Frothy and Fabulous – Hairspray arrives in Birmingham

Big, bold, bright and beautiful and that could just be describing the leading lady Tracey Turnblad, Hairspray arrived in suitably glittering style at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. The musical, which mixes the fun and frolics of the Corny Collins show, with the dark undercurrents of racial inequality in 1960s Baltimore, received a standing ovation from an ecstatic audience who had been thoroughly entertained. As the final song exclaims, you really can’t stop the beat. Last night, Birmingham couldn’t stop the beat!

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Tracey Turnblad is a big girl growing up in 1960s Baltimore, but that doesn’t stop her being confident, cool and full of ambitions. She wants to be the newest dancer on the Corny Collins show and wants to win the man of her dreams, teen hunk Link Larkin. Whilst spending time in detention (again) she forms a friendship with black teenager Seaweed and his friends, a group she had seen on the Corny Collins show during ‘Negro Day’. They teach her their style of dancing (the Peyton Place) and she soon catches the eye of both Corny Collins and her beloved Link, but buoyed by her loving and supportive parents Edna and Wilbur, and Seaweed’s mother, Motormouth Maybelle, her dreams start to shift to something more serious and important, racial integration on the Corny Collins show. It is a serious message of ugly times, hidden in the froth and fun of the brightest musical around.

The whole ensemble cast is faultless, there is not a wrong move, with exceptional singing and dancing, comedic episodes and moments of real pathos. But there are still standouts even within the perfection. The brilliant Rebecca Mendoza, in her stage debut,  was born to play Tracey, she is a ball of energy and enthusiasm who literally lights up the stage – you are always waiting for her to return to the stage when she is not there.  Her partner in crime is the hilarious Annalise Liard-Bailey as Penny Pingleton, all sweetness and dipsy one liners.  Teen Dream support is also offered by Layton Williams and Edward Chitticks as Seaweed and Link, both showing great singing talent and skilled dance moves. Layton Williams in particular, is a polished and charismatic performer, another stand out in a cast at the top of its game.

As Edna and Wilbur, Matt Rixon and Norman Pace are wonderful, their sense of comedic timing only matched by the warmth and charm of their performances. Gina Murray hams up a storm as the manipulative Velma Von Tussle, having great fun in her villainous role, while Brenda Edwards (Motormouth Maybelle) manages to just about bring the house down with her emotional, passionate performance of ‘I know where I’ve been’. All in all, the perfect cast performing the perfect feel good musical.

With costumes to die for, infectious, retro sounding songs that you feel like you’ve heard before, and a live band on stage providing the icing on the cake, Hairspray is a fabulous treat you should definitely indulge in this Autumn.As those dark nights draw in, Hairspray brings a riot of sparkle and colour. Go see!

Hairspray

 

Tuesday 10th – Saturday 14th October, Birmingham Hippodrome.

Click here for ticket information

 

Aladdin Weaves A Magic Spell at the Birmingham Hippodrome

I think that even adults need the magic of fairy tales in their lives, and last night I was transported to the land of beautiful Princesses, handsome heroes and magic lamps when I attended the press preview of Aladdin by the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

This production by David Bintley is an exquisite triumph, perfect entertainment for the whole family, with scenes that amuse, romantic sequences that charm, and an wholly engaging cast that keep you entertained throughout.

The story is kept thankfully familiar, Mathias Dingman is wonderful as Aladdin, playing the role as a likeable cheeky chappy who gets himself into troubles that almost cost him his head. He rescued by sinister Maghrib who sets him the task to find a magic lamp. This leads to a scene of sheer enchantment as Aladdin progresses through a truly beautiful cave, where the myriad of rubies, emeralds and sapphires are bought to life by a series of energetic dances, before Aladdin finally reaches the centre of the cave, and thus the lamp. The scenery in this particular section is stunning, I loved the stalagmites in a multitude of colours that echo the variety of gems in the cave.

The cave scene is a real favourite, bit there were many other sections to enjoy, not least of which was the wedding dance of the Chinese Dragon, resplendent in white and gold, and actually Aladdin’s friends (Kit Holder and Lachlan Monagham). And I loved the romance of the bathhouse scene, where Aladdin and the beautiful princess ( the always sublime Momoko Hirata) first meet properly and fall in love, their dancing is joyful and tender and is just lovely. In terms of the characterisations, The Maghrib (Iain Mackay)  is a suitably dark and devilish bad guy with plenty of swigger and presence, whilst the blue genie (Tzu-Chao Chou) is both magical and genial, and delights every time he appears. Aladdin’s mother, the legendary Marion Tait, brings forth the comic element, especially in the scene in the Chinese Laundry.

 

A mention must be made of the set, which is almost an extra character in this ballet. You really are transferred to a mysterious cave, a luxurious bathhouse, a magnificent palace and a house that doubles as a Chinese laundry, and set changes are quick and seamless.

This is just a perfect night out for the whole family, delighting the audience by old and young. A total feast for the eyes and for the ears, with the Carl Davis score illuminating each scene majestically, Aladdin shows that ballet can be funny, entertaining and touching in equal parts.

Aladdin

Birmingham Hippodrome

Wed 4 – Sat 7th October

Click here for ticket information.

 

 

 

 

 

Visiting Harlech Castle

If you are looking for somewhere to visit this half term, you could pay a visit to the magnificent Harlech Castle. The huge fortification is one of Edward the 1st’s Welsh giants that were designed to keep Wales enclosed under English rule, and is the subject of the famous Welsh Song ‘Men or Harlech’, which talks of a siege during the Wars of the Roses. Harlech is a fabulous place to visit and relive history, a formidable Welsh giant that has history pouring through every brick.

Harlech Castle has been a Welsh heritage site since 1986, but it was once much more difficult to access if you had mobility issues or a pushchair. I remember visiting Harlech in 2011 and couldn’t take Joe into the castle as the only access was steps. But the creation and opening of a new visitor centre, and an adjoining floating bridge means it is now accessible for all. The visitors centre has a rather lovely gift shop and cafe, with a terrace with stunning views across Snowdonia, and there is also a room where you can watch a film setting the scene for Harlech’s place in history.

The floating bridge

The visitors centre

Inside the castle there is evidence of the battering it has taken over the years, with a large number of cannonballs left in situ. Much of the castle is a now a ruin, left open to the elements, but this is what makes it fascinating for children and adults alike, as they can run and climb the battlements, looking out at the views that have captivated and terrified people throughout history.

Inside the towers of the gatehouse there are reconstructions and models showing how Harlech would’ve looked int he past, and telling of its history in both English and Welsh.

 

Outside the Castle grounds there is a lovely wooden playground that is safe and enclosed with a gate, the perfect place for little ones to enjoy an ice cream, with benches for adults to sit and enjoy the sea air and the wonderful views.

 

This October you can enjoy Civil War reenactments at Harlech Castle.

Dates
28 Oct – 29 Oct 2017

Times
11am – 4pm

Prices
Adult – £6.50
Family – £19.30 *
Senior citizens, students and children under 16 – £4.20
Member – Am ddim / free
Disabled and companion – Am ddim / free
*Admits 2 adults and up to 3 children under 16

Click here for more information.