A lifestyle blog all about Birmingham, UK.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty, Wolverhampton Grand

With the future of the country totally unknown and in a year that has just been a little bit, well, grim, there's nothing like a glittering and magical panto to put a smile on your face in time for the festive season. With the ultimate panto dame, back up dancers dressed as Wolves players, a really rather wicked witch and the queen of the Black Country herself, this year's offering of Sleeping Beauty at Wolverhampton Grand is one that simply can't be missed. 

The story follows the classic Sleeping Beauty tale, where Princess Beauty pricks her finger on a spinning wheel cursed by Carabosse. The curse means that she will sleep for 100 years, unless her friends can save her, especially the Prince who can bring her back to life with a true loves kiss. But of course, there is a Panto twist to bring the story to life with much more laughs and silliness than the original story. However, it isn't quite set in a magical world, it's set in good old Wolverhampton, which can be magical in its own I way I guess...

The panto boasts some cracking showbiz extras, including Richard Cadell, who takes on the role of Muddles, alongside his glamorous assistant, Sooty, who ended up being the star of the show. And don't worry, Sweep is also there to join in the fun too. Ian Adams takes on the role of the fabulous Panto dame Queen Wilhelmina and is joined by Black Country icon herself Doreen Tipton, who the audience simply adored.
On the back of her Strictly success, Debbie McGee takes on the role of The Lovely Fairy Crystal, and even squeezes in a dance or two full of steps she picked up during her dancing days. Oliver Ormson, who recently played Lucas in The Addams Family, helps bring a West End touch to the show alongside Bethan-Wyn Davies, who plays Princess Beauty herself and Julie Paton takes on the role of the super evil Carabosse, who got totally booed every time she appeared on stage. 

There was of course plenty of 'he's behind you!' panto moments which of course, completely make the show. But for me, the show couldn't have been as fun and magical as it was without Muddles and Sooty, who performed several magic tricks on stage which had members of the audience in awe, and it was so heartwarming to see so many kids completely amazed. There's also plenty of local references to laugh along at, with the best part of the show for me being a young boy from the audience, who told everyone he was from the 'dodgy bit' of Wolverhampton. All I'm saying is, it's a good job we've got thick skins round our ends. 

There was also a huge range of super cool special effects which took place throughout the panto, which really helped to add that special sprinkle of magic to the evening. With a huge dragon flying out into the audience, as well as Debbie McGee floating above the stage, the production is so much more than just your standard panto and each set design has clearly taken a lot of hard work. There are a few musical numbers during the show, including a Kylie song, and a few Greatest Showman tracks. There isn't exactly a stand out song, but the panto fun more than makes up for that.

The panto is by far one of the best ones I've seen over the last few years. It is family fun at its best, and is packed full of jokes, innuendos and a few raunchy references which hopefully completely flew over the children's heads. It is exactly what a panto should be, with several added extras and plenty of magical moments. It is ultimately the best way to start your Christmas celebrations, and the perfect opportunity to spend time with loved ones during the most wonderful time of the year.
Sleeping Beauty is on stage at Wolverhampton Grand until January 13, 2019. Don't miss it! 

RATING: 9/10

Photo credit: Tim Thursfield from Express & Star

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

REVIEW: The Bulls Head, Meriden

I tend to spend a lot of time in Birmingham city centre, so I love when I have the opportunity to discover venues outside of the centre. The Bulls Head in Meriden is just a stones throw away from Solihull, and a short drive away from Birmingham Airport, a side to the city I very rarely have the chance to head over to. But for me, The Bulls Head was well worth the journey. Nestled in a beautiful village in the countryside, it is the ultimate retreat away from the busy city which offers both guaranteed country pub cosy vibes with opulence and class.

Upon arrival to The Bulls Head, I couldn't believe just how big the place is! It is a huge venue, with plenty of seating in both the bar and restaurant areas. I was also surprised to see that it is also a hotel with apartments, which immediately made me want to book the night! The outside is decked with stunning fairy lights and cool, instagrammable areas. Inside, the interior has gorgeous, traditional country colours and cosy patterns. The venue is a classic pub, with a modern and opulent touch, and to be honest, I couldn't get enough of the place from the moment I walked in. The Bulls Head is everything I like in a restaurant; quintessentially British, warm, welcoming and cosy.
The menu has a wide selection, which includes over 10 starters, a huge range of main courses, as well as steaks and burgers, and pizza and salad options. There was also several sides and an impressive dessert menu, meaning that choosing what to have was a mission itself! If you were to head along with family or friends, I can assure you, there will be something for absolutely everyone.

Before getting started on the main event, me and my guest enjoyed the Artisan Rustic Breads from the 'While you Wait' section of the menu. The breads were beautiful and soft, and came accompanied with olives and oil. For starters, I went for the Duck Liver and Port Parfait, which came with gooseberry and Prosecco flavour compote and toasted ciabatta bread. It was full of flavour and the pate was very smooth. However, there wasn't enough bread for the portion size. Really, it needed at least four slices instead of the two which came with it. My guest opted for the Lobster and King Prawn Pot, which came with Devon crab creme fraiche and toasted chibatta bread. It came beautifully presented and was totally delicious.

For mains, I went for the Roasted Pork Belly and Seared Scallops, which came with potato dauphinoise, butternut squash purée, green beans, toasted almonds, crackling and red wine jus. It was just incredible. It had so much flavour, and the potato dauphinoise was so soft, the scallops were cooked perfectly and the pork belly was absolutely glorious. My guest went for the Buttermilk Southern Fried Chicken, which came with sweet potato fries, apple salad and lemon aioli, a classic pub dish with a classy touch.

Although we were both completely full, it would be rude to not have a dessert, right?! For dessert, I went for the Mini Desert and Hot Drink option. I chose the Belgian Chocolate Brownie alongside a gorgeous Hot Chocolate. My guest went for the Melting Chocolate and Peanut Bomb, which was served with vanilla ice cream, and of course, the hot salted caramel sauce which melted into the bomb.

Me and my guest headed along on a Tuesday evening, and couldn't believe how busy the restaurant was. In the few hours we were there, all the seats filled up, which is a great sign of how good a place is to be that level of busy on a weeknight. However, it did seem like the staff were struggling with just how many people there were. My experience was brilliant, although we did have to wait a while in between courses. I did overhear other customers complaining though about their wait. However, I do think that the staff probably only faced this issue because the amount of people in the restaurant was simply too much on what would normally be a quieter night. I would be surprised if that happened every single night.
I absolutely loved my time at The Bulls Head. I am already trying to find reasons to head back over to that side of the city and try more of their incredibly impressive menu. Thanks to its size, it is perfect for both small and large parties, and is also ideal for both occasions and a nice weeknight meal. I can't recommend The Bulls Head enough. You must go and see it for yourself! 

The Bulls Head: 9/10

*Please note: I was invited to review The Bulls Head for press purposes and therefore both mine and my guest's meals were paid for. However, I was under no obligation to write a positive review, I genuinely had an enjoyable meal at the restaurant. 

Monday, 3 December 2018

REVIEW: Aluna, Birmingham

Eye catching decor - check. A huge cocktail menu - check. Instagramable area - check. Aluna, nestled amongst the super classy and cool restaurants alongside the canal by the Mailbox, ticks so many Millennial boxes that it would be rude of me to not encourage those in 'my generation' to head along and check it out. 

Now, this is no normal restaurant. In fact, it feels a bit more like a night out than a Sunday afternoon in a cosy pub. So if you're desperate to wear your new heels and head for a cocktail, or five, with the girls, this is absolutely the place you should be going to. It is the perfect place to start a night out, with an electric atmosphere and cool music, but not so over the top that you can't have a conversation. 

The bar is stacked high with spirits, the lights are turned down low and the venue is scattered with seating for those simply in for a few drinks, and those in for the full Aluna experience. The restaurant feels quite intimate and very, very stylish. Many restaurants like Aluna have replaced huge main course dishes with sharing plates and small dishes, and it works, especially with enticing people to spend their nights out there - who wants to look bloated in a tight fitting dress anyway?! But Aluna's menu is packed full of flavour and options, and have a wide selection for everyone to enjoy. 

The Appetisers include Sriracha and Honey Popcorn, Sweet Potato Balls and Toasted Peanuts. However, it's the Plates to Share section of the menu that really makes the menu. The selection includes Red Aromatic Crispy Red Duck Curry, Chilli Crusted Tofu, Mitsuba Fillet Steak and Beef Bulgogi Sirloin. Me and my guest went back and forth for a while choosing, but eventually ended up going for the Chicken Katsu Sliders, which were delicious, and my guest went for the Wasabi Lamb Chops, which were also super tasty.
We also chose a small dish each. The Small Dishes menu includes Pan Roasted Scallops, Spicy Chicken Wings and Chilli Salt Squid. I went for the Tiger Prawn Cookies, which came with Coriander, Garlic, Lime and Sweet & Sour Plum Sauce, which were packed full of flavour, and my guest enjoyed the Spicy Chicken Wings, which came with Chilli, Garlic, Shallots and Sesame, which were just a little too spicy for me. In fact, a lot of the dishes looked and sounded very spicy, so if you're not keen on the spice like me, it's worth asking the staff what dishes are mild! We enjoyed both of the dishes alongside a side of Jasmine Rice, which was also delicious and a nice light side.

Personally, I don't think this place is going to break the bank, with the sharing dishes costing between £9 and just under £19, and the small dishes costing between £6.95 and just under £12. However, I do think the restaurant has more of a special occasion vibe to it. But in my eyes, that's great! I don't think there are enough places in the city to head to for a special occasion.

The decor is incredibly eye-catching at Aluna, and perfect for photographs. In fact, one section of the restaurant has angel wings attached to the wall, perfect for a night out full outfit shot. Another wall states 'Sinners Welcome', with another wall covered in equations. It is stylish though without being over the top and in your face. 

Unfortunately, I went along on a 'school night' so I didn't get to try out the cocktail menu which looked incredible. I'd be keen to head along again soon and try more of the sharing dishes, and absolutely a few off the cocktail menu too! 

If you're looking for a big hearty meal, then Aluna isn't the place for you. But if you're looking for light dishes, alongside a huge selection of drinks, then you are bound to fall in love with the venue. With it also being in a brilliant location, its easy to get to and try out for yourself. It is unique, fun and packed full of cool stuff to look at. 

Aluna is open from 12pm every day, and is open until 2am on Friday and Saturday. 

Aluna: 8/10

Friday, 30 November 2018

REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz, The REP Birmingham

A Christmas production I look forward to each year is The REPs. Every year, it celebrates a Christmas classic - but with a twist, or two. This year is no different, with The Wizard of Oz on stage at the theatre until mid January, and believe me when I say it is an absolute must see. In fact, if you do anything in Birmingham this festive season, make sure this is top of your list...

Being one of my favourite stories of all time, I'm always optimistic about seeing The Wizard of Oz on stage, almost in fear that I won't love it as much as the original. However, Liam Steel's production is not simply the story that we all know on stage, it has been completely transformed with every aspect of the production completely re-imagined. 

The production still very much follows the same story line which follows Dorothy make her way to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard of Oz, whilst making friends along the way; the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion. Of course, the gang is joined by the adorable Toto, played by both a wonderful real dog on stage as well as a puppet, which got the audience aww-ing and ooh-ing every time they arrived onto the stage. 

However, the play is brought to life by the new touches, which made the show one of the most creative productions I have seen in a long time. The creative touches include The Munchkins being brought to life in puppet form, neon door frames, yellow steps to represent the brick road and huge spooky figures which scared even the oldest audience members. The actual Wizard is a huge figure with big green eyes - but it turns out to be an hilarious woman behind the facade, which the audience immediately fell in love with. 
To say that the cast of this wonderful show are talented would be a total understatement. The role of Dorothy was played by Chisara Agor, who managed to get the adorable and naive nature of her character down to a T. The lovable Scarecrow was taken on by Ed Wade, the Tin Man was brought to life with cool dance moves by Dillon Scott-Lewis and the terrifying Wicked Witch of the West was played by the brilliant Jos Vantyler, who managed to combine a classic panto baddie with your worst nightmare. However, the stand out performer of the show for me was by far the Lion, played by Kelly Agbowu. Not only did she play the Lion scared of its own tail incredibly well, she also had an amazing voice which really helped bring some of the musical numbers to life.  

With all of its twists and turns, this production of the classic story still kept many of the original songs in the mix, meaning the audience could enjoy and sing along with the likes of Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead, We're Off to See the Wizard and of course, Over the Rainbow. The songs really helped bring the show to life and combine the old with the new brilliantly. 

The production's scenes changed smoothly and from one extreme to the next, the show really had a huge amount of creativity in it from start to finish, making it impossible to even take your eyes off the stage, with so much colour and fun taking place at all times. As well as the staging itself, the costumes were breathtaking, from simple fashion in Kansas to shock factor outfits in Oz. It was clear from the start of the show that this adaptation of The Wizard of Oz is for a new generation. 

However, although it is a much more imaginative take on the classic story, the meaning remains the same; there really is no place like home. At Christmas time especially, the message is timeless and that is why no matter how many adaptations of the Wizard of Oz there may be, it still remains one of the best stories of our time. 

The Wizard of Oz is on stage at The REP until January 13th, 2019. 

Rating: 10/10


Saturday, 24 November 2018

REVIEW: The Nutcracker, Birmingham Hippodrome

Birmingham is packed full of Christmas traditions, which we all love to get stuck in with. But nothing quite says Birmingham tradition like the return of Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker. Now in its 28th year, The Nutcracker simply gets bigger and better every single year. Each year more magical than the last, there's nothing like it to get you ready for the festive season.

Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker, which was created by Sir Peter Wright shortly after Birmingham Royal Ballet was founded in 1990, has seen huge success for many years, with sell-out runs and high praise for every single show.

Alongside Tchaikovsky's timeless score, the story begins on Christmas Eve at the home of the Stahlburn family, who are hosting a huge lavish party for all their family and friends. Their 15 year old daughter Clara is training to be a dancer and her friends from the ballet school are invited to perform for the guests.

A magician, Drosselmeyer, was also invited to perform fascinating tricks to the party attendees. Clara is gifted with a Nutcracker doll, and becomes fascinated with it. She truly believes that it has magical powers, and it is confirmed when the doll fixes itself after her brother breaks it.
After the party is over, the family retire to bed, but unable to sleep, Clara heads downstairs looking for her Nutcracker doll. But as the clock strikes midnight, strange things start to happen and the whole room grows around her, before a hoard of giant rats attack Clara. Thankfully, The Nutcracker springs to life and defends her.

Clara is then whisked away by Drosselmeyer to a magical world. In a grand hall, Clara is treated to several incredible performances, where she gets to join in with many of the dances, before being transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy. The dancing reaches its climax before the dream world completely vanishes and Clara wakes up on Christmas morning at the foot of her Christmas tree.

As well as the hugely talented dancing from the Ballet's ensemble, what really brings The Nutcracker to life is the pure magic in every single scene. From the Christmas tree and fireplace transformation, to the magical snow scene and Clara's sail across the night sky on a giant swan, the whole show is simply beautiful and a real festive feast for the senses, and completely opens up your imagination.

The dancers were simply wonderful. Each and everyone of them were fantastic. However, Karla Doorbar, who took on the role of the heroine Clara, was outstanding, as was the Sugar Plum Fairy, performed by Momoko Hirata, and The Prince, played by Cesar Morales, who put on a truly breathtaking performance.
If you're not already in the festive spirit, you certainly will be after enjoying a night at The Nutcracker. It is beautifully charming, elegant and enchanting. Christmas is a wonderful time for all of us, but this show adds that extra sprinkle of magic to the festive season. 

The Nutcracker is on stage at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Thursday, December 13th. 

The Nutcracker: 10/10

Thursday, 11 October 2018

REVIEW: War Horse, Birmingham Hippodrome

There's a reason over seven million people have seen, and fallen and love, with War Horse, and that is because it is unlike any other show. After a few years away, the acclaimed production has now returned to Birmingham.

Based on Michael Morpurgo's novel, War Horse follows Devonshire farm boy Albert, who becomes best friends with his horse Joey after his father takes a huge gamble. After building Joey into the perfect riding horse, there is huge heartbreak when his horse is sold to the Cavalry and shipped to France as World War One breaks out. 

However, sixteen year old Albert runs away from home to find his horse, before finding himself fighting in the war whilst searching for his beloved Joey. In this time, Albert becomes a man, builds his way up in the army and begins to give up all hope on finding his best friend. 

I had never seen War Horse before, and hadn't even watched the film, so the story and production was all completely new to me. It was poignant and a huge, heartwarming tribute to all the people, and horses, which lost their lives during both World War One and Two. 

If the story of the show wasn't remarkable enough, the stars of the production are the absolutely incredible life-sized horses, including Joey, made from woven wood and cloth. However, the way that the horses are brought to life makes the audience believe that they are truly real, and makes your imaginations run wild. Made by South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, the horses really are a complete masterpiece and totally makes the show the worthwhile production it is.
What I found most interesting though, was the actors mastering the horses. With three people controlling the head, the heart and the hind. However, the actors go through months of training to sound just like horses, from the breathing to the screeches in the drama filled screens. In fact, parts of the production where Joey was galloped across the stage, was absolutely breathtaking and by far some of the best theatre I have ever seen. 

The role of Albert, played by Thomas Dennis, was simply made for him and the role of Albert's mother Rose, played by Jo Castleton, was also absolutely fantastic. In fact, Jo's take on the role was completely believable and the audience felt every inch of her hurt whilst her son was away at war. 

The production and staging of the show was incredibly special, and took the audience from the dreamy hills of Devonshire to the battlegrounds in north France, including No Man's Land, with so much ease and style. What also helped to transition from scenes was the beautiful folk singing from Bob Fox, who brings gorgeous poetic narration throughout the production.

One thing that will always stay with me after watching, and becoming totally obsessed, with War Horse, is just how much the audience was affected by it. It is, without a doubt, one of the most emotional shows I have ever seen. It was also the fastest I have ever seen a crowd get off their seats and by far the loudest round of applause, but the cast truly deserved it. 

I cannot recommend War Horse enough. Although it is a huge production, it feels intimate, has a huge amount of class and style, and has been finished to complete perfection. If you do one thing this month, get yourself a ticket and enjoy the show whilst it's on your doorstep. 

War Horse: 10/10


Sunday, 30 September 2018

REVIEW: Sunday lunch at Edwardian Tearooms, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Being one of my favourite places in the city, I was over the moon to head along to the Edwardian Tearooms alongside my fellow Birmingham bloggers to review their Sunday lunch. 

Arguably the most important meal of the week, i'm always up for trying a new Sunday lunch. But when the venue is as beautiful as the Edwardian Tearooms, which is located within Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, it isn't hard to enjoy the meal even more. 

To start the meal, we were given the option of red or white wine. Of course, we chose both! The white wine was Chilean and one I've never tried before. Called 'Santiano' Sauvignon Blanc, it was beautiful and crisp, and went alongside the meal perfectly.

For main, we had a selection of three, pork, beef and wild mushroom wellington. I went for the Roast Pork Loin with sage and onion stuffing. The pork was absolutely delicious, incredibly succulent and the crackling was lovely and crispy. The main came with roasted carrots, seasonal greens, red wine gravy and the biggest Yorkshire pudding I have ever seen! The meal also came with cauliflower cheese, which was super creamy and a great added extra. The other bloggers had the beef, which looked fantastic, and the wild mushroom wellington also looked super tasty.

To say that the main was filling would be a total understatement - talk about food baby! But, you know me, there is always room for dessert. I opted for the sticky toffee pudding which was served with custard. Now, this may be slightly biased as that is already my favourite dessert ever. But it really was absolutely delicious.

What I really enjoyed about the meal was that it's not trying to be special, or remarkable, it's just trying to be good, tasty food, which is all we really want on a Sunday afternoon right? It is a fantastic lunch, full with flavour, and for the price, actually quite the bargain! Every Sunday, you can enjoy two roasts for £20! Considering how much food you get for that price, I think it is incredibly reasonable.

The meal was incredibly enjoyable, but the venue really is something else. Full of character, colour and fun, even if you're not up for a Sunday lunch, you have to head there just to experience an hour or two in a wonderful venue. It is also the perfect opportunity to check out the museum and see one of the many exhibitions taking place.

However, it really is the staff that make the Edwardians Tearooms what it is. We were fortunate enough to meet many members of staff during our Sunday lunch visit, including the incredibly friendly head chef, and they couldn't do enough for us.
I cannot recommend this Sunday lunch, and the venue, enough. If you're on the hunt for a cracking roast in Birmingham, say hello to the Edwardian Tearooms. 


Women Power Protest exhibition to open in Birmingham

Feminist artists who have explored protest, social commentary, and identity in their work, will be showcased in a major new contemporary art exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery this November. 

In the anniversary year for women’s suffrage, this exhibition asks just how much has changed for women? Women Power Protest includes bold contemporary artworks from over 55 artists drawn largely from the Arts Council Collection, along with pieces from Birmingham’s collection. 

The Arts Council Collection National Partnership exhibition looks at the experiences of becoming and progressing as a woman amongst varying degrees of opportunity and oppression in relation to race, class, geography and sexuality. Through debate, protest and radical endeavours, women fought for their right to voice their opinions in a public realm that systematically silenced women. 

Women Power Protest showcases female artists whose work has highlighted their personal experiences and continued to push for women’s rights over the last seven decades. 

Including notable names such as Lucy Gunning, Margaret Harrison, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Sonia Boyce, Susan Hiller, Lubaina Himid, Marion Coutts, Mona Hatoum and Mary Kelly, the exhibition will draw attention to the progress made since the first women were given the right to vote 100 years ago, and the immense challenges women still face today. 

A work from the iconic Post-Partum Document series by Mary Kelly (1978/79) is displayed in the exhibition. The 18 slate tablets, resembling miniature Rosetta stones, are the part of a six-year exploration of motherhood and Kelly’s relationship with her son. 

Meanwhile For the Fallen (2001) by Marion Coutts transports the viewer back to their own school years through a wooden vaulting horse recognisable to many from P.E. lessons. Engraved with the words For the Fallen it turns the object into both a war memorial and a monument to embarrassing childhood experiences. 

The exhibition does not shy away from difficult issues. An early work from Sonia Boyce, Mr close-friend-of-the-family pays a visit whilst everyone else is out (1985) is a charcoal drawing which depicts a challenging scene, that explores the abuse of trust experienced by a young woman, and reflects some of Boyce’s concerns about power relationships. 

Margaret Harrison’s Rape (1978) uses media texts and images to boldly highlight the injustices against women in rape cases. A work by 2017 Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid – Cotton.com (2002) – uses pattern to explore the conversations that may have taken place at the time of the Cotton Famine between workers in Lancashire’s cotton mills who defended the lives of African slaves in America.
All three works in Claudette Johnson’s Trilogy series (1982-86) form part of the exhibition. The large-scale portraits were created when Johnson was a member of the BLK Art Group in the 1980s in Wolverhampton and her empowering paintings aim to make black women visible in the art world.

Works from the 90s mark the rise in the popularity of female artists at this time. Lucy Gunning’s Climbing Around My Room (1995) was her first video work and is on display in Women Power Protest, alongside Tania Kovat’s Grotto (1995), a playful 2-metre high cave-like structure. Kathy Prendergast’s The End and the Beginning (1996), is a small intricate work in which three generations of human hair are wound around a wooden cotton spool. 

The theme of identity and heritage continues in Mona Hatoum’s Plotting Table (1998) - a fluorescent green map which viewed in the dark turns the world into a board game designed for territorial wars. 

Birmingham has a history of female protest and the exhibition includes works from the city’s collection. Works from the collection include Louise Bourgeois’ The Bad Mother (1998), Barbara Walker’s Bliss (2012) and Barbara Hepworth’s Four Figures (1951). 

Emalee Beddoes-Davis, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Birmingham Museums Trust, said: “This exhibition acknowledges the monumental step taken for women’s rights 100 years ago, but through challenging contemporary artworks it explores some of the experiences common to being a woman in 21st century society, and the progress still to be made. Feminist activism continues as women across the world strive to have their voices heard and this is an ideal time to reflect and showcase these artworks in Birmingham. 

“As women, not all the artists featured in this exhibition have gained the recognition they deserve. The exhibition recognises the historic bias in collections and how we have to continue to strive to ensure female artists, and in particular those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, are given the platform they deserve.” 

Jill Constantine, Director of the Arts Council Collection, said: "Representing the work of female artists in the Arts Council Collection is an important aspect of our work. Last year, for the first time, we acquired more work by women than men and in this important year for all women, I am delighted that our National Partner, Birmingham Museums Trust is exploring their contribution in this exhibition." 

The exhibition will be marked with a weekend of thought-provoking events and activities from Friday 16th – Sunday 18th November, including performances, spoken-word poetry, debates and talks. Women Power Protest is at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from 10th November 2018 until 31st March 2019.

Make your own marathon with a Birmingham hospice

As marathon fever hits Birmingham this October, a local hospice has created a 26-mile sporting event that everyone can get involved in – even if they haven’t done any training!

Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice’s ‘i-Marathon’ challenges people to complete 26.2 miles of activity across the month of October. 

The virtual marathon will see participants choose their preferred sporting activity– whether that’s running, cycling, swimming, walking or mixture of all them – as well as picking where, when and how they’ll complete it. 

So whether that’s one mile of running on the treadmill for 26 days or six miles of cycling every weekend, the i-Marathon is a fantastic opportunity for beginners or people with busy lifestyles to introduce exercise into their day-to-day schedules. 

Laura Nash, events manager at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, said: “October is marathon month in Birmingham, so we wanted to create an alternative challenge that still lets people get involved and go the distance but at a pace that suits them. 

"We know how daunting 26.2 miles can feel to do at once, so the i-Marathon is a great starting point for people looking to do a marathon in the future or for those simply looking to keep fit and active.”

Participants will receive a free hospice t-shirt when they sign up and for those who reach their 26.2 miles goal and raise the minimum sponsorship, they’ll be awarded their own commemorative medal.

All funds raised will go towards the Hospice, which provides vital care to people and their families living with life-limiting illness across Birmingham and Sandwell. 

Laura added: “As well as completing such a gruelling distance, participants really will make a difference to the people and families that we care for. Last year, the i-Marathon raised over £5,000, which will help make beds available for people needing expert care and support at the Hospice.”

Every day, Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice cares for 400 people in their own homes, in their local communities and at the Hospice. Registration for the i-Marathon is £5 and participants can sign up, here.

REVIEW: Midlands Whisky Festival 2018

Recently, me and Dan headed along to Midlands Whisky Festival. Having heard about the event so much over the past few years, I was keen to go along and see what the fuss was all about! Organised by Stourbridge based wine and spirit merchant Nickolls and Perks, the event took place at THESTUDIO on Cannon Street in Birmingham city centre. 

Upon arrival, we collected our wristbands, dram glasses and a dram token as well as handy list of all the spirits available to taste, and purchase, before making our way into the event. The event took place over two halls and was absolutely packed with whisky connoisseurs! Admittedly, I didn't even know where to start, and not being a huge whisky drinker myself, I was unsure if I was really going to fully enjoy the event.

 Thankfully, there was plenty of bourbons that are more up my street, and a selection of other spirits to try.

My first dram of the day was Michter's Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which at first had a huge kick to it, slowly warmed me up and was delicious! 

My second dram of the day was the Tennessee Bourbon Whisky, which was my favourite of the day. It tasted a lot like the smoky flavours I'm normally used to, but a name I had never heard of before. One that will definitely be added to my Christmas list! 

Another favourite of the day was the Whistlepig Straight Rye Whisky. With it's slogan being 'Drink Something Real', that most certainly is what it is! Although it did leave a burn in the throat, it was oaky, smooth and tasty. 

However, the most interesting flavour of the day had to be Glenfiddich's IPA experiment. It had all the smoky and dryness of a traditional whisky, but with a funky hit of IPA-like flavour. 

As well as a whole range of whisky to try and enjoy throughout the day, the event also boasted a variety of masterclasses, expert talks and more. It was also the perfect opportunity for whisky lovers to all come together to discuss their favourite spirit, try something new and discover their new favourite whisky. For whisky lovers, this is the event you simply cannot miss!

Find out more about the event and when it is set to return here


Tuesday, 18 September 2018

REVIEW: Pop Music at The REP, Birmingham

With a packed soundtrack including huge hits from the likes of Beyonce, Oasis and The Killers, I knew this was going to be my kind of show. However, throw the likes of Whigfield's Saturday Night and Madonna's Holiday, and I knew this was going to be my DREAM show. I have been obsessed with pop music my whole life, and have a habit of remembering what song was playing in very precise moments. A lot like what the basis of what Pop Music, now on stage at The REP in Birmingham, is all about. 

Pop Music, a short and sweet 75 minutes long, takes place at a wedding. It's late at night, the bride and groom are off to a Travelodge for their honeymoon and the dance floor is getting emptier. However, the free bar is still going strong, and so are gobby Kayla and sensitive G. At first, the two have absolutely nothing in common. But as they dance their way through 30 years of pop in a wonderful cocktail of nostalgia and drunkenness, they learn that they in fact knew each other at school. Kayla, as the leader of a popular girl gang, and G as the shy kid who got bullied - by the likes of Kayla. 

As each song booms out onto the dance floor by the moody DJ - the type who absolutely takes no requests - the two reminisce about their pasts whilst singing and dancing along to their favourite tracks. However, it isn't until they talk about where they are at in their lives now, that the show takes an emotional turn. Kayla, who dreamed of being a singer as a teen, has ended up in a dead end office job and G, who went on to have a hugely successful career, is in a dark place after his mother has passed away. It doesn't stay sad for long though, and the two become the best of friends despite what happened as teens.

The play has a very simple and understated set, as it really is all about the talent on stage. Just three actors are on stage for the whole show, but they are outstanding. The role of loud and boisterous Kayla is played by Katherine Kotz, whilst the role of G is taken on by Rakesh Boury. The third actor on stage is Remix, played by Ciaran Alexander Stewart, who not only provides BSL interpretation for Kayla and G, but also has incredible dance moves and fantastic comedic timing. Thanks to a monitor with subtitles too, the show is accessible to all, so we can all enjoy it equally. 

As the title suggests, this play, created by Anna Jordan, is all about the music and the role that it plays in our lives. The soundtrack is simply brilliant, and really does take the audience right to the heart of a classic wedding disco, or a Saturday night in Popworld! The soundtrack is only the start of what makes this show an absolute must see production. It is the perfect blend of hilarious one liners and incredibly emotional moments. But when I say it is hilarious, it genuinely is! The audience laughed out loud the whole way through, and with its cheekiness and downright dirtiness, it really is like being amongst your friends at a dreadful wedding - the type that always turn out to be the best ones!

However, what I loved most about this show is just how intimate it was. With it being in The Door at The REP, the audience were very close to the show itself, making it feel even more like we were actually the guests at the wedding, watching this unfold before us. Pop Music reminded me how great fun filled light-hearted shows can be. The type of production that makes you want to get up and sing along is a winner in my eyes. 

Director James Grieve says himself that Pop Music is a 'love letter to pop' and that is exactly what the show is. If you live for music, the way it can impact your life and the way it makes you feel, then do yourself a huge favour - book yourself a ticket to Pop Music. Don't forget your dancing shoes!

Pop Music: 10/10

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Birmingham exhibition explores body image and identity

Works from artists including Francis Bacon form part of a new experimental exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery which explores underrepresented stories of body image and identity. 

Within and Without: Body Image and the Self, open now until February 1st 2019, examines the questions, anxieties and stereotypes faced when trying to attain the ideal body we see reflected in public spaces. 

Including artworks dating from 1825 to present day, with a new photography commission created especially for the exhibition, the display explores how body image impacts on issues such as social status, gender, health, aesthetics, religion, politics and sexuality. 

Stand out works in the show include Pygmalion (1997) by Donald Rodney, which is on display for the first time since the artist’s death in 1998. Pygmalion explores the complexities of racial identities, masculinity, perfection and fame through an irreverent depiction of Michael Jackson as a moving automaton. This piece provokes a discussion about one of the exhibition’s key themes of colourism and how racial identities affect lived experiences.
One of the other main themes in the exhibition is the Male Gaze and how women are often presented as sexual objects for a male viewer. This is explored through Helen Chadwick’s Vanity (1986) which asks the observer to consider whether the artist is challenging or playing up to what is typically considered the desirable behaviour and appearance for a woman. 

I spent some time exploring the exhibition recently, and here is what I enjoyed the most...

Francis Bacon - Figures In A Landscape (1956)

This painting is a key piece in the exhibition. When looking at the oil painting, you can see that the figures are human, but are naked and distorted. It has been placed in the exhibition to recognise that for many people, body image is a struggle.

Henry Wallis - Study of a Nude Man with Club (1850-1860)

This piece from Henry Wallis has formless genitals and a smooth body, relating to those who are not represented as a particular gender.

Chila Kumari Burma - Autoportrait 28 Position in 34 years

This artist painted over 28 images of herself to create a mixed media self-portrait. In the piece, Burma explores the construction of her racial and sexual identity, by wearing various costumes that illustrates that the identities are fluid.

Wooden Dolls made in Kumming, China (1988-1990)

This piece shows a selection of handmade dolls. It was chosen to be included in the exhibition as the collection highlights a lack of diversity in commercialised and popular dolls.

This is the second prototype exhibition in the ‘Story Lab’ gallery at BMAG, which has been created with the city’s diverse individuals, communities and professionals to help define innovative new ways of understanding Birmingham’s collection of museum objects.
The specially designed ‘Story Lab’ space has been created to test new ideas and radical approaches to provide vital insight and feedback for the plans for the museum re-development. The innovative approach means that visitors have multiple ways of experiencing the exhibition and its content, including personal and academic responses to the artworks, so they can decide what they prefer. 

Within and Without: Body Image and the Self has been created alongside various groups, including Lordswood Girls School students, Birmingham LGBTQ+ Refugee Group and an over 50s group.
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