Artistic director Sean Foley has announced his programme for the 50th anniversary season of Birmingham Repertory Theatre in its current home on Centenary Square.
Opening the celebratory season, the hit comedy-drama East Is East (4-25 September 2021) returns home for its 25th anniversary. Since premiering on The REP’s stage in 1996, East Is East has sold out three London runs and been adapted into a BAFTA Award-winning film.
What’s New Pussycat? (8 October-14 November) is a brand new musical that invites audiences to experience the Swinging Sixties of London, as the iconic hit songs of the internationally celebrated singer Tom Jones are married with Henry Fielding’s classic comic novel – The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling. Written by the Tony Award-winning Joe DiPietro (Memphis The Musical), the show has the full backing of performer Jones who has been consulting with the producers throughout the development.
The show will be directed by Luke Sheppard, whose most recent production – the acclaimed & Juliet – won three Olivier Awards. Also in the creative team is choreographer and former Strictly Come Dancing judge, Arlene Philips.
At Christmas Foley directs his hit play, The Play What I Wrote (27 November-1 January), originally directed in the West End by Kenneth Branagh. Every performance also famously features a special guest star.
Floella Benjamin’s book about her own experiences coming to the UK, Coming to England (19 February-6 March) has its world premiere production.
Adapted by David Wood, this thoughtful stage version of Floella’s inspirational true story follows her difficult and courageous journey towards becoming a TV icon, successful businesswoman and eventually Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham.
Artistic director Sean Foley said:
“I’m thrilled to be able to announce what has become, in effect, my first season of work at this iconic and beloved theatre. All theatres have undergone tremendous challenges over the past year, and very many tough decisions have had to be made to get us to this point. We are tremendously excited by the shows and proud of the amazing array of creative talent from our freelance community that will be at The REP for this very special 50th Anniversary Season of the company on Centenary Square.
“The programme is testament to the whole company’s determination and desire to share the amazing event of live theatre with our audiences again, and we can’t wait to welcome everyone back – back to entertainment, to debate, to laughter, and to the sheer joy of experiencing the excitement that being part of a great night out brings.”
Foley also announced that he has commissioned The Muslim Box, a new, contemporary comedy from Sarfraz Manzoor about Islam, identity and the in-laws.
Mansoor said: “When The REP staged the world premiere of Ayub Khan Din’s East Is East it was a play and later a film that massively influenced me, which is why I am so incredibly excited by the opportunity to write my first play for the same stage as that seminal piece of theatre. I am beyond happy to be working together and can’t wait to get cracking.”
Tanika Gupta will also write a new adaptation of Hedda Gabler set in the post-war British film industry and reimagining the play through the lens of race as well as misogyny.
Robin French, Bryony Lavery and Frank Skinner are among a group of writers who have written plays as part of The Park Bench Plays which will all be performed on and around park benches throughout Birmingham. The productions will be performed in front of live audiences and also will be streamed digitally. The ten-minute plays have been written to be performed in pop up locations throughout Birmingham.
Finally, Foley has announced the addition of Birmingham film-maker Daniel Alexander as an artistic associate of the theatre. He joins the group of associates which includes Mohammed Ali, Lolita Chakrabarti, Paul Hunter, Tyrone Huggins, Debbie Isitt, Lorna Laidlaw, Drew McOnie, Meera Syal, Richard Thomas and Selina Thompson.