BREVIEW: Asking for It @ Birmingham REP – running until 15.02.20

Words by Emma Curzon / Promotional image by Hugh O’Connor

This searing production is a play that demands to be seen: a bleak, rage-filled tragedy that shines an unflinching spotlight on 21st-century rape culture and refuses to let you look away.

Hosted by the Birmingham REP, after a highly-acclaimed run at Ireland’s National Theatre, Asking for It was adapted for the stage by Irish playwright Meadhbh McHugh and director Annabelle Comyn, from the novel of the same name by Louise O’Neill.

The premise is as simple as it is horrific: Emma, a teenage girl from a small town in County Cork, is gang-raped at a party; the rapists take photos of the attack and post them online. Cue a brutal, sickening spiral into slut-shaming and victim blaming by everyone from journalists and radio callers, to neighbours, classmates and her own parents, in a twisted form of collective punishment for “ruining those good boys’ lives” (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much – that’s the horrifying part).

There are three main pillars to the play’s considerable strength: the expert writing of McHugh (and O’Neill), Comyn’s direction, and a truly stellar performance by Coe. In fact, I can honestly say that the Dublin-grown actress gives one of the most heart-rending portrayals of a trauma survivor that I’ve ever seen.

Coe moves seamlessly between numb depression, terrified panic attacks, and horrified despair. She is an unforgettable – no, powerful presence, even as her character becomes smaller, more vulnerable and more traumatised by the second. The rest of the cast, too, give strong performances, particularly Dawn Bradfield as Emma’s mother and Liam Heslin as her well-meaning but ineffective brother.

No review of this play, either, should overlook its non-human elements. Here, the metaphorical Oscar goes to Paul O’Mahony’s set, a monochrome structure of glass boxes and panels that are moved around to create various settings, and onto which flickering, blurry video footage is projected. Both are brilliantly deployed to highlight Emma’s downward spiral as she becomes more and more trapped, both physically and mentally. Eventually, the set has enclosed the entire stage to make the walls and roof of her kitchen, by which point she is too traumatised and stigmatised to leave the house.

The choices of soundtrack were commendable too, although I do question the realism of incorporating an admittedly excellent dance routine to David Guetta’s ‘Hey Mama’. I’m not saying teen parties are devoid of David Guetta, but I’m pretty sure they don’t include perfectly synchronised, choreographed dance sets.

The main downside of the play is that parts of the narrative are left underdeveloped. McHughs is admirably thorough with Emma’s development, but other characters are neglected. Despite lengthy periods in Act 1 being spent on Emma’s peers, including brief monologues, they – including a friend who has also been assaulted – rapidly vanish, never to be seen again. It spends too much time, by contrast, on Emma’s appearance (if she were less “beautiful”, she wonders, would that night have happened?) rather than acknowledging that a rapist can target anyone, no matter what they look like.

Still, any flaws are generally forgivable given as the play has a clear aim and, in my mind, more than achieves it. It’s a hard-hitting, bitter dissection of the hell of rape and its aftermath – a snarl of defiance against a world that still, too often, blames rape victims (especially women) for their assaults. It’s a refusal to be silenced and ignored when many would like nothing better than to look away, and a defiant claiming of a voice for the millions of real-life Emmas all over the world, even as their fictional counterpart’s own voice is slowly eroded away into nothing.

In the REP foyer, a few volunteers from Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid (BSWA) set up a stand with flyers advertising their helpline. In the women’s bathrooms, on the insides of the cubicle doors, a poster asks me: has this play affected me in any way? If so, it then gives the numbers for BSWA and the Rape & Sexual Violence Project.

Leaving the theatre, I have to wonder – did anyone in the audience call either number? Did the play bring up memories of their own, similar experiences? With around 85,000 women and 12,000 men experiencing rape or attempted rape in England and Wales every year, there’s a distinct possibility that the answer is ‘yes’. And that, more than anything else, is why this play is so desperately needed.

Asking for It – official trailer

Asking for It runs at the Birmingham REP until Saturday 15th February, with evening shows and matiness shows on Saturday 8th and Thursday 13th February. For more details, including the full show schedule and links to online ticket sales, visit

**Please note: Asking for It is recommended for 14+. The show contains scenes of a sexual nature, strong language and violence** 

For more on Asking for It, 

For more from the Birmingham REP, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit


NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign to encourage safety and respect within live music venues, and to combat the culture of sexual aggression in the music industry and beyond – from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play.

To learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.

If you have been affected by any issues surrounding sexual violence – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK website.

BREVIEW: Peter Pan @ Birmingham REP – running until 19.01.20

Words by Vix & Ruby-Lou / Pics by Johan Persson

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

For more on the Birmingham REP, including venue details and further 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 learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.

If you have been affected by any of the issues surrounding sexual violence – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK website.

BPREVIEW: Peter Pan @ Birmingham REP – running until 19.01.20

Words by Ed King / Pics by Johan Persson

Running throughout Christmas and up to 19th January 2020, a new production of Peter Pan comes to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre – offering a “brand new re-imagined version” of the J.M Barrie classic, one that has been adapted “specifically for Birmingham audiences.”

A production that is accessible for both children (aged 7 plus) and adults, and those that sit resolute between the two, tickets for Peter Pan range from £15 – £39.50 – depending on date/time of the show and seating position within the theatre.

For more direct information, including the full production schedule and links to online ticket sales, visit

**Peter Pan will be presenting a relaxed matinee performance on Sunday 5th January 2020, at 2:15pm – with a special evening show interpreted by British sign language on Tuesday 7th January 2020, at 7:15pm. Click here for more details.**

There is the old adage, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’. And Peter Pan is a classic. But Liam Steel and Georgia Christou are unperturbed, taking the J.M. Barrie fairy tale from the tight lipped turn of the century and dragging it into modernity – replacing London’s ‘seen and not heard’ cast of children with the yute and yoofs of millennial Birmingham. The characters have been shaken up, gender bent, and the coy copy on the show’s press release promises ‘surprise twists in the casting.’ That and a man eating crocodile, so I guess some things are still status quo in Neverland.

But there are some pretty strong credentials at the helm of ‘Peter Pan in Birmingham’ (say it out loud), with Georgia Christou’s debut play, Yous Two, being shortlisted for a Verity Bargate Award in 2015 – paving the way for a solid portfolio on both stage and screen.

Her co-adapter and Peter Pan director, Liam Steel, also has a pretty gleaming CV across musical theatre and film – riding the success from his adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, which ran with aplomb at the Birmingham REP this time last year. Well, The Guardian called it a ‘thrilling Oz of racial diversity, gender reversal and voguing androgyny… more current – and vibrant – than the MGM musical.’ Sorry Judy.

“All the beloved characters will be there,” explains Liam Steel – talking about his and Christou’s adaptation, “but we have transposed it from London 1904 to Birmingham 2019 and made the characters much more relatable and relevant for a modern day audience. For children encountering the story for the first time, I want them to feel this was how the characters were originally written, and for those who know the story well, then I want them to experience it with the joy of re-discovery, as though they are hearing it for the very first time all over again. 

With spectacular flying, incredible sets on a huge scale, ingenious puppetry, out of this world costumes and of course a giant man eating crocodile, audiences can expect to see one of the most visually spectacular Christmas shows ever to grace The REP’s stage.”

Danke schön, Herr Direktor. But there’s another old adage: ‘the first bite is with the eye’. So, here’s a sneaky peak of Steel and Christou’s Peter Pan (…in Birmingham) – courtesy of Costume Designer, Laura Jane Stanfield.

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

For more on the Birmingham REP, including venue details and further 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 learn more about the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here. To sign up and join the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, click here.

If you have been affected by any of the issues surrounding sexual violence – or if you want to report an act of sexual aggression, abuse or assault – click here for information via the ‘Help & Support’ page on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK website.

BREVIEW: BE FESTIVAL @ Birmingham REP 04.07.17

BE FESTIVAL - Hub / Jonathan Fuller-Rowell

Words by Helen Knott / Pics courtesy of BE FESTIVAL

The backstage area of the REP is all abuzz, as audience members and performers mingle and grab drinks on another sultry evening in this most singular of summers. There’s a certain amount of trepidation as we file into The Studio.

BE FESTIVAL’s format of presenting four 30-minute shows of different genres and companies from around Europe means that you’re never quite sure what to expect. It’s safe to assume that this isn’t going to be a relaxing, safe evening watching some book-adaptation on the main stage; it’s going to be challenging, thought-provoking and sometimes difficult to watch.

Let's Dance! - VerTeDance / Vojtech BrtnickyThankfully, tonight’s first performance eases us in gently. For me, contemporary dance is right up there with opera as one of the least accessible art forms. Quite often, I just don’t get it. The Czech Republic’s VerTeDance, clearly aware that this can be a barrier for potential audience members, have responded with Let’s Dance, a tongue-in-cheek ‘manual for anxious audiences’ of contemporary dance. The work’s director, Petra Tejnorová, stands at a lectern at the side of the stage, guiding the audience through warm-up techniques, the creative process and dance motifs while the dancers demonstrate… if I’m making that sound a little dry, then it certainly isn’t.

Each dancer steps up and describes an episode from their dancing journey, from the ludicrous (the disadvantages of being a female dancer with short hair) to the touching (the realisation for the male protagonist that he doesn’t have to dance in the hyper-masculine way of his native folk dances, if he doesn’t want to).Three Rooms - Sister Sylvester VerTeDance won the 2015 BE FESTIVAL audience award, and after watching Let’s Dance it’s easy to imagine why; it is a funny, informative introduction to contemporary dance that never takes itself too seriously, while conveying a deep love of the form. I leave wanting to see the full version of the piece (tonight was just a 30 minute segment) and keen to give contemporary dance another go.

After a short break, it’s back into The Studio for Sister Sylvester’s Three Rooms, which links UK actor Kathryn Hamilton (who is here in Birmingham) with colleagues in Germany and Istanbul, over Skype. Hamilton opens the show by announcing, “On stage you can see the outline of the set for a play that we’re not going to perform tonight.”

Hearing that we’re missing out on something grabs the audience’s attention immediately. Hamilton explains that this autobiographical play, about two people fleeing war in Syria, can’t be performed because two of the actors are still unable to get visas to travel. Instead, we join the two through Skype. They show the audience their current homes and, with some visual trickery, perform a couple of scenes from the play.BE FESTIVAL - Interval Dinner / Jonathan Fuller-Rowell

At points in Three Rooms we get a rare insight into the domestic lives of individuals living through Europe’s border crisis, but on the whole it’s too unfocussed and disjointed, as Skype calls with absent friends can often feel. I’d like to understand more about the reality of the actors’ day-to-day lives spent waiting for something to happen, rather than watching them perform sections of the play, which lose their impact out of context. If the aim of the piece is to question how well technology can compensate for the physical absence of its actors, the answer is: not very well.

F.O.M.O, Fear of Missing Out - Colectivo Fango

Next up, dinner. Having the chance to eat a meal on the REP’s main stage is a real treat, even if everything has overrun; it’s 9:30pm and I’m ravenously hungry. There’s barely enough time to shovel down the pork loin, rice and salad on offer before we’re called in to watch the next performance.

This time we’re in The Door, a smaller space, for F.O.M.O – Fear of Missing Out, by Spain’s Colectivo Fango. F.O.M.O describes the pangs of anxiety many of us feel when we see a social media post that suggests we’re missing out on something. The performance starts light-heartedly enough – a lively set of What’s App messages are projected onto the stage, then one of the piece’s female actors uses the front-facing camera on her phone to pose, pull faces and check her teeth. We start to get a hint that things aren’t quite as innocent as they seem when she starts pointing the phone between her legs… it’s uncomfortable to witness such a personal moment portrayed on stage.

Things quickly turn disturbing. Violent acts are portrayed against women, with continual filming through phone screens having a distancing effect on the perpetrators, distorting reality. In one harrowing segment, one of the female characters poses for social media photographs, before the poses become more and more frantic and out of control and she strips naked. All the while, the other performers count, slowly at first, before speeding up to the number 137, which is finally revealed as the number of Instagram followers she has.

Towards the end of the show things have reached crisis point. One of the characters confides that they know nothing about the war in Syria and asks the audience if any of us know anything either. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to be implicated in the violence being portrayed on stage. I’m sure many of us can see ourselves in the characters’ obsessions with digital communication and social media.

By this stage, things have massively overrun, so I don’t manage to see the final performance of the evening which is Control Freak by Cie. Kirkas – public transport just doesn’t run late enough. But BE FESTIVAL 2018 has offered plenty of food for thought. Let’s Dance encouraged me to open my mind to contemporary dance, and Three Rooms and F.O.M.O – Fear of Missing Out both suggested that technology, often heralded as an effective tool for breaking down geographical and political borders, can sometimes distance us from each other further.

It may have been, as suspected, challenging, thought-provoking and sometimes difficult to watch, but that’s exactly what the best art should do.

For more on BE FESTIVAL, visit

For more from Birmingham REP, including full event listings and online ticket sales, 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: BE FESTIVAL @ Birmingham REP 03-09.07.17

BE FESTIVAL @ Birmingham REP 03-09.07.17

Words by Helen Knott / Pics courtesy of BE FESTIVAL

Running from 2nd to 9th July, Birmingham’s annual BE FESTIVAL showcases theatre, dance and circus artists from across Europe – presenting a week-long programme of performances and workshops, hosted by the Birmingham REP.

And in a chance for the public attending to meet the artists performing, BE FESTIVAL invites patrons to join them for a special Interval Dinner, ‘served on the REP’s main stage after the first half of the evening performances’. To see the Interval Dinner’s changing menu from Marmalade, the REP’s onsite restaurant, click here.

A weekly pass to BE FESTIVAL will cost £100 with dinner, or £60 without dinner. Individual day tickets are also available, costing £24 with dinner and £16 without dinner. Tickets can be bought thorugh the Birmingham REP Box Office, or for online sales click here.

It’s hard to believe that 2018 is the ninth year of BE FESTIVAL – it still seems like a fresh, young pretender on the Birmingham theatre scene. Perhaps it’s because the line-up always presents interesting new talent and some of the latest movements in the arts, or maybe it’s down to the event’s open-minded sense of fun, but BE FESTIVAL is a decidedly cool place to spend a few hours.

For those of you who don’t know (where have you been for the past nine years?) each evening at BE FESTIVAL tends to follow roughly the same format – typically, there are four 30 minute performances from companies or artists from across Europe, with a communal Interval Dinner where you get the chance to rub shoulders with the performers.Ivo Dimchev's P-Project @ BE FESTIVAL 03.07.18 The REP’s backstage area is transformed into the festival HUB, where you can chill out, grab a drink, and debate just what on earth was going on in that piece of contemporary dance you just saw. The audience is then invited to party on into the night to the sounds of a live band or DJ set.

That’s where any sense of predictability ends, however; the performances take in a range of different genres – including dance, puppetry, physical theatre, circus – and typically cover a full gamut of emotions and themes.

BE FESTIVAL co-director, Miguel Oyarzun, says on this year’s line-up: “We invite audiences to reflect on the borders we unknowingly create as individuals and groups. Our 2018 programme features work that tests physical limitations, bodily boundaries, social preconceptions and draws on multiple disciplines.” A fitting theme indeed, for a time when the UK is in the midst of literally bordering itself off from the rest of Europe.

Sister Sylvester’s Three Rooms @ BE FESTIVAL 04.07.18So, what’s on the 2018 programme at BE FESTIVAL? With a veritable smorgasbord on stage each night (and I’m not just talking about the Interval Dinner) you can check out the full programme by clicking here, but here is something from each day that got our mouths watering .

On Tuesday 3rd July, the Bulgaria/UK based Ivo Dimchev will be inviting audience members on stage to perform increasingly extreme acts for cash, in P-Project. The ‘internationally ‘renowned choreographer, performing artist and singer songwriter’ has based his solo performance ‘on several words beginning with ‘P’ such as Piano, Pray, Pussy, Poetry, Poppers’ and further invites the audience ‘to Play with the complex Pussy catalogue’ where they can ‘construct their own Pussy and Print it on a Postcard.’ Presented in collaboration with Fierce Festival, P-Project is for over 18’s only.

Tom Cassani's Someone Love You Drive With Care @ BE FESTIVAL 05.07.18On Wednesday 4th July, Sister Sylvester’s Three Rooms (Syria/ UK/ Turkey) use Skype to present a digital performance that will take place simultaneously in Paris, Istanbul and Birmingham – in a play that ‘was conceived as a response to Europe’s continuing border crisis, which prevented the actors from traveling to either the rehearsals or performances of the original commission in 2016’ and seeks to ‘ to question the possibilities and limitations of technology to mediate absence.’

Then on Thursday 5th July, BE FESTIVAL opens with Someone Loves You Drive With Care from the UK’s self professed ‘performance artist and a liar.’ Tom Cassani’s circus sideshow-inspired piece will ‘challenge the borders of his own body using blunt and scary looking objects’ (yikes!) as the artist ‘questions our collective construction of truth and lies’ using cabaret trickery and slight-of-hand in an impressive sounding solo performance.Poliama Lima's Aqui Siempre (Here Always) @ BE FESTIVAL 06.07.18 / Jean-Marc-Sanchez There is no official age restriction for Someone Loves You Drive With Care, although the faint of heart (or under 16’s) might want to take a hand to hold or something to hide behind.

Friday 6th July presents Poliana Lima‘s Aqui Siempre (Here Always), as the award winning Brazilian choreographer combines styles ‘from Argentinian popular dance to the European ballet tradition’ in a narrative that explores ‘women from four different countries beaming with individual diversity, experiences and traditions’. Now a ‘long term resident of Madrid’, Poliana Lima‘s Aqui Siempre uses the individuality of each person’s physical expression, or ‘movement systems’, in a dance performance piece that explores the ‘ relationships between memory, the present and the future.’

ODC Ensembles The Cave @ BE FESTIVAL 07.07.18 / Karol JarekThen as part of the final day at BE FESTIVAL, on Saturday 7th July, the Greece based ODC Ensemble present The Cave – ‘a digital recalibration of the symbolic potency of Plato’s Cave allegory’ that uses opera, cinema, digital and visual technology ‘to reflect on the walls and shadows we build around us.’ ODC Ensemble were the first prize award winners at BE FESTIVAL 2017, led by the Athens based Elli Papakonstantinou, and ‘their work embraces the bewilderment of the audience in the face of persistent dislocation.’

It can be off-putting to invest an entire evening (and ticket cost) into a programme that you’re not sure that you will like, but BE FESTIVAL takes that risk away – you may not enjoy all of the performances, but with up to four artists on show each evening there’s bound to be something that makes you think.

Above all, BE FESTIVAL, with its communal dining and feedback cafes, is an ego-free place of openness and playfulness. You may even find that you have some of your own boundaries and preconceptions challenged along the way.

BE FESTIVAL 2018 – official trailer 

BE FESTIVAL runs at Birmingham REP from Tuesday 3rd to Saturday 7th July – with a special matinee programme on the final day. For more on BE FESTIVAL, including the full festival programme and links to online ticket sales, visit 

For more from Birmingham REP, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit