Iqbal Khan Directs Of Mice And Men – At Birmingham Rep Until 8 April

Writer Ed King / Photographers Ciaran Bagnall and Mark Senior (production), Kris Askey (publicity)

Written as a novel for the stage, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men has been treading the boards since its release in 1937.

Now, over 85 years since you could first read or watch it, Steinbeck’s futile journey towards the American dream has made its way to the Birmingham Rep – directed by Iqbal Khan, back in the second city after his extraordinary Commonwealth Games 2022 opening ceremony.

But whilst Of Mice and Men is often cited as a literary classic, one of the books you know even if you’ve not read – studied in schools and classrooms across the world –  it has also been routinely criticised for its perceived brutality, misogyny, and racist content.

As late as 2021, the 30,000-word novella was No8 on the American Library Association list of banned books in the US, sandwiched by Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Khan, however, takes the bull by the horns and sticks virtually verbatim to the original text – throwing in some new lines to give more depth to the only nameless character, Curley’s Wife, played superbly in this production by Maddy Hill.

The premise is simple: set in the Great Depression, in America, ranch workers George (Tom McCall) and Lennie (William Young) are heading to a new farm to buck barley wheat, having been chased out of their last town, and hoping to build enough money for a small homestead George dreams of one day owning.

Lennie dreams of tending rabbits, with a childlike obsession “to pet nice things with my fingers, sof’ things” which drives his character’s actions and ultimately delivers “another bad thing” that cements his downfall.

Everything about Lennie is childlike, apart from his stature and incredible strength – with the beginning of the narrative describing him killing mice just by petting them, and the clenched fist misunderstanding that saw them flee in the first place. And it only gets worse.

Set in a handful of locations, Ciaran Bagnall’s exquisite set – made from tall slats of broken timber, that shift like the fractured ambitions of the protagonists – is wonderfully effective. As are the shards of light that permeate each scene.

Music and song carry us from act to act, with the full cast appearing as an ensemble both lamenting the hardships of workers and their chased dreams keeping them at the grindstone.

The cast contains no weak links, with standout performances from the two central characters – George (Tom McCall) and Lennie (William Young) – and frighteningly real portrayals of 30’s America black/white divide through old ranch hand Candy (Lee Ravitz) and tolerated but segregated stable buck Crooks (Reece Pantry).

Again, a mention goes to Maddy Hill for her superb portrayal of the only female character, Curly’s Wife, who is browbeaten into loneliness by her jealous new husband – and both objectified and vilified by the all-male environment. And if those who voted to ban this book could see Hill’s representation of Steinbeck’s frustrated femme fatale, they might sleep a little easier at night.

But ultimately the story speaks for itself, and aside from some clever fringe decoration – such a beautiful display of metaphor and red velvet at the very start – Khan lets the literature stand on its own two feet.

Any additions arguably add weight or simply celebrate the theatrics of theatre, like Candy’s mangy puppet dog that mirrors so much of the play’s meaning.

It is also worth mentioning various characters are played by actors with ‘lived experience’ of their on-stage disabilities – including William Young/Lennie, who has Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum (ACC) and ‘complex learning difficulties’. The rest you can guess or Google.

Revising a role he first played in 2017, Young is excellent as the childlike mountain of a man who can, and does, crush every bone in a hand just by not letting go. Citing his ACC as a useful tool for “getting into Lennie’s mindset”, Young delivers a cracking character regardless – whilst at the same time hopefully both inspiring and challenging those who need either.

But the ultimate success of Iqbal Khan’s Of Mice and Men stage play is that it made me enjoy the book even more, bringing the hard-to-like characters off the page and into a world where I just about could.

George is mean, but I understand better why. Lennie is a danger, but I’m more endeared to him than frightened for him. Curley’s Wife now has much more of my sympathy, and the moment I have enough jack I’m taking Candy and Crooks into town for a shot.

And to underscore this point, I’ve started rereading the book – something you could probably do in less time than it takes to watch Khan’s production, and not a bad idea before heading in.

But watch the play too. After all, Of Mice and Men was always meant to be absorbed both onstage and off.

Of Mice and Men runs at the Birmingham Rep until 8 April, for more details and links to online ticket sales visit

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‘God’s Creatures’ – A Haunting Drama About The Limits Of Motherly Love Screening At Mockingbird Cinema From 31 March

Writer Jimmy Dougan / Images courtesy of A24

What a hat trick for Irish cinema. In May of last year, we were treated to Colm Bairéad’s sublime The Quiet Girl followed by the mournful The Banshees of Inisherin in October.

Now comes God’s Creatures, one of my most anticipated films of the year. It’s a film wholly different from both and provides a challenging, if drawn-out, portrait of a mother in crisis.

Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer’s film begins with an unexpected arrival. But this guest is no stranger.

Aileen’s (Emily Watson) son has just reappeared, unannounced, after a long stint in Australia. Now he’s returned to the tiny fishing town in Kerry, but the big question is why? Brian (Paul Mescal) gives vague answers to any question posed, something which takes on dread-sinking significance as the film progresses.

While her husband Con (Declan Conlon) and daughter Erin (Toni O’Rourke) are rightfully wary, Aileen is delighted.

Aileen works as a shift manager in a dreary seafood processing plant but has an optimistic temperament, and has kept up the payments on Brian’s fishing licence. She’s even willing to commit theft to kickstart his career as an oyster farmer. When a police officer knocks one night and informs her of a sexual assault allegation against her son, Aileen doesn’t hesitate to be Brian’s alibi.

She barely takes a minute to consider the ramifications of what she’s doing. She and Brian were technically together, but they were at the local boozer and not at home as Brian claims.

After making her accusation, the victim Sarah (Aisling Franciosi) finds herself an outcast.

Director’s Davis and Holmer, and screenwriter Shane Crowley, aren’t interested in the inherent ambiguities and unfillable gaps of the assault. They avoid didactic moralising in favour of something far stranger and unsettling: one of the most fascinating things about this film is its provocative lack of interest in the how or the why of this assault.

Instead, it asks us to consider why Aileen does what she does – and her failure (or refusal?) to consider the genuine, very serious, ramifications of what she’s willing to do to protect Brian. We don’t see the assault. Davis and Holmer simply show us a view of the town at sunrise: this violence didn’t begin on the town’s pier, and nor will it end.

This violence affects everyone, and everyone is culpable for allowing this to happen.

None of these ideas would be worth much time if the film around them couldn’t match their complexity. Fortunately, Davis and Holmer imbue God’s Creatures with such poetic seriousness it’s impossible to look away. Mountains rise above the village like the rubble from some natural disaster, oyster racks stick out of the black waves like shipwreck splinters, and a lone tide marker looks like a skeletal arm.

It takes a quintessentially Irish idyll and renders it unwelcoming and uncanny. The red light above the pub window barely illuminates the night: what on Earth could lurk in the darkness?

For better and worse, God’s Creatures occasionally has the feel of a documentary. The processing plant Aileen works in is rendered with oppressive mundanity but the many sequences of oyster harvesting drag. It’s a feeling exacerbated by the thick accents and low-key, mumble-filled dialogue.

My family is Irish, but even I could’ve done with subtitles here.

That being said, it all coheres to paint the picture of a town seemingly untouched by aggressive modernism, out of time and out of place. It’s set in Kerry, yet Davis and Holmer treat this as a primal, timeless struggle. Their argument is a blunt one, we are all complicit.

The pace slackens in the middle but snaps back when the accusation is made, and the film leans into legitimate creepiness with Chayse Irvin’s eerie cinematography. There’s also a standout score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans which screeches and thuds unexpectedly.

Mescal is frighteningly against-type here. He’s charming, but there’s always something a bit darker going on behind his eyes. He has an aura of violence about him, or rather the capability for violence. It gives later scenes a proper intensity.

Watson is typically affected by her desperation, even if Crowley’s script gives her little history or subtext to illuminate. Perhaps this is a conscious choice: she is nobody, so she could be any one of us. She and Mescal navigate a thrilling climax so drenched in symbol and allegory it’s outright folkloric.

The sea gives, the sea takes.

God’s Creatures – official trailer:

God’s Creatures will be screened at Mockingbird Cinema, at The Custard Factory, from 31 March to 6 April, and at the MAC in early April, with exact dates coming soon.

To read more about the BFI go to:
To read more about A24 go to:

To read more about Mockingbird Cinema go to:

For full listings and links to online ticket sales visit: and

Artum Exhibits Ally Standing’s Photography At Hockley Social Club 05/03/23

Writer Megan Treacy / Photographer Andrew Roberts


To walk into Hockley Social Club today is to find a den of warmth and invigorating sounds sheltered from the bleak white skies outside. Friendly dogs, upbeat music, and chatting  families contribute to a welcoming and relaxing Sunday atmosphere just outside of Birmingham City Centre.

Nestled a short venture within is the more intimate Artum space, which today hosts the work of Birmingham-based photographer and lecturer Ally Standing.

As I arrive, the tables are already substantially full and Standing is meandering between chairs to greet visitors. One unexpected sight is several chess matches at play alongside one wall, a sign that Checkmate! Birmingham have also occupied Artum this Sunday.

There is an undoubtedly relaxed feel to the exhibition; the photos are projected onto a single wall and play in a loop for its duration, allowing viewers to sit and watch the display or to return to look at the photos periodically as they enjoy friends’ company (or play chess).

The set-up of the moving projection simultaneously commands attention to Standing’s work while granting space for socialisation and discussion; as conversations are had, each cut of the screen attracts heads to see what the next photo will be.

The photos themselves are snapshots of predominantly urban environments, with Standing describing her practice as ‘psychogeographic’ — an exploration of the intersection between physical location and emotion or behaviour.

This element of her work certainly comes through as her images pass across Artum’s wall. Photos of spaces which hold the same emptiness don’t necessarily evoke the same emotions. Fluorescent lights reflected in the puddles of an abandoned car park make for an eerie and unsettling shot, whereas a vacant outdoor basketball court against a clear blue sky feels peaceful in contrast.

Among the exhibited photos are some familiar sights to Birmingham residents, whether that’s a white exterior recognisable from Minerva Works, an immortalisation of the now-demolished adult film cinema Taboo Cinema Club, or a less location-specific shot of fifty or so NOS canisters collected by a kerb.

A conversation with Standing reveals the worldwide scale of the locations featured in the exhibition’s shots, including Lisbon, Madrid, Wuhan, and Berlin.

Although sprawling in geographical span, the scenes and objects captured feel connected through Standing’s lens; moments of fantastic colour (a shot of an all-pink stairway stands out) or aesthetically satisfying composition (a diagonal roof cutting cleanly across the sky) feel like instances of beauty which might go unnoticed by another passerby.

Recurring also in the work is an eye for geometric forms, mainly those of urban buildings and structures, in their overall shape as well as in their smaller components.

A close-up shot of a Tetris-like window pane made up of small squares of obscured glass draws attention to its craftsmanship, highlighting for a moment an architectural detail which is probably passed daily without thought, the shape illuminated from within by warm yellow light as though spotlit for the camera.

Standing shares the photos exhibited are a mixture of DSLR, point-and-shoot, and iPhone shots, observing often the latter are her favourites since they are the most spontaneous — images captured unpredicted and without the expectation that a camera will be needed.

As the exhibition plays along, Artum remains steadily full of supporters for Standing’s artwork, among them being other Birmingham-based creatives such as Hannah Swingler, a poet with a debut collection published by Verve Poetry Press (‘This Dress Has Pockets’).

The afternoon is not only a show of wonderful art but of the fervently supportive nature of the Birmingham art scene, and the ever-lively and embracing atmosphere of Artum.

For more from Ally Standing go to:

For more from Hockley Social Club go to:
For more from Artum go to:

 For more from Checkmate! Birmingham go to: 
For Hannah Swingler’s book go to:

The Mellow Sessions Featuring Tom Ford At Hockley Social Club – Thursday 16 March

Writer Ed King / Photographer Connor Pope

On Thursday 16 March, Birmingham Co-operative Promoter are launching The Mellow Sessions at Hockley Social Club – with a live set and onstage interview from local jazz guitarist Tom Ford, and support from Michael Bird.

Doors open at 5pm, and tickets are ‘pay what you can’ available through Skiddle or Design My Night – click on the links for tickets.

Let’s just let that sink in for a while…

You got it? You sure? Is it stuck in your head like an angry wasp in a jar? OK, let’s crack on then.

The Mellow Sessions is a new concept from Birmingham Co-operative Promoter, where the audience get to explore the minds and music of the evening’s featured artists – first through an onstage interview, then a live performance.

A chance to dig deep into the world of ‘breakthrough artists’, The Mellow Sessions are a chance to hear about their on/off stage experiences before getting to watch them strut their jazzy stuff.

Thursday 16 March is the inaugural Mellow Sessions event, featuring Tom Ford – with support from Michael Bird.

Tom Ford is no stranger to the Birmingham jazz, funk, and wider music scene, having played alongside artists including: Col3trane, Sam Barsh, Chris “Daddy” Dave, Santigold, Nate Fox, Poppy Ajudha, Reuben James, and Idris Elba.

As a solo artist, Ford released his debut album The Tennis Champion in March 2022, to much critical acclaim. His latest EP, The Return of the Tennis Champion, was released in March 2023, with contributions from Phundo Art, Keyon Harrold, Liselotte Östblom, Magic Malik, and more.

Michael Bird is a Birmingham based singer and musician, and founder of the popular music showcase and networking Neighbourhd events that have been running at The Night Owl since 2016.

The follow up Mellow Sessions event is scheduled for Thursday 13 April, back at Hockley Social Club, featuring Bristol based Jasmine Myra – with support from Birmingham’s own Rosie Tee.

As it’s Hockley Social Club there will be plenty of food options available, courtesy of Digbeth Dining Club, and the usual vibes the beloved North Birmingham venue is so good at delivering.

Plus, the interviews will be conducted by Birmingham Review editor Jasmine Khan, a stalwart voice in the local music scene and one who has never shied away from asking a tough question or two. Even the audience will get a chance to pitch in, with questions taken from the floor. Should be fun.

And in a useful teaser to Thursday’s event, have a read of the last time Tom Ford and Jasmine sat down in a Birmingham boozer – click here.

Birmingham Co-operative Promoter have launched The Mellow Sessions after the success of their first event, the gloriously titled ‘Fully Automated Luxury Space Communist Party’, held at the Hare and Hounds in April last year – click here for a Birmingham Review of the gig.

A local music event organiser with a more egalitarian approach than some, Birmingham Co-operative Promoter are looking to reset the often off kilter scales of the modern music industry.

Co-founder Mark Roberts told Birmingham Review: “The cooperative is a worker’s cooperative, so it means that the money made off each venture is shared between those who worked on the event. We work together as a horizontally structured organisation rather than a vertical organisation.

“It also means that we can work on tighter margins than other organisations. Importantly our ethos is built around showing great music in the right way, with cohesive line-ups and curated events.

“The Mellow Sessions is a jazz based event that is a place for musicians and anyone else to understand a bit more about what it means to be a professional artist and what the music industry is like from the inside.”

The Mellow Sessions featuring Tom Ford, with support from Michael Bird, will be held at Hockley Social Club on Thursday 16 March from 5pm – as resented by Birmingham Co-operative Promoter. Tickets are ‘pay what you can’ and available through Skiddle or Design My Night, click on the links.

For more on Tom Ford visit:
For more on Michael Bird visit:

For more on Hockley Social Club visit:
For more from Birmingham Co-operative Promoter visit:

Sofar Sounds’ International Women Day Gig Curated By Madi Saskia 08/03/23

Writer & Photographer Maddie Cottam-Allan

It’s International Women’s day and a nasty blizzard has struck Birmingham this Wednesday. I’m at a Sofar Sounds gig curated by the immensely talented Madi Saskia.

The venue is a dimly lit modern office space where apparently creatives thrive, they call it Tricorn House. Huge windows, big open space, dangly plants, furniture that looks like a child drew it, and a cafe selling overpriced coffee. It’s not my thing and an odd spot for a gig but Sofar Sounds seems to pull it off nicely.

Upon arrival I see the snow hasn’t stopped these hump day babes from trekking across town, as it’s still early but packed. The gig is set up with folks on bean bags, sitting on blankets on the floor, or for the more conventional viewer there’s chairs toward the back.

There’s a clear sense of warmth and safety – it’s less a gig and more a corporate sleepover.

I’m a cheap bitch so I head to the ‘artists and crew’ section upstairs to see if I can steal a beer from the rider. No such luck. Back downstairs Madi Saskia casually walks to the mic to start the show.

Saskia is an RnB singer/songwriter. I’ve seen her many times and I can tell you she hasn’t disappointed me yet.

Saskia is also humble as all hell despite being so accomplished at her young age of 22. She’s very open and honest and tells us she’s “had a shit day” and “just want(s) to hear good music”. Don’t we all hun.

With that said we have our first act – Pheleba.

Pheleba like all the acts is a rising star; revered not just by locals but also the likes of BBC1Xtra, she’s accumulated millions of Spotify streams and countless other accolades. However, tonight she’s just Pheleba, a proud mom of two. Her first song ‘Love Is Out There’ is a candid look into a journey of self acceptance while reassuring us sitting on the bean bags we can have it too.

Pheleba now gives us a little backstory about giving birth to her daughter during lockdown in her home. What a fucking hero.

“She’s called Zen but she’s not very zen,” says Pheleba.

We all giggle. Then she closes her eyes and goes straight into ‘All I Need’ a slow sweet song inspired by her maternal love. Her vocals feel like a warm hug against the bitter cold outside. Her smooth voice sends us into a cosy trance that continues for the rest of her gorgeous set.

In the ten minute break Saskia encourages us to discuss our favourite “badass” women as if we’re not already surrounded by them. We all mingle in lulled tones in our snug little bubble.

Next up is Affiejam. She looks dope – bleached jeans, piercings and she’s holding some cool guitar so casually it’s like an extension of herself. Affiejam tells us: “the snow melted my eyebrows off and my edges” but she shrugs this off and starts playing – fingering guitar strings like no tomorrow. She’s fully immersed in the music and her voice sweeps over the intricate guitar notes seamlessly.

The next song she introduces is about the predatory music scene. As much as the song feels light and her voice is subtle, the dark undertones are very clear in her lyrics “no mercy, no mercy”.

Affiejam evokes such power that by the end of the song Saskia slaps the table in front of us and shouts “Tell them!”

Like a lot of artists she is no stranger to this topic.

Saskia returns, “I didn’t wanna be here tonight and why would anyone else?” This was said in an encouraging way. She’s right. The days are still short, the patriarchy is still thriving, why bother? But we all collectively sigh in relief knowing tonight was definitely worth the bother.

She thanks organiser Rohit Jepegnanam for creating safe spaces for women.

After another short break where I fan-girl a little with Saskia we have our last act – Eddy Luna.

Dudley born Luna, along with her cousin Jamal on guitar, fumble over some tech difficulties. But it’s totally chill and sorted in a couple of minutes. They begin with her first song ‘If I Died’. Luna’s commanding voice is juxtaposed with her vulnerable and passionate lyrics. This is mirrored in her body language as she sits casually on her chair, yet her head is tilted back, strong with the mic held high.

The way Luna grasps her mic feels like it’s the only thing tethering her to reality as she is, lost in her music (along with the rest of us). Her song ‘Favourite Song’ is like a soulful lullaby. The lyric “won’t you hold me?” lingers a while until it’s clear Luna can hold herself.

Next, she switches things up tempo with this jazzy guitar song that makes me feel like I’m on holiday and the sun’s setting but I’m in the middle of a shopping montage (stay with me here) it’s still snowing outside but somehow I’m feeling the hot Tuscan sun on my face; I’m feeling the fantasy.

After a Drake cover Luna is finished and so is the night. Saskia thanks everyone and reminds us all to be “unapologetically yourself” and to “celebrate our flaws”. This is what her I AM ME project is all about; empowering women through music.

Now where would we be without standing for some affirmations. We all shout “I am smart! I am strong! I am beautiful!” but ultimately, what Saskia has been communicating to us all night – “I am enough.”

I trudge through the snow to the bus stop freezing my tits off but feeling uplifted. The bus is twenty two minutes late, but I put my headphones on and dance while I wait.

Sofar Sounds’ International Women Day @ Tricxorn House / Maddie Cottam-Allan

For more from Madi Saskia go to:

For more from Eddy Luna go to:
For more from Affie Jam go to:
For more from Pheleba go to: 

For more from Sofar Sounds go to: 

For more from Tricorn House go to: