Macbeth & Idomeneo at the Grand Theatre
The excellent English Touring Opera return to the Grand Theatre to present a season of Kings and Queens in the battle for love, loyalty and power with each opera featuring a large chorus and live orchestra. The witches have a prophecy: Macbeth will be king. But royalty comes at a price. The cost of power is betrayal, murder and revenge. Follow Verdi’s Macbeth in a blood-soaked journey to the throne and watch a guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth descend into the depths of despair in ETO’s new production. Grant Doyle (Macbeth) and Madeleine Pierard (Lady Macbeth) star in Verdi’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s iconic play at the Grand Theatre on March 25th. Sung in English with English surtitles. Watch Macbeth video
Returning from the Trojan War and caught in the midst of a storm, King Idomeneo promises the raging seas that he will sacrifice the first person he meets, in return for his safe passage. Cruelly, the first person he encounters is his only son, Idamante. The rivalry between the princesses Ilia and Elettra for the heart of Idamante coupled with a king’s ill-fated promise provide a rich, emotional drama and unforgettable music. Mozart’s Idomeneo remains one the greatest of his ‘opera seria’ (serious operas), exploring royalty, high ideals and deep emotions. English Touring Opera’s exciting production comes to the Grand Theatre on March 26th. Sung in Italian with English surtitles. Watch Idomeneo video
Tickets for Macbeth & Idomeneo are on sale and can be booked in person at the Grand Theatre, by phone on 01902 42 92 12 or online at grandtheatre.co.uk
Lil’ Jimmy Reed at the Robin 2
Still playing and touring the World, Lil’ Jimmy Reed is the last of the original Louisiana bluesmen. At 79, Leon Atkins, better known as Lil’ Jimmy Reed, is the real deal, as will be attested to by anyone who has been privileged to hear his stinging guitar work, gritty vocals and haunting harmonica. A tall charismatic figure, he epitomises the classic Louisiana down-home blues tradition. Born in a shot-gun shack in Hardwood, LA, a small cotton and sawmill town on the Mississippi River, Leon grew up near a club where every night he absorbed the wail of the blues from across the street. At six he had his own guitar, made from a cigar box, and by the time he was a teenager he was proficient on both guitar and harmonica, playing local clubs around Baton Rouge. Filling-in one night for blues star Jimmy Reed earned him the sobriquet Lil’ Jimmy Reed and started him on the long path to success. He has shared the stage with B. B. King and Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and head-lined many international festivals, where his many fans recognise that Lil’ Jimmy’s performances are almost the last chance to hear the raw, unadulterated sound of authentic Louisiana blues. In the sixties, the blues came to Britain and inspired a generation of teenagers who in turn took the music to international success. Prominent amongst them was the critically-acclaimed pianist Bob Hall, whose distinctive blues and boogie style on hundreds of recordings has influenced a host of others. Bob and his wife, the dynamic singer and rock-steady bassist Hilary Blythe, have joined forces with Lil’ Jimmy to form The Lil’ Jimmy Reed Band appearing at the Robin 2 on 25th March, with support from Sunjay. Tickets for what should be a great evening of authentic Louisiana Blues music can be bought online here and at the Robin 2 box office, telephone number 1902 401211.
John Fullwood at Wolverhampton Art Gallery
John Fullwood is an acclaimed 19th-century artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy, The Grosvenor Gallery and the Paris Salon. A superb exhibition, Changing Wolverhampton: The Drawings of John Fullwood, takes place at Wolverhampton Art Gallery from 10 November 2018 to 24 March 2019, using the Gallery’s collections, including Fullwood’s wonderful drawings and etchings, to tell the story of the town’s redevelopment during the Victorian period. The 1877 Wolverhampton Improvement Act resulted in many changes to the cityscape with new roads laid out and existing buildings demolished. Fullwood, along with John Reid, James Tibbetts and photographer Edwin Hasler recorded the buildings before they were replaced.
New material from popular local historians Simon Briercliffe and Norm Keech also feature in the show exploring the town’s redevelopment, including the creation of what is now Lichfield Street, and the disappearance of the notorious slum ‘Caribee Island’.
Wolves in Wolves
Wolves in Wolverhampton was the largest public art exhibition and trail to have ever taken place in the City, with 30 locally made, designed and installed Wolves sculptures in place for more than 11 weeks at key sites around the City Centre. Three of the sculptures were outside the ring road - one in West Park, one inside Wolves Museum entrance, and one outside Marston’s Brewery Shop. You could follow the sculpture trail using maps. Alongside this, Wolverhampton Art Gallery hosted a mini-wolf exhibition where over 60+ miniature wolves painted by local schools, groups and artists were displayed. The Wolves in Wolves project was a result of an idea submitted by a City of Wolverhampton Council employee to encourage people to come to visit the City and improve its appeal. The sculptures were made from fibreglass by a company in Kidderminster and plaques for the City of Wolverhampton College were fixed onto their bases. Students produced the plinths as part of the College’s sponsorship for the project, giving an opportunity to put into practice the skills they will need when they embark on their careers as well as showcase what they can do to potential employers. When the exhibition ended in 2017, the majority of wolves sculptures were auctioned off in the Jack Hayward Suite at Molineux by BBC Antiques Roadshow expert Will Farmer, raising over £35,000 for The Outside Centre and the Mayor’s Charities. Top price of £3,200 was paid by an anonymous bidder for a piece by Claire Rollerson called Garden, which was located at the bus station throughout the trail period. ‘Wolves in Wolves gave the city a blast of colour and excitement,’ said Mayor Elias Mattu. You can find out more on the exhibition website, including details of the amazing artists involved.
Civic Halls refurbishment
Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall and Wulfrun Halls were closed in 2015 for a major renovation project that will see an extension of the stage, two new balconies and an upgrade to the outside of the building. Partly funded by a Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership Growth Deal grant, refurbishment of the revered Grade II listed venue will increase Civic Hall capacity by 539 seats to a total of 2,554, with the standing capacity increasing to 3,549. The Wulfrun Hall will also have a new balcony and improved hospitality areas. The project is expected to attract an additional 330,000 visitors a year, and John Reynolds, the council’s cabinet member for city economy, said, ‘The Civic Halls have been around since the 1930s and are an important part of our visitor economy, providing jobs and generating millions of pounds every year by staging nationally acclaimed shows. The increased capacity will make it a more attractive place in the entertainment market, enabling it to attract significantly more popular and prestigious acts, while retaining the current characteristics that make it popular with performers, producers and audiences. The importance of its contribution to the visitor economy was recently highlighted by Wolverhampton making the top ten in a major survey of the best live music scenes in the UK.’ Both venues had hoped to reopen in time for the Grand Slam of Darts and other events in 2017, with The Civic Hall celebrating its 80th birthday in 2018. New surveys and reports on the building have since revealed structural, mechanical, electrical and engineering issues, so Wolverhampton Council has expanded its existing improvement programme to a full restoration that could mean the Hall remaining closed until 2020.
Wolverhampton on Film
The British Film Institute’s Britain on Film project has made thousands of films, including many depicting the Black Country, available free online. Over 10,000 film and TV titles from 1895 to the present day will be digitised to provide a fascinating social history of everyday life. The vintage videos were all held in a regional collection and are now available to a wider audience. Highlights include a film made in 1970 showing the changes in Wolverhampton as the city’s Georgian and Victorian shops made way for flats, two new shopping centres, tower block living and a ring-road that cut through large areas of the old town (watch now). Progress perhaps but a nightmare for the sentimentalist or Victorian enthusiast. Another film, shot by an unidentified film-maker, shows the celebration of King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935. Events include a civic parade ascending the steps to St Peter’s Church (with crowds standing in front of the now long-gone Wholesale Market) and a costumed pageant in the football ground that attracted a large crowd, as well as buildings and streets decorated in honour of the royal event (watch now). There is also a 1904 film showing Wolves playing away at Preston North End.
New canal quarter and Molineux square plans
An ambitious 12-year regeneration plan for Wolverhampton have been announced by the city council. The City Centre Area Action Plan (CCAAP) envisages a bustling canal quarter, a city centre cinema, thousands of new homes (630 of them in the canalside development), new public squares and an increase in retail and leisure choice. The Canalside Quarter would stretch from Horseley Fields to Fiveways Island. A Molineux Quarter will be created near the Wolves ground to include a new public square for football fans and students to enjoy. A cinema would be built near Penn Road Island and Ring Road St Mark’s and a new supermarket at Stafford Street’s Peel Centre. Shops and leisure facilities will be created around the Springfield Brewery site, which is being taken over by the University of Wolverhampton next year. Around 2,000 homes will be built around the city centre and surrounding areas including All Saints, Blakenhall, Graiseley, Chapel Ash and West Park.
Campaign frees the Hepworth sculpture!
The Barbara Hepworth sculpture ‘Rock Form (Porthcurno)’, which has stood in the Mander Centre, Wolverhampton, for 46 years, and which was provided at cost price by the artist for the enjoyment of the people of the city, was recently removed and put at risk of being sold off privately, to be lost to the public forever. This wonderful, iconic sculpture is a local landmark, and by far the best single piece of artwork in Wolverhampton. It is one of only seven castings; the others are all in prestigious public collections around the world. How many other cities and how many other shopping centres have artwork of this importance on public display? It has stood in the Centre since 1968, but was secretly removed in May 2014, on the pretext of building work that would not begin till the following year. The owners, Delancey and RBS, refused to say where the sculpture or the time capsule in its plinth now were, and refused to give any reassurance that it will not be sold off. Plans for the redevelopment of the Mander Centre should be modified to include the Hepworth, and it must be returned to its place of pride as soon as practicable, and a firm guarantee given of this. In October 2014 it was announced by RBS that they will return Barbara Hepworth’s multi-million pound sculpture to the public, following a widely supported campaign. A petition by 38 Degrees received three thousand signatures and the return of the sculpture was supported by city councillors and MPs as well as luminaries such as sculptor Anthony Gormley. RBS said that the sculpture will return to the Mander Centre on loan from RBS, once refurbishment of the Mander Centre has been completed. The sculpture can currently be seen displayed at Wolverhampton Art Gallery while the redevelopment of the shopping centre is carried out. Antony Gormley said: ‘There is, in this monetarist time, an assumption that ‘common good’ can be trumped by the values of a liberalised economy; let us hope you can change that assumption here.’ The sculpture can currently be seen temporarily at Wolverhampton’s Central Library whilst refurbishment is taking place at its new home in Wolverhampton Art Gallery.