We chat Beautiful Thing and Birmingham with one of the West-End’s youngest producers Tom O’Connell

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With a new production of Jonathan Harvey’s modern classic Beautiful Thing coming to Birmingham Hippodrome at the end of March, we decided to catch up with the Executive Producer Tom O’Connell, who also happens to be a good friend of the Hippodrome after co-producing our last two pantos! We sat down with Tom to find out a bit more about him and his career as one of the youngest ever west-end producers!

How did you get into the theatre business?

I’ve been involved in performing since birth – my family are very creative, artistic and full of comedy. As a child I did puppet shows, circus acts and then my late grandfather encouraged me to audition for Bugsy Malone, so I did and ended up getting the lead role! I was always putting the whole show together so at the age of 17 took the risk of producing my first professional show and the rest is history… nine years later and I am still doing it.

You helped produced two successful pantomimes here at Birmingham Hippodrome, was that exciting? How does producing Beautiful Thing differ?

I love Birmingham, the Hippodrome and I love pantomime – so to be able to work as Michael Harrison’s associate on the last two big ones [Snow White & Jack and the Beanstalk] was great fun. Experiencing three intense weeks of laughter, precision, energy and talent first hand in a rehearsal room is a huge privilege. Producing Beautiful Thing is similar in that my job is to keep everyone’s energy and excitement up and to oversee the rehearsals and make sure we are true to Jonathan Harvey’s original script, and to the audiences who hold the film close to their hearts. It is about complimenting the piece and bringing a fresh take on the story.

Are you looking forward to the play coming to Birmingham?

Very much so, especially since audiences might be experiencing a play in the intimate Patrick Centre [Birmingham Hippodrome’s studio theatre] for the first time, and what better way than with an intimate play like Beautiful Thing. I think, knowing a lot of Brummies, they’ll love the show.

You must know the city quite well, is there anywhere you like to go shopping/for a drink?

When I’m in Birmingham I’m always busy with work so don’t get much time to explore (maybe I should with Beautiful Thing), but I do love Le Truc bar/restaurant – great food and staff. Shopping in the Christmas market is always good fun when in town for panto, and I also like the food in the Loft Bar.

Beautiful Thing was turned into a film – do you have any favourite films?

Beautiful Thing was one of my favourites, with Linda Henry as Sandra and Jonathan Harvey making a cheeky cameo! I do also love a good comedy or rom-com and I think The Producers is a fab film, along with Mrs Doubtfire and Love Actually.

What plans have you got after Beautiful Thing?

Well, we’ve just closed Ghost Stories in the West End after a year long run, and our production of The King’s Speech is continuing to tour the UK. Hairspray the musical starts in September for a year long tour, and we have two productions being announced soon. There’s also a new musical being developed with Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter of McFly fame which will be a good laugh… and hopefully I’ll fit a holiday in at some point!

Beautiful Thing opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on Monday 30th March and runs until Saturday 11th April. To book tickets please visit our website.

Co-producer Tom with Beautiful Thing cast (L-R: Vanessa Babirye, Thomas Law, Tom O’Connell, Sam Jackson, Charlie Brooks, Gerard McCarthy)

Co-producer Tom with Beautiful Thing cast (L-R: Vanessa Babirye, Thomas Law, Tom O’Connell, Sam Jackson, Charlie Brooks, Gerard McCarthy)

Tell us about you…

This October, we are joining forces with organisations from across the West Midlands to ask you about your cultural experiences over a 24 hour period.

We want to get a snapshot of your relationship with culture be it reading a book, visiting an art gallery or attending a performance between 12 noon on Friday 24 and 12 noon Saturday 25 October 2014.

As a region, we are lucky to have a multitude of cultural experiences on offer and we want to know what you think are the most valuable to you and those you experience the most.

The actress Meera Syall MBE has voiced her support for the survey. She commented: “If you care about the arts, please take the 24 Hour Culture Survey. This is a 24 hour dash to map out how much the arts matter to us all.

“The West Midlands is full of great culture, from Wolves to Warwick, bhangra to The Bard himself, and some of Britain’s funniest, most creative and talented people.

“If you plan to read a book, play an instrument, take a dance class, watch a film, laugh at something on Youtube or take your kids to the theatre over the course of the day, just tell the survey. It’ll help us all shout about the value of the arts.”

We hope that, once collated, the results will help arts and heritage organisations in the West Midlands plan for the future.

The survey goes live at www.24hourculture.co.uk from 12 noon on 24 October – make sure to mark it in your diary and ehad over to the website for more information.

Kate Bush on stage at Birmingham Hippodrome…

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Last night, Kate Bush made a triumphant return to the stage after more than a three decade long absence. Audience member, Craig Wooldridge blogs about seeing the icon of British music right here on the Birmingham Hippodrome stage back in April 1979…

A photo from Kate Bush's UK Tour programme in 1979

Kate Bush’s 1979 Tour Programme

I was 16 years old when I went to see Kate Bush at Birmingham Hippodrome in 1979. I was still into my punk music and groups at this age but she had an originality that was different to anything else around at that time and I was curious to see this phenomenon that had burst on the scene. I do also remember having to queue in the cold for several hours to get hold of one ticket by myself, no one else fancied it…

My memory about specifics of the concert is somewhat blurry but it was totally different to anything I’d experienced before; it was more of a theatrical performance than the pop/rock concerts I was used to. From what I can remember, I think the show was divided into four acts; there were a lot of costume changes plus some mime and poetry. There was also something said by Ms Bush at the time that some tracks were mimed because otherwise she couldn’t perform her dance routines, although she also used a headset microphone which was relatively unheard off in those days.

What sticks in my mind was when she sang “Oh England my Lion heart” – there was a World War theme to the piece with parachutes draped across the set and smoke pouring across the stage, really eerie but very moving.

She finished with “Wuthering Heights”, the stage set as a woody forest with Ms Bush in period costume in-keeping with the song title; again, I think she may have mimed to this as the dance was so intense (only speculation, don’t quote me!).

I had a good read of the programme but didn’t fancy the t shirt as I wondered if I’d have the mickey taken out of me by my punkie mates…

In those days I was going to one or two concerts a week at places like the Birmingham Odeon, Dale End Top Rank and Birmingham Civic Hall all around a fiver a ticket, so to stick in my now failing memory she must have been good.

On 30th September I will have the privilege of seeing this remarkable talent live once again, 35 years in the making and I’m sure Ms Bush will be just as unique today as she was all those years ago!

Were you there too? Let us know in the comments box and mark the event on Event Kick here.