TRIAL

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Site specific – Bolton Grand Council Chamber.

Part of Reveal 18

Written by Rosina Carbone, Nisa Cole, Sarah McDonald Hughes and Eve Steele

Directed by Martyn Gibbons

Monkeywood Theatre in association with the Octagon Theatre, Bolton

I am a liar. We run, down the steps, past the celebration, past the crowds. He is not guilty and I am a liar.

Bolton Grand Council chamber was once an actual courtroom. Sitting in this space feels alien, slightly scary like maybe I’ve done something wrong. An authoritative voice says “All Rise” and so Trial starts with four women in a courtroom performing a verbatim piece that is the framework for this new piece by Monkeywood Theatre. Chillingly the words we hear are transcripts from an actual court case about the historical grooming and sexual abuse of young girls. Interspersed through the transcript are 4 original pieces written and performed by the 4 actresses on stage. They share a common theme, highlighting women on trial in the courtroom and in society – women’s experience of being disbelieved, discounted, shamed and vilified.

This is a strong and powerful piece which conveys its #MeToo message eloquently and is at times incredibly poignant, hauntingly sad and is at all times a strong statement that change must come in our legal system and our Society. The verbatim pieces are perhaps the weak link in this piece but that is most likely due to how they struggle to flow, undoubtedly hindered by the information rescinded to protect the individuals involved. However it remains a searing indictment of our legal system and its treatment of women on the witness stand in sexual assault cases. A study by the CPS (Criminal Prosecution Service) found in a 17 month period there were with 6000 rape prosecutions and only 35 for false allegations, yet only 6% of complaints resulted in convictions.

Astral Twin by Rosina Carbone is a two hander highlighting the callous and vicious bullying and systematic shaming of young girls in school. It perfectly describes the in group/ out group mentality in the classroom. How we can all shine and blossom in the warmth of acceptance and friendship but shiver and shrivel when that warmth is removed. Carbone infuses this piece with a poetic flow and evokes some beautiful imagery that creates a vivid snapshot of lost friendships and the unfairness of double standards for girls.

Muck by Nisa Cole is a monologue describing a schoolgirl being groomed by a teacher with a catastrophic outcome for her education and her future. It is a powerfully written and performed – electrifying the space with the brutal unfairness of a vulnerable child discounted and written off because of her background. Cole bring an emotive physicality to this role that is mesmerising and haunts long after the performance ends.

Small Town by Sarah McDonald Hughes describes a young woman who likes a drink and going out with her friends to party and meet boys. Her character is fun loving and carefree until an assault results in rape and a lurid court case. This piece snapshots the double standards for men and women and is an acute observation on the lasting harm of being raped twice over by the assailant and by society. All the positives of loving being a girl and loving family and football are stripped away, leaving only alcohol as a constant comforter and ballast.

Unreliable by Eve Steele brings all 4 women on stage as prisoners going into court to plead their cases or in the case of Steele to be a witness against her uncle in a historic abuse case. This is a women already wounded and irrevocably damaged by her early experiences and therefore somehow unreliable as a witness against her abuser. There is simply no happy ending for some of these women and Steele’s performance crackles and fizzes with the injustice of her situation compares to the regard and protection afforded by society to her abuser.

I saw this piece in development at Reveal17 and it has clearly been a labour of love, tenderness and justifiable outrage. The stories told all ring true and authentic. Working as a psychotherapist I have listened to similar haunting stories and the importance of being heard and really listened to is always tantamount to any path to healing. There has clearly been a lot of work done with women’s support groups so this piece is an important validation for the women in those groups. Trial is a powerful piece that has a lot to say for women for women who are often voiceless. I was slightly surprised to find that the director was a man however men are also affected by assaults to sisters, mothers, partners, daughters, granddaughters and friends. Martin Gibbons has ensured that it is the women in this piece who are clearly heard and remembered.

Part of Reveal 18 until April 28th

She Bangs The Drums

Museum of Science and Industry

Contact Young Company

Directed by Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit (Sh!t Theatre)

Contact Young Company working with the brilliant women of Sh!t Theatre and the Peoples History Museum was always going to be an intriguing project. She Bangs The Drums explores and celebrates the history of the Suffragettes and Manchester’s rich heritage of radical politics. 100 years since The Representation of the Peoples Act gave women partial voting rights this explosion of passion and energy would have been applauded by the Pankhursts.

Staged in part of the Museum of Science and Industry, the setting feels almost church-like with industrial beams and brick archways which are used to great effect with clever projections and bicycles adorned with twinkling lights flitting past the audience.

A band called Powerful Women are tucked in an archway and are central to much of the performance providing great music and vocals. There is drama, poetry, spoken word, dance, comedy and so much more. This is a show packed with all the elements that showcase the wide range of skills at CYC and could have resulted in a muddled mess. With a sound creative team including Cheryl Martin and Keisha Thompson and inspired direction the result is cohesive and beautifully balanced.

Packed full of historical facts such as the brutal force-feeding of prisoners and current references to #MeToo and #BringBackOurGirls, this is a trip from the lethal hatpin in a Suffragettes hat to the rape alarm in my daughter’s schoolbag. Cheeky, charming and incredibly poignant, this is a celebration of women everywhere, past and present.

March 8th – March 11th 2018

BRAVADO

HOME

Part of Orbit 2017

Written and Directed by Scottee

Entering The Briton’s Protection pub on a busy Saturday night felt intimidating. It was heaving with men out for the night, men on stag do’s, men in football scarves and men already pissed. A perfect setting for performance artist Scottee to stage Bravado as part of Orbit 2017.

Upstairs in the pub a room is set up with 3 flickering and crackling analog screens, a mike and a teleprompter. Tension builds in the room as we wait for someone, anyone, to break the stalemate awkwardness and embarrassment filling the space. We need a volunteer from the audience to stand up and deliver the text, to man up and speak up about Blood, Spit, Tears and Cum. We need a perpetrator or a victim, a male presence to speak the words that Scottee has lived. A different voice each night for a story that remains unchanged and timeless.

This is a visceral and vicious account of working class men at their most brutal and brutalized. It is set against a backdrop of blokish telly of the Nineties like WWE wrestling, The Mitchell brothers in Eastenders and Bullseye. Each segment is broken up with an Oasis song which could be sung by tonight’s bloke. Ours honours the text with real tenderness and compassion but baulks at singing. Yet another insight into the complexity of the male psyche as he reads out such painful experiences but cannot sing the familiar lines of Look Back in Anger.

The content of the text is not easy to hear but the writing is a delight. The emotional pacing and the delicate attention to such brutal details are incredible. Bravado is a lesson in both how not to be a man and a testament to the potential beauty in every man.

Operation Black Antler

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HOME MCR

Devised and Produced by

Blast Theory and Hydrocracker

It is 1983 and I’m sitting my A Levels and dating a British soldier who turns out to be doing undercover surveillance around the Border in Northern Ireland. Fast forward to 2017 and my son is studying for his A Levels and I’m about to go undercover as part of a state surveillance operation in Manchester.

Friday afternoon and my Handler texts me a meeting point to rendezvous with the rest of my undercover team. At 7.45pm we gather and wait uncertainly for our instructions. Paranoia is already setting in as I assess the group and zero in on two individuals who might be participants like me but who might just be actors planted in the group.

The lines are blurring as another text sends us to a dingy location and our Handler suggests we make tea as an ice-breaker. People are moving around. A van door opens and I catch a glimpse of a hunched figure before it slams shut. We head upstairs to the briefing room and a very convincing Richard Hahlo rattles through the details of the covert operation. Images of POIs (Persons of interest) are shown and we are bombarded with intelligence on them. My Handler is matter of fact as he calmly reminds us that we do whatever we feel necessary to extract intelligence. The underlying inference is WHATEVER it takes.  I start to feel like I know what is expected of me and adrenaline kicks in.

Divided into small groups we develop our cover stories. Deciding who we are going to be starts to uncover lots of details about who we actually are and what we are comfortable  sharing with strangers. The groups head off separately to infiltrate a social event full  of right wing extremists. Drinks ordered at the bar and we enter the crowded venue and start to mix. It is hot and loud and difficult to tell who are actors, audience or just normal Friday night punters.

After a while chatting with guests we finally get into conversation with our POI  who is hard as nails yet warm and funny too. The disarming part of the performance is mixing with people who hold views that I find abhorrent yet finding myself warming to some of them. At one point my team mate and I hold an animated conversation with “Lisa” about how great it is to have the D.U.P have sway in parliament. We enthuse about their anti-gay views and pro-life stance. The striking point to this is that we both appear at ease with this perspective. We have never met before tonight yet we both come from Northern Ireland and are a similar age but whereas I grew up Protestant on the Border, she was a Catholic from Derry. The sense of blending in to survive in a hostile environment was unnervingly familiar and we both felt like kindred spirits through the whole experience.

The night passed quickly and people ebb and flow building the sense of confusion over who is “safe”. I get caught in a tussle and “Lisa” and I get soaked with a G &T, a bloke gets threatened with a pool cue and we get offered napkins and fairy cakes. Intelligence gathered we are told to exit to safety. Outside the bloke who spilt my drink insists on an overly long, apologetic hug and whispers he will see me at the next Meet. I feel dirty and triumphant. Meeting another undercover operative we have to make decisions that may change lives forever. It is the power and subtlety of Operation Black Antler that ensures we really do become deep swimmers in a very murky world.

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Speaking to Director Matt Adams from Blast Theory afterwards it is clear how much thought, effort and nuance has been put into developing this production. As with any immersive theatre you only get out what you put in to the performance. I found it very powerful and as I chatted to Matt Adams about growing up in the blurred boundaries of sectarian life on the Northern Irish border and the implications of Brexit and GE17, it was crystal clear how valuable this experience was. It is a sobering reminder of how easy it is to shift our moral compass to accommodate our environment, but at what cost?

At HOME until 17 June