dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
The Rep celebrates a milestone birthday with hit shows
A new season at Birmingham Repertory Theatre will premiere the Tom Jones musical What's New Pussycat? and an adaptation of Floella Benjamin's autobiography as well as revivals of the hit shows The Play What I Wrote and East is East.
The new season, announced by artistic director Sean Foley, celebrates the historic theatre's move to its current site in Centenary Square in 1973. "A 50th anniversary is significant and it's a milestone in the life of The REP," he says. "Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company has a long and illustrious history and we want to mark this moment."
The new season sees Sean reviving the show which he co-wrote and starred in on the West End – The Play What I Wrote, a fun-filled homage to the comedy duo Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. The show won an Olivier Award for Best Comedy and toured the UK including Birmingham after a successful London run.
Coming to The REP
He says: "The Play What I Wrote is another anniversary because it will be 20 years ago come November when I first performed it in London's glittering West End. In many ways, this show changed my life so I always have a soft spot for it. But also, and more importantly, audiences have a soft spot for it too."
The Play What I Wrote, which is staged at The Rep between November 26 and January 1, gained a loyal following of audience members returning to see the show again and again – because of a surprise element.
Sean explains: "Not only is The Play What I Wrote a fantastic night out and a great show, but it has this extra bit of sparkle dust because of the guest star. Exactly like in the Morecombe and Wise Show, there's a play within a play and there's a guest star. When we first did it everyone from Ralph Fiennes to Dawn French to Sting to Ewan McGregor came as guest stars and people loved that. We will certainly invite some of our wonderful guest stars back to be in the show but there's also a whole new generation of talent now – including amazing people from Birmingham like Adrian Lester, David Harewood and Felicity Jones who could be incredible guest stars."
The autumn season kicks off with another birthday - the 25th-anniversary production of Ayub Khan-Din's comedy drama East is East on September 4-25. And it will be a special return to the theatre where it was first staged. "East is East debuted in October 1991 at Birmingham Rep and went on to become this huge hit, then a successful film," says Sean. "It's an iconic piece of work in terms of the Pakistani British community but, because it's essentially about a family drama, everyone can identify with the story. It's an incredibly funny piece of theatre and it's wonderful that we can mark the 25th-anniversary production in our 50th anniversary season."
The new show What's New Pussycat? on October 8 to November 14 brings together two very different Tom Jones. "Henry Fielding's Tom Jones is one of the earliest novels in the English language, it's a comic picaresque novel telling the capers of Tom Jones as he makes his way in life," explains Sean. "And the team had the brilliant idea of setting those stories to the songs of the other Tom Jones."
Produced by Kilimanjaro Theatricals and Donna Munday with choreography by former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips, the show features a string of Tom's hits including 'Delilah', 'Sex Bomb', 'It's Not Unusual' and 'Mama Told Me Not To Come'.
And Sean says visitors might bump into the Welsh singer. "We are holding the world premiere and Tom Jones has promised to come. I can't say which night though so everyone will be taking potluck when they buy their ticket on whether Tom Jones will be there."
And a second world premiere, Coming to England on February 19 to March 6, tells the life story of television presenter, actress, writer and businesswoman Dame Floella Benjamin. Arriving in England from Trinidad in 1960 at the age of ten, she became a household name fronting the children's television series Play School and Play Away and is now a life peer in the House of Lords.
Sean says: "The show focuses on Floella growing up and becoming the person that she is today. She's overcome such challenges in her life – challenges a lot of people will still be familiar with like racism, poverty and being an immigrant in a land you don't know. All of the themes in this show are so relevant to us now and yet it's wrapped in this incredible positivity and drive which comes from Floella and her generosity of spirit which embraces everyone."
October will see the first of a new kind of comedy festival at The REP, the result of a partnership with Sky Studios to nurture future talent. Working with Anil Gupta, who produced television series The Office and Goodness Gracious Me, Sean and the team have devised Sky Comedy Rep. "We want to develop the new comedy writers of the future so we've created this scheme for up-and-coming or new comedy writers," Sean explains. "We will select nine people a year to receive a bursary and be assigned a significant established comedy writer to work with them for six months and then we will put on their work in a three-day festival."
After a year with The REP staging very few live productions, Sean is looking forward to welcoming back audiences. Live shows begin again in May with Rosie Kay Dance Company's Absolute Solo II and Lighthouse Theatre Company's Constructed followed by a Birmingham Royal Ballet double bill in June. The autumn then brings the fuller programme.
Sean says: "We have been working on putting these shows together for a long time. The last year has been a struggle but we are delighted that we are here and that people can come out and see live entertainment. The REP is a world-class theatre and it's up to us to put world-class shows on, which is what we are doing. I'm really positive about this new season because I know they are all brilliant shows and I would urge everyone to come along and have a great night out."
Tickets for the new shows go on sale to members from April 25 and general sale from 10am on April 30. See www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/ for more information.