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The opening scene of Birmingahm REP’s new production of Peter Pan, ‘reimagined’ by Liam Steel and Georgia Christou, is set outside a dull and depressingly grey concrete apartment block, where adults and youths collide and tensions run high.
Wendy (Cora Tsang) plays an angsty teenager in foster care, with major trust and abandonment issues, who ‘mothers’ her foster brothers and has clearly lost all concept of her own carefree youthfulness.
Nia Gwynne plays Jess, the children’s patient foster mother – and later a fabulously female Hook, scared of nothing; nothing but the crocodile’s ticking clock.
We are soon transported to a fantastical urban underworld; imagine Peter Pan being given the Mad Max treatment, but with way more vibrant, clashing colour. The crew kick it with a rap-rock track and we can feel their energy. Ruby-Lou turns to me wide-eyed, “Mummy! This is brilliant!” I agree. The whole ‘Post-Apocalyptic Day-glo Steampunk’ vibe is a visual delight.
Lawrence Walker is an amiable Peter Pan, staying true to the iconic character, whilst Tinkerbell (Mirabelle Gremaud) is a feisty, foul-mouthed fairy. Let me clarify, when I say ‘foul-mouthed’, the worse it gets is her calling anyone and everyone a “silly ass”. Ruby-Lou is quite shocked (I’m pleased and proud to say) exclaiming: “Tinkerbell is my favourite, but why does she keep saying that?!”
Thankfully, my 9 year old daughter totally understands when I explain Tink is angry, unhappy, and doesn’t have anyone to tell her what’s right and wrong etc – one of the intended morals of the play. Plus, Tink flies about wearing a spacetastic silver tinsel and glitter outfit which is great fun to watch (I’m sure I wore something very similar with Fuzzbox on John Peel stage at Glastonbury back in ’86!).
Needless to say, REP’s new production of Peter Pan is right up our street – following the parallel universes and the deeper parallel meanings, and for me relating to my own experience running Community projects with LAC (Looked After Children) and Foster Families.
Moreover, as a proud Brummie born and bred, I am delighted to hear local accents (far more authentic than in Peaky Blinders, I might add) in a new take on a literary classic that has been adapted ‘specifically for Birmingham audiences.’ Thank you for the positive promo Birmingham REP.
I ask Ruby-Lou her thoughts and she exclaims that this is “the best show ever! The actors, the scenery changes, the songs, the costumes…!” We unanimously give Peter Pan a big fat 10 out of 10 – this imaginative reimagining by Liam Steel and Georgia Christou is everything it promises to be, and then some.
On stage at the Birmingham REP well into the New Year, there is still a chance for many more people to catch this wonderfully creative and contemporary take on a classic festive fave. Peter Pan runs until 19th Jan, so book your tickets now and let a little magic in. The clock inside that pesky croc is not the only one ticking down…
Vix & Ruby-Lou’s Live Vlog Review – Peter Pan @ Birmingham REP
A special season’s greeting from Vix & Ruby-Lou
Peter Pan runs at the Birmingham REP until 19th January 2020 – adapted by Liam Steel and Georgia Christou. For direct show information, including a full production schedule and links to online ticket sales, visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/peter-pan
The nights are drawing in and the mornings are getting darker. But that does mean The Gilded Merkinis back for its biannual slot at the Glee Club… so it’s not all bad.
Compering tonight is Virgin Xtravaganza, a London based drag performer and comedian who’s appeared everywhere from Torture Garden to Radio 4.
Cutting an imposing silhouette in skintight blue velvet, Xtravaganza’s character is that of a shrill, sexually frustrated mother of Christ. Between joyously blasphemous musical numbers she finds the time to be genuinely warm in introducing the acts, alongside great chemistry with stage manager Mimi Libertine.
Daggers totters onstage to ‘Monster Mash’, her body covered in balloons resembling eyeballs, and, grinning, pops them one by one in an up-tempo strip. She’s treading the line between goofy and sexy with the expertise of a seasoned performer. Later in the evening the audience see her more sultry side with a performance of her tried and tested ‘Cobra Woman’ act.
Up and coming neo-burlesque artist Cleopantha struts through the audience in her first appearance as a lounge version of ‘Crazy in Love’ fades in over the PA. Her steamy fan dance and floor work to this number leaves a trail of crimson ostrich feathers behind for Xtravaganza to pick up. Cleopantha turns up the heat with her second performance, a vivacious striptease to Cardi B’s ‘Money’ in homage to animated sex symbol Jessica Rabbit.
It’s not all G-strings and nipple tassels tonight, though. ‘The Tom Show’, aka Tom Balmont is on hand to provide some comic relief in the form of traditional sideshow acts – although it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Balmont leans on his good looks just as much as anyone else on the bill tonight.
He dislocates his shoulder to squeeze through a tennis racket a la record breaking Norwegian contortionist Captain Frodo. The sight of his limp, flailing arm as he jiggles the frame down over his shoulders elicits squeals from the crowd, who’ve been uncharacteristically reserved this evening.
Balmont also invites one hesitant audience member up on stage to check the integrity of a sword which he proceeds to swallow, before inviting the squeamish participant to pull it back out of his esophagus by the handle.
Providing some of the evening’s more traditional burlesque is international performer and, “professional whirlwind”Havana Hurricane. A carefully paced routine to Doc Severinsen’s ‘Stardust’ feels timeless in its opulence, as Hurricane peels of layers of mint green chiffon and feathers.
Her second number is more animated, as she twirls her way out of yellow and pink boas like a seductive fruit salad sweet until she’s left statuesque in a thong and diamante pasties. Well, one pastie to be exact – both of Hurricane’s performances see her right nipple exposed in a wardrobe malfunction that could almost have been planned, leaving her to coquettishly cover herself with one hand as she takes a bow. Xtravangza delights in shouting “free the nipple!” as she leaves the stage.
The highlight of this edition of The Gilded Merkin comes from Deux Ailes. This wife-and-wife acrobalance duo treat the crowd to two routines of dance and hand balance feats, including a smouldering tango to José Feliciano’s version of ‘Roxanne’ from Moulin Rouge. Clad in matching red lace bodysuits and heels, the pair weave together lifts and balances in an electric performance.
Once again, Scarlett Daggers and co have put together a show that’s equal parts entertaining and alluring. From contortion to musical numbers to good old fashioned nudity, tonight delivered all the bang for your buck that we’ve come to expect from The Gilded Merkin.
It was my daughter, Ruby-Lou, who spotted this event, exclaiming: “I am a huge David Walliams fan – I read all his books and I’ve seen all of his films; I need to see Grandpa’s Great Escape Live!”
Although this is the only Walliams flick I haven’t seen, I have heard of his bestselling book (and favourite, apparently). Plus, if it’s from Walliams you can trust the content will be humorous, thought-provoking, and suitable for child and parent alike. So, we’re on our way to Arena Birmingham… full of Frankfurt Christmas Market food and good cheer.
Getting tickets to the very first performance of Grandpa’s Great Escape Live (which will run for three days at Arena Birmingham before heading out across the country) we sit down in our rickety seats amidst an almost sold out venue – packed with excited children, accompanying parents and grandparents.
There is a ‘catwalk’ style walkway which protrudes from the stage and into the audience. Then, out of the blue, Walliams himself walks out across the stage, down the catwalk and into the centre of the arena. This is a real surprise and a lovely personal touch, as he promises us that we are “in for a treat” and indeed we were.
Nigel Planer stars as the beloved Grandpa Joe and WWII flying ace, who is struggling with dementia. Jack, his grandson and only true ally, keeps him on path by using military metaphors and commands – played superbly by Tom Cawte, who hops around the stage like a young effervescent Gordon Ramsey (but without the potty mouth of course).
Jack’s traffic cone obsessed father isn’t much help. His teenage sister is too preoccupied with her boyfriend and Duran Duran, whilst his aerobics instructor mother just wants to send Grandpa Joe to Twilight Towers (cue lightning crack and loud thunder sfx) the dreaded retirement home where residents are doped up on sleeping tablets as the evil owner, Miss Dandy, swindles them out of their money. And if you haven’t already cottoned on this story is set in the 1980s, so contains numerous references that only ‘we of a certain age’ would understand. Having spent my teenage years as a popstar in the mid-80s, this is an added bonus for me (however, they could have used Fuzzbox’s ‘International Rescue’ for one of the rescue scenes).
All that’s left is for Jack and Grandpa Joe to plan the titular ‘great escape’ – saving all the old folks from Twilight Towers, Grandpa flies away in a life sized Spitfire just as he did in WWII. It’s a poignant reminder to value and respect our elderly family and friends, the moral of this story, with a particularly sombre moment at Grandpa Joe’s eventual funeral.
I definitely want to watch the film of Grandpa’s Great Escape now, and if you get a chance to see the live production both Ruby-Lou and myself would recommend it – my daughter giving it a whole-hearted 10/10 because “it was soooo good!”, whilst I award a slightly more reserved 7/10 due to the description of a ‘spectacular show’ and ‘wondrous stage design’ feeling a little exaggerated.
And whilst it may be down to opening show jitters, a few of the jokes fell a bit flat and more encouragement for audience participation would have gone down well – it wasn’t always clear when we should or shouldn’t join in. But the life-size props of a Spitfire airplane and real tank were exciting to see, and overall Grandpa’s Great Escape Live is a very enjoyable afternoon.
Vix & Ruby Lou’s Live Vlog Review – Grandpa’s Great Escape Live @ Arena Birmingham
Grandpa’s Great Escape Live presents its final show at Arena Birmingham on 26th December, before touring across the UK– as presented by Phil McIntyre Entertainments. For direct show information, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.arenabham.co.uk/whats-on/grandpas-great-escape
**Many performances have already sold out, so get in touch with the Hippodrome quick smart and see what you can snap up before February**
Some things are as perennial as the grass. Like love. Apparently. And the grass. But coming in a close third could be the wintertime obsession with old trope gags, star crossed lovers and garish cross dressing – I am referring, of course, to the Hippodrome’s annual pantomime. Although, whilst you’re on Hurst Street…
Back ‘at the helm’ of this year’s panto, which is the tried and tested Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is Michael Harrison – herr direktor of the Hippodrome’s Christmas show for the last decade and managing director of Qdos Entertainments, the ‘world’s biggest pantomime producer’ and operator of twelve theatres across the UK. So, you know, you’re in pretty good hands backstage.
Onstage, the cast are cherry picked familiar faces from stage and screen – with Lesley Joseph leading the charge, reprising her role as The Wicked Queen.
Eastenders super cop and ‘Hippodrome panto favourite’ Matt Slack is cast as Muddles – whilst the happy couple (eventually… spoiler alert) are played by Faye Brookes, Coronation Street’s Kate Connor when she’s not picking bad apples, and the ‘break-out star’ of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jac Yarrow, playing The Prince.
Other cast members include X Factor winner Joe McElderry as The Spirit of The Mirror, Britain’s Got Talent finalists Flawless, self-unemployed Queen of the Black Country Doreen Tipton, and longstanding/suffering/celebrated panto dame Andrew Ryan.
The titular supporting cast, referred to in the show’s blurb as The Magnificent Seven, are played by Josh Bennett, George Coppen, Simeon Dyer, Craig Garner, Lee Hill, Jamie John and Blake Lisle.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs / Official trailer