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28 October 2014

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'Go Play Up Your Own End'

'Go Play Up Your Own End'

Reviewed by Andy Knowles, BBC
Whoever claimed “nostalgia isn’t what it used to be” had better get down to the Alexandra Theatre, for this magnificent production belies any such suggestions, albeit those made in jest.

Go Play Up Your Own End

The Alexandra Theatre

Tuesday 24th May to
Wednesday 1st June 2005

'Go Play Up Your Own End'

Malcolm Stent’s tribute to the Birmingham he grew up in, from the twenties right through to the post war era, is a masterpiece chronicling the historical and social life at a time when the City (and indeed the West Midlands) was renowned for being the workshop of the World.

Times and places may have changed, but that Brummie spirit, allied to its’ unique brand of humour, survives intact.

"Go and Play Up Your Own End" began life as personal memories for Malcolm Stent, then progressed into a printed version as an autobiographical account of his childhood  years, growing up in the 1950's Birmingham back-streets, before finally hitting the stage in September 1998 at the Solihull Arts Complex.

In the intervening years this phenomenally successful and touching story of friendship, conflict and real Brummie warmth has packed the audiences in at all three of the City’s major theatres. Now boosted by some new songs, new sets, new costumes and some new stars it’s threatening to wear out the “Sold Out” notices at the Alex.

Brummies are passionate people

Throughout the production one word kept coming back to me – passion. Brummies are passionate people; passionate about those close to them; passionate about their football teams; passionate about their City.

'Go Play Up Your Own End'

With a cast list boasting at least eight born-and-bred Brummies, along with producer Ian Sandy, musical director Robert E. Willis and song-writer Harvey Andrews, all reared and raised in Birmingham, there’s little wonder that they’re all so obviously passionate in their performance.

"Go and Play Up Your Own End" is packed with humour, pathos, a wealth of real characters, a terrific and at times powerful musical score and some great individual performers. 

A star studded cast

Not that there’s one individual star that shines brightest; it’s very much a collective with everyone of the fifteen-strong cast deserving of the utmost praise.

And while many of them have appeared in previous productions of this great Brummie musical, there’s real icing on the cake this time with the first time appearances of Jasper Carrott, Dave Willetts and the Duchess of Dudley herself, Lizzie Wiggins.  All three bring their great and very individual talents to an already sparkling production.

Jasper is at his funniest when playing the schoolboy Graham, while Lizzie once again proves what a marvelous character actress/comedienne she is, filling the role of the street matriarch.

And what a bonus there is too in attracting one of the country’s finest West End performers along to enjoy the fun. Dave Willetts may not be a Brummie but he nearly is – he’s from Coventry!

Nevertheless the man who became the first person on the World stage to play the leading roles in both Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera simply revels in his temporary Brummie status.

Don MacLean without a frock

'Go Play Up Your Own End'

And what a joy it is to see Don MacLean without a frock! The grand master (or should it be mistress) of the pantomime Dame dons his baggy trousers, cardigan and war medals to bring a masterly performance to the role of the street sage Mr Moore, who fought in the First World War – and never forgets to remind folk.

The role also provides him with an opportunity to show just what a fine singing voice he has. Top marks Don!

Top marks too for another home-grown talent, Karen Heard who gives a powerful and touching performance as Reen, the unmarried mother of plenty – “One for each year of the war and each nationality of the Allies!”

Her acting is strong and full of character; her singing is divine. She is, to this Birmingham musical, what Mrs Johnson is to Liverpool’s “Blood Brothers.” 

A particular word of praise too to Harvey Andrews’ music and lyrics. I’ve long-admired this Handsworth-born singer-songwriter’s works – he’s not lost his magical touch. I must dig out my Harvey Andrews LPs – he’s whetted my appetite again.

The biggest problem I have with "Go and Play Up Your Own End" is finding enough superlatives to describe it! Perhaps if I give it 11 out of 10 you’ll understand what I mean.


last updated: 26/05/05
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