Secret Stirchley, flashers and goodbye tearoom

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After donating my teenage memory of ‘being flashed’ to the Secret Stirchley crew at the pop-up arts tearoom, this weekend my embarrassing memory became the stuff of a Stirchley promenade street theatre narrative.

Performed by three actors as part of the Inhabit programme of pop-up tearooms, the stories they had collected from Stirchley residents over the past five weeks were woven into a narrative, relived and professionally delivered by actors as we wandered around the local streets. In this environment, it was hard to tell who was part of the show and who was incidental.

We listened in on the story of a grandmother and her grand-daughter, as well as other characters who overlapped with their lives, from the ghost of a father who went to war and came back shellshocked…

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to the grunge boyfriend met in the British Oak…

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to a street mugger re-enacting a bag-snatching…

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– and to a young girl who was once flashed by a man standing in the reeds of the River Rea, followed by the ensuing police visit asking for rather intimate details and distinguishing marks.

While I enjoyed the show, however, I’m not sure Stirchley is quite ready for such artiness – a feeling which was underlined by two events ahead of the opening Friday performance.

1. The neighbouring solicitor had apparently thrown quite a wobbly about a bit of chalk saying ‘Sweet shop’ on the pavement outside his shop (which was, you’ve guessed it, formerly a sweet shop).

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He told them he was trying to conduct a ‘proper business’ and was insistent that they remove it, which they did despite this being a public pavement. His uncompromising reaction seemed unwarranted – especially since the passing promenade didn’t even raise the two front-room workers’ heads as we passed by. And yet his over-reaction forms another B30 tale as I had been to see them the day before and now feel quite disinclined to do business there. Stirchley may be strong in community spirit, but at the same time it has always had its bullies, though maybe that is too strong a word – perhaps he was just having a bad day.

2. The second incident happened when a passing young mum with a pushchair had to be reassured that the mugging wasn’t real, just in case she didn’t spot the unconcerned crowd and phoned the police.

But the show must go and after 40 minutes or so it circled back to the tearoom for the final scene, followed by tea and delicious cakes…

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Personally, I think the show would have worked better for me as a direct documentary of Stirchley memories, flowing between characters but without the narrative hook. I suppose I wanted to focus on Stirchley and wanted to hear other people’s memories. I don’t think they needed the plot device, or perhaps I was slightly distracted by the fictionalised performance, which made the memories seem less real somehow.

Still, I have very much enjoyed the tearoom over the past few weeks and I think it will be missed in Stirchley, which is a high street of diverse businesses but none of which offer a particularly sociable stop-off or gathering place (unless you like to go to the pub in the daytime or the ‘Society Cafe’ in the Coop, that is).

The tea-room now moves to Hodge Hill. Lucky things. But I hope that it – or someone else with community spirit – moves into our empty shops soon.

If you want to catch a performance of Secret Stirchley, there is one day left to see it – at 1pm and 4pm tomorrow (Sunday 13th March). Performances are free and start at the shop, on the corner of Ivy Road and Pershore Road.

My kitchen unit gets a starring role (sort of)

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From screen-grabbing myself on TV last weekend, I have now spotted my veritable old kitchen unit, which I rescued from a skip, on the London stage – in a play at the Royal Court, no less.

It sort of gets a mention in one of the many reviews: “..likewise there’s some great creative work, Lizzie Clachan’s green painted set running the length of the Upstairs space and revealing a well-dressed kitchen…”

How did this happen? Well, you can read all about it in A tale of two furniture items.

But for now, if you find yourself booking tickets for Our Private Life before its run ends on 12 March, do look out for my preciousssss, won’t you.

A tale of two furniture items

I get attached to stuff. Which is why it’s nice to know what happens to it come clear-out time. Where does it go? Who are the new owners? What will its new life be like? (I’m always getting told off for personifying things but that’s what happens when you get attached, to stuff.)

This week, for example, I sold a fish bowl and a 1950s kitchen unit on eBay. Each has a very different past and future…

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The fish bowl’s story is quite straightforward. A young dad called David bought it for his two kids, aged under 10, who wanted to keep pet fish. He lives just a mile away and we had a nice chat about how to keep your tank clean and not kill your fish.

I bought the fish tank when I lived in a sharehouse in Turnpike Lane, London. A French lodger abandoned her fancy bug-eyed goldfish and went off to Paris never to be heard from again. Big Fiss, as he became known, moved with me to Walthamstow and then travelled up the M1 on my lap when I moved to Birmingham.

I upgraded his living accommodation to this groovy BiOrb and later bought a mate, Little Fiss, to keep him company. My rescue goldfish lived for another few years and is now buried in a flowerbed in the garden.

In comparison, the kitchen unit’s tale is a real Cinderella story. Here it is – it didn’t always look this good.

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I was out running one day, along Pineapple Road, in the rain, when I saw a mucky old unit sitting in a skip. But I recognised its potential. I ran straight home, drove back with the car and rescued the old dear.

It was sodden with rainwater, the drawers swollen shut. But after a few days drying out by the radiator, everything worked just fine – that’s the beauty of real wood.

A paint job later and it found a spot in the kitchen, housing first aid kit, instruction manuals, gas meter keys, spare bulbs, batteries and some tall glasses that jangled whenever you opened the door. Later, it was pulled out and became a base unit for fruit, veg, houseplants and more. Here is the kitchen jungle:

Kitchen Jungle

There were more than 100 people ‘watching’ it on eBay and the eventual auction winner was a lady from London who drove up to collect it this morning. She too had recognised its potential but in quite a different way.

For my little unit is not destined for another retro kitchen. Oh no, it’s life is to be filled with much more drama than making tea. My rescue unit is to be on stage at the prestigious Royal Court Theatre in London. In this play:

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It will share the space with actors such as Adrian Schiller who has appeared in both Doctor Who and The IT Crowd and former EastEnder Ishia Bennison.

Looking at the eBay pictures, I think my little unit does display a good range of emotion, from coy to cheeky and, you’ll notice, it even does a little close-up… Now I’m thinking of it less as an auction and more as an audition.

‘A Private Life’ starts shortly, and runs throughout February and March. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that my unit will appear in some press photos (here it is!). Then, by April, I suspect it’ll be back on eBay and hopefully seeking another exciting new lease of life.

A night of personal improv-ment

Whose Line Is It Anyway
Whose Line Is It Anyway - screenshot by Skitzitilby/Flickr

After a week of unusual nights out– featuring trampolining, Balkan and Israeli folk dancing and ukulele to name three – tonight had the potential to be the weirdest yet.

The Box of Frogs theatre impro workshop is held in Moseley, Birmingham’s arty, crusty and eclectic postcode, every Tuesday evening. For just a fiver, you can revisit your inner child for two hours of pretend, singing, mirroring, general making things up on the spot and playing games called things like ‘Zip Zap Boing’.

Now let me just say, I am not the dramatic type and hate being put on the spot. I used to be very shy and hid behind my mother’s skirts when people came to the house. I also hated acting at school and found it false, stressful and humiliating. As an adult I can hardly breathe when speaking in public. Oh and being a ginger, I blush to the roots.

And yet… I admire people who can perform naturally, who can wing it at a talk or who can give a confident or charming presentation. And there is something (megalomania?) within me that drives me towards taking the lead. I also seem to have an occasional exhibitionist streak and have sung/played on stage (for Gordon Brown) in what now seems like another lifetime.

Finding an improv session in Birmingham was part of my SXSW Interactive follow-up, after feeling particularly inspired by the fun, games and confidence-building at a session called Improv Lessons for Freelancers.

Box of Frogs featured seven players and was fascinating, supportive and not at all embarrassing. This was unexpected considering that tonight I have had to perform a contemporary dance about dog walking, sing in fluent nonsense and play a bank manager so obsessed with a potential loan customer’s spectacles that she just had to touch them and get them for herself.

Because the great thing about improv is that nothing you do is wrong! For once, the brain can take a day off from fretting about getting it right.

Which was a particularly good thing – because I spent the first 10 minutes in the church next door doing vocal exercises with the local choir.

Now that’s what I call improv!