It's all Kicking Off in Birmingham again as one writer takes us to 2025 where there's more chaos on the streets. Roz Laws reports.
A well-off woman looks out of the window of her smart Harborne home, terrified to see rioting taking place in her street.
Across the city, another woman tries to defend her Stratford Road charity shop from looters.
This is Birmingham in the year 2025, when riots have broken out again – but in areas we might not expect.
It’s the vision of writer and director Frank Bramwell, who is putting on the play Kicking Off with his Inamoment theatre company.
Staged at the Old Joint Stock in the city centre tomorrow and Saturday, it features a cast of nine actors who have had an input into their characters and lines.
Frank explains: “They started with my script as raw material, but I work in a slightly unusual way in that none of the cast saw the full script until last weekend.
“They were only given their own lines to work on. I’m following in the tradition of Shakespeare – that’s how they worked in his day.
“Starving the actors of information means they have no option but to focus on their own character and interpretation. Sometimes you can give an actor too much and they are too concerned about other characters and where they figure in the play.
“The actors work up their characters and have input into the final draft, which we only performed on Sunday. It’s an evolving process which keeps it fresh.
“I have been influenced by Mike Leigh too, although I have rather more control of the script than his improvisational style where the actors basically start from scratch.”
Appropriately for his Shakespearean work methods, it was the Royal Shakespeare Company which provided the initial spark for Kicking Off.
“I entered an RSC competition for new writing, which wanted pieces which took their lead from an aspect of Shakespeare, a scene or a speech,” says Frank.
“I took the riots which feature in Coriolanus and Julius Caesar and wrote something on last year’s Birmingham riots. It didn’t go anywhere in the competition but I thought it had potential.
“I run workshops at the Old Joint Stock to bring writers and actors together, and in one of them I gave them the riots theme. Eight actors and six writers together produced six pieces, which gave me another push and I went back to my script to work on it. Actually, four of the actors from that workshop are in Kicking Off.”
The play asks questions about what lessons have come out of the 2011 Birmingham riots, and imagines what would happen if anarchy broke out in the city again.
“The future setting gives me licence to explore what happened last year without being hidebound by the events themselves. In 2025, riots break out in unexpected places.
“There’s a lady of a certain age in Harborne, who lives with her cat and is looking out her window at the violence in her street.
“There’s another middle class, intellectual woman who goes from an upstanding member of the community to actually taking part in the riots. She’s not your average rioter, although we do also have two lads in hoodies.
“Two MPs from opposing parties give their opinions on the cause of the riots while there’s a pair of police officers. One woman has to defend her charity shop from looters. ‘Who would rob a charity shop?’ she asks.
“There’s also a roving reporter on the front line, who works for the Edgbaston and Harborne Times, which he calls The Edge.
“Their stories unfold and interweave as the play goes on. There’s a minimal set, with the characters sitting on black boxes. Seven of them will be on stage all the time, with the two rioters coming and going.
“All the characters go on a journey throughout the play and by the end they’ve all been deeply affected in different ways.”
Married and with three children, Frank, 59, is putting up the money himself for Kicking Off and does not expect to make a profit.
With a background in finance and IT systems, he now works for two small charities providing parish lands and almhouses in Harborne and Nechells. Born and brought up in Bartley Green, his spare-time theatre work is his passion.
“I am trying to do this play on an absolute shoestring. These tougher times help to focus our minds and be more creative. If it ends up costing me a few hundred pounds, rather than a few thousand, I will be happy.
“The actors are hardly getting paid but it’s a good showcase for them and I hope they get more work out of it.
“It would also be great if the play had a life after the Old Joint Stock. I understand one of the associate producers at Birmingham Rep is coming to see it.
“We in Birmingham suffer, theatre-wise. We struggle to define ourselves in theatrical terms but we need to get the flag out there and wave it.
“I’ve spent 10 years putting on plays in Edinburgh and London, but now I’m very much focused on my home city.
“This is the first in a series of plays I call Brum Beats, creating the theatre of Birmingham, for and by the people of Birmingham, about what it’s like to live, work and play in Britain’s second city.”
* Kicking Off is at the Old Joint Stock on Temple Row West, Birmingham tomorrow and Saturday. For tickets ring 0121 200 0946 or go to www.oldjointstocktheatre.co.uk .