Colors: Red Color

Eleven days of ballet, cabaret, symphony orchestras, steel pans, family fun, chamber music, live cooking, story-telling, drama, laugh-out-loud comedy can only mean one thing – Lichfield Festival is back! Taking place between 8-18 July, the annual event brings thousands of visitors to the beautiful cathedral city and is a cornerstone in the region’s cultural calendar. 

“We’re thrilled to be back with the 39th Lichfield Festival this July - a year later than envisaged – with a typically exciting range of superb artists to bring the joy of live performance back to the City,” says Lichfield Festival Director, Damian Thantrey. “With distancing and regulations expected still to be in place, things will be a little different this summer, with shorter event times and repeated performances, particularly those in the smaller venues. There will also be a number of outdoor events making the most of the glorious summer weather (we hope) and some of Lichfield’s beautiful and verdant outdoor spaces. We’re looking forward to joining artists and audiences alike, immersing ourselves in eleven days of fabulous entertainment and culture.”

The 2021 Festival opens on Thursday 8 July with the captivating Ballet Cymru performing a brand new version of the classic ballet Giselle in the spectacular setting of Lichfield Cathedral. 

The Cathedral is the centrepiece of Festival activities and this year plays host to some amazing vocalists who top the line-up, including the undisputed British Queen of Soul, Mica Paris, whose most recent release Gospel in 2020 shot to No 1 in the UK R&B Album Charts, and Brit-award winning folk singer/songwriter Eddi Reader, widely considered Scotland’s greatest living female voice. 

Liza Pulman, whose show Liza Sings Streisand wowed audiences in 2018, returns with timeless classics and lost gems from songwriters like Irving Berlin, Randy Newman and Judy Collins, and master impressionist turned pianist, Alistair McGowan entertains with a unique mix of classic comedy and classical music.

Other highlights in Lichfield Cathedral include fiery flamenco with guitar and Spanish dance duo Xuefei Yang and Maria Vega, a slimmed down BBC National Orchestra of Wales, now in the third year of their residency, and superb vocal group I Fagiolini with a concert of music ancient and modern inspired by the environment and TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.  Two atmospheric late evening concerts feature baroque violinist Rachel Podger (Bach by Candlelight) and jazz saxophonist and improviser Tommy Smith OBE.

The Festival’s Aspire! Family Day takes place outdoors on the final Festival Saturday, centred around the Cathedral lawn.  It begins with a new costumed production of Peter and the Wolf, designed especially for the Festival, in the gardens of Lichfield Cathedral School.  There’s an appearance from the world-renowned Grimethorpe Colliery Band on the West Lawn ahead of their Cathedral shows later that day, plus three Lichfield Mystery Plays, and song and dance from local groups to keep the festival vibe buzzing and picnickers entertained throughout. 

The Festival continues its tradition of engaging Artists in Residence who perform during the Festival.  This year’s four superb collaborative musicians are Chloë Hanslip (violin), Danny Driver (piano), Jessica Walker (writer/vocalist) and Joseph Atkins (composer/piano).  Chloë and Danny include a selection of Beethoven’s violin sonatas within their three duo recitals as a belated tribute to the composer’s 250th anniversary last year. 

Meanwhile, the creative partnership of Jessica Walker and Joseph Atkins brings three cabaret shows: Roaring into the 20s is devoted to music of the era that ushered in the Jazz Age; (Dead) Funny Women recaptures the rollercoaster lives and musical genius of great women of musical comedy; and Songs For Our Times is a special Festival commission, first shown as a film in 2020. 

Variety is the buzzword of every Lichfield Festival – it’s one of the most eclectic multi-arts festivals the UK has to offer – so it’s no surprise there’s everything from an appearance by the Yorkshire Shepherdess Amanda Owen, to live cooking and laugh-out-loud comedy from George Egg, a whistle stop tour of Gilbert & Sullivan by the Charles Court Opera and a monologue on the life of Clementine Churchill, wife of Winston Churchill.

There’s comic entertainment from Justin Moorhouse (star of Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights) and Lichfield expat Katie Arnstein in her semi-autobiographical show Sexy Lamp.  The story of another former Lichfield resident, the 19th century composer, pianist and instrument maker Muzio Clementi, is told through words and music, played on an original Clementi square piano. 

The programme continues with a series of spectacularly talented Young Artists in recital, Notting Hill Carnival favourites The Metronomes Steel Orchestra performing al fresco at Swinfen Hall, Jonathan Gee’s jazz Quartet Re-imagining The Beatles and a return visit by world music and folk group Kabantu.

"The Festival is extremely grateful this year for the support it has received from its corporate and individual sponsors and, in particular, from Arts Council England and the Culture Recovery Fund."

Lichfield Festival 2021 runs from 8-18 July. Tickets and details from www.lichfieldfestival.org

TV star Nigel Boyle, who plays Detective Inspector Ian Buckells in Line of Duty, has revealed his experience of working on the primetime BBC TV police drama during the pandemic, his civic pride in Birmingham, and his ambitions to work with a well-known comedy great.

Speaking ahead of an online masterclass with hundreds of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Acting students, Nigel also shared advice for budding screen and stage professionals looking to pursue their careers once theatres and productions fully reopen across the UK.

Having graduated from Birmingham School of Acting in 2002 – now part of Birmingham City University’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire – he hopes to see fellow alumni follow in his footsteps and make an impact in the industry.

“The pandemic has been tough for everyone,” the actor said, explaining, “We had to adapt like everyone else.

“I was one of the few lucky actors that had already begun shooting a project, so after the first lockdown we put systems and protocols in place to deal with it. Astonishingly, we managed to get it finished without any major hiccups. But it was very challenging and everyone had to play their part in making it work.”

The sixth series of Line of Duty, currently airing to UK audiences, saw its highest audience to date recently, clocking up a record 9.6 million viewers for. For Nigel, it’s been a real pleasure to be part of the smash hit show written by Jed Mercurio.

“It’s amazing to be part of such a successful show! I’m constantly grateful and never take it for granted. I remember auditioning for the pilot back in 2010.

“The first series was shot in Birmingham and the auditions were held there so I travelled up from London in a suit. When I read the first episode I knew I had to nail it as it was the best audition script I’d ever read and I knew I was right for the part.

“I spent two full days preparing for it so I was super ready when I got to the audition. I got a call back the next week and was offered the part. The major high for me was the read through - sitting around a table with such a huge cast of top class actors and me!” 

Nigel has had fans on the edge of their seats as Buckells, with latest storyline developments seeing the Detective Inspector interrogated for suspicious behaviour, facing suggestions that he has been framed and accusations of being a 'snitch'".

“My character has so many interesting scenes and great lines, there’s too many to mention. But the opening scene in episode four of this series was quite special. I always wanted an AC12 interview scene in the ‘glass box’, and I finally got my wish.”

Born in the South Birmingham suburb of Moseley, Nigel has played Brummie policeman Buckells since season one of the show, also appearing in acclaimed British TV dramas Peaky Blinders, Small Axe and Coronation Street, and feels that attitudes towards his home city are changing for the better.

“I’m extremely proud of my Brummie/Irish heritage, so when Line of Duty was shot first in Birmingham, and then Belfast, it was perfect for me. I think Line of Duty and Peaky Blinders put Birmingham back on the map. Although I was lucky to appear in one episode in series four of Peaky Blinders, I would have loved a bigger role, even if it was that of an accent coach!”

Nigel has plenty of advice to share with younger actors, and will be talking about his experience in a video masterclass with hundreds of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Acting students next week. After an incredibly testing year, which saw an abrupt stop to all live performances and much industry work as Covid-19 spread, Nigel is optimistic about the future.

“Things will improve, the theatres will re-open, and there will be lots of opportunities open to new graduates again. Instead of worrying about it, just get on with it and utilise your energies on honing your craft.

“Keep working, keep reading, and keep learning! When you graduate it’s isn’t the finish point, it’s where the hard work starts. You have to keep improving and trying to be better than you were before. Nigel recently became a father for the third time, and has been balancing work commitments with parenting.

Post-Line of Duty, he is looking forward to new challenges, including one aspiration to work with a very well-known comedy superstar on his hit Netflix show. “I have got to the point where I can afford a lot more consideration when being offered parts.

“There are things being talked about at the moment and what’s really nice is that for the last few years I’ve been offered stuff without having to read/audition for.

“What I’d really like to do is work on Afterlife with Ricky Gervais (one of my heroes!). But I seem to have found a niche paying coppers/detectives - and if that’s what the next 20 years has in store for me, and as long as it pays the mortgage and child care, then I’m cool with that!”

Nigel Boyle stars in Line of Duty on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

BBC Studios and concert promoter FKP Scorpio UK have announced a new Bournemouth date on Saturday March 19th 2022, adding to their previously rescheduled Planet Earth II Live In Concert arena tour of the UK & Ireland.

The original 2020 tour was postponed and rescheduled to March 2022 following continuing government advice and the closure of venues across the UK, as part of the nationwide effort to combat the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

This spectacular live concert tour will be hosted by science and natural history TV presenter Liz Bonnin, with special behind the scenes insights from Mike Gunton, the executive producer of this BAFTA and EMMY® award-winning BBC television series. Featuring breath taking specially-selected footage shown in 4K ultra high-definition on a gigantic LED screen, the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Matthew Freeman, will perform the remarkable music by Oscar winner Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea & Jasha Klebe for Bleeding Fingers Music.

Host Liz Bonnin says: "I'm so delighted that Planet Earth II Live In Concert is now also coming to the Bournemouth International Centre, on Saturday March 19th 2022, as part of our UK and Ireland Arena Tour. As the restrictions around live events lift safely, it will be a real joy to finally be able to host this celebration of the wonders of our natural world. I'm looking forward to visiting the South Coast again with this spectacular show!"


All previously purchased tickets remain valid for these rescheduled dates.

The rescheduled 2022 tour dates are as follows:

Mar 18th Cardiff Motorpoint Arena
Mar 19th Bournemouth International Centre (New Date)
Mar 20th London The O2 Matinee & Evening Performances
Mar 22nd Dublin 3 Arena
Mar 24th Leeds First Direct Arena
Mar 25th Manchester AO Arena
Mar 26th Birmingham Resorts World Arena
Mar 27th Glasgow SSE Hydro

All children under 14 entitled to a £10 discount per ticket (Excluding London Evening and Dublin show). £5 discount per ticket for group bookings of 10 or more.

For further ticket information go to www.planetearth2live.uk

Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) have announce tickets for the Company’s June performances of triple bill Curated by Carlos (10-12 June) and Sir David Bintley’s classic Cinderella (18-26 June) are now on sale.

The new season at Birmingham Repertory Theatre (The REP) marks the Company’s return to live performance and features two world premiere Ballet Now commissions, a UK premiere and the staging of another Birmingham Royal Ballet classic.

Curated by Carlos features City of a Thousand Trades, a brand-new, one-act abstract ballet dedicated to the city of Birmingham. This new commission from choreographer Miguel Altunaga and The REP's associate director Madeleine Kludje, is inspired by and celebrates the richly diverse cultural and industrial heritage of Birmingham in a love letter to the city featuring music composed by Mathias Coppens and designs from Giulia Scrimeri.

Also brand new for this triple bill is Imminent by choreographer Daniela Cardim, with music from Paul Englishby and designs from April Dalton. Imminent is a ballet born of hope and the importance of letting go of the past and moving forwards.

The UK premiere of Spanish choreographer Goyo Montero’s thrillingly physical work Chacona completes the triple bill. Chacona is set to exhilarating music by J.S. Bach performed live on stage by violin, guitar and piano.

Sir David Bintley’s Cinderella is a family favourite, capturing every imagination with its sure-fire mix of wonderful dance, spectacular scenery, and a cast of magical characters.

This enchanting fairy tale is a glorious celebration of ballet, with breath-taking scenery and costumes by world-renowned John Macfarlane, the designer the Company’s famous Nutcracker, and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia playing Prokofiev’s beautiful music live.

The award-winning show has been specially adapted with a reduced score and staging adaptations to allow for social distancing and performer ‘bubbles’. However, it will still include the spectacular ball and some stunning coups de théâtre, such as the clock at the end of the ball and a beautiful spun-sugar-like carriage.

Tickets for Curated by Carlos (10-12 June) and Sir David Bintley’s Cinderella (18-26 June) at Birmingham Repertory Theatre go on sale from 12pm today Friday 16 April.

A brand new scriptwriting initiative to find burgeoning comedy writers from Black, Asian and Minority communities has been launched by Birmingham-based Transition Stage Company.

The comedy writing competition, Amplified, aims to provide a platform for witty writers from minority backgrounds and enable them to be seen and heard by the TV and film industry.

Amplified follows in the footsteps of Transition Stage Company’s incredibly successful playwriting competition 'Enter Stage Write', where scripts are judged both by words on the page and theatrical performances on the stage.  Winners of the competition have since gone on to gain huge success and experience within the TV and film industry, leading to high hopes for the winners of Amplified to achieve similar success in the comedy industry.

The competition will be broadcast via live stream or pre-recorded, depending on Covid-19 regulations, and members of the audience can vote for their favourite writer online. The successful writers will then be selected by an esteemed panel of judges to receive a free script-writing masterclass.  

Due to its online broadcast, Amplified has the potential to be screened to thousands of people, leading to the work of the comedy writer entrees being seen and heard by a wider audience.

Founder and Director of Transition Stage Company, said: “I created Amplified because I want to find funny, diverse writers. I miss the late 90's/2000s renaissance of diverse British sitcoms and shows like Goodness Gracious Me, Desmonds or The Real McCoy. These shows might not resonate with today's youth, but it is time to change the storytelling narrative.

“Who are the next Asian and Black minority comedy writers? We need comedy. We need light. This is my next crusade to find these diverse comedic British voices and put them in the mainstream.” Originally, the filming and production of Amplified was predicted to take between 5 – 10 years, however, with the world’s technology zooming forward due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the production of Amplified will now be achieved in one year.

The judging panel includes a plethora of diverse professionals from the TV and film industry, including Sarah Asante - Commissionaire Comedy BBC and newly appointed head of UKTV Comedy; Darcia Martin - Director for BBC and Channel 4 TV Shows; Louise Le Puloch- French Kiss Productions; Anya Camilleri - Award-Winning Writer and Director; Martin Sketchley -  Writers Guild UK; Chris Sudworth -  Director of Artistic Programmes at Birmingham Hippodrome;  Piero Basso AIC - Cinematographer and Chair of the Cinematography Program at New York Film Academy.

This year’s Enter Stage Write will also be produced into a TV format, a goal that has been accelerated due to Covid-19 pandemic, giving more budding writers access to unmissable opportunities within the industry.

As India continue to grapples with a devastating second wave of the coronavirus, millions of devotees descended on the banks of the Ganges river to take a dip in the water. Hindus believe the river is holy and taking a dip in it will cleanse them of their sins and bring salvation.

Now the government of Uttarakhand state is facing heavy criticism for allowing the Kumbh Mela festival to go ahead amid a sharply worsening Covid cases. India recently reported more than 200,000 Covid cases for the first time since the pandemic began.

The decision came a day after Swami Kapil Dev, the head of another prominent congregation, died after being diagnosed with Covid-19. It is unclear how many devotees at the Kumbh Mela tested positive since the first day of bathing. But Haridwar's chief medical officer, Dr SK Jha, said more than 1,600 cases had been confirmed among devotees between 10 and April 14.

But there are fears that the numbers could be even higher, and that many of those who have returned home could have taken the disease with them across the country. India has confirmed more than 14 million cases and 174,000 deaths from the virus so far. There had been a sharp drop in case numbers in January and February, but with cases and deaths now rising again, hospitals across the country are reporting a shortage of beds, oxygen cylinders and drugs.

The uptick in cases did not discourage people from attending the Kumbh Mela. Ujwal Puri, a 34-year-old businessman, arrived in Haridwar on March 9 armed with bottles of sanitiser, masks and vitamin pills. Mr Puri expected stringent Covid security checks.

But he said he faced no checks at the airport or in Haridwar. One of his photographs from the festival shows crowds at the banks, waiting to take a dip on one of the nights. Many people can be seen not wearing a mask or pulling it down to their chin.

"There was no social distancing," Mr Puri said. "People were sitting cheek-by-jowl for the holy prayers in the evening." He stayed at the festival for three days, he said, and took off his mask in public "only once to take a selfie with seers".

"I left everything to God," he said. When he returned to Mumbai, Mr Puri locked himself in a room, he said, and got himself tested. "I live with my parents so I took all the care I could."

But not everyone will have taken even these measures. There have been warnings that the Kumbh Mela could have functioned as super-spreader event.

"The Kumbh should have been postponed," said historian Gopal Bhardwaj. "Kumbh is meant to provide peace to the inner self. How would one find inner peace if your loved one is Covid-infected?" Others have disagreed.

Raghavendra Das, a saint who is at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, said: "Are election rallies not super spreader events? Why are liquor shops open?

“Aren't they spreading coronavirus?" That will provide little reassurance for those that live in Haridwar and fear that the influx of pilgrims has put them at risk of contracting the virus.

"These pilgrims return home in a day or two. But who knows what they left behind," said Mithilesh Sinha, a resident of Haridwar.

The fear of increased Covid risk prompted Sachdanand Dabral, another resident, to petition the court last year, asking to know how the state was prepared in case of a Covid surge. Mr Dabral blamed the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat for the rise in cases, for allowing people in to the state unchecked.

Mr Dabral's lawer, Shiv Bhatt, was part of an official court-appointed committee that toured Haridwar in March to take stock of the preparations for the Kumbh Mela. Mr Bhatt said the hospitals, including a designated a Covid care centre, lacked basic amenities.

"Washrooms and wards were in bad shape. There were no bed pans and dustbins. The lift was not working," he said.

But Mr Jha said all the issues that were raised in the committee's report had since been fixed. And devotees continue to throng the banks, often maskless and in close proximity even as officials struggle to enforce Covid safety rules in the festival.

Sandeep Shinde, a Mumbai-based painter, said he enjoyed his experience of the Kumbh Mela earlier this month. Housed in a large hall shared by about 10 devotees, Mr Shinde slept on a mattress on the floor.

"To come here and experience people taking a holy dip was beautiful. I didn't hear anyone around me talking of corona. No one was talking of the virus," he said.