Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A True Night at the Theatre for “Top Hat On Stage” at the Birmingham Hippodrome

“Dress to impress! It's Black Tie and Tiara night...” As I walked the red carpet at the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre last night I could tell I was in for a true night out full of glitz and glamour. Even before the show began I immediately felt like I had been taken back in time to 1930s Broadway: there were ties and tiaras galore and the people of Birmingham had really gone all out for opening night.

The house lights dimmed and to the audience’s delight the conductor appeared and conducted the 23 piece orchestra under the glow of a follow spot; a definite throw back to the golden age of musical theatre. Three times Olivier Award nominee Summer Strallen and Strictly Come Dancing star Tom Chambers are the perfect duo to lead the strong company of 31 in this musical farce based on love and false identity. They play the roles made famous in the film by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, happy go lucky Broadway star Jerry Travers and the sassy Dale Tremont. Tom Chambers delights the audience with his Fred Astaire tap numbers, especially the act one finale when he is joined by the rest of the company, whilst Summer Strallen charms us with her beautiful rendition of “Better Luck Next Time” as she realises her love life is falling to pits. A personal highlight for me was watching the two leads fall in love in a London park as they tap and sing to “Isn’t It A Lovely Day (To Be Caught in the Rain?)”. Pure brilliance! Other highlights include Martin Ball and Vivien Parry’s act two duet “Outside of That I Love You” as they bicker over their marriage, whilst Ricardo Afonso and Stephen Boswell give genius comedic performances as the Italian fashion designer Alberto and the slightly deluded butler Bates. The cast of 31 continue this delightful performance as they simultaneously tap away in company numbers and bring to life scene including a Broadway stage, an upper class London hotel and a Venice beach.

A big round of applause is in order for choreographer Bill Deamer, mixing ballroom, tap and vaudeville styles to create a visual feast for theatre goers. It all looks perfect on a set designed by Hildegard Bechtler who uses sliding flats, beautiful backcloths and revolving beds to take us to nearly 30 locations. And what’s this show without the music? Although the film only had 5 songs, the creative team dug through Irving Berlin’s back trunk to create a beautiful score that takes us back to the golden era of musicals. Although, I couldn’t help but get distracted by some of the sliding flats getting stuck during scene changes, a few backcloths rising too early (and I’m pretty sure Tom Chambers might have been miming a few of his numbers, forgive me if I’m wrong...)

A big cheer should also go to the Hippodrome staff for hosting the “black tie and tiara” dress code and laying out a red carpet. It’s funny how theatres have spent the past few years making shows more accessible by diminishing dress codes and the affluent nature of the theatre, yet a sense of nostalgia filled the air as the audiences agreed that the theatre should be a place where you can get dressed up and feel elegant.

A 5 star production that deserves every success it gets, and if not more! It’s really good to see a piece of new commercial theatre that’s bringing something fresh to audiences. This show feels old in a sense that it takes you back to a time when theatre was an elegant night out, yet it feels fresh and exciting.

The show plays at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 10th September, before continuing its UK Tour.

Visit for tickets and for details on the show and the rest of the tour.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Guangdong Acrobatic Troupe's Swan Lake at the Birmingham Hippodrome

I have to admit, the actual idea of going to the ballet is often more appealing to me than actually seeing it. Many times I've tried to sit through three acts of wonderful movement, music and scenery but by the end of Act One I'm often ready to go home. However, The Guangdong Acrobatic Troupe's production of Swan Lake disproved my "Act One only" theory.

The production mixes ballet with circus as the company tells the story of Swan Lake. I can't even begin to detail the amazement of the performance: from men dressed as swans en pointe (that's ballet terms for "on their tip toes"), to dancging frogs, clowns dancing on giant spinning globes and swans prancing about the stage on roller skates.

My personal highlight of the night was watching three men balance poles on the shoulders whilst others ran up them somersaulting from one pole to another. The entire Hippordrome audience was captivated from beginning to end. Another great feat for me was watching the principle dancers perform something I never thought I would see: an attitude promenade en pointe on someone's head (another ballet term: "one leg in the air, the other on tip toes, on someones head whilst turning").

I cannot praise this production enough! The company deserves all it's success and I applaud everyone involved with the show. I'd also like to say a big thanks to the Birmingham Hippodrome Frist Night Scheme... I wouldn't usuall book to see a show like this but thanks to them I was able to see a spectacular production that I will never forget. Who knows, maybe the next time I'm at the ballet I'll be able to sit through all three acts?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Six Summer Saturday's - Nofit

Chamberlain Square came to life over the Summer as the Birmingham Hippodrome took over with it's "Six Summer Saturday's" project, bringing live outdoor theatre across the city.