BREVIEW: Grandpa’s Great Escape Live @ Arena Birmingham (last show on 26.12.19)

Words by Vix & Ruby-Lou / Pics courtesy of Arena Birmingham

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

For more on Grandpa’s Great Escape Live, including full tour details and online ticket sales, visit www.grandpasgreatescapelive.co.uk

For more on Arena Birmingham, including further event listings, visit www.arenabham.co.uk

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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: Grandpa’s Great Escape Live @ Arena Birmingham 23-6.12.19

Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of Arena Birmingham

Running from 23rd to 26th December (withstanding Christmas Day), Grandpa’s Great Escape Live gets it’s first on stage outing at Arena Birmingham this Christmas.

Tickets are on sale from £29.50 to £52.25, depending on seating position with Arena Birmingham, with two performances daily – doors opening at 12noon (show at 1pm) and 3pm (show starts at 4pm). There is a further evening performance at 7pm on 23rd December. For direct information, including venue details and online bookings, visit www.arenabham.co.uk/whats-on/grandpas-great-escape

After finishing at Arena Birmingham, Grandpa’s Great Escape Live will be touring the UK until 4th January 2020 – with dates in London, Sheffield, Nottingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, and Liverpool. For more on Grandpa’s Great Escape Live, including full tour details and online ticket sales, visit www.grandpasgreatescapelive.co.uk

Since being released in 2015, David Walliams’ children’s story Grandpa’s Great Escape has gone on to sell over 2million copies worldwide. Now, in its live production adaptation, the story of Jack and his titular Grandpa (and escape) come to life on stage – opening at Arena Birmingham this Christmas.

The story is simple: Grandpa is getting older and his behaviour becomes increasingly odd and erratic, to the point where one night he must be coaxed down from the local church roof. Grandpa is suffering with dementia and flits between the present day and his time flying Spitfires in World War II.

Eventually, his family reach their wits’ end and make the decision to send Grandpa off to the appropriately titled old people’s home, Twilight Towers. Alone and confused, Grandpa’s world is ebbing away, both the one in his head and the one at his fingertips. But Jack and Grandpa can still connect and armed with imagination (and the ability to fly a plane) they embark on a final ‘great escape’ – breaking free from Twilight Towers and the self-serving staff at the horrible nursing home.

Since turning his hand to children’s fiction in 2013, David Walliams has released 13 novels – alongside a selection of picture books and short stories. But compared more than once to another great children’s writer, who again could balance the marvellous and macabre, Walliams’ fairy-tales are more than a childish play in the park.

His first book, The Boy in the Dress, addresses gender identity (in both young people and adults) – whilst his second and third books, Mr Stink and Billionaire Boy respectively, tackle the adage that money can’t buy you love. Well, not real love anyway. Grandpa’s Great Escape, Walliams’ eighth children’s book, tackles the issues surrounding dementia and our perceived care for the elderly.

But with fun firmly at their hearts, Walliams’ stories have been embraced by families the world over – with near constant adaptations onto stage and/or screen since his debut back in 2008. Grandpa’s Great Escape was first taken to the small screen – aired on BBC One on New Year’s Day 2018, with Tom Courtney as Grandpa, Kit Connor as Jack, and Jennifer Saunders as Miss Dandy.

This Christmas, Arena Birmingham will welcome the first stage production of Grandpa’s Great Escape Live – before it’s chocks away across the country, with subsequent dates in London, Sheffield, Nottingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, and Liverpool.

Nigel Planner will be starring as Grandpa, with Tom Cawte as Jack, and Siobhan Redmond as both Miss Dandy/Reverend Fine.

David Walliams talks about Grandpa’s Great Escape Live

Grandpa’s Great Escape Live comes to Arena Birmingham this Christmas, with shows on 23rd, 24th and 26th December – 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

For more on Grandpa’s Great Escape Live, including full tour details and online ticket sales, visit www.grandpasgreatescapelive.co.uk

For more on Arena Birmingham, including further event listings, visit www.arenabham.co.uk

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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: Fantasia – Rosie Kay Dance Company @ The Patrick Studio 25.09.19

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

What is it that makes dance beautiful to watch? The choreography, the costumes, the lighting, the music?

Rosie Kay’s Dance Company’s new show, Fantasia, which premiered at Birmingham Hippodrome’s Patrick Studio on 25th September, promised to use art and science to ‘make a work of pure joy.’

Rosie Kay Dance Company is a West Midlands based organisation headed by the eponymous Rosie Kay, a Birmingham Hippodrome Associate, and established in 2004. The company has a number of acclaimed productions in its repertoire, including MK Ultra, (which I’ve reviewed during its original run in 2017 and after its revamp in 2018), The Wild Party, Supernova and 5 Soldiers – the latter of which was performed in a real barracks. More recently, Kay was a Commonwealth Games Handover Ceremony choreographer.

Rosie Kay has developed a reputation for developing shows which challenge the audience on complex issues, without compromising on the dance experience. In researching for her new piece, Fantasia, Kay worked with neuroscientists at Denmark’s Center for Music in the Brain to explore how dance can trigger pleasure and fulfilment in the cerebrum. Kay fine-tuned her choreography for Fantasia, using this knowledge, in an attempt maximise the audience experience.

Fantasia is a performance in three parts: three female dancers explore emotions, from love to loss, through linked group and solo dances representing the sun, the moon and the earth. Composer Annie Mahtani and Kay worked with familiar pieces including Purcell, Beethoven and Bach for the show, delivering a clever contrast between classical music and modern choreography.

Dancers Shanelle Clemenson, Harriet Ellis, and Carina Howard were, at times, breath-taking: performing barefoot ballet with power, athleticism and raw emotion. The composition coupled with the intimacy of The Patrick Studio meant we could hear the dancers breathe emotional exhalations, a deliberate choice by Mahtani and Kay which added to the immersive feel of Fantasia.

The most joyful moments were enhanced by clever staging; Louis Price and Sasha Kier brought the tutu back, but exaggerated the form and added tribal prints. Under the bright light of the ‘sun’, the pirouetting dancers resembled spinning parasols on a windswept beach.

Fully-fringed silver catsuits swished and shone hypnotically in the ‘moonlight’, although a nitpicker may say that the costume change here was a few seconds too long – an empty, unlit stage does not spark joy. It was for the merest of moments, however, and Mike Gunning (Lighting Director) otherwise created dreamy reflections and shadows on the studio stage, replicating and twisting the dancers’ moves like a hall of mirrors.

The dancers weaved through a range of feelings for the audience; modern moves, frantic and frenetic, confronted us and induced discomfort as well as delight. Irreverence in dance may not please the purist – but some endearing and even cheeky moments (literally, as each dancer playfully lifts their dress to flash their bottom during the final act) brought levity and laughter from this opening night audience. Occasionally, a size disparity between the dancers caused synchronicity to slip and this dampened the fantasy – but only slightly.

Fantasia sets out to be ‘an exquisite performance of pleasure, beauty and finesse’, subverting conventional ballet to reach the audience scientifically as well aesthetically. Kay has used her signature innovation to bring ballet into the 21st century’; Fantasia isn’t pure joy but more a reminder of the scope of human emotion, and that in itself is joyful to watch.

Fantasia – Rosie Kay Dance Company

Rosie Kay Dance Company is currently touring Fantasia across the UK, running until 21st November. For more on Fantasia, visit www.rosiekay.co.uk/project/fantasia

For more from the Rosie Kay Dance Company, including further event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.rosiekay.co.uk

For more on the Birmingham Hippodrome and The Patrick Studio, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com/about-us/the-patrick-studio

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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: Pixies @ O2 Academy (B’ham) 16.09.19

Words by Abi Whistance / Pics by Phil Drury (2324 Photography)

Pixies have made it pretty clear in recent years that, frankly, they’re getting a little too worn out for the yelps, shrieks and piercing guitars of their adolescence. Settling nicely into Frank Black’s country grooves the band have mellowed in their releases, Beneath the Eyrie being no exception.

It was difficult to know what to expect with a world tour of their latest album; the worry that I’d gotten my hopes up for a surprise appearance of ‘I’ve Been Tired’ or ‘Nimrod’s Son’ was almost debilitating. With such a cult-like fanbase it would have been impossible to fulfil the wishes of every unshakable Trompe Le Monde buff on site, with at least a handful of the crowd crying for a rendition of ‘that B-side they did once that only exists by word of mouth’ or a 1988 debuted cover of ‘a classic’.

Yet as time went by and their arrival onto the O2 Academy’s stage crept closer, I couldn’t help but feel that high hopes weren’t going to be unwarranted.

Erupting into ‘Gouge Away’, I knew then my gut had pointed me in the right direction. Pixies weren’t here to tiptoe; this was floorboard-rattling, neighbour-waking material that pleased all the right people and pissed all the wrong ones off. A set peppered with phenomenal renditions of fan favourites made it nearly impossible to go without for more than a few minutes, even the pickiest were brought to a grinding halt when the likes of ‘Here Comes Your Man’ and ‘Planet of Sound’ were plucked from the hat.

The new album provided a breather in the set; thrashing and flaying ensued during the haphazardly selected relics of Come on Pilgrim and Doolittle, the latest ‘Silver Bullet’ and ‘Ready for Love’ alternatively offering a brief moment of reflection. Not just because they lack excitement, which undeniably they do, but also because we’re yet to warm to them.

Still, there’s no better way to fall in love than face to face, and Pixies are aiming for nothing less than head over heels with Beneath the Eyrie on tour. Snatching hearts one by one, Francis is leaving no survivors this lap of the globe.

Pixies – with support from The Big Moon @ 02 Academy (B’ham) 16.09.19 / Phil Drury (2324 Photography)

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For more on Pixies, visit www.pixiesmusic.com   
For more on The Big Moon, visit www.thebigmoon.co.uk

For more on the O2 Academy Birmingham, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2academybirmingham

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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.

ALBUM: Beneath the Eyrie – Pixies 13.09.19

Words by Abi Whistance

It feels necessary for this review to come with a cover letter of sorts. When it comes to Pixies, I’m a diehard. In my eyes, Francis can do no wrong.

Yet, on receiving a copy of new album Beneath the Eyrie, I knew I needed to put my Surfer Rosa loving, Trompe Le Monde abiding ways behind me. So, this is it – welcome, not to a shrine, but to a review.

I’ve never heard anyone say their favourite album by Pixies is Indie Cindy, and if they did I’d hurtle a copy of anything else in their discography at them and declare them criminally insane. What made, and continues to make, Pixies so goddamn great is their unadulterated strangeness, rage and ability to make you sick to your stomach.

In the same way Indie Cindy is good but lacking in the musto-gusto, Beneath the Eyrie just ain’t their best. It’s passive in parts, lacking the otherworldly force you know exists but can’t quite put your finger on, and kind of pussyfoots its way through twelve tracks. For Pixies, a vast chunk of this album is unremarkable; a strong start dwindles away into records that play it safe, occasionally throwing a much needed wild-card in there to grab your attention again as the mind wanders.

Yet there are still some real gems to find on here. Album opener, ‘In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain’, makes for one of the best on the record – setting the tone for a surprisingly consistent forty minute ride of more subdued Pixies material. Standard biblical omens and a strong riff are all they need to get my attention, and in the first few minutes I’m feeling satisfied. Promotional single, ‘On Graveyard Hill’ features our beloved screeches and howls from Francis himself – no doubt as a demonstration that hey, the kid’s still got it and he’s not afraid to let us have it.

We then slip into the mediocre, which makes it even more infuriating when they throw a kicker in the mix with ‘St. Nazaire’. One of the best modern Pixies tracks to date, it feels wasted on an album that for the most part doesn’t deserve to possess such a, for want of a better word, kick-ass track. The musical lull perishes and suddenly there’s fire here; this is exactly what I wanted from the whole album and failed to get from pretty much anything else on it.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that what Beneath the Eyrie lacks in strength it regains in its storytelling ability. It seems to me that a choice has arisen with this record, a choice between weaving fiction and sounding mighty had splayed itself on the table, and for most tracks Pixies have sacrificed the power for the fable. The carefully fashioned imagery of ‘Catfish Kate’ and ‘Silver Bullet’ stand as a reminder of that, crafting complex stories that can sway you to forget what it is they’re missing.

So, do I like it? Of course I do, and so will everyone else. It’s great. It’s fantastic, even. But does it give me the fuck yeah feeling I was gifted with Trompe Le Monde, or even Head Carrier? No.

There’s nothing wrong with this record just being good. With a back catalogue as strong as that of Pixies, there’s no harm in dropping a, let’s say, ‘filler-not-killer’ into the mix. Three years ago, Head Carrier threw us right back to the band at their finest hour; tracks like ‘Baal’s Back’ and ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ quelling all doubts that they’d ripened and gone soft.

Maybe if Beneath the Eyrie wasn’t preceded by such a formidable force of an album I’d be concerned, but instead this feels like the calm after the storm.

‘On Graveyard Hill’ – Pixies

Pixies release Beneath the Eyrie on Friday 13th September, out on Infection/BMG and available through all the usual online outlets. For more on Pixies, including links to online sales, visit www.pixiesmusic.com

Pixies will also be performing at the O2 Academy Birmingham on Monday 16th September – for more direct gig information, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

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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.