Act Two began on Tuesday, and thus with another familiar slogan the new REP (Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre) kicked off its first performance in the newly refurbished space. It has been a long time coming for us keen theatre goers in the city, watching the REP’s refurbishment and the construction of the new Birmingham Library next door for the last two years.
Finally came the opening show. I headed inside for my first glimpse at the theatre… and did not react much at all. In fact not a great deal of the refurbishment was visible. Yes, the seats have been re-covered (though it sadly made them no more comfortable and the lack of a central aisle in the theatre is still a personal bugbear) and the walls have been painted, well some of them, at least. Everything perhaps looked a little bit fresher, but the two years it has been closed (I think it has been two years, or thereabouts) don’t seem to have made a whole lot of difference. Except to the bar prices which have leapt into the extortionate bracket, it seems.
I also felt a little disappointed that the fact that it was opening night wasn’t really shouted about. There were no introductory speeches or pre-show performances, no post-show discussion about what had been done to the theatre and what has been going on in the background during the refurbishment. I am delighted to welcome the venue back to the city and am thrilled to have been lucky enough to attend the opening night, I just wish it had been celebrated and made into more of an occasion.
Anyway, for the show itself – Alan Bennett’s People. Having no idea what it was about or what to expect beforehand, I found the whole first half rather difficult given the amount of jokes that went straight over my head or that felt a little close to the bone, but the second half was completely different, hilariously funny and well-delivered. Definitely a show worth watching, even if it does get a little slow before the interval.
One thing I feel compelled to comment on, as was pointed out to me by a fellow viewer, was that the audience has not changed in the time the venue has been closed, and remains utterly non-indicative of the city’s young and multicultural population. For some reason, theatre in general to some degree, and particularly this theatre, seems to still be a stiff haven for the white middle classes, average age perhaps 65.
Come on Birmingham, let’s have our audience reflecting our city and reflecting the fantastic variety of shows that we get. I would love to attend a future performance and see people of different races and genders joining in to take advantage of the quality shows and levels of entertainment we have at local venues such as this.