Getting site-specific

Getting site-specific

BOLDtext’s Liz John talks about her latest site-specific piece in Behind Bars at Birmingham’s Lock Up.

There’s nothing like a ghostly Victorian building, echoing with strange tales and past voices, combined with the rampant enthusiasm of other BOLDtext writers, to give you Writer’s Block.  Where to start?  The Lock Up practically oozes Brummie history – countless possibilities of character, story, theme, era (it only closed two years ago!) – plus there’s the added question of setting.  Which corner of this fascinating Victorian building should I focus on? Whose experience in this place can I depict?  We really want to feel the Lock Up burst into life.

Lucky for me this wasn’t my first time in the Lock Up on Steelhouse Lane.  Before you ask, no I wasn’t there as an inmate!  In fact I attended a wonderful presentation by the Ikon Gallery relaying research conducted by the late Pete James, Birmingham’s foremost photographic historian.  The talk was about the history and role of photography in our region’s policing – from mugshots to surveillance. Turns out we practically invented mugshots in Birmingham. Who knew?  So when I stood again in this eerie building, tasked with creating a very short but meaningful piece of theatre that could mesh with other writers’ stories, my mind flew back to that lecture.  A police photographer could be my focus, someone who was a vital part of the fabric, actively participating in an offender’s journey through the Lock Up.  And that’s when Detective Charles Muscroft, ARPS, stepped into the light.

Man on a Mission

Down-to-earth Yorkshireman Charles Muscroft (above) was a CID officer turned police photographer, based at the Lock Up from the 1920s.  He embraced his role with dedication and delight, producing hundreds of perfectly crafted ‘mugshots’ over his career.  He regularly gave lectures to local photographic societies and even offered his ‘portrait services’ to the general public!  When he was awarded Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society in the 1930s, he was overjoyed – despite his exemplary record as a Birmingham City Police Officer, he viewed RPS recognition of his professional photographic talents as the ultimate accolade.  As a playwright, I was fascinated by the quiet intensity with which Muscroft undertook his work, and his unshakeable love of his ‘art’ even when he was having to photograph dangerous offenders and gruesome crime scenes.

Behind Bars, Ghosts of the Lock Up from BOLDtext Playwrights runs 19-21 October at the Lock Up on Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham.

Book your tickets at: www.lockupbehindbars.eventbrite.co.uk

Supported by Arts Council England and the Sir Barry Jackson Trust.

If you’re interested in Mugshots and their history, take a look at Under Arrest by Giacomo Papi – a collection of mugshots of celebs like Hugh Grant, Al Pacino, Ozzy Osbourne and Janis Joplin; prominent figures like Martin Luther King, Bill Gates and Fidel Castro; as well as notorious names like Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Ronnie Biggs and Lee Harvey Oswald.

 

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Bringing the ghosts of Birmingham’s criminal past back to life

By BOLDtext writer Tim Stimpson

If you’ve ever walked down Steelhouse Lane in Birmingham you more than likely  have no idea what lies behind the front door of the unprepossessing redbrick building on the corner of Coleridge Passage. Unless you’re a police officer or have been arrested, it’s even less probable you’ve seen inside. But the old Central Lock-Up has been the first stop for many of the city’s criminals for 125 years. As such it’s an important and fascinating part of Birmingham’s heritage.

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The Lock-Up closed its doors in 2016 and West Midlands Police are now in the process of transforming the grade II listed building into a new home for the force’s museum. All being well it will start welcoming the general public in the next few years. In the meantime BOLDtext have been busy writing short plays about some of the people who would have passed through the Lock-Up during it’s first few decades. Some of them are well-documented, such as Chief Constable Charles Rafter who (as well as inspiring Sam Neil’s character in the TV hit Peaky Blinders) championed the introduction of women to the Birmingham City Police. The first of these was Evelyn Miles who, having been a lock-up matron, became a constable at the age for 50 and didn’t retire until she was 72. Or there’s Tommy Tank, a notorious drunkard who potential inspired Ozzy Osbourne by biting the heads of live rats, or Sarah Bernhardt, the famous French actress who had to register at the Lock-Up as an enemy alien when she performed at The Grand.

However, there are also characters who are little more than a name. One of these is Frederick Ratcliff. As you enter the Lock-Up you’ll see a large wooden Roll of Honour on the wall, commemorating the Birmingham police officers who served in the First World War. Fred’s name appears with a ‘W’ next to it, indicating that he was wounded. Many more have a ‘K’ next to their names, indicating that they were killed, or ‘M’ for missing, or ‘DW’ for died of wounds. We know nothing else about Fred, but in writing my play about him I’ve assumed he returned to the force and may well have been involved in the strikes of 1918 – 1919, which precipitated the banning of the police’s right to strike. It’s remarkable how much can come from a name on a wall, but it’s also a responsibility. My Fred is probably nothing like the real one, but I hope I have a least done justice to the battles he and his fellow officers fought.

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You can meet these characters and many more at Behind Bars: Ghosts of Past, which is being performed in the Lock-Up from October 19th – 21st. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to take a theatrical journey through Birmingham criminal past.

Book your tickets at: www.lockupbehindbars.eventbrite.co.uk

BOLDtext break free with Lock-Up show

Behind Bars Ghosts of The Lock Up Leaflet FRONT

This autumn we’re taking a brief hiatus from doing shows at the brilliant Birmingham Rep to tell the story of the city’s old Victorian Lock-Up. Since 1892, tens of thousands of people have passed through the jail on their way to court, prison or even the noose. What brought them to this desperate point in their lives? And what memories have they left behind?

BOLDtext’s writers will resurrect the ghosts of The Lock-Up’s past, summoning them back to the cells, stairways and corridors where they once walked. As you move around the building you’ll meet robbers and drunkards, prostitutes and murderers, as well as the policemen and pioneering policewomen who held the keys.

Beware! The past still has lessons to teach us. Those who dare to enter The Lock-Up get taught those lessons well.

You can buy tickets at www.lockupbehindbars.eventbrite.co.uk

Duration approximately 1 hour. Not suitable for children under the age of 12.

Please be advised the Lock-Up is an old building and is not equipped with modern disabled facilities. Flat shoes are advised.

Presented in association with the West Midlands Police Museum.

Supported by Arts Council England and the Sir Barry Jackson Trust.

Bringing it back to Brum!

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BOLDtext member Tim Stimpson writes about the Writers’ Guild AGM in Birmingham and his election as Chair of the West Midlands Branch.

During my time as Deputy Chair of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain I was keen that we should reach out to the whole of Britain more. It’s bad enough that the industry is so London-centric without my union doing the same. Having completed the maximum three years allowed, I stepped down as an officer but obviously my message had been heard. For the first time in Guild history our AGM was held outside London. Even better it came to my home city of Birmingham. How did that happen?! I have to admit that I was little nervous as I walked towards the magnificent Library of Birmingham where the AGM was being held. Would people actually turn up now we weren’t in the capital? It’s was therefore a relief to walk into a packed room and even more gratifying to learn that it was one of the best turnouts ever.

During the AGM I was elected as Chair of the West Midlands branch, a position I held before becoming Deputy Chair of the Guild. I’m really pleased to be able to focus back on my region again, especially now that we’ve proven you can succeed outside London!

You can read a full report of the AGM here.

The Bingo Caller

The Bingo Caller

BOLDtext’s very own STEPHEN JACKSON (aka Ted Pigeon) has a fab new show previewing at Hall Green Little Theatre this Saturday and Sunday 2-3 June 7.30pm.  It’s called The Bingo Caller – and the box office opens at 7pm.  All tickets £10 pay on the night…. http://hglt.co.uk/bingo.htm

….before the show moves to Soho Theatre next week  on Thursday 7 till Saturday 9 June at 7pm.  https://sohotheatre.com/shows/the-bingo-caller/

Welcome to the Binley-on-Sea Caravan Park and Social Club, where Buster Bingham is calling his last game of bingo.  After 23 years, he has been sacked – and the audience play bingo as Buster crumbles on stage. 

The Bingo Caller is back by popular demand, having premiered at HGLT in 2013 starring Marcus Hendry.  Writer Stephen Jackson is the Winner of The West End Wilma Award for Best Comedy 2017 and The Verity Bargate Award 2015.

Celebrating International Women’s Day at No.10

BOLDtext member Tim Stimpson writes about his recent visit to Downing Street.

It’s funny how things happen. I was squeezed into the crowded top deck of the No.50 bus on my way back home from Birmingham city centre when an email appeared in my inbox. I had been invited to a reception at No.10 to celebrate International Women’s Day. Things got even stranger when I received another email saying that the Prime Minister would like to meet me! This was of course all a result of the Helen and Rob domestic abuse storyline in The Archers.

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A week later I was queuing up outside the gates to Downing Street with Louiza Patikas (AKA Helen Archer), Alison Hindell (Head of BBC Radio Drama) and Kim Greengrass (Archers producer), along with what must have been a hundred other people working across the various sectors supporting women’s rights. In these circumstance I always feel a bit of a fraud. Ultimately I’m in the business of entertainment, while most of the other guests were helping real people in the real world. However, when Louiza and I were ushered into the ‘White Room’ we were able to tell Theresa May and the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, about the impact the story had made. In particular I mentioned a barrister I’d been told about who changed his approach to psychological abuse cases having listened to the show. So I suppose we do have an effect on real people in the real world.

The main point of the reception was to launch the government’s domestic abuse bill, which aims to introduce new powers to protect victims. I hope it succeeds. Whatever your politics though, it did strike me standing in a room full of mainly women, speaking to a female Prime Minister and a female Home Secretary that although we still have a long way to go, we’ve come a long way too.

Who’s faking it now?

Who’s faking it now?

The last two BOLDtext Open Door shows at The REP couldn’t have been more different on the surface but again reflected the strange times we live in.

On September 19th 2017, the theme of the four short plays was Fake Times, inspired by the fake news that had exploded into our consciousness and set the tone for the year. We were certainly not short of material. Brexit fake facts, Trump and the Russian election interference continue to rumble on into 2018, and trying to sort fact from fiction remains a problem. Four of our playwrights – myself (Julia Wright), Liz John, Nicola Jones and Tim Stimpson tackled the theme, reflecting the difficulties we all experience in sorting out who we can trust for our information.

Our January 8th 2018 show was called A Mouthful of Rhinestones to mark the birthday of one Elvis Presley. How is The King relevant today? The theme of separating fact from fiction again raised its head but this time in relation to the myths and truths surrounding celebrity: ‘Elvis might be gone but he ain’t never left the building.’ Continue reading