Three of the UK’s most exciting theatre companies have joined forces to set fire to expectations of what a night at the theatre can be for new audiences.
The Push Things Forward Collective is Middle Child, nabokov and Not Too Tame, three companies who believe that theatre needs urgent change in order to remain relevant and popular.
They are united in a desire to do things differently and find new ways of creating live events that focus on attracting those people who feel alienated by theatre.
They all share in common an interest in using non-traditional spaces and experimenting with form to make work that tells 'untold' stories.
The Collective will meet regularly to discuss new forms of theatre and how to identify and develop audiences, as well as support each other’s organisational development
Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, said: “We're delighted to be working alongside two of the most progressive, forward-thinking companies in the country to create theatre that is a good night out and which appeals to everyone. We look forward to starting fires together.”
nabokov Artistic Director, Stef O’Driscoll, said: “ We are hyped to to be joining forces with these guys to share ideas and resources. Our shared vision of making the arts social brought us together and we are stronger as a consortium challenging and supporting each other to reinvent theatre that reflects the diverse experiences and stories of our time. Exciting times. POW!
Not Too Tame artistic director, Jimmy Fairhurst, said: “These are the kinds of alliances that put fire in the belly and adrenaline in the veins of any artist. We're proud and excited to partner with companies that understand the importance of hearing the voices of unsung heroes and telling tales that are rarely heard in today's theatres. Together we can share, learn and create new and vibrant ways to make theatre the first choice for an exhilarating night out!”
The dust has settled on our 2016 pantomime Dick Whittington and it was a terrific end to the year; 26 public performances, over 2000 audience members, a 200 ticket giveaway – we couldn’t be happier.
Or could we?
For the very first time we ran a collection at the show, raising money for two charitable organisations close to our heart: The Warren and Hull Help for Refugees. Both provide vital services to our home city and its patrons, so we wanted to help in whatever way we could. Show after show, our panto characters shook buckets at the door, teasing out the last few pennies our generous audience had to spare.
And we raised a fantastic £1,757.58!
It was a huge effort, and we can’t thank those who donated enough. You will be making a tremendous difference to the two charities involved, and it truly has blown us away. What a start to 2017!
Thanks again, and here’s to Hull, in 2017 – UK City of Culture!
Following our successful panto crowdfunding campaign, we are giving away 200 free tickets to charitable organisations in Hull, large or small. We’re spreading a little Christmas cheer, and saying thank you for all your hard work throughout the city.
Each group can request up to 10 tickets, for any 3pm or 7pm show between the 17th and 29th December.
Do you volunteer or work for a group that you think deserves some Christmas love? Get in touch! Drop an email to email@example.com with your organisation name, contact details and a short explanation as to why you’d like the tickets, and we’ll see what we can do!
Tickets have already been allocated to The Warren, Blokes United and Hull Help for Refugees, among others. The rest will be given on a first-come-first-serve basis, so do get in touch.
Love, Middle Child HQ
It’s a matter of weeks before we start rehearsals for our 2016 pantomime, and Middle Child HQ is buzzing. This will be our fifth consecutive year performing at Fruit over the Christmas holiday and we cannot wait to get started!
Pantomime is often a person’s first introduction to the world of theatre and so we place huge importance on the production of these shows. Theatre arouses curiosity, sparks the imagination and helps us understand the world around us; our Artistic Director Paul Smith even wrote his university dissertation on pantomime, so he understands better than most the importance it serves as the gateway to the theatrical world.
2016 marks the beginning of a new cycle for our pantomime: we say goodbye to playwright Dave Windass, who has done a wonderful job writing the shows for the last four years (thanks Dave!), and welcome our friend Tom Wells to the panto party. His version of Dick Whittington will be kicking us off this year, and we know our loyal audiences are going to love it.
This year, we’re doing more than ever before to help those around us; we’ve set up a crowdfunding campaign, and if successful we will be giving away 200 free tickets to community groups and families who could not afford to come otherwise. We’ve worked on similar initiatives previously, giving free tickets to the Salvation Army and Goodwin Development Trust’s Health & Wellbeing Centre. This year, we hope to do much more. Donate if you can by clicking here.
During the shows themselves we’ll also be running a collection, the proceeds of which will be split between The Warren & Hull Help for Refugees. The Warren is an independent charity in Hull, providing vital support services to marginalised and vulnerable young people in Hull. Hull Help For Refugees is a grassroots collective who wish to aid refugees in the current humanitarian crisis and provide support for other destitute people. Both groups are truly inspirational, turning people’s lives around both in and outside of Hull. We are delighted to help in whatever small way we can.
As usual, we’ll be performing both our family-friendly pantomime and an adult version. The show kicks off the on the 17th December and runs until the 29th. Tickets are on sale now, and with many shows selling out in 2015 we reckon you should probably get your tickets soon! You can buy them in advance here.
With love, as always,
Middle Child Theatre
There’s five days to go until Ten Storey Love Song opens at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and as all theatre makers will attest - it’s squeaky bum time; will we be able to cram our 8-strong team into the tiny flat we’ve booked? Will our tech time dissolve into inevitable chaos? Most worryingly, will anyone actually turn up to watch the damn thing? In the midst of press releases, facebook ads, flyer printing and industry invites, I find myself trying to convince the world over and over of what we are, what Ten Storey is and why we do what we do.
And that’s fine – we want people to understand the show, and to have a reason to come (Pleasance Dome, 5.20pm, 3rd – 29th August by the way. Sorry, had to). But all too often, I have ended up in auditoriums thinking, this is not what I signed up for. It’s not what was sold. By appealing to the highest common denominator, we’re inevitably going to piss some people off along the way. So I’m going to give myself a few lines of copy off from the blatant sell, and tell it to you straight:
This is not what Ten Storey Love Song is:
It’s not quiet. In fact it’s quite loud. You can be loud too, please do, but don’t expect a tranquil hour and-a-bit of entertainment.
It’s not tidy. If something happens we’re not expecting, we’ll probably mention it.
It’s not polite, i.e. you’re going to hear quite a lot of swearing. Especially the C word. Sorry.
It doesn’t tie up in a nice little bow in the end. It’s pretty sad to be honest. No rainbows and butterflies here.
It’s not educational. We’re not trying to teach you anything, to impart our ‘wisdom’. It’s to be enjoyed/experienced/shouted at, and talked about over a pint afterwards – if you fancy.
It's not sanitised: the play is an exploration of real people and of how real people speak and act. At times you might not like what they say or do, but everything that happens in the show comes from a place of truth.
It’s not something everyone’s going to enjoy. One review called it “anti-intellectual”. Another said “fucking brilliant from start to finish”. A third concluded “Ten Storey Love Song won’t be to everyone’s taste, but neither was The Sound Of Music. Love it or hate it, you won’t forget it in a hurry.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Whilst I’m at it…
This is not who Middle Child are:
We’re not schmoozers. It’s not that we don’t try, we’re just pretty rubbish at it. If you want to have a chat, we’d love to – we’ll be in the corner.
We’re not very good at selling stuff (FYI you can buy the playscript, we’ll just probably forgot to try).
We don’t live and breathe theatre. We like other stuff too. If you fancy a chat about Pep vs Jose, Corbyn vs Smith, we’re there.
We’re not the finished article – obviously. We’re still figuring this whole thing out. But then, the moment we stop learning, that’s when I’m packing up anyway.
So I reckon, if you’ve got through the above and haven’t been put off, you might actually quite enjoy this mad little thing we’ve made. Come along. We’ll be there all Fringe, and we’ll be giving it our all. Give it a go, and at least now you know what not to expect.
by Paul Smith (Picture : Matthew May as Alan Blunt The Cunt in Ten Storey Love Song, credit : Jerome Whittingham)
BREXIT STAGE RIGHT
It has been just over a week now since the results of the EU referendum that shook the foundations of this country - the exact effects of which are still unknown. Britain has been a strange place since then - the only comforting certainty being that we are still terrible at football. Of course as a liberal, Remain voter I found the result to be devastating, terrifying and mainly bloody sad but it has to be said that there has also been a disturbing and reductive trend to classify all Leave voters as a bunch of uneducated racists. The truth, of course, is much more complex than that. Britain is divided. It is divided by class, by place, by opportunity and actually, by pretty much anything you can think of. I’d argue that those morons on Twitter who abuse cities like Middlesborough and Hull for how they voted are as unhelpful as anyone. This catchy-headline, blame-passing, nuance-lacking view of the world that needs a remedy. The question shouldn’t be ‘what idiots did this?’ but ‘why did people feel the need to do this?’. Let’s not pretend we have suddenly moved from a tolerant and open utopia to a far-right dystopia because of one referendum. This has been building for a long time and there is nuance here (though admittedly the challenge is finding it).
I was reading Matt’s blog written shortly after the result was announced. In it he calls for us to ‘push ourselves to tell (..) stories to the people that need to hear them’, a statement I wholeheartedly agree with, of course. Though it also got me thinking about the type of stories that will soon be filling theatre across the country. The worst version of the theatrical response is one which cries of fascism, hate and ignorance at every turn. The people who voted to ‘Remain’ moaning about those who voted ‘Leave’ to a bunch of like-minded sympathisers. That’s what Twitter is for, not the theatre. Surely the responsibility of theatre right now is not to state the obvious, not to be reductive or to simplify but in fact to explore the nuance and the humanity of where we find ourselves. To tell stories that examine the part of Britain we do not understand or worse, do not hear about. This brings me to think about our production of Ten Storey Love Song, a production which changed overnight last Thursday.
A CASE STUDY - TEN STOREY LOVE SONG
Ten Storey Love Song was originally a novel written by Richard Milward in 2009. It is described as a ‘love song to a loveless Teeside’ and it follows the lives of a group of characters living in Peach House, the ten-storey tower block that forms the title. These characters are nuanced, flawed and, above all else, searching for love in a world that generally doesn’t love them back. Most importantly, they really exist in Britain. This is not fiction, poverty porn, nor is it commodification of the working classes.
In a headline these characters would be ‘chavs’, ‘the white working class’ or ‘feral scum’. Often they are a statistic, a punchline or a caricature. Sometimes their existence is denied all together. Rarely are they treated as three-dimensional human beings.
I’m going to talk about a review Andrew Haydon wrote about Ten Storey Love Song after its original production.
Go read it now.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to become a blog where I justify our show or attack a reviewer. I just want to use this critique as a case study through which I can ask some questions about the nature of theatre. I think Andrew Haydon is an outstanding reviewer (just a matter of time before he uses that tagline, I’m sure); I feel safe in the knowledge that his responses to work will be thoughtful, careful and deliciously provocative. I respect his views on theatre and relish his ability to dig deeper than any other theatre writer I have read. This review is no exception. It's so carefully considered. Still, when Andrew described Ten Storey Love Song as ‘nazi art’ I was naturally devastated. I’d never been called a Nazi before. I nearly wrote a response to the piece to try and articulate my feelings on it but no AD wants to write a blog entitled ‘Why We’re Not Nazi’s’. In actuality, once I forced my brain to focus on the nuance rather than that awful word I saw what Andrew meant. He is very careful to quantify his statement -
“I do want it to be understood specifically in terms of the anti-intellectualism and anti-Cosmopolitanism, rather than a flailing accusation of racism or anti-Semitism which clearly isn’t there at all”
“So, yes, I found the underlying tow of the narrative staggeringly reactionary and borderline right-wing. But DEFINITELY NOT RACIST. Middle Child Theatre Company ARE NOT NAZIS. Ok? I’m not saying that. I put this thinking out here if only to at least make the company check with itself that it hasn’t accidentally made something that says a lot *extra* to what they wanted”.
I didn’t quite know what to do with this or how to think about it. I knew I had no real interest in a ‘here’s where we disagree’ type response. I wanted to use this brilliantly provocative and challenging piece of writing to better understand our work and the wider theatrical context we find ourselves in. One thing I was eventually sure of was that we hadn’t accidentally made something that said more than we wanted (aside from the fact that I’m a ‘southern, middle-class ponce’ who made a piece of work that a ‘southern, middle-class ponce’ couldn’t ‘really warm to’ - I felt weird about that, I love the south). We wanted, and always want, to make a piece of work which was challenging to watch and which made us think about, and better understand, the Britain we live in today. To do that I feel we have to show a truthful snapshot of Modern Britain. I decided bite my lip for now.
...AND THEN THINGS CHANGED
Since Brexit, I have thought about our show and about Andrew’s words a lot. The play tells the story of various characters who are making their way in modern Britain, with all of the complexities that brings. The truth, unfortunately, is that some people in Britain hold racist views, some mistrust intellectualism, some have disturbing sex and some use strong language. Some buy into media narratives and others feel hopeless and isolated. Often people are hugely contradictory and massively frustrating. Ten Storey Love Song is, at points, as Andrew says: “anti-intellectual, problematically homophobic, hetero-normative, anti-pornography, anti-Queer, blokey and straight”. Andrew is right. The characters in the play are, at times, all of those things. Unfortunately, I believe that modern Britain is often many of these things too.
For me, our show and Andrew's response to it raised lots of interesting questions about the nature of art:
Andrew’s final paragraph is one that has stuck with me and seems to have added resonance today - “apart from finding it hard to know what to do with the undercurrent that I found myself unable to ignore, it’s not at all a bad show. It’s well done. It’s fun. It just disturbed the fuck out of me. Which is a weird way to spend time in the theatre”
I’ve said similar about how it feels to be living in Britain right now. I’m interested in how our theatre responds to that, warts and all. Should theatre censor itself in order to look towards an ideal society or does it show a true reflection of the world we live in?
The point of Ten Storey Love Song is that without love, without compassion, without each other we are fucked. In a divided and mistrustful Britain I think it is important that we remember this.
Oh look, Farage has just resigned.
By Matthew May, pictured above.
I sit here 24 hours into a post Brexit world. Like many of us I feel pretty depressed, I also find myself in the odd and slightly disconcerting position of agreeing with Jeremy Clarkson who said to his twitter followers:
“Right. We should have 24 hours of despair and moaning, and then we will all have to roll up our sleeves and make this shit shower work.”
Wise words, especially when you consider they come from a man who confuses racist innuendo with wit, but if just this once we are going to listen to him then our 24hours of despair are up.
Why the arts?
Normally at times like this, when there has been a national tragedy, or political upheaval I question what I am doing working in the arts, what are we all doing in the arts? I look around at the bright, sensitive, determined people I work with all the time and I think ‘wouldn’t we be more useful doing something else, being doctors or teachers or god forbid, even politicians. Couldn’t we make the world a much better place that way?’ Today is not one of those days. Today I know why we do it, why we are important, why we are needed now more than ever. This referendum has driven a wedge between the people of this country. We feel more divided now than at any point in my living memory. Old vs Young, Rich vs Poor, Educated vs Uneducated. The campaign deliberately and maliciously set out to make us afraid of the other, afraid of the outside, us vs some terrifying foreign them. People have been lied to, been manipulated, they have also been patronised and ignored. The results of this we saw on Friday morning and we saw them the Thursday before in the brutal murder of Jo Cox.
Against this backdrop it is easy to turn our back on the country, to say ‘you voted for it not me, I’m off to Canada/Australia/Country of choice.’ I get that. It was my first response too, (for your information I was off to Iceland,) but we know that is not the answer.
Of course I am angry. I am fucking livid that we have been reduced to this. That our great tolerant country has been laid so low, but anger is their weapon not ours. We must be cleverer and kinder to weather this storm. That is why I know the arts has a duty to play a vital role. I am not asking you all to go out and make massive pieces of art praising the merits of Jean Claude Junker, (though if you are let me know…I do a mean Luxembourg accent,) all I am asking is you redouble your efforts to tell those important human stories that I know you already do. If, as looks increasingly likely we are about to be taken over by the most right wing government of modern times then the UK is going to be severely lacking in humanity and it is our job to provide it. We must stop the dehumanisation that has been so rampant in recent times, we must provide the nuance, the empathy to combat the simple stories that we are being force fed by the media. We must do this for both sides, as well as showing that migrants do not come in ‘swarms’ we must also show that people are not born racist. We must also challenge ourselves, we must push ourselves to tell these stories to the people that need to hear them. It is not enough to sit in our safe little theatres preaching to the converted. We have to go out and force a dialogue between those who need to start talking. I am not saying that is easy. I know full well that getting new people to watch theatre is an uphill battle but too often people use that as an excuse to not even try.
I know it all feels shit right now, I cried on a bus yesterday, but we can not give up. Britain is suffering from the most horrific of diseases but we must do all we can to provide our part of the antidote. Britain genuinely needs us now, let’s not abandon her.
By Ellen Brammar, Middle Child
Ellen, left, in Apples (2012).