BREVIEW: MK ULTRA @ The Patrick Centre 21.09.18

MK ULTRA - Rosie Kay Dance Company / By Brian Slater

Words by Charlotte Heap / Pics by Brian Slater – courtesy of Rosie Kay Dance Company

It is eighteen months since I reviewed the world premiere of Rosie Kay’s MK ULTRA: we were ‘steeped in alternative facts’ then – and now? Some might say we are stewing in a surreal, post-fact society.

Kay, as artistic director, has spent time reshaping the narrative of this psychedelic trip: stripping out surplus conspiracies and focusing on her favourite: the seemingly far-fetched notion that the CIA’s brainwashing programme, for which the show is named, did not stop in the 1960s but continued covertly to create malfunctioning pop star puppets like Britney Spears and Justin Bieber.

MK ULTRA - Rosie Kay Dance Company / By Brian Slater

Shining a searchlight on society’s obsession with symbolism, hypersexuality and the Illuminati, the show is starkly staged with a high gloss floor reflecting kaleidoscopic projections and the sinuous synchronicity of the dancers. An unsettling, blinking all-seeing eye watches over the audience as we are spun through the story of a star being conditioned, and battling against, a government programme of mind control. Kay’s combination of daring dance, slick visuals and pulsing beats pull us down the rabbit hole with her.

Rosie Kay Dance Company (RKCD) choreography is challenging for both dancer and audience. Familiar moves, such as Michael Jackson’s iconic crotch grab and the ubiquitous twerking of modern music videos, are distorted and developed. The dancers embody the torturous puppet-making process: from the frenetic and, at times, frantic to the sometimes grotesquely sexual, we are forced to confront the conspiracy head on.

The seven dancers, clad in butterfly colours and conspiracy symbols, achieve stunning synergy at times. The solos, almost MTV moments, are intimate and unsettling insights into a visceral struggle for free will.  This is clever choreography: it is as hypnotising as it is uncomfortable to watch. Intercut with images of a fragile Britney Spears, it feels voyeuristic to the viewer. Here is the rise and demise of the pop star: like a car crash, it is impossible to look away.

MK ULTRA - Rosie Kay Dance Company / By Brian SlaterThe reworking of the original show has focused the narrative on an individual. Kay felt that as a society, we are now au fait with even far-fetched conspiracy theories, and this enabled her to explore more deeply the supposed collaboration between Walt Disney and the CIA. Symbols are sewn in to the fabric of the show (and costumes): subtlety is not the approach but it needn’t be. The show is stunning to watch but the conspiracy (to me, a cynic) is laughable. The original show cleverly intercut snippets of young Brummies discussing the Illuminati which acted as startling reminder of the prevalence, and passivity, of believers. This show is slicker, with a more defined story: split into the traditional acts of a play, with a documentary-style narrator, it seems to have lost some of its direct challenge to the audience.

MK ULTRA is the final, political episode in an RKCD trilogy – previous installments 5 Soldiers and There is Hope (covering war and religion respectively) demonstrate Kay’s commitment to creating dance that covers unusual but important ground. Societal shifts in the last 18 months (President Trump now makes an unwelcome appearance in the show’s visuals) provide a more sinister backdrop for the story. As a standalone show, it is impactful and impressive – a dark twisted fantasy.

Having seen the original iteration, however, I’m left lamenting the removal of some of the societal context which challenged the viewer to consider their own role in a post-truth world. The individual narrative gives the viewer the opportunity to distance themselves from the cautionary tale: we may be brainwashed, but we’ll never be pop stars. So why does it matter?

MK ULTRA (official trailer) – Rosie Kay Dance Company

Rosie Kay Dance Company are currently touring MK ULTRA across the UK, until their finale show at the LEAP Festival in Liverpool on 10th November. For full tour details, visit 

For more on MK Ultra, visit 

For more on Rosie Kay Dance Company, visit 

For more from The Patrick Centre and the wider Hippodrome programme, visit


NOT NORMAL – NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.

To sign up to NOT NORMAL – NOT OK, click here. To know more about the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK sticker campaign, click here.

BPREVIEW: Rews @ The Flapper 17.11.18

BPREVIEW: Rews @ The Flapper 17.11.18Words by Ed King

On Saturday 17th November, Rews will be performing at The Flapper – rounding off their selected UK tour at Birmingham’s iconic live music venue.

Doors open at 7pm, with tickets priced at £10 (+bf) – available from Friday 31st August. For direct event information, including full tour details and links to online ticket sales, click here.

There are certain press release that raise a smile at Birmingham Review. True, lots of them have the words ‘free’ and ‘bar’ in them, but the one that landed on our desk a few days ago was even better than bourbon for gratis. If such a thing were possible (it is, just).

Rews are coming back to Birmingham, playing at The Flapper on Saturday 17th November. And with only 38 days after this gig until The Big Day we feel the expression ‘Christmas come early’ is entirely justified.

If you don’t know who Rews are… a sharp intake of breath… they’re a high octane ‘rock powerhouse’ that have drawn comparisons to Royal Blood (but with better melodies). Made up of Shanua Tohill (guitar vocals) and Collette Williams (percussion, vocals) Rews were the first UK signing on Marshall Records – coming out punching from the legendary rock brand’s corner with their debut album, Pyro, in November 2017.

A string of singles, tours, and festival appearances followed Rews’ extremely confident debut, gathering some well deserved attention from the rock focused media and then pretty much every pundit with a brain at the BBC (including Mark Radcliffe, who cited Rews as one of his highlights from Glastonbury 2017). To read our Birmingham Review of Pyro, click here.

One eight planet dance later and Rews are back in Birmingham, rounding off a five date UK tour at The Flapper – the venue where Birmingham Review first saw them back in February ’17. And it is live that you really want to experience this band, with a ferocious energy and endearing candour flooding off stage every time we’ve shared a room them – click here to read our Birmingham Review of Rews at The Flapper, at the Actress & Bishop, and at the Hare & Hounds.

But things got better and better as we scrolled down the aforementioned press release, because there’s a new single on the table too – ‘Can You Feel It?’ will be released by Rews on 21st September, through Marshall Records. An absolute blinder, this is has been one of our favourite tracks from Rews since we first heard it, with the soon to be set free single getting added production value from Romesh Dodangoda (Bring Me the Horizon, Don Broco, Lower Than Atlantis).

We’ve had a sneak peak of the new ‘Can You Feel It?’ too and it’s PROPER AWESOME. Seriously, just wait – as soon as we can share something we will. But in the interim you can keep yourself happy/distracted with the last two singles to come from Rews – check out ‘Your Tears’ and ‘Shine’ below.

Here’s a message from Shauna Tohill about the soon to be released ‘Can You Feel It?’ too:

“Can You Feel it? is a song that takes a positive spin on hurt feelings. It encourages the listener to ‘let it out’, ‘dance’, ’sing’ and not be afraid to explore how they feel in order to better themselves & learn to love again.  It was inspired and written during a period of heartbreak and describes the stages of grief that we endure.”  

‘Your Tears’ – Rews

‘Shine’ – Rews

Rews come to The Flapper in Birmingham on Saturday 17th November – as presented by Metropolis Music/Live Nation, in association with Birmingham Review. For direct gig information, including full tour details and links to online ticket sales, click here. 

‘Can You Feel it?’ will be released by Rews on 21st September through Marshall Records. For more on Rews, visit

For more from Metropolis Music, visit

For more on The Flapper, including venue details and further event listings, visit


NOT NORMAL – NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual assault and aggression – from dance floor to dressing room.

To sign up to NOT NORMAL – NOT OK, click here. To know more about the NOT NORMAL – NOT OK sticker campaign, click here.