Annie ~ Birmingham Hippodrome

Star rating: *****

I’ve seen Annie many times, I first fell in love with the movie when I was 6 years old so I know the show inside out. This was the first time my little boy (aged 5) had been introduced to it and it has certainly left an impression on him for all the right reasons.

The show follows a straight forward story of an orphanage, badly run and homing little orphan Annie who is convinced that she is special because she isn’t an orphan and her folks are still alive, due to come for her at any time. That’s due to the broken locket she wears around her neck and a note that states they will be back for her and they have kept the other half of the locket. The fortunes of the spunky little girl are set to take a turn for the better when she coerces Billionaire, Oliver Warbucks’ secretary, Grace into choosing her to be taken under their roof for the festive season. This big adventure occurs despite the meddling of Orphanage Manager, Miss Hannigan – she’s rotten through and through but perhaps not so clever and conniving as her brother Rooster and his latest ‘moll’ Lily St Regis (named after the hotel!). It’s a race against time with the help of President Roosevelt no less, to stop the wicked trio from scuppering Annie’s chances of adoption.

The songs from the musical score are superb and timeless, from ‘It’s the Hard-Knock Life’ to ‘Easy Street’ to ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile’ – they’re toe-tapping numbers you can’t help singing along to.

This particular production is spectacular, the set is stunning and fits the era beautifully. Scene changes are seamless and the ensemble are a well-oiled machine in their timings. The orphans are a delight, all with belting voices and surely big careers ahead of them in years to come.

Freya Yates is a perfect choice for the title role, she brought heart, soul and oomph to the part of Annie. She had lovely chemistry with Alex Bourne who cut a dashing figure as Oliver Warbucks. Carolyn Maitland was gentility itself as the secretary who steals Warbucks’ heart, Grace Farrell. Richard Meek gives an energetic, sly and slippery performance as Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s jailbird brother – he simpers and plots with Jenny Gayner as Lily St Regis. Gayner is a terrific choice for the role, I’d seen her step into the spotlight as Annie in the Calendar Girls musical in the West End and she was a sensation then – she is exceptional as Lily. Stealing the show just ever so slightly though, is the fantastic Jodie Prenger as Miss Hannigan. I’ve seen many actors play the role and no-one is a patch on her. From the comic timing, the facial expressions and interaction with the juvenile performers, to the show-stopping performance of ‘Little Girls’ and ‘Easy Street’. Prenger has to be seen to be believed, she is flawless – the best Hannigan ever.

With three weeks to catch this fabulous production at Birmingham Hippodrome, I whole-heartedly suggest you beg, borrow or steal a ticket (Rooster will help you out!). With all of the uncertainty in the world we live in, a show full of hope is just what’s needed.

Book your tickets here: Birmingham_Hippodrome

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Hobson’s Choice ~ Birmingham Royal Ballet

Star rating: *****

Celebrating David Bintley’s final season as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet couldn’t come in a more glorious form than their latest production of Hobson’s Choice which delighted a packed auditorium at Birmingham Hippodrome.

The story itself is a well-known classic, the original play which the ballet is based upon was written by Harold Brighouse. Love and the class system are running themes as we are introduced to Henry Hobson, proprietor of a boot shop where his input is lessening due to his attachment to the demon drink. His three daughters, Maggie, Alice and Vickey are all vital cogs in his enterprise, their cheap labour in the shop ensures that he can live the drunken, gluttonous lifestyle he has become accustomed to. Alice is courting Albert Prosser (a lawyer) and Vickey is courting Fred Beenstock (son of a corn merchant) – however they are denied Hobson’s blessing in marriage as he fears losing them from the shop. Although he takes Maggie’s presence and hard work for granted and could never have predicted that she had set her sights on Will Mossop, the boot hand whom their wealthiest customer has praised to the skies. The twist in the tale catalyses a chain of events that sees Hobson’s world turned upside down.

Bintley’s choreography adeptly assists the artists to convey the story clearly, concisely, comically and is remarkable in the extreme. Every dancer in the cast puts effortless characterisation into their role as well as flawless performance. Stunning pas de deux offered intricate insight into relationships and the chemistry between the couples was palpable.

Jonathan Payn earned many a giggle from the audience as he danced the role of Henry Hobson with exceptional comic timing. His cronies; Jim Heeler (Kit Holder), Sam Minns (James Barton) and Mr Tudsbury (Tom Rogers) gave a solid, engaging performance and played off one another superbly. Marion Tait was beautifully self-righteous and eloquently portrayed the upper class Mrs Hepworth. Mathias Dingman as Fred Beenstock and Rory Mackay as Albert Prosser entertained as the suitors of the younger Hobson daughters. Laura Purkiss as Vickey and Delia Mathews as Alice were delightful, they perfectly emphasised the age and immaturity of the young girls. Samara Downs offered a performance as Maggie which showed vulnerability, strength and assertiveness all in one beautiful portrayal. The synchronicity with Lachlan Monaghan as Will Mossop was a joy to behold and their facial expressions conveyed every emotion which was mirrored by every step. Monaghan’s movement was so wonderfully fluid and purposeful that he was practically singing as well as dancing.

Accompanied by Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Phillip Ellis and lead by Robert Gibbs, with a set that framed the action so ornately – this particular ballet has a place in my heart. It’s a perfect first ballet for anyone who hasn’t been before, equally a must-see for ballet aficionados. Look out for the cymbal player in the Salvation Army scene too, I’m still chuckling now! Book your tickets to see the production, here: hobsons-choice

Photo Credits: BRB

Half-Term at the Hippodrome ~ Review

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s the school holidays! Yet another half term has presented itself and in our case, we have a 5 year old to entertain for just over 2 weeks. Easter holidays not only bring a fortnight’s worth of fun with your offspring, they also occasionally tag on a cheeky day or two for teacher training. Everything these days costs a pound or two, even a ‘free’ trip to the local park is likely to include requests for ice cream, and of course there’s always an ice cream van to hand, jingling away! One of our saviours came in the form Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre.

My boy, Connor, joining in the street dance workshop

It’s not difficult to entice my boy into a theatre, he’s been brought up going to shows that are age appropriate for most of his short life so far – of course he has! He’s my child after all! What helped to engage him with Birmingham Hippodrome’s week of fantastic activities was the Street Dance workshop offered for 5-7 year olds by the superb Dance Xchange. This hour long session offered on Good Friday showcased and demonstrated the quality of teaching from one of their talented teachers. The small group were taught a short dance which involved some moves which my little boy was familiar with as he already has street dance classes (as well as ballet and tap!).

The children were encouraged to warm up before they were put through their paces. The end result was several proud 5-7 year olds who could perform a street dance routine – and rather brilliantly too!

After that excitement the young ones were able to play with giant Lego bricks in the coffee bar area, that was a big hit. Also ideal for kids of all ages were the crafts that were on offer. From colouring an easter egg to making one to hang up at home or you could make a protest flag to wave. It was all good creative stuff designed to inspire the holidaying youngsters and my little boy hasn’t stopped talking about it.

The giant Lego was a hit!

The most amazing part of the activities offered is that they’re all free of charge. So unless you want to buy drinks or snacks in the coffee bar, your pennies can stay in your purse.

Birmingham Hippodrome offer these opportunities in the holidays regularly, so why not keep an eye on their website to find out what they have coming up soon: https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/

Free Theatrical Workshops ~ Birmingham Hippodrome

Birmingham Hippodrome half-term workshops. Credit: Simon Hadley

Birmingham Hippodrome is staging an exciting programme of free theatrical workshops this Easter half-term. Designed with the family in mind, children of all ages will be entertained with a range of free workshops from Monday 15 – Friday 19 April.

For the first time at the Hippodrome, the theatre will host an accessible Sensory Circus (17 Apr) for children with additional needs including Autism, Asperger’s and other complex disabilities.  As well as the Sensory Circus, there will be specially created chill out spaces close-by featuring circus play tents filled with sensory toys and apparatus.

In partnership with DanceXchange, Family Yoga (15 Apr) will offer parents and their little ones the chance to spend some happy, healthy time together. In the Street Dance workshop (19 Apr) expect a Hip-Hop inspired event where kids can work up a sweat with seasoned Street Dance teachers in the lead up to B-SIDE Hip-Hop Festival, coming to Birmingham this May.

In-keeping with Easter traditions, Easter Activities (15-19 Apr) will invite families to create their own colourful eggs, plus the chance to take part in an egg-citing Easter egg trail. There’s also the chance to discover industry secrets with Stage Make-Up for Families (16 Apr), with the opportunity to create dramatic characters and artistic make-up for the stage.

Arts and crafts take centre stage in the Build your own Brum workshop (18 Apr), working with illustrator Tsz, you’ll get to redesign your very own Birmingham. You can also join a Protest Flag Making workshop (16 & 19 Apr) inspired by Les Misérables. Drop in and create a flag with a message of peace or protest.

In the Make Your Own Theatre Poster workshop (15 & 18 Apr), families can come together to create eye-catching theatrical posters inspired by some of the headlining productions that have graced the Hippodrome stage.

Birmingham Hippodrome’s free Easter activities will take place from Monday 15 – Friday 19 April. For more information visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com/easter

The Band ~ Birmingham Hippodrome

The Band is on UK tour, catch it while you can and book your ticket for a venue near you, here: The Band

Guest Review by Claire Sidebottom

Star rating: ****

I arrived at the Birmingham Hippodrome knowing nothing but that it was a musical featuring Take That songs, but as soon as I entered the theatre the stagecurtain transported me back to 1993, with the sight of the familiar yet long forgotten view of good old Teletext screens projected onto it. From news of Jurassic Park being the film to see, to the top 40 single chart listings, bringing back songs and artists to many of the audience sitting around me, that were long forgotten along with the copies of the song lyrics in Smash Hits that used to fill our teenage bedrooms.

The show proceeded to take us further back to our teenage selves, with the time being 7pm on a Thursday, there was nothing else to be done than to watch Top of the Pops, well if you were going to have anything to talk about on Friday at school that is! From the classic BBC music show theme tune and straight into early Take That tunes, the music transported me back to my teenage memories. With a surprise twist though, the story wasn’t to be about a boy band, with expected reflections of the Take That boys’ journeys that had brought them to this point. In fact the plot was to follow the way in which music and love for a band during those all important teenage years can impact a group of girls as they reunite as women twenty five years older, but who were everything to each other during their adolescent years.

Straight away the group of five girls had such different personalities and lives, but that friendship and adoration of the popular boy band, saw them not only having all the same posters stuck on their bedroom walls, but a place within each other’s hearts forever, because those years before we enter the big wide world outside the school walls, can have a bigger effect on our lives than we sometimes realise.

The story’s journey takes us from those relatable girl characters of sweet sixteen, then becomes even more relatable to women in today’s modern world, and serves as a harsh reminder that it’s not very often that the childhood dreams that you hatched together with friends in the classroom (instead of doing your school work) actually end as reality. 

The flash backs to 90’s life at the beginning of the story, was very nostalgic and relatable for me, meaning the tragic twist in the storyline during the first half that moved the story into adulthood, wasn’t the only reason I felt emotional when the theatre lights came on for the interval. After a cursory check around me, I was happy in the knowledge that I was not the only one in the audience with teary eyes.

It was during the second half that it dawned on me that the five members of the band that had gone through agonising weeks of TV competition in BBC’s ‘Let it Shine’ were actually faceless characters throughout the performance. They were never referred to as Take That but to as ‘The Band’ or ‘the boys’, they didn’t have character names, but the occasional Take That reference here and there were comforting reminders, from the TT symbol being used, references to comebacks, and the image of the five boys’ comeback album cover ‘Progress’. Those five boys picked from the public vote, were actually the way the music was brought into the girls stories to show how those songs we have all listened to through the years of going from children to adults has related and entwined as we have grown. And how even a couple of notes or lyrics from a song can take our minds flooding back in time.

A little unfair that the boys didn’t age through the twenty five years like the main female characters, only joking of course, but then again that is life, we like to remember our idols as they were when we were young. And the ladies that did reflect those teenage characters in adult life all gave worthy, emotional performances in both acting and singing for their standing ovation, with the character of Heather being played by the familiar face from TV of Emily Joyce, and all of them having emotional and funny aspects within their roles. And then there was Jeff, played by Martin Miller, a boyfriend within the current day storyline that was to highlight that all those teenage plans of marrying a pop star end with a reality check of everyday relationships, but at the same time the friends and family in our lives, with all our different characters and flaws, are what makes life what it is.

The set design was spot on, for the 90’s teenager, and scene changes throughout the whole show were helped by the five boys, but the way the band emerged within scenes was done in a clever seamless manner with them emerging into song from school lockers, bedroom cupboards, statues, and the back seats of the bus, but it highlighted that music isn’t the main character in our lives but it encompasses so much we do, and a song can bring back so many memories within everyone lives, may it be a happy or sad memory.

During the entire show the comedy was perfectly timed, especially at certain vital intervals, when I would have to rummage in handbag for a tissue, the witty one liners saved my make-up! Especially the role of Every Dave (Andy Williams) who played various characters along the storyline, he brought a comedy element every time he set foot on the stage.

On reflection the show’s poster gives you a clue to the  way in which the musical’s title is a double sided sword to the word ‘Band’ and those colours within the 5 bands on the poster are reflected within the five main female character’s costumes though the show. No matter how the costumes changed throughout the story the girls kept to their allocated band colour. Whereas the boy bands’ costumes were by no means a complete reflection of Take That through the eras, but there were discreet links to fashion from their pop videos and concert performances.

In essence you don’t have to be a massive Take That fan (but knowing their popular songs is an obvious bonus) and you don’t have to have been a teenage girl during the 90’s to enjoy it at all, as the show has a solid storyline, a strong mixture of characters for a modern musical theatre show, and you will come out happy, singing ‘Shine’ and hearing many people saying they want to go in and watch it all again. However if Take That was your passion while growing up in the 90’s then this comes with the premise that if you are going to wear makeup, then make sure it is waterproof!

Photo Credits: The Band website 

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