One day it may even rival the Edinburgh Festival.

Birmingham Fest is not quite there yet, but then it’s only in its second year.

And it’s already growing.

The arts festival began last year with 50 events around the city.

This year there are 70, with the Library of Birmingham and Brindleyplace added to the Blue Orange, Old Joint Stock and Crescent Theatres.

Look out for plays about everything from the First World War to an all-girls school comedy from disabled performers. There will also be Black Country benefits cheat Doreen, West End songs and a South African a capella group.

The event goes on for two and a half weeks from July 11.

Birmingham Fest is the brainchild of local actor and writer Darren Haywood.

“When I started it, I really hoped we would be doing it again this year,” he says.

“I didn’t want it to be just a flash in the pan. In the past, people have tried to do something in Birmingham but it’s become a damp squib, fizzling out after one attempt.

“For a long time I have felt that Birmingham is missing a fringe theatre festival, so this is it!

Birmingham Fest theatre event 2014 featuring Love Is A Cat Skin Rug by Headless Doctor
Birmingham Fest theatre event 2014 featuring Love Is A Cat Skin Rug by Headless Doctor

“Calling it Fest gives it the scope to grow and to include other events and art forms.

“It’s slightly easier spreading the word this time because it’s the second year, but there are so many events to promote.

“I was excited to get artists from Croatia last year but now we have a group from South Africa.”

Simply Soweto Encha perform at the Old Joint Stock on July 18 and 19.

The five-piece from the Johannesburg township sing a unique blend of R’n’B, gospel, pop and jazz along with traditional Zulu, Tswana, Swahili and Xhosa music.

Other highlights from a packed schedule, in which many events are free and few cost more than £10, include several theatre productions.

Coventry-based Theatre Absolute performs Far From The Sea, a darkly humorous play about power and war at the Old Joint Stock Theatre.

Burlesque Is Back In Town with a brand new racy show at the Crescent.

Head Girl at the Blue Orange is a new dark comedy set in the sixth form of an all-girls private school.

Sorted by Big D, also at the Blue Orange, is a comic drama which reminds us to keep things in perspective.

It comes with a warning: “this play contains bickering family members, flat tyres, men in their night attire and piles of ironing”.

Actor and Birmingham Fest organiser Darren Haywood
Actor and Birmingham Fest organiser Darren Haywood

Followspot Theatre bring a taste of Broadway to Birmingham’s Blue Orange with its show Defying Gravity, featuring songs from musicals like Wicked and Avenue Q. Yesterday An Incident Occurred, written by Mark Ravenhill and performed by the Birmingham company Letters to Eric at the Old Joint Stock, begins with the incident of the title.

The authorities are outraged, the actors are upset and someone in the audience knows something.

Headless Doctor perform Love Is A Cat Skin Rug at the Old Joint Stock, in which Winnie and Norah invite you into their bedroom to share their romantic misadventures.

Youth Theatre Stage 2 recreate the classic story of Swallows and Amazons at the Crescent, while No Smoke is a disturbing tale of child abuse on at Blue Orange.

The Old Joint Stock plays host to Nine, a harrowing and tender account of two women chained and locked in a room and the mind games they play to keep one another alive.

On a lighter note, a series of comedy workshops for people with physical disabilities culminates with the show Laugh-Able at the Blue Orange Theatre.

An Audience With Doreen at the Crescent showcases the brilliant wit of actress Gill Jordan as she portrays the Black Country woman suffering from Lazy Cow Syndrome.

* For more information on Birmingham Fest, go to .

Cheeky life of Mabel the mischief maker

Birmingham Fest theatre event 2014 featuring Memoirs of Modger Morrish
Birmingham Fest theatre event 2014 featuring Memoirs of Modger Morrish

The determined, cheeky look on her face says it all.

This is Mabel ‘Modger’ Morrish, who grew up in Birmingham between the wars with five older brothers and learned how to fend for herself.

Now her fascinating life story has been turned into a play by her daughter, Karen Swan, and gets its premiere at Birmingham Fest.

Memoirs of Modger Morrish is performed by Debra Meftah in the title role and Karen playing everyone else, including several male parts and her own grandmother.

Writer and performer Karen, from Shirley, says: “Mum was full of life and highly entertaining. She told fantastic tales of her childhood, keeping me mesmerised. She grew up in 72 Bishopsgate Street in the city centre with five older brothers, who were quite well-known boxers. Known as the Morrish Brothers, they were very tough and would go for 20 rounds.

“Modger had to learn to be tough too. She was made to wear their hand-me-downs so everyone thought she was a boy, and she was treated like one. They taught her how to box. She could be very fierce but she loved to make people laugh, and she enjoyed playing tricks on people. She was a right mischief. She had so many jobs because she kept getting into trouble. She worked at Kunzel’s but ate all the cakes so she was fired.  She worked at a costumiers, making bears for actors at Birmingham Rep. She got bored, put on a tutu and a false beard and danced around.  Unfortunately she got caught by the boss. She trained as a nurse eventually.  She died in 2008, aged 89, of cancer – even then she didn’t give up.”

* Memoirs of Modger Morrish is performed at the Blue Orange Theatre on July 25.

Humour and pathos of one man’s war journey

Grave of Private Arthur Horobin, subject of The Boy from the Boro play at Birmingham Fest
Grave of Private Arthur Horobin, subject of The Boy from the Boro play at Birmingham Fest

The tragic story of a soldier who died just a week before the end of the First World War is to be told in a new play.

Arthur Horobin was born in Nuneaton in 1895, lived in Anker Street and worked on a farm and as a shopkeeper.

At 21, in 1916, he signed up in Coventry to fight for the 1st Battalion 8th Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

Based in Birmingham, their barracks was behind the Aston Villa ground.

Private Horobin fought through some of the worst battles of the war – he was at the Somme, at the third Battle of Ypres, in Italy and then back to France.

He survived all that and then died just seven days before the Armistice, on November 4 1918.

Now his war experience has been turned into the play The Boy From The Boro by Stuart Horobin.

Interestingly, he is not an actual relation of Arthur’s.

Stuart, a Wolverhampton-based actor and writer, explains: “I wanted to write about someone who died in the First World War, preferably one of my family, but my great grandfather survived the war.

“I was searching the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, put in Horobin and found Arthur.

“He is no relation, although maybe there is a distant connection there.

“I found out more about his life and he became the voice of the piece, which I wrote with Roger Price.

“Arthur speaks the words of some of his comrades who fought alongside him, which we found in soldiers’ letters and diaries.

“We found a lot of material in the Imperial War Museum and the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Museum in Warwick.

“Everything in the play really happened, although we take a little artistic licence with why Arthur didn’t sign up straight away. We don’t know why so we say he had consumption.

“A lot of his records were lost in a bombing raid in the Second World War but we found quite a lot to piece together a jigsaw of his life.

“The trouble is, a lot of the soldiers didn’t want to talk about their experiences when they returned, so it’s hard to imagine exactly what it was like.”

Arthur was killed at Landrecies in northern France, which was finally captured from the Germans on November 4 1918 after heavy fighting.

He is buried in the nearby British cemetery with 164 comrades.

“The Germans knew they were losing but were holed up and fighting very fiercely,” says Stuart.

“His battalion won its only VC of the war in that battle. I feel a connection with Arthur even though I never met him.

“We have fleshed Arthur out into person who feels alive, with a personality and feelings.

“I would love to visit his grave. Roger Price has been to France to find it.

“I would also love to meet any of Arthur’s descendants. He had two brothers who survived the war and several sisters, I believe.

“We don’t shy away from portraying the brutality of war, we try to keep it as realistic as possible.

“It’s often harrowing but there was comradeship and humour too.

“The play is not for children under eight, but we would love to take it round schools for older children, or play at festivals or museums.

“It’s very timely in the year of the First World War centenary.”

* The Boy From The Boro’ plays the Blue Orange Theatre on July 11.