A lifestyle blog all about Birmingham, UK.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

REVIEW: The History Boys, Wolverhampton Grand

There aren’t many writers I love more than Alan Bennett. His work has made me feel every emotion possible in the past, from the incredible Talking Heads monologues that I had the total joy of studying during my A Levels all those years ago, to The Lady in the Van; I have absolutely adored his work. So I was delighted when I saw that The History Boys, arguably his greatest piece of work, was arriving in Wolverhampton. And even better, it’s a Wolverhampton Grand Theatre production, so I just knew that it was going to be special.

The History Boys follows an unruly bunch of sixth-form boys who are battling in their pursuits of sex, sport, banter and a place at university. They are a bunch of very bright lads, keen to leave Sheffield behind and get into Oxford or Cambridge. However, their teachers have a very different way of teaching the boys, and very different ideas of what they should get out of school, and achieve in life. But the Headmaster is all about the school moving their way up the league tables, so brings in Oxbridge graduate Irwin to teach the boys a thing or two about getting into a top university.

General Studies teacher Hector teaches the lads how to recite poetry perfectly, how to have conversations in French and the pure joy of words, essentially giving them an hour to just enjoy themselves, whilst learning a huge amount about real life. On the other hand, Irwin pushes the boys to think outside of the box. There is a stark contrast between Hector and Irwin; the lads see Hector as fun, and Irwin as the serious one. The audience get to see how differently the boys act around the two polar opposite teachers. But which one do they learn more from?

The production is very funny, but is, in equal measure, incredibly deep and thought provoking. The main element of the show though is that of emotional and physical abuse of the boys, first by Hector, but also with hints from Irwin. This element would have obviously been a large part of the production, but in the #MeToo era, it’s important to have story lines like this more than ever.

The audience had the joy of being able to get to know each character individually, with the time and effort put into each role. The role of the super strict headmaster was taken on by Jeffrey Holland, alongside Hector being played by Ian Redford, who managed to make the audience dislike him for what he does to the boys, but also feel a sense of sympathy towards him for what his life has become.

Lee Comley made the role of Irwin his own, and Victoria Carling’s take on Mrs Lintott was brilliant, and the perfect casting for the sweet but sassy role who is keen for the boys to understand women. The cast is completed by Thomas Grant as Posner, Jordan Scowen as Dakin, Frazer Hadfield as Scripps, Joe Wiltshire Smith as Rudge, James Schofield as Lockwood, Arun Bassi as Akthar, Dominic Treacy as Timms and Adonis Jenieco as Crowther.

Stand out performances though came from Thomas Grant, who was simply made for the role of Posner, Frazer Hadfield’s take on Scripps and Jordan Scowen’s role of Dakin.

The sets were uncomplicated, simply going from classrooms to the headmaster’s office. But one element that I really liked in the show was that between scenes, the production used screens to show the boys outside of the classroom, which gave us an insight into what was happening around the school grounds. This was a really imaginative and innovative way of keeping the audience entertained whilst sets changed, and we were treated to a cracking set list of 80s songs to accompany the videos shown on screen.

The History Boys is one hell of a show; taking us from hilarious moments to deep, dark conversations. We get to see so much character progression in the production in just over two hours, and learn about where life took each boy, which was a lovely touch. The production was funny, witty and snappy, but also salient and really important.

I can’t recommend this show enough. It is a fantastic show, and I hope we get the opportunity to see Wolverhampton Grand Theatre continue to keep producing such high quality productions.

The History Boys: 10/10

*I was gifted two tickets to this show in exchange of a review on this blog. I have not accepted payment for this review. I paid for all travel to and from the theatre.

All pictures captured by Tim Thursfield/Express & Star.


REVIEW: Band of Gold, The Alexandra, Birmingham

Band of Gold captivated over 15 million viewers each week when it aired on ITV back in the 90s. The thriller revolves around a group of women – Carol, Rose, Anita and Gina – as they battle to survive working in a red-light district in Bradford.

Kay Mellor, who is the woman behind not only Band of Gold, but also the likes of Fat Friends and The Syndicate, decided to turn the popular TV series into a stage show following the success of Fat Friends The Musical. However, trying to turn the first series of a TV drama into a two hour production is complicated work…

The audience meet Gina, who has left an abusive husband and is attempting to flog off cosmetics as the local Avon girl in a bid to make some money so that she can pay off a vicious loan shark, so that she can look after her young daughter without needing to take her vile ex back. But whilst out trying to sell lip-gloss and moisturiser, she knocks on the door of Carol, who has been selling sex since she was just 13. She gets talking prostitution with Carol and Anita, who occasionally lets the girls use her flat to bring men back to, and decides that selling sex is a quick and easy way to make a lot of money, giving Gina the opportunity to finally get rid of the loan shark.

But, whilst Gina is working the lanes, trying to make the last bit of cash needed to pay the loan off, she gets suddenly murdered. This turns the play about understanding the reasons behind why women end up selling sex, into somewhat of a murder mystery. Alongside this main storyline, there is also a man acting very strangely in the local pub, Carol’s ex who turns out to be a Police Inspector, and a Councillor getting plenty of sexual favours. This is also alongside other mini plots of what people will actually do to win a cleaning contract, and Rose desperate to meet her teenage daughter who was taken off her as a baby. Therefore, as you can imagine, there is a huge amount going on in this production.

There is an excellent cast, full of relatively big names from the likes of Coronation Street, Eastenders and Hollyoaks. Gina is played by Sacha Parkinson, who I absolutely loved watching as teenager in My Mad Fat Diary, so I was delighted to see her in this production, and doing a brilliant job of this complicated character. The headstrong and sassy Rose is played by Gaynor Faye, who works incredibly hard at perfecting this role in the show, and Emma Osman also does a great job as the flirty but fiery Carol.

This show is undeniably all about the women, but that doesn’t mean that the men go under the radar. X Factor winner and Coronation Street star Shayne Ward takes on the role of Inspector Newall, and Hollyoaks actor Kieron Richardson is Gina’s evil ex Steve, and does a fantastic job.

The set was made up of many sliding doors, which was innovative, and almost felt like the change of scenery in a TV series, which was a good way to give a nod to the 90s ITV drama. We were taken from the local pub to Gina’s house, Carol’s super clean living room and, of course, the lanes themselves, where the girls go to earn their money. However, sometimes it took just a little too long to change sets, making the scenes sometimes feel a bit disjointed, and towards the end, there were so many changes that it was difficult to keep up with what was going on.

The story itself behind the show is excellent, and I really admire how Kay Mellor wanted to show a different side to women who sell sex, rather than just being stereotypical and expected. However, there were elements to the show that I would absolutely change. The whole production needs tightening up and there really is simply too much going on. And because there’s too much going on, it means the audience doesn’t get to know each character as well as we wanted to, which meant I left the show with so many questions, having not have had the closure what I needed from the production.

Although the show is somewhat of a murder mystery, when we do eventually find out who the killer is, it wasn’t exactly a big shocking moment and was swiftly set aside to tie loose ends up of other plot lines going on in the show, making the show not quite a thriller, but also not quite a comedy. The cast were all brilliant, but it would have been nice to see more of Shayne Ward throughout the production rather than more towards the end. Despite having an excellent cast, it was the attempt of having too many stories within one show that simply lets this production down.

Fans of the 90s hit TV show will no doubt really enjoy the show and will love the nostalgia of meeting these women once again. But if you’re not familiar with the story already, I strongly suggest that you do your research beforehand, as elements of it may seem a bit random if not. The story is good, the cast are great, the music is excellent – but the magic was simply missing in this show.

RATING: 6/10

*I was gifted two tickets to this show in exchange of a review on this blog. I have not accepted payment for this review. I paid for all travel to and from the theatre.

All pictures captured by Ant Robling. 


Sunday, 9 February 2020

A Day Well Spent at The Boy in the Dress, The RSC

The Royal Shakespeare Company; by far one of the best theatres that the Midlands has to offer. So when they recently invited me along to check out behind the scenes of The Boy in the Dress, on stage until 8th March, as well as enjoy the show, I could hardly resist!

The Boy in the Dress, written by a true nation sweetheart, David Walliams, follows the story of Dennis. He is a 12 year old boy, and his school football team’s top striker. But, things aren’t too easy at home. His Mum leaves his Dad, leaving Dennis with just a photo of her in a yellow dress. So when he pops into his local newsagents and comes across a copy of Vogue magazine, where the model is wearing a similar dress to his mum’s, he is instantly drawn to it. But he can’t understand why he likes football…and fashion. Will he ever be allowed to be the boy in the dress?

Upon arrival to the theatre, we met with Company Manager Robbie Cullen, who gave us an incredibly thorough tour of the set and staging of The Boy in the Dress. Having the opportunity to go backstage is always one that I absolutely love. As wonderful as it is to see the finished product, heading behind the scenes to see what really goes into a production is fascinating.

One of the key parts of the show is the houses that make the backing of many of the scenes, so seeing them spotted around ready to go on stage was wonderful, as well as the car that glides onto the stage effortlessly, the disco balls that bring together one of the best musical numbers in the show, and the goal posts that pop up magically out of the floor throughout the show.

We also got to chance to marvel at the outfits, and the props, with our favourite being the snot, of course, that contributes to one of the funniest moments in the show. But the absolute highlight though was being able to meet the wonderful OddBall, who we instantly fell in love with.

Ben Thompson, the operator of the dog, was fascinating to watch, but it is also as fascinating to notice how quickly you no longer notice Ben, and just see OddBall for the fabulous character he is! Heading backstage was the ultimate treat for me, and it allows you to watch the show in a totally different way because you’ve seen and heard about the amount of hard work that goes into the production. 

Following the tour, we headed upstairs to enjoy a beautiful Sunday dinner at the theatre’s restaurant that overlooks Stratford-upon-Avon. I went for the Pork, which was absolutely delicious! In fact, it was the best meal I’ve had in a super long time. My guest went for the Seabass, and they also absolutely loved it. It’s very rare that I get the chance to enjoy a meal AND a show, so it made the day so special. 

We soon headed to the show, which we were so excited for by this point! We’d heard a rumour whizzing around that the man himself, David Walliams, was in the building. So we couldn’t quite believe it when we got to meet David, as he sat himself right behind us! Just another part of the day that made the day unforgettable.

The show was everything we wanted it to be. The plot is a beautiful story, of acceptance and total joy; a story that I wish had been around when I was younger. Jackson Laing took on the role of Dennis, and was just incredible, he was simply made for the role. Other highlights included the role of Dennis’s Dad, played by Rufus Hound, whose take on the role was fantastic. The audience went from hating him and his treatment of Dennis and his brother John, to absolutely loving him when he accepted Dennis for who he is.

Other highlights of the cast included Lisa James, played by Asha Banks, who was absolutely fantastic and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her pop up in even bigger roles in the future. However, the show was really brought together with the help of a hugely talented ensemble. 

One of my favourite aspects of the show was the musical numbers, that really helped bring the show to life. The songs for the production were written by no other than Robbie Williams himself, and Guy Chambers, and they were all absolutely brilliant, super catchy and songs that I could easily go back and listen to time and time again. Personal musical highlights included the infectious ‘Disco Symphony’, the downright hilarious ‘I Hate Kids’ and the stunning ‘Is there Anything More Beautiful Than Lisa James?’. 

The set, many of which we got to take a closer look at backstage, looked fantastic working on stage. Sets moved smoothly between scenes, taking the audience from the football pitch, effortlessly to Dennis’s bedroom, Lisa’s house, the newsagents and the school classrooms, all without much hassle at all. 

I absolutely adored my day experiencing all things The Boy in the Dress. The show was, of course, absolutely brilliant, and so, so enjoyable, that I can’t wait to head along again soon to watch it all over again. If you’re looking for a show that will put a huge smile on your face and lift your spirits during these cold and miserable months, you absolutely need to head along to watch this incredible production. 

The Boy in the Dress is on stage at The RSC until 8th March 2020. Get tickets here

*I was fortunate enough to be gifted the backstage experience, restaurant meal and show. However, I haven’t accepted payment to write this post and was under no obligation to give a raving review. I paid for all travel to and from the theatre. 

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