REVIEW- ‘Idiots Assemble: Spitting Image Saves the World’ is a stunning theatrical adventure

Hurrah for Foley – Sean Foley that is – the artistic director of the Birmingham Rep, and creator, director and co-writer along with Al Murray and Matt Forde of this stunning theatrical adventure.

To think that just one hundred metres from where the world premiere of Spitting Image Live took place last night, the original TV series was born and ran for years, during the halcyon days when Birmingham was the TV powerhouse.

Foley has brought Spitting Image back – and with it, some ‘city of a thousand trades’ artistic pride.

Last night the REP played host to not only the press but also a star-studded gathering both on and off stage.

On stage Ian McKellan was our host for a royal variety show like no other. In attendance from ‘the firm’ were King Charles, Consort Camilla, Villa fan Wills, cool cat Kate, disgraced Uncle Andy and of course pushy Meghan and spare Harry blatantly flogging his book of the same name.

Outside of the monarchy there are world despots ‘Tangerine Trump,’ and evil midget Vladimir Putin with his chum – Chairman Xi Jinping of China.

We are of course talking not real folk but grotesque puppets, which just keep coming – over 130 of them.

The dialogue is outrageous, sometimes predictable – sometimes confusing, purposely cruel, peppered with the foulest language but very funny. It takes the show back to its roots with new order bravado.

There is a story linking together a catalogue of set pieces.

The second midget of the evening Tom Cruise is hired by King Charles to restore the tattered fabric of Britain’s society (represented by a festering moth eaten pair of underpants).

In a spoof of Mission Impossible crossed with Marvel’s Avengers Tiny Tom chooses Idris Elba, Angela Rayner, RuPaul, Greta Thunberg, Meghan Markle and Tyson Fury to take on the evil cabal of blustering Bojo, public school-kid Riki Sunak a demonic head spinning, vomiting Suella Braverman and Elon Musk as a transformer mechanically unfolding from a Tesla car.

Although the satire is mostly aimed at Tory politicians past and present, there are two hilarious running jokes; a boring billy-no-mates Sir Keir Starmer and the newly-resigned Crankies lookalike banshee from the Highlands, Nicola Sturgeon.

Alice Power’s set is extraordinary and works in harmony with endless fx spectacles – no wonder it has been previewing for two weeks before opening. It is full of every kind of trick from exploding boxes to a giant Tom Cruise face with x-ray eyes strong enough to hit the back row.

Puppet Master Scott Brooker is a genius, puppeteer team perfect and voice over artists/impressionists spot on.

My favourite part was the row of dancing penises ridden by red-coated fox hunters aka old money tory debs; here music, lyrics, props and actions merge to create the most wickedly funny shock and awe.

In truth some of the content is banal and misses the mark completely whilst other parts are ‘work in progress’’ It’s destined to be a moving feast and that’s exciting!

Foley’s show not only hit my funny bone but also made me proud that it has been produced and premiered in my birth town of Brum, I’m sure local MP Jess Philips who featured both on and off stage last night felt the same.

Live theatre is trailblazing here in our fair city – just need the TV companies to build some studios and play catch up.

4 Stars

Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW – Great to see full house sample Taste of Honey at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre

THE LATE 1950s saw the death of the teddy boys and the birth of angry young men in a spate of what was known as ‘kitchen sink dramas’.

Whilst ‘A Taste of Honey’ certainly fitted into that genre it also offered much more of a bite and has endured far longer than its companions.

Shelagh Delaney was just 19 when she wrote her classic play back in 1958.

Apparently, social issues and injustices caused her to write a novel encompassing her feelings via her working class hero, Jo.

En route, Delaney decided her voice would be better heard on the stage than from between book covers.

Whilst it’s cutting edge of social comment maybe confined to history,

Delaney’s text still hits a raw nerve if delivered properly.

Happily Collin Judge’s production is faithful and true to the original and is all the better for it.

The set (which as well as directing, Judges also designed) has an incredible shades-of-grey backdrop of a gasworks clearly visible through the windows of a Salford flat.

It’s a three dimensional masterpiece and looks so real you almost choke on polluted chemical air.

As the curtain rises, mother and daughter  – Helen and Jo – enter together into a dingy, sparsely furnished bedsit with its view of the gasworks and a festering canal.

Having moved frequently they will once again share a bed and little else

It’s obvious Helen is a taker, a bully and a survivor.  Jo has learnt to spar back and is under no illusion that her mother will always put herself first and her daughter a poor second.

Katie Merriman plays Helen with all the subtlety of an aging party girl – the type you can see waddling into a city bar in a skirt three sizes too small, trying to catch the eye of the next half-cut victim to buy the drinks.

Merriman delivers a powerful performance, which totters between Coronation Street caricature and Shakespearean heavyweight – from good time funny woman to nasty acid-tongued bitch.

Colette Nooney quite rightly plays Jo with more restraint – her in-out journey of ‘woe is me’ neediness twixt pioneer girl sass, is subtle and endearing.

There are other players involved in the plot besides mum and daughter – first up is one-eyed Peter, Helen’s younger lover-come-husband-to-be. We could all tell him that being ruled by what’s in your trousers never works out but of course he doesn’t listen!

Matt Kitson’s interpretation and was just a touch too frenetic for me on first night – seeing his past performances I have no doubt he can – and probably will – give us more through less.

Alex Gale is a delight as Jo’s gay friend Geoffrey, his presence is as warm as the blanket he puts over himself when he sleeps on the sofa. We are rooting for him to look after our pregnant heroine.

Making up the company was Jerome Glasgow as ‘person of colour’  sailorboy Jimmie. Glasgow was apparently a stand-in, but if we hadn’t been told we wouldn’t have seen the join.

In plot summary – Helen abandons Jo for Peter, Jo gets pregnant by Jimmie, who sails off from Salford never to be seen again; chum Geoffrey moves in to become Jo’s nanny-come-surrogate mum.

Helen – having been thrown out by her own chap and needing a place to live, comes back and throws Geoffrey out,

However when she finds out she is going to be grannie to a black baby, she packs her trunk again and says a final goodbye to the circus.

It’s a shame Delaney didn’t write a sequel ‘What Jo did next’ – because I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering.

Judges takes us on a journey that always has clarity with a few moments of brilliance from a talented company.  It was a joy to see a full house – grab a ticket whilst you can.


Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW – Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Birmingham Hippodrome is most accessible ballet with plenty to enjoy

CHOREOGRAPHER Matthew Bourne’s talent is the ability to take a traditional ballet narrative and turn it on its head – and his gothic version of classical ballet favourite ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is no exception.

Cue vampire fairies, a minx of a princess, a sexy gamekeeper (a la Lady Chatterly’s Lover) and a scary ‘bad fairy’ with growling hench men.

From curtain up, Bourne’s long-time collaborator Lez Brotherston carries the gothic theme through with imaginative, playful and sumptuous sets that perfectly echo Bourne’s vision for this interpretation.

The ballet starts in a traditional way, with the birth of a much longed for baby to the King and Queen.

Princess Aurora is introduced as a larger-than-life puppet baby, so brilliantly and humorously manipulated by the puppeteer (for whom I could find no credit listed) that the audience erupt into a chorus of ‘ahs’.

It’s clear from the start that this is no pious princess as we see first the baby and then fiesty teenage Aurora (danced with a delightful mix of innocence and sass by Ashley Shaw) leading the palace servants a merry dance.

At night, the princess is watched over by a band of vampiric, steam-punk fairies, lead by Count Lilac (a passionate Paris Fiztpatrick) who protect her from the designs of evil fairy Carabosse in a chilling portrayal by Ben Brown.

In this sequence, Bourne cleverly uses a travelator (like you get in airports) so the fairies appear to glide magically.

At Aurora’s 15th birthday party, we see her flirting with the young gamekeeper Leo (charismatic Andrew Monaghan) in a pas de deux that’s full of youthful lust and promise, the start of a romance that becomes a driver for the narrative.

Carabosse’s son Caradoc continues her legacy – it’s payback time as he first leads Aurora in a seductive dance and then gives her a glass rose on which she pricks her finger, poisoning her.

As with the traditional story, the good fairy Count Lilac intervenes and puts a spell on Aurora so she will sleep for 100 years until woken by a kiss.

But Bourne is never going to let his heroine simply awaken when kissed by some random stranger – prince or not – so here’s a classic Bourne twist – our gamekeeper Leo can live for 100 years and wake his love, but only if he also become a vampire fairy!

Act two brings us 100 years forward, to 2012 (this is a 10th anniversary revival production) and young Leo has sprouted his vampire fairy wings as he battles his way through the forest to find his girl.

But the evil Caradoc has also fallen in love with the sleeping princess, dancing seductively with her in her dreams as if she was a doll.

At the very moment Leo finds the princess and kisses her, Caradoc seizes her for himself –  his dream of having the ‘real’ Aurora now fulfilled.

In the traditional ballet, a large chunk of act two is taken up with a ball with increasingly showy dances, celebrating the return of the princess – here though we are transported to a night club filled with cavorting dancers lead by Caradoc with Aurora.

The red and black costumes and set suggest a darkness and underlying seediness that is played out as we see Caradoc pass Aurora around his men friends. But of course all fairy stories must have a happy ending – and Leo, with the help of Count Lilac, eventually prevails, leaving us with a joyful ending.

There’s no grande jettes, showy pirouettes or corps-de-ballet (the company number’s just 18) in this version, but instead Bourne gives us an earthy, visually enchanting story that returns to the fundementals of a fairytale.

For those who haven’t seen a Matthew Bourne production, this is probably his most accessible ballet, beautifully choreographed to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful and familiar score.

Unlike some of Bournes other productions, there’s nothing too outrageous in the choreography which to me is a slight disappointment, but it’s a delightful and heart-warming watch.

Sleeping Beauty runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday, February 11. Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Johannah Dyer

Euan Rose Reviews

REVIEW – Girl From the North Country at Birmingham’s Alexandra is well worth a visit

CONOR McPherson wrote and directed this taut, dystopian story against a backdrop of wondrously haunting numbers from Bob Dylan.

Let’s face it, outside of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, Dylan hasn’t exactly penned a catalogue of cheer over the years and so that makes it a perfect fit.

‘Girl’ is no jukebox musical nor indeed is it a musical where the audience is encouraged to applaud after every number.

Not a jazz hand in sight – rather at the end of each number an actor moves the story swiftly on, ensuring the audience saves their appreciation until the interval and the walkdown.

Set in the Great Depression ‘Girl’ takes place in the year of 1934 in a rundown guesthouse in Duluth, Minnesota – which incidentally is where Bob Dylan was born.

There is a large company comprising a cacophony of characters and storylines with a common theme of despair.

They bicker, insult, fight, eat, drink and sing taking their cues from a note on the honky-tonk or a rap of  a drumstick on the snare drum.

The master of the house who is desperately trying to avoid bankruptcy through not being too choosy of his clientele is Nick, an all embracing outing from Colin Connor.

Frances McNamee is mesmerising as Nick’s dementia afflicted wife Elizabeth.

She also has the most awesome of singing voices.

Nick adds to his monetary troubles by carrying on an affair with one of his boarders, the newly widowed

Mrs Nielson – another outstanding all round performance from Maria Omakinwa.

Gregor Milne and Justina Kehinde convince as their equally troubled children Gene and Marianne.

Gene is a drunken, about to be dumped by his girlfriend, would-be writer and Marianne, who was adopted, is coloured and five months pregnant by a man she won’t name.

The grey chink of light, in an ink black sky being a proposition of marriage from a shopkeeper old enough to be her grandfather (Teddy Kempner).

Then we have a preacher who has lost his mojo, a boxer/ convict on the run plus various other folk whom the depression has beaten their despair into submission and capitulation.

Occasionally giving us a clue where we are in this complex discordance is Chris McHallem as Dr Walker, our narrator with his own fateful back-story.

Shout outs to musical director Andrew Corcoran for haunting arrangements to match every mood and Lucy Hind for movement that perfectly fits each character and molds to form time and place set pieces and Mark Henderson for moody and broody lighting design.

Rae Smith has designed a set which works like more of a cast member than an inanimate performing space.

The sad and creaking furnishings embrace life in the Great Depression.

The gloom is counterbalanced occasionally by landscapes on screens appearing like portals on a timeless world outside the stifling guest house.

So disjointed is McPherson’s epic that I admit to becoming a little lost with the complexity at times, but there is so much to revel in from richness of text to music to performance to song to dance that it didn’t really matter.

‘Girl From The North Country’ is a one off original that has a voice all of its own.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose reviews