Birmingham Anime Film Festival launches at The Mockingbird Cinema and Midlands Arts Centre – running from 29 September to 5 October

Words by Billy Beale and Ed King

Birmingham sees the launch of its first Anime film festival this week, with screenings at The Mockingbird Cinema and Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) running from 29 September to 5 October.

Organised in partnership with Flatpack Festival and Geeky Brummie, with sponsorship from the Glasgow based AllTheAnime, the inaugural Birmingham Anime Film Festival will showcase 20 films – from well-loved releases from Studio Ghibli to groundbreaking films from movie makers such as Makoto Shinkai.

Born from Japanese animated story telling there are now around 430 production companies producing Anime content, reaching audiences across the world through film, television, and modern day muti media.

Recognised as an important part of modern cinema, Anime releases have built dedicated audiences and achieve the highest industry accolades – with Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards.

Ahead of the Birmingham Anime Film Festival launch, Lee Nabbs from The Mockingbird Cinema told: “The Mockingbird is renowned for its mix of new releases, cult, and eclectic films.

“Regular Anime screenings have always been part of our scheduling mix and we’re proud to launch Birmingham Anime Film Festival to show our love for the genre and bring together fans from far and wide, to show the breadth and depth of this special part of cinema.”

David Baldwin, Producer – Cinema & Screen, Midlands Art Centre added: “The world of anime is no longer some niche genre. It’s a global phenomenon that has become a major part of cinema, streaming, toys and conventions.

“MAC is very pleased to be a part of Birmingham’s first official anime festival, with a focus on some of the more transgressive titles from across the history of anime, including classic works from Satoshi Kon and Eiichi Yamamoto.”

And to help you along your merry little way, Birmingham Review’s Billy Beale gives his cherry picked ‘ones to watch’ from the first ever Birmingham Anime Film Festival.

Weathering With You (subtitled – Saturday, 30 September, The Mockingbird Cinema)

A teenage boy moves to the city and meets new friends, including a girl who can magically bring the sun out on rainy days. Director Makoto Shinkai’s follow up to Your Name treads on familiar territory – teenage relationships in a relatable contemporary setting, with a magical twist.

Weathering With You wants to argue hopefully about future generations’ relationship to local communities, older generations, the environment. More than anything, it’s a sweet story with masterful animation.

Weather With You – official trailer


The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl (subtitled – Wednesday, 4 October, The Mockingbird Cinema)

The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl tells the story of a single revelrous night and the colourful characters that come in and out of the unnamed heroine’s drinking session, and the equally anonymous man pursuing her romantically.

It shares a great deal of its characters and art style with The Tatami Galaxy series and somehow manages to fit the same amount of youthful hangouts and cosmic introspection into just 90-odd minutes.

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl – official trailer


Belladonna of Sadness (Wednesday, 4 October, MAC)

A uniquely stylistic retelling of the Joan of Arc story, with suitably psychedelic artwork for 1973 and a soundtrack to match.

Apparently, this film bankrupted the studio on its release but it’s now being celebrated for its cult success 50 years later.

Belladona of Sadness – official trailer


Promare (Thursday, 5 October, The Mockingbird Cinema)

Like everything that comes out of Studio Trigger, Promare is high octane, high drama, high action. A team of elite firefighters combat pyromaniacal freedom fighters that threaten the public peace with their mutant fire powers.

It’s all clashing neons and pastels, mechanical fire trucks that don’t stop unfurling more and more firehoses until they’re about six storeys high. A feast for the eyes.

Promare – official trailer

The first ever Birmingham Anime Film Festival comes to The Mockingbird Cinema and Midlands Arts from 29 September to 5 October – in partnership with Geeky Brummie and Flatpack Festival, with sponsorship from AllTheAnime.

For more on the Birmingham Anime Film Festival, including full festival programme and links ot online ticket sales, visit

For more on The Mockingbird Cinema visit
For more on Midlands Arts Centre visit

For more from Flatpack Festival visit
For more from Geeky Brummie visit

For more from AllTheAnime visit

Not the Last – Women & Theatre’s exploration of Birmingham benefactor Louisa Ryland, at MAC until Sunday 17 September

Words by Ed King / Promotional pictures by Kate Green

What is a legacy? How are we remembered? What do we leave behind that tells others of us? Is it our children, is it our wealth; is it our lives played out in theatre and song?

For Louisa Ryland it was none of these. Until now.

The heiress of the Ryland estate, who inherited her family’s vast fortune when she was just 29 – and the world was 1843 – is the subject of Women & Theatre’s latest production, Not the Last, running at Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) until Sunday 17 September.

Named after the motto emblazoned on the Ryland tombstones, Not the Last is a retrospective look at the life and death of the prominent Birmingham benefactor and final branch on the wealthy industrialist family tree. Written by Susie Sillett and directed by Jennifer Davis, the play explores the last of the Ryland bloodline – who donated modern day millions to the city she was born into, both during her life and after she died.

Many of Birmingham’s hospitals, educational institutes, churches, and public parks – including what is today known as Cannon Hill Park – were donated or built by this ‘Friend of Birmingham’, who courted no celebrity and wanted no recorded recognition for her gifts to the city.

Nor did Louisa Ryland marry or have children of her own, instead dedicating her love, life, and spending habits to those she chose to care for – breaking the Victorian status quo over a woman’s place in polite society, and planting seeds for the future now nurtured in an original production from Women & Theatre.

Performed in the round, in MAC’s main theatre, Not the Last uses a simple patch of earth as it’s stage – roughly 10m by 3m, set on a rostrum in between two audiences flanking the performers. At first it appears sparse, with the two protagonists lying top to tail as the audience enter. But soon dialogue and subterranean props and set buried beneath the top layer of soil bring the stage to life.

Designed by Imogen Melhuish, it’s a clever use of space and allows the cast – Dina (Janice Connolly) and Raynor (Adaya Henry) – to switch from inner city Birmingham to the greenbelt of Warwickshire, as they explore, excavate, and occasionally steal parts of the Ryland heritage, pulling the occasional bench or folding chair from the ground beneath their feet.

Dina and Raynor are part of a local historical society, with the appropriate obsession with acronyms making its way gleefully into the script, and are researching Louisa Ryland as part of a clandestinely competitive presentation the hobbyist historians must make to the wider group.

As a couple brought together by chance, the literal drawing of straws, the exercise allows the pair to not only look at the life of an extraordinary woman – who became supremely wealthy before she was 30 and gave millions in land and money to the city of Birmingham – but to look at themselves.

Dina is stuck in a thornbush of self-doubt, left to grow wild since their school days, with Raynor gasping through a suffocating fear to be all they can be whilst rehabilitating from a damaging head injury. Both women have a story to tell beneath their obvious façade, and by researching the plot points of Lousia Ryland’s life unearth more about themselves in the process. And the occasional piece of garden furniture.

In essence, Not the Last is a self-analytical study on what we are remembered for, and why. And why any of it is important.

Delivered through an astute and funny script, often thought provoking, and relying mainly on dialogue (although each character is given one solo slot in spotlight) the 75 minutes pass almost too quickly and without interval, as we move from initial research to final realisation.

Themes such as self-worth, ambition, acceptance, social norms, the cruelty of the feudal system and our inherited landed gentry, are brought simply and sympathetically to life. Even through death.

But the expectations and challenges chaining the hands of women in the time Louisa Hyland lived and died, on the cusp of the suffragette movement, when women would legally relinquish ownership of their mind, body, and money to their husbands, is a the prominent narrative thread.

The story, which both my sister and I remember being told by our grandmother, another woman not afraid to buck the tend of her time, is that Lousia Ryland never married after being forbade to wed her publicly chosen suitor and not-quite-wealthy-enough man called Henry Smith – who would go on to serve two terms as Birmingham’s Mayor.

But in doing so she kept her wealth, which was – in the parlance of blue blood and wealthy industrialists – significant. And set about donating and distributing it around the growing city of Birmingham, building places of both secular and religious sanctuary across the city.

The play also brings into question the relationship between Louisa and her longstanding nanny then governess, Charlotte Randle – as it does the need to question it in the first place. And whatever the conclusion, or perceived necessity of reaching one, the two women are buried next to each other and the latter’s surname appears on at least one door in Cannon Hill Park.

But the resounding imprint left by Not the Last is not in the script, which has some stand out lines but occasionally jumps over opportunities for development, but in the performances from the two women who introduce, stand up, and deliver the near hour and a half long play.

Going through its own history defining evolution, Women & Theare’s new Artistic Director (Adaya Henry) gives a confident portrayal of a young woman redefining her place in her world, whilst she searches to make sense of the same journey from 200 years ago.

Whilst Janice Conolly, who will leave the same role when she leaves the same stage, is superb – deft in her delivery, pitch perfect funny, experienced, beguiling, and ultimately the aim of anyone who treads the boards, believable.

Not the Last is a sensitive yet unflinching reminder of a life that helped shaped Birmingham which is often forgotten, be it by the patriarchy writing the history books or those of us too wrapped up in modernity to look over our shoulder.

But it’s also about the dangers of history repeating itself – physically and emotionally – and the ease in which we can step into the wrong line because society or the devil on our shoulder tells us to. And if we get only one garden on the earth then what will we use it to grow?

So, thank you Louisa Hyland, for your bravery and benefaction. And the green spaces where so many of us shared so many formative moments. And good luck Janice Connolly.

Two women Birmingham is well blessed to remember.

Women & Theatre’s original production, Not the Last, runs at Midlands Arts Centre until Sunday 17 September. For more information and links to online ticket sales visit

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‘Talk To Me’ – New Aussie Possession Horror Is A Brutal, Sharp, Crunchy Shock

Writer Jimmy Dougan (click here to follow at Letterboxd)/ Press images courtesy of Altitude Films

Look, here’s the deal: Talk to Me is one of the year’s best films.

It’s a remarkable feat of genre filmmaking which rightly made big waves at Sundance and the Berlinale, being tipped as the year’s big horror hit.

It’s also relentlessly scary. Aussie twins Danny and Michael Philippou initially gained notoriety on YouTube for their nightmarish short films produced under the handle RackaRacka. With Talk to Me they’ve made the sort of cinematic debut that dreams (nightmares) are made of, recalling Ari Aster’s Hereditary or Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook.

The premise is straightforward. A grieving 17-year-old, Mia (Sophia Wilde) abruptly comes across the means to communicate with spirits trapped in a kind of limbo. The ‘means’ takes the form of a human hand encased in white ceramic, which supposedly – and the film is unsettlingly vague on the details – belonged to a powerful medium. Despite knowing the risks involved, Mia grows increasingly desperate to seek closure from her mother’s suicide.

This is a brutal and shocking film, yet it makes insightful comments on an increasingly vacuous and screen-obsessed youth culture – whilst never feeling moralistic or condescending to its teenage characters. It feels contemporary in a way few horror films manage to be, and while some of its ambiguities intrigue as much as they frustrate, and the ending is sure to prove divisive, I’m hard-pressed to recall such an assured and startling piece of genre filmmaking.

Believe the hype.

The confidence the Philippou brothers direct with is evident from the film’s stunning opening. Cinematographer, Aaron McLisky, orchestrates a technically dazzling long take following a panicked young man through a packed house party as he frantically tries to locate his lacerated, traumatised brother. “Stop filming us,” he begs the crowd, illuminated starkly by camera flashes.

It would be criminal to spoil what then ensues and how it connects to the rest of the film, but the title card in my screening was accompanied by gasps of disbelief at how hard the film goes so quickly.

From here, Danny Philippou and Bill Hinzman’s script eases off a touch. We are taken through a series of quiet, measured scenes which establish that Mia is marking the anniversary of her mother’s suicide. Her relationship with her father is non-existent; the Philippous place him largely out of frame or literally out of focus in the background. She spends most of her time with surrogate 14-year-old brother Riley (Joe Bird) and his older sister Jade (Alexandra Jensen).

The script’s canniest idea is treating these fleeting spiritual encounters as a sort of viral craze, as the teens taking turns to be possessed. It’s treated as an addictive, drug-like sensation: their eyes dilate, jaws twitching. Afterwards they beat their chests, adrenaline-charged. It’s a sharp idea, raising provocative questions about chronically bored youth and the habit-forming lure of what really can hurt us.

From its opening, Talk to Me makes equally damning comments on our mean-spirited, spectacle-obsessed online landscape. One character is so embarrassed by what he does whilst possessed that he begs to have the footage deleted. Forget the demons, his parents seeing this is Hell in itself. And why do the events of the film even happen? I got the distinct impression it’s because in the ‘burbs there’s not a lot else to do.

It’s helped by the fact that the screenplay shows a genuine understanding of how young people communicate: not just what they say but the rhythms and cadence of how they say it.

When Talk to Me goes full tilt, at its midway, there’s little that can prepare you for the Philippous bone-crunching take on the possession genre. It is relentless and non-stop, the kind of horror that leaves you a little battered and bruised. There’s one sequence involving Riley that left me physically nauseous. And props to the sharp, snappy sound design from Emma Bortignon.

The creature designs are uniformly fantastic, too. The spirits are bloated and sweating. They grin nervously and crawl around like weird children, looking confused at having been summoned. One wears a tattered dress and pearls. What may be the spirit of Mia’s mother (Alexandra Steffensen) is often glimpsed in reflective surfaces and misted windows. It’s more frightening than any contrived jump scare – though they’re deployed to great effect, too.

It’s in the hallucinatory finale of Talk to Me that the storytelling falters, the non-stop carnage beginning to feel a little beyond the film’s initial focus on the power of social media and the seductive unknowability of what can hurt us. It all happens a bit too neatly, though the ending is suitably twisted. An unimaginably cruel punchline to a joke Mia – and to an extent us, the audience – weren’t in on.

But it’s all held together by Wilde’s central performance which is never anything less than totally heartrending. There’s a childlike quality to what she does, which grows with her desperation; simultaneously naïve yet always unsettlingly aware that she’s connected to something more powerful and stranger than she is. She’s the twisted, beating heart of this extraordinary and heart-pounding film.

Talk to Me – official trailer

Talk to Me releases in UK cinemas on 28 July, with Birmingham showings at the Mockingbird Cinema from 28 July and MAC from late August.

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

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Ocean At The End Of The Lane At The Alexandra Theatre From 23 – 27 May

Words by Jessica Goodman / Production pics by Brinkhoff-Moegenburg


 “If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…” Not for the faint of heart, the National Theatre brings its production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane to The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham this week.

An adaptation of the book by best-selling author Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a story of memory, fantasy, magic, and friendship. Returning to his childhood home for a funeral, a man finds himself confronted with long-forgotten memories of his past and the sinister forces that once threatened to destroy everything.

Transported back to 1983, we witness how the suicide of a lodger who lived with his family kick-starts a series of events that bring forth an evil entity from another reality. With warnings for moments that some may find frightening and references to death, it’s an intense watch, bringing to life moments of profound fear and, contrastingly, spontaneous joy.

Katy Rudd’s production is a visual spectacle of the highest order. Against a backdrop of tangled thorns (designed by Fly Davis) it feels like absolutely anything is possible. Doors multiply and vanish. Monsters shapeshift and grow. People become puppets. Air becomes water. A circle of light becomes the only safe haven against a threat there doesn’t seem to be any sure-fire way to identify.

Special effects are brought to life by an ensemble dressed all in black, making magic happen before your eyes as long as you can imagine it. Moments of stark horror and freewheeling delight could be mirror images, constructed and portrayed with oh-so-similar graceful choreography.

Perhaps the play’s most spellbinding (see also: spine-chilling) scene shows our protagonist desperately trying to escape from the fear there could be (and, in this case, actually is) a monster behind every and/or any closed door.

This might be a tale of monsters, both literal and metaphorical, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at its best when it’s at its most uncomplicated. The growing friendship between our 12-year-old protagonist (Kier Oglivy) and his otherworldly best friend, Lettie (Millie Hikasa), is enchantingly pure, their dynamic the centrepiece around which the other characters orbit.

As both the protagonist in the present day and his father in the past, Trevor Fox plays the role of a man who’s both trying to do best by the ones he loves and battling the shadows of his past that drive him to destroy the very same.

From defender to danger and back again (at one point, even in the same scene), his portrayal of these complicated characters has a simplicity that ranges from endearingly to harrowingly human.

At its core, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a nightmare-fuelled adventure in what it is to be human. We witness the profound joy of friendship, the harrowing physical pain that comes with loss, and so many degrees in-between.

It’s a play that will no doubt reward repeat viewings, offering new ways of viewing the world it inhabits every time. Did the story we see play out actually happen, or are we watching imagination being used as a way to process loneliness and trauma?

Does the magical memory snip-and-stich actually work, or is it a pretence for forgetting what we can’t stand to remember?

Much like we’re told “you don’t pass or fail at being a person, love,” in the final act, there’s no one-explanation-fits-all way to read this play. The Ocean at the End of the Lane could be whatever you choose to make of it. Open to your interpretation, it’s all about the experience.

Whether the events we witness are made up or not doesn’t really matter. What we’re given is both a thrilling edge-of-your-seat adventure and a celebration of imagination.

Ocean at the End of the Lane runs at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until 27 May. For more information and link to online ticket sales, visit

For more from The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, visit

Heathers The Musical At The Alexandra Theatre 16 – 20 May

Words by Ed King / Production pics by Pamela Raith Photography


Dust off your croquet sets and primary colour prom dresses, Heathers the Musical opens this week at The Alexandra Theatre. Directed by Andy Fickman, it runs in Birmingham for five days before heading out to 20 more venues across the UK with a vibrant new cast.

Based on the 1989 cult film classic, this all-singing-all-dancing adaptation centres around 17 year old Veronica Sawyer (Jenna Innes), a less than popular American high school student who uses her forgery skills to win friends and influence people.

Namely the titular Heathers – Chandler (Verity Thompson), Duke (Summer Priest), and McNamara (Elisa Bowden) – who sit at the top of the Westerberg High’s social strata firmly in that order, represented by the colours red, green, and yellow respectively.

The ’Heathers’ are the most revered clique at Westerberg, and blue Veronica eyes them and their endorsement as the safest passage through her formative years. High school can be tough; you need a plan, you need allies. And in her own words Veronica’s so called friends are “just people I work with and our job is being popular and shit.”

But the ubiquitous tale of pimples and peer pressure comes with a twist, as Veronica’s “teen angst bullshit has a body count” after meeting the dark horse Jason Dean (Jacob Fowler) – an itinerant rich kid, with a “destruction business” dad who’s got more explosives lying around the house than is arguably healthy.

After some cafeteria hysteria with the school’s top jocks, Kurt Kelly (Alex Woodward) and Ram Sweeney (Morgan Jackson), the growing bond between Veronica and the abbreviated JD becomes the catalyst for killing off the classroom’s bullies and bitches – using Veronica’s flexible handwriting to pen suicide notes for the wildly popular pupils. That, and a ceramic cup full of bleach and a couple of handguns.

First on the list is Heather Chandler, who vows to destroy Veronica’s reputation after she drunkenly stands up to (and throws up on) the top girl at a party. With Kurt and Ram as targets two and three, following a failed gang rape attempt and some salacious school yard rumours to protect their egos and shame Veronica.

Told in part by Veronica’s inner monologue, confessing all in her “Dear diary” entries, and shoulder to shoulder song and dance routines, the stage is set for an unrelenting musical. One that murders three people over two acts and explores the darker corners of teenage life – alongside a sycophantic society’s willingness to accept any young adult self-destruction.

In short, bullies beware – as the brochure proclaims: ‘it might kill to be a nobody, but it is murder being a somebody.’ And to borrow a line from another brooding rebel, death makes angles of us all. So, you can probably get away with a couple before the end of term.

The curtains lifts for Heather the Musical to a full cast cafeteria routine of ‘Beautiful’, the opening song and a buzzword for acceptance and popularity. And whist the Birmingham audience was predominantly too young to have any direct relationship with the era or original that spawned this production, the theatre wide whoops showed deep love for Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s modern day homage.

Skilfully lit by Ben Cracknell, the fast-moving narrative stays close to the film, with enough key words and phrases kept in to give those that can a few chances to lip sync the original script. Everyone born after the millennium seems to know the songs verbatim too.

There are some wonderful additions, with some useful padding to the story behind the bullets that kill Kurt and Ram, and some wider historical references that show even the most popular and most unpopular can still share a past.

The previously gun toting JD relies more fighting than firing, no doubt in light of the disturbingly continuous school shootings in North America since the original film came out. And much of the story is told through song – such as the poignant ‘Lifeboat’, where yellow Heather bares her soul before eating a fist full of sleeping tablets.

The perpetually bullied Martha Dunnstock (Kingsley Morton) also gets a little more time in the spotlight with ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’, sung superbly, as she unlocks the memories of when her weight or social standing didn’t seem to matter.

But perhaps the best new kid at school comes in the opening song of Act Two, where the fathers of recently deceased Kurt and Ram – who’s staged suicide was purported to hide their homosexuality – come out of their own closets with the song ‘My Dead Gay Son’. A real highlight of the new version.

Heathers the Musical debuted at Joe’s Pub in 2010 and first opened off Broadway in 2014, going on to win ‘Best New Musical’ at the Whats On Stage Awards in 2019. Supremely popular, the song and dance stage show run has built up a pan Atlantic legion of fans, with a score that has sold across the world.

All the principal players in the 2023 show deliver their roles with aplomb – with stand out voices coming from Jenna Innes, Jacob Folwer, and Kingsley Morton. Alex Woodward and Morgan Jackson bring a superb Kurt/Ram caricature double act, and the cast carries no weak links – energetically committing to 22 songs and reprises, whilst covering every square inch of David Shields’ versatile stage.

The only downside is the dark subject matter is too easily glossed over, with a pep rally score that arguably fails to reflect the dour and self destructive journey the cast are going on. Filling out every corner of the two hour running time, the narrative moves along a little quickly at points leaving some characters and scenes a little undeveloped.

It’s clear JD’s dad is a bit of a psycho, and Ms Flemming is a bit of a flake, but there was a missed opportunity to see more through thodse adults eyes. And the somewhat cavalier approach to rape is just worrying.

So, if you’re looking for a dark, gritty, live theatre realisation of Daniel Waters’ acerbic analysis of High School hierarchy and teen angst in the greedy 1980’s… this is not it.

But if you’re coming of age and want a fast paced, colourful, and catchy reflection of the horrors only a teenager understands, then get yourself a ticket to Heathers the Musical and enjoy this fantastic carousel of a show.

Heathers the Musical runs at The Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until 20 May. For more information and link to online ticket sales, visit

For more from The Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, visit