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Culture: Actors, rockers and other animals; Engaged couples planning to get hitched before June are being sought for a new 15-part television series.

Strange assortment of animals at Birmingham city centre's Holiday Inn last week. There was at least one rat, a mole and a badger beside a throng of weasels.

But don't worry, hold that call to the environmental health department, and dismiss visions of chambermaids being chased up and down corridors by the strange guests. Wait a minute, perhaps the visions aren't so far out ...

This lot, you see, were a band of travelling players - the company who put on The Wind in the Willows at the nearby Alexandra Theatre.

The Great Kaftan (aka Post features editor Sid Langley) who loved the show, reports that the actors - one of them hailing from Solihull - were determined to drop in on The Jungle Book at the Old Rep and were slightly bemused by the stretch limos to-ing and fro-ing from the nearby strip club.

Aren't we all ...

Parfitt. The band and roadies fell about laughing and wandered back on to the bus. All was jolly until someone realised that the denim jacket they put on the kangaroo belonged to the bus driver ... and it still had the keys to the bus in it.

Birmingham Young Voices have been invited to sing in a Royal concert at Buckingham Palace for 200 children from inner-city London schools and join a lunchtime reception with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

CBYV will sing a short choral piece and take part in a performance of Harmony by Eugene Skeef, taken from the soon-to-published Youth Music Songbook for which CBYV has recorded the accompanying CD.

CBYV is a unique and exciting singing group for the young people of Birmingham.While animals are on the menu, so to speak, here's a tasty morsel. Pensioner rock band Status Quo is currently touring the UK and Europe. Back in the Quo's 80s prime, during a tour of Australia, the tour bus hit a kangaroo while in transit through the desert. Everyone piled out to look and very soon the kangaroo corpse was dressed in Quo tour t-shirt, denims and shades, and propped up against the bus for a photo-opportunity with the band.

However, the animal was not dead, merely stunned. Suddenly it came to, and bounded off into the desert still dressed like Rick Birmingham Rep is looking for singers for its big new community production - the largest yet. The comic musical Don Quixote Rides Again will feature a cast of 100 and will star Matthew Kelly and George Costigan and opens in June.

Now they're looking for singers.

Ring 0121 245 2163 or make contact by email at audition@birminghamrep.co.uk. Break a leg.

Today's the day at Simpsons, Birmingham's other Michelinstarred eaterie. Vulture loves that word. UNICEF has created a one-off campaign called UNICHEF which is involving more than 100 restaurants in the country giving a percentage of their takings to the tsunami appeal just for today.

Simpsons, in Edgbaston, is taking part and is giving 25 per cent of its takings, so book your lunch or dinner now so that Simpsons has a full house and can give as much as possible. If Vulture were Bob Geldof he'd put it more strongly.

There are 140 restaurants across the country giving a percentage of their takings, including Mon Plaisir and The River Cafe.

For a full list of all the restaurants taking part, log onto www.squaremeal.co.uk

While we're on about singing, some of the finest young tonsil twirlers around have landed the gig of a lifetime. City of Its aim is to represent the city's cultural diversity through its membership, and to introduce its singers to a rich variety of musical styles from the many international cultures we have.

CBYV is always looking for new members, aged 13 to 21. To join, simply turn up. Provisional membership is granted to anyone who walks through the door for the first time; the choir meets each Thursday during term-time.

Members are invited to arrive at 4.30pm for 20 minutes of refreshments and chat, with the rehearsal session running from 4.50pm to 6.15pm at the CBSO Centre, Berkley Street.

Vulture hears that Birmingham Post classical music correspondent Christopher Morley was in Dublin last weekend to hear the remarkable National Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ireland playing a programme of Samuel Barber and Tchaikovsky (the first Piano Concerto and the Pathetique Symphony) in that elegant, vibrant city's National Concert Hall.

Conductor Alexander Anissimov, becoming wellknown to West Midlands audiences through his recent appearance with the CBSO at Symphony Hall and with his own Rostov State Opera at Wolverhampton's Grand Theatre, drew tight, sonorous performances from his young charges, according to our Mr Morley. His 20-year-old son Sasha was the impressive soloist in the concerto.

But what was so special about the event was that it was promoted by the Ireland Russia Association as a fundraiser for School no.1 in Beslan, southern Russia, so cruelly taken hostage early in September last year by separatist terrorists.

To help survivors of the atrocity (and their families and friends) rebuild their lives, Ireland is sending a specialist team of 35 psychologists, plus interpreters, to Beslan to instigate 'family centred' counselling, as it is crucial not to isolate the traumatised children from their nearest and dearest.

And most poignant of all was the appearance at the concert of two ten-year-old lads, survivors of the siege, smiling and cheerful as they acknowledged the emotional ovation of a packed audience. But the silent expressions on their parents' faces spoke volumes.

Many people will remember Robert Robinson's general knowledge quiz Ask the Family. It's being revived with Dick and Dom (of Da Bungalow fame). Kids need to be aged 9-14 and teams of two adults and two youngsters are invited to contact Carol Lawson on 020 8225 6892.

Along the same lines, engaged couples planning to get hitched before June are being sought for a new 15-part series being put together by Isis Media based at Knowle. Contact weddings@isismedia.co.uk.

The deadline is looming for schools across the country to sign up for an historic one-off UK-wide festival to celebrate the great works of Shakespeare, local boy made good as wordsmith.

The BBC and Shakespeare Schools Festival (SSF) are to produce One Night of Shakespeare, an event involving 10,000 young performers aged 11-16 from 400 schools performing Shakespeare in 100 theatres on the night of Sunday, July 3.

Open to every secondary school in the UK, it will enable teachers and pupils to produce and direct their own interpretations of one of 13 abridged versions of Shakespeare plays.

The deadline for secondary schools to register an interest is this Friday, February 11.

Details of this and lots more can be mulled over at www.bbc.co.uk/talent .

CAPTION(S):

Conservator Stewart Meese with the Barber Institute's Baroque masterpiece The Marriage Feast at Cana by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. The painting has undergone a major facelift over nine months, a process which the public were able to see
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 7, 2005
Words:1167
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