Tag Archives: Birmingham Rep

REVIEW – PEOPLE by Alan Bennett @ Birmingham Rep (NT Tour) [Updated]

I was fortunate to be asked to go review the National Theatre’s production of Alan Bennett’s play ‘People’ at the newly reopened Birmingham Rep a couple of days back.  I will link to the full review when it goes live but for now, follow the jump for a little preview and for the link to the full review at WhatsOnStage.com

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Theatres of Birmingham – The Birmingham Rep

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The second in this series of blogs about the theatres of Birmingham visits the Rep.  Well, I say visit, if you visit the Rep at the moment you’ll come face to face with a building site while the new library is built next door and improvements are made to the theatre.  The Rep’s building might be closed, but the Rep are still producing shows across Birmingham visiting other theatres and performance spaces.

When in it’s current home (since 1971) on Centenary Square in Birmingham, it boasts two performance spaces – the main house (901 seats), and the studio theatre known as ‘the Door’.  The theatre has been in existance since 1913 and it’s original home, the Old Rep Theatre is still a much used theatre space in Birmigham.  Unlike most of the other theatres in Birmingham, the Rep has a history of producing many shows themselves (averageing on 20 a year) varying from well known shows and musicals (recently a new production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’) to the less known, as well as hosting a number of touring productions of (mainly) plays.  The theatre has many links with other theatres around the country, most notably the West Yorkshire Playhouse which it has produced shows alongside and ‘swap’ productions with regularly (most recently ‘The Wiz‘).

The theatre building is currently closed as mentioned above, and the theatre is producing a season of shows around Birmingham.  So far they’ve performed in an old factory, a kitchen in a house, the Alexandra Theatre and have just produced a Young Rep (the youth section) show in the Old Rep.  This Christmas they take Sleeping Beauty to the Crescent Theatre and the Rep’s smash hit The Snowman to the ICC.  When the theatre re-opens not only will it have improved backstage facilities but also a brand new 300 seat studio theatre giving the theatre another performance space.

Before the new library:

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Artistic impression of what it will look like when the library has been built:

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What kind of shows will you find at the Rep?

The Rep does have a variety of shows, but tends to have more plays and ‘highbrow’ shows than musicals and lighter shows.  However they do ensure that there is a good mix of their own inhouse shows and you’ll find anything from family books on the stage through to a translated version of an obscure German play.

Who goes to the Rep?

Depends on the show.  Some shows will attract families, others a large amount of school groups studying said play, while others will attract a very culturally aware crowd.

 What’s coming up? 

This Christmas Sleeping Beauty at the Crescent and The Snowman at the ICC.  In September/October The Imporatance of Being Ernest and The Travesties at the Old Rep.

First show seen here?

Trainspotting.

 Last show seen here? 

The Wiz (though at the Alexandra was a Rep production) / at the actual Rep, Little Shop of Horrors.

Over notable shows seen:

Once on this Island; East is East; The 39 Steps

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THE WIZ @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham – A Birmingham REP Production

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Birmingham REP is currently producing a season of shows around Birmingham due to it’s theatre becoming a building site thanks to the new library of Birmingham which is why I ended up going along to the New Alexandra Theatre to see the REP’s production of ‘The Wiz’.  The REP’s ‘Change of Scenery‘ season hasn’t excited me much, but it’s production of ‘The Wiz’ appeared to be the highlight of the season.  However I left the theatre full of disappointment that a show that appeared to promise a night of funky Motown songs embracing the story of the Wizard of Oz ended up being a trip to the theatre where I left coming up with poor sound bites for this blog.

The show opens with a fantastic projection of one of the witches (no idea which one) running towards the audience.  This projection really is brilliant.  It makes me sad that it is so brilliant as if the rest of the show was this good it’d have been a good show, but sadly the gauzes go up and it all starts to go a bit downhill.  What appears to be a New York city apartment is, we later learn, Birmingham (it has never looked like that and the fact she needs to go back to Birmingham just screams ‘I want to be a panto’) and for a musical which was first produced in the late 70s with music from that era, a flat screen telly and a mobile phone look very out of place.  Despite the confusion, when Aunt Em (Melanie La Barrie) sings the first of many songs, the negative thoughts change for a few minutes – but then Dorothy (Treyc Cohen) starts to take centre stage.

Treyc Cohen – a finalist in 2010’s ‘The X Factor’.  She is a fantastic singer and I can’t fault her singing at all.  But she is not an actor and cannot be expected to play a part where she is on stage for 99% of the show.  A couple of years ago the REP did an amazing production of ‘Once on This Island’ with, like ‘The Wiz’ has a majority black cast.  I can’t understand why the producers didn’t attempt to, or try harder to get one of the younger actresses from that production to play Dorothy instead.  Cohen is, at times, more wooden than the scarecrow.  There is a moment of pure woodenness when the characters are in the poppy field and she stands there just watching the rest of the characters fight clearly waiting for her cue to join in.  She is, however, an amazing singer and I am glad I didn’t leave at the interval (which was considered) as otherwise I would have missed the closing number ‘Home’ in which she performs on an empty stage – if only she was this good throughout the whole show.

It would be unfair for me to blame everything that is wrong with the show on Cohen and I won’t.  There are several other things that affect the whole show.  The main one being the set.  Designed by Rosa Maggiora the set and also the costumes aren’t great.  The stage has a large exterior of what appears to be a block of flats which occur both in ‘Birmingham’ and Oz so at no time do we think we’ve travelled to another world.  On top of that it takes up so much space that the cast are squashed on the front half of the stage restricting what could be awesome dance numbers.  What’s worse is at times the centre of this comes forward thus even more restricting the space.  At no point do Oz and the Emerald City feel special and unique.  It feels as though all this is happening outside of Aunt Em’s and is highly disheartening.

For all it’s flaws there are some sparkles of greatness.  As mentioned before, Melanie La Barrie (last seen in the RSC’s amazing musical version of Matilda) is brilliant as Aunt Em and uses what she’s been given as well as she can as Addaperie the witch of the somewhere.  Clive Rowe (better known as Duke from Tracy Beaker) is fantastic as The Lion and manages a Lion King joke without it appearing forced and out of place (unlike the flat screen telly killing the bad witch).  Wayne Robinson and Horace Oliver as the Scarecrow and the Tinman respectively also help to bring some rays of sunshine to this sometimes horrendous show.  The REP have also used members of the community for the ensemble and although at times some of them look confused or trying to overdo some of the performing, on the whole work well and show what Birmingham can do.

You won’t be surprised that I found this production not meeting it’s potential.  I went on press night and had a few mic fails, a big yellow brick that appeared to not want to light up, some lines forgotten and Dorothy even forgetting what the Lion wanted.  These things aren’t great on any other night let alone press night but the cast didn’t appear to be trying to make the performance special in any way.  At times it felt like a glorified dress rehearsal and there was no connection between the stage and the audience.  The set needs changing, a competent Dorothy needs to be cast and the direction needs improving, then the potential could be met. 

I don’t like leaving things on a bad note and like I’ve said before, Cohen deserves praise for her singing performances.  So here is a video produced by the REP of Cohen rehearsing the closing number ‘Home’

2 stars

The Wiz @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham.  On till Saturday 18th June.  Tickets £12 – £28.50 

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