Baby Fever

STUN Studio, Z Arts

CONTACT YOUNG COMPANY/DEGASTEN

Co-presented and commissioned with Contact

This new work commissioned for SICK! Festival 2019 sees Contact Young Company (CYC) working with Amsterdam based Theater Degasten whose work is also focused on developing the creativity of people from all backgrounds. Exploring the commodification of happiness, a group of young artists provide a searing and provocative insight into their lives. Baby Fever is a lot less about how young people feel about creating the next generation and instead explores what value they put on life currently. This is an intriguing and sometimes uncomfortable look at who they are as a generation and how they feel about existing in this community, this society and this world.

Divided into three very different segments Baby Fever starts with the audience surrounded by a series of spoken word pieces that come at you from different angles about very varied topics. To one side there is a provocative take on your beloved NHS while another voice behind discusses the politics around our water or yet another gives their personal take on mental health attitudes. Standing above the audience on benches this feels like a twist on Speaker’s Corner. In the middle section eyes closed throughout and moving carefully and respectfully around each other, every tiny gesture feels magnified and mesmerising. The final section has performers individually inviting audience members to engage with them one to one. The space takes on the clamour of daily life hustle bustle as the action unfolds yet poignantly each experience is unique and cannot be replicated again.

What is especially striking about this piece of theatre is the sense of buttons being pushed, boundaries being challenged and risks being taken…yet all this is occurring in what feels like a very safe space. Even the staging feels framed by the boundaries of benches and flooring is protected by plastic covering which is later ever so carefully removed and packed up. This space is hot and uncomfortable with blinding lighting yet it is clear this is as intentional as every searing statement in the spoken word section. The staging might be unconventional as audience and performers merge in the centre of the space, yet throughout the piece, there is information being given to ground everyone and clarify what is happening. We are told there are three sections to the piece and their running times. We are informed what our level of participation is and where to sit or stand, all this ensures that safe guarding the young performers and their audience is paramount. Speaking to CYC producer Keisha Thompson during the show, it was clear just how seriously this work is valued and nurtured. Perhaps what I took away from Baby Fever was the need we all have right now for clarity, creative thinking and the means to form our own personal boundaries and respect those of everyone around us.

SICK! FESTIVAL 1st- 3rd October 2019

SICK! FESTIVAL 2019

CONTACT

Theater DEGASTEN

Tinned Up

Written by Chris Hoyle

Directed by Simon Naylor

Oldham Coliseum

As a writer Chris Hoyle consistently delivers sparkling dialogue that has a rich northern tone, a big heart and a genuine social conscience. Tinned Up may have been written ten years ago, but its relevance today has the same power to arrest and perturb. Staged in Oldham where community spirit remains vibrant, this new version is directed by Simon Naylor of 53Two – a much respected local theatre who are currently between homes due to the surge in inner city re-development. Casting is firmly Northern too and is headed up by the wonderful Karen Henthorn who like Naylor was part of the team involved in Chris Hoyle’s highly successful The Newspaper Boy.

The staging by designer David Howell creates an utterly believable cosy home that Shirley has spent 34 years living in. The outside world might be tinned up but inside these four walls is someone’s home where they have lived their life and built forged their memories. This home houses an indomitable spirit that has spent 7 years refusing to give in to the local council and the private developers. Karen Henthorn is fabulous as the gutsy Shirley whose warmth and stubborn resolve ensures that even those who have left Langworthy are pulled back to their old community to support her. Her performance coupled with the wonderful dialogue Hoyle gives his central character can easily stand confidently alongside the best kitchen sink dramas.

There are some great performances playing off the lead with an especially lovely relationship between Shirley and her young neighbour Daz. Keaton Lansley has real chemistry as Daz and balances humour with real emotional depth as a young man nurtured and encouraged by Shirley to strive for better things in his life. The living room scene with Lynn Roden as Beryl where the two middle aged women reminsce as they get pissed on ouzo is rich with bawdy humour and the poignancy of intertwined memories.

There are some wonderful moments in this production and hopefully opening night will have ironed out some timing issues and fluffed lines. The direction also lacks some of the tightness and lightness of touch that Simon Naylor displayed in The Newspaper Boy. There are several points in the first act and most notably in the final scene where the pacing slows down or appears a little unfocused.

The stomach wrenching moment in this piece is when a muddled Shirley runs out unto her street to share news with her neighbours only to be gently caught by Daz. That street and community has long gone and she is alone…They’re all tinned up, every last one of them. The final street party and the inevitable ending reflect the ebb and flow of progress. The mundane flushing of a toilet as a life ends, making way for wet rooms, upside down houses and another generation of communities… for better or worse remains to be seen.

Main House Takeover Oldham Coliseum 24th-26th Sept 2019

Images by Shay Rowan

MACBETH

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Christopher Haydon

Royal Exchange Theatre

Director Christopher Haydon delivers a production of Macbeth that is packed full of ideas and creativity. There is a veritable smorgasbord on display that is as colourful and attention grabbing as the infamous banquet where bloody heads compete for space with luridly iced party cakes and doughnuts. Unfortunately although iced delights can tempt us to a quick sugar fix this is a drawn out affair which fails to deliver in a more ultimately satisfying manner.

Lucy Ellinson is a mercurial leader who is believable as a toughened soldier and a popular leader. Sinewy and earthy she appears one of the lads, however as the prophecies of the three weird sisters start to tighten their grip, she becomes increasingly paranoid and driven by bloody ambition. Ellinson soon morphs into a power crazed maniac complete with sunken eyes and bone bleached skull. The performance itself is strong and gripping, however it somehow fails to provide a truly satisfying Macbeth. The physical fragility of a woman who increasingly resembles a crack addict searching for her next fix simply cannot deliver a plausible final battle scene with Macduff. Ultimately there is too much petulance and vulnerability here that could work with Hamlet but not as successfully here with Macbeth.

This is only part of the frustration with this Macbeth which had the opportunity to really shine a light on relationships for ambitious women in power. This lesbian couple seem emotionally ill matched and implausible as this war hardened hero seems incapable of questioning or even noticing Lady Macbeth’s scheming greed and machinations. There is no exploration of their lack of heirs as a gay couple which could have been a really interesting angle to explore in their quest for the crown. The ambitious Lady Macbeth would have surely contemplated a modern ruthless attempt at altering their fate – perhaps spurgling the sperm of Macduff or Banquo?? There is no tenderness between them or any real sharing of the damage their actions cause them personally.

Motorway murder scenes, torrential storms, helicopters, red balloons and chatty interactions with the audience members pepper this production. Designer Oli Townsend has a stark but beautiful heptagram on the stage with a steaming cauldron at its heart. All is as minimalist as a soldier’s rations until the Mad Hatters tea pparty that is the lurid banquet complete with fancy dress and part games. Looking like something from a Ken Russell movie this is OTT in the best way. Dreamlike and drug fueled the game of musical chairs drily reflects our current political situation.

Lucy Ellinson as Macbeth Image- Johann Persson

The ever present weird Sisters as drug addled party girls supplementing their incomes as sinister, sulky waitresses at the castle is an entertaining aspect to this Macbeth. They bring both light and dark elements to the production. For such a female heavy cast it is troubling that the real heart of this Macbeth ultimately seems to belong to the men. Banquo and Macduff balance career and family with grace and honour. Actors Theo Ogundipe and Paul Hickey give performances that resonate and truly highlight the tragedy of this piece.

Royal Exchange Theatre 13 Sept – 19 Oct 2019

Images by Johann Persson

The Jumper Factory

HOME

By Luke Barnes

Conceived by Young Vic Taking Part and Justin Audibert

Directed by Josh Parr

This smart, astute piece of theatre was developed with the Young Vic and inmates from Wandsworth Prison in May 2018. Originally performed in the prison using actors cast from young men whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system, The Jumper Factory has subsequently toured successfully and is currently on lockdown at HOME.

This piece is beautifully directed by Josh Parr giving all six young men on stage to shine as they converse together or step forward individually to take the spotlight. The blend of jarring soundscape and lighting blocks by Jess Glaisher that evoke prison cells interspersed with movement sequences works really effectively.

This work using verbatim story telling gives a fresh perspective on passing the time of day as we see how structure or lack of it can make or break an inmate. The boredom and the waiting between prison visits coupled with the anxiety of life and loved ones carrying on without them or with someone new is vividly evoked. The random nature of who you share a cell with and the consequences good or bad for an individual is sharply observed. Regardless of the crime whether theft, GBH or chasing a fox, prison will change you and not always for the better despite its intended reform approach.

The six performers on stage do a great job of bringing the varying experiences of inmates at HMP Wandsworth to life. Shame, embarrassment, fear, boredom, anticipation, hope and despair runs through this work. The Jumper Factory is a potent reminder of the importance and the impact of time misspent, or valued and well spent regardless of where we are.

HOME 10TH- 14TH SEP 2019

HIVE CITY LEGACY

Photo Helen Murray

HOME

Written and developed by Busty Beatz, Lisa Fa’alafi and Yami Löfvenberg and A League of Extraordinary Femmes

Directed by Lisa Fa’alafi

There is a new hive in Manchester this week and it’s not the one on the roof of HOME. Anyone who witnessed the anarchic and joyous cabaret spectacle that was HOT BROWN HONEY when their hive landed at HOME in December 2017 will have some idea of what to expect from Hive City Legacy. This show is a collaborative project between the Australian company, their producers Quiet Riot and Roundhouse. A call out in 2018 for young British Femmes of Colour to expand the hive led to the creation of this new show. Heavily influenced by the original cabaret blend of beat box, body popping, aerial work, spoken word and burlesque, this new production zeroes in on London. Stories of matriarchy, mental health, marginalisation and harnessing the power of the Hive to once again ACTIVATE POLLINATE LIBERATE.

The staging is simple but effective creating a honeycomb effect with lighting that allows for creating office parties and commuter trains while also giving a sense of magical wonder as boxes open Pandora like to reveal snaking flags and oversized combs and tape measures. In the midst of all this is a wide eyed ingénue (Farrel Cox), drinking in the truths both joyful and distressing of being a young femme of colour in a still marginalised country.

The performances by all eight femmes are full of savvy confidence, boisterous energy, anger and poignant sadness. These femmes are in your face enraged and disturbed by a world where their history is being swallowed by your history and oceans are swallowed by puddles. There is a definite sting in the words and actions of these femmes in this hive and they are definitely all queen bees in their own right.

The segments are varied in pace and style. Ropework beautifully showcases trust and faith in each other when you quite literally put your faith on the line. Office parties teeter into violent discomfort as voices assault our senses and sensibilities with racist taunts and stereotypical assumptions. The national anthem plays alongside the snaking endless swirl of the English flag while spoken word pieces are unfueled from the mouths of these femmes.

Hive City Legacy has many of the trademark magic touches of the Mother Hive and is lovingly directed by one of its founders Lisa Fa’alafi. The joyous finale has everyone on their feet dancing with the femmes. Enough of us taking to the stage and we might just outgrow the Hive and start to truly ACTIVATE POLLINATE LIBERATE!!

At HOME 3rd – 7th Sept 2019

SWIM

HOME

Liz Richardson in association with HOME and ECHO

Creators/Performers Liz Richardson, Josie Dale-Jones, Sam Ward, Carmel Smickersgill

I grew up by water, a green, gurgling river full of trout and salmon and Lough Erne, the Irish Lake District – 2 dark and beautifully treacherous loughs filled with islands. I love the comfort of water, especially a warm enveloping bath. For Liz Richardson and her friend Lisa comfort and solace comes in the icy shock of wild swimming. This new show takes a moving and tender look at the grieving process as Richardson introduces fellow theatre makers Josie Dale Jones and Sam Ward to wild swimming while composer Carmel Smickersgill observes them and creates an extraordinarily beautiful homage to the power of the water and the potency of grief.

SWIM combines performance with live music, video footage and a conversational style that creates a really fresh feel to this piece. There is a real sense that these performers are meeting in a collaborative process that is new to all of them and that their personal curiosity around the subject matter is geniune. This production is full of earthy humour and guileless playfulness yet throughout their quest to explore what is involved in wild swimming, there is a haunting constant in the grieving process and that this show is not about Liz’s friend Lisa but that it for her.

The stamina, huge heart and lust for life that Liz Richardson embodied in Gutted is on show once again. She takes her fellow performers and the audience on a quest to feel truly alive and to never feel apologetic for the gift of life. The filmic element of the show is both down to earth mundane and sublimely beautiful as they chatter and shiver in an estate car or float on vast lakes. The personalities and differing perspectives of the performers work well and the whole thing is drawn together by the soaring vocals of Carmel Smickersgill who creates an ethereal soundscape akin to Julee Cruise or Duritti Column.

SWIM speaks of the spiking feeling or electrifying shock to the body as it is encompassed by the icy water. It speaks of the pain as friends see each other grieve, on your face a type of joy til I’ve seen You’ve remembered again…just because you’ve enjoyed yourself doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten. In the water our bodies are reshaped just as our souls are by grief. In profound grief we often seem to lose ourselves, or the selves that we once were. In making this show for her friend Lisa, Liz is seeking a friend who is out there lost in the dark water. Regrouping, reforming repairing, still an unknown to herself and to Liz…may you both continue to journey well within the water and beyond it.

The day after I saw this show I too lost someone very dear to me. I’m still floundering in and out of the water but I won’t drown. Shows like SWIM are so important, we never know when we might need to revisit them and find solace.

Beside-Pleasance Courtyard 31st July-26th August 2019

PATIENT 4620

Written and directed by Victoria Snaith

The Crypt, St Phillips, Salford

Saturday lunchtime is as good a time as any for a wander around a pitch black church crypt doubling up as a contemporary art museum and a mental hospital. Donning headphones and entering the exhibition Director Victoria Snaith is charmingly optimistic about the experience though does warn us all to not fiddle with the controls and watch our heads on the low arches in the gloomy but rather dreamy crypt.

Wandering around the exhibition we learn about the fragile 1920s artist Gretel Sauerbrot and her alcoholic brother Hansel. It quickly becomes clear that these are two seriously damaged individuals but by WW1 or something more unworldly…even more unspeakably horrible? Are the clues in the art itself or perhaps in what we hear as museum recording and something more sinister start to overlap?

Things are going swimmingly so far with a delicious hint of impending dénouement and horror beckoning round the next dark corner. Then suddenly the mood fractures with the appearance of a rather unorthodox psychiatrist (Robb Wildash) who may well be an wandering patient- and if he isn’t he certainly should be. One should never introduce oneself with a description of how you castrated yourself in a forest and then attempt to medicate your stunned patients with skittles and lemon drops without checking if they are diabetic.

There are some moments of genuine discomfort and potential scare. However this is a piece of immersive theatre that sadly loses pace as it shifts from auditory storytelling into theatre. The room I was waiting for never materialized and I felt entertained but strangely cheated by never catching a real glimpse of the crazed and tragic Gretel in this thoughtful twist on the famous folk tale.

Dreadfalls Theatre. Manchester Fringe 5th-6th July 2019