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Dickless delights in misanthropy. Lauren Downie and Tessa Jane Fairey take turns at performing Aisha Josiah’s one-woman play. Her characters are a playground to swing across, and Josiah arms them artfully, quips and pint in hand.

Saff has a lack of fear: of people, of sex, of words. She walks with a swagger and an undercut, her attitude large enough to fill every venue in Edinburgh. Taking us through her night of family feuds, boys and broken friendships, she is a master storyteller. At home, she gets in everywhere for free because of her face. Here, she holds the audience in the palm of her hand thanks to her words.

Oli is sleazy but charming. Even when he’s got himself into a right mess, his confidence oozes unfailingly. Though the gender issues thrown to him midway through the show offer a potentially potent platform for explanation, it’s not given enough breathing space. Like the wonderfully surreal animal slaughter sprinkled throughout, the extraordinary events of the night are simply accepted and downed with the next drink.

Downie switches character with aplomb, not just Saff and Oli but family members and friends too, painted with curious details that make their characters entirely believable, like the lovingly-formed Old Boy with his bubbling, fish-like uncertainty.

Dickless provides hilarity in the bleakest of moments. It is easy to overlook Saff and Oli’s dubious morals and fall in step with them as they leave chaos in their wake.

Original: Fest

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grad

I have recently graduated in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Bristol, with First-class honours (woo). I was also awarded the John Lavender Prize for outstanding contribution to the department of Theatre.

Much of my time this year has been devoted to writing my final year dissertation, on the topic of images of violence in the news. This blended my interests in theatre and journalism by linking performance theory with media analysis.

As I attempt to navigate the world without the safety harness of student loans, I will hopefully be doing a lot more writing. Some of this will be on theatre, some of this will not.

As of August 2017, I will be posting my writing/links to my writing on this blog, in order to keep a coherent collection of my work. To take a look at my writing for other publications before this date, please see my ‘Writing Elsewhere‘ page. Meanwhile, below are five pieces I have enjoyed writing on a variety of topics over the past few months.

Owen Jones and Kate Tempest: Wake Up and Love More – HuffPost Young Voices

Paper Aeroplanes: Reporting from the Calais Jungle – Crew for Calais

Walking: Holding- why we need radical softness now – A Younger Theatre

Preparing for Invictus – Volleyball England

The Grosvenor (a pub and a far right wake) – Bristol24/7

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NSDF

I think it was the moment we were pulled up in a fairylight-draped chariot in the rain, sofas screwed on and a bear head at the helm, with the sound of X-factor entrance music blaring, that I realised just what a ridiculous and incredible thing the National Student Drama Festival is.

(“I was walking along and I suddenly thought to myself- is this happiness?” – Best speech of the closing ceremony, Pavel Drábek)

Most students have never heard of NSDF. For those of us lucky enough to have been, it feels a little like falling down the rabbit hole.

*

NSDF is a week where students from all around the country perform selected shows to a group of visiting artists, judges and audience members. It’s a week of theatre, conversation, drinking and exhaustion. It’s a week of the unexpected, except that you can expect to be knackered by the end of it. It is, I reckon, one of the best and most thought-provoking weeks of the year.

At this year’s festival, I was working as Deputy Editor for Noises Off, the magazine that publishes a print edition daily and more frequent content online, responding to the shows, events and discussions.

Having been in Scarborough for the past however many years, the new setting in Hull gave the week something fresh. It also gave us an office right next to the bar.

This festival mentally pushes you to question choices, both theatrical and moral, with tricky conversations generally prompted by Chris Thorpe’s expert chairing of discussions. It makes you ask things you’d never considered before, like: “Should we have to out transgender actors?” or “Is it our place to say this?” or in our case, “Can we publish the word ‘cunt’ or is it okay anyway because it’s written as an anagram?”

The technicians and management team throughout the week are astonishing. With little sleep, they build and organise multiple venues, hundreds of people and very heavy equipment. This year’s tech team even found time to indulge our childish humour with increasingly extravagant Technician Impossibles, from making us a Hullywood sign with built-in hammocks to a life-size version of Chris Thorpe made of flapjack, and from a pixelated painting projected on the side of a building to the glorious chariot that took us to the closing ceremony.

*

There’s a list longer than the amount of bacon rolls we ate (a lot) of people I didn’t get to talk to, or wish I’d spent more time with. But I also met a bunch of exciting new people, had conversations I’d never have anticipated, cried at very bizarre times and saw shows I hope I’ll never forget.

One of those was Celebration. I’ve known Ben Kulvichit, one of the two cast members of Emergency Chorus, for several years. We first met through Twitter, he’s been to visit me at University and I once encouraged him to buy an octopus. Because he knew me before the festival, I was asked to take part in a section of his and Clara Potter-Sweet’s show, Celebration. They asked me to prepare a three minute speech about myself, “right now”, to be honest, and to perform it while they did a costume change.

Half an hour before the show I was told that an elderly resident in a care home, who I work with on my University placement, and who I’ve come to really care for, had died. He was called Dennis.

I didn’t want to mess anything up for Ben and Clara and there wasn’t time to get a replacement so I went in to the show ready to do my bit. In the rush of finishing a deadline and heading to the show, the reality of his death hadn’t really caught up with me. When the cue came to get up onstage, I stood, script in hand. The audience couldn’t have been in a jollier mood, from this mental, joyous, buffooningly beautiful show.

And then I decided to talk about Dennis.

I explained about my placement. I said there was this song we did, that Dennis always enjoyed. He could never quite keep up with it, or sing it exactly in tune, but he always really went for it. So I wondered if, instead of doing the speech I’d prepared, we could maybe sing that song together.

I broke down crying about thirty seconds in but we did it, and not just that, we did it in a bloody round. And then everyone cheered. I can only imagine how thrilled he’d be if he knew so many people were cheering for him.

That evening, and throughout the rest of the festival, strangers kept coming up to me to give me a hug. I’m so grateful this show gave me a chance to celebrate him. And now, hopefully, a bunch of other people will remember him too, even if just when they hear that song again, sometime in the future.

*

All of the fourteen shows had moments/ideas/concepts worthy of note and discussion. The paper and the idea of a live writer in Feat.Theatre’s Say It Loud. The helium heartbreak and the three and the a half seconds in Sad Little Man. The awareness of self and laughter at the wrong places in Caitlin McEwan’s Thick Skin. David Callanan’s tech in Theatre 42’s Nothing Is Coming, The Pixels Are Huge. The ensemble’s raw honesty in Leyton Sixth Form College’s No Human Is Illegal. The growth of the music and the genius sexist-joke tap dance in O Collective’s he she they.

(I didn’t fall asleep in a single one.)

*

Noises Off was an amazing thing to be a part of this year. Editor Richard Tzanov’s sarcasm and awful taste in music were a joy to work with. Designer Nick Kay is a dream, photographers Aenne Pallasca and Giulia Delprato extremely talented, and our writers are fantastic. We wrote when lots of other people had gone to bed, didn’t get much sunlight in the NOFFice and went a little bit mad attempting to learn the dance to Doin’ it Right.

Some of my favourite pieces from the week were:

Lily James’ Celebration review and Tinder date.

Florence Bell’s reflection on the week.

Phoebe Graham’s beautiful piece on he she they.

Eve Allin proving an old boy wrong.

Nathan Dunn’s simple request.

And of course, the week wouldn’t quite have been the same without Miriam Schechter’s poetic response to bad reviews.

 

*

The week felt more political than previous festivals I’ve experienced. With two plays about the refugee crisis, and various others alluding to political events, much discussion centred around rights, responsibilities and care. When the topic of content warnings were raised for Sad Little Man, discussion was heated. A lot of people in the audience have had personal experiences here. It is easy to forget the reality of people’s lives when you’re talking about everything hypothetically, or theatrically.

But there was also something about the festival that made it feel distant from reality. When the refugee camp in Dunkirk caught fire it took a long time for the news to spread, and the bombing in Afghanistan seemed a million miles away. For a festival attempting to be so fiercely current and political, the busy schedule almost didn’t allow for the really real world to seep through. People talk about the Edinburgh bubble. I didn’t realise it was a thing here too.

*

Someone said it takes a year to really feel at home at NSDF. The same people tend to come back, so returning means you’ll certainly have a ready-built base of friends, and it gives you time to work up confidence to chat to VAs at lunch, to ask questions at discussions, or to write what you really think in the magazine.

I hope anyone who went for the first time this year wants to come back. It’s an incredibly special thing to be a part of. I’m very grateful to have fallen into this rabbit hole.

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This was originally a review for Forced Entertainment’s Real Magic which was performed at In Between Time Festival in Bristol. The show consists of the same scene repeated, with slight alterations, over and over. And over. And over.

The review was (politely) rejected from publication.

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A collection of thoughts about the refugee crisis, theatre and Valentine’s Day.

hands

Yesterday it was announced that half of the Calais migrant and refugee camp, known as the ‘jungle’, was to be knocked down. Last week the French authorities started the process by bulldozing the church and mosque camp. Both sites of comfort and hope were made by hand by people with next to nothing. To be separated from someone you love by thousands of miles, violent police and unsympathetic governments and then to have a remaining source of comfort destroyed- well, it’s just not very nice, is it?

The police outside the camp have a coldness to them. You can completely believe all the stories about them- that when it gets dark they attack the innocent. Reports have been coming out of injuries to those in the camp, with one charity documenting fifty incidents in the last week alone. When you’re in a life-threatening situation to begin with, the last thing you need is being beaten up by those who are supposed to be protecting you.

If this is a day for celebrating people, then I feel like we should spend some time thinking about the ignored. While most of us will spend our day either complaining about or celebrating Valentine’s day, there are millions of displaced people just trying to stay warm, dry, alive. It makes that box of chocolates feel a little superfluous.

***

There’s this bit in Jane Eyre (the BOV version that transferred to the NT) that I can’t get out of my head. It’s where Rochester kneels by her side and puts his hands on hers, and she recognises him. Like, she just knows. She can’t see him but can tell from the knobbles of his knuckles and the warmth of his fingers that it’s him. I thought that was pretty great, something to look forward to. That comfort, that understanding, just from the holding of a familiar hand.

***

When I visited the camp in Calais, a lot of people didn’t want their photographs taken, understandably. If their picture was seen by authorities on French soil, they would have proof that they had been in France. That would mean they’d have to stay in France. I took a lot of pictures of hands.

I made this video while visiting the camp. The poem, ‘Home’, is by Warsan Shire.They couldn’t have been lovelier to us in the camp. Though they had nothing, they offered us tea, smiles and stories. The media present to us the idea of migrants and refugees ‘swarming’, like a flock of violent animals coming to claim what we have to offer. The only major change came with the photograph of Aylan Kurdi on the beach, when even the most vile papers couldn’t find something mean to say.

The loveliest article: Me and My Syrian Refugee Lodger

All this contrast between violence and tenderness makes me think about the way we choose to show force in theatre. A few years ago I saw Kiss and Cry at the Barbican. It was, and I think remains to be, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It was all about hands.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7L3ZSHyFLI

Last week I saw An Elephant in the Garden at BOV. Although it’s about the Second World War (and elephants and the circus and love and stuff), I came out unable to stop thinking about the refugee crisis today. An extract of the review:

This little girl, her mother and the elephant are all refugees, fleeing their home for fear of wars and violence. When Elizabeth and her gang are desperately hungry after a few days walking, it is hard not to think of those going with nothing for weeks in camps and boats and in the backs of vans across the world. We know the outcome of the Second World War. The end of the ongoing refugee crisis seems less certain. It might be a children’s show, but An Elephant in the Garden makes us see these refugees as individuals. It makes us sympathise, laugh and fall in love with them. Perhaps Reade’s adaptation of Morpurgo’s book is a sign that we should all be trying to do the same.

***

On a day when everyone is talking about home and love, strolling down the street holding hands and the comfort of it all- it somehow felt important. It’s just a horrible thought that all this- government decisions, civil wars, hostility and violence- means two people who love each other might not be able to hold hands again.

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Most of the reviews I’ve read of Song From Far Away feel as though they should be whispered rather than spoken aloud. They have given the impression that the play contains such delicacy and tenderness, the sense of leaving the Young Vic feeling absolutely shattered. There are few productions I have loved as much as Ivo Van Hove’s A View From The Bridge and Stephens’ voice is always so clear and beautifully angry in his writing.

I have high expectations.

Eelco Smits plays Willem, a 34 year old man who has written six letters to his dead brother. We follow him through bars, beds and breakdowns. It is a beautifully written story and a carefully directed piece. So I’m not entirely sure what my problem with it is. Eelco is Dutch. Maybe my issue is that the words don’t feel naturally his. The self-deprecation, dark humour and slipped in swear words feel very English and so very Simon Stephens. Or maybe my problem is that I have a crap seat so it actually does feel very Far Away indeed.

But then something changes. Willem sits on the window sill and speaks with such sincerity about his family that I get goose bumps. Suddenly he takes control of the words and I believe in him.

“I don’t know how to hug anyone anymore.”

If this were real and Willem were to suddenly have a heart attack I wouldn’t know who to call. His family? He’s been shut out by them. His ex? It seems like he’s clinging onto something long lost there. The extent to which he is very much alone is affecting.

“Come home” he sings, his hand on the imaginary cheek of his boyfriend from years ago. From the awkward angle at which I’m sitting way at the back of the theatre, I can see through the doorway, where his jumper is strewn out. It just happens to be laid out at exactly the same angle as his arm is now, so it seems as though there could be another couple behind the frame, in exactly the same position. He sings with this accidental echo behind him and I’m suddenly very pleased with where I’m sitting.

The set is Stephens’ natural territory; a lonely hotel room, reminiscent of Birdland and Wastwater. There is nothing comfortable about it, it’s all sharp edges. It doesn’t say please stay here. It says you’re staying here because you have to. It is like a flat pack Ikea room with super cool lighting and that fake snow that you buy at the German market on the Southbank every year even though you never really need or want it. The windowed room is empty apart from a chair which rests in a section of the room separated by a wall with a doorframe, an air conditioning unit that hums occasionally and a lamp. The solid structure of the lamp reminds me of the outline in a Patrick Caulfield painting. As I search for the image I come across something he said, ‘I’ve only the friendship of hotel rooms’. He and Stephens would get on.

Eelco gets naked. At first the lack of clothing doesn’t seem to add anything, but gradually the decision begins to make sense. His nakedness allows him to be an innocent child being told off. It allows him to be a beastly figure, trapped in himself, his muscles heaving with his internal struggle. It allows him to be a vulnerable man just wanting to be loved.

But part of me still wants to give him a blanket to cover him up and make him a bit cosier.

There is a beautiful moment where we see this dull hotel room turn from night to day with the shadow of Eelco’s body and the big fat lamp jittering across the bare walls. It gives a similar effect to those old flick books or a zoetrope, or a piece by Julian Opie. It doesn’t quite feel real.

“Do you only ever realise you’re living in a golden age after it’s gone?”

The sense of loss is carried throughout the whole piece. Mark Eitzel’s music subtly reappears throughout as a half remembered song, with Willem sometimes gliding into it, sometimes humming or strumming it. Sometimes it is played from behind a closed door, distancing Willem even more from the outside world.

Eelco is in silhouette. The stage behind him is various shades of orange melting into shadows. His carved form is outlined, his fingers twisting up high as he describes a little girl spelling out his dead brother’s name with a sparkler. I almost expect the sparks to magically appear. This is a real moment of beauty. I can still see it.

I’m still not entirely sure what I think of Song From Far Away. It hasn’t left me shattered or grieving. But I do find myself trying to hum that song, trying to catch that melody that I can’t quite grasp.

Young Vic 07/09/15

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