This Christmas, Birmingham City University’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire has a treat in store for the whole family, as it premieres a new full-length festive musical.
‘The Last Christmas Tree’ has been written by former actress Valerie Hall, and features music composed by her stepgrandson and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire postgraduate Composition student, Joel Hall.
Performed in the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Recital Hall on Sunday 10 December, ‘The Last Christmas Tree’ begins with two young foxes, Rusty and Amber, who venture into a tumbledown old barn. The last thing they’re expecting is to meet there is a new best friend – Chris, a Christmas tree who longs for fun and excitement.
Their new-found friendship is viewed with disapproval by Noel, the barn’s resident Know-Owl, and when the foxes come up with a plan to grant Chris’s dearest wish she is furious. Ignoring her words of warning the trio to embark upon an adventure that doesn’t turn out quite as they expected: there is laughter, danger, tears, songs, and surprises.
One thing’s for sure, the last Christmas tree is certainly no ordinary piece of greenery.
Valerie Hall, writer of ‘The Last Christmas Tree’ and from North London, said:
“I can’t exactly recall how the idea came to me, I just had this notion of a lone Christmas tree growing where you wouldn’t expect to find one. We were living in the country and next to our house was an old barn, which was home to an owl. The farmer turned the barn into a dwelling and the owl became homeless – my inspiration for Noel.
“I’m very excited about seeing this work come to life. It has a great score and a wonderful young company.”
The production features more than 20 Birmingham City University students among its cast and crew, include those training to be actors and musicians at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and scholars from Birmingham School of Art.
Joel Hall, composer of ‘The Last Christmas Tree’ and postgraduate Composition student at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, aged 25 and from Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottingham, said:
“With a full band and uptempo songs, ‘The Last Christmas Tree’ is the perfect production for this time of year. Plus, the musical mixes larger than life characters alongside subtle comedic moments, ensuring it really is a theatre experience for the whole family to enjoy together.
“Everyone involved has put so much time and energy into this production. It has been a real joy to work with and learn from such talented friends and I hope to continue collaborating with them professionally in the future.”
Joel’s grandfather, Willis Hall, was a playwright and radio and television writer, known for such stage productions as ‘Billy Liar’ and ‘Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure’, the long-running ‘Worzel Gummidge’ TV series and subsequent musical, and the 1962 film, ‘A Kind of Loving’. The later was one of several notable films, plays and television series he wrote with his friend, contemporary and fellow Yorkshireman, Keith Waterhouse.
“As a child I went to see my grandfather’s Peter Pan musical at the Royal Festival Hall. Anthony Drewe’s lyrics and George Stiles’ magical score inspired me to pursue a career as a musical theatre composer.”
For his undergraduate degree, Joel studied Composition at the University of Nottingham with Professor Mervyn Cooke and Dr Nicholas Sackman.
Following works he staged at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire last year, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the Belgrade Theatre, Hamish Glen, has commissioned a musical based on a children’s book by his grandfather about a vegetarian vampire – ‘The Last Vampire’. The play will be written by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire tutor Chris Monks and it will be directed by Birmingham School of Acting graduate Corey Campbell.
Valerie, meanwhile, is adapting one of her late husband’s radio plays into a stage play with songs. The production is about a dragon and Samurai knight, and she will be collaborating once again with Joel on the play. Valerie’s first foray into writing was to help a certain scarecrow compile his recipes for the ‘Worzel Gummidge Cookbook’ in 1979, which was then followed by her penning Worzel’s comic strip adventures, published by Marvel UK.
Part of Birmingham City University, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire is a unique contemporary building, incorporating five public performance spaces including a new 500 seat concert hall for orchestral training and performance, a purpose-built organ studio and private rehearsal and practice rooms.
Furthermore, as the first purpose built conservatoire in the UK since 1987, the new £57 million music and acting academy is the only one of its kind in the country designed for the demands of the digital age.