Monthly Archives: October 2017

Fierce Festival: Volunteer View #1: Opening Night

Welcome to the first Volunteer View, a series of written responses to Fierce 2017 from festival volunteers.

Opening Night of Fierce 2017 by James Kennedy 

As a volunteer for Fierce 2017, I went along to the opening night at the Festival Hub (Quantum Exhibition Centre on River Street in Digbeth). The following text is a response to the hula-hooping realm of Francois Chaignaud and Marie-Caroline Hominal in their UK premiere of “Duchesses”; Splash Addict, a fetishtic electroclash between Susie Green and Simon Bayliss; the contemplative unravelling of Quarto’s Durational Rope, and the delightful and dank disco debasement of Double Pussy Clit F*ck.

Response to Francois Chaignaud and Marie-Caroline Hominal’s ‘Duchesses’
After the opening speeches, we went into a large space overseen by a gigantic mirrorball, and find our places on beanbags that were scattered around in front of two small stages. When everyone was settled in the lights went off, and for the next half hour we were in the hula-hooping realm of Francois Chaignaud and Marie-Caroline Hominal’s UK premiere of Duchesses.

As a living sculpture, if you had the space and wanted to invest in some really contemporary art, you would quite happily have this pair in the corner of your living room gyrating in the nude, keeping their hula hoops in perpetual motion. At first, as spectators we were able to see their faces as they were cast in shadow, concentrating instead on the motion in front of us. Sitting on bean bags I got to think about how we must have appeared to Chaignaud and Hominal as they were locked in the moment of their gruelling performance. We all much have looked, out of the corner of their eyes like baggy rocks in a black desert.

It was a stunning feat of achievement to keep this spectacle up for so long, not only for the viewer, but also for the performer. There was no distracting soundtrack throughout the performance, and the vast majority of the crowd were in respectful silence with the occasional flash of camera, despite it being a drop-in performance. All we had was the noises of the effort that the performers were making, and the constant hum of the air conditioning around, adding to the surreal/hyperreal scene in front of us.

Ostensibly there could be a narrative, the man and the women hula-hooping repelling and attracting each other, sometimes the hula-hoops would meet each other and crash, and grunts of absolute effort began to fill the silence. In seemingly a shorter time than the 34 minute duration, the lights went out and the performance finished. And the reaction from everybody I heard said it was an absolute success. 

Response to Splash Addict
Before I talk about Splash Addict, a collaboration between Susie Green and Simon Bayliss, I have to say that both the lighting and sound that FIERCE have arranged for the hub (overseen by production partners Cloud One) was absolutely terrific, and completed the imagery set by Splash Addict incredibly.

The setting was sparse yet effective for the performance.  Disco lights, a stand for the synthesiser and a gigantic chaise longue in the middle. I didn’t see the performers’ entrance, but the crowd were soon enticed to get up to the front. Susie Green’s commanding and laconic spoken vocals put into a classic performance very much in the spirit of a  Grace Jones, a Nico or a Miss Kitten, and Simon Bayliss’ electronic sounds assimiliated the best of electroclash and minimalist techno, through a handful of incredibly poppy songs, even finishing off with a bit of Gabber at the end for good effect.

Susie Green’s solo exhibition, Pleasure is a Weapon, examining the relationship between fetish and form, runs at Grand Union, part of the Minerva Works arts complex at nearby Fazeley Street until the 18 November, and is open from Wednesday to Saturday from 12-5pm.

Response to Quarto’s Durational Rope
I saw a circle of spectators on plastic chairs in contemplative thought watching Quarto unravel and ravel the black 1,000-metre rope over the space under them. When I see something like this, I find it fascinating to think how many separate narratives are being constructed in the spectators heads of what this all actually means, philosophical feats of thought, how long should they stay for, or indeed if they’d remembered to get milk in for the morning. Indeed, Quarto’s performance could have been seen as a representation of the way in which the human mind is constantly pulled apart, self-analysed and distracted in so many different and ever-increasing ways. Or, of course, many other things entirely.


Response to Double Pussy Clit F*ck
The stage was now set for (pause) Double Pussy Clit F#ck (nervous laugh.) I was excited to see these, being a fan of riot-grrrl in my youth, and enjoying its re-emergence in recent years with bands such as Texas’s Sailor Poon and London’s Skinny Girl Diet to name put a few. Searching on YouTube for a clip of their performance I was greeted with a lot of YouTube community approved pornography, which I didn’t think was what I was after, however I did chance across another grrrl band by the name of Clitoris Rex (from Missouri) which again were very up my street.

But (pause) Double Pussy Clit F#ck (nervous laugh) were from Glasgow, and soon they arrived on stage to rapturous applause. A three piece, all pretty much in the nude with long black wigs, save for one on my left who had a bear mask on, who I believed was the Bez (or the bears) of the band, enticing the audience to dance their macabre but brilliant dance.

Instead of distorted guitars and spiky riffage, the enticing and repetitive music was played on a child’s drum kit and synthesizer and and a ukulele, and the whole performance was that of absolute organised chaos and anarchy. A performance so in-your-face, fierce concentration was absolutely on the spectacle. The bands were totally in control and it was a great live performance, with the audience completely on side. I took a film of their penultimate song, which is all about loving someone so much you would like to make a leotard out of their skin, which is a pretty appropriate summing up of their sound.

Graeme Rose's Blog: Backward Looking

Earlier this year while working for the Ministry of Truth (Creation Theatre’s 1984 at Oxford Maths Institute), my friend and erstwhile MTO collaborator Dazz Joyce introduced me to “Looking Backward 2000-1887” – Edward Bellamy’s time-travelling Utopian novel set in Boston in an imagined 2000AD. I immediately latched on to it as an ideal subject for a devised project with final year undergraduates at Birmingham University.

It’s now just a couple of days after the final performance in the George Cadbury Hall, Selly Oak. The project was not without its challenges; a huge amount of my energy going into the distillation of a script rather than the open devising that I’d anticipated. But such is the nature of devising; where you are developing a methodology at the same time as  generating material. Looking Backward became something of a literary exercise, with great demands placed on the students to wrestle with syntactically complex texts. All said, I feel blessed to have worked with such a warm-hearted, generous and talented team who created something I feel very proud of. Below is a copy of the Programme Notes, accompanied by stills from the show.





The object of this reading is to assist persons desiring to gain a more definite idea of the social contrasts between the 19th and 20th Centuries. The author has sought to alleviate the instructive quality of the book by casting it in the form of a romantic narrative, not wholly devoid of interest on its own account…

…So writes Edward Bellamy, in his Preface to “Looking Backward 2000-1887”.


Whether Bellamy’s ‘romantic narrative’ fully pulls our attention away from those “instructive” qualities remains questionable, but “Looking Backward” certainly deserves more recognition for the huge impact it made on its first readers when it was published in 1887. Bellamy was then a struggling young writer in a small industrial town in Massachusetts. His book not only inspired a wave of time-travelling literature (including that of H.G Wells), but also spawned a whole political movement. Groups of thinkers and activists would form ‘Bellamy Clubs’ to debate the radical ideas promoted in this Utopian vision for the Industrial Age.



Bellamy’s protagonist in the novel, Julian West, is an insomniac, kept awake by the troubling hubbub of contemporary life. But thanks to the interventions of a mesmerist he slips into a profound sleep in his secret underground chamber, and survives a catastrophic house-fire, only to be re-discovered and awoken in the year 2000. His new hosts then give him a tour of the changed world.


The theme of ‘Waking Up’ is a metaphor for the modern condition which causes Julian such angst. He is a sympathetic witness to the miseries of those less fortunate than him, but also realises his privilege has only been made possible on the backs of others’ labour.



So why choose “Looking Backward” now? Bellamy writes in 1887 but attempts to project a future 2000AD, the supposed culmination of a century’s worth of enlightenment and human progress. (Bellamy himself uses the expression ‘evolution’, which betrays the influence the Darwinians had on his generation.) But it is significant that the ensemble that presenting for you today – all born in the fading light of the 1990’s – are the first generation to have no actual memory of the 20th Century at all! Sometimes referred to as “Generation Z”, this digital-literate and socially-conscious generation start only with the Millennium. Their future lives will help shape a very different – perhaps smaller – world in which ‘Globalisation’ and ‘Climate Change’ loom large.


Theatre offers us an opportunity to model alternative realities and it is in this spirit we present a re-modelling of Bellamy’s Utopian landscape, as imagined from a 1887 perspective. But as we listen to Bellamy’s descriptions of an evolved future society it is easy to become blasé and forget how extraordinary his vision was. So much of what he predicts has actually come true but has become normalised in our everyday modern reality; giant shopping Malls with Amazon-style distribution systems, Credit Cards and cash-less economy. But he also predicts gender equality, the IMF, trade clearance systems, radio for musical and religious sermons; a welfare system; free education and the nationalisation of Industries and rail networks. In Bellamy’s world there are no ‘pay gaps’. Universal basic income has become the norm, and economic efficiency is the result.



“….it seems to me that nowhere can we find more solid ground for daring anticipations of human development during the next thousand years, than by Looking Backward upon the progress of the last one hundred.”


Bellamy’s characters dismiss the “followers of the red flag” as nothing more than an sponsored conspiracy, but we cannot help but listen to his description of Utopia without thinking of how the actual 20th Century was shaped by – long after Bellamy’s death – the rise and fall of Communism, and the spectre of National Socialism. Bellamy’s call, at the end of the novel, for unquestioning patriotism leaves­­ a bitter taste in the light of actual events of the 20th Century – not to mention recent ideological shifts in the USA. We are left wondering whether we do indeed live in times that are ‘looking forward’, or whether we are, infact, still ‘looking backward’…


Graeme Rose, director, October 2017

[pictures courtesy of David Crisp and the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Birmingham]




Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: Our 1000th blog post!

It’s amazing how quickly I forget how much I love being in the rehearsal room with Stan’s Cafe. Each time I return it is full of anxiety and self-doubt, but subtly I become lost in the collective challenge of making the show as good as we possibly can and I’m in my element. Last week was a complete treat. We’ve been reviving and remaking Time Critical; we’ve driving it into the garage, got it up on the ramp, taken it apart, changed some parts, polished up other bits, tuned it up and by the end of next week it will be revved up and waiting to go.

The first version of Time Critical wasn’t suitable for touring, it was made for our 25th Anniversary and so contained more Stan’s Cafe biography than a neutral audience would appreciate so we’ve had fun putting all those elements through rigorous testing regime and stripped out any elements that are superfluous weight – even bit we love but which don’t work for us enough.

We’ve had one big forced change to the show’s engine as Rochi is on maternity leave and Amy has stepped in to replace her. It has been fun watching Amy reinterpret the material. We gave her the script a couple of months ago and she’s been watching a video that splices together the two original performances. We’ve had fun establishing where the script is definitive and where the video is definitive as the two don’t always line up (a lack of assistant director / or stage manager means amendments we made to the final printed versions of the scripts didn’t ever get transferred back to the computer version of the script.

This 2017 version of Time Critical is 120 seconds longer than the 2016 version and we’ve been having fun deciding how best to deploy this extra time plus the time gained by stripping out redundant material.

Our ambition is for Craig to actually get to do some of Nenad Prokic’s amazing epilogue text from Finger Trigger Bullet Gun the intention was for him to do this in the first version but it had to be jettisoned live in performance in order for Craig to get to the end of his script on time.

We’ve decided to use the rest of our gained time to give more weigh to touching humdrum personal stories that contrast with the drama of world events. A new strand is added that charts Amy’s triumphant journey to the Stan’s Cafe stage (she was a three year old eating jelly as Graeme and James were working on the first Stan show).

It’s been fun making the jokes sharper, the blocking tighter, the chaos more chaotic and our choices more considered. The first version was made in four weeks so we’ve already had a bonus 25% extra time in the rehearsal room with another 25% to come. What a treat, what fun!

Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: How to launch a book.

The official launch of Devising Theatre With Stan’s Cafe was a proud and long anticipated day.

For many years ‘the Stan’s Cafe book’ held a place in our forward planning but practicalities meant it always retreated into that future at exactly the same pace as the present advanced, so the book never grew closer.

Our principle impediment was the lack of a suitable collaborator to actually write the damn thing. We needed someone who knew our work well and who would share our vision for a highly accessible book, a ‘page turner’ if possible, pitching not at stratospheric levels of esoteric abstraction but at undergraduates, theatre makers and theatre fans. Our ambition was to produce a book that would beread and loved, be passed from hand to hand, grow scruffy and battered.

Eventually, like childhood friends who finally realise they are in love and should marry, we recognised that Mark Crossley, who we had first met in 1997 as a tousle haired drama teacher, had matured into a authoritative, book writing, university lecturing, Doctor of Theatre. We liked Mark, we knew we shared his values, we talked, we agreed, we shook hands, we shaped up a proposal and to our great surprise Bloomsbury Methuen stepped forward to publish our search engine friendly book “Devising Theatre With Stan’s Cafe” simultaneously in Hardback, Paperback and e-Book around the world. All that remained was to write it and this is where Mark came into is own.

We agreed to structure the book around the creative process from the inception of ideas to reception by an audience. Mark then interviewed twelve company members, some more than once and wrote the book from there. I wrote a few bits and pieces, including a Stan in Action section with practical exercises for the end of most chapters. Together we edited the book back and forth.

There were various light touch editorial suggestions from the publishers, a choice of cover, the addition of 24 black and white photographs, proof reading back and forth, Mark working up the index and then a long wait whilst mysterious publishing wheels ground away. Eventually each got copy of the book (paperback) and I set to work creating an online companion for the book, bonus material – photos, videos, links, commentary and corrections (frustratingly it the proof reading wasn’t flawless).

On 25th October we held an official launch for the book at mac and the web element is now live. Let’s see how many copies we sell and whether it gets passed from hand to hand. GIG GUIDE: NOVEMBER 2017

Foghorn Secret Life


[NG7 2RD]

UoN Improv Show:  Comedy games from students at the University of Nottingham, featuring performers old and new


[LE1 5JN]

The Same Faces:  Monthly Leicester show, taking ideas from you to make brilliant comedy sketches live on stage.


[NG1 1LG]

One Word Story Land:  The Red Herrings will make up a complete coherent story from a single word from the audience. Laugh, cry, applaud, leave.  Part of the Nottingham Comedy Festival.


[NG1 1PS]

Nottingham Improv Comedy Experience:  Comedy sketches and scences followed by a chance to play on stage with the performers.  Part of the Nottingham Comedy Festival.


[B1 1LT]

Baron Sternlook’s Improvised Musical:  Discover the history of a unknown musical duo and then see one of their most famous shows, created on the spot.


[NG1 1LP]

The Clones/The Vox Pops:  A double bill packed with improvised comedy.  Part of the Nottingham Comedy Festival.


[NG1 6FG]

Gorilla Burger:  Theatre karaoke where you can be the star.  Or you can just sit back and enjoy an evening of unplanned, uncensored improv comedy.


[B13 8BX]

Fat Penguin Improv:  See the unscripted stories from deep inside the mind of a standup comedian Rob Coleman come to life.


[NG1 1LP]

Rhymes Against Humanity/Four Far Away:  A double bill of musical theatre and fantastic fiction.  Part of the Nottingham Comedy Festival.


[CV1 1JD]

Wow Impro:  Free comedy night from the Coventry-based improv troupe.


[NN1 1DP]

Austentatious:  A previously undiscovered Jane Austen story is told for the very first (and very last) time.


[NG1 3AN]

Nicholas Holt: Dancer and comedian combine, choreographing and performing simultaneously on stage. Sometimes funny. Sometimes not. Part of the Nottingham Comedy Festival.


[CV4 7AL]

The Noise Next Door: They’re causing a commotion with their fourth nationwide tour of side-splitting jokes, jaw-dropping characters and mind-blowing songs.  Two performances, a daytime show for families and an evening show for adults


[NG3 2AR]

D.A.N.C.E.: Comedians will do their sets and dancers will improvise around them, and then they’ll swap. Part of the Nottingham Comedy Festival.


[B13 8BX]

Fat Penguin Improv:  Showcase – first ever performance by the latest workshop group, with support from Bunkum Factory.


[B1 1BN]

The Kneejerks:  A night of comedy and theatre, featuring sketches and scenes and all completely free.


[B13 8BX]

Fat Penguin Improv:  See the unscripted stories from deep inside the mind of a standup comedian Josh Pugh come to life.


[CV34 6PP]

Austentatious:  A previously undiscovered Jane Austen story is told for the very first (and very last) time.


[B1 1BN]

The Improlectuals:  A night of comedy improv games to raise money for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham city centre.


[B60 1GN

The Secret Life Of The Audience: Foghorn Unscripted will combine the memories, hopes and dreams of different audience members to create a life story on stage.


[LE3 0GA]

The Same Faces:  “Uncle Armando” show where the group perform scenes inspired by comedian Jim Smallman.


[B18 6AD]

Box Of Frogs:  Monthly show in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter with all your favourite improv games.  Absolutely free, with their usual cast iron guarantee – ‘laugh, or your money back!’


[B13 8BX]

Fat Penguin Improv:  See the unscripted stories from deep inside the mind of a standup comedian Craig Deeley come to life.


[B1 2EP]

Jumprov:  Comedy greatness from the UK’s first BAME improv troupe.  Part of Monologue Slam UK.


[NN1 1TY]

The Same Faces:  Monthly Northampton show, taking ideas from you to make brilliant comedy sketches live on stage.


[B1 2HF]

The Noise Next Door:  The chaotic foursome bring their distinctive brand of comedy to central Birmingham.


[NG1 1LP]

Smash Night:  Witness a range of improv teams take to the stage with nothing but their wits and transform YOUR suggestions spontaneously into  breath-taking scenes.


Have I missed a show?  Get in touch and let me know.                                    @MidlandsImprov REVIEW: TEN THOUSAND MILLION LOVE STORIES

Heather and Jules

Heather Urquhart and Jules Munns are two of the best improvisers in the UK.  Heather is a member of the Olivier-award-winning Showstoppers and has won the UK Improv Smackdown championship.  Jules is a director of Impromptu Shakespeare and founder of the Slapdash International Improv Festival.  Both perform regularly with The Maydays and run the Nursery improv theatre in central London.  With performers as good as this, you know you are in for a treat.

Heather & Jules introduce the show by asking everyone to close their eyes and think about what real-life stories pop into their minds when they hear the words “first kiss”, “the one” and “the one that got away”.  In this show one audience member told the story of a break-up in a Waterstones cafe, chosen as a location since neither party was likely to go back there, and another told how he knew his best friend was destined for heartbreak in the near future.  Using this inspiration, the pair created a series of scenes exploring these facets of love, along with other bits of silliness along the way.  We saw two university students at the end of their romantic relationship, met a newly married couple moving in to their own Disney-like castle, and got to know the staff at Waterstones who eavesdropped on all the heart-to-heart conversations in their cafe.

There was lots to enjoy in this one hour show.  Each scene revealed a little bit more about the characters involved, and indeed a little bit more about love, as each person we met was at a different point in their love lives.  It was impressive to see the two performers fill the stage with multiple characters in the same scene, including swapping roles so that both Heather and Jules portrayed the same character at different points in the story.  The joyful silly sequences got the biggest laughs and cheers, with the highlight in this performance being the convoluted routine involved in opening the castle doors.  But the real heart of this show is in the quiet moments when we see genuine emotion, an intimate and honest portrayal of the many sides of love.



Ten Thousand Million Love Stories can be seen at theatre festivals across the UK.



Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: Culture Feast

The Stan’s Cafe team likes to support our colleagues in the theatre industry, especially if this means seeing work by other companies. We’re lucky to have such a great variety of theatre so close by.

What we see less of is work in other art forms. Sometimes this is a time thing – there is a lot of theatre to see after all – but sometimes it’s because we are less familiar with visual arts, contemporary music or dance and we don’t know how to navigate what’s on offer quite so deftly.

In recent conversations with arts organisations across Birmingham it’s become clear that lots of other people feel the same way and as a result we’re all missing out on some fantastic work. So, together with five other arts organisations in the city we have created Culture Feast, a series of six events that encompasses theatre, dance, visual arts and music – all of which can be accessed with a single £25 ticket.

Our guess is that if you are adventurous enough to follow Stan’s Cafe you will be curious enough to enjoy the work that our colleagues have to offer you in their disciplines and that their audience will take the plunge to visit our next production Time Critical.

Having a Culture Feast ticket is a little bit like travelling Business Class to the six specially-selected events, but with the novel twist that it’s cheaper than Economy Class! As a Culture Feast ticket-holder you will be welcomed to each event by a member of the host’s team and afterwards you get to let it all sink in with an “audience exchange” in which you can chat to fellow Culture Feast visitors about what you’ve experienced (like a “book group” but with “contemporary arts” instead of the books).

The first set of Culture Feast events starts with our production of Time Critical at mac, and continues with a dance show from DanceXchange, a videogame with live orchestra at Town Hall, the outstanding talent of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and exclusive guided tours of Digbeth First Friday and Ikon.

We’re really excited to be part of such an interesting and wide-ranging programme.

There will be future editions of Culture Feast, featuring a whole new set of organisations and events so watch this space.

Full details of the programme and tickets are available here:

We hope to see you here there and everywhere.