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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    Interview: What We Didn’t Get Taught At School

    Holly Delefortrie on her one-woman show, Sex-Ed Revisited

    Do you have memories of awkward, red-faced sex-ed lessons at school? Lucky for us, Holly Delefortrie is here to save the day and rewrite the rules with ‘Sex-Ed Revisited’. This female-driven comedy, playing at the VAULT festival for one night only on 27 January, aims to answer your unanswered questions and put the fun and pleasure back into sex-ed.

    We were lucky enough to sit down with Holly and take a deep dive into the inspiration behind this intimate adventure.

    We’re so excited to discuss ‘Sex-Ed Revisited’! Could you describe the premise of the show for us?

    Sex-Ed Revisited is an empowering one woman comedy. It uses clowning, confessional storytelling, interactive games, and song to uncover missing gaps in our knowledge of female-focused Sex Education.

    The show starts by welcoming the audience into the fictional world of the ‘Oh, Oh, Oh’ orgasm support group; where it’s my character’s turn to share. Throughout the course of the show the audience and I embark on a quest for climax; uncovering the myths and filling the gaps in knowledge that get in the way of pleasurable sex. I would describe the feeling of the show as a Kylie-inspired sex-pop adventure, with a number of her pop classics playing throughout the show.

    Would you say that this is quite a personal show for you? Is it based on personal experiences?

    I00%! Instead of feeling empowered and prepared, sex education left me terrified. It took years of feeling sexually unsatisfied before I realised that it wasn’t just about the other person. Sex was something that I was able (and meant) to enjoy!

    It’s so refreshing to see such an open and honest discussion of sexual education; especially female-led! What do you hope audiences will gain from the show’s message?

    I think sex and pleasure need to be shouted about from the rooftops! So many people have unanswered questions, particularly when it comes to the female experience. This topic needs vulnerability and for people to feel comfortable enough to admit what they don’t know and also feel empowered to ask what they want to know more about.

    I always aim to stage open and honest conversations with an audience. Creating a space where an audience can have their say is really exciting for me. I also strongly believe in comedy’s power for making social taboo topics more accessible for a wide range of audiences. I’m always willing to be the idiot in the room as we figure things out together. With this show, it’s not about coming in with all the right answers, but the discoveries you make along the way.

    You described the show as a ‘Kylie-inspired sex-pop adventure’, so we need to ask the important questions: favourite Kylie song?

    Ok, it has got to be ‘On a night like this’. It’s the song I first imagined the show to!

    My favourite album is Fever (full of classics) and my favourite video is ‘All The Lovers’ which I feel encapsulates the show; especially from a pleasure perspective.

    Sex-Ed Revisited has a fair few content warnings and age restrictions! I’m interested to know if this aspect of theatre production affects your creative process at all?

    The show talks about sex in a playful and honest way; but there is no doubt that it doesn’t shy away from the subject! I don’t think restrictions should get in the way of Sex-Ed and encouraging positive conversations. For example, at one point the show teaches the ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’ of the female anatomy. This is an entertaining part of the show but, genuinely, there are too many adults that don’t know their vagina from their vulva! The focus here is pleasure as a good thing and enthusiastic consent. Let’s ostracise violence and welcome orgasm.

    You describe yourself as an interactive solo artist, what makes you want to incorporate this style of storytelling into your performances? Does this sense of improvisation ever scare you?

    As a performer, I love the freedom and play you get from interactive shows. The comments and stories the audience come out with during some of the show’s games are brilliant and always surprising. The improvisational nature of the show means that every night is different, it keeps you on your toes and sometimes that can be scary. However, I love clowning! Putting yourself in the sh*t and not knowing the outcome can be really liberating.

    Do you have any particular goals in mind for ‘Sex-Ed Revisited’?

    The plan is to take the show to Scotland for my Edinburgh Fringe debut as well as tour other festivals and venues this year. I would love to make the ‘Oh Oh Oh’ orgasm support group a real thing in the form of game/activity-based workshop sessions for identifying women to share their thoughts on sex and pleasure. These will be run with a sexual health specialist present and launched as part of Camden People’s Theatre’s community engagement program.

    Finally, what sort of advice would you have for anyone looking to pursue a similar style of storytelling? Any important life lessons you’ve learnt along the way?

    1) Trust your audience! They are here for the ride so take them on your journey.

    2) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes (easier said than done). Mistakes can lead to the most brilliant ideas and funniest of moments!

    3) Trust your instinct and your own way of making. There is no right and wrong way of making a show, it will be different every time.

    4) Note down all your ideas and concepts no matter how wild they seem! They have a funny way of coming back, just when you thought you had forgotten them…

    Thanks again to Holly for finding the time to chat to us. You can catch Sex-Ed Revisited at VAULT Festival on 27 January. Further information and bookings can be found here. More

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    Interview: Who Needs Phileas Fogg Anyway?

    Katie Overstall and Nell Thomas on Around The World With Nellie Bly

    From the Edinburgh Fringe to the Waterloo VAULT Festival, via a trip round the world, performer Katie Overstall has joined her character Nellie Bly on a massive adventure this year. We were delighted therefore when Katie, along with director Nell Thomas, found five minutes to tell ET about this fascinating explorer and what to expect from Shedlight Stories‘ Around The World With Nellie Bly

    Well, we’ve all heard of Phileas Fogg and his trip round the world in eighty days, but Nellie Bly is less well-known. Was she a real person, and what trip did she undertake exactly?

    KATIE: She was a real person! Nellie Bly was a journalist, living in New York in the late 1800s. Nowadays we’d call her an investigative journalist – she wrote all sorts of incredible stories, often putting herself in harm’s way to do so.

    NELL: In our show we focus on just one of her stories; her solo journey around the world, which was inspired by Jules Verne’s book published about 20 years beforehand.

    After convincing her male editors that she was more than capable of undertaking the journey alone as a young woman, she attempted to beat Phileas Fogg’s fictional record and make it from New York all around the whole world and back to New York in less than 80 days.

    Taking a similar route as Fogg in the book, she travelled across the Atlantic, through Europe, Africa, and Asia, across the Pacific and across the United States via trains and ships. Not an easy journey in the 19th century!

    She had to deal with ocean storms, snow storms, delays, and even a competing journalist attempting the same thing in the opposite direction. She visited some incredible places and met a whole host of people along the way (all played wonderfully in our show by Katie) and even got to meet Jules Verne himself.

    You wrote the show yourself: why did you choose to tell Nellie’s story, and why for a young audience?

    KATIE: Nell brought Nellie’s story to me, and I thought it was fantastic – bursting with theatrical promise. I loved that it was a story about a young woman standing up for herself and testing her own limits. I also really love that she started her journey just to see if it was possible. She had a magnificent sense of curiosity.

    NELL: I had come across Nellie by chance and the more I read about her, the more I knew I wanted to make a show about her. Katie and I have worked together quite a lot in the past and we love finding fun and imaginative ways to tell stories and this seemed like it would be the perfect fit. There was the opportunity for adventure, jeopardy, lots of silly characters, and even a monkey! It became pretty clear early on in the process that this would be for a younger audience.

    KATIE: The story presented the opportunity to tell an adventure story that isn’t just for boys, and hopefully we will be able to encourage kids of any gender to be curious and adventurous.

    NELL: I’ve seen studies that show that around the age of eight girls become less confident and lose interest in things they were previously invested in because they are considered activities or subjects for boys, so I really wanted to pitch it at that age range and hone in on the themes of self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-belief, and not letting others tell you that something you’re interested in isn’t for you just because of your gender.

    What kind of person is Nellie?

    KATIE: She’s bold and determined and very practical. She looks for the good in everyone and doesn’t put up with gossip or cruelty. She can be rather stubborn and single-minded though, but she usually admits when she’s wrong eventually!

    Can you tell us a bit about the puppet characters?

    NELL: We have a few, but our main puppet is a monkey (a long-tailed macaque to be more precise) called McGinty. He is based on the real monkey that Nellie adopted in Singapore on her trip and brought home with her to New York.

    Once we decided we were going to aim the show at kids we knew that we had to include him in our story. Throughout the development of the show he became an integral part of it and essentially becomes Nellie’s best friend, her confidant, and even the voice of reason on occasion (even though he is non-verbal).

    He is a fantastic puppet made by Shaun Lati, and is designed to be able to be puppeteered by one hand, allowing Katie to keep him moving while doing the million other things that need to be done in the show simultaneously!

    KATIE: Also he’s really cute.

    NELL: Yes, he’s been a very big hit with the kids. Big and small!

    Do you also use original music and sound in the production?

    NELL: One of the first things we discussed when developing the show was that it should be easy to travel. Like the real Nellie, we travel very light, there are no big set or tech requirements, so we rely a lot on sound to set the scene.

    We originally worked with a sound designer called Joe Hewitt who helped us through our R&D and then with Julian Starr who completed the sound design with wonderful music and a soundscape to really create the atmosphere of the play. It becomes a great shorthand to show where we are in the world at any given point and when there is danger or jeopardy, and we obviously do a lot of travelling in the story, so there are a lot of train and boat noises required to give a sense of motion.

    We also worked with a few other actors to build up some of the soundscape and add some additional voices in. Katie plays so many different characters that it’s nice to give her a bit of a break!

    Why do you think Nellie’s true story is not as famous as that of the fictional character of Fogg?

    KATIE: At the time, her journey was making national headlines daily and was a hugely popular story in America. On the last legs of her trip, crowds would be waiting at every train station she passed through in order to see her. She even wrote a book about her journey, but I suppose it’s hard to compete with an already famous author like Jules Verne, and history does have a tendency to overlook women…

    NELL: This year marks 150 years since the publication of the novel Around the World in 80 Days, and you just have to look at how many adaptations of the story there have been in that time to see that there is something about the tale that people love. I just don’t think they have been given the opportunity to learn that a woman actually attempted this feat in real life. I hope that our show goes a little way towards people recognising that this didn’t just happen in fiction.

    You were at Edinburgh this summer in the sunshine – are you bracing yourself for winter at the Vaults, or will Nellie’s resilience see you both through a residence at the dank cellars?

    KATIE: Honestly, I’m kind of looking forward to it. My costume is quite a heavy Victorian style dress – very beautifully made, but very hot! In the summer sun it was a bit much, so maybe a dank cellar is just what I need!

    Thanks very much to Katie and Nell for this fascinating insight into a true life inspiration. Around the World with Nellie Bly is aimed at families and children age 6+ and runs at the Vaults from Saturday 28 January to Sunday 5 February More