Archive for February, 2022


“One of the least known stories of the First World War.”

That was the opening blurb of the advert, and I was intrigued. I’m no fan of the British Empire; its atrocities make modern day Isis and Al Qaeda look like beginners in the human rights stakes: The Boer concentration camps, the massacre at Amritsar, the famines in India during 1940 and the subsequent partitioning years later. All are now known but still little talked about. But who were the Chinese Labour Corps?

Towards the end of the First World War, the British Government needed a workforce to continue its campaign. Therefore, the Chinese government, wanting to establish itself as a world power offered its own labour to help the shortages. Over 100,000 men from the Northern Chinese Provinces travelled to Canada, then onto Europe to help in a war they knew little about. Most worked as unskilled labourers in appalling, dangerous conditions near shellfire and were terribly malnourished. At the end of the campaign, up to 20,000 had died and for a hundred years, mostly forgotten.

I am therefore indebted to the author of The Chinese Labour Corps, Walsall poet and playwright, Ian Henery, for illuminating me on a subject I now want to know more about. An excellent story (additionally adapted by Emma Cooper) where the audience went on an eye-opening journey of life one hundred years ago.

Although only a cast of four, the story moved seamless from one scene to the next and was almost immersive with a feeling of being a part of proceedings. Fully rounded characters who you believed in, felt empathy for, and got to know intimately.

The Chinese Labour Corps – The Blue Orange Theatre Birmingham – February 4 2022

Our cast were Nathaniel Tan (Sun Gan – a teacher), Amanda Maud (Chinn An Chu – a woman pretending to be a man to enlist), Tao Guo (Lin Cheng – who leaves his family to earn money) and Ali Taheri (Liu Den Chen – the loveable rogue who does his best to make money in other ways).

The stage movement, courtesy of Director, Marcus Fernando worked well, particularly the drowning of workers during the sinking of the Canadian ship. Poignant and emotive. And the knowledge that when Chinn An Chu returned home, her father had died, having spent none of the money she sent back to him. But there was also humour, especially the sending up of a British Sergeant. Then you had both humour and sadness mixed. The beautiful scene where Lin Cheng recovers in a Field Hospital and befriends a young English nurse, Miss Alice. They play music together, badly, before life is cut short amidst the jollity when Alice falls prey to the horrors of war when the area is bombarded by opposition fire. Notice I do not use the word, enemy fire. For me, especially in this war, there was no enemy, only different sides. It’s something we could all learn.

The Chinese Labour Corps – The Blue Orange Theatre Birmingham – February 4 2022

A highly entertaining and informative evening at The Blue Orange Theatre. Not only did I enjoy the production, I also learned something too.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

Failing guitarist, Dewey Finn, takes a job under false pretenses in an exclusive and expensive private school. He then teaches his class to play rock music and forms a band with them to win a prestigious competition.

Yes, I love rock, and I love musical theatre, therefore it is no surprise that I adore School of Rock. Closely based on the 2003 film of the same name, this is the best feelgood musical going these days. The notion that dreams come true, and you really can do anything if you try. It lifts the audience to their feet, and not just in the finale. With a cracking script from Julian Fellowes, lyrics courtesy of Glenn Slater and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, you have the instant recipe for an outstanding show.

I first saw it in the West End but this UK tour for me was even better. Perhaps knowing the songs so well, I was singing and moving in my seat throughout. Also revelling in admiration for the kids who do play their own instruments. Such talent from all.

In the title role, and totally at home as the hapless Dewey Finn was Jake Sharp. Outstanding with the strongest of performances and excelling in all numbers. Alongside, playing school principal Rosalie Mullins was Rebecca Lock who delivered Where Did the Rock Go? and Queen of the Night in great fashion. Supporting well, though were James Bisp as the much put-upon Ned Schneebly with Amy Oxley portraying the domineering Patty.

And then there were the pupils of the School of Rock. What can I say? The twelve on show during this viewing were out of this world. Harry Churchill (Zack on Lead Guitar), Angus McDougal (Lawrence on Keys), Chloe Marler (Katie on Bass) and Eva McGrath (Freddy {Fredrica} on drums). I’ve only ever known Freddy as the male originally intended but Eva was brilliant as the student who struggled to achieve. I had great empathy for her.

Leading the vocal section was Angel Lucero as shy Tomika and she delivered a powerhouse of a performance in Teacher’s Pet supported well by Lily Rose Martin (Marcy) and Elisha Kerai (Shonelle).

As a huge fan of The Voice Kids, it was a surprise and joy to see 2019 finalist Keira Laver as school swot, Summer. And Keira was amazing leading the class during one of my favourite numbers, Time to Play. Completing the class of excellence were Riotafari Gardner (James – Security), Ava Masters (Sophie the roadie with the killer pigtails), Alex Shotton (Mason on Lights) and Logan Matthews (Billy the costume drama queen).

Credit is due to a fantastic production team including Laurence Connor (Director), Joann M. Hunter (Choreography) and Michael Riley (Musical Direction).

In addition to the songs already mentioned, there are others of top-drawer quality: When I Climb to the Top of Mount Rock, the beautiful If Only You Would Listen, You’re in the Band and the awesome Stick it to the Man.

I have favourites in musical theatre which change constantly. I can honestly say, though, leaving The New Alexander, I have never enjoyed myself in a theatre as much as I did on this occasion. Buzzing madly and still on a high days later. School of Rock is touring the UK until the end of summer and if you only go and see one musical in 2022, make it The School of Rock.

Cheers.

Antony N Britt

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