ED’S PICK: April ‘18

Words by Ed King

Easter Sunday, 1st April… There’s probably a joke in there somewhere. But with a basket of listings and entertainment based excel spreadsheets to plough through who has the time to be witty? Or hunt for Easter eggs, for that matter. Being an adult sucks.

However (…are you ready for this segue) it does allow me to enjoy all the delights of the Flatpack Film Festival without worrying about ID – actually, I’m not sure there’s too much on the programme with an age restriction but Dots & Loops are part of the festival and they brought us Lesley the Pony Has and A+ Day!, so…

Back for festival number 12, those glorious creatives at Flatpack have put on a nine day smorgasbord of celluloid, digital, and other audio/visual treats – running from 13th to 22nd April, in a variety of venue across the city. Too much to cram into this round up; look out for our more in-depth cherry pick in the days to come, or click here for more direct information on the full programme.

Elsewhere in the non-greenfield, Ebola flirting, footwear wrecking land of multi-stage events, we have the Birmingham Literature Festival – hop scotching from various corners of the REP to the Birmingham and Midland Institute from 27th to 29th April. Now old enough to drink beer in America, this year’s Birmingham Literature Festival has a focus on women in literature and publishing, alongside a weekend long programme of ‘inspiring conversations, writing and debate’. Again too much to adequately surmise, but click here for more direct info.

Following on with a female focus, Birmingham Jazz launches its Legends Festival on 27th April – running as a series of satellite events across the city until 20th May. This year’s linchpin is ‘Celebrating Women in Jazz’, with local artists such as Trish Clowes joining a myriad of talent from across the globe. Too much to fit into… you know the drill, click here.

Theatre comes in all shapes and sizes this month, including a couple of choice cuts on Hurst Street – with Wicked beginning its Birmingham run at the Hippodrome (4th-29th Apr) and The Twisted Tale of Hansel and Gretel at the Patrick Centre (4th– 8th Apr).

Across the duel carriageways and road works we have Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock coming to the Birmingham REP (10th – 14th) followed by the political see-saw of 1970’s Britain in This House (17th – 21st) – reminding us fear mongering comes from both sides of the aisle and a dash of vitriol isn’t a particular new idea. How times have changed… or not.

Music takes its usual fat belly slice of our monthly listings, with a few ‘big gigs’ of notE coming to the NEC portfolio – as the Genting Arena sees both Arcade Fire (15th Apr) and Dua Lipa (17th Apr), whilst Arena Birmingham welcomes the Manic Street Preachers (27th Apr) back to the city.

Playing across the non-arena rooms of our musical city, the Hare & Hounds has another eclectic mix – with Kushikatsu Records presenting Shonen Knife (15th Apr) followed Snowpoet (19th Apr) courtesy of Jazzlines. Whilst The Glee Club sees the very welcome return of Nerina Pallot (9th Apr) stopping off in Birmingham on the second date if her UK tour. Fingers crossed there’s a piano on stage.

The Sunflower Lounge sees Killer Wave and Outlander host their ‘Help the Homeless’ pay-as-you-feel charity fundraiser (8th Apr) – with all money raised going to Shelter and Tabor House. Then we have Lucy May Walker playing her first headline show in Birmingham (18th Apr) – both events well worth a stop, look and listen. And £5 of your hard earned cash, of course.

Our mobile branded venues see a bevy of acts this month too, with the O2 Academy presenting George Ezra (4th Apr), The Vaccines (7th Apr), Trivium (17th Apr), The Streets (19th Apr), Coasts (21st Apr) and Akala (24th Apr). Whilst the O2 Institute leads out with Walk the Moon (7th Apr), Little Comets (14th Apr), Aquilo (16th Apr), Of Mice and Men (25th Apr) and Sharon Needles: Battle Axe Tour (26th Apr).

A special mention also has to go to the Hummingbird-Menagerie-Indie-salad days-nostalgia trip coming to the O2 Academy with Love From Stourbridge – featuring The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (14th Apr). Someone pass me my German army shirt, skateboard and a can of Red Stripe, we’re going early 90’s feral…

And if you’re committed to your anti-corporate support of live music, never fear as mac welcomes Juice Aleem & Surge Orchestra (21st Apr) whilst Mama Roux’s serves two sides of the musical rainbow with The Herbaliser (19th Apr) and Mallory Knox (24th Apr)… probably not a good idea to get those dates mixed up in your diary.

Elsewhere in the city, comedy offers a relatively strong respite from those kids and their music – with The Glee Club presenting Tony Law (13th Apr), Alun Cochrane (15th Apr) and Craig Campbell (22nd Apr).

Or if you just want to stand and stare, you could waste a happy hour or two at Lewes Herriot: The Glass Arcana exhibition at Artefact in Stirchley (13th – 14th Apr). Or watching the flyers unfold with an exhibition from the seminal 90’s ambient electro club Oscillate, at Centrala (16th – 28th Apr) – bearing in mind there is an end of exhibition party with HIA and POLE (28th Apr) so you might want to do more than actually just stand and stare. Or not. Depends how you dance to Sun Electric, I suppose. Necking enough amphetamines to kill a small horse always worked for me, but vegetarian options are available.

But to end on the most glamorous of high notes (pun absolutely intended) Paul Alexsandr and Dragpunk present Candyland at The Nightingale (6th Apr) – a choc full celebration of ‘local and national UK drag of all genders, sexualities and abilities that you’ll adore.’ Then at the other end of the April rainbow, Opulence are launching Mother’s Meeting at Bar Jester (28th Apr) – a band spanking new ‘performance night dedicated to showing off a variety of drag and queer talent across Birmingham and the U.K.’, with special guest Charity Kase joined by a pageant of the Opulence crew on stage and Elliot Barnicle on the decks.

Birmingham can be proud for many reasons, but the cross over embrace of its drag community is one to really get those flags waving. We love covering it, and it seems the punters of Birmingham love supporting it. So, Vive la/le drag community of our fair/fairer city, alongside all who sail on these most wonderful of waters. Save some energy though, Birmingham Pride is a mere calendar page turn away.

And wait, I’ve just thought of one. A Jewish carpenter and a 6ft rabbit walk into Cadbury World…

For more on any of the events listed here, click on the highlighted hyperlinks. Ed King is Editor-in-Chief of Review Publishing, which issues both the Birmingham Review and Birmingham Preview. To follow Ed King on Twitter, click here.

BREVIEW: The Gilded Merkin Burlesque & Cabaret @ The Glee Club (B’ham) 18.03.18

The Gilded Merkin Burlesque & Cabaret @ The Glee Club (B’ham) 18.03.18

Words & Illustrations by Emily Doyle

It’s a Sunday night and The Gilded Merkin has returned to The Glee Club in Birmingham. Patrons fill the room. Two litre jugs of the venue’s signature ‘Long Island Iced Glee’ litter the tables. The lights dim and the audience buzzes expectantly.

Stage Door Johnny - The Gilded Merkin @ The Glee Club 18.03.18 / Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs)Our host for the evening is the charming Stage Door Johnny. He casts an eye over the full room and congratulates the audience on making it through the snowstorm outside. Thankfully, he muses, it’s not as severe as the forecast predicted.

“This isn’t the first time I was promised six inches.”

Stage Door Johnny does all he can to make every person in the room feel welcome. He briefs “burlesque virgins” on how to behave, giving everyone a reminder of the etiquette in song form. Functional as it may be, his background in musical theatre shows; he’s currently doing a turn as Sweeney Todd at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre.

Once the room is sufficiently warmed up, Stage Door Johnny welcomes The Gilded Merkin performer and producer, Scarlett Daggers, to the stage. Known to regulars as “the lady behind the merkin”, Daggers is eager to kick off proceedings with her ‘Tiki Tiki Boom’ act and appears draped in an oversized lei. She performs a fast-paced, playful striptease to Los Straitjackets’ surf-revival classic, ‘Kawanga’ – to be left standing in a tiny fringed bikini, at which point she produces a pair of fire-orange silks.

DaggersScarlett Daggers - The Gilded Merkin @ The Glee Club 18.03.18 / Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs) then performs a scarf dance which, presumably due to health and safety restrictions in such an intimate venue, replaces the fire eating portion of this routine. The silks don’t have the same glamour as flames, but when she ends the act standing triumphantly in pants and pasties, no one feels hard done by.

Mr B. The Gentleman Rhymer is next to perform. The Gilded Merkin’s stage manager, Mimi Libertine, assembles a mic stand and a board of looper pedals as Mr B. arrives on the stage, clad head to toe in tweed. He holds a banjolele. Mr B. performs his in his own musical style – ‘Chap Hop’ – and combining comedy rap with electro-swing beats, he opens with an ode to gentlemanship, ‘All Hail The Chap’.

“It’s a call to charms, a design for living,
Within a world so unforgiving,
Where sloth and banality are the standard brew.
Well, we’ve upped our standards,
So up yours too!”

As is true of many comedy musicians, the punchline comes early on in the performance. The set holds up well musically, though, and Mr B.’s lyrical delivery is flawless. He performs a hip-hop melody which weaves its way from The Sugarhill Gang to Public Enemy, followed by a Blackstreet parody with the refrain “No dignity (were you dragged up?)”.

Stage Door JohnnyMr B. the Gentleman Rhymer - The Gilded Merkin @ The Glee Club 18.03.18 / Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs) reappears to introduce his royal hairiness, Dave the Bear – who swaggers on stage like a brawny Captain Jack Sparrow, swigging from a bottle as a gruff sea shanty plays over the PA. He poses centre stage with his arms in shackles, and winks; in a flash, the shackles are off and the feathers atop his bicorne hat have begun to litter the stage.

Dave the Bear is a delight to watch as he poses, pouts, and sprinkles glitter into his chest hair. This does, however, leave our stage manager Mimi a lot of sweeping to do before the next act can take the stage – as Stage Door Johnny warns the audience that those of a nervous disposition may wish to look away, before allowing Lolo Brow to come out.

Mimi Libertine - The Gilded Merkin @ The Glee Club 18.03.18 / Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs)A table is laid with an assortment of items – a mousetrap and a staple gun are visible. Brow flings the curtains aside and storms to the front. She wears thigh high boots and a red military jacket tucked into a tight latex waist cincher. Extinguishing the cigarette she was smoking, on her tongue, she proceeds to flip the audience off before pulling a small hammer from the top of her right stocking. She then performs a classic ‘human blockhead’ act choreographed to Rihanna’s ‘S&M’.

There is visible delight on her face as she invites a member of the front row to remove a nail from her nasal cavity, before replacing it with a pair of scissors. By the end of the act, Brow has playing cards stapled to her thighs and chest; the audience winces as she staples the final card to her cheek and takes a bow, leaving behind a mucus ridden condom. Lucky Mimi.

Stage Door Johnny re-emerges to close the first act. And after Lolo Brow‘s performance, everyone is ready for a trip to either the bathroom or the bar.

Dave the Bear - The Gilded Merkin @ The Glee Club 18.03.18 / Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs)In a change of pace, Miss Betsy Rose is welcomed to the stage to perform her 1950’s inspired routine – ‘Ode to April’. Miss Rose luxuriates in an enormous lilac feather boa and invites audiences members to help remove her golden gloves, before upping the tempo for a bump and grind routine. Her opulent costume and period accurate soundtrack evoke a 1950s American burlesque club; every step is carefully choreographed and it’s easy to see why she is so well regarded.

A hulking figure now appears at the back of the room, shrouded in furs. As he walks through the crowd, his long nordic braid swings from the top of his head and down the back of his cloak. He carries a hammered shield. Reaching the stage, he turns and strikes a pose lifted straight from an ancient Greek vase. He looks up, and grins. Dave the Bear has returned.

Tamar Braxton’s dance hit ‘Hot Sugar’ kicks in. Without missing a beat, Dave the Bear’s posture goes from gladiator to gogo-dancer. He whips his braid back and forth and struts across the front row, shimmying out of each item of leather armour until very little is left to the imaginationLolo Brow - The Gilded Merkin @ The Glee Club 18.03.18 / Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs). Both of his performances tonight rely on a kind of bait-and-switch, building up an archetypal macho male before joyously tearing that character to shreds with glitter and kissy faces. The most masculine thing about Dave the Bear’s performance isn’t his hirsute torso, but his brazenness.

Mr B. rounds off the second act with another set, this time featuring a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’. Whilst this does dilute his chap-hop persona a little, it’s refreshingly heartfelt.

After another short interval, Scarlett Daggers remerges. This time she wears a floor length fishtail dress, complete with embellished cobra hood. Over the course of the act she sheds this skin to reveal a floaty, chiffon number. Stage Door Johnny then takes centre stage to perform his own interpretation of Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, Je ne regrette rien’ – think Flight of the Conchords’ ‘Foux Da Fa Fa’ and you’re half way there.Miss Betsy Rose - The Gilded Merkin @ The Glee Club 18.03.18 / Emily Doyle (Old Bort Designs)

Lolo Brow is welcomed back with a collective intake of breath, but she assures the room that this will be a more visually pleasing act. “My name’s Lolo Brow and I’m going to take my clothes off”

Her purple dress and green hair are reminiscent of the Joker, and tonight we are all going to be a part of her social experiment. She explains that she has given the sound engineer an mp3 player loaded with two-hundred tracks, ranging from stripper staples to the soundtrack from High School Musical. The mp3 player will be set to shuffle, and Lolo Brow will begin her striptease. If the audience wants to hear a different song, they have to shout “change”. This is ‘The Burlesque Shuffle’.

What ensues is perhaps the most anarchic five minutes to ever grace the boards at The Glee Club. The beauty of the concept is that Brow’s performance is different every time. On this occasion it opens with Liberty X’s noughties banger, ‘Just a Little’, and culminates in Brow revealing her bedazzled nipples to the strains of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

The final performance of the night is Miss Betsy Rose. Following straight on from Lolo Brow is a bold juxtaposition, but it works. Her routine, titled ‘Lady Sublime’, is a sultry affair that echoes 1920s burlesque – draped head to toe in mint green sequins and sporting an enormous feather headpiece.

Set to a version of Duke Ellington’s 1927 ‘Black and Tan Fantasy’, this is without a doubt the night’s most decadent performance. Miss Betsy Rose lets down her hair, shrugs of her robes and executes the splits with balletic precision. The Gilded Merkin is brought to a fitting climax. 

The Gilded Merkin returns to The Glee Club Birmingham on Sunday 14th October – presented by Scarlett Daggers, with Abigail Collins, Anna Fur Laxis, Kiki Lovechild, Missy Malone and Demi Noir also performing. For direct show information, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.glee.co.uk/performer/gilded-merkin-birmingham

For more on The Gilded Merkin, visit www.gildedmerkin.co.uk 

For more from The Glee Club venues, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.glee.co.uk

BPREVIEW: BenDeLaCrème @ The Glee Club (B’ham) 29.03.18

BenDeLaCrème @ The Glee Club (B’ham) 29.03.18

Words by Emily Doyle

In the wake of the scandalous third series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race All Stars, the ‘terminally delightful’ BenDeLaCrème is packing up her wigs and hitting the road – coming to The Glee Club in Birmingham on Thursday 29th March.

Door open at The Glee Club from 6:30pm to 7:30pm, with the show scheduled to start at 8pm (please note, latecomers will not be admitted). Minimum age of entry is 14, with under 16s needing adult accompaniment. Tickets for all ages are priced at £20 plus a booking fee – as presented by Eat Sleep Drag Repeat. For direct show information, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

Known for her upbeat, comedic drag and 1950’s inspired looks, BenDeLaCrème was voted ‘Miss Congeniality’ in Season 6 of Ru Paul’s cult TV show. Now a Birmingham audience can spend the evening with her (…at The Glee Club) in a show hosted by the self-styled ‘drag prince’ Alfie Ordinary, who will be coming up from Brighton to spread some bedazzled cheer.

Fresh from winning Pick of the Fringe at the Adelaide Fringe festival, with his show Help! I Think I Might Be Fabulous, Ordinary promises to deliver hosting that will be anything but. Also visiting from Brighton is Lydia L’Scabies; with a look created by people watching at her local nightclubs, L’Scabies describes herself as ‘dim, sweet, and a mite-ridden skank.’

A key player in Birmingham’s Dragpunk collective, Paul Aleksandr will be also bringing a touch of the macabre to the proceedings. Aleksandr uses his genderfuck jester persona to ‘inject some needed queerness into LGBTQ culture and society’; combining body paint, cuddly toys, and nails to rival Edward Scissorhands, his theatrical style explores new frontiers in contemporary drag and gender politics.

When reached for comment, Aleksandr had the following to say: “I’m looking forward to a showcase of modern drag culminating in BenDeLaCrème, in a venue that’s proving to be a popular choice. Eat Sleep Drag Repeat are really lovely and professional which is refreshing, and want to deliver some variety and excitement to the support acts and final show.”

BenDeLaCrème also sees drag as a tool for examining issues of gender and sexuality, albeit taking a very different approach to Aleksandr. DeLa considers drag an ‘an inherently political act’, one that she carries out with charm, delight, and an array of 1950s pin up costumes.

Over her decade long career, BenDeLaCrème has toured the world with three critically acclaimed solo shows, alongside appearing in two series of the crossover TV hit Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Now at the centre of one of the shows most shocking moments to date (no spoilers here) DeLa shows no signs of slowing down. Catch her in The Glee Club’s 420 capacity main room while you still can.

BenDeLaCrème comes to The Glee Club (B’ham) on Thursday 29th March, joined on stage by Alfie Ordinary, Lydia L’Scabies and Paul Aleksander – as presented by Eat Sleep Drag Repeat. For direct show information, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.glee.co.uk/performer/bendelacreme

For more on BenDeLaCrème, visit www.bendelacreme.com

For more on Alfie Ordinary, visit www.alfieordinary.com

For more on Lydia L’Scabies, visit www.instagram.com/lydialscabies 

For more on Paul Aleksandr, visit www.instagram.com/paul_aleksandr

For more from Eat Sleep Drag Repeat, visit www.esdrevents.co.uk

For more from The Glee Club, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.glee.co.uk  

BREVIEW: Phil Wang @ The Glee Club 11.03.18

Phil Wang @ The Glee Club 11.03.18

Words by Helen Knott

Phil Wang emerges on stage at The Glee Club to the strains of ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, setting the scene for an evening where the influence of his East Asian heritage is never too far away.

During this 90 minute show, titled Kinabalu – named after the highest mountain in Malaysia, Phil Wang covers a multitude of topics, from Chinese New Year, to his aim to die a hero’s death, to his dislike of scary movies (which he dismisses as “a purely western privilege” as no one needs to watch scary movies in Syria). Wang‘s on-stage persona is of a 28-year-old man who is probably not quite as cool as he thinks he is. He may equate buying lube with being a true adult, but he’s buying it in Waitrose and he’s not happy about the high price.

The set is littered with brilliant gags (personal favourite: “You ever done a fart so bad you lose a bar on the Wi-Fi?”) but Wang is most compelling when he concentrates on serious issues. His heritage – he’s half Malaysian, half British – gives him a strong voice on subjects such as Brexit, colonialism, and racism. Wang may have lived in the UK for his entire adult life, but he maintains an outsider’s point of view: for example, he feels more comfortable being patriotic than his British-born friends because he knows what it’s like to live somewhere without the things we take for granted. In short, “You can drink your tap water!”

Wang’s section on Brexit may include some fairly straightforward quips (“I voted remain, as you can tell by my vocabulary”) but it comes through the filter of his childhood in Malaysia, which was part of the British Empire. He argues that globalisation, which brought his parents together and Wang to the UK, came about because of entities like the British Empire. Therefore, in his eyes it’s not a wholly negative period of history, for Malaysia at least. He suggests that the EU is “the first empire built by peace instead of war”, and he’s disappointed that the British public rejected it. It’s interesting stuff, and a take on Brexit (a subject that no comedian seems to be able to avoid at the moment) that is genuinely fresh on the stand up circuit.

Despite the show’s focus on Phil Wang as an entity – his family, his career, his relationships – you get surprisingly little sense of Wang the man. He still has his guard up, often referring to himself in the third person and continually punning on his own surname for a cheap laugh. The only part of the show where it feels like you see the authentic Phil Wang is when, after a section about his girlfriend, he admits that they split up a month ago but he hasn’t bothered to change his material. It’s a fleeting feeling however, as the newly-single Wang quickly turns it into a hammy call-out for groupies.

As a show, Kinabalu is a little too long and doesn’t have much of an overarching thrust – it really just peters out at the end. But when you have jokes as good as Phil Wang, it doesn’t matter too much. Although on his next tour I’m hoping for maybe fewer lube stories and more insightful political analysis.

For more on Phil Wang, visit www.philwang.co.uk

For more from The Glee Club venues, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.glee.co.uk

BPREVIEW: The Gilded Merkin Burlesque & Cabaret @ The Glee Club (B’ham) 18.03.18

The Gilded Merkin Burlesque & Cabaret @ The Glee Club (B’ham) 18.03.18Words by Emily Doyle

On 18th March, The Gilded Merkin returns to The Glee Club Birmingham for another night of burlesque and cabaret. According to BBC’s John Hess, it will be “a hugely generous dollop of magical sophisticated glamour” – what better way to spend your Sunday evening?

Doors open at The Glee Club from 6pm with last entry at 6:45pm. Minimum age of entry is 18, with tickets priced at £15 – for direct show information, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

As usual, The Gilded Merkin is programmed and hosted by Scarlett Daggers – a fiery redhead with ten years experience on the UK burlesque circuit. Scarlett Daggers’ rockabilly flair also makes her a favourite at car shows and tattoo conventions up and down the country, and saw her perform at the F1 Grand Prix Silverstone.

Taking a break from his role as resident host for Tres Tres cabaret in Stafford and La De Da Cabaret in Derby, comedian and vocalist Stage Door Johnny will be joining the line-up at The Gilded Merkin. Known for his wit, charm, and love of musical theatre, Stage Door Johnny promises to have the audience “eating from the palm of his hand – sometimes literally…”

Also on the bill is international artist Miss Betsy Rose, who was ranked the UK’s number one burlesque performer of 2016 by 21st Century Burlesque Magazine. Miss Betsy Rose’s classic look and professional dance background embody the spirit of early burlesque, and have seen her appear in French Vogue, ID, Harpers Bazaar and Italian Playboy.

Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer will also be at The Gilded Merkin, combining jump-up, rap and banjolele to create an art form he’s labeled as ‘chap hop’. His electro-swing tracks have garnered a huge YouTube following and landed Mr.B live sessions with BBC Radio’s Rob Da Bank, Nick Grimshaw, Steve Lamacq and Shaun Keaveny, to name but a few. 

Also performing is Lolo Brow, a green haired Londoner who describes herself a neo-burlesque performer, drag queen and lizard lady. Named the Burlesque Awards Performer of the Year 2016, Lolo Brow combines her circus skills and total lack of respect for stage/audience boundaries to shock and delight. 

Last but certainly not least is Dave the Bear, who appears online under the username ‘bighairygrowler’; his various acts are said to involve, glitter, latex, mirror balls and his alter ego ‘Maria Beary’. Dave the Bear has previously appeared in all his hirsute glory on the cover of Playbear magazine, as well as showing off his comedy chops on 8 out of 10 Cats and The Xtra Factor. 

If there’s not something in The Gilded Merkin‘s showcase of burlesque and cabaret that grabs your attention this Sunday, I don’t know what to say to you… Try church? 

The Gilded Merkin presents a showcase of burlesque and cabaret at The Glee Club on Sunday 18th March – presented by Scarlett Daggers. For direct show information, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.glee.co.uk/performer/gilded-merkin-birmingham

For more on The Gilded Merkin, visit www.gildedmerkin.co.uk

For more from The Glee Club venues, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.glee.co.uk