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The Carousel is turniing full circle ; ROZ LAWS takes a look back at an amateur theatre company which is celebrating more than 120 years of treading... [Birmingham Mail (UK)]

July 6, 2013


The Carousel is turniing full circle ; ROZ LAWS takes a look back at an amateur theatre company which is celebrating more than 120 years of treading the boards

IT'S the oldest theatre company in the Midlands and the tenth oldest in Britain, having started out in 1886.

That's when Birmingham Opera Society was founded. In 1916 came the Midland Opera Society and in 1927 the two companies merged to become the Birmingham and Midland Operatic Society.

Now, 127 years later, BMOS is still going strong and is about to perform its latest musical, Carousel.

It is an amateur group but likes to go by the tagline "professional in all but name", as its shows are slickly produced and packed with local talent.

For Carousel, it is returning to Birmingham's Alexandra Theatre for the first time in 83 years. The theatre was a popular venue for productions in the 1920s, along with the Birmingham and Midland Institute, the Prince of Wales Theatre (destroyed in 1941) and the Theatre Royal in New Street (knocked down in 1957).

Performances continued during the Second World War with members entertaining the troops in barracks and hospitals.

They regrouped after the war, but with no funds so shows were performed on a shoestring with homemade scenery and costumes. For the first half of its existence the company lived up to its name and the focus was on operettas, mainly Gilbert and Sullivan shows like The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado.

But in the last 50 years it has moved towards popular musicals, putting on two shows a year under the name of BMOS Musical Theatre Company.

Chairman John Spencer, 53, from Kings Norton, joined BMOS in 1984.

The following year he starred in the title role in Hans Andersen at the Birmingham Hippodrome, in a memorable show which included sets from the London Palladium and the use of radio microphones for the first time.

"The main difference I've noticed over the last 30 years is that members' work commitments are greater now," says John, whose day job is as a financial advisor.

"We don't have the same regularity from people, they might do one show and then have to drop out for the next.

"In the 1970s and 1980s people were consistently chalking up 50 years of membership, which we don't get so much now. Younger members join us for the opportunity to perform, then go off to drama school. They use us as a stepping stone to gain experience, so we lose quite a lot of the more talented younger ones."

Performers who have gone on to greater things include Jon Boydon, who grew up in Solihull and is currently starring in the West End hit musical Jersey Boys. He appeared as a little boy, then called Jon Stokes, in a 1986 production of The King And I. Also from Solihull, Kathryn Rooney went on to star in three consecutive Birmingham Hippodrome pantomimes as well as a tour of Calendar Girls. Margaret Preece performed with BMOS before providing the singing voice of Carlotta (Minnie Driver) in the film of The Phantom of the Opera and starring as the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music in the West End.

Also with a fine opera voice are former BMOS stars John Cashmore and Lynda Russell, who have performed at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

factfile BMOS has around 50 acting members and another 25 backstage.

They performed at the Hippodrome every year Carousel. plays New Alexandra Theatre 16-20.

from 1957 until 2000 when the theatre closed for refurbishment.

Since then it has returned for four shows but mainly appears at the Crescent and Old Rep Theatres.

"The Hippodrome appears to have formed a different relationship with the amateur community since it reopened," says John, formerly head boy at Coventry Cathedral Choir School. ring 0844 or to go atgtickets.birmingham. BMOS to archive. with old or programmes should at john.btinternet.

The focus is more on profit now than supporting local talent.

"We still play the Hippodrome - we were last there with Wallop Mrs Cox in 2010 - but not on a regular basis, as we can't afford it.

"It costs around Pounds 80,000 to put on a show for six nights at the Hippodrome, compared to around Pounds 40,000 at the Alexandra and Pounds 25,000 at the Crescent.

the July tickets 871 3011 com/ "We get support from charities and local businesses but we're funded principally from ticket sales. Carousel is a step back into what we hope will be a long-term relationship with the Alexandra Theatre."

is keen its John " It's the third time BMOS has performed Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, voted best musical of the 20th century by Time magazine.


The musical, which includes the iconic song You'll Never Walk Alone, was also staged in 1961 and 1981.

factfile ? Carousel plays the New Alexandra Theatre from July 16- 20. For tickets ring 0844 871 3011 or to go www.

BMOS is keen to develop its archive. Anyone with old photos or programmes should email John at

SHARE YOUR MEMORIES OF BRUM Email or write to Letters Editor, Bpm Media, Floor 6, Fort Dunlop, Fort Parkway, Birmingham, B24 9FF

'"We still play the Hippodrome - but not on a regular basis, as we can't afford it... Carousel is a step back into what we hope will be a long-term relationship with the Alexandra Theatre. JOHN SPENCER

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