More stories

  • in

    Review: Water Party, Union Theatre



    A staged reading means we only have the writing to really focus on. But Water Party is certainly well enough written that it’s enough to make for a fascinating evening.

    Our reviewing guidelines for Everything Theatre state that we should cover as many aspects of a production as possible; writing, acting, lighting, sound, staging and anything else that makes the show come together in front of us. 

    Of course, we all have our own styles, I tend to lean too heavily on the writing and its themes, making Water Party ideal for reviewing, because this is a staged reading; performed scripts in hand, with minimal other aspects. The idea being it allows for new plays to be road-tested in a minimalistic and inexpensive way. And as a truly selfish aside, it means I don’t feel so guilty when I fail to shout out the praises of the lighting tech!

    It does also mean that the writing has to be strong enough to stand on its own two feet. Thankfully Mimi Collins’ script is just that, taking us into a dystopian future where birth control is put in the water supply to control a population too large to sustain. Couples must apply to have a baby, and if approved, receive a year’s supply of safe water. It’s then tradition to throw a party to celebrate. 

    Celeste and Daniel (Eva-Marie Kung and Jay Faisca) are the happy couple throwing such a party, having finally been approved. Invited are Becky and Ray (Madeleine Herd and Jake Solari), who have previously been approved and are now proud parents, along with Layla and Charlie (Analiese Emerson and Rui Maria Pego), who have just received their third and final rejection, meaning that they will never be able to have their own child. It’s a set-up made for tension, made worse when Celeste lets slip a secret that leads to suggestions that perhaps the selection process isn’t quite as foolproof as all the talk of algorithms may initially suggest. 

    Dystopian futures work best when they feel as if they could really happen. Water Party is certainly that. Climate crisis and over population are very hot topics. But it’s perhaps the ongoing Roe Vs Wade debate occurring in America right now and a woman’s right to abortion that lurks menacingly in the background for much of the play. When it finally comes out from hiding, the play reaches its zenith as Layla delivers her speech on how the water’s birth control is man’s way to take back control over woman. It certainly makes for the most interesting talking points, aided by Celeste’s refusal to believe it, dismissing such talk as a fanciful conspiracy theory. 

    If, and hopefully she will, Collins decides to develop Water Party into a full production then it’s this concept that could prove the most fruitful to build around further, offering as it does a different way to debate such a divisive subject. The ending though is less successful and should undergo a rethink. Whilst it delivers an unexpected plot twist it still feels a little cheap and a convenient way to bring things to an end.

    The fact actors hold scripts in hand and the only real staging is walking from one side of the stage to the other hardly seemed to matter, the powerful and thought-provoking script is more than enough (for now) to make this fascinating. It certainly whetted my appetite to want to see this again as a full production. Oh, and just a final shout out to the unnamed lighting tech, some wonderful switching from one light to another to make us aware we were moving from one room to another! It added that little extra to proceedings. 

    Written and directed by: Mimi CollinsProduced by: Bespoke Plays

    Water Party played for one performance only at The Union Theatre.

    Further information about Bespoke Plays can be found here. More

  • in

    Interview: Returning To The University of Colloquium

    Katherine Stockton and Sean Bennett talk about Colloquium

    Back in July we had a wonderful and insightful chat with Katherine Stockton about Colloquium, her play that explores the lives of stuffy Professors, pompous Candidates, and struggling Students, all suffering under the regime of pressuring higher education. Since then the play has had a rather successful run at Camden Fringe (see our four star review here), undergone some rewrites, played a few additional dates and is now on its way back, first to Sewell Barn Theatre, Norwich and then Queen’s Theatre, Hornchruch.

    So it seemed a good time to sit down with Katherine once more to ask about the play’s journey since last July. And this time we were joined by producer Sean Bennett to help out.

    We originally spoke last July just ahead of Camden Fringe, how did you feel the festival run went?

    Katherine: The Camden Fringe was a great step in the writing process for me. Fringe slots usually allow for an hour-long show, which was a great basis for expanding into the 95-minute production we are currently showing. One of the best things about the Camden Fringe is the opportunity for my emerging actors to display their talents – and I have a fantastic cast that deserve that stage time.

    Sean: Fringe runs are always an intense process, but the cast and crew really pulled it out of the bag. Moving from theatre to theatre allowed us to explore different staging, different movements, and generally put the play through its paces and learn as we went along.

    The result? A range of great performances with some really positive audience and critic reviews, not to mention an OffFest nomination to boot. Of course, there is always room to improve and we will be taking everything we have learnt into our next performances.

    Given that the play is coming back in 2023, we assume there was plenty of positive reactions then?

    Katherine: Our run had great reception from agents, critics, producers and, most importantly, the general audience members. Getting a great review is one thing, but it will always pale in comparison to the sound of an audience enjoying themselves in the moment.

    Sean: Productions of this play have been going, in one form or another, for almost five years now, so we have built up a healthy backlog of reviews and reactions. Each time a run ends, we have taken advice and criticism on board, made changes, and gone into another run, each one receiving better reactions than the last.

    Our Camden Fringe run was by far our most successful run to-date, with healthy attendance, plenty of reviews, and lots of positive reactions. There are still some changes to be made as we head towards our 2023 shows, but we were overwhelmed by the support and congratulations we received in 2022, so weare confident that our audience this year will love what we have to offer.

    What did you learn from the Camden Fringe run then? And has that led to further changes?

    Katherine: Absolutely. We had responses that responded very strongly to the dialogue and intellectual debates, but less so about the overarching structure of the play. This was partly due to the hour slot we had to work with. Since, I have been able to write 35 minutes of new material that addresses this issue. I believe I have been able to construct a well-balanced play that ties up all its ends.

    Sean: Colloquium is a play that, at the very beginning, started out as a pretty comedic piece. Over the years, it has evolved into more of a drama with comedic elements. Reviews and feedback from Camden showed us where that arc hasn’t quite been perfected yet, with some changes from funny to dramatic being quite stark and sudden. The script has therefore been changed to account for this and hopefully give audiences a smoother experience of the story line, ensuring they stay enthralled from beginning to end. Our staging, too, has been tweaked based of some critics’ suggestions, adding to the realism of the piece and ensuring that nothing happens on stage that could distract audiences from the story.

    Theatre, in the end, is a collaborative process. Not just between actors, producers, and directions, but also between the production and it’s audiences and critics. They want to see the best bit of theatre they can find, just as we want to give the best performances we can. Learning from each other is what makes great theatre, and so that’s what we have done.

    You also did some dates later in 2022, where these always part of the plan or did they come about from Camden Fringe?

    Sean: A mix of both. As the play gained more recognition, theatres started to approach us with dates and performance offers, but some of the shows later in 2022 had already been set. This gave us the opportunity to put our learning from the Fringe into practice quickly, while it was all still fresh in our minds, and the minds of audiences and critics.

    And how much will have changed by the time the play hits the stage again in February? Are you constantly rewriting sections?

    Katherine: The show won’t feel like a brand-new play. The six characters: the retiring professor, the ambitious second-hand man wanting his role, the Eton boy, the Welsh applicant out of her depth, the struggling PhD student and the PhD student who refuses to engage with the world of Oxford in a way that will ruin her – they will all still be there. But the writing has been workshopped and had many eyes on it, so it will be a perfected and expanded version. I think it is important for developing writers to always be editing.

    You were meant to be taking the show to the drama school at UEA Norwich, do you feel the play’s themes are perfect for taking to other universities?

    (Due to issues with the venue at UEA the show has now moved to Sewell Barn Theatre)

    Sean: Even though Colloquium focuses on Oxford University there are elements in the story that are applicable across all higher education settings. Anyone who has been to university, or is there now, will see parts of their own experience reflected on stage, so we’re confident that all university audiences will enjoy the play and resonate with it.

    Katherine: This show speaks to any person who has suffered from the hoop-jumping regime of further education. The show was also first staged at UEA, so it was going to be a homecoming for me and other UEA alum’s on the cast.

    And then it’s down to Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, how did these dates come about?

    Sean: Our actors are spread across London and the East of England, so the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch was initially a rehearsal space that we used due to its geographic placement between our two camps of performers.

    We loved the space, and the theatre in general, and our director has worked there before and was keen to utilise the space as a venue for performances rather than just rehearsals. Based on these existing relationships with Queen’s, we were offered the chance to perform there and jumped at it.

    Is it the same cast for the 2023 dates? Does changing actors alter the play in any way?

    Sean: Small changes have been made to the cast in 2022 and 2023, mostly due to actors finding other employment or due to schedule clashes. This is the nature of Fringe Theatre, and we knew this going in. However, the core of the play has always been consistent due to the majority of the cast staying the same and the steady guidance of the director and writer throughout all runs.

    Characters change when a new actor takes on a role, that is unavoidable. But it’s also a good thing. Every time a new actor has joined the cast, it has been a positive experience for the play, without question. The key is that we always ensure that our audition process is rigorous and that there are always plenty of rehearsals for new actors to find their feet, embed themselves in the story, and bond with the existing cast.

    Katherine: I love and admire the actors we have kept, but a new actor can bring in a whole new energy to the production, and find new ways into the text. It’s fantastic to have new blood. We also have an excellent director, Molly, who folds any new cast member well into the net of our show with ease.

    Do you see Colloquium being developed further throughout 2023? Or do you feel it would have reached a point that you want to move on to a new project after all this time with this one?

    Katherine: I can’t really let go of the play. I am very emotionally tied to both its characters and themes. And I am passionate about the fact that it speaks to an experience of British culture that isn’t addressed by another great play that we have currently; the University interview experience. So, I will be sticking with this project and developing it – potentially with a regional tour.

    Sean: Colloquium has developed a lot since its first run, and we intent to give it a long life past 2023, hopefully being published and moving into long-run or touring professional productions. This is a play that we believe would resonate with audiences up and down the country, and so we would like to test that theory in the coming years.

    New projects are being talked about, as eventually the time will come for Colloquium to get published and released into the world for other casts and companies to license and perform. But, for now, we’re focusing on perfect our lay during 2023 and making it the best it can be, and putting it in front of as many audiences as we can.

    Thanks to Katherine and Sean for their wonderful insight into what it’s like to further devleop a play in this way.

    You can catch Colloquium at Sewell Barn Theatre, Norwich (3 & 4 February) and then Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch (26 & 27 February). Further information on these dates and to keep up to date with any further dates, check out Katherine’s website here. More

  • in

    Interview: Delving into the darker side of hospitality

    Lia Burge on her Vault Festival show, Crying into Bins

    Our latest interview for the upcoming Vault Festival is with Lia Burge. In February Lia is bringing her show Crying into Bins to the Festival, which is all about working in hospitality. The show is a spoken word performance full of the horrors Lia has seen first hand. We’re sure it’s one that will resonate with many people who have found themselves in the service industry at one time or another, and even if you don’t have that experience, we reckon it could be a real eye opener! If nothing else, we reckon you should go just to find out about the Margaret Thatcher memorial dinner!

    Crying Into Bins is playing 11, 12 and 18 February and you can book those tickets here.

    Crying into Bins is quite the title. What was the inspiration behind it?

    My friend had a full-on nervous breakdown at the end of a shift one night – just cracked. She was fingering béarnaise sauce out of ramekins into a food waste bin at the time (an activity anyone who’s worked in hospitality will recognise with a withering groan). The next think we knew she was on the floor sobbing, shaking – the works. It was simultaneously one of the funniest and most disturbing things I’ve ever witnessed. 

    And what can people expect if they get along to see the show in February?

    Something a bit different in terms of style I think. Somewhere between theatre and spoken word poetry. In any case, plenty of laughs and a lot to think about. I wrote it to offer a bit of catharsis to hospitality workers, and to explore how working in service can change and shape you as a person. 

    So, is it all based on things you really saw and experienced whilst working in hospitality or have you used some creative licence to embellish a few events?

    There are things in the piece that people will think I’ve made up. But I’m sorry to say that every single story, quote and moment of Crying into Bins is true and happened either to me or one of my colleagues.

    Care to share any of the real horror stories you experienced then which we might hear about in the show?

    If we’re talking tangible horror, my first thought is the time a pigeon got into the venue and was shot down with a BB gun just before the guests arrived. Its blood and guts smattered over 1500 champagne glasses we’d just laid out to pour. But if we’re talking psychological horror, I’ll just say these four words: Margaret Thatcher memorial dinner… You’ll have to come to the show to find out what happened with that one.

    Is it your first time performing in something you’ve written then? What made you decide it was time to write your own show?

    It is. I’ve been avoiding the obligatory ‘one woman show’ for years. I love being in a company, and I could never seem to write a decent play anyway, so it never appealed. But when I got into spoken word in 2018, I found a format that made sense for the way I write, and people really seemed to respond to the way I performed my poetry. It’s just storytelling really, but it has an extra bit of magic that brings it to life. I realise now all the training and my experience with Shakespeare and modern rhythmical plays must have sunk into my soul over the years!

    We’re big fans of spoken word – do you feel this is a theatre genre that is getting more popular at the moment?

    I do think spoken word is getting more popular, and it’s a real mixed bag out there. There are incredible life changing poets like Salena Godden and Kae Tempest, and then there are just people getting up and speaking their truth into a microphone. The latter isn’t often high art, but I think it’s popular because it facilitates creative expression. I’m sort of playing around with the standard ‘spoken word’ delivery and pushing back a little against the penchant poets seem to have for trying to imitate Kae – who is extraordinary… but inimitable. I love poets who use their own voice to tell their story – that’s what’s interesting to me. 

    You have taken part in Hammer & Tongue’s National Slam competitions. What are they then and how does taking part in those compare to putting on your own show?

    Well, a poetry slam is where competitors have three minutes to speak their poem – no singing, no props, no music. Usually the audience will be doing the scoring, so whether you win or not can have a lot to do with who’s out there! For me, it all started by accident when I told a poet friend of mine a story about an unfortunate toilet accident on the back of a horse during the Euros in 1996. She said “that’s a slam winning poem, write it!” I wrote it, I won my first slam, and then I was off! There is of course something more terrifying about getting up there as yourself as opposed to a character in a play. But once you’ve done your bit you can sit down again! Putting on your own show is a massive pressure in so many ways, but I’m looking forward to bringing the two worlds together and seeing what happens.

    Are the Vault dates the first outing for the show or have you been testing it out elsewhere?

    I’ve tested out bits and pieces at poetry nights and at a brilliant scratch night called Scratch Meet in Brighton, which I highly recommend. To be honest I did it to get my friends off my back about writing the piece in full, but the response was great – I think that’s because so many people have worked in hospitality over the years, which makes it highly relatable.

    And as the show is about hospitality, when you are a big star of the stage what would you like included in your own rider?

    Hahaha! I’m not sure… sparkling water? Whatever it was, I’d thank the person who brought it to me effusively.

    Thanks to Lia for taking time out of her day to chat to us. Crying into Bins plays at Vault Festival on 11, 12 and 18 February, at 3.10pm each day. More information and bookings can be found here.

    You can also keep up to date with Lia and hear about forthcoming shows via her Twitter account here. More

  • in

    Feature: What Exactly Is Fringe Theatre?

    Sara West debates what we actually mean when we say Fringe Theatre

    This is an interesting one isn’t it? Lots of us like to talk about fringe theatre, and certainly we like to see fringe theatre, but it’s a slippery term to define. And do we mean venues, or the productions, or the creatives?!

    If we want to find a beginning, 1968 is a good year to start. Until this time the Lord Chamberlain had been the official licenser of plays and had regulated restrictions on drama since 1737, because actors are well known for being a suspect bunch of degenerates who could subvert the compliant and submissive general public if not prevented, right?! The Theatres Act of 1968 finally put an end to that and abolished theatre censorship. As a result, a whole new genre of performance exploded on to the stage starting with the rock musical Hair, which famously, shock-horror, included nude scenes.

    It was no coincidence then that ‘alternative’ theatre in London also began in the same year, when the American Jim Haynes set up the Arts Lab in Drury Lane. The Arts Lab facilitated a collaborative environment for newly founded ‘alternative’ or ‘underground’ theatre groups, as well as offering free rehearsal space for companies on the condition that they performed in the Arts Lab theatre. Although the venue itself didn’t last long, it did start a movement that offered an alternative to mainstream theatre. Undeniably political in its intention, creators of theatre were supporting and reinforcing global outrage found in events like the anti-Vietnam protest movements of the mid-1960s.

    In the following year Tony Bicât and David Hare, both Cambridge University alumni, formed Portable Theatre. This was a year that saw widespread political unrest in Britain, where a youth-orientated ‘counter culture’ flourished and was seen to challenge the existing order. The two recruited actors from the Arts Lab to create a touring company, hence, ‘Portable’ theatre. They had basic costumes and minimal sets but managed to create and sustain powerful performance pieces, the like of which had not been experienced by audiences before, but which proved captivating and popular.

    And so now a pattern emerges: ‘Fringe’ theatre is most likely to be a minimal production with few actors promoting a political motivated narrative, quite possibly concerned with social injustice and always different from the mainstream – subversive even. Early fringe was also responsible for a different type of play. Starting with a generation that had grown increasingly distrustful of the way in which politics were presented and the authenticity of political life in general, shows were developed that played with form and moved away from a linear narrative. Highly surreal, comic strip and anti-naturalistic presentations became more popular and today the most interesting productions have continued that trajectory, incorporating endless forms of diverse and inclusive performance genres and delivery mechanisms.

    Another characteristic of fringe IS its slipperiness; its refusal to be defined. When content is highly relevant to the present and has a desire to break down social taboos, the raison d’etre of the performance is to prompt a response from the audience and deliberately create something that is at odds with the mainstream. If successful and the audience are informed anew, then fringe playwrights and actors tend to move on and find new subjects to bring attention to, but let’s not ignore the training ground that is fringe. All playwrights, performers and other creatives have to start somewhere. The King’s Head in Islington for example, the first pub theatre in London since Shakespeare, remains strong since its inception in 1970 and has proved an impressive training ground for playwrights, directors and performers alike. Names like Joanna Lumley, Maureen Lipman, Hugh Grant, Steven Berkoff and Tom Stoppard (to name but a few) have all graced the venue throughout its history.

    There are currently 19 or so functioning pub theatres across London, all fostering new talent. Tickets are as cheap as a couple of pints (or a large glass of overpriced wine!) and produce some of the most thought-provoking theatre. Writing in London Pub Theatres Magazine in 2019, Annie Powers declared “The joy of fringe theatre is its adventurousness and inclusiveness. I have often left a mainstream theatre feeling disappointed but have never walked away from a fringe play without feeling either exhilarated and inspired; challenged and disturbed… Fringe productions make you think and that is, in my opinion, what art should do”.

    There is more to say about fringe clearly, much more than this article will allow, and I have deliberately not written about the fringe festivals, as they are worthy of a dedicated feature all of their own. What I will say is that fringe is a fundamental part of theatre ecology and increasingly the best fringe venues are embedded in their local community, reflecting the social identity of that group. It will be interesting to see how those venues develop in the future: as their permanence within their community solidifies, do they lose the label of fringe? And does it matter? The young reactionaries who were behind the explosion of the first alternative performances are now the influential elder statesmen of the theatrical elite. As long as new talent and new ideas continue to push from the bottom, theatre will continue to reinvent itself, question the establishment and provide a voice for disaffected or marginalised communities. And that’s just one of the many joys of live theatrical performance.

    We plan to publish 26 individual features during 2023, released every other Tuesday. They are linked only by being about theatre and/ or reviewing. You can find all features published as part of this series here. More

  • in

    Interview: Let’s Take A Brief Moment For This

    Writer Judi Amato talks to us about For a Brief Moment and Never Again Since

    When we came across Judi Amato‘s honesty in talking openly about the financial challenges faced in bringing a show to the VAULT Festival it certainly caught out attention, raising that always tricking subject of money and the arts. It seemed a good enough reason to grab some time with Judi to chat about her upcoming show For A Brief Moment and Never Again Since, to find out not just about the financial difficultes but more importantly, the show itself.

    Hi Judi, Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about the show?

    My name is Judi Amato and I’m the writer and producer of For a Brief Moment and Never Again Since. The play revolves around a young couple and how their lives are affected when one of them goes to jail for a highly publicised crime. The play aims to offer an insight into the complexities of relationships within the prison system, and how the family members of convicts are often assumed to share their guilt, to have known about their crimes or to condone it somehow.

    Was there a particular case or incident that inspired the show then?

    I came across a podcast by a woman whose husband was in prison. Throughout the podcast she mentioned again and again the stigma and backlash she’d been facing since her husband’s arrest: the constant accusations of having been complicit, of having enjoyed the results of his crimes, the way even some family members had become suspicious of her. This prompted a wider research into crimes and the way the family members of convicts (and in particularly women) are often dragged through the mud and looked at with suspicion based on the assumption that “they must’ve known”. I can remember cases in which I myself have thought “well there is no way you wouldn’t notice if your spouse did this”. Why would I think that? Why would anyone? That’s the assumption I wanted to question in myself and others. So the play wasn’t inspired by a particular case, but rather by the fallacy of guilt by association itself.

    The show is directed by Lisa Miller who is on her third season directing at Vault Festival. That sounds like some great experience to have onboard?

    Photo Credit @ Henry Roberts

    Lisa is an incredible human. Having her on board as director and dramaturg has been the best part of this generally incredible experience. She is passionate, brilliant, and she loves the play. Her background and lived experiences share similarities with the characters’, so she brings a real honesty to it. You can tell she wants it to be the best it can be, and that she’s putting her whole heart in it – and donating her time. Someone like her did not need to do that. I’m grateful to have her. And since this is my first experience and I’ve found myself having to produce the play, her knowledge has made the process a thousand times easier.

    We’d love to ask about a Tweet you posted recently

    We are about 80 tickets from breaking even. At times it feels daunting, at times it feels within reach. Both times I’ll talk about it, because maybe I wouldn’t be so scared if other creatives had talked to me about the process. #openbooks #theatremaking— Judi (@Judi_Writes) January 5, 2023

    What are the challenges that a show like yours faces in coming to the VAULT Festival?

    Honestly there’s a million challenges. Your first time showcasing your work is bound to be nerve-wrecking. Now add the lack of funding, and all of a sudden you are wearing all the different hats. I can’t focus on the jitters because I have to produce, invite people, monitor our sales, ensure complete transparency in our books, do all our P&P… It’s overwhelming. I wake up and check our income. I’ve been picking up a lot more shifts at work just in case we don’t break even. All the while I am teaching myself how to do all these things. So it can be extremely challenging. But I have to say, we’ve been lucky because we’ve had some complete strangers offer their help. So it has also shown me there’s a lot of solidarity between new creatives.

    As for the tweet you mentioned… People will showcase their wins and hide their losses. It’s self-preserving, and it makes sense when we are constantly judged on how much we achieve. But it’s extremely discouraging for people trying to get into the industry. If nobody talks about the rejections, the months you are too drained to write, the terror of losing all of your money if you don’t break even, then people like me coming into the industry might think they are the only ones experiencing it. They might feel very alone, or scared to ask for help – because if nobody else is struggling, then surely that means you are the one doing it wrong. But I’m too much of an oversharer to keep the process for myself, so I’ll be as honest as I can and hope it helps someone out there – and if I take a hit because of it… I think it’s still worth doing.

    Is this a conversation that you think should be happening more widely among creatives to help or even just reassure younger or up and coming creatives?

    Absolutely. New creatives are making such a difference in the industry anyway – they cast differently, they talk about money more openly, advocate for more diversity at all levels. But we’re also all fighting against the fact that there’s hardly any space for us, and even less money going around. So of course talking about your struggles feels terrifying, because if people begin to see you as “weak”, then there’s a hundred other people desperate to do what you do. But when you do talk about it absolutely makes a difference. And if we all start doing it, then that shows the downside of the industry – but also that you can overcome it, and that struggling doesn’t change your worth.

    Photo Credit @ Henry Roberts

    Photo Credit @ Henry Roberts

    How have rehearsals been so far?

    We had one rehearsal at Stratford East – the venue donated the space to us, and it was an amazing place to rehearse in. We got to take some incredible rehearsal shots in a place that looked and felt lively and professional, so we are very grateful for their help. All our other rehearsals have been at The Questors in Ealing. I wrote to them shortly after being denied funding, terrified of having to find affordable spaces in London to rehearse, and they couldn’t have been more accommodating. They gave us an amazing price, they let us rehearse later than their closing time, and have generally been brilliant help for us. We’ll be back.

    What’s next for you and for For A Brief Moment?

    Exciting news – we’ve been offered a transfer to a theatre for a short run! I’m not sure I can be more specific at the moment, but follow our socials for the announcement coming soon.

    Finally, do you have any recommendations for other shows to check out at VAULT Festival?

    SO MANY. Caligula and the Sea, Butchered (check out our interview here), Honour-Bound, Caceroleo, Hyena, Thirst, Right of Way, Sluts with Consoles, In Good Spirits, I F*cked You in My Spaceship, The Good Women, Gray Area, No I.D. – I’ll have to clone myself to see them all!

    Our thanks to Judi for taking the time to have a chat with us. For a Brief Moment and Never Again Since plays VAULT Festival 2023 on 28 and 29 January. Further information and tickets can be found here. More

  • in

    Interview: A Bucket Load Of Butchery

    Nic Lawton and Ezre Holland on Butchered.

    We were excited by Expial Atrocious‘ trailer for BUTCHERED which plays the first weekend of VAULT Festival (28 & 29 January). Defying the the old aphorism about watching the sausage being made we caught up with co-artistic directors Nic Lawton and Ezra Holland to find out a little more about their show, their experiences with butchery and some of their VAULT Festival highlights.

    [embedded content]

    First off, tell us a bit about BUTCHERED? What can audiences expect in the Vaults in January?

    “BUTCHERED” is a physical, absurdist horror unlike anything you’ve seen or heard before. Set in a dingy kitchen basement, Master Sausage only knows one thing. Eat, sleep, sausage, repeat. They cannot imagine their life beyond the butchery. But when a babbling, fresh-faced Apprentice arrives, a harsh reality is brought with them. As tensions rise, sinister questions rear their heads. What does it mean to be happy? Is there more to life than this? What’s in those sausages anyway?

    If audiences want to see a show that is visually and audibly immersive and will leave them thinking “what the f*ck?”, then have we got the show for you… Expect stomach-churning sound design, a heart-felt reimagining of absurdist theatre and the want to have a shower afterwards.

    Have either of you worked in a kitchen – should we be worried that “BUTCHERED” might be based on your real-life kitchen experiences?

    Ez: I worked in my mum’s cafe when I was younger but luckily the kitchen in BUTCHERED isn’t one that we would experience in real life (or at least you hope it wouldn’t) However, I did make a trip to my favourite butchers at Greendale Farm Shop down in Devon to learn how sausages are made and it was certainly an eye opening experience. The butchers there were incredible and even let me go into the big carcass room! It was amazing but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were slightly confused by my enthusiasm!

    “BUTCHERED” is less about haunting kitchens and more about the things that haunt our characters. Being stuck in an endless work cycle, struggling to voice your passions and doing what you need to do before you can do what you want to do are some of the main themes in the show – themes that we feel everyone can relate to in some way.

    BUTCHERED is the second show from Expial Atrocious, right?

    Yes, our first show as a company was a digital production we wrote, filmed and edited ourselves called Hear. Speak. See. for Edinburgh Fringe’s online festival in 2021. It’s a very weird and wonderful show and spearheaded our journey to find our niche. We started leaning into the horror side of theatre from that point, and after a long discussion about creating a thrilling narrative, poignant imagery and a shockingly emotional conclusion in a room full of whiteboards, “BUTCHERED” was born. It’s Hear. Speak. See.’s big, scary brother and we adore it.

    It sounds to us like playing the “Pit” in The Vaults might fit really well with your themes and your atmosphere, would that be fair?

    That’s spot-on! As the show is set underground, this will be the first time we’ll get to perform it beneath the surface… We can’t wait to truly immerse the audiences at VAULT Festival in the world of Master Sausage and their Apprentice, in the place where our show is meant to be. It’s dark, it’s dingy, it’s home.

    Photo credit @ Moments to Media

    Photo credit @ Moments to Media

    In 2022, BUTCHERED went to Edinburgh Fringe, how did that go? Have you continued to develop the show since then?

    Edinburgh Fringe was the best experience we’ve ever had. We had a blast and audiences from varying backgrounds and theatrical tastes took something from the show, which is exactly what we were hoping for! This may be a monster of a show with what seems to be a slightly ridiculous premise, but the message is universal and important.

    The show will always receive tweaks here and there, and Edinburgh was a great time for us to receive feedback, especially from fellow artists who we met there and are still in contact with today. Overall, Edinburgh was filled with happy crying, lots of nerves and a bucket load of butchery and we couldn’t have asked for a better experience to kickstart the show!

    Your trailer highlights some of the physical storytelling in BUTCHERED and suggests plenty of work has gone into your choreography, can you talk a little about that?

    We love working physically when devising, and we thrive in the development of finding a language for a performance. “BUTCHERED”’s language contains a heaping of dynamic physical theatre, an abstracted sense of time and is set to a killer soundtrack. We’re all about the sounds and the visuals in this show, as we relish in creating lasting moments for our audiences while presenting the familiar in unfamiliar ways. That’s a big part of our company’s practice – showing how the scariest being on the planet doesn’t live under your bed. The monster is man itself.

    What’s next for both BUTCHERED and for Expial Atrocious?

    We had a small taste of Edinburgh Fringe last year and are hungry for more. We’ve got plans to make “BUTCHERED” even bigger and better and have a longer run at EdFringe 2023. We’d also love to tour the show to venues who support new writing, fringe theatre and something very out of the ordinary.

    As for the company, we want to keep pushing and making even more nightmarish theatre.

    Finally, do you have any recommendations for other shows to check out at VAULT Festival?

    We recommend Holly Delefortrie’s Sex-Ed Revisited, (you can find our interview with Holly here) “Caceroleo” by Rhys Hastings and Nastazja Domaradzka, “Sluts with Consoles” by our good friends Dogmouth Theatre and the incredible Ugly Bucket with their techno, emotional masterpiece “Good Grief.”

    Our thanks to Nic and Ezra for finding time to chat with us. Butchered plays VAULT Festival 28 and 29 January, further information and tickets can be found here. We are looking forward to meeting Master Sausage so do check back for our Everything Theatre review. More

  • in

    Interview: Learning About Malay

    Mohamad Faizal Abdullah on Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? (Who Took My Malay Away?)

    What’s so amazing about theatre, and especially Fringe Theatre, is the diversity of what we can experience. And the VAULT Festival makes that even more noticeable as over it’s run, we can see shows from all around the world all in one place.

    One such show is Mohamad Faizal Abdullah’s Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? (Who Took My Malay Away?) which plays for four performances between 28 January and 5 February (full dates and info can be found here). Billed as a lecture-performance inspired by Mohamad’s own experiences of living in London, it explores what it means to be Malay and what it then means to be Malay in Singapore.

    Always keen to expand our knowledge of other cultures, we caught up with Mohamad to find out more about the show and Malay.

    The play is about your experiences of living in London as someone from a different culture. What made you want to explore this theme on stage?

    It’s an opportunity to hear a Malay voice, a Malay perspective, see Malay aesthetics, sensibilities, on a London stage. We don’t often see that. And even more uniquely, a Malay person from Singapore. I think people from the UK might know Singapore, but not so much the Malay Singaporean. It’s not so much about setting the record straight, more of ‘here is what you might have missed’.

    What more can you tell us about the play, what do you hope it says to an audience?

    It’s him sharing his culture and history, giving the audience an insight but it’s also a chance for him to look at himself as a Malay, a Muslim and a Singaporean, who is living in London. As he is sharing, he is also discovering. It’s about his sense of self, of belonging and his place in this world and whether it matters or not if people allow him the space. Or if he should not wait for that space and instead fight for that space and own it.

    You’re originally from Singapore, and describe yourself as Muslim-Malay, what can you tell us about the Malay aspect of your culture?

    The ‘Muslim’ and ‘Malay’, for me at least, they both complement each other. Islam is my faith and Malay is my ethnicity. I have found it very beneficial how elements of one feed into the other. In my case, I find it hard to separate the ‘Malay’ and the ‘Muslim’ in me. And being a Muslim-Malay from Singapore, that is another layer that I need to work through. If we’re talking specifically about Malay, I love the colours, the flavours and community. We are warm and generous. We defer, but we’re not weak.

    You have made theatre in both Singapore and the UK, how do the two differ, if at all?

    The audiences are definitely different. And especially with the kind of work that I like to do and this performance especially, I think the question of who I’m making it for becomes very important. Theatre in Singapore is still young, growing and finding its footing, whereas theatre in the UK is more mature and has a longer and more varied history. That age and history is also a factor when it comes to making work and the kind of work you make. The opportunity and accessibility to make theatre also differs. Although the challenges differ, it is as challenging to make theatre in Singapore as it is in the UK.

    Do you feel it important that London theatre embraces the wide range of cultures that are present in the city?

    Yes. Ideally I would not like to explain why I think so, but I feel like I have to. We should happily embrace the range and diversity that is present in London. It might not always be our cup of tea, we might not agree with what is onstage, but we are in the ecosystem, and we need to find ways to co-exist. And the ‘ecosystem’ is not just the artists. It includes venues, producers, companies, drama schools/ universities, ACE, funders and just as importantly, the audience.

    And we talk about diversity all the time, but is there enough opportunity for people such as yourself to present work from other cultures?

    There will never be enough opportunities. We can always do more. I think the dream is for there to be a day where we don’t have to specifically create opportunities for a marginalised or under-represented groups; each work is chosen and judged based on the merit of its quality, creativity and craft. That is the goal. We’ll get there hopefully.

    During lockdown you put on Keturunan Ruminah: A WhatsApp Play, which, as the title suggests, was a play presented over WhatsApp! What was that experience like, and do you have plans for anything similar in the future?

    It was the first time we tried anything like that, and we were experimenting and learning together as we went along. And there were many things that we learned that we are keen to keep exploring as we go along. It was also an opportunity to understand how an audience takes in a performance and what their expectations and thoughts are. I was recently awarded the DYCP grant that I will be using to explore creating digital performances. As well as participating in Camden People’s Theatre Starting Blocks programme – a collaboration with Hector Manchego, a fellow theatre maker whom I met at the Royal Court’s No Borders. We will be experimenting with digital and non-conventional ways of making performance and see how that will affect the audience experience. Making and experimenting with digital performances is my new infatuation.

    What else do you have planned for 2023 then? Will we be seeing Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi elsewhere once the VAULT Festival is over?

    I’m manifesting for a more creative year in 2023, be it as a theatre maker or an actor. The creative team and I hope that this run at the VAULT Festival will open more doors for Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? We are definitely looking to tour the performance across the UK and stage it for a longer run in London. We are also looking at conducting workshops about learning Jawi, Bahasa Melayu and the different aspects of Malay culture that will run parallel to the performances and tour.

    Our thanks to Mohamad for his time. Siapa Yang Bawa Melayu Aku Pergi? plays 28 & 29 January and 4 & 5 February at 4.15 each performance. Further information and bookings can be found here. More

  • in

    Interview: Mam and Son and Mike Make Three

    Seventh Sense Theatre’s Phillip Jones on new play Dog Hair

    As much as we love the power of theatre, we all know that there is a lack of proper representation of working class. Here at ET we are always trying to do our small part in addressing this, so when we heard about Seventh Sense Theatre and their new play Dog Hair, they went to the top of our list of companies we wanted to chat to.

    And thankfully they were happy to talk to us as well. So we grabbed some time with one of their Artistic Directors, Phillip Jones, who also writes and performs in the play, to discuss not just Dog Hair, but just why working class voices still aren’t being heard regularly enough on the stage.

    Let’s dive in right in, what can you tell us about Dog Hair then?

    Dog Hair is a charming, witty and bite filled story of a mother and son dealing with the loss of their nan. It’s set in a post-industrial area of the country and when SON returns home for the funeral, he also has to deal with a rising battle between identity and his roots. Throw in MAM’s boyfriend, MIKE, who isn’t from the area, and some sparks happen. Dog Hair takes a look at asking why do the places we’re from, affect us so much. Why do people never leave if there’s nothing keeping them there.

    Seventh Sense Theatre’s aim is to bring working class stories to the fore, is that where Dog Hair comes from?

    Initially yes. I very much wanted to put an authentically represented working-class family at the centre of a play. There’s not enough of them, and it’s what I love to see so why not. And I was very pissed off at seeing working-class stories written by people who don’t have lived experience, just looking to tick a box.

    The characters became stereotypes and caricatures of themselves. But it quite quickly became a bigger job when I realised there’s also a lot I’m trying to figure out as a person through this play. When Dog Hair started to take some shape and the characters started to speak for themselves, it became far more powerful and said so much more about working-class people than it originally did. As a company we keep working-class audiences in mind first and foremost with everything we do, but we also don’t believe that working class stories have to be ‘about’ being working class, or that those stories can only be relevant to working-class people. We’re aiming to put those audiences first, make them a priority where in the arts especially they’re so often not, and then break down the door.

    From what we’ve read it feels to be based in a working-class industrial town, was any real place in mind at all, or is it a very generic industrial town where the factories and industries have slowly closed their doors?

    Fully inspired by the place I was born and raised, the Rhondda Valleys in Wales, where industry was more ripped away than its doors slowly closed. (Cheers Maggie Thatch). I think one of the beauties of the play is it could work and be at home in any formerly industrial area in the country. So much of our countryis boarded-up factories and empty hills.

    Photo credit @ Lottie Amor

    There is also talk of never really being able to leave your roots behind, do you feel this is an issue for working class, that it is almost a stigma hung around people’s necks?

    I think, the underlying thing here, the idea of roots for the working class is as painful as ever. Especially in the last 50 years when according to our media and governments we’ve gone from being the salt of the earth to the scum of the earth. Our communities used to be known for offering a helping hand and giving the shirts off our backs. Now we’re regarded as chavs and places to avoid because ‘your tyres will get nicked’.

    A lot of Dog Hair is about the idea of your roots. I think there is still a stigma. When you meet a new person one of the first things you’re asked is ‘Where are you from?’ In a way of categorising you before the conversation even begins. It’s very normal to hate the place you’re from, but only you can hate it. No one else who isn’t from there can. You’ll still fight for it and defend it. Because it’s your roots and so much of what you are. Even if you’ve left them physically.

    The show’s characters are called SON and MAM, what was the thinking behind the generic names instead of actual character names then?

    To me the place the story is set in is as much a character as the people. It’s the unseen force that exists just out of view but affects everything the characters do and say. It knows MAM and SON intrinsically, so doesn’t need their names.

    When I was growing up I didn’t call my Mam Alison, I want the readers to feel the same intimacy and sense of knowing these characters. The only person named in the script is MAM’s boyfriend, MIKE. Not from the area. I wanted that to aid to his feeling of not looking like he fits in.

    Why do you feel there is a lack of people from working class backgrounds making theatre right now?

    Right, where do we kick off?

    The first thing that comes to mind is why the fuck would anyone from a working-class background want to make theatre? There’s barely any representation for us, a minuscule amount of gatekeepers that are from the places that we are. And the ones that are, have to break their backs and minds to get funding. It’s a hard, lonely and mostly thankless job if you’re not in a family with a useful dose of nepotism at your disposal. (BTW for anyone who is a nepo baby, I’d be doing the exact same so don’t feel bad.)

    Theatre is very expensive, from R&D to performance you need a lot of money. A lot of money regularly comes from the family bank account for some artists. The working class don’t have that luxury. (Again, trust me, I’d be doing it if I could).

    Only within the last year have there been a thin showing of working-class made or content based shows. Far from enough. Most of the year it’s the same kind of story being re-produced and re-told to please the powers that be. Why would a working class person look at the majority of theatre’s programming and think, yeah that’s a bit of me? They wouldn’t. Film has a much better offering for them.

    When us working class somehow end up making theatre, we’re a tickbox. We’re not made to feel special, we’re the weirdos. The angry poor young people that make audiences cringe and recoil when we speak with our regional accents. We’re not made to feel we belong here. There’s an indifference to austerity inthe UK and it reflects crystal clear within its theatre.

    Who do you feel Dog Hair’s audience is, are you making working class stories for a general audience, or are you really trying to make theatre to bring a different audience into the theatre that might not always feel as if theatre is for them?

    Honestly, a bit of both. Our drive as a company and part of the reason Seventh Sense started making work has always been to break down barriers in who gets to see and access theatre, get stories to the people they’re for and about, and make people who don’t normally feel at home in the theatre feel as welcome as anyone else. For our work, this means a big core drive to make working-class audiences (and potential audiences) feel like what we do is something they can connect to, see themselves represented in, and get involved in. However, we’re also constantly grated on a bit by the idea that working-class stories, or stories created with working-class audiences in mind, can’t also be for a general audience too.

    Our ethos as a company is ‘class theatre, without the divide’. In the long-term sense of it, this extends to audiences as well as the people making the work. Dog Hair is a working-class story, created by a majority working-class team, and on a mission to get into spaces it’ll reach those people but the themes at its core are universal. Dog Hair is for working class audiences, yes, It’s also for anyone who’s lost someone, anyone who’s had a low-key identity crisis, and anyone who finds it a tad weird (or incredibly strained) when they head back to the place they grew up, as so many of us did recently thanks to the old pandemic.

    And after VAULT Festival, what else do you have planned for 2023 then?

    Well we’re back to work to pay rent first and foremost. What we’re aiming to do is find a place for Dog Hair to continue its journey. An ideal next step for us would be a longer run, and then getting the show on the road on a regional tour, especially in front of more people in lower-income areas. Taking the show back to Wales at some point would be class too. So we’ll be starting to lay the groundwork to make that happen. We’ll also have a look at putting on another CLASS ACTS scratch night, full of working class writers and creatives (trust me the last one was nuts), and we’re keen to get the ball rolling on our first short film.

    Our thanks to Phillip for taking time out of his day to chat with us. Dog Hair will play at VAULT Festival 3 – 5 February (including a matinee on 5 Feb). Further information and bookings can be found here.

    If you wish to support Seventh Sense Theatre they are currently crowdfunding for funds to develop Dog Hair. You can contribute towards their fund here. More