‘Dick Whittington’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome – December 2016

This year’s panto has arrived at the Birmingham Hippodrome – oh yes it has! And both the Hippodrome and the audience were thrilled to welcome back John Barrowman after an eight year absence – and my, doesn’t absence make the heart grow fonder!

In true rip-roaring tradition, the Hippodrome’s latest panto was funny, risque (talking boobs anyone?!) and downright ridiculous, catering to everyone from toddler to teens and, of course, the ticket-paying parents! The storyline was put aside for making you genuinely glad to have stepped out the house to enjoy this comedy showcase, with panto regular Matt Slack being a highlight with his brilliant impersonations, razor-sharp wit and inventive replacements for dialogue – I’ll say no more…

The one character I came home utterly in love with (besides John Barrowman, he’s an older love from a Torchwood time) was Babby the Tabby – the best Brummie cat I ever did see. I now only wish that my cat could talk so I could mould him into Babby Junior.

But, of course, Barrowman and Babby were not the only stars of the show. Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell) was a superb baddy in King Rat, and I only wish we could have seen more of the giant rat he was working for, particularly at the end to see how King Rat fared against his boss’s displeasure!

Jodie Prenger, from the TV show ‘I’d Do Anything’, has a spectacular voice, and the Krankies were in fine form as the comedy duo of the piece – Jimmy Krankie in particular was an absolute riot! Add to that a chorus of talented backing dancers, singers, actors, and a clearly talented backstage crew, and this is a panto you won’t forget in a hurry – particularly if you’ve never seen Captain Jack fly an upside down reindeer! And that’s not to forget the spectacular (if rather scary!) 3D effects in the second half.

In short, Birmingham has once again excelled itself in providing festive entertainment for all the family – it’s hysterical, it’s amusing, and it’s everything the holiday season needs, so get yourself to where the streets are paved with gold and turn your fortunes into those of Dick Whittington today!

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The Bootleg Beatles @ the NIA, Birmingham

Having been a lifelong Beatles fan but a noughties child, therefore missing any opportunity to see the fab four live, the Bootlegs seemed the next viable choice. And baby, they were damn good.

They provided the full experience: they had John Lennon’s quirky humour, George’s charisma, Paul’s fumbling way of talking, and Ringo’s nasally tones down to an art form. In short, the Bootlegs provided us with a way of accessing the 1960s hysteria that surrounded one of the most ground-breaking groups of all time. Add into this their astounding musical talents, the use of a mesmerising orchestra (I’m thinking particularly of a musical interlude in which the orchestra played ‘The Long and Winding Road’) and the sounds and sights of the sixties, and it was a concert to remember. 

The Beatle boys played all the massive hits, mixed in with some of the lesser known songs in order to appeal to the popular and the die-hard fans. The boys themselves were brilliant: they were quirky and funny, with comments from ‘Well you can take pictures, but digital cameras haven’t been invented yet’ to a promised prize for the best dancer of ‘a small Japanese lady in a bag – take her, please!’.

Without raving on, this is an experience that every Beatles fan can enjoy: the Bootleg’s have absolutely nailed the mannerisms, songs and overall knowledge of the Beatles, and put this to a fantastic use in taking you back to the era of peace and love, man.

 

 

‘X Factor’ Auditions – Birmingham LG Arena

As part of the bid to cram as many people into the LG as possible, I was selected to receive tickets from the Applause Store to watch the ‘X Factor’ auditions. After a loud, long and incredibly lively day, Birmingham’s talent has been chosen, and it’s trash put out to be collected.

I’ve only really watched the Joe McElderry series of ‘X Factor’, as I’m not a massive reality-TV fan. After today, I had another reason to be uneasy about the show – the absolute ridiculous acts selected to appear in front of Simon and co. For instance, two girls (apparently 17 and 18, but if they were a day over 14 I’d be thoroughly shocked) came on giving the judges and the audience attitude which prompted booing and chants of ‘Off! Off! Off!’ before they had even performed, and when the music began…let’s just reiterate that silence really can be golden. Now, I was all for pitying these girls until the attitude came out to play, and they told the audience to shut up, stormed off the stage when the judges mistakenly believed they were sisters, and literally screeched down the microphone to Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ (clearly a product of the ‘Glee’ phenomenon). After their appalling behaviour and mouthing off to anyone who spoke to them, I ended up joining the crowd in demanding these girls clear off before they humiliated themselves any further. I mean, what parent in their right mind could be so blinded by love as to allow their child to humiliate themselves like that? And which producer decided to make these girls a Birmingham mockery? Let’s be clear – these girls needed taking down seventeen and eighteen pegs, but the abuse they’ll face in September when this comes out has the potential to be too extreme. Even the comedian, who entertained us during filming breaks, stepped in afterwards to say booing is banned, and he definitely seemed less chipper after this debacle. Simon Cowell lightened the situation by saying ‘I’m thinking it all the time, but keep the booing inside your head’.

It’s not all harsh when this happens – the most adorable sixty-year-old man came on and had no idea what any of the words were to S Club 7’s ‘Reach’, but he got us all singing along and having a wonderful time, and didn’t seem disheartened by his four rejections. But then, the previous bad contestant, a forty-one year-old housewife, was so tone deaf I felt the need to put my fingers in my ears for my own safety, and yet they let her do two songs whilst the sassy seventeen-year-old was told she was too generic and not given the chance to prove otherwise.

Other notable acts included a stroppy Elton John wannabe, who prompted the quote of the show from Simon after ‘Elton’ childishly insulting the judges and demanding they sing on stage and see how they like it, with Mr Cowell saying that, after thirty-five years, he’d earned the right to judge. For a man that rose from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix, you have to give credit where credit’s due. Some acts that didn’t get through were shockers, especially the token tear-jerker who was attempting to save her family from recessional bankruptcy with her talent: despite her abilities, she wasn’t given the chance to follow her dream through (although when saying her son was called Ashley, Simon coughed and said ‘moving on!’ to make light of Cheryl’s troubles). Simon was forced to eat his words by an irritatingly ecstatic Louis when one girl went from old-fashioned crooner who could ‘never be a recording artist’, to contemporary in her rendition of ‘Valerie’ which prompted Simon to say she’d definitely record (and that his previous doubts would be left on the editing room floor).

The judges themselves were rather a limited presence. Head judge Simon Cowell was very vocal and rather funny in his demeanour, although he could be very cutting if pushed or begged to give second chances. Cheryl was rather vocal, although it tended to come when she was trying to comfort someone for not having a good voice by telling them they had a fabulous presence. Louis and guest-judge Natalie Imbruglia were noticeably quiet – understandable in the latter but normally unheard of in the former (although it was a very welcome change). Cheryl looked stunning as per, and Simon even graced us with a t-shirt change in the hurried break. Dermot O’Leary’s role on stage was limited to warming us up before the judges entered, as his role was interviewing backstage (I look forward to seeing how he coped with Abbey and Lisa, the gruesome twosome), but was endearing and funny in his time with us.

The day at the ‘X Factor’ was, as I’ve said, incredibly long, but it is an experience I’d definitely want to repeat, although after seeing what they let through those doors, maybe I’ll stay on the safe side of the stage.