The lighting designer of Hull’s most anarchic panto, Adam Foley, has stuffed this month’s mix to the brim with angsty, in-your-face tunes to make you question authority and take a stand for what you believe in.
The folk tale of Robin Hood is one which is familiar to most. An outlaw who leads his band of Merry Men, who can shoot a perfect bullseye every time, and perhaps most importantly, who steals from the rich to give to the poor.
Although this year’s panto was chosen by you, Middle Child are always up for a good bit of wealth redistribution and Robin Hood couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.
That’s why this month’s Mixtape is brought to you by the lighting designer of Hull’s most anarchic panto, Adam Foley, who is shining a spotlight on where his own political ethos developed in the form of head-banging bops.
Panto isn’t like most of the productions we put on during the year and presents unique challenges. Rehearsal time is cut in half, and we aren’t shy about having a budget that can’t afford the moon and the stars, but Adam is back again this year to light up Hull’s answer to Sherwood Forest – Thorngumbald.
But… before Christmas creeps up on us like a ghost in a panto gag, Adam is highlighting the music that inspired a worldview not unlike that of Robin Hood and has found time to chat with us about his career and beliefs.
Tickets are available now for family and late-night performances of Robin Hood: Prince of Thorngumbald, with a limited-availability early bird offer for those of you who want the Christmas do sorted sooner rather than later.
Which track on this tape has the most important message?
The most important track for me personally in terms of shaping my politics might be the final track of the mix, ‘Constellations’ by Enter Shikari, it preaches unity and hope which is very often lost at the moment. However, for your outside listener I think ‘United States of Amnesiacs’ by Death of a Nation is the most upfront, unapologetic reminder that you do not have to be proud of what your country stands for, the line “I’ll burn any banner without remorse or repentance if the colours represent genocide and hostility” kind of speaks for itself. There was another track I wanted to include… but I already have too much Shikari… which has the line “fear begins to vanish when you realise that countries are just lines drawn in the sand with a stick” which has a similar resonance. The ideas of us and them, nationhood and separatism are going to become more and more dangerous as populations rise and climate change forces us closer together. We have to engage empathy and care for people who are less like us. What ‘Amnesiacs’ reminds us is that we need change, fundamental change in our politics if we are to see a kinder or even mildly liveable world in the future.
What is something you want people to take away from this tape after listening to your mix?
First off, don’t @ me for the more ineloquent tracks on there, I wanted to be truthful about the tracks I was listening to that fuelled my journey into disquiet even if I don’t stand by every line of every song on this playlist. But beyond that I would love for this to inspire people to imagine painting their own beliefs/politics 20m tall on a wall, would you be happy for everyone passing to read it? What makes you embarrassed? Why? Do you need to gee yourself up to shout this belief in public? Do you need to get more educated in order to defend it? Do that. It feels way better to have confidence in why you believe what you believe.
What place do you see politics having in the arts?
I think art is inherently political, art made with public money especially so. Whether your art is saying “don’t worry everything is fine think about the nice happy ending” or “the world is unjust, and this politician is corrupt” you are making a political point either for or against the status quo. Some art forms are inextricable from politics because of their history, to misquote Rou Reynolds badly: “if you don’t have a political point, you aren’t making punk, you’re just making noisy pop music.” I think this is true in theatre as well, if you want to make noise and have theatre that shouts loudly you need to have something to shout about.
How do your politics influence your working practices?
There are definitely companies and venues I would think twice about working with/in because of their workplace culture. As a freelance lighting designer, I don’t want to put up with a casually racist crew or, to be honest, too many tories. I sometimes think about the difference I might be able to make shaking up a culture like that but when you are freelancing you are usually on your own, with little influence over staffing etc. It would be hugely isolating if you kicked up a stink and now the staff are against you when you are by yourself for two weeks in an unfamiliar city. Sometimes it’s just better to not be in that situation and make mention as to why you are turning the job down if you can, so they know there is a serious problem in their building.
How did you find your career path?
I did the theatre course at Hull Uni having done some auditions for drama schools and found them really wanky. Acting had been pretty much my only experience of getting involved in theatre shows so that was what I was looking for. However, I got far more joy, satisfaction and was better at the technical side of theatre. While I was still at uni I started working as a casual technician at Hull Truck and started a production company with a few friends. As soon as I graduated, I started working as a touring re-lighter and started slotting in little studio shows of my own designs around the larger shows I was relighting. Our production company did a few projects and fizzled out as we all got too busy but making my own work felt super important, so I joined up with a graduate company Silent Uproar as their head of production, I now spread my time between lighting design at various scales, touring and Silent Uproar’s ongoing programme.
What is the usual panto-making process like for you?
Panto is its own beast, it is a super specific form with criteria you have to fulfil. There will be a ghost gag that has to visually encourage everyone to shout, every character needs a distinct visual and audio entrance sting. I find designing a panto is about building a toolkit that can achieve all the things needed in a panto that is also tied into this particular panto’s style. I need to figure out what the ‘everyone boo the baddy’ lights should look like in the world of Robin Hood, what should that tool from my toolkit look like this year? It’s a very different process to designing any other kind of show, I love coming to it every year.
What are your hopes for this years panto?
That Sister Skeg will overcome the evil Sheriff of Cottingham and redistribute wealth from those that hoard it to those that create value in the panto-verse. OF COURSE!
How do you see a story like Robin Hood being important to re-tell right now?
I mean I am pro-any media that dismantles privilege and entitlement, especially when it’s a kids show. But less flippantly one of the great elements of Robin Hood is that he doesn’t act alone, the merry men live on common land in the forest and the locals support them bringing food and keeping secrets. All of Nottingham knows they are living in a corrupt system and those that have to keep a clean record in public still support their local rebels in private. It’s a kind of solidarity I can really get behind.
Tell us about one issue in the world you would like to draw attention to right now.
I think climate change is the largest and most existential problem we face, the fact that it is seen as a political issue in countries like America is insane. But something that I think needs more attention and concern in the UK is the slow creep of privatisation in our public services. It’s often shouted about in the NHS, but it is also in our prison system these days. I fundamentally don’t believe that private profit should be made keeping our population healthy or rehabilitating our offenders. It changes the motivation, it becomes less about how we most effectively do this operation or clean this ward and more about how can we do this whilst still making money? The only way it is possible for a private company to clean a hospital cheaper whilst still making a profit than an at-cost public service is to either cut corners or exploit workers through low wages. That this is spreading throughout UK services is disheartening and terrifying, we risk ending up with a prison system like the US where privately run prisons lobby for longer sentences and create anti-social environments with excess solitary etc. that encourage reoffending because that makes them more money. It has little to do with rehabilitation and way more to do with profit. It doesn’t make society safer or help people it is set up to make money, it is a cruel future that is already developing in the UK across our public services, we should be fighting to keep these things public.
The Middle Child Mixtape is a monthly Spotify playlist compiled by Middle Child artists, company members, staff and collaborators. Subscribe to the playlist to hear a fresh mix every month.