Colors: Red Color

For any music fan, getting to talk songwriting with Paul McCartney sounds like some kind of fantasy, but for one Birmingham City University academic, his dream has become a reality.

Dr Simon Barber, Research Fellow in the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR), alongside collaborator Brian O’Connor, are more widely known as Sodajerker, the creative partnership of two long-time friends who love songwriting. Their independent podcast, ‘Sodajerker On Songwriting’, is comprised of long-form interviews with some of the world’s most successful songwriters about how they approach the art and craft.

Since its launch in November 2011, the show has released over 120 episodes featuring in-depth discussions with the likes of Paul Simon, Alicia Keys, Johnny Marr, Noel Gallagher, KT Tunstall and Joan Armatrading. The show has been downloaded millions of times by music fans the world over and has charted in more than 50 countries via Apple Podcasts.

There was, however, one guest that remained elusive; the man the pair describe as “the holy grail of songwriters” – Paul McCartney. Despite having studied at The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), where the former Beatle is Lead Patron, they hadn't managed to interview the legendary artist – until now.

On Friday 7 September, Paul will release his 17th solo studio album, ‘Egypt Station’, on Capitol Records. To mark the occasion, the songwriting enthusiasts sat down with Macca at LIPA to talk about the writing process behind the record.

Dr Simon Barber, Research Fellow, Birmingham City University, said: “As it does for millions of people around the world, Paul McCartney’s music occupies a very special place in our hearts. We were raised on his songs and, at this point, life is quite unimaginable without them. So, to get the opportunity to spend time with Paul talking about what he does best – songwriting – was the thrill to end all thrills.”

At Birmingham City University, Dr Barber researches, writes and lectures about popular music, the music industries, digital culture and jazz. He is particularly interested in songwriting, and the relationships between creative workers and industry.

Dr Barber added: “It was a long and winding road to Paul, but we stayed the course and fulfilled a lifelong ambition. We can't thank him enough for giving us his time and insights.”

Simon’s research has focused on how songwriters articulate, rationalise, and reflect upon the work that they do and the sorts of strategies employed by songwriters in the collaborative process. His conversations with everyone from Brill Building writers of the 1960s to contemporary pop hitmakers has helped him to imbue his research with real world insights.

He has published in ‘Popular Music and Society’, ‘The European Journal of Cultural Studies’, ‘The Radio Journal’, ‘The Journal on the Art of Record Production’ and ‘Jazz Research Journal’ among others.

This summer, Simon was awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant to develop a research network devoted to establishing the field of songwriting studies. He will lead the two-year project in partnership with a co-investigator at University of Liverpool. Together they will produce four events bringing together academics from a variety of disciplines alongside industry workers and leading practitioners.

Dr Barber said: “Despite how important songwriting is for a whole range of stakeholders including scholars, artists and those using songwriting as a tool for social change, there has been no galvanising force bringing together their varied discourses as part of a coherent field of study. We aim to transform that landscape as we embark on this new project.”

Birmingham City University was one of the first UK universities to offer media degrees and today boasts cutting edge facilities – including six digital radio studios and Europe's largest static green screen – in its £62 million Parkside Building.

Following a slew of sell-out shows and five star reviews at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Strictly Arts return to the Belgrade Theatre this September with their award-winning show Freeman.

Described by the Guardian as “a revelation”, Freeman takes inspiration from the true story of William Freeman – the first man in America to plead insanity as a legal defence – to explore the often unspoken link between systemic racism and mental health.

Created in collaboration with writer Camilla Whitehill as part of the Belgrade Theatre’s Springboard talent development initiative, this urgent and deeply moving story combines incisive drama with high-energy physical theatre, gospel singing, shadow puppetry and more, drawing on extensive research into deaths and mental illness amongst prisoners of colour.

As both the first West Midlands company and the first black-led group to be awarded The Pleasance’s Charlie Hartill Special Reserve Fund, Strictly Arts went on to enjoy sell-out performances at The Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh, receiving a Special Commendation from the SIT UP Awards and The Mervs “Spirit of the Fringe” Award, as well as being shortlisted for an Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.

Throughout time and across waters, the show weaves together the story of William Freeman – a black man driven to violence in the US – together with those of David Oluwale, Sarah Reed, Sandra Bland, Daniel M’naghten and Michael Bailey, highlighting the continued need for movements like Black Lives Matter in the 21st-century. During 2016, when Strictly Arts began making Freeman, 120 self-inflicted deaths were recorded in prisons across the UK – the highest number since records began.

Strictly Arts Artistic Director Corey Campbell said: “As an individual who has been a victim of racial profiling, wrongfully accused by the justice system, with friends and family who have suffered from poor mental health, and a member of the black community myself, the statistics and information I’ve researched are both relevant and frightening. To think that William Freeman’s story from as far back as the 1800s can still be an example to us today shows that we are still in dangerous waters.”


Freeman is written by Camilla Whitehill and Strictly Arts and directed by Danièle Sanderson, with lighting by Joe Hornsby and sound by John Roddy. Casting includes Keiren Amos, Pip Barclay, Corey Campbell, Kimisha Lewis, Aimee Powell and Marcel White.

Organisers of the BFI London Film Festival believe they are moving in the right direction when it comes to gender representation in cinema, unveiling a festival programme in which 38% of the directors are women.

In 2016, a study conducted by the San Diego State’s Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film painted a bleak picture of gender equality within the film industry, revealing that a meagre 7% of the Top 250 highest grossing movies of 2016 were directed by women. The disparity between male and female directors in Hollywood is immense and the study also revealed that women made up just 24% of producers, 17% of editors, 13% of writers and 5% of cinematographers.

At the 2018 BAFTAs, there were no women nominated in the Best Director category for the fifth year in a row and at the 90th Academy Awards earlier this year, Greta Gerwig became only the fifth woman to ever be nominated as Best Director. Several European festivals also have some shocking figures, with only one of the twenty-one films in contention at the Venice Film Festival being directed by a woman and only three out of the twenty directors appearing at Cannes. The BFI London Film Festival has identified this issue and are clearly pushing for diversity and equality amongst those appearing at this year’s festival.

“We are moving in the direction we all want to be moving and we are seeing lots of really exciting new female film-makers coming through the programme,” says Tricia Tuttle, the artistic director for this year’s festival. “While we all want to move towards parity, we don’t want to set quotas for ourselves. We are trying to serve audiences and serve the programme and that is always at the heart of our curatorial process.”

What this means is that Tuttle and the BFI London Film Festival team are not attempting to shoehorn equality into their festival and that the wider variety of films and directors appearing at this year’s event has happened organically. Tuttle has stated that championing female talent and British cinema is something she is very proud of. “I love British film,” she said. “I’m a North Carolinian by birth but I’ve been here for 20 years and it always struck me when I came to this country how, at that time, the UK had no idea what an incredible film industry there was.”

The representation of female talent at this year’s BFI Film Festival is something all we should all be proud of, as the UK is showing the world that we are leading the charge when it comes to equality and diversity in cinema and hopefully, before long, the British film industry will be a shining example to production companies everywhere that talent comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and genders.

BFI London Film Festival will run from October 10th to October 21st 2018.

US theatre producers Fox Stage Productions and Kevin McCollum have confirmed plans to adapt the hit film Mrs Doubtfire in to a huge Broadway musical.

Based on the classic 1993 smash-hit film, the musical will be written by John O'Farrell and Karey Kirkpatrick (Something Rotten!), with music and lyrics by Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick. Four-time Tony Award-winner and eight-time Tony Award-nominee Jerry Zaks (Hello, Dolly! and A Bronx Tale) is set to direct the adaptation.

In a statement, McCollum and Bob Cohen of Fox Stage Productions said: "Mrs Doubtfire is such a beloved story, both laugh-out-loud hilarious and extremely moving. Getting this team together and crafting Mrs Doubtfire for the stage has been pure joy. We can't wait to get into production."

The original film starred the late, great Robin Williams as struggling actor Daniel Hillard, who loses custody of his children in a bitter divorce. Determined to stay in contact with his kids and with nothing left to lose, Daniel decides to disguise himself as a matronly Scottish woman named Mrs Doubtfire and gets a job as a housekeeper for his ex-wife. The ruse is a success and Daniel gets to spend time with his children, but learns some difficult truths about his own skills as a parent along the way. Mrs. Doubtfire also marked the first role for a young Mara Wilson, whose other hit film, Matilda, has already been made into an enormously successful, global musical.

In 2015, legendary composer Alan Menken, who worked on Disney classics such as Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Aladdin, was in talks to bring Mrs Doubtfire to the stage, but the project never came to fruition. However, the wheels are once again in motion with a brand new creative team and, while casting news and release dates have yet to be announced, we can expect to see Mrs Doubtfire on stage within the next few years.

The world première of Rebus: Long Shadows, the latest story in Ian Rankin’s legendary detective series, will be told exclusively on stage at Birmingham Repertory Theatre from 20 September to 6 October. Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels have dominated the detective fiction market with the subsequent television series ensuring the detective’s legendary status.  Now, alongside award-winning playwright Rona Munro, Ian Rankin brings his beloved creation to the stage for the very first time.

Detective Inspector John Rebus is retired but the shadows of his former life still follow him through the streets of Edinburgh. Whisky helped but now he's denying himself that pleasure. But when the daughter of a murder victim appears outside his flat, he's back on the case and off the wagon.

Rebus will need help from his ex-colleagues but one of them is already looking for him. DI Siobhan Clarke was Rebus' greatest ally on the force but is worried that his past actions may stop them finally convicting a dangerous killer. Soon Rebus is caught between two cases and can only turn to one person to help him - the man he spent his career trying to arrest.Charles Lawson plays John Rebus alongside John Stahl as Big Ger Cafferty, Cathy Tyson as DI Siobhan Clarke, Dani Heron as Angela, Eleanor House as Heather/Maggie and Neil McKinven as Mordaunt.

Ian Rankin said: "I've long wanted to see John Rebus on a theatre stage, and it was such a privilege to work with Rona Munro in fashioning a brand new story that could best be told 'in the flesh'.  Having lived with Rebus for over thirty years, I know that he has cast many long shadows, but this time those same shadows threaten to engulf him in a story that is tense, gripping, deep and thoughtful. I hope audiences will agree!"

Playwright Rona Munro said: “Adapting one of the most iconic characters in detective fiction was both daunting and exhilarating. It was a collaborative process that completely depended on Ian Rankin’s generosity in sharing the man he made and knows so well. We hope that audiences who also know Rebus will see him live, and that audiences who’ve never met the man are in for an exciting introduction.”

Ian Rankin is the internationally bestselling author of the Inspector Rebus and Detective Malcolm Fox novels, as well as a string of standalone thrillers. His books have been translated into 36 languages and are bestsellers on several continents. Rankin has won multiple awards including four The Crime Writers Association Dagger Awards, and in 2004 received America's celebrated Edgar Award. He is also the recipient of the OBE for services to literature.

Rona Munro has written extensively for stage, radio, film and television. Her theatre credits include The James Plays, Scuttlers, Iron – which won the John Whiting Award, The Last Witch and Little Eagles. Her television credits include Rehab, Bumping the Odds (BAFTA nomination), and Doctor Who; and for film, Ladybird Ladybird and Oranges and Sunshine.Robin Lefevre directs, taking the place of Roxana Silbert who has had to withdraw due to unforeseen circumstances. Robin is an award-winning theatre director who has worked extensively in the UK, Ireland and the United States. He’s directed John Hurt in Afterplay, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, and John Byrne’s first play Writer’s Cramp. In Broadway his credits include Brian Friel’s The Aristocrats which won him the New York Drama Desk Award for Best Director and George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House. More recently he has worked on Duet For One at Birmingham Repertory Theatre and on tour, Ladies in Lavender at the Royal and Derngate and The Glass Menagerie at the Gate Theatre in Dublin.

Rebus: Long Shadows will be designed by Ti Green, with Lighting design by Chahine Yavroyan and Simon Bond with composition and sound design by Garth McConaghie.

Following its premiere at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Rebus: Long Shadows will tour to Edinburgh, Malvern, Nottingham, Manchester, Northampton and Aberdeen before completing its run in Guildford on 24 November.

Panic! At The Disco has today announced a European Arena tour for March 2019! Their biggest European tour to date will see the band come to Arena Birmingham on Tuesday 26 March 2019.Panic! At The Disco’s tour news comes days prior to the band’s Reading and Leeds co-headline shows.

Frontman Brendon Urie recently launched Highest Hopes Foundation (HHF) - an umbrella foundation created to support the efforts of non-profit organizations that lead, develop, and advocate support for human rights for all people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. Panic! At The Disco will be allocating £1.20 from every UK ticket from the band's Pray For The Wicked Tour to HHF.

Upon the foundation’s launch, Urie pledged a one million dollar donation to GLSEN, an American LGBTQ non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources, training, and support to students working to create student-led GSA clubs in their K-12 schools. Urie and the foundation will announce upcoming donations and activations with a variety of charitable organizations in the near future.

Released in June this year, Panic! At The Disco’s sixth studio album ‘Pray For The Wicked’ debuted at No.2 in the UK’s Official Albums Chart and No.1 on the USA’s Billboard 200! The album has spawned an array of huge singles including “Say Amen (Saturday Night)” and “High Hopes” – the latter was the band’s first UK Top 40 single since Nine in the Afternoon in March 2008 and  has accumulated over 120 million UK streams to date. Watch the band’s spellbinding performance of the track this year’s MTV VMA’s here.

Panic! At Disco’s prior and fifth studio album ‘Death of a Bachelor’ was nominated for ‘Best Rock Album’ at the 2017 GRAMMY Awards and hasn’t left the UK Top 200 albums chart in over two and a half years: the album has sold over 250,000 copies in the UK. Last year, frontman Brendon Urie starred as Charlie Price in the critically-acclaimed Broadway hit, Kinky Boots. To date, Panic! At The Disco have amassed over three billion worldwide streams.

Sheffield based, multi-platinum selling Bring Me The Horizon are set to release a new album entitled amo via RCA/Sony on 11thJanuary 2019.  Debut track, Mantra, was Annie Mac’s Hottest Record on Radio 1 last night.

To tie in with this announcement tickets for a world tour go on sale Friday, 31stAugust.  A run of special UK shows kick off in November and include a two-night stint at Alexandra Palace, they last played this London venue in 2014.

Bring Me The Horizon have been on a rocket of a journey over the last few years, selling over 2 Million albums globally to date, playing sell out shows in over 40 countries, including two sold out nights at London’s O2 plus wowing a traditionally non rock crowd at Glastonbury Festival in 2016.

Poised now to release their sixth studio album, the band have spent the summer writing and recording in Los Angeles, with Oli Sykes and Jordan FIsh handling production. What has transpired is one of their most exhilarating, genre crossing albums to date.

Oli adds “amo is a love album that explores every aspect of that most powerful emotion. It deals with the good the bad and the ugly, and as a result we’ve created an album that’s more experimental, more varied, weird, and wonderful than anything we’ve done before.”

Whilst amo will have some surprises, it very much sticks to the bands successful fan pleasing formula of massive stadium bouncing rocks songs with huge singalong choruses. A sound that has earnt them five A list Radio 1 records to date.

Oscar-winning British filmmaker Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire, and 127 Hours) has quit as the director of the as-yet-untitled Bond 25, citing “creative differences” as the reason for his departure.

The official twitter page of the 007 franchise announced the news yesterday via a tweet that read; “Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig today announced that due to creative differences Danny Boyle has decided to no longer direct Bond 25.”

It is an unfortunate blow for Bond 25 to lose such an accomplished and high-profile director but, as one of the biggest and most well-established film franchises of all time, there is sure to be a long list of filmmakers ready to jump in and take the reins.

Boyle’s involvement was confirmed in May of this year; with the creative team behind the franchise announcing that “Daniel Craig’s 5th outing as 007 will be directed by Academy Award-winning Danny Boyle from an original screenplay by John Hodge.”

Danny Boyle and John Hodge are long-time collaborators, having worked with each other on several productions, including Shallow Grave (1994), Trainspotting (1996) and its sequel T2 Trainspotting (2017), The Beach (2000) and Trance (2013).

Production on Bond 25 was set to begin on December 3rd 2018 at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, with a scheduled release date of November 9th, 2019. However, it now seems likely that both the production and release dates of Bond 25 will be delayed as they search for a director to replace Danny Boyle.

With Boyle out, social media is ablaze with fans discussing who they think should replace him, with Blade Runner 2049’s Denis Villeneuve, Mission: Impossible – Fallout’s Christopher McQuarrie and The Hurt Locker’s Kathryn Bigelow being some of the most popular choices amongst fans. There are also some who want to see Martin Campbell return to the franchise after already helming two excellent Bond movies in Goldeneye and Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007, Casino Royale. However, due to the fact he is already in pre-production on two separate projects, it seems very unlikely.

As of yet, no replacement has been announced, but it will need to be someone whose vision fits in with that of Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, who keep a famously fierce control of one of cinema's most successful franchises.

Hollywood A-listers Ed Harris and Jon Hamm have joined Top Gun 2, officially titled Top Gun: Maverick, in mystery roles.

Ed Harris began his acting career in 1976 and since then, he has amassed four Oscar nominations on top of 47 other nominations and 28 wins – including two Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actor. In 2017, he appeared in Darren Aronofsky’s divisive psychological horror, Mother as well as HBO’s hit science-fiction series Westworld, in which he plays the mysterious and enigmatic Man in Black.

Jon Hamm began his acting career in 1997 and has gone on to win two Golden Globes for his performance as advertising executive Don Draper in AMC’s hit drama Mad Men. He also has a further 16 wins, including a Primetime Emmy and a Critic’s Choice Award, and another 81 nominations.

Alone, the casting of Ed Harris or Jon Hamm would be a big boost for any movie or television series, but together they add a whole new level of excitement for the long-gestured sequel to Tony Scott’s 1986 classic that follows Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) – a hotshot fighter pilot whose reckless attitude and cocky demeanour put him at odds with the other pilots at the Miramar Naval Air Station, where he vies with Tom “Iceman” Kasansky (Val Kilmer) for the coveted "Top Gun" award.

Receiving mixed reviews on its initial release, Top Gun has since gone on to become a cult-classic of action cinema, amassing an enormous following and receiving regular screenings all over the world.

The plot of Top Gun: Maverick is being kept tightly under wraps at the moment, but we do know that Tom Cruise is returning as Maverick for the highly anticipated sequel and, if the recent Mission: Impossible sequels are anything to go by; we can expect some truly death-defying stunts from the Hollywood megastar. It is rumoured that Maverick is a flight instructor this time around, training up a new generation of fighter pilots, including the son of Maverick’s best friend and co-pilot, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, who died in the 1986 original.

Top Gun: Maverick also sees the return of Val Kilmer, in his first major role since his two-year battle with throat cancer. After years of rumoured health problems, he finally came clean about his battle with throat cancer during a December 2017 interview with the The Hollywood Reporter where he revealed that it had “taken its toll” on him and his family and that he had undergone a procedure on his trachea which made his voice raspy and left him short of breath. There is no word yet on how this will factor in to Top Gun: Maverick or how big of a role Val Kilmer will play, but it will be a welcome return for the actor and we are glad he’s making a recovery.

Top Gun: Maverick will by flying in to UK cinemas on July 12th, 2019.

Warner Bros Television, CBS and Chuck Lorre Productions have confirmed that The Big Bang Theory – one of the biggest and most successful sitcoms of all time – will wrap in May 2019 following speculation about the future of the show.

The Big Bang Theory started in 2007 and follows the misadventures of a group of brilliant but socially awkward scientists as they attempt to navigate day-to-day life. Centred on the nerdy and introverted physicists Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter, we witness their lives change when Penny, an attractive waitress and aspiring actress, moves into the apartment across the hall from theirs.

A statement about the decision to end the show was released on twitter;

“We are forever grateful to our fans for their support of The Big Bang Theory during the past twelve seasons. We, along with the cast, writers and crew, are extremely appreciative of the show’s success and aim to deliver a final season, and series finale that will bring The Big Bang Theory to an epic creative close.”

While there has been no confirmation as to the exact reasons why they have decided to end the show, many feel that it is a positive thing that the creative team has decided to end the show on a high-note, instead of dragging it out and risking cancellation further down the line. One thing is for certain though – it definitely isn’t a ratings issue, as it still continues to pull in huge numbers. The most recent season of The Big Bang Theory was the number one show on U.S. broadcast television, averaging a colossal 18.8 million viewers per week.

The Big Bang Theory has been such a monster success that in 2014, the five main stars – Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar – renegotiated their contracts and each earn a whopping $1million per episode. Now, considering each season of The Big Bang Theory runs for 24 episodes and there have been four seasons since 2014, that amounts to a dizzying $96million each.

Since its debut, The Big Bang Theory has gone on to amass 52 Emmy Nominations and when it comes to an end in 2019 after 279 episodes, it will be the longest running multi-camera series in television history – and that’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.

For those of you who are saddened by this news and are going to miss your weekly fix of nerdy adventures, fear not! For The Big Bang Theory spin-off Young Sheldon is already a hit and has been picked up for a second season.

The world of music mourns today as icon Aretha Franklin has succumb to her illness and passed away peacefully at 9:50am on Thursday 16th August, surrounded by family and friends at her home in Detroit, Michigan.

Aretha Franklin’s representative, Gwendolyn Quinn announced that Franklin passed away after a battle with advanced pancreatic cancer.

Former President of the United States, Barack Obama, paid tribute to Franklin in an official statement released yesterday;

“Aretha helped define the American experience.” He said. “In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the ‘Queen of Soul’ rest in eternal peace.”

In an unbelievable career that spanned more than half a century, Aretha Franklin touched the lives of countless people all over the world. Throughout her career, she was nominated for a total of 34 Grammy Awards, winning 20 of them, including best female R&B performance for eight straight years, and three “Grammy Special Awards”The Legend Award in 1991, a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994 and a Person of the Year award in 2008.

She also had 88 Billboard Chart hits and, during the peak of her career, she accumulated more than two dozen Top 40 hits that spent a combined total of 97 weeks in the Top 40.

On top of all this, Aretha Franklin also holds the distinction of being the first woman ever to be admitted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Rest in peace, Aretha Franklin – while you may be gone, the legacy you leave behind will echo through the ages.

A mass line-up of stars – some old, some new and some in-between – lit up yet another hugely successful Simmer Down Festival, as the likes of Misty In Roots, Dennis Lloyd, Pulse Beat, Nash + Abel, Lekan Babalola’s Sacred Funk Project featuring R T Kal and the Handsworth Community Choir made this arguably the best there ever was.

And, for the organizers to get the legendary reggae band that is Inner Circle to headline what was a truly inter-cultural programme features internationally acclaimed artists alongside the very best in homegrown talent - a day to remember for the thousands who turned up, it proved to be the coup of all coups for all concerned.

Covering some 50-years of magical hits, known the world over, present band members including; Ian Lewis, Roger Lewis, Bernard ‘Touter’ Harvey, Lancelot Hall and Trevor ‘Skatta’ Bonnick made for a memorable day with so many there already making plans for next year.

Massive respect must be given to the Parks and Events team from Birmingham City Council, and especially Garry Peal, “The Adopted Jamaican” – a name given to him by The Phoenix Newspaper following the hard work and effort he put in around bringing the Jamaican Track and Field team to Birmingham, and also his work surrounding Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations.

Garry was a visible and visibly loved figure at Simmer Down, as well as at Big Johns Mela on the same day, and is actively involved with events from all communities and all backgrounds on a regular basis. Simmer Down was no exception and the work of the Council support team was evident in the safe and smooth running of the day.

Simmer Down; sponsored by locally-based Crucial Sauce, is the festival which celebrates Birmingham’s rich cultural diversity by paying tribute to the centrality of reggae and other musical genres that have contributed to the city as one of international culture and real diversity. And it, again, proved it ‘all hands down,’ with some of the leading dignitaries present highlighting the impotence of its relevance - on Britain’s second city events calendar and its contribution to making Birmingham such a vibrant and ‘must-visit’ venue.


Check out the full feature in the September edition of The Phoenix Newspaper.

With our very own, world-class theatre right on our doorstep, Birmingham welcomes the wonderful and quirky musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s tale to the Birmingham Hippodrome.

As a child, I was a huge fan of both Roald Dahl’s original story as well as Danny DeVito’s 1996 film adaptation and I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Matilda: The Musical. “Surely there isn’t a better, funnier and more exciting way of telling this story”, I thought. Boy, how wrong I was. Matilda: The Musical is remarkable in every sense of the word – from the set design to the performances and the choreography to the music – it is wall-to-wall brilliance.

During the opening ten to fifteen minutes, I was a little weary. I was enjoying myself, but the audience didn’t seem overly engaged in what they were seeing, with some of the early comedy enticing only a handful of unenthused chuckles, and there were a few moments where I felt that the show itself was wading a little too close to pantomime territory, complete with crazy costumes and deliberately over the top performances. However, and this is a very, very big however – once the story and characters were established, the performance took on a life of its own, with the audience suddenly being seduced by the show and, before long, the crowd were roaring and cheering and applauding until their throats were hoarse and their palms were sore. It was a beautiful thing to witness a packed auditorium “click” at the exact same time. Audience participation is a vital thing when it comes to theatre and, as silly as this may sound, I truly believe that the typical reserved nature of Britons was a major factor in the opening fifteen minutes. We are a famously withdrawn nation of people with our trademark stiff upper lip and phobia of embarrassing ourselves, so nobody wants to be the first person to burst out laughing in a busy theatre; but once one person does it, the ice is broken and engaging in a performance suddenly doesn’t seem daunting anymore – and that was precisely my experience in the opening of Matilda: The Musical. From the moment the first big laugh echoed through the theatre, the entire audience were caught up in the whirlwind of emotion the show throws at you; and that is part of the brilliance of Matilda: The Musical.  In one moment, you’ll be in fits of laughter and the next; you have to pause for a moment because there’s a lump in your throat and have to try your best not to cry in front of everyone. Unless that kind of thing doesn’t embarrass you, in which case you can just let it all out! It is far more cathartic that way.

The cast, comprised predominantly of young children, are truly stunning and transcend their youthfulness by delivering strong, controlled performances, keeping you entranced and never missing a beat. Their professionalism is deeply impressive and the fact that such a huge production rests entirely on their tiny shoulders speaks volumes of the talent these kids have. Of course, this is very much Matilda’s show and I just have to give a special mention to young Nicola Turner, who was our Matilda for the night, for giving a truly breath-taking performance. She imbued Matilda with the necessary strength and defiance that has become synonymous with the character, while also lending a heart wrenching vulnerability to her because, let’s not forget that if you strip away all of the fun and bright colours, Matilda is the story of a neglected child trying to find her place in the world and Turner never loses sight of that. Carly Thoms is also wonderful as Matilda’s teacher Miss Honey; a character who endured an upbringing much like that of Matilda’s and the dynamic between these tormented souls is fantastic. Then there’s the character we all love to hate, the evil Miss Trunchbull, brilliantly portrayed by Craige Els, who reprises the role after playing the character in the West End production for three years between 2014 and 2017. Any time he steps on stage, infused with prosthetic make-up and a bodysuit that makes him look like a hulking hunchback, you can’t help but be mesmerised by Els and his uncanny ability to portray an overwhelmingly irredeemable character in such a way that, while you still hate Trunchbull and the horrid things she does, you can’t help but love every second she’s on stage. Matilda: The Musical is very much an adaptation of the original novel by Roald Dahl as opposed to a reworking of the film adaptation, meaning none of the actors feel obliged to imitate their cinematic counterparts and have the freedom to bring something completely new and unique to their respective roles.

Of course, as a musical, there’s a plethora of musical numbers throughout the production – some are small and intimate and some are big, fun and erratic with intricate choreography and, while I’m certain you’ll leave the theatre with a particular favourite, it has to be said that all of the music in Matilda: The Musical is exquisitely written by Australian comedian and musician, Tim Minchin. If you are familiar with Minchin’s work, you can tell from a mile away that his own, very distinct stamp is all over this musical. He has a stunning ability to write music that is both wickedly smart and funny, while infusing it with so much genuine emotion that in between the belly-laughs, your vision will grow hazy from the tears invading your eyeballs. It’s trademark Tim Minchin. One song in-particular remains seared into my mind and it comes in the shape of a solo performance by Matilda. The song is called “Quiet” and comes when Matilda first realises there is something very different and very powerful about her and that she can’t control what’s going on in her head. It’s a painfully beautiful ballad that will speak to everyone who has ever struggled with feeling different or alone, or the belief that they don’t belong. It is a deep and powerful song that perfectly marks a pivotal moment in the show. I truly hope Minchin works on more musicals in the future, because his unique talents and skillset are perfectly geared towards the stage.

Matilda: The Musical is a dazzling experience that genuinely has something for everyone and feels like a very significant and very immersive communal experience. If you give yourself entirely to the performance and allow yourself to be swept up in the magic, you’re in for an unforgettable experience.

Matilda: The Musical is at the Birmingham Hippodrome from August 15th to September 8th – do not miss it!

Netflix has unveiled the first official images from their upcoming, dark re-imagining of classic American sitcom, Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996-2003).

18-year-old actress Kiernan Shipka stars as Sabrina Spellman in the Netflix Original Series, which reimagines the story as “a dark, coming-of-age tale that follows Sabrina Spellman, as she wrestles to reconcile her dual nature as a half-witch, half-mortal while standing against the evil forces that threaten her, her family and the daylight world that humans inhabit.”

Described as a “Fantasy/Horror”, this reboot comes from Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa – the mind behind the comic book series of the same name, published by Archie Horror – a subsidiary of Archie Comics.

In the world of television, Aguirre-Sacasa is best known as the creator and showrunner of Netflix’s hit show Riverdale, as well as writing and producing episodes of CW’s Supergirl and the musical mega-hit Glee. The fact that Aguirre-Sacasa, the creator of the original comic book series, is also the driving force behind this Netflix adaptation has left many fans extremely excited.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina also stars British actor Richard Coyle as Father Blackwood, British actress Lucy Davis, most recently seen in Wonder Woman, as Hilda Spellman and Australian actress Miranda Otto, best known as Eowyn in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, as Zelda Spellman.

From Stranger Things to Ozark, and Riverdale to The Crown, Netflix is known for producing quality original content and, with a pre-existing audience already built-in who have grown and matured since the original TV series ended back in 2003 – a deeper and darker exploration of the character is sure to pique interest, meaning Chilling Adventures of Sabrina could be Netflix’s next big hit.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is said to be “tonally in the vein of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist” and premieres on the streaming juggernaut on October 24th 2018 – just in time for Halloween!

British actor Idris Elba has fuelled rumours that he is in talks with long-time Bond producer, Barbara Broccoli, to take over as the legendary MI6 agent once Daniel Craig steps away from the role.

In a deliberately cryptic tweet, he shared a seemingly irrelevant picture of himself with a funky filter on it, but the interesting part of the tweet is the caption that accompanied it;

“My Name’s Elba. Idris Elba.”

There are several ways one can take this. Either this is Elba’s way of teasing that he is in fact in-talks with the producers and casting directors, or he is simply stoking the fire just to cause a storm among Bond fans everywhere.

The 45-year-old actor, best known for his role as John Luther in hard-hitting British crime-drama Luther and Russel “Stringer” Bell in The Wire – a show often hailed as one of the greatest of all time. Recent years has seen his star-power skyrocket, taking him in to the world of big-budget blockbusters, playing Thor’s trusted friend and confidant Heimdall in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe as well as playing the villainous Krall in Star Trek: Beyond and voicing the deadly Shere Khan in Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book.

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Since sharing the cryptic tweet that sent social-media in to meltdown, Idris has posted a tweet saying “Don’t believe the HYPE…” which many have taken as confirmation that his original tweet was all in jest and that he isn’t involved in any Bond talks.

However, just before tweeting “Don’t believe the HYPE…” he posted a picture of iconic hip-hop group, Public Enemy and, those of you who are familiar with their song “Don’t Believe The Hype” will know that the full lyric is “don’t believe the hype, it’s a sequel” and every new Bond film that comes out is, for all intents and purposes, a sequel.

So, what many have taken as confirmation from Elba that he isn’t involved could actually be more cryptic hints that he actually is. Or maybe we’re just reading too much in to it?

Now, the idea of a black actor taking over the iconic role of James Bond is a controversial one, with many people taking to the internet to express their displeasure with it, stating that Bond creator, Ian Fleming, literally describes the character as a white man with blue eyes and dark hair. In his novel, Casino Royale, one character remarks “Bond reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless." Hoagy Carmichael was an American composer, singer and actor born in 1899, who was a tall, slim, white man.

However, there has also been an overwhelming amount of support for the potential casting of Idris Elba, with many remarking that we are living in an ever-evolving and more accepting society, where people of all colours, creeds, religions and backgrounds are seen as equal. Barbara Broccoli herself has been quoted as saying that “now is the time” for a non-white actor to tackle the role and that she believes it will “eventually happen.”

Whether or not Idris Elba is actually up for the role is yet to be confirmed, but one thing is for certain – Idris certainly enjoys fuelling the fire, leaving Bond fans shaken and stirred.

Comedian Jack Whitehall is set to star as Disney’s first “openly-gay” character in Jungle Cruise, based on Disneyland’s theme park ride of the same name where “a small riverboat takes a group of travellers through a jungle filled with dangerous animals and reptiles, with a supernatural element.”

While no official character details have been revealed, a source told The Sun that Whitehall will be “playing a gay man” who is “hugely effete, very camp and very funny.”

Whitehall took to Instagram to express his excitement by saying he is “honoured to be a part of this epic adventure” and went to say “I am having the time of my life with my amazing co-stars.”

However, Omar Sharif Jr, an Egyptian-Canadian actor, model and gay activist, has condemned the decision to cast a straight actor as Disney’s first openly gay character and aimed a tweet directly at Disney – “Really Disney? Your first significant gay role will be played by a straight white man perpetuating stereotypes? Fail! This ship should sink.”

Now, while there has been some backlash against the decision, there has also been a lot of support from celebrities, politicians and the general public, with some of them defending the decision based on the fact that a role should go to the actor best suited for it. Openly gay Labour MP Wes Streeting took to Twitter to defend the decision;

“Shock as actor is asked to play someone different from themselves.” He said. “Isn’t that kind of the point? Wouldn’t always casting gay actors in gay roles be condemned for typecasting?”

No matter where your opinion falls on the issue, it has to be said that this is still a pretty big step forward for Hollywood. For a brand as huge as Disney – a franchise aimed almost exclusively at children and young people – to create and embrace an openly gay character, could potentially lead to other Hollywood heavy-hitters to create and cater more roles to the LGBTQ community. Will that be the case? Only time will tell…

Jungle Cruise will also star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt and is set to release in October, 2019.