“ Station Street / Birmingham / B5 4DY / Box Office: (0121) 303 2323 (0121 605 4444 on performance nights only). „
For those of you who dont know, I am part of my local theatre group and enjoy taking part in loads of shows and pantos. Many of the shows I have been in have been performed at the Old Rep Theatre in Birmingham. So I thought I would write a review to give you a view from backstage as well as front of house and watching the performance!
*** A Little Bit Of History ***
When I first performed in The Old Rep I was aware of he fact that it is a very old building, but I had no idea of the history that was behind it until one of my friends there mentioned that there were quite a few people who are now famous who have once performed there, so I decided to do a bit of research on this.
The Old Rep Theatre was designed and built by a man called Sir Barry Jackson in 1913 and is now a Grade II Listed Building. It only took four months to complete building the theatre and it finally opened on 15th February 1913 with a performance of Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'
From first opening its doors in February 1913 right up until 1971 The Old Rep was the home to Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company who performed many productions. However in 1971 The Birmingham Repertory Company moved to a new theatre on Broad Street (The Rep) and the Old Rep became a popular venue for many local amateur dramatic and operatic companies.
When The Birmingham Repertory Company moved out in 1971 the theatre was used for amateur theatre but for most of the year remained unused, this was the case for another 20 years until in 1991 when a man called Neal Foster went to Birmingham City Council and proposed setting up a new resident company at The Old Rep. It took about a year to negotiate and set up this company which is today know as The Birmingham Stage Company and in 1992 The Old Rep was re-opened by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham.
Since the re-opening in 1992 The Birmingham Stage Company have presented many productions including Hamlet, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and a production of Roald Dahls The Witches (Which I went to see and thought it was fantastic!)
Other events at The Old Rep include stand-up comedy, dance productions, touring theatre and concerts.
As I mentioned earlier there has been many famous faces appear on the stage at The Old Rep, some of these include, Greer Garson,
Ralph Richardson, Peggy Ashcroft, Richard Chamberlain, Julie Christie, Stuart Grainger, Laurence Olivier, Noel Coward, Paul Schofield and Derek Jacobi. There is also a rumour around the theatre that Errol Flynn once appeared there with a walk on part, however Im not too sure how true this is!
The Old Rep has been in the news in recent years as in 1998 the future of the theatre was very uncertain due to the lease being due in September 1998 and there were questions on whether to re-new it due to the fact that a lot of repair work was needed and the council were un-sure about the costs of this. However after some campaigning it was decided that the lease would be re-newed and some research would be done to find out the repair costs. The effects of this have only recently been carried out, which led to the theatre being closed for almost 2 years while repairs were completed. The repair work wasnt supposed to take 2 years but about 2 months before it was due to re-open the builders discovered asbestos in the ceiling and realised that the stage was on the verge of completely collapsing so the nessercary work continued and the theatre finally re-opened in November 2004.
Since its refurbishment The Old Rep now seats 380, however when the theatre first opened it originally seated 465.
*** Backstage ***
Being as I have spent most of my time at the theatre backstage and on stage, Ill tell you about that first.
To get into the theatre backstage you need to go to the stage door at the rear of the theatre and ring the appropriate bell, then a member of The Old Rep staff will let you in and if nessacary you will need to show them your backstage pass and sign in.
Once you are through the door there is a door directly opposite which leads to the bar ;) if you turn to the left, you can go downstairs to the under-stage area, known as the green room, this is where we all hang out when we have nothing to do! The under-stage area has a spiral staircase that leads to the left side of the stage. Its very steep and to the amusement of the others in the group I am always falling up or down it! Also on the same under stage level as the green room there is a kitchen area and a few various small rooms used for things such as storage and little meetings.
If you go back up the stairs and go round to the left this will lead you to a small door on the right and another staircase on the left. If you go through the little door this will lead you into the side of stage area where all the props for the current production are kept, and this is also where you need to be to get on stage from the right.
If you go back out of the little door, up the next set of stairs and through the door directly ahead of you this will lead you to the first dressing room area. There are 4 dressing rooms on this floor, 2 large and 2 small ones. When our company is using the theatre we use these rooms as the principal characters dressing rooms. There are also toilet facilities and a second green room with limited kitchen facilities here.
Next you go back through the door you came though and up yet another set of stairs to the very top floor. At the top there is a large heavy door up a couple of steps to the left, this leads to the area above the stage where all the back-drops and main curtain are set up and sometimes controlled from. If you dont go up there and you go straight through the smaller door ahead this will lead you to another 5 dressing rooms, 2 large, 1 medium and 2 small ones. Our company use 2 large, 1 medium and 1 small for our chorus members and people with small parts. The second small dressing room we use as an ironing and mending room, where we house our wardrobe mistress who is very kind and irons all our costumes and mends them for us! There are also toilet facilities on this floor.
The dressing rooms are quite a reasonable size. We manage to have about 10 12 cast members in the large ones, 8 in the medium one and about 3 or 4 in the small ones. All the dressing rooms have mirrors all the way around, plenty of hanging space for costumes and work surfaces and chairs all the way around the edge.
You may have noticed I have mentioned a lot of stairs in this theatre, well all I have to say about these is they really wear you out and if you want to get fit then take part in a production here for a week! Also they are made of stone so they hurt when you fall down (Ive done this many times!)
*** Front Of House ***
Ok, Ive told you all I can about the backstage area so Ill move onto the Front Of House area.
Front Of House is the area where you enter the theatre. The theatre entrance is on Station Street, right opposite the back entrance/exit to New Street Train Station.
Outside the theatre there are two boards either side of the entrance where theatre companies can advertise their shows and put photos of the show you are about to see.
As you walk in a member of front of house staff who will request to see your tickets will greet you. If you havent got your tickets then the box office is just inside the main entrance to the left of the main doors.
The facilities front of house will vary, depending on which company is using the theatre. When our group are there we will offer raffle tickets, a small selection of sweets and chocolate and we have members of staff around who will show you the way into the auditorium and tell you where your seats are.
*** The Auditorium ***
To get to the auditorium you have to go up two flights of stairs and though a set of double doors. At this point you will be at the top of the auditorium looking down towards the stage. All the seats are clearly marked so you should have any trouble finding where you are and if you do there will be someone near by who will show you to your seat. Having been in the theatre so many time I can safely say that the view from all of the seats front or back, left or right of the stage is very clear and the seats are positioned well so you do not end up with someones head in your way!
If you are seated in one of the box areas you will need to go up some more stairs, however usually a member of staff will accompany you up to here.
The seats in the theatre are reasonably comfortable, although there is not a terrific amount of legroom. The only thing I have found that could be a problem for some people is the heating. The theatre staff must be freezing all the time because almost everytime I have been in the theatre it has been extremely hot and this can get quite uncomfortable at times.
Yet again I have mentioned a lot of stairs, which doesnt sound good for disabled persons or wheelchair users, but dont worry because if you let the company who you book the tickets with know you cannot use stairs they will arrange for you to enter the theatre through the bar area and they will remove the appropriate number of seats in the front row for a wheelchair or if you dont use a wheelchair someone will assist you to your seat and make sure everything is ok.
*** The Performance ***
I cant really give you my opinion of a particular performance at The Old Rep because it really does vary depending on what the show is and which company is performing it. I will say though that all the performances I have seen, amateur and professional have been of a very high quality and I would recommend any show that is put on there especially if they are by my theatre group! ;)
The sound quality at the Old Rep will depend greatly on whether the company performing use microphones or whether they take advantage of the fact that sound does travel really well in the auditorium. Personally I think it sounds much better when the microphones are used as this makes everything a lot clearer and you dont miss a thing we once had a member of our cast forget to turn their mic off and the whole audience heard what they had had for tea!
The prices of the performances also vary depending on what you are seeing. Our group range between £7 and £12 depending on which night you go. I think this is around the same price range as other local amateur groups, but it is best to check with them on booking.
*** The Bar ***
The best bit! Whether its when Ive been in a show or been to see a show I always enjoy going to the bar!
The Bar area offers a wide variety of alcohol and soft drinks along with a choice of tea or coffee and a variety of snacks. The staff also offer an opportunity to pre-order your interval drinks. This is a handy service as it saves you queuing and wasting interval time. Everytime I have used this service I have had no problems at all and plenty of time to finish my drink, as drinks are not allowed into the auditorium.
The room itself is not very big and can get quite crammed especially if all the cast members come for a drink after the show! There are toilet facilities in the bar area and there are also a few tables and chairs around the edges, but these get snapped up pretty quick!
As for the prices in the bar I would say the goods are quite overpriced. I would say this is because they know they can get away with it as there isnt really anywhere nearby you could buy your own and they dont allow you to consume products not bought at the theatre there.
*** How Can I Contact The Old Rep? ***
Contacting The Old Rep can be done in a number of ways, as I will detail below:
You can write to the Old Rep at the following address:
Old Rep Theatre
For bookings and performance information you will need to phone:
Box Office: 0121 236 5622 or 0121 605 4444 (the second phone number can only be contacted on nights when there is a performance taking place.)
If you would like to hire the theatre for your own group to use you will need to call:
Theatre Hire: (0121) 605 5116 you will need to ask to speak to the theatre manager who is Theresa Janssen. Theresa also has an e-mail address, which can be obtained by phoning the theatre.
The Box Office opens Monday to Friday at 10am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 4.30pm. The Theatre is open Monday to Sunday from 9am - 11pm. I would advise you phone before you go to the theatre though jut in case these times do change.
*** How Do I Get There? ***
Ok, youve chosen your show and booked your tickets, now how are you going to get there?
The Old Rep has many access routes and is quite easy to find by them all. I will do my best on directions but I would recommend you double check them before you travel!
Travelling by car?
From the M6: From Junction 6 of the M6 follow the signs for Birmingham Central, as you come off the motorway following these signs will lead you directly onto the A38 (M) (this is also known as the Aston Expressway) for 2 miles into Birmingham City Centre. At the end of the Expressway, take the flyover signed M5 South West. Coming off the flyover, go through the tunnel following signs for Inner Ring Road South. Continue through the next tunnel (this is called Queensway). Follow the signs for Bromsgrove A38 this will take you to a third tunnel. When you come out of the tunnel, get in the left hand lane and take the first left (Smallbrook Queensway). Take the first left and parking is straight ahead.
From the M5: From Junction 4 follow the signs for Birmingham along the A38 straight through Northfield and Selly Oak. Going through the traffic lights at Bristol Street McDonalds should be on your left, move to the left lane signposted as New Street Train Station. Next you will go past the Dome II club (the first club I ever went to!) on your left, move to the right hand lane. At the roundabout - Holloway Circus, you will need to take the third exit - Smallbrook Queensway. Finally take the first left and parking is straight ahead.
On the rare occurrence of those car parks being full, there are a few car parks signposted, but you will have a short 5 10 minute walk to the theatre. There is also a bit of parking on the sides of the nearby roads but I would recommend you are careful if you do this as Traffic Wardens are very picky if you are not parked properly!
Travelling by train?
Buy a ticket to New Street station, and the theatre is only a 5-minute walk away.
Travelling by Bus?
Catch bus No.12 or 35. Those buses stop right outside the theatre on Station Street.
Ok, there you go I think I have covered everything! If you have any further questions then just ask! Thanks for taking the time to read!
The Old Rep Theatre is a 378 seat venue, built in 1913, and is home to the Birmingham Stage Company and several local amateur companies. Other professional events at the Old Rep include touring theatre, stand-up comedy, dance productions and concerts. The theatre is available for hire. Conditions of hire and hire charges are contained in the attachments below.