Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Black Men Walking in Coventry + Choke

Coventry is already reaping a dividend from its forthcoming City of Culture status: it’s become a Stan’s Cafe theatrical destination of choice. Last week we were there to see Graeme surfing Chris O’Connell’s script in the Theatre Absolute production Choke and the week before two trips went to the Belgrade Studio to see Tyrone Huggins in Black Men Walking presented by Eclipse Theatre. Both trips reminded me how much I like going to the theatre.

Black Men Walking took us up into the Yorkshire Dales with three seniors from a walking club. Their characters and back-stories unfold amiably through the show until they meet a young woman at the walk’s summit. Inevitably the weather closes in injecting some peril into proceedings, but the show’s main agenda is exploring the relationship between these black men and the land they walk on. The young woman, full of dynamic energy, questions what she perceives as the men’s passive approach to staking their claim in contemporary British society.

The text by Testament weaves lovely poetic passages into the show’s easy dialogue. Sometimes the poetry slips into song and dance lurks on the fringes of the show. Obviously when staging a show set on a walk the big challenge is to stop the characters striding off the stage whilst keeping a sense of them being in motion, this felt like the most awkward element of an otherwise accomplished show through which we are drawn by four engaging performances.

Choke is set further out, on the east coast of Scotland, in the luxurious mansion of a Big Pharma millionaire. Stu has been doorstepped by Rob, an old university buddy crazed and desperate to be cut open by his old pal to alleviate some mysterious inner agony. From this launch pad the characters’ backstories spool out rapidly to include literary stardom, medical trials death, divorce, near death by pretzel and a potential cure for AIDS. Explained in chronological detail the show sounds absurd but in action with O’Connell’s lean dialogue batted back and forth between Graeme Rose’s frenzied Rob and Matthew Wait’s smooth but often exasperated Stu it works really well. The show’s energy and bravura panache keep you hooked. Pause too long and I suspect it would all collapse but it doesn’t pause and it’s played with total conviction and it is a highly enjoyable blast.

Part of the joy of Choke was being in Theatre Absolute’s Shop Front theatre, it’s a kind of warmer retail version of our venue. You buy your ticket, there’s no fuss, you walk in, watch a show close up, buy some reasonably priced drinks, have a nice chat, go home – lovely. Let’s get back there in March for the Shop Front Festival.

MidlandsImprov.com: REVIEW: BETWEEN US

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“Between Us” is a one act play following the ups and downs of a single relationship.  Created by Rachel Thorn & Alex Keen, it is as different from the cliched view of improv as you can imagine.  Sad.  Touching.  Beautiful.

At the start of the show, the two performers ask us to describe an Alex or Rachel we know in real life, and this plants a seed for what follows.  In this performance the suggestion led to Alex having a Greek father obsessed with Alexander The Great.  In turn it was revealed that the father had died when Alex was just 9 years old, a subject that Alex had only ever discussed with Rachel and his therapist.  In contrast, Rachel was still living at the family home as her mother’s multiple illnesses meant she couldn’t be left alone for too long.

Rachel’s mother became the central point of tension for the couple as their romantic relationship progressed.  Rachel realised the gap between wanting to look after her mother and having to look after her, almost envious at times of Alex’s freedom in this regard.  Alex enjoyed the mother’s company but found home life very restrictive in that environment, making everyone old before their time and infringing on the relationship he had with the woman he loved.  And so we reached an impasse.  Rachel couldn’t move in with Alex as that would mean abandoning her responsibilities.  And Alex couldn’t move in with Rachel as he didn’t want to end up as another carer for the mother.  And so we saw the couple fall apart due to circumstance, with neither side the villain but unable to find a way to live in love together.

This story was told in a realistic, natural way.  Nothing felt forced or unexplained, a complaint I often have with theatre, TV and film.  Instead, the things the characters said and did rang true.  And that’s all down to the skill and honesty of Rachel Thorn & Alex Keen, who were showing something of themselves as they created the show.  We just got to see how these two people reacted to the things life throws at us.  I was reminded of the time spent looking after my ill father and how that affected other aspects of my life.  It felt a little bit like my story too.  And as everybody has some hard times, as everybody has relationships that just don’t work out, this felt like a story for us all.

 

Between Us can be seen at multiple venues across the Midlands and North of England.

https://www.facebook.com/pg/betweenusimprov/

Graeme Rose's Blog: Choked Up – reviews

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Rob, (Graeme Rose) doubled up with pain, pays a visit to his old University pal Stu (Matthew Wait), in Stu’s “grotesque mansion” somewhere in the North, “overlooking Norway”. Stu attempts to show Rob the door in Chris O’Connell’s latest play, CHOKE.  Photo by Andrew Moore.

Presented by Theatre Absolute in the Shop Front Theatre, Coventry. February 6th – 17th 2018.

Reviews:

Nick Le Measurer – Leamington Courier. Friday 9th Feb.

Steve Adams – Warwickshire What’s On. Weds 7th Feb.

Muddy Stilettos. Weds 7th Feb.

Steve Chilton – Elementary What’s On. Weds 7th Feb.

Fierce Festival: Unrestricted View: Opening Night and Demonstrating the World

Welcome to Unrestricted View, a series of written responses to Fierce 2017 from local writers.

Response to the Opening and Demonstrating the World by Chris Ansell

Opening Night

On an inconspicuous night in October, Fierce Festival landed. An opening night of performance and partying set the tone for what was to be an invasion of contemporary performance across the city.

 

Standing in the Hub, I looked around hoping to bump into somebody I knew. I didn’t. They seemed a friendly enough bunch but after a day working in London I wasn’t really in the mood for making friends. So, I got a bottle of beer and preoccupied myself by looking around the bar, waiting for the first performance to commence.

 

On the bar tables were scattered some event programmes. I picked one up and had a flick through (partly attempting to look like I was waiting for somebody rather than just being the guy who turned up to the party alone). Five performances were to take place throughout the night and each had a small mention on the double page spread that detailed the evening’s schedule. Each act was mentioned by performance name, artist name, time and a 50 word description.

 

50 words! That was it! No artist statement or exhibition text just a brief synopsis of the piece. Where was the information? How was I to know what to expect with only 50 words? I looked around as saw no exhibition labels, statements or wall literature. All I had were the 50 words in front of me.

 

Thank fuck.

 

I felt a sigh of relief.

 

For once, there was no literature or information telling me what to expect and what the work was about. Instead, I would have to wait to experience the work for myself and was given license to realise my own thoughts about each act. Rather than have the work described to me before I had even seen it, I would be free to approach the work with a fresh mind that had not been influenced by background, content or context.

 

As each act commenced I was presented with something completely new and unexpected. Each provoked a gut reaction; a thought, a feeling. I felt things that I was not prepared for. In fact, I had not been prepared to feel.

 

I had become so used to walking around galleries and thinking about each piece on display and thinking about how it related to the text that I had forgotten that art can make you feel. I had become so accustomed to reading first then looking and thinking that I had forgotten that art touches the body not just the head.

 

As performances progressed my head did engage and I thought about each piece and what it meant. But this was not just a case of connecting the dots between the artwork and the literature. Instead, I really had to think.

 

It was an exhausting experience – feeling so much and thinking so much – but it was thrilling, and entertaining, and terrifying. And I loved every minute.

Demonstrating the World

A windy day in Birmingham as storm Brian hits. A trailer sits at the top of Victoria Square, facing the iconic Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. One side of the trailer is open, its side lowered to form a make-shift stage, and inside can be seen an assortment of props and objects.

 

On the protruding stage, a man stands wearing black and a green high-vis jacket.

 

He walks around his make-shift world and goes about daily tasks: watering a plant, taking a hat off, opening a step stall. As he does he addresses his growing audience, explaining his actions through the PA system and wireless microphone headset.

 

People watch, intently. People watch as he performs the most mundane tasks at a frustrating speed.

 

Why? Why do people gather to watch, taking time out of their day to watch a man perform tasks that they see and do everyday? There is no introduction to the occurrence, no sign telling them that this is a performance and that it should be watched. Some people may even watch the event for 20 minutes and leave completely unaware that they had seen a piece of art today. So why do people choose to stand, in the wind and the gradually increasing drizzle, to observe the mundane life of a man on the stage.

 

I think they watch because it makes them feel safe. It is easy to get lost in the performance, in the actions that are simultaneously absurd and mundane. There is something comforting in observing a man complete everyday jobs, in knowing what he is going to do before he even does it.

 

Perversely, there is something strangely predictable about the performance. In a familiar setting familiar actions are performed. Regardless of the stage or the man who chooses to explain his every action, it is easy to be lulled into a sense of security by this familiarity.

 

The actions seem to belong to the world and feel much more at home in Victoria Square than Antony Gormley’s sculpture ever did. They seem to be simultaneously part of the world and a reflection of it, mirroring the bizarre world that we live it. A world that is full of so many recognisable motifs but somehow always feels strange.

 

We have evolved to cope with this strangeness and take comfort in the actions that are recognisable and predictable.

 

Aaron Williamson’s performance creates a space that is full of recognisable motifs. The stage and framing may be alien but everything upon it is known and comforting. The world that he creates is one of predictability and measured control. The world feels safe, a place for reflection and easy humour. It is a nice world to watch.


Chris Ansell is a researcher and assistant exhibition manager at Birmingham City University. He studied fine art at the Birmingham School of Art, Rome University of Fine Art and Oxford University. As an artist and curator, his research is concerned with the relationship between literature and exhibition practices.

Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – The Deleted Scenes

Image: Damien Hirst’s ‘Mother and Child (Divided)’

We’re about to open Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Philip, Little Earthquake’s Co-Director, has written the show which features very different versions of four famous fairytales. Below Philip has opened up the Drafts folder on his laptop to let you see what nearly made it into the show but was ultimately left out.

Grimm Tales Retold runs from Thursday 8th – Saturday 10th February 2018 in Birmingham. For more information and to book tickets online, click here.

The Brothers Grimm spent almost their entire working lives editing and re-editing their collection of fairytales, adding new stories, shifting the order around, incorporating new details, sometimes even having more than one version of the same story on the go. My process for writing Grimm Tales Retold hasn’t taken a lifetime, but what we’re presenting this week is the fifth draft of a piece which has steadily been taking shape over the last year.

As it stands, there are four stories in the show, not counting the link narrative featuring Jake and Will Grimm — we’ve got Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rumpelstiltskin. The Musicians of Bremen never even made it as far as me putting pen to paper (but the production programme note will give you a glimpse of what I had in mind.) Through the drafting process, Rapunzel and Snow White were cut from the show in their entirety — and both Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood now appear in Version 2.0 forms, which are virtually unrecognisable now from what I originally wrote.

If this was a DVD, we’d get to include some bonus material to give Little Earthquake aficionados a chance to see some of the things that ended up on the cutting room floor. And so we’ve decided to do the next best thing: we’re popping some of our deleted scenes onto the blog, to give just a little taster of what nearly was and what might have been.

There’s a real first draft feel to most of this stuff; some of it never got redeveloped any further than what’s there now. Snow White is the only one of the four that made it as far as Draft 2, and I did get the chance to rework that one quite a bit. It fell at the final hurdle when we needed to make some tough choices in relation to running time, budget and technical complexity. It would have been quite something to see, I’m sure…

So here they are: some of the baby steps that got us to the point we’re at now — a few hours away from opening night. They’ll be full of inconsistencies, gaps in their logic, bits that go on too long or not long enough, and there’ll be some glaring typos, too. They are rough around the edges but, I’d like to think, not without some value.

I hope you enjoy them.

Read ‘Grimm Tales Retold – Cinderella’ Deleted Scene
Read ‘Grimm Tales Retold – Little Red Riding Hood’ Deleted Scene
Read ‘Grimm Tales Retold – Rapunzel’ Deleted Scene
Read ‘Grimm Tales Retold – Snow White’ Deleted Scene

The post Grimm Tales Retold – The Deleted Scenes appeared first on Little Earthquake.

MidlandsImprov.com: AUDIENCE REVIEWS: RHYMES AGAINST HUMANITY

Rhymes Against Humanity Dance

Here’s what people have been saying about the musical group from Nottingham.

Weekend Notes

  • High on imagination, performance and delivery
  • So many characters, plot lines, songs and even dance routines
  • Expert in using the cliches of musical theatre to drive the story forward

https://www.weekendnotes.co.uk/birmingham-improv-festivas/

Behind The Arras

  • Stole the show
  • Hilarious action
  • Sensational

http://www.behindthearras.com/Reviewspr/2017/reviewPROOctDec2017/improv-festival-review-BO10-17.html

Twitter

  • A great performance
  • Belting show
  • Very good indeed
  • Tour de force
  • Absolutely fantastic

Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 4

We’re currently in rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Phil’s script alive and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. Find out what happened in the rehearsal room during week three below.

You can also read about what happened during week one of rehearsals here, week two here, week three here, and book tickets for the show online here.

Jordan Farrag
Monday 29th January, 9am – 1pm

Hi! Jordan here again…

Time felt like it was quickly speeding up as we moved into the penultimate week of the process. Bright and early on Monday morning the dream team (aka Team Gingerbread) were straight into George Cadbury Hall ready to go, fuelled by the breakfast of champions: copious amounts of coffee and what I like to call on-the-go toast (several slices of course).

Gareth doesn’t want us to fix blocking for the scene so that we can move around the stage instinctively. This decision really allowed our performances to have a lot more freedom and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next week because it could be different each night!

We started off the rehearsal with the usual ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’ to get the blood pumping and then went onto a couple of rounds of Tag to continue the wake-up cycle. This rehearsal was our last opportunity to refine our work on the Hansel and Gretel scene. We ensured that we all maintained our ‘wants’, remembering the work we did with ‘filters’ to help emphasise key moments and relationships. Gareth doesn’t want us to fix blocking for the scene so that we can move around the stage instinctively. This decision really allowed our performances to have a lot more freedom and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next week because it could be different each night!

I can’t wait to show audiences what we have created because I think the whole cast and team have been inspired by the project and are really looking forward to performing!

Bethany Hartland
Monday 29th January, 2pm – 6pm

Hi! It’s Beth…

Our final Monday afternoon before Production Week! When the session starts with “this will be the last time you will look at this scene in detail”, the rehearsal session ahead of us started to feel a bit daunting! But when we began going through the final scenes in the theatre space, Little Red Riding Hood and Rumpelstiltskin, I realised that as a cast we really were nearly at the point of a completed and ready show. We used the rehearsal to home in on our characters’ ‘wants’ at every moment and every line, making sure everything we did was done with a purpose and was as bold as it could be.

We have started to learn that if we courageously follow our ‘wants’ and listen to the offers that our scene partners give us, then, although the scene might not necessarily be exactly the same every single night, there will always be clarity and excitement in the telling of the story. In addition to this, we went over the logistical side of the scenes, so that we were not worried about those specific elements because if we are, it has a tendency to influence how boldly and clearly we pursue the ‘wants’ of our characters.

We have started to learn that if we courageously follow our ‘wants’ and listen to the offers that our scene partners give us, then, although the scene might not necessarily be exactly the same every single night, there will always be clarity and excitement in the telling of the story.

We have come such a long way in the past four weeks and everyone involved has put in so much work to make this production the best it can be. I hope everyone who comes to see it loves it as much as we have loved working on it and bringing it to life.

#QuakeGrimm

Scott Wilson
Tuesday 30th January, 9am – 1pm

Such a fantastic rehearsal today! Starting with a full cast discussion about vocal projection and the correct way to support our voices to avoid damaging them throughout the run of the show. We focused on engaging our diaphragm to support our voice by pushing hard against a wall while releasing an ‘Aah’ sound. This really helped me develop my understanding of my technique whilst performing and as I can be quite loud during the show, and life in general, looking at the correct way to project without straining has been really beneficial for me.

The rest of the rehearsal was dedicated to focusing on the scenes between the Grimm Brothers and personally this was one of my favourite rehearsals of the whole process. Having done a full run of the show a couple of times already has allowed me and George to discover the broad spectrum of approaches to our characters and the various routes our scenes could take. I really enjoy the fact that each time we play the scenes, it is never the same, and this whole process has really opened my eyes to the liveness of performance, and I really love being able to experiment and explore the play together with my scene partners.

I really enjoy the fact that each time we play the scenes, it is never the same, and this whole process has really opened my eyes to the liveness of performance, and I really love being able to experiment and explore the play together with my scene partners.

However, hearing the immortal words of Gareth to “Be Bold” really brought something great out of me and George and we both found ourselves responding to the offers we made to each other. This resulted in the scenes all becoming so much fun to be in, as an actor, as we were focusing on each other and building on what we offered one another. For me, that’s what acting is all about.

Everyone is really starting to come into their own and it has been amazing watching this already fantastic play become something truly magical and I cannot explain how glad I am that I’ve been able to be part of this amazing production.

#QuakeGrimm #TeamJake

William Melhuish
Wednesday 31st January, 9am – 1pm

‘The Calm before the Storm’

This week was the first week where the entirety of our rehearsals were based in George Cadbury Hall. Being in this space has certainly brought its challenges to us all as actors. Many of us have had little experience performing in a theatre such as this one with a large set such as ours. Therefore, it is safe to say that this week has been the hardest by far.

As the countdown for production day closes in, removing uncertainties about our characters’ desires become more of a priority.

Being in this larger space poses a huge challenge as an actor – VOICE!!! Time after time during rehearsals I have found my voice fall into a theatrical vacuum which has made my lines inaudible even for the first row. Therefore, by Wednesday’s full run-through, I knew that I had to prove myself in the space.

Alas, things went very differently! Being in this space has meant that facial and vocal expression needs to be heightened, and that’s exactly not what happened on Wednesday. It is frustrating as an actor when such a great script and its story cannot be told clearly because of our own faults on stage. Gareth’s development of us as actors almost goes to waste when we cannot reflect that to the audience because of volume issues and vague ‘wants’ on stage. All we need to do is trust ourselves as performers and make sure that we are offering each other and the audience a clear vision of character wants instead of playing the emotion. As the countdown for production day closes in, removing uncertainties about our characters’ desires become more of a priority.

Georgiana Poteiciuc
Thursday 1st February, 1pm – 5pm

It’s Thursday and we’re back in the rehearsal room after the run-through in the theatre on Wednesday. Today has been the most intense rehearsal since the beginning. It was all about pushing our limits and overcoming any obstacles that were keeping us from fully engaging with our characters’ ‘wants’. For this session we focused on Act One and the results were amazing. I felt more focused then ever and the connection between us felt a lot clearer. It was like we were really helping each other because our energies were combining together, pushing us to be bolder and bolder with each line. I feel a lot more confident after this rehearsal as my character’s actions seem natural and well defined now and the scene as a whole makes perfect sense. We all discovered parts of ourselves that we may have not known we had and it is amazing to actually feel that you are 100% involved, committed and really doing your best.

Today has been the most intense rehearsal since the beginning. It was all about pushing our limits and overcoming any obstacles that were keeping us from fully engaging with our characters’ ‘wants’.

This session showed us that if we find the courage to be bold enough, nothing will stand in the way of us giving our best performance.

Katie Webster
Thursday 1st February, 6pm – 10pm

Never again will I be able to hear the words ‘be bold’ and not think of today’s rehearsal. We continued this evening to work on running scenes without logistics or props but instead really focusing on the acting, our characters’ ‘wants’, and being BOLD.

We began with Little Red Riding Hood in this session. There is such a varying dynamic between my character, Melinda, and Louie, played by Will, so establishing a playful and BOLD relationship has sometimes been tricky. However, today, after quite a bit of stopping to really discuss what we wanted, something has clicked. It’s incredible how now the scene feels completely new, even in Week 4 – it feels like anything could happen and that’s amazing to work with as an actor. It’s really interesting how the concepts of wants, offers and being BOLD often lend themselves to the more comedic scenes, in my mind anyway. However (no spoilers, but this isn’t a funny scene), this dramatic and complex relationship between Melinda and Louie flourished when we had space to play. I’m really excited and just as hopeful that when it comes to performing in front of an audience, all the work we did today comes across.

It’s incredible how now the scene feels completely new, even in Week 4 – it feels like anything could happen and that’s amazing to work with as an actor.

Finally, we moved to the final scene. The joy Gareth has when calling us Twats in such a casual manner is something I know I’ll miss in the weeks after the show. Again, we were BOLD in our twattiness, and poor ol’ Valentina gets herself into a right pickle. This scene is incredibly fun. It’s an excellent example of how we, as actors and a company, can work together to make it fun and different every time. I feel we all have the tools and the confidence to go out on opening night and try something new to see what happens. It’s exciting. A tad scary, but mostly completely and utterly exciting.

I can’t believe we open soon. Please come and see this incredible show! You’ll definitely be missing out on some top-quality twattiness if you do.

#QuakeGrimm

The post Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 4 appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Fierce Festival: Unrestricted View: Saturday 21 October, Fierce 2017

Welcome to Unrestricted View, a series of written responses to Fierce 2017 from local writers.

Response to Saturday 21 October, Fierce 2017 by James Kennedy

This Ritual Was Not An Accident

I was invited to review the performance of Andrea de Keijzer & Erin Robinsong’s “This Ritual Was Not An Accident” as part of Fierce 2017.

After dressing appropriately and braving the West Midlands edit of Storm Brian, I arrived to see that the performance had moved from Stryx had been moved to Rogueplay Theatre within Minerva Works. Inside the venue, we were greeted by the director and asked to fill in answers to the following questions on a piece of paper:

Name; Date of Birth; What are you wearing? Accident history; What’s the last thing you remember; What’s a song that you know?

I was mystified why they wanted this information, but I complied, and we were led into the main theatre space. Sitting on chairs there was a great triggering smell of damp bedsits in Moseley.

In front of us, one of the artists was lying down on a bed, her head sticking awkwardly up facing us. She read out the names of those who had handed in their notes in, sharing our personal and private facts with each other. Nervous laughter of recognition came out from us as she went through the register.

When she finished, hands grasped the side of her head from an awkward angle. Her head slowly rose up from her shoulders. In fact, another body was underneath, dictating the movements, until they settled down, so all you could see were their hands. Joined together, these hands made movements to simulate copulation, to a sperm meeting the egg and fertilising in the womb to make an embryo, alternately making imitations of flowers blossoming and blooming.  Their hands touched the senses on their bodies, to smell, to hear, to touch, to taste and to smell. Bodies were formed, and the information was to be digested.

De Keiljzer and Robinsong sat down, and started to transcribe the notes that we had given them earlier. They were written onto a laptop which we could see projected on a screen, and as they were projected, they were shredded. Our shredded lives and rituals appeared as a snow drift in front of us, sprayed out over the projection, burying them. A copy of what they had created was printed out, and sealed nside a red box with many padlocks.

Our society’s sensory bombardment with memory and sharing information was prevalent in the performance, and, in the next recital, what was more noticeable was the fact that the most vivid memories were associated with the weather. The shredded memories were emptied out on the space in front of us, and blown with a leaf blower onto a black drape to the right of the stage, our case studies and discarded memories buffeting into the artists and sticking to them.

These shards of memories becoming ever fierce as the storm breaks gave the impression of a separate entity manipulating every moment and decision.  As humans, we talk and communicate with this inner entity, mimicking its movements and following its instructions.  De Keijzer and Robinsong construct a house and get in together. These are our homes, full of rituals and memories that we have built, providing adequate structure before the storm breaks. The house collapses, and all that was left was us and the artists amongst the rubble. Forming a circle, we are invited to take part in a ritual, to blow up a balloon and place a pin, next to it, moving it ever closer. Some of us pop it quickly, others let it go. Our fears and rituals within this situation, and within life, dictate what we do.

Be the Change

I was invited to review the event with Fierce in collaboration with Free Radical “Be The Change” at the Edwardian Tearooms as part of Fierce 2017.

Free Radical are an art activism platform created from the Beatfreeks Collective who formed in Birmingham in 2013. The collective are working towards the mission of “Fuelling conversations and concepts that dare people to challenge the way of the world. “ Free Radical who want to “Engage; Empower; Educate and Equip.” With Aaron Wright’s opening salvo at the Festival Hub that Fierce 2017’s mission would be to “Provoke; Politicise and Party” it would seem that the combining the two would be an excellent collaboration

That evening was certainly very busy, with the delightful Edwardian Tea Rooms in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery being used as the central hub. The soundtrack was certainly set to “party” with 80s brilliance such as Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and drunken singalong classics from Oasis and The Beatles, interspersed with more up-to-date tracks by Nicki Minaj and Princess Nokia, who I remembered from her performance at Supersonic 2017 where she told us all off for not being her usual sort of audience, advised us not to look at her,  and disappeared off the stage after only  20 minutes  leaving us all in a state of puzzled bamboozlement.

Several of the booths in the room were used for “Artist Speed Dating”, where those present could chat to inter-generational experts in their field such as the rapper, poet and musician Dizraeli; Gabbidon, a founding member of the legendary Birmingham reggae band Steel Pulse, the acclaimed graffiti artist Mohammed Ali, and the poet Shagufta K Iqbal.

Coming out the Tea Room, I made my way to observe the first performance, which was an installation by Reetu Sattar entitled Sokol Dukher Prodip: the unsung song. Participants were invited to walk up to Sattar and place their hands on hers, which she had coated with henna. In joining hands with Sattar, we would be sharing strength, and on finishing, our own hands would be stained, creating a memory that would live on.  This action would generate a sound blasting from the installation. We would stand in silence until the noise was over.

Going back to the Tea Room I noticed that people were getting ready to take part in Noemi Lakmaeir’s We are for you because we are against them, which saw eight diners fitted inside a sculpture based on the Weeble, a  1970s children’s toy. I had tried to fit in one before the dinner, and found it incredibly restrictive; my head and arms were fine, but my legs were squashed and crossed, and it would have been remarkably difficult to eat a delightful three course meal with excellent matching wine whilst stuck inside one of these contraptions. In this way, the audience analysing and watching the diners eating filled me with anxiety. This was exactly what Lakmaeir intended; to raise important questions about the body and voyeurism, and also attacking pre-conceived notions of disability.

We then were invited to see what I thought was the most powerful piece of the evening; Vivian Chinasa Ezugha’s Ghana Must Go and Britney Spears. For me, it was very difficult to imagine this performance occurring at any other time, yes, this was performance art delivered using the body as the medium, but I certainly haven’t seen such a visceral interpretation of the cultural stigma coming from xenophobia and a total shut-down of women’s rights. Ezugha stumbled onto the set wearing an over-large shopping bag for a skirt, and began self-flagellating in front of us, all positioned safely behind the white lines. Rubbing her face-paint off in tears she clutched the two bags onto her head and sobbed silently in front of us, all the while the staccato blasts of noise depicting respectful silence and unanswered questions from Reetu Sattar’s installation peppered the intimate, uncomfortable performance.

Finally it was time for the much talked about Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Choir, who had come from New York City on their Trump Depression Hotline Tour. Combining urban activism with evangelical preaching and a gospel choir, their sound was perfect for the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Reverend Billy had the audience in the palms of his hands, as he pleaded with those present to take their individual agendas and activism and join them collectively in a global fight against consumerism and militarism. This performance wasn’t just a one-off, they regularly occupy spaces around the world and have been thrown in jail for their cause many times, which seems hard to fathom given the love and inspiration they preach.


James Kennedy is a freelance writer with an MA in Writing living in Stirchley, Birmingham. He is currently working on a long-term non-fiction project called ‘The Wind’ , an personal account of Birmingham City Centre’s regeneration and renewal. He likes to blog about the arts, is particularly interested in hauntology and psychogeography, and likes Nintendo, music and a cup of tea.
More of his written work can be found at: jameskennedycentral