It’s one of those urban myths of Birmingham. An empty theatre in the centre of the city, fully equipped with stage, auditorium and lighting, which was never used. Except that it’s not a myth.
Such a theatre was indeed developed, just off Smallbrook Queensway, as part of the deal to allow the demolition of the Theatre Royal in New Street in the 1950s. Why it never opened, I can’t say, but by the 1970s there was a much more impressive example in the shape of the New Rep.
I was musing on that wreck the other evening, when I visited Birmingham’s newest theatrical destination. This too has been provided by a developer, with the distinct advantage that it has actually opened its doors.
The place concerned is called the Blue Orange Theatre, and it stands on Great Hampton Street, close to the junction with Hockley Street and next door to yet another Tesco Express.
The Blue Orange is theatre in the round, holding, I guess, around a hundred seats or so. Clearly the intention is to showcase new work and new writing from the city.
The piece I went to see was a full-length play by Helen Kelly, set in south Birmingham, about faith schools, with a sub-plot about the IRA. You’ll have to catch the piece to see how this works. It’s called Catchment Christians.
I didn’t ask if Helen garnered financial support from the Arts Council, but there was certainly a rep from the latter there, and he and I shared a platform afterwards to talk and answer questions about the role of religion in education.
(The post-performance discussion forum is usually a good indication of Arts Council/Heritage Lottery involvement too.)
I then had a post-post performance discussion with a Baptist minister, whose mother was (or is) a Jew and whose father was a Muslim. That was even more interesting.
Anyway, I’m delighted to welcome a new addition to what tourist-speak calls the Jewellery Quarter’s “cultural offer”, and Birmingham’s first new theatrical venue since I don’t know when. Probably, now I think about it, the first since the Crescent Theatre was rebuilt at Brindleyplace. Go see it.
* Dr Chris Upton is Senior Lecturer in History at Newman University College in Birmingham.