Commissioned for SPON-SPUN Festival, Talking Birds turned a backstage tour of Coventry’s Albany Theatre into a rolling 40-minute performance on 10th September, when the 1930’s building – formerly Coventry Technical College – threw open it’s doors as part of Heritage Open Weekend.

Here is a Trailer for the show, by Jon Randle

Backstage at the Albany Theatre from Talking Birds on Vimeo.


On this day sixty years ago, 19th April 1957, Frederick Jeffs’s life came to a brutal end.


Fred was my grandad’s half-brother. He spent – as my grandad did – much of the second world war holed up in a prisoner-of-war camp. At some point late in the war – probably following the Death-march westwards from Auschwitz-Blechammer (and away from the advancing Ivans) – they were reunited on enemy soil. By all accounts Fred was a loner; reserved, and behaving at odds with the world around him; opting not to share his Red Cross parcels and disappearing alone into the woods during Allied bombing raids.

Back in a ’50’s Brum deemed fit for returning heroes, however, he seems to have prospered. Fred bought a decent Austin and set himself up with a Confectionary shop on the Parade at Stanley Road, Quinton. He married Betty in 1948, with my grandad as best man, but it wasn’t to last. By the end of 1956 Rock ‘n Roll was here to stay, but Betty had gone back to live with her parents.

I’ve been musing over the details of this story since I was at school, and wrote a first treatment for a staged version while I was in my second year at Lancaster Uni. Dennis Potter would have been proud. My interest in the material re-surfaced in the mid-Noughties, when I revisited the site of the sweet-shop in Stanley Road with my dad, who had been 19 at the time of the killing and remembers the police calling in at the family home in Ridgacre Rd. to relay the news of Fred’s death and collect my grandad for interview. My erstwhile collaborator Steve Johnstone was directing Foursight Theatre’s The Corner Shop, and Fred’s story was transposed to one of the narrative threads in that remarkable project which was installed inside empty shop units at the Mander Centre, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich Shopping Centre.

Following the success of Un-Earth, a large-scale, site-specific, music-theatre collaboration between my company The Resurrectionists and mac productions in 2004, we discussed a multi-site theatrical re-rendering of the Jeffs case, but the timing and momentum just didn’t seem right.

Anniversaries bring their own momentum, and I am painfully aware that 60 years on, the number of living witnesses to this event will have diminished considerably. Strange to think that 30 years ago I felt like the late ’50’s were ancient history, and since then the same passage of time has occurred.

By way of opening up the conversation on these events, and importantly passing it on to the latest inheritors of the story, I visited the Library of Birmingham today with my son, Jacob. We trawled through the archive press cuttings of the day, reigniting my fascination for this extraordinary story.

Birmingham_Post_20apr57_0004 [Click on this Link for downloadable pdf]

Birmingham Post_Sat 20th April 1957

Birmingham Post & Gazette, Easter Saturday, 20th April 1957

On The Rails


railroad GR

Friend and longtime collaborator Simon Jones was quipping this weekend that I had spawned an adjective singularly my own. To engage in a “Rosarian” task (as in Sisyphusian, I fear) is “to expend a huge amount of energy to very little avail”. Perhaps those closest to me recognise the painful truth better than I.

After what feels like a furiously productive spell I am back home, skint as ever and without gainful employment in the coming months. A time to garden, to decorate, to read, to refresh this flagging blog*. A time perhaps to wrestle a new project of my own into existence… (watch this space…)

*Any suggestions gratefully received

Here is the Trailer for Creation Theatre’s production of Orwell’s 1984, adapted and directed by Jonathan Holloway, and performed in the Mathematics Institute here in Jericho, Oxford until 5th March.


Photography by Richard Budd

1984 Trailer from Creation Theatre on Vimeo.


Creation Theatre are this year celebrating 20 years of making site-specific work in and around their home City of Oxford. I have joined the company for the current production, a timely adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984”, written and directed by my long-term collaborator Jonathan Holloway. In fact this year marks 20 years of us working together since playing Javert in his adaptation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” (Red Shift Theatre Company, 1997).

“1984” opened this weekend at the impressive Andrew Wiles Mathematics Institute, in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter at Oxford University. The venue provides an extraordinary, contemporary backdrop to a re-imagined world of the novel in which ‘Alternative Facts’ and ‘Doublethink’ are not such remote concepts.

Here are some stills from the late rehearsals of the show, taken by Richard Budd. Tickets and further information available through this link…


A handful of songs from our Food Crime musical “The Hand That Feeds” were performed recently at Birmingham Food Council’s second AGM, hosted at the Impact Hub in Digbeth. Organised and presented partly by myself and largely by New Optimist all-round superwoman Kate Cooper (self-styled ‘the lippy granny’) the evening prompted talks from enlightened specialists (q.v.) about global food security, it’s impact on health/ the economy / political stability, etc. and the opportunities/challenges that exist for Birmingham and its million-stomach-sized food system. Birmingham City Council CEO Mark Rogers then facilitated a second half discussion which covered concerns about food waste management, the difficulties of implementing mandatory Food Hygiene ratings, insuring against agricultural uncertainties and future price hikes as a result of Brexit, etc.

Kate founded the BFC – as she did the New Optimists – as vehicles for bringing together able minds and able motivators to problem-solve the big issues of our time. By her own admission she says that ‘Global Food Security’ was a non-starter for discussion a few years ago. Today, however, in the wake of the furore over Horsemeat, and the  trickle of scandals of ‘lesser’ interest to the media such as the contaminated ‘cutting’ of Paprika/chilli powders, livestock rustling, fraudulent labelling of Manuka honey, etc. the spectre of Food Crime hangs over the health and wellbeing of us all.


Without intervention, without monitoring, without effective policing and without consequences unscrupulous traders will always find ways of cheapening our food while at the same time making profit at every transaction point in the chain; ultimately making millions for the gangsters at the top. In Kate’s words “If it looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is”. The evening on the 28th Nov was a small gesture towards raising the profile of Food Security and prompting serious discussion about the scale and impact on our food environment.

“The Hand That Feeds” will be revived in the spring of next year and we hope it will continue to bring the idea of Food Crime, (as Prof. Chris Elliot – author of the Elliot Review, who flew over from Belfast for the premiere – suggests) to life for a truly broad audience in ways that academic articles and reports can rarely do.

Here is the complete performance, as captured by Mat Becket’s River Rea productions.

Saturday 14th May 2016. St.Martin-in-the-Bullring, Birmingham. #StopFoodCrime

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Stan’s Cafe is 25 Years Old.

In the Autumn of 1991 James and I moved into the terraced house at 85 Ombersley Rd., Balsall Heath, Birmingham, and the Stan’s Cafe adventure began in earnest. By the end of November we had started rehearsals for the very first project, Perry Como’s Christmas Cracker, and the first performance took place at Emmbrook Secondary School, Wokingham, Berkshire, on the 9th December, if my memory serves me correct.

On Weds 30th November 2016, Stan’s Cafe hosted a party at mac Birmingham to mark and celebrate the event. Stan did what Stan does best, staging a big production number for 350 invited collaborators and friends. An archival exhibition curated by Ana Rutter; gallery installations – including a DIY It’s Your Film and mini versions of the Scalextric, Of All The People In All The World plus the dominoes from Finger, Trigger, Bullet, Gun; Food Stations, designed around specific show-themes by Denise Stanton, a cinema screening of the 4-hour Twilight of the Freaking Gods (Stan’s interpretation of Gotterdammerung), and performances of a new piece, Time Critical, in which Rochi and Craig splice the Stan’s Cafe timeline against a chronology of critical events whilst James monitors the Chess-Clock timing mechanism which will determine the climax of the show.

Following the ‘official’ speeches from James, Roisin and chair-of-the-board Rob Elkington, I invoked the spirit of iconoclast Stan himself and ‘cut’ the cake with a blunt cricket bat.

“Stan’s Cafe is dead! …… Long live Stan’s Cafe!”

Performed outside St.Martin’s in the Bullring on the 14th May 2016, “The Hand That Feeds” was the premiere of a new piece of work by The New Optimists, and the latest in the Narrativium series. The project was the brainchild of New Optimists founder Kate Cooper (who is also the Chair of the Birmingham Food Council), and was written by composer Sara Colman / writer Mez Packer. It addresses an issue that has huge global implications but which is identified and policed all too scarcely. The recent so-called Horsemeat Scandal” helped bring the concept of Food Fraud to public attention, but this headline-grabbing story is just the tip of the iceberg lettuce, so to speak. It is very much hoped that more opportunities for performing the 40-minute song-cycle will be found in the future.

I had the pleasure of directing the piece, which features Anthony Miles and Sam ‘Frankie’ Fox on vocals, Al Gurr on keyboard and Xhosa Cole on a variety of wind instruments. The team were completed with the marvellous Castle Vale Community Choir, who filled in with a variety of cameos. The intrepid Charlotte Gregory, aside from producing the piece, donned her spangles for a featured role as backing singer.

Here is a trailer, edited from the day’s performances by Mat Beckett of River Rea  Films.

MY BIG FAT COWPAT WEDDING – Tour schedule, Autumn 2016 

28 Sept  7.30pm  Newhampton Arts Centre
Dunkley St  Wolverhampton WV1 4AN
Tickets 01902 572090  Book on line here

29 Sept  7.30pm  The Barbour Institute 
Tattenhall  Cheshire  CH3 9PX
Tickets Linda 01829 771374 or Barbara 01829 771649
Book on line here  

30 Sept  7.30pm  Quatt Village Hall 
Quatt  Bridgnorth  Shropshire WV15 6QN
Tickets 01746 781759 or 781214

1 Oct  7.30pm  Meole Brace Peace Memorial Hall 
84 Upper Road  Meole Brace  Shrewsbury SY3 9JP
Tickets 01743 235384

2 Oct  7.30pm  Conquest Theatre
Tenbury Road  Bromyard  Herefordshire HR7 4LL
Tickets 01885 488575


5 Oct  7.30pm   Brasshouse Community Centre 
Brass House lane Smethwick B66 1BA
Tickets 0121 555 5672

6 Oct  7.30pm  Weaverthorpe Village Hall
Weaverthorpe YO17 8HA
Tickets 01944 738037  Book on line here

7 Oct  7.30pm  Skipton Town Hall
Skipton  North Yorkshire BD23 1FD
Tickets 01756 792809   Book on line here

8 Oct  7.30pm Hackforth Village Hall
Hackforth  North Yorkshire DL8 1PE
Tickets 01677 424436  Book on line here

9 Oct 7.30pm  Hutton Rudby Village Hall 
Hutton Rudby  North Yorkshire TS15 0EJ
Tickets 01642 701586   Book on line here

12 Oct  7.30pm  Pattingham Village Hall 
High St. Pattingham  Wolverhampton WV6 7BQ
Tickets  07974 010724

13 Oct  7.30pm  University of Worcester
Henwick Grove  Henwick Grove Worcester WR2 6AJ
Tickets; Steve 01886 880125

14 Oct  7.30pm  Norwell Village Hall 
Carlton Lane Norwell  Nottinghamshire NG23 6LF
Tickets: Reserve at the local shop

15 Oct 7.30pm  Glebe Field Centre 
Glebe Field Close  Crich  Matlock  Derbyshire DE4 5EU
Tickets: 01773 853260 Book Tickets here  

16 Oct  3.30pm  Sturton le Steeple Village Hall
Brickings Way  Sturton Le Steeple  Nottinghamshire DN22 9HY


18 Oct  7.30pm Bourton Village Hall
Bourton Village Dorset SP8 5BJ
Tickets 07969 783801 Book Online here

19 Oct  7.30pm  Portesham Village Hall
Portesham Village Dorset  DT3 4NS
Tickets 01305 871925    Book Online here

20 Oct  7.30pm  Sixpenny Handley Village Hall
Sixpenny Handley Dorset  SP5 5NJ
Tickets 07751 525200   Book Online here

21 Oct  7.30pm  Yetminster Jubilee Hall
Yetminster Dorset DT9 6LQ
Tickets 01935 873719   Book Online here

22 Oct 8pm  Black Dog Village Hall
Black Dog Village Nr Crediton  Devon EX17 4QS
Tickets 01363 866434 or they can be bought from Kennerleigh Shop

23 Oct 8.00pm South Brent Village Hall
Station Approach  South Brent  Devon TQ10 9AQ 
Tickets from Artworks Station Road South Brent
01364 649424 or 01364 72617


25 Oct 7.00pm  All Saints Church Hall
Rhys Street  Trealaw Tonypady CF40 2NW

26 Oct 7.00pm  Rhossili Village Hall
Rhossili  Swansea SA3 1PL.

27 Oct 7.30pm Catbrook Memorial Village Hall
Back Road  Catbrook  Monmouthshire NP16 6NA
Tickets from Andy Pullan on 01291 689474 or via

28 Oct  6.45pm  The India Centre
Sanquhar Street Splott Cardiff CF24 2AA
Advance Tickets via

29 Oct 7.30pm Neuadd Dyfi
Aberdovey Gwynedd  LL35 0NR
Book Online here

30 Oct 6.00pm Calolfan Clydau Centre
Llanfyrnach Pembrokeshire SA35 0BJ
Tickets 01239 798449  or 07771814401 
Book Online here

2 Nov 7.30pm Shap Memorial Hall 
Main Street Shap Penrith Cumbria CA10 3NL
Tickets 01931 716273

3 Nov  7.30pm Hamsterely Village Hall
Hamsterley Bishop Auckland Durham  DL13 3QF Tickets 01388 488323

4 Nov  7.30pm Crook St Cuthbert’s Centre
Church Hill  Crook  County Durham DL15 9DN
Tickets 01388

5 Nov 7.30pm Hepscott Parish Hall
Hepscott  Morpeth  Northumberland NE61 6LN
Tickets 01670 514031 

6 Nov 7.30pm Howick Village Hall
Howick Alnwick Northumberland NE66 3LE
Tickets 01665 577384

8 Nov  8.00pm  Graffham Empire Hall
Graffham Petworth West Sussex GU28 0QB
Tickets 01798 867026  Book online here

10 Nov  7.30pm Falmouth The Poly
The Poly, Church Street, Falmouth, TR11 3EG
Tickets 01326 319461 Book online here

11 Nov  8.00pm  Gwinear 71 Churchtown 
Churchtown Gwinear near Hayle TR27 5JL
Tickets  Neil Harvey;

12 Nov  8.00pm The Stithians Centre 
Church Road Stithians TR3 7DH
Tickets 01209 860258
From Sept via The Seven Stars 01209 860003  
Book online here

13 Nov  7.30pm Perranporth Memorial Hall 
Wheal Leisure  Perranporth TR6 0EY
Tickets Barbara;




Cast Sukhraj Dhillon, Genevieve Helson, Shri Patel and Graeme Rose
Directed by Janet Steel and Steve Johnstone
Design by Abigail King, Music by Sayan Kent

Kali Theatre, in collaboration with Black Country Touring and Arts Alive



My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding, written by Sayan Kent, directed by Janet Steel / Steve Johnstone and produced by Kali Theatre in collaboration with Black Country Touring and Arts Alive, was first created in the Autumn of 2014. With support from the Rural Touring Network, the show toured to Village Halls across England and Wales and was a great success. So popular, infant, that two years later a retour is currently underway.

Here is some information about the show on the Kali Theatre website ….LINK


The cast at Weston House Farm, Chirbury, Salop. with our farmer and inspiration John, who introduced us to the farm and his 220-strong dairy herd. L-R; Shri Patel, Genevieve Helson, Janet Steel, Sukhraj Dhillon, me (feeling quite at home), John Brook and Steve Johnstone.

The new production premiered at Newhampton Arts Centre last week before hitting the country lanes of Shropshire, Cheshire and Worcestershire in its first touring week.

Below is a trailer for the show, edited together from extracts of a performance at The RFH, South Bank Centre, May 2015, and featuring the original cast of Aimee Berwick, Sheena Patel and Aaron Virdee;