Simon Beaufoy’s The Full Monty – running at The Alexandra Theatre until 3 February

Words by Ed King / Production pics by Ellie Kurtt

Written for the stage by Simon Beaufoy, the UK screenwriter who penned the Oscar nominated 1997 film (that made over £160m from a production budget of only £3m), The Full Monty opened at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham on Tuesday 30 January – directed by Michael Gyngell.

Running at The Alex until Saturday 3 February, the show will go on to eight more cities across the UK, before heading back to Canterbury its final run in April at The Marlow.

A immensely popular film, the title of this well established narrative describes the ultimate show all our six struggling protagonists have ultimately committed to – after realising without six packs and washboard stomachs they’ll need to bring a bit more to the table if they want to cash in Chippendales style.

But like the expression itself, The Full Monty is not a story about taking your clothes off. It’s about the desperation so many in Sheffield and other cities felt in the nineties as the legacy of successive Thatcher governments ravaged the widespread provider that was Sheffield’s steel industry – leaving broken unions and communities scrabbling in the shadows.

The play opens as Gaz (Danny Hatchard) and Dave (Neil Hurst) are breaking into their once workplace to “liberate” some steel girders for £40 a pop. With them is Gaz’s son, Nathan, played brilliantly on the Birmingham opening night by Rowan Poulton – a young actor from South Yorkshire who outshone several of the adults around him.

Gaz is behind on his child maintenance payments, to the point he is about to lose access to Nathan, and not wanting to take a job “stacking shelves in Morrisons” or working night shifts as a security guard they embark on their own ‘steel industry’ – plundering the abandoned warehouses that used to be the bread and butter for many families, including their own.

But crime doesn’t pay, apparently, and after seeing male strippers pack out their local working men’s club they decide that sex is probably a better pitch.

So, led by Gaz, played well by Hatchard but who Beaufoy’s script leaves a little difficult to feel overly sorry for, they start recruiting other men to perform a one night only strip that could earn them some much needed quick cash.

Enter Lumper (Nicholas Prasad) a security guard literally at the end of his rope, the ironically named Horse (Ben Onwukwe), and the beauty next to the beasts, Guy (Jake Quickenden).

And along the way, with each character shinning their own individual light into the increasingly dark corners, the play addresses issues around sexual inequality and inadequacy, male suicide, body dysmorphia, and homophobia – although often with a light touch and language that is certainly ‘of its time’.

Jumping from warehouses to working men’s clubs, from side streets to jobcentres, Jasmine Swan’s mailable stage gets twisted, turned, separated, and stuck back together to represent all locations – looking superb throughout, and a little reminiscent of the Les Misérables barricades that came before it.

The cast all bring their characters to life, working well together, and allow each other enough room to show their true skin – figuratively and literally. And at the other end of the chronological rainbow to the young Nathan/Poulton, Gerald (Bill Ward) represents the challenges facing older men who lost their livelihoods with a superb balance.

The second half brings the narrative firmly together, including a wonderful recreation of ‘the job centre queue scene’ where the subconscious steps being practiced by the central cast come out as ‘Hot Stuff’ is played whilst they wait to sign on.

And, despite the very early calls to “GET YOU KIT OFF, ALL OFF” from some tensely sexually aggressive audience members, the grand finale is genuinely fun and heartfelt.

Laugh out loud funny from start to finish, with poignant moments and a fantastic soundtrack throughout, The Full Monty is a great night out. One that will make some laugh, some wince, a few dance, and with a message still pertinent nearly three decades later.

The Full Monty 2023/24 UK tour – official trailer

The Full Monty runs at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until Saturday 3 February, with tickets available from £26.00. Click here for more information and links to online ticket sales: www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-full-monty-the-play-by-simon-beaufoy/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham

For more on The Full Monty 2024 UK tour, visit: www.fullmontytheplay.com

For more from The Alexandra Theatre, visit: www.atgtickets.com/venues/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham

The comfort of dissonance: The Zone of Interest is a sickening depiction of horror reduced to the everyday

Words by Jimmy Dougan (follow him on Letterboxd here) / Press images courtesy of A24

The relationship between aesthetics and ethics is a slippery one at best. But there are no ethics without emotions, and the most striking thing about The Zone of Interest, the new work from visionary Jonathan Glazer, is that it depicts a complete void; of empathy, of colour – figuratively and to a certain extent literally – and of basic humanity.

It is a vanitas for our age of bleak cruelty, in which horror is normalised to the extent that images of unfathomable suffering perforate our screens and collective consciousness so that it’s all too easy to feel nothing at all.

It’s an artwork that drags us back to the evils of the Holocaust to force us, frankly and subjectively, to examine the ways in which we are complicit with the very systems of cruelty which recur throughout history like tumours; and, crucially, those who perpetuate them.

Speaking of, when we first see Rudolf and Hedwig Höss (Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller) it’s in a scene of bucolic bliss. The birds sing and children toddle in a clear stream. Later, for his birthday, Rudolf is presented with a canoe and the paint stains their baby’s bottom green. You’d be forgiven for failing to notice the guard tower and barracks peering over the walls of their garden.

Höss was the real-life commandant of Auschwitz: each morning he kisses the children goodbye and strolls next door to oversee the unthinkable. Hedwig tends to the roses in her immaculate garden. Is a flower still beautiful if it’s on the same soil as Auschwitz? Glazer, in one sequence of close-ups, forces us to contemplate an answer.

Höss ran Auschwitz as a factory for torture and murder in which the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum estimate 1.1 million men, women and children were killed. Yet most striking about the film is in Glazer’s staunch refusal to literally depict the horrors of the camp.

Save for one horrific low-angle shot of Höss with plumes of black smoke billowing from behind his head, Glazer is far more interested in showing the luxurious comforts that Höss and Hedwig were afforded by their proximity to atrocity.

Hüller plays Hedwig like a curled python: in one scene she tries on a fur coat pillaged from a new arrival to the camp and excitedly finds a lipstick in the pocket, in another she threatens to have a servant’s ashes scattered in the fields of Babice for mislaying the table.

The extremes of Hedwig’s personality contrast with Höss’, who appears happy to do the job and be content in his belief that he’s doing the right thing. We see him stop to pet a dog and you’d be forgiven for forgetting that this was the man who, on multiple occasions, condemned random prisoners to death by starvation over the escape of one inmate. A man of contrasts, then, in a film bursting with them.

Lee, who runs Mockingbird Cinema, is keen to stress before the screening that the projector isn’t broken; after a brief credits over foggy whiteness, we sit in blackness for at least a minute while Mica Levi’s expressionistic score belches and whines like some infernal machine. Evil has no banal middle-ground, Glazer stresses. It’s black and white. You’re complicit or you aren’t.

There is a pall of rot seeped into the very images we see. Glazer and cinematographer Łukasz Żal shoot entirely in natural light, which renders the image as sickeningly muted and pale.

Some of the characters, like Hedwig’s mother Linna (Imogen Kogge), retch and splutter incessantly. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of living downwind from a furnace. Or maybe it’s just an alignment of body and soul.

The dissonance between ignorance and complicity is evoked too by Johnny Burn’s superlative sound design which through-scores the entire film with the sounds of the unthinkable. The constant screaming, the barking of dogs, the chugging of furnaces. Set against constant depictions of domestic comfort it’s legitimately nauseating.

A glimmer of hope is found in a young Polish girl inhabiting the titular Zone – an area surrounding Auschwitz that was still closely monitored by the Nazis – who sneaks into the camp under the cover of night to hide apples for the prisoners.

Glazer and Żal shoot these scenes in monochrome infrared and perhaps lay it on a bit thick, ostensibly suggesting that the act of hiding food in Auschwitz is so kind that it breaks the colour spectrum.

But when placed alongside Glazer’s climactic coup de cinema, which quietly pulls us into the present, it suggests that the good of humanity will only prevail if its evils are preserved for all to reckon with. How will we know ourselves otherwise?

This is punishingly forceful filmmaking from one of our most vital cinematic artists. The dissonance between what we see and hear in The Zone of Interest plunges us into an abyss of torture and picnics, of lilacs and drownings.

It slices through the noise of contemporary debate like a scalpel along flesh; the evil of Glazer’s vision of Auschwitz is not banal or ignorant, it is willing and glad. I can think of no artwork so horrendously necessary for our species to witness.

The Zone of Interest – official trailer

The Zone of Interest releases in cinemas on 2 February with preview screenings at Mockingbird Cinema on 27 and 28 January. For Birmingham screenings follow the below links:

The Electric Cinema: www.electricbirmingham.com
MAC: www.macbirmingham.co.uk/cinema/the-zone-of-interest
Mockingbird Cinema: www.mockingbirdcinema.com/production/the-zone-of-interest/

For more on The Zone of Interest visit: www.a24films.com/films/the-zone-of-interest

2:22 A Ghost Story at The Alexandra Theatre – running until 20 January

Words by Ed King / Production pics by Johan Persson

“If Ghosts don’t exist, then why do people see them…?”

It’s a fair question, the eternal question, and for Danny Robins it has become an obsession underpinning a career. The one-time standup comedian has done OK from the undead, having penned and produced such well known podcasts as Haunted, The Battersea Poltergeist, and Uncanny.

But for most of us the idea of ghosts can produce fear, scorn, doubt, or even comfort, which is the game play for the four principal characters in 2:22 A Ghost Story – called as such because at 2:22am every morning Jenny (Fiona Wade) hears a man shuffling and crying in her daughter’s bedroom.

Her husband, Sam (George Rainsford), is away on a business trip and Jenny is left in a new and unfamiliar house alone … or is she?

The play is set in the living room and kitchen, with Sam’s old friend and possibly more, Lauren (Vera Chok), invited round for a dinner party, with the challenge being to stay up until the row of twos appear on the kitchen clock. Lauren’s brought Ben (Jay McGuiness) her new flame, thermostat expert, oh yeah and son of a medium – helpful when you literally offer a poltergeist a seat at the table.

Sam is ‘team sceptic’ and Jenny is ‘team believer’, phrases any listener of the podcast Uncanny will be all too familiar with, and Lauren and Ben are the grey area in between.

There’s character backstory that bring some familiar facets of the ghost delusion (hat tip to Dickie) to the fore, such as Jenny’s religious background and Sam’s unwavering need to prove his position – as well as Lauren’s need to challenge and Ben’s personal experience of fitting in.

But in essence it’s a discussion, one I’d suspect most people watching the play will have had at one point or another – otherwise they’d be in a different theatre. And the acting across the board is superb, with some standout first night confidence from Jay McGuiness – the cast member with more singing and dancing credits on his portfolio that down the line drama.

The lighting is simple and effective too, using blackouts (and I mean blackouts, I overheard one of the front of house staff kvetching about trying to find their way out of the stalls), lightning strike strobes, and framing the whole thing in a bold red border that creeps you out in between scenes.

I would have a word with whomever is operating the smoke machine though, which comes into play every time Ben pops backstage (the garden) for a cigarette, as they could do with taking their finger off the button a bit earlier – unless the laughs from the front row were some intended light relief.

Confidently directed by Matthew Dunster and Isobel Marr, firm hands with excellent credentials covering both established drama and new writing, this is a play that lives or dies (pun intended) on the strength of the script and those delivering it.

So, let’s look at that with the lights on. Save a few swear words that might surprise someone who followed the 12+ age guidance to the letter, it’s brilliant.

It’s not Shakespeare or Pinter, and it’s not trying to be – 2:22 A Ghost Story is a play about a possibly haunted house in modern day Greater London and the relationships between and behind the people on stage experiencing it – and by proxy, us all off stage too. And it works.

In fact, the weakest moment is the one bit I can’t tell you about, but you’ll probably love it (I can be ‘team sceptic’ when it comes to script writing) and by the time the penny drops it won’t affect your night out either way.

2:22 A Ghost Story is an engaging, funny, sometimes scary look at paranormal phenomena – beautifully acted by the 2024 cast. And if you’ve been interested enough in ghosts and ghost stories to read this review, you’ll love it.

2:22 A Ghost Story runs at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until 20 January, with a BSL performance at 2:30pm on Saturday 20 January. For more information and direct links to online ticket sales, visit: www.222aghoststory.com

For more from The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, visit: www.atgtickets.com/venues/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/

2:22 A Ghost Story starts its supernatural run at The Alexandra Theatre – on stage from 16 to 20 January

Words by Ed King / Production pics by Johan Persson – profile of Danny Robbins by Helen Murray

Supernatural thriller 2:22 A Ghost Story starts it’s first run of 2024 at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, on stage from 16 to 20 January.

Complete with a new cast for the New Year, 2:22 A Ghost Story will be at The Alex for five consecutive evening performances – with matinees on 17, 19, and 20 January. A BSL performance will be held at 2:30pm on Saturday 20 January.

2:22 A Ghost Story is directed by Matthew Dunster and Isabel Marr, with set design by Anna Fleischle and lighting by Lucy Carter. The show has been giving a guidance rating of 12+, with tickets priced between £25-£65 depending on the day, time, and seat allocation within the theatre.

For more information and direct links to online ticket sales for theatres across the country, click here.

Penned by once standup comic now writer and journalist Danny Robins – he who created and presented the phenomenally popular podcasts Haunted, The Battersea Poltergeist, and Uncanny, 2:22 A Ghost Story – is the tried and tested tale of ‘couple move into to new a home, which is haunted… or is it?’.

Protagonists Jenny (Fiona Wade) and Sam (George Rainsford) by a big old house in Central London, which in itself sounds like make believe, and whilst renovating their cavernous new comfort zone Jenny hears what she perceives as the sounds of a man shuffling and crying through their daughter’s baby monitor.

Jenny jumps to haunting. Sam, who is away on a business trip at the time, believes there must be a more ‘rational’ explanation. And to tackle the issue like level headed adults they invite friends Lauren (Vera Chok) and Ben (Jay McGuiness) round for a dinner party/séance. Let the battle of ethereal ideology commence…

Until we finally have proof of life after death, or literally give up the ghost, this sceptic Vs believer seesaw will be a common ground when discussing the supernatural – or train line vibrations, depending on your viewpoint.

And it is this two-sided approach that made Robins’ podcasts so engaging – never really landing too firmly on one side or the other, but building a community of people fervently engaged in the eternal debate.

Robins’ stage show, 2:22 A Ghost Story, premiered in London’s West End at the Noël Coward Theatre from August to October 2021. It received widespread rave reviews and a slew of award nominations, including a Laurence Olivier Award shoulder tap for Lilly Allen as Jenny in the original cast.

Having gone on to tour Los Angeles, Australia, Prague, and Singapore, the show returns to British theatre with a new cast for 2024 – kicking of with five days at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, before heading out across the UK until June.

2:22 A Ghost Story – official trailer (featuring previous UK cast)

 2:22 A Ghost Story runs at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from 16 to 20 January, with a BSL performance at 2:30pm on Saturday 20 January. For more information and direct links to online ticket sales, visit: www.222aghoststory.com

For more from The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, visit: www.atgtickets.com/venues/the-alexandra-theatre-birmingham

Chartreuse headline Hare and Hounds as part of Independent Venue Week – Thursday 1 February

Words by Ed King

On Thursday 1 February, Black Country fourpiece Chartreuse headline the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath – with support from Wildforms.

Doors open at 7:30pm with tickets price at £10 plus booking fee, as promoted by This Is Tmrw. Minimum entry is 14 years old, with anyone lucky enough to be under 18 needing (a legally) adult supervision.

For more direct information and links to online ticket sales, click here.

Coming to the Hare and Hounds for their first gig of 2024 and as part of the Kings Heath music hub’s line up for Independent Venue Week – the nationwide celebration of… the clue is in the title – Chartreuse are still riding the wave of their debut album, Morning Ritual.

Released in November 2023, Chartreuse celebrated their long-awaited debut LP (released just in time for Christmas and just shy of a decade after they formed in 2014) with a series of in-store gigs and on celebrated stages – including Rough Trade in Bristol and London Town’s noisemaking 600 capacity newcomer, Lafayette.

12 tracks of blistering dark electronica, Morning Ritual is the shoegazing broken beat Chartreuse celebrants will know and love – but with some surprisingly jazz infused twists and turns, and a clarity in production that carries the torch Mike Wagstaff stared burning on their 2021 Is It Autumn Already? EP.

Tracks like ‘Sheild From Bedlam’, ‘This Could Be Anything’, and the arguably the album’s opener ‘All Seeing All The Time’, deliver the band’s familiar ether nestling laments with Michael Wagstaff’s vocals taking the lead – before the baton is handed over to co-founder/vocalist Harriet Wilson for some same same but different with ‘Are You Looking For Someone’ and the superb ‘Whippet’.

But Morning Ritual has a few surprises up it’s sleeve, including the title track itself – where Wagstaff seems to have been kidnapped by some Tom Waits cytogeneticists and told to “do your thing, but a bit like us”. Beautiful.

There’s a couple more lounge room lizard footprints running up and down the album too, as well as a midway wake up call with ‘Never To Be Real’ – taking a play from the Daughter and Spaceman 3 approach to album track listing.

But you can check all this out for yourself by getting some of those less than wanted Christmas gift onto Ebay and buying a ticket to the Hare and Hounds for the first day of February.

And if my lazy alliteration wasn’t enough to convince you, have a stop, look, and listen at this… enjoy.

‘Whippet’ – Chartreuse

Chartreuse play the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath on Thursday, 1 February – with support from Wildforms, as promoted by This Is Tmrw. For more gig info and links to online ticket sales click here.

For more on Chartreuse visit: www.chartreuseband.com
For more on Wlidforms visit: www.wildforms.uk

For more on This Is Tmrw, including full events listings and links to online tickets sales, visit: www.thisistmrw.co.uk
For more from the Hare and Hounds (Kings Heath) visit: www.hareandhoundskingsheath.co.uk

Independent Venue Week runs from Monday 29th January to Sunday 4th Feb, with more gigs at the Hare and Hounds and venues across the country. And North America… if you have the transport. To find out more visit: www.independentvenueweek.com