Saturday, 30 December 2017

101 Dalmatians

Today saw our long-awaited trip into Birmingham to see the evening show at Birmingham Rep - 101 Dalmations. After brunch, or early lunch, we set out just before midday to drive into town and to the rail station. On the way we paused to pick up the weekend paper from Morrisons.

Whilst Mike parked the car - using the app he installed last week to pay for it - ours was the only car in the park - the others went to buy tickets and to check out that the return journey was not affected by the advertised engineering works or industrial action. Whilst we had just confirmed it from the on-line service, it is good to have it confirmed by a real person as well! We had arrived much earlier than expected so had a bit of a wait on the platform but at least there was a seat and a shelter.

When our train arrived it was already quite full and a good number of people were waiting with us - this was the fast train to Birmingham. Mike and Jess had to stand throughout and, after stopping at Bromsgrove to pick up more passengers, it became even more crowded. It seems that the service on this line is frequently well over-subscribed but still the operators do nothing much about it. Still, 36 minutes later we were on time at our destination.

After leaving Grand Central - the new name for the complex that has recently been finished and covers the whole station, replacing a worn our previous development - we walked up to New Street. We were heading for the Museum and Art Gallery but took time to check out the various eating places along the way to see if there was something suitable for an early meal before the show.

As soon as we reached the art gallery we headed for the Edwardian Tearoom for a welcome drink - tea made with proper tea leaves and needing a tea strainer!

After that we split up into pairs to take different routes around the many displays and exhibition galleries. Christine and Alice concentrated mostly on the Pre-Raphaelite section which is especially well represented here. This painting by Ford Madox Brown is one of the better known and uses the painter, his wife and his daughter as models.

One of the first items that Jess looked at was this modern piece that re-created techniques devised centuries earlier. The infinite array uses glass that is both reflective and transparent.

Jess wanted especially to follow the sheet of paper that we were given at the start that picked out a few Nativity or seasonal items around the different galleries. Alas, someone forgot to take any photos of these items (we were not too sure whether photography is allowed so most were taken surreptitiously, but others were doing likewise!) but there was plenty of interest in the rest of the displays.

This bust of  one of the 17C Doges of Venice caught Mike's attention - Francesco Molin looks as austere as the reputation that the Doges seemed to gain.

The modern art gallery had a wide rage of items but this one is by Halima Cassell, born in Pakistan but grew up in Lancashire. The sculpture is called Calliope and she says it is meant to be inspired by the shapes of Arabic lettering.

After completing all of the galleries on the main level, Mike and Jess climbed the stairs to the next level, looking at this stained glass window along the way. Great care was taken to ensure that it was not damaged during WW2 bombing raids which did affect the museum as a whole.

One of the main displays on the upper floor shows the way in which the present day city of Birmingham has evolved from a tiny medieval village. Its growth was sparked by an enterprising local lord of the Manor who bough a charter from the king that allowed him to hold a weekly market on his land.

One of the seasonal items Jess was looking for was a bust of Charles Dickens which took a little searching for. The reason for including this item was that the first public reading of A Christmas Carol took place here in front of an audience of over 2000.

We saw how the industrial explosion demanded lots of cheap labour and that included children as young as 9. W also listened to a number of folk songs that related the life of ordinary people - sometimes the only way of understanding what life was like for those whose lives are otherwise rarely recorded. One, about a Jack of All Trades, showed how many had to take work wherever and however they could find it - not for them was there a career (or trade) for life.

At the agreed time we all met together again and checked out the walking route to the theatre. The centre of Birmingham, where the old Brutalist library once stood, is now under extensive re-development and some of the older walking routes are blocked off.

Time then to meander back to New Street in search of an eating place. Jess was keen to have a burger whilst Alice much preferred something with pasta. Fortunately, Mike had spotted Wildwood earlier and, when we arrived, there were plenty of tables free. Just as well we did not leave it much longer as before long it was completely full.

We were able to take our time over the meal and were well fed - each of us having something rather different and the two girls were able to pick their favourites. If anything, the starters of garlic bread (which turned out to be large rounds of baked pizza dough) and bowl of olives were the real treats!

We then walked back to the theatre where the grownups were allowed to have a cup of coffee before we all went to take our seats in the main auditorium.

The show was an amazing version of the 100 Dalmatians story by Dodie Smith but made popular by Disney. The dogs and puppies were portrayed as puppets whose animators spoke their lines at the same time. We were just amazed at the skill that brought the puppets to life and at times it was difficult to forget that they were not real live animals!

Of course there were never quite 101 on stage at one time but it really did feel as if they were all there.

This was a show for all ages - many of the adults in the audience were not with families and everyone obviously enjoyed it. There was plenty of action and the small music group made a great accompaniment. The loud applause at the end was well justified.

For Mike a particular benefit was that all performances of this show are captioned so that "everyone, deaf, deafened or hard of hearing can enjoy the performance" as the captions before the show explained. The caption display was well placed and designed so that it did not interfere with the action for anyone not needing it.

The show finished around 9:20 so we had plenty of time to walk back to New Street Station for our fast train back to Droitwich. No stops this time and so we were back within 25 minutes.

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