Partying until the midafternoon hours at the Raver Tots New Year’s Eve bash

Words & pics by Matthew Osbourne

Across the course of a lifetime, priorities and attitudes around the end of the year’s festive fun can change. As children, the magic of Christmas pervades until the Santa bubble bursts. In adolescence, it is New Year festivities which hold a greater draw.

Then, in adulthood, the whole season can get a little routine… until of course you have children of your own and suddenly it promises enchanted rewards once again. And the chance of making it to midnight on the last day of the year is not only unlikely, but arguably undesirable.

So, Raver Tots’ NYE celebration, held between 4pm and 6pm on 31 December, seemed to be offering a compromise to those of us who have had kids, but still wonder from time to time where our old selves went.

Joining the queue, which stretched back down Lower Trinity Street from Zumhof Biergarten (the old Air nightclub and erstwhile home to dance music giant Godskitchen), I was reminded of a life I once lived, where the prospect of a night spent dancing to music throbbing at the walls was titillating. Inside, however, I couldn’t believe my eyes or ears – the nostalgia trip soon became a bass heavy reality.

Most playgroups I frequent are full of broken toys, tired tweed clad parents, and the lingering threat of Christianity. But the crowd at Raver Tots was made up of people I would have brushed shoulders with ten and twenty years ago, those hardcore clubbers who enjoyed the overstimulation of the early hours EDM back in the nineties and noughties. It was like a real rave, without the class A’s. And whilst I let my daughter Harper bosh a chocolate Christmas coin, her mum Sophie and I treated ourselves to one drink each from the bar.

Resident DJ Moody Mike was not playing sped up versions of Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig as I had feared either, but was instead spinning garage and house anthems with the promise of drum and bass legends DJ Phantasy & Shabba D on the decks later.

At full volume, with confetti cannons, strobe lights, pyrotechnics, and Lycra clad dancers, DJ Moody Mike tore through ‘Rewind’ by Craig David, ‘In Da Ghetto’ by J Balvin, and other choons from artists such as Skrillex and more. Parents and children alike were rapturous on the packed dancefloor. It was, however, a little overstimulating for Harper (despite coming up on her sugar high) so we headed upstairs where there was the promise of soft play.

Although walking into the marginally quieter ‘other room’, I was greeted by dozens of kids bobbing up and down on toy horses gliding through the gradually inflating crowd, which is possibly the trippiest thing I have seen post-parenting…

The soft play area was as small as an afterthought, but we stuck Harper in and tried to have a boogie to the still excellent music. She wasn’t having much of it though, despite our presumption that for a kid who loves to dance in the living room this would be the perfect event.

However, Harper is still young – and the Raver Tots events are so full on it is a little surprising there are not more lost children wandering about in tears. So, perhaps, in all fairness, a superclub for those still in single digits can be a little much on occasion.

But Raver Tots was so good that we will be looking out for other events in the future, and maybe our daughter is more techno than garage. Lord knows I’ve seen older people throw tantrums instead of shapes when Craig David gets played.

Raver Tots have events running up and down the UK, with their next Birmingham party at Zumhof Biergarten on 10 March 2024 – with Nicky Blackmarket and Sweet Female Attitude. For more info and links to online ticket sales visit: www.ravertots.co.uk/event/raver-tots-birmingham-4

For more on Raver Tots, visit: www.ravertots.co.uk

For more on Zumhof Biergarten visit: www.zumhof.co.uk

Jack and the Beanstalk at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall – running until 31 December

Words & pic of cast by Amelia Daly

The pantomime, a cherished English tradition often underestimated in its artistry, set the stage for a magical evening as we settled into our seats at Sutton Town Hall for Talegate Theatre’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Anticipating an enchanting Christmas-filled performance, the dimming lights accentuated the glow of head crowns and scattered plastic toys throughout the audience. The atmosphere buzzed with anticipation, particularly among the children perched on the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting the show to commence.

Danny Mills, with his impeccable outfits and comedic ability, undeniably stole the show with his spot-on portrayal of the Dame, captivating the audience with every appearance. His comedic timing delivered the classic panto lines with ease whilst still making us feel shocked. And, adding another string to his bow, the majority of the diverse array of outfits worn by Mills were handmade by the talented actor himself. Stepping onto the stage in a striking cow-print ensemble, complete with a stylish hat and a ‘hot to trot’ necklace, Mills seamlessly blended camp and fashion.

The rest of the cast varied in quality; some of the singing fell short, and the acting was occasionally unconvincing. However, the ‘art of panto’ was mastered by certain cast members more effectively than others. Notably, Billy, portrayed by Tommy Murry, captured the essence of high energy and slapstick timing admirably. Jack, played by Harry Hindley, showcased commendable singing ability and portrayed believable character moments. Although both of their dancing lacked consistency and occasionally fell out of sync.

The choice of casting a woman, Rachel Richards, as the villain Slimeball was a refreshing departure from the norm and added a unique dimension. However, Richards failed to evoke a sense of intimidation; the antagonist lacked the menacing presence needed to elicit fear – even that onstage anticipation as an audience shouts out where the enemy may or may not be standing.

Nevertheless, the giant was genuinely scary, and the costumed performers shined, including the cow that, at times, stole the spotlight with their physical performance. The dance musical number stood out as another highlight, flawlessly performed by a group of incredibly heartwarming and adorable young dancers who – alongside Mills – confidently stole the show.

The obligatory inclusion of audience participation, especially the game of catch and throwing a necklace full of toilet rolls, brought a delightful interactive element that connected well with the crowd. (Perhaps my personal experience enhanced the enjoyment, as I happened to be an adept catcher of the toilet roll, making it a particularly memorable and engaging moment for me.)

However, at the beginning of the second act, when Jack and Billy successfully reached the top of the beanstalk, the humour took an unfortunate turn with repeated fat jokes aimed at the Dame. And in the context of 2023, such jokes feel cheap, outdated, and lacking humour.

While pantomimes often embrace plot holes and playfully poke fun at themselves, the notion that the Dame couldn’t ascend a ‘magic’ beanstalk due to a certain size felt strained. Especially considering that a four-legged cow effortlessly navigated the same beanstalk several times.

Overall, Talegate Theatre’s production of Jack in the Beanstalk at Sutton Town Hall was a delightful night that perfectly encapsulated what a local pantomime should be — a fantastic dose of Christmas fun. The show catered wonderfully to a diverse audience, ensuring enjoyment for every member of the family. Regardless of whether the actors hit every mark, the cast were great at creating a fun atmosphere.

If I were a resident of the Royal Town, or could get my way to Sutton Town Hall, I would undoubtedly make the trip to experience this festive piece of joy during the holiday season.

Jack and the Beanstalk runs at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall until 31 December, as presented by Talegate Theatre Productions – with tickets priced from £19/26 (children aged 2-16) and £26/29 (adults).

For more information and links to online ticket sales visit: www.suttoncoldfieldtownhall.com/pantomime-2023

For more on Talegate Theatre Productions visit: www.talegatetheatre.co.uk

For more from Sutton Coldfield Town Hall visit: www.suttoncoldfieldtownhall.com

Cinema to stir the soul: Maestro is a reverential, and flawed, portrait of genius

Words by Jimmy Dougan (follow him on Letterboxd here) / Press images courtesy of Netflix

Mulling over Maestro, Bradley Cooper’s sophomore directorial effort for Netflix, the Yiddish word chutzpah sprang to mind.

As one of the most prolific composers and conductors in the history of classical music, Leonard Bernstein oozed chutzpah. But Cooper is clearly aiming to give the titular maestro a run for his money; not only has he co-authored the script with Josh Singer, but he’s also donned a prosthetic nose and cast himself as Bernstein. It’s an audacious gamble, and one which – just about – pays off.

Maestro is splendid filmmaking, emotionally rousing and psychologically involving. But Cooper is so blatantly awed by Bernstein that it ultimately grows just a tad tiresome. You respect his performance but are always conscious that you are, ultimately, watching somebody play pretend. In the context of the film Cooper has crafted, however, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Cooper and Singer’s script employs a horseshoe structure; we first see an aged Bernstein speaking about his deceased wife, before leaping back to 1943 when a young Bernstein is told that, with only a few hours’ notice and zero rehearsal time, he will be conducting the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. Cooper renders the scene with breathless, zingy excitement; in one take we miraculously travel from Bernstein’s bed, through the bowels of Carnegie Hall, up to its Parquet before soaring over the auditorium and to the waiting conductor’s stand.

Another wonderful sequence comes shortly afterwards where we see Bernstein at lunch with friends, including the woman he will marry, Felicia Montealegre Cohen (Carey Mulligan). Bernstein is advised to shorten his name to Burns, thereby omitting his Jewishness from his own name, and to give up his writing for musical theatre.

But Felicia wants to hear “that musical theatre stuff” and the two whisk themselves away to a Broadway stage where they find themselves entangled with a performance of Bernstein’s ballet Fancy Free. My mother, who came to the screening with me, spoke quietly to the screen: “I used to love this one when I was little.”

As Bernstein and Felicia find themselves drawn into the dance, the sequence – which captures the highs and lows of their courtship – grows increasingly foreboding. Maestro suggests that love and fidelity are a sort of dance. Two people pushing and pulling away from and towards each other; in the film, Bernstein with his ego and Felicia with her poise often resemble two bombs being transported alongside each other with great care.

It quickly becomes evident that Cooper is far more interested in Felicia’s psychological interior than he is interested in depicting the chronology of Bernstein’s career. Thankfully, Mulligan is luminous. She has always been a radiantly empathetic actress, and her eyes are two deep wells of unspoken feeling. It’s a devastating performance.

Bernstein talks: he talks and talks and talks. Felicia, on the other hand, is quieter and more contemplative. This difference gradually comes to suggest that not speaking is a kind of sound in itself. When should you not speak? Is it better to lie or to remain silent? A shame, then, that with regards to Bernstein’s sexuality the film does neither.

As an example: before he answers that fateful phone call in 1943, we hear Bernstein in bed with the clarinettist David Oppenheim (Matt Bomer), who is so thinly sketched as to barely register as a character. In 1971 Bernstein took 24-year-old music director Tom Cothran (Gideon Glick) as his lover. Worse than Bomer, Glick’s character is reduced to a twinkish femme for Mulligan to scowl at. It does both Glick and Mulligan a disservice.

The strangest – and most evidently deliberate – decision the film makes is to downplay Bernstein’s Jewishness and wholly omit his relationship with the state of Israel and the Israel Philharmonic. Though Bernstein’s concert in Beersheba in 1948 is worthy of a motion picture by itself, Maestro occasionally resembles a carefully assembled highlights reel, and it’s no coincidence that it’s when it simply allows its actors to inhabit the historical circumstance that the film takes flight.

Take Maestro’s rendering of Bernstein’s legendary conducting of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony at Ely Cathedral in 1973. It is, let me be very clear, one of the most extraordinary moments of cinema I have ever born witness to. If, like me, you believe that cinema exists to remind us why we have souls, then Christmas has come early; Cooper nails Bernstein’s frenzied conducting, Steve Morrow’s sound mixing has you hearing the beating of angel’s wings.

And it plays in full, six and a bit minutes, uninterrupted. No tricks of the camera. Just Cooper trying to inhabit the flesh and blood of a man he so clearly adores. He never will, however, which makes the act of him trying all the more beautiful.

You gotta hand it to him, that’s chutzpah.

Maestro – official trailer

Maestro is showing in selected cinemas across the UK – and available to stream via Netflix. For more info and links to streaming services: www.maestrofilmofficial.com

The Bodyguard @ Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham – running until 30 December

Words by Amelia Daly / Production pics by Paul Cotas

The Bodyguard musical starts with a bang, both literally and figuratively.

Just as everyone took their seats at the gala night, we heard gunshots, setting the tone for an evening that promises fun and killer tension. The opening number is sexy and fiery, with live pyro engulfing the stage, creating an intense and captivating atmosphere.

Emily Williams, portraying Rachel Marron, steps onto the stage. Her costume could use some refitting but her voice more than compensates, leaving everyone spellbound by her lungs.

Based on the 90s film, the story follows Marron, a superstar in need. A relentless stalker plagues her, so in comes Frank Farmer portrayed by Ayden Callaghan (known from Emmerdale and Hollyoaks) as her hired bodyguard. Their inevitable love story begins to unfold amidst thrilling moments, including a love triangle with her sister, and a soundtrack filled with Whitney Houston’s iconic discography.

Emily Williams’ incredible voice not only shines but also takes command of the stage, creating a mesmerising experience for the audience. But while her accent remains consistently impressive, the same might not be said for the rest of the cast.

Williams also excels in portraying a convincing mother, instilling genuine fear for both her family’s safety and her own. Her performance is a testament to her ability to convey authenticity and emotional depth. But while her character feels believable, there are moments when supporting actors let the production down.

Emily-Mae, who plays Marron’s sister, delivers an incredible performance in both acting and singing, fully immersing herself in the character and every emotional moment. Both actors induce goosebumps with their breathtaking voices.

However, the soundtrack’s immense popularity sometimes overshadows the acting scenes, making one yearn for the musical numbers to resume. It is no surprise The Bodyguard has the best-selling soundtrack of all time.

In 2023, the musical might feel slightly outdated. Some jokes miss their mark, and the use of massive projections of the leads’ faces during scene changes lacks some emotional depth.

When Rachel is in trouble a somewhat cliche slow-motion sequence occurs, diminishing the gravity of the moment and hampering the actors’ performances. I feel, however, that the production intentionally embraces these tropes and understands its purpose and target audience.

The second act begins with the bodyguard in bed and Marron fawning over him. I couldn’t help but giggle as I remember the review I received in the interval toilets queue: “He is not a great actor but I wouldn’t kick him out of bed’. Callaghan’s performance summed up perfectly; his accent and acting was questionable, soapy at many points and lacking intention for a majority of lines. But they got around the fact that he couldn’t sing by adding in a fun and intimate karaoke scene, which worked well.

Sex sells and it is definitely a selling point here. The actor who plays the stalker may only have a few lines but he makes up for it with topless scenes. Sensually pulling out a knife and running it down his shoulders, making murder very sexy.

Overall, The Bodyguard capitalises on its strengths. It’s a fun, entertaining show with incredible music and dance numbers. However, some acting moments lack depth and intentionality from the main characters.

Still, it’s hard to deny the infectious joy of singing and dancing along to hits like ‘I Want to Dance with Somebody.’ It caters to a particular audience and does so successfully—what’s not to enjoy about that?

The Bodyguard runs at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, until 30 December – with a range of tickets from £13/26.50 to £83.50

For more information and links to online ticket sales visit www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-bodyguard/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham

Kikimora Records presents Moths of the Moon at first Birmingham show, creating one night wonderland Babicabin in Moseley Village

Words by Ray Vincent-Mills / Pics by Connor Pope

It’s a coats up to the chin kind of Saturday night in Moseley, and I am lost. Whoops, I think, the venue can’t be an old church or the M&S food hall…? Eventually I walk through a curved aged metal gate of a quaint garden centre, and I am greeted by decadent hot chocolate with a smile and a hat of whipped cream.

Kikimora records is the self-described ‘label, promoter & ecosystem’ started up by artists and wonky noise makers Emily Doyle and Rosie Tee. Tonight is their first live event joint in Birmingham and also Emily’s 30th birthday.

I head to the back, walking past open fires and rows of succulents, to order a plate of homemade perogies topped with melted butter and crispy onions. Mulled cider is making the rounds, as I head inside a cabin and don’t quite feel like I’m in Birmingham anymore.

I feel like I’ve been shrunken down and transported to someone’s Nan’s house who’s on her way to becoming a fairy godmother; simultaneously elvish and homely, with the remanence of the garden centre (Moseley Gifts & Gardens, a longstanding fixture on Oxford Road, tonight known as Babicabin) being complimented by bright visuals and DJs.

It’s announced that the band are starting, as duo Moths of the Moon enter the stage. It starts off with one half of them setting up a music box and a punch card, which sets the tone of temporary mysticism that floats between the artists.

The other musician has an array of instruments including but not limited to a clarinet, flute, violin, recorder, and a xylophone. “I love that woman, each song I’m like ooooh what is she going to pull out next,” I hear from the crowd behind me.

The anticipation is high as the set evolves into a multi-instrumental masterpiece. The vocals hold an eerie beauty to the ambient vaporwave, somewhat reminiscent of a haunting but its elves and gnomes instead of ghosts. It is intergalactic, pensive, and thoughtful, with the music box being swapped out for a synth responsible for various beeps and boops.

Time slows as there is no rush between songs for silky smooth transitions. The band’s authentic, mysterious, and humble nature translates through the genre bending set. The DIY fairy setting compliments the music perfectly. The woman on stage picks up what I think is a chest and turns it round to reveal a glistening elaborate red accordion. The orchestra packed between the two of the them continues as the set ends with her shaking a tambourine, like she’s trying to get lost in its scent.

Bodies sway wrapped up in coats scarves and hats in a way that highlights the spontaneity (and at times random nature) of the arts scene in Birmingham, one that holds creativity and community in its palm.

In the corner is a craft table equipped with books about plants and the human body, ready to be torn apart and trimmed for collage. I become immersed for a good half an hour sticking and cutting with a backdrop of linocuts of the Babicabin drying behind me. A cake is brought out for Emily’s birthday celebration which she accepts along with a “you’re all really nice, thank you for coming.”

“Emily for president!” someone shouts.

A group of friends catch up over collage as someone excitedly exhales: “Quickly put this there, it’s a monkey teapot.” The lights go up illuminating the intimate unique setting and as the plants go to sleep for the night people start to exit, out of the magic back to the real world.

For more on Moths of the Moon visit www.facebook.com/mothsofthemoon

For more on Kikimora, visit www.inktr.ee/kikimorarecords or follow them on Instagram at www.instagram.com/kikimorarecords

Click here to read our interview with founders of Kikimora Records Emily Doyle and Rosie Tee.