“I AM NOT A LITTLE WOMAN”, they scream

Image result for winona ryder little women

As the curtains rise five figures are revealed in a pink mist, levitating in floor length gowns with their heads in the clouds – ‘higher beings’. They are Figs in Wigs. It is one of the best beginning visuals of a performance I’ve seen in a long time. If you get these first impressions right then you’re in with a good chance of winning over the audience.

With irony, they go on to play the all-knowing angels, offering some context to what is going to follow in this self-identifying ‘live art’ interpretation of Louise May Alcott’s novel, Little Women.

When I was a student I loved the idea of live art, its intellectualism of performance and political roots drew my pretentious-art-student-self right in. As the years went by and I slowly sunk into the cynicism of age, I realised that we should not be using the term “live art” to get away with making self- satisfying and bored-to-death art. This is just a side note, I wasn’t bored.

Anyway, they talk us through specific parts of the story, what themes they have found, meaning they have deciphered and how they have adapted them. This analysis is meant in jest, a tongue-in-cheek comment on the slightly absurd nature of interpreting 200 year old texts in a contemporary context:  for this version the Christmas Tree symbolises deforestation.

By the end, it’s like having read Spark Notes for  ‘Little Wimmin’ by Figs in Wigs. As I’m typing this, I’m thinking, actually maybe they meant this, to explore this notion of interpreting poetry or novels, as we do at GCSE or A-Level, and ultimately how we will never know the symbolism of a lime. ( Part 1, Chapter 7 of Little Women; Alcott:1868) Then again, maybe I’m reading too much into that.

Then we get an interval!

Everyone loved this, 30 minutes in and they can already get another large glass of red wine.

Relaxed back into our seats, with wine in hand, we enter the second half, in the comfort of knowing that it’s going to be good. There is some loud thrashy music, strobe lights, and… Oh! We’re watching a play! There’s a set, a tableau, and they are clearly in character – ready to be Little Women! Much like a director would with a play script, they have de-compartmentalised the text, picked out their favourite bits to use as tools for their own ideas, around the patriarchy mostly.

And they do this really well. There is one scene where the five women despair over the absence of their Father, and take inspiration from his suffering to be the women he would want them to be. Figs in Wigs adapt the speech here and repeat, repeat, repeat until it’s a farce, as is the idea that without a man, a woman would not know how to live.

As the play goes on, it unravels in slow motion to a dream-like soundtrack, and as it spirals into the surreal and filmic, all the other meanings and themes fall away, leaving us only with feminism. So we spiral into this feminist farce, and just as we are going at full speed, running away with ourselves into this mad nightmare POW!

A Christmas Tree sings us into live art.

And so some live art plays out until we are in the bar on our third glass of red wine…

Side note: years ago I watched a Florentine Holzinger show and during the Q&A someone asked her why she made it, she replied:

“Because I needed the money, this is my job.”

A collaboration: a little space @ HOME, MCR


a little space is a collaboration between Gecko, an internationally acclaimed physical theatre company and Mind the Gap, one of Europe’s leading learning disabled theatre companies.It is a marriage of both of their trademarks – actors with learning disabilities performing physical theatre.

A couple of years ago I co-produced a couple of projects with Mind the Gap. My experience was one of the best I’ve had professionally. The company are warm, supportive and without ego or pretention. I used to love visiting their building in Bradford, you walk into a community, and in between rehearsals or workshops the communal area fills up with a buzz of excitement.

And their productions (mostly recently Zara – ‘a giant outdoor theatre experience’) always turned up at full volume and zoomed in at 100% are visceral and affecting. The directors seem to me to always have worked in unison with their actors, who know their individual strengths, as well as how they can support one another.

This mini love letter to Mind the Gap is not irrelevant, it was the genuine ‘in- it- together’ ensemble that struck me the most. However, when you walk into the theatre, it is Gecko that you notice. The perfectly put together sound, set and lighting design does make for a strong aesthetic. I am sure this is what most people will comment on but personally, I didn’t find it so impressive.

As the performance begins Mind the Gap take centre stage. Paul, JoAnne, Alison, Charlotte and Lorraine move through their own very personal narratives, we see them in the pleasure of their ‘little space,’ as well as in the often jarring and confusing space that is the human conscious. Jumping through TVs, running through doors and being pulled under the stage, I really enjoyed the abrupt transitions between realities and surrealities. It sits in that middle ground of our imaginations: irrational, bizarre and sometimes very uncomfortable.

Although I might have been imagining it, I saw small sequences of movement repeated throughout that were personal to each actor. I assume they choreographed these themselves and unless I’m totally off the mark, you could tell. I felt that in these moments the actors were really comfortable and happy in ‘a little space’ of their own.However, as they delve into narratives that belong to each of them, I felt that the direction imposed itself.

I had this niggling feeling that the actors were being squished into too small a space. And so although this maybe has to do with my personal connection to the company, I enjoyed Mind the Gap more than I enjoyed Gecko.

A Little Space is touring the UK until May 16th with performances in Canterbury, Hove, Manchester, Derby, Oxford, Leeds, Ipswich, Exeter and London. For more information and tickets, see the Gecko website.




A Happy Ending ?

The Jumper Factory - HOME, Young Vic. Photo © Leon Puplett (02600)

“This is a fictional story about a true story”

I am really unsure how I feel about people talking about other people’s lives. It’s complicated and I don’t know how we facilitate the ethics around it. Luke Barnes might be reading this and saying out loud “Well I do know how to facilitate the ethics. It’s my job.”

Why then, should I be concerning myself with it, I am just someone who writes about plays/ performances/ theatre, I should be concerned with what’s on stage in front of me. However, I believe that context is everything and we shouldn’t be taking The Jumper Factory on face value. This is not a criticism of The Jumper Factory necessarily; and I am certainly not suggesting that this is my definitive opinion, just some thoughts on ‘participatory’ or ‘socially engaged’ practice and our motives behind it. I have split this ‘review’ into two parts: the context and the production.

It is true that due to the lack of information about the process of making The Jumper Factory, some of this is guess work.

The context

Artists making pieces of art about other people’s lives is nothing new. These artworks turn into a product and the artist/s might make money as a result. It is also true that the people whose lives they are appropriating are often used as the central marketing strategy. These people are often vulnerable, disadvantaged or from a minority background.

Another approach to participatory or socially engaged practice is to focus on the process rather than the end result. A focus on the process means that our motive is to offer something that benefits the community, not create a product to be sold. There might be an end result but it doesn’t necessarily make the artist/s money.

Fact: If those men whose lives the script is based on were on stage, I would feel differently about the monetary factor.

I am also not suggesting that it is only money that offers a benefit, either to the participants or the artist/s.

By now, Luke Barnes might be saying “But it did benefit those men, the process was everything, we made it with them, for them…” I’m not disputing that. I am 100% sure that the eight men involved got something out of taking part. So what was the process? There is no information, from either the press release or anything I found online. But that process is the most important part of this production!

It’s important to mention that the young men on stage are all people who have come into contact with the criminal justice system, in some way. The cast is made up of actors and non-actors, some of whom have gone onto be cast in other productions. And they all do an excellent job.

Still, I have so many questions.

What are these people doing now? How are they? How do they feel about this process? Did the artists keep in touch? How do/did they support them? How did they take care of these men? Did the people feel better for having taken part? Do the men know how the performance is changing and the audience responses?

The Production:

The Jumper Factory zooms in on the experiences of prisoners and is cleverly orchestrated so that each of the six actors all have the voice of one man. This offers a nuance to the narrative and builds a complex picture of what it is really like. There are some really interesting questions asked:

“Is this prison really a rehabilitation prison?… no one is asking the skinny boy if he’s ok…”

The amount of reoffenders in the UK prison system highlights that there is little thorough rehabilitation or support once back in ‘real life.’

Barnes questions what it is that ‘real life’ means in the context of prison. We forget that for these people being in prison is their life, for the time being. Whilst it’s a different type of life, it should still be treated like one.

What leads a person to commit a crime is often out of that person’s control, not always directly, but their experiences lead them up to the point in which they do something against the law. However, we don’t care about the complexities of how someone came to commit a crime. We only seem to focus on the bad. The Jumper Factory,  really does capture this human beings life, who cannot do anything good, now he has done something bad.

Then just as you see him start spiralling into a web of self destruction, there is a happy ending…

  • At HOME, Manchester until 14th September







dressed. by This Egg @ HOME, Manchester

Lydia Higginson, Josie Dale-Jones, Imogen Mahdavi, Olivia Norris (2) in dressed

Loads of reviews have been written about dressed. It’s really not worth me critiquing the artistic quality of the performance. So I wrote this instead.

Before I begin, I have an admission. I consider myself a feminist. I consider myself someone who is hype-aware of structural sexism in our society. However, this does not mean I escape it myself. As dressed began, before any of the content had really begun, I found myself dismissing it. I’d imagined, before it had begun and knowing the subject matter, that it was going to be self-absorbed, and without much depth . Whether or not it did doesn’t really matter. Aesthetically, dressed is very feminine, the pastel colours, the delicate movements.  In hindsight, I realised that I was being sexist.

“ Clothes are just pieces of cloth, stitched together”

Lydia was stripped, and now she wants to talk about getting dressed.

When we experience sexual abuse, it can often feel like our bodies have broken into parts. They don’t feel like they are a part of us anymore. We have to stitch ourselves back together, until our bodies feel like an outfit we are happy to wear again.

These four friends, have been friends since they were ten and together, together they have worked through this experience. dressed. is not just an account of a terrible event, it is also about how the people around us deal with those difficult situations. The frustration we all feel when someone can’t think about anything else, when they can’t live anything else – when you become secondary.

These women have made a performance, an award-winning performance non the less, a performance that went up to the Edinburgh fringe, the year they were ‘just one of many’ that reflected the ‘me too’ movement. The suggestion here is that there were too many. Have theatre makers cashed in on this political movement? No, they have found a space where their voices can be heard, in a way they want them to be heard. Not through the media, not through social media but live, on stage, with no one twisting their experiences.

dressed. is a dance, a song, a performance. We see them, we hear them, but each one of them also creates a character, in costume. We want to detach ourselves, so that these experiences don’t feel so suffocatingly close to us. But this strategy also allows these women to unapologetically find a way to articulate their emotional responses to Lydia’s experience, and probably their own too.

“ We won’t change anything.”

These four women want to make a performance that is feminist, that is political, but as they point out, it won’t change anything. Theatre never changes anything. However, even if only one man in the audience on Tuesday night reflected on his actions, then job done.

  • At HOME until Saturday 8th June






Hofesh Shechter’s Grand Finale @ HOME, MCR


Maybe I was in a bad mood. Maybe I had other things on my mind. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for a dramatic, sincere, performance about the chaos of the human condition – but Grand Finale didn’t capture me.

Without fault, the dancers move like angels in unison through the space, like birds in flight; every move, with each body part in sync with one another. Hofesh Shechter and his ensemble of dancers are clearly, without a doubt, extremely skilled and it is this skill and composition that makes it an A class performance.

I saw a standing ovation at the end and spoke to many people who were moved, and in awe. I’d heard how incredible a performance it was beforehand, and I will always appreciate a performance for what it is attempting to do. It is enough that performers and the team involved are creating and being brave enough to it put in front an audience. However, I have seen a lot of dance and what I have learnt is that I don’t like ethereal movement. This is completely subjective.

A good measure for me is the response from people who are not ‘arts professionals’. It is an absolute joy to go to the theatre with friends who go in open-minded and ready to absorb whatever is on stage. I enjoy this because going to the theatre, for me, is often like a work social. And often, my ‘colleagues,’ when offering their thoughts speak in a sort of code that is not understandable to the general public.

Last night, I went with three friends, who are all creative people, but work in science, charity and TV. Their lives are far more varied than my own. After the first half, whilst saying “Wow” they also said “I can’t believe that was only the first half.” After the second half, one of them said, “I loved that bit, because it was short.”

If a piece captures you, moves you, you don’t notice the time. Personally, I was thinking, “This is incredible Hannah, why are you not moved, why are you not absorbed in this world?” Upon reflection, I would say this is because, whilst the tempo changes, the tone does not. It is a heightened, atmospheric, drama throughout. My favourite part came towards the end. Three black pillars frame the dancers and they move into tableaus, with blackouts in between.

The choreography was dynamic, but the character of it didn’t develop. In other words, whilst we go on journey through the oppression of human life, in urban spaces, where productivity is the drive, where human relationships are fleeting and messy, the journey is flat and the landscape is dull.

I feel sorry that I am being so negative. Because I understand that most people felt the opposite, and it is obviously full to the brim of talent, but innovation? Hmm, I think I’ve seen this before.

And returning for the third year in a row to HOME speaks for itself. It sells tickets and people want to see it. One of my friends has been twice. I even considered going tonight, to try and see what I seemed to be missing.

To conclude: It is an incredible performance and one that almost everyone would recommend, but I didn’t like it.



Two make one: Bertrand Lesca & Nasi Voutsas’ ‘One’ @ HOME, Manchester



The reason I like live performance, or one of the reasons, is watching the nuances of human behaviour play out, the details of interactions between performers.

It is these details, these nuances, that ‘One’ offers. Nasi & Bert embody unresolved conflict and play out a to and fro between themselves, a tension they cannot seem to overcome. Nasi is stubborn, defensive and doesn’t want to perform this show, as Bert imagines it.

But Bert is determined to get Nasi’s attention, to encourage Nasi to play along. As the performance drifts along, Bert becomes more and more frustrated and his plea to Nasi escalates until he is screaming through the stage door: “ YOU WILL SEE ME IN YOUR DREAMS.”

But Nasi remains calm and rational, and he allows Bert to move around him and carry the weight of the performance, without really interacting with the performance or Bert at all. Nasi doesn’t see the point, he’s angry and resistant throughout. They love each other, as they say, but there is also a fracture between what they both want out of this experience, with each other and the audience. There is some sort of minute magic in this.

‘One’ takes the ‘polarisation of politics’ as its starting point but it doesn’t seem that this idea has been explored or developed any further beyond the relationship between Nasi and Bert. However, there is some strength in its simplicity. The stage is bare, the house lights up, the performers interaction with the audience is open and frank. It’s a simple exploration of what that this state of politics means for individuals. The tensions between our isolated, individualistic society, and the human need for love, affection and strong bonds.

‘One’ is playful and witty. Nasi and Bert are both strong and charismatic performers.  The pleasure of ‘One’ comes from watching these two men push and pull between the audience, their relationship and their individuality, and attempting to come together, whilst also staying true to themselves.

At HOME until Fri 10 May 2019

Definitely a dance show: Fat Blokes by Scottee at HOME, Manchester

Fat Blokes pic 12

I’m going to take Scottee’s approach to this. I’m going to be blunt and I might say fuck a lot.

Firstly, I didn’t want to like this show. Years ago, I sat in an audience for one of Scottee’s cabaret style shows; I had been coaxed in by one of the ushers but I had a throat infection and wanted nothing more but to just sit quietly in the audience. Instead, I was pretty much forced on stage and laughed at. I was pissed off.

But here’s the thing: I fucking loved ‘Fat Blokes.’ I loved (almost) every fucking minute of it.

Often in my reviews I write about the themes of the show; Fat Blokes is about being fat, being male, being queer and how shit humans can be to one another. Frankly, I don’t need to write about those themes here because Asad, Gez, Sam, Joe and Scottee get it so spot on. You just need to go and see it.

The cast of four came together through an open call-out. A couple of them have never been on stage before, but you would not fucking know it. All the performers shine through. I have to be honest and say I was looking for the catch, the non-professional element of the show; but there wasn’t one. They were fucking precise, strong, and present performers. They took care with the details, even when they walked off stage they did it with skill.

Just whilst I was thinking “fuck, this performance is fucking tight,” a space opened up for them to come forward and talk to us about their stories. They told us about being glassed for being fat, about being rejected by Dads for being gay. This combination of shit hot performance and vulnerability was magic. It was magic that they felt safe enough to cry on stage, take a moment, and then come back with the fire and power that a lot of ‘professional’ performers couldn’t do, and wouldn’t let themselves do.

It was clear how well supported all the performers were. In between dances and chats with the audience, they hug one another, hold hands, and take stock for a moment. Yet never did this go too far, or slip into something that took away from the shows artistic brilliance.

Fat Blokes pic 7

Scottee pitches this as a ‘sort of dance show’, but if you ask me, it is a dance show. The choreography by Lea Anderson has clearly been created in response to these men and lends itself wonderfully to the absence of pretence.  It only makes you want to get up and dance.

A backdrop of boxes and fridges, hanging strip lights, and a red dance floor, frame the performance. It sounds unbelievably simple, and it is, but fuck! It’s effective. Credits to set, light and video design go to Jen McGinley, Marty Langthorne, and Adam Young.

Fat Blokes is an angry, joyful protest that leaves you with a fire in your belly. It makes you want to laugh, cry, dance, and scream – all at the same time.

So, I suppose I can forgive him for making me feel like a total d**k that one time…


  • At HOME until Saturday 23rd March









10 are better than one: “Your Sexts Are Shit” by Rachel Mars at The Royal Exchange


Your Sexts Are Shit hires Image
Photograph by: Maurizio Martorana

Rachel Mars’ new show is a calm, gentle rumination on sex, intimacy and the ins and outs of human relationships.

Mars has curated a selection of letters written by well-known historical figures. The letters detail their deepest desires to fuck and be fucked, to squeal and squidge against one another, to push and pull at ones genitals and bottoms and bosoms. It makes for fantastic listening, hilarious in parts.

Alongside the bizarre and fantastical prose of James Joyce, Mozart, Frida Kahlo, Eleanor Roosevelt and more, Mars presents to us the reality of the modern day equivalent: “ Will you sit on my face tonight” asks one stranger to another stranger. Sex might have always been the same; we have always wanted it and always received unwanted advances. But lets face it, dick pics are a hell of a lot less articulate and poetic than Mozart’s lustful note to his cousin.

Mars performs with a slow-tempo, she takes her time to really enunciate the words so we can hear James Joyce summoning his wife to shit on his face and fart while he fucks her (his words not mine.) She also takes the time to speak to the audience frankly about her own sexuality. Recalling when she realised she wanted to have sex with women and wanted to penetrate, as well as, touching on how her shaved head might of indicated to us that she thinks “10 fingers are better than one cock.”

There is a suggestion around female and queer pleasure; a sort of suggestion that this celebration of sex is particularly needed for women and the LGBTQ+ community but it doesn’t develop beyond a shushed, underlying theme but then perhaps that is the point.

Mars’ considered performance and direction of “Your Sexts…” marries well with the outrageous crudeness and vulgar language and as a result, Mars herself only acts as a sort of platform for what is really centre stage: SEX.

A melodrama for our times: Kourtney Kardashian by Sleepwalk Collective at HOME, Mcr


Photograph: Ricardo Espinosa

Kourtney Kardashian is a gold lit, smoky collision of all the unnatural things that make up reality, or fantasy, in 2019.

What do the Kardashians and opera have in common? Their status is to do with money and they are both melodramatic. How are they different? Opera only attracts- and can only be afforded by- the elite, whilst you can catch the Kardashians through any of your screens: on TV, through Instagram filters, social media and so on. Another difference is that opera has acquired it’s status through being a highly skilled art form whilst the Kardashians’ status comes from money. However, as performer iara Solano Arana points out, the opera seems unnatural but the Kardashians paying £££ for implants in faces and bottoms (I can only imagine) is the norm.

It is also natural to come to fame through having loads of cash and hanging out with other people with loads of cash. In a society that admires having and spending money and looking good with it, of course the Kardashians are being idolized by many young girls. The trouble is, most of them will only ever be able to dream of having a Kardashian lifestyle.

As this part-opera plays out, the audience sit back absorbing the melodramatic critique, as it dives in and out of ideas around wealth, class, consumerism, technology, crisis and climate change. Weaved in are the real childhood memories of “conductor” Sammy Metcalfe but then he begins to question what is real or not, asking: “Am I losing the plot?” But don’t be fooled, you won’t get away with escaping through the myriad of our overcomplicated realities: Arana looks right back at us, the audience.

As the house lights come back up, she looks through opera binoculars to observe what she expected “in this context”- the elite- the elite, who can afford to spend £12.50 on an hour-long performance. What is this piece of experimental live art-esque performance really worth? The real question here though is, what is this life worth? As we escape into our digital realities the truth is we are actively destroying the physical world we have to live in. And so, quite appropriately, the Finale comes in and Arana wishes us luck in the burning world outside the theatre.

Performed skilfully by iara Solano Arana and Nhung Dang and foregrounded by hypnotic music and visuals by Sam Metcalfe – Kourtney Kardashian looks a lot like smoke and mirrors but in fact is relevant and responsive to the car crash we are living in.