“GREASE” review




Stage Experience. New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham.


There can’t be many people that haven’t seen or heard of “Grease”. As well as the classic movie there’s been numerous stage productions, reality TV shows and most recently a live TV version. So the danger with a new production is always to bring something new or not to disappoint. Well fear not – both are most definitely covered here.


Stage Experience never disappoints. It’s always a joy to watch this young cast present their summer musical and for their 13th they bring us Grease and it most certainly wasn’t an unlucky number. From the moment it started with a beautiful “Sandy/”Danny” duet to the moment it ended with a crowd-pleasing mega-mix it never missed a mark. With a huge cast of 120 it felt like there was an entire high school on stage! It was also a novelty to see the characters actually played by teenagers. In the film the average cast age was 30 with Stockard Channing (Rizzo) clocking in at 34!


It feels unfair to single out any of the cast as they’re all wonderful and really throw themselves into their roles. There are some stand-out moments however. The electric opening of title number “Grease” was goose bump inducing. There was some fantastic dancing from the T-Birds in “Greased Lightning” (especially from one flic-flacking little boy). Georgia Anderson as Sandy delivered a gorgeous version of “Hopelessly Devoted To You”. Miss Anderson is definitely one to watch in the future. Sofi Robinson as Rizzo delivered a performance that belied her 17 years. She was wonderful in the role and her rendition of the excellent “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” was stunning.


“Beauty School Dropout” was show-stopping. The already camp number literally out-camped itself! Frenchy inexplicably doesn’t have her own number so it was great that she had a chance to shine here. Georgina Steggles was brilliant as the ditsy blonde (then pink) and was so fun to watch. Her commentary throughout the number was hilarious. Teen Angel Mark Shaun Walsh held his own however – even when he was again almost upstaged by two topless boys!


Director and choreographer Pollyann Tanner once again delivers the almost impossible by staging a full musical in two weeks, especially at this standard. The choreography especially was fantastic.


A special mention must go to the lighting. Colin Wood has designed a visual spectacle here. It was like the stage was a beautiful 50’s jukebox which was literally a feast for the eyes (even though we were almost blinded on the opening chord of “Grease”!).


All in all, a perfect “Summer Night”.



4 stars.


(Darren Haywood)


It’s been another year with an eclectic mix of wonderful shows and some fantastic performances.

So it’s been difficult to pick out some award winners but we’ve done it and here goes!









Huge congratulations to them and everyone else that took part and made Birmingham Fest 2016 so great.

Birmingham Fest 2016 Full Line-Up & Brochure



The programme of events for Birmingham Fest 2016 has been finalised!

You can see the full list here.


You can download the brochure here:

Birmingham Fest 2016 brochure

This can also be downloaded from our main website page.


We have a great, varied selection of shows again so please have a look through. We’re sure you will find something you like the look of – hopefully a few things!

And don’t forget to share!


It’s been a really great year with a really eclectic mix of shows and some fantastic performances.

Therefore it’s been difficult to pick out some award winners but we’ve done it and here goes!









Huge congratulations to them and everyone else that took part and made this year’s festival so great.


Birmingham Fest 2015 full line-up & brochure!

Bham Fest 15 brochure


The programme of events for Birmingham Fest 2015 has been finalised!

You can see the full list here.


You can download the brochure here:

Birmingham Fest 2015 brochure

This can also be downloaded from our main website page.


We have a great, varied selection of shows again so please have a look through. We’re sure you will find something you like the look of – hopefully a few things!

And don’t forget to share!

“Beautiful Thing” review

Beautiful Thing


Beautiful Thing

The Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome

Nottingham Playhouse, Curve Theatre & Tom O’Connell for QNQ

31st March 2015 (until 11th April plus further tour dates)


Jonathan Harvey’s urban love story first premiered in 1993. It was an instant hit. As was peppermint foot lotion at the Body Shop I shouldn’t wonder! Harvey of course went on to television success with “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme”, “Beautiful People” and “Coronation Street”. As a writer he certainly knows how to tap into his audience’s funny bones, but also emotions. This piece provides both.

The story takes place on a run-down estate in Thamesmead, Bermondsey during a hot summer, and follows Jamie – a fifteen year old boy who lives with his mother as he struggles with school, home and, more importantly, his coming of age. After its initial stage success, “Beautiful Thing” was made into a film in 1996 which Harvey adapted himself. Interestingly, two of its stars are now firm favourites in “EastEnders” – Linda Henry (Shirley) and Temeka Empson (Kim).

For this production we are presented with two “EastEnders” alumni. Charlie Brooks (Janine Butcher) plays Sandra, a blousy, council estate single mother to Jamie. She’s full of swag and bite, but underneath has a heart of gold. Ms Brooks looks a little young to be playing this character but fully throws herself into it. After the darkness of Janine she is a revelation as a brilliant comedy actress and also capable of heartfelt emotion (which I think we knew already).

The other east-ender is Thomas Law – who played Peter Beale before he reappeared last year with a completely different head! He plays Ste – a school friend of Jamie’s – who also happens to live next door. He’s also having his own problems – mainly his alcoholic and abusive father.  One night, after a particularly hefty beating, Sandra gives him refuge at hers where he has to “top and tail” with Jamie. And there begins the foundations of our love story.

The heart of this play is two teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality. Yes it was written over twenty years ago (we have a few early 90’s references: Richard & Judy, Grange Hill, etc) but I’d say the piece is as current now. I can’t imagine much has changed for teens today in the same position.

A big part of this production and film was the soundtrack which is the wonderfully uplifting songs of Mama Cass (The Mamas & The Papas). Thankfully they are still here. As soon as it opens with “It’s Getting Better” it sets the scene perfectly. The neighbour on the other side of Sandra is Leah (played brilliantly by a funny and feisty Vanessa Babirye) who is another of Jamie’s school friends and who has a more than mild obsession with Mama Cass – providing lots of comedy!

Sam Jackson (“Skins”) plays Jamie and is utterly believable in the role – tugging on your heart strings all the way. The revelation scene between him and Brooks is both electric and extremely moving.

Gerard McCarthy (“Hollyoaks”) completes the cast as Sandra’s stoner boyfriend. Without spoilers I did feel a bit sorry for his character at the end.

This is a wonderful play, excellently performed, and got a much deserved standing ovation tonight.

Oh and watch out for the “magical bed” which almost got its own round of applause!


4 stars. It’s a beautiful thing.

Darren Haywood

2015 Festival Dates Announced!

We’re pleased to be able to announce the dates for Birmingham Fest 2015.

They are 17th July-2nd August (inclusive) just before Edinburgh Fringe.

Applications will open in January .

Finalised 2014 line-up & brochure!

Birmingham Fest 2014


The programme of events for Birmingham Fest 2014 has been finalised!

You can see the full list here

Alternatively you can download the brochure here:

Birmingham Fest 2014 brochure

This can also be downloaded from our main website page.


We have a great (and bigger), varied selection of shows so please have a look through. We’re sure you will find something you like the look of – hopefully a few things!

And don’t forget to share!

Library of Birmingham

Library of Birmingham


We are pleased to announce the new Library of Birmingham as a venue for this year’s Birmingham Fest.

As a place of learning and culture for all ages, the LoB is keen to host some family friendly performances during the festival. They are also keen to make these events free and accessible for all.

We are therefore looking for artists or companies that would like to deliver such events and showcase their work in this fantastic new venue. So if your speciality is family friendly/child orientated performances then please get in touch. Also anyone who runs workshops that may be suitable (these may be able to be charged events).

They are particularly keen to hear from anyone that may have anything that fits in with this summer’s reading challenge which has the theme of “Mythical Maze”. You can read more about this here.

There are also a few slots available for singers, bands, or musicians for Wednesday lunchtime concerts during the festival in the fantastic outdoor amphitheatre. A great space to perform in.

You can apply in the usual way here (or via the perform page). As these are free events there is no hire charge for the spaces, just the application fee (which includes administration & marketing).



West Side Story

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

UK Tour

Wednesday 2nd April 2014





Jerome Robbins’ original production of West Side Story was first staged in 1957 and was a game-changer. Since then we’ve seen numerous musicals come and go. So, over fifty five years later, the question is – has it stood the test of time. The answer quite simply is yes. The theme of opposing gang culture is as relevant today as it was back then.

The story is one as old as time – boy and girl meet, fall in love, but destiny is against them. It is based on the love story to end them all – Romeo & Juliet (we even get a balcony scene) but it’s not necessarily the story that is the main attraction. Those honours really go to Leonard Berstein’s stunning score, Stephen Sondheim’s wonderful lyrics, and Jerome Robbins’ ground-breaking choreography (lovingly reproduced here by Joey McKneely who also directs).

A young and energetic cast of thirty three tackle the choreography with much exuberance – especially during the “Dance at the Gym” stand-off, “Cool”, and the beautiful ballet sequence (“Somewhere”).  It seems unfair to pick anyone out from the talented ensemble but Matthew Hawksley really stood out as Action, getting his chance to shine centre stage in the very well received “Gee, Officer Krupke”.

Another stand-out performance comes from Djalenga Scott as the sexy and fiery Puerto Rican Anita (very reminiscent of “Ugly Betty’s” sister Hilda). One of the best female roles in musical theatre, Ms Scott brings all the aspects of Anita’s character to life. A highlight is her duet with Maria – “A Boy Like That/I Have A Love” which they both perform outstandingly.

That brings us to our star-crossed lovers. Louis Maskell plays Tony. Not physically like any other Tony I’ve seen but actually a nice change and very warming character. His voice is fantastic and would give Josh Groban a run for his money.

We had an understudy Maria for this performance, which can incite some reservation. However, I have to say, if we had not been told that it was a stand-in we would never have known. Charlotte Baptie played Maria with so much confidence it was as if the part was hers and she certainly made it her own. Her voice is beautiful and she made a great pairing with Louis.

You’ll know most of the songs in this show but a special mention must go to the “Tonight” medley which closes Act 1. A very difficult piece to sing but the cast did it more than justice.

As for the set, the stage was actually quite sparse but with a clever use of 1950’s New York projection and industrial fire escapes (all designed by Paul Gallis) it made us feel like we were right there in the neighbourhood.


4.5 stars. Robbins would be proud.


Darren Haywood