watch it with my sister after school. In this play within a play Mildred Hubble, a young and naïve girl who stumbles into the wrong school by accident, finds herself learning magic for the first and making friends and enemies along the way. As she encounters difficulties, the school bully and Miss Cackle’s deepest darkest secret, she is tasked with growing up fast and finding a way to help her friends and the whole school before it’s too late.

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This fun-filled show is jam-packed with excitement, with a thrilling plot and a fantastic soundtrack to go along with it. It’s a great way to get kids seeing theatre, as it is family friendly, a brilliant night out, and the story has recently been re-made for Netflix so has had a sudden surge in popularity again. With a live band onstage featuring one of the students and Miss Drill herself, the show is littered with catchy tunes and thumping beats to get you boogying in your seat. The audience clearly loved the show as they were cheering, singing along and even booing when needed, which I dare say speaks for itself.

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This thoroughly enjoyable show is overflowing with mischief and mayhem which lead to catastrophic consequences, and audience participation is heavily encouraged. Consuela Rolle as Enid is hilarious, as her character adds excitement to the classroom, and Rosie Abraham as Ethel is astonishing – her performance is spot on – and as a Worst Witch fan from the 1990s I think I can say that with some confidence. This show is a treat to watch, full of dramatic moments, a moral message, and a shed load of laughs along the way!

The Worst Witch is on at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday 26th May 2019, so hop on your broomsticks and fly over there before it’s too late!

 

 

REVIEW | 10 SOLDIERS | Birmingham Hippodrome

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Rosie Kay’s 10 SOLDIERS is an enlightening piece of dance theatre, looking into the life of the military. As the show begins we are introduced to the ten soldiers as they begin their training with numerous gruelling and tiresome tasks. The choreography stresses the repetitive, almost monotonous nature of the training, and how it begins to institutionalise the recruits. This then makes it all the more noticeable when someone breaks away from the formation, as we remember that they are in fact individuals.

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While watching this show, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Foucault’s discussion of surveillance and institutionalisation in the army in Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish), and how prisons and schools have similar techniques. We see this manifest in the piece as the soldiers resort to juvenile pranks and immature humour, a direct consequence of their lack of freedom and agency.

Although I felt that the first half of the show was somewhat superfluous, the second half was hugely moving and beautifully performed by the company. Harriet Ellis’ performance where we see her for the first time with her hair down and out of her uniform is astonishing, forcing us to reflect on what it must be like for a woman in the army and how her experience differs from the others. Her and the rest of the company possess an incredible technical ability which was a joy to witness, and Kay’s choreography did a wonderful job at juxtaposing the two sides of the soldiers that often seem diametrically opposed.

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Having not seen 5 SOLDIERS I cannot compare this piece to its predecessor, however, it was a powerful examination of what people in the military experience on a daily basis, something that I for one rarely think about. This show makes us take stock of our own lives and reminds us not to take for granted things like our own health and limbs – it’s a performance that reminds us of our own mortality and of life’s fragility. Although in need of a little more development, 10 SOLDIERS is a hard-hitting and impactful show that I am very glad to have seen.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW | Rotterdam | Birmingham REP

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As a cis heterosexual woman, I cannot pretend to know what it is like to go through what the characters go through in this play, however I can write this review from my own personal standpoint and explain how my experience of it was. Rotterdam follows a lesbian couple, Alice who is struggling to come out to her parents, and Fiona who admits that she identifies as a man. As the play unfolds, their relationship becomes more and more strained as they both struggle to become accustomed to Fiona transitioning. This hard-hitting and thought-provoking play made me think about my own relationship, asking myself what I would do in their shoes and how I would cope. This is something I really loved about the show as it makes us ask ourselves questions that we have not asked before, and it shows us through the characters how people can react differently to someone transitioning, regardless of whether are part of the LGBT+ community or not.

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As naïve as it may sound, something I was not very aware of was transphobia within the LGBT+ community, and how just because somebody may be lesbian, for example, that does not mean that they cannot be transphobic. Being transgender and the process of transitioning from one gender to another can be a minefield, and it is something that we as a society are still in the early stages of understanding, discussing and accepting. This piece asks philosophical questions about love, morality, loss and acceptance, and whether they are clear-cut concepts or open to interpretation.

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Brittain’s writing poses poignant questions about relationships and what happens in them when there is a communication breakdown, but the play also explores the idea of homesickness and the isolation one can feel when living abroad. This is something that resonated with me as I have lived abroad before (although I did speak the language which helped) and I remember times when I just didn’t want to be there anymore; I wanted to be with people who thought like me and spoke like me and laughed at the same things as me. Living abroad is not always as glamorous as it looks, however Alice is essentially isolating herself in Holland due to her crippling fear of coming out to her parents; Rotterdam is her prison. This provocative piece takes the audience on a journey and taps into current affairs and debates going on right now, and has given me new insight into a marginalised community.