WHEN IT BREAKS IT BURNS

Created/Performed by ColetivA Ocupação

Directed by Martha Kiss Perrone

CONTACT

Moss Side Millennium Powerhouse

ColetivA Ocupação are the real deal in every sense. Performers, creatives, activists, educators who vividly bring to life their personal experiences of occupying their schools in São Paulo to protest the Brazilian government’s proposed decimation of educational resources in 2015/2016. They are full of exuberance and boisterous passion and their mantra is “to occupy is to resist.”

Massing in the garden courtyard of Millennium Powerhouse the audience is suddenly led into a gym hall where chairs are scattered through the space and some are already occupied. Music, lighting and the intensity of the seated performers ramp up the sense of unease and palpable tension. As the action flares up it is clear that this is no easy ride sitting in a theatre observing a performance. The choreography ensures the audience members are in the thick of the action and occasionally at physical risk of the odd bruise. This is an intense immersive experience that feels utterly authentic and at times genuinely both scary and exhilarating.

Recreating what it was like to scale the walls Diadama School in 2015 they create a human wall which each triumphantly scales. As an audience we get to witness their excitement, their bravery and their fears as police surround the schools and many are dragged off. These were children, young people chasing police intimidation, beatings and tear gas. As they later talk to us in small groups recalling personal experiences it is clear that these vibrant young people have lived through life-changing experiences.

The sheer physicality of this performance and its riotous risk taking evokes passion and sheer admiration at its bravery and its hope. As we are moved off chairs and jostled as they creates barricades and banners these performers are setting alight a real desire to harness that youthful passion and make change happen. Whether it is in schools in Brazil or it is Environmental protests across the world…

Let’s occupy the schools. Let’s occupy the streets. Let’s occupy the theatres. Let’s occupy everything.

CONTACT 8th/9th May 2019

ColectivA Ocupação

Part of Resistance in Residence, a British Council programme.
A collaboration between Contact and Transform.
Made with support from Casa do Povo, Forma Certa and Converse.
Supported by British Council and The University of Manchester.
Image credit: Mayra Azzi

Barber Shop Chronicles

ROYAL EXCHANGE THEATRE/CONTACT

Written by Inua Ellams

Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Ropes of light like tresses of a weave overlap and knot into bunches as they encircle the gallery of the Royal Exchange – the result is a kind of messy beauty that intrigues. Untangle it and it might be neat and tidy but somehow less than it was before. Such are the tales from 6 barber shops ranging from Peckham in London to Lagos, Johannesburg and Kampala. Writer Inua Ellams understands the value of the barbers’ chair as a confessional and uses it to chronicle the communality of black male global experiences. In a trip that criss- crosses timezones and cultures Ellams takes a razor sharp look at mental health stigma and the struggle with identity, racism and integration.

Barber Shop Chronicles is a riotous, colourful affair full of life and bristling with energy. There is music, singing, dancing, universally familiar bar room jokes, and there are haircuts to fit births, deaths marriages and job interviews. Every shop has the obligatory chair and mirror in which to relax and contemplate your inner world and your outer appearance. Every shop has men chatting about football and their favourite team, reminiscences about countries left behind or expectations about those to be visited. Politics and politicians are scrutinised and families are spoken of with affection or with hurt and frustration. The brilliance of this beautifully constructed drama is the little stories told and the small kindnesses demonstrated that are always present in every shop in every city.

At the heart of this work is the need for communication and the sharing of experiences. It is a basic human requirement for good mental health. Sadly statistics suggest that in Britain black men are 17 more times likely than their white equivalents to be diagnosed with a serious mental illness and young black men are six times more likely to be sectioned. At one point a young man questions how to appear as a strong black man while acknowledging the absence of his own father since he was six. Emmanuel, his barber quietly reflects on the core of this dilemma as he speaks of men living outside our countries often failed by our fathers and our politicians. In understanding the value of vulnerability when letting someone touch you with a razor Ellams approaches his characters like a barber, from “a place of delicacy, of gentleness, of absolute trust.” The result is a perfectly pitched script that speaks a language as universally valuable as the Nigerian Pidgin that cuts through any need to go through English to understand each other.

Royal Exchange Theatre and CONTACT

Co-produced by Fuel, the National Theatre and Leeds Playhouse

Royal Exchange Theatre 7th – 23rd March 2019

Images by Marc Brenner

THE FOREST OF FORGOTTEN DISCOS!

Hope Mill Theatre

Written by Jackie Hagan

Directed by Nickie Miles-Wildin

Commissioned by CONTACT

This is CONTACT’s final show of the year as part of its Contact in the City programme while the new theatre is being built. This time we find them at Hope Mill Theatre which is a perfect festive setting for the Christmas children’s show. Mince pies, mulled wine, carol singers and craft tables for the children set the scene for Jackie Hagan’s The Forest of Forgotten Discos!

The general air of expectation is not disappointed when Alexa from the Amazonian rainforest suddenly appears to welcome the audience into the forest. Children are “scanned” and chatted to by the robotic Alexa who clearly delights in her role of giving information and helping others. Sophie Coward as Alexa is engaging and charismatic. Clad in a fabulous diy hi-tech skirt adorned with flashing lights , Sky remote scanner , etch-a-sketch and other discarded toys and household items, the character is both magically intriguing and easily accessible.

The Forest is full of trees decorated with patchwork crochet squares and brightly coloured gingham, reminiscent trees in local streets with a strong sense of community. The bear’s homes use discarded tents and shower curtains to create a feel that echoes the homeless “villages” in every major city or perhaps the Refugee camps of Calais. Designer Katharine Heath has created a set that is full of charm and is incredibly detailed. Each home is a treasure trove of discarded junk that captures the personality of each character in such a way that I was itching to explore after the show.

The three bears are no cosy, cuddly storybook bears clutching porridge bowls. These bears are discarded or forgotten toys, shabby from past love and cuddles, now scavenging from picnics and refuse bins. Tongue-in-cheek Hagan has a little dig at the organic supermarkets of Chorlton, and keeps the humour flowing with a flatulent bear who lives on baked beans and whose farts are captured as an energy source. Bear Grills, Bear Minimum and Bear Hugs are threadbare, patched and faded,their Velveteen is dulled and gaping where their stuffing pokes through. Each one has a back story that reflects and celebrates the dispossessed and those who feel “other” in our Society. CONTACT, Hagan and Director Nickie Miles-Wildin are clearly all on the same page with a Christmas message that is teaching our children about integration in a joyful and accessible manner.

When feisty 9 year old Red arrives in the forest she is unhappy and frustrated by the prospect of her dad’s new girlfriend. Epitomising that child impulse to run away unaware of risks or outcomes, she encounters Alexa and the bears. The power of disco has gone from the Forest and even virtual assistant Alexa is unsure how to restore it for Christmas. The story of how they all manage to work together despite their differences is a celebration of cooperation and two fingers up to divisive thinking.

Incorporating sign language and visual story telling techniques, this playful tale ensures lots of audience engagement and on stage participation from the children. Even the seating arrangements allow for kids gathering around the stage on cushions and beanbag stools like nursery storytime, while the adults can sit back on chairs or get down with the kids. Having learned our bear boogie dance moves, everyone gets to join in as the power of disco is restored. It is riotous and joyful as the glitterball kicks into action and the disco hits keep playing it’s a little like being in a live TOTPS in the Seventies with The Wombles. Festive feelgood with bags of charm.

CONTACT at Hope Mill Theatre 11-23 December

Images by Lee Baxter

OH MAN

Contact Young Company with Hetain Patel

Directed by Hetain Patel

A leisurely walk through Salford gazing at a skyline of half-built new skyscrapers and giant cranes. The audience is heading to a secret location for the latest production by ContactYoung Company . It feels like I’m entering a very male environment where a performer might suddenly walk off a building sight to wolf whistle, or stroll into the bushes to pee or do something else suitably blokish. Instead we enter a yard full of tyres and cars….there is sweat, grease and testosterone in the air….or is there?

Notes pinned to the fencing are verbatim quotes from men interviewed for this project. They reveal men who don’t always think how stereotypical images suggest. Men who are wary and also feel vulnerable post #MeToo. Men who are uncertain or feel restricted as to how to express their emotions in our society.

Cars are parked up with radios on and doors open. Like art installations they give additional snapshots of masculinity – young studs cruising on a Saturday night fuelled on fast food and hopes of fast women, father’s with cars full of toys and sippy cups, lease cars for business, sober and impressive.

In a garage space, CYC are clad in blue boilersuits squaring up eye to eye with the audience. This is very up close and personal. Full on and unapologetic they posture; knuckle grazing, hair smoothing and checking themselves out. This is a Haka that demonstrates strength and prowess, and also functions as a welcome. Oil drums are used to ear splitting effect. Photos are being taken. Poses shift from happy, carefree snaps for social media to tableau images that menace and disconcert. As with She Bangs The Drums earlier this year CYC deliver something that is punchy, provocative and challenging.

This work has been developed from extensive interviews with men in the community from groups such as M13 Boys and Salford Young Fathers Project. Director Hetain Patel and Producer Keisha Thompson are clearly passionate about this project and this production is bursting with ideas and energy from the whole company. It is as messy, vibrant and challenging as my teenage son’s bedroom.

There are meaty chunks of group scenes in the sweaty gym where men feast on another’s potential sexual conquest sucking on the bones as though it were theirs. Yet the bloke’s awkwardness shines through despite his posturing and bravado. It is akin to watching a Ricky Gervais character in the gym instead of the office. Like layers of an onion this scene can repulse, unnerve and evoke pity.

Using males and females from CYC cleverly allows for the predictable sexual stereotypes of men as predators and women as deserving whores or vulnerable victims to be frequently subverted and challenged. Women can be the aggressors and predators too. A playful gameshow highlights the confusion and risk of generalized assumptions as does an amusing scene on public transport.

There are frequent shifts of mood and energy in the performance as emphasis shifts to look at rape and assault statistics or male suicide risk factors. Tender moments when monologues describe poignant moments such as when a traumatised 13 year old learned we place the blame on the victim not the culprit. A young man describes his ambitions as a dancer and his Libyan/Italian heritage and flips perceptions as he speaks of his father’s pride and encouragement. The M.O.T scene gleefully skits through our expectations of men and chillingly fails many of them placing them on a scrapheap they may struggle to escape from.

OH MAN opens up dialogue around our perceptions and expectations of men and questions just what it means to be masculine. There are no neat answers in this piece but there is palpable excitement as CYC challenge themselves and their audience.

Thurs 30th Aug – Sun 2nd Sept. 2pm& 7pm

SWITCH + TIPPING POINT

The cast of Switch in rehearsal

Tipping Point. Photo by Mark Dawson

Upper Campfield Market

Switch directed by Charlotte Mooney, Ockham’s Razor with Grania Pickard

Tipping Point directed by Charlotte Mooney and Tina Koch

For the latest performance in Contact’s In The City programme, the setting is the stunning Old Campfield Market. Switch is a brand new circus inspired work developed by young people from North Manchester with support from Ockham’s Razor who also perform their award-winning show Tipping Point.

It is a major creative challenge to work with non-circus trained young people to develop work that has its basis in the challenging and innovative style of Ockham’s Razor. Artistic Director Charlotte Mooney ensures there is a neat developmental flow between the two pieces.

Switch has nine individuals in constant poetic flux as they work with poles. Seemingly herding people like refugees, they connect and disconnect, teasing, tantalising and threatening. The identifiable conflicts reflecting intensely human experiences are always evoked with a playful quality and the light touch so characteristic of Ockham’s Razor. With a soundtrack by Bellatrix this new work has charm and style in abundance.

Tipping Point combines mayhem and mastery to create something breathtaking that evokes palpable terror and jaw-dropping awe. Huge poles swing and swirl at speed around this magical chalked circle as the aerial performers play Russian Roulette with their lives dodging and shape shifting on the ground and in the air. Playful and mercurial these highly skilled performers are incredible to observe. Like an ever moving sculpture of sleek poles and sinuous bodies this is a stunning spectacle of just how good modern, cutting edge circus theatre can be.

At Upper Campfield Market 15-19 August

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

MAN ON THE MOON 


CONTACT 

Written & Performed by Keisha Thompson

Directed by Benji Reid

Man on the Moon explores the mysteries of how we connect to others in the World. Is it gravitational force or a random fluke that makes we feel at ease with a total stranger in a supermarket on the 192 bus or fear them as a potential threat to our well being? How can some of us snuggle up securely on the sofa with a parent while others feel adrift and disconnected from their father with no clear map to bring possible reunion? In this one woman show Keisha Thompson uses storytelling, poetry, looped sounds and song to explore father/daughter relationships and the impact of potential barriers such as family ruptures, culture, religion and mental health.

This is impressive work with lots of subtle layers and a real depth of intelligence, determination and vulnerability. The spoken word is beautiful and evocative and is well supported by a soundscape that is never overwhelms the piece. Likewise the lighting by Andrew Crofts and Benji Reid complements the emotional and physical journey the story takes from preparing to board the 85 bus in Whalley Range to eventually reaching Rusholme via the 192 in Winter.

The staging is dominated by piles of books, numerology charts and a shabby cream vinyl sofa. Nothing is wasted – the charts open up conversation with the audience about numerology, which introduces the complexities of a father whose identity shifts with every new name. The many books serve as a communication device for her father to connect with his child, but also tell the story of a father who wants his daughter to “go much further than I did.” The range, complexity and occasional inappropriate elements of their content also create a growing sense of a fractured mind and it’s impact – good and bad- on the recipient. When these book are ordered and reordered on stage or thrown up in the air to fall where gravity chooses there is a growing sense of how they also represent our thought processes. They are an attempt to make sense of ourselves and how we fit in this world, to explore in their pages or in our own thoughts – what is reality  or fantasy – sane or insane. 

The bus journey is inspired as it allows for exploration of cultural perceptions in a diverse community. The journey also evokes a sense of Aboriginal Songlines as it looks at both indigenous memory code and the real fear of inherited mental health problems. 

The placing of the visit near Christmas also connects us all with familial obligations and the trepidation/anticipation of duty visits to sometimes difficult relatives. The theme of the gifting of books as a connector also reminds us of we interpret the meaning behind any gift. Out of the books scattered around or piled up, perhaps the most hopeful and poignant was Thomas  A Harris  I’m Ok – You’re Ok.

There is a genuinely positive sense of this piece using creativity as a means to mental health well being and as a form of social action in a society where the current limitations of social workers, hospitals and police create huge gaps in the support of vulnerable people.

The final scenes are visually arresting as we literally see an unhinged mind open up in front of us. However this is no nightmare but a delightful child’s dreamscape evoking playfulness, magical thinking and possible redemption. This is a truly stellar show about how some emotional relationships can seem as unreachable as the Moon.

21 – 25 Nov CONTACT

Tour details