Monthly Archives: February 2012

Hit the Ode (part 2)

Hit the Ode, a monthly spoken word event organised by West Midland’s Apples and Snakes, returned last Thursday to prove that this is an event going from strength to strength. This month’s collection of open mic and featured poets consistently bowled the audience over with their humour, lyricism and raw emotion. The Victoria provided a resplendent setting; the intimate nature and dimly-lit room providing an evocative background for words that were even more powerful.

For those who are now regulars, Bohdan Piasecki is as much a celebrity as the poets he introduces. As a compere and poet himself, his obvious passion for the spoken word excites even the most cynical of audience members. The room was the most filled it’s been yet – an apt reflection of the growing popularity of Birmingham’s spoken word scene.

Advertised as ‘an eclectic mix of styles, voices and languages’, the night fulfilled just that. As the name suggests, open mics in any setting are a gamble. Apart from one crude and mediocre poet overcome by misogynism, however, the poets that performed were as worthy of the stage as those paid to be there. ‘Carys Matic’, an English teacher based in South Korea, humorously recited a poem about British stereotypes she’s often been expected to play up to on her travels. Ben Norris, a Birmingham-based student, excellently explored the connections one experiences with lovers and Grandparents alike, providing a humbling contrast to the more raucous poetry of the evening.

The first featured poet was Paul Murphy. An established resident of Birmingham, he is most-recognised as lead singer and punk poet of the band The Destroyers. Sharing his good and bad experiences of life with rhythmic rhyme, his words flowed instinctively. As was often the case throughout the evening, the audience were continually lulled in with humorous anecdotes and then left reeling at the sagacious and sombre moments.

Vanessa Kisuule, a multiple slam winning poet from Bristol, was the next featured poet. Speaking to her after the event she said that shy writers should not be deterred from the spoken word scene, as poets often use performance to hide the fact they aren’t prolific writers. From her recital, however, it was clear that Kisuule does not fall into this category. Her beautifully crafted metaphors were brought alive by her performance. With poems such as Little Red Bow, her honest and humbling account of a vulnerable friend, and Sandwich, a comic tale of OCD and relationships, the audience were moved from laughter to tears and back again.

The final highlight of the evening was the performance of New York City poetry circuit veterans, Jon Sands and Ken Arkind. Reciting their work alternately, the poets covered topics from a brother’s marriage to his male partner, to the ramblings of a woman on a New York subway platform. They captivated with beat, music, and poetry that obviously was anything but superficial. Possibly the best Hit the Ode yet, the bar has definitely been raised. There is no doubt that as talent continues to emerge, Birmingham has not seen the last of nights like this.

The next Hit the Ode is on Thursday 29th March at 7.30pm.

Words by Elisha Owen

Related links:
Hit the Ode @ the Victoria (part 1)
Tell Me on a Sunday (part 1)
The Poets’ Place

Micky Greaney @ Symphony Hall

Folk for Free is a monthly live music event held in the foyer bar at Symphony Hall, showcasing some of Birmingham’s finest singer-songwriter talent. This month the audience was treated to an hour with Micky Greaney, who the compare quipped in the introduction as ‘the best songwriter in Birmingham, except maybe for Ozzy.’

The Symphony Hall’s huge glass foyer entrance made an ideal backdrop to the performance. The hectic rush hour commotion of buses, mothers with prams, taxis and commuters outside the window somehow perfectly complimented his mellow, folk soft-rock ballads. The first half was just Greaney playing solo; his songs were admittedly very generic, all with comfortably familiar verse, bridge, chorus structures and gently resolving chords. Yet despite this, the performance was actually  genuinely affecting and moving.

Greaney has the shambling goateed gravitas to pull off a style of music that in the hands of a lesser writer or performer could come off as slightly cliqued sentimentality. It was perfectly formed song writing, albeit traditional. There were tender spooky moments when silence fell over the audience, even the children; the Symphony Hall became a calm oasis in the hectic town centre. There was one really standout Starsailor-esque song, Satellite, in which Greaney’s voice sounded something akin to Fleet Foxes vocalist Robin Pecknold and his haunting melodic hooks rolled over each other gracefully.

The folk soft-rock ballad, though it can be over earnest and sentimental, is an undeniably enduring genre and is a style that is perhaps unfairly ‘uncool’ now. However, there is a particular innocence in using the simple conventions of pop-rock. Melody seems to have fallen out of favour with our generation’s songwriters, which is a shame. These songs were beautifully affecting and Greaney’s simple bare bones, nuts and bolts craftsmanship of them drew a huge, warm, affectionate crowd. He also came out at the interval for a pint with the fans and was an utterly charming, humble bloke.

The second half premiered his swaggering new band. Complete with the usual pop-rock line-up of keys, bass and drums, they had the added extra of two female backing vocalists giving it a gospel vibe. The fidgeting children were captivated by the band. It soared through the vast foyer so most toes were tapping and heads bobbing by the second tune. Nevertheless, not everything had changed after the interval; there was yet another gorgeous ballad midway through with three part harmonies, ensuring that the audience were left smiling.

Words by James Grady

The Poets’ Place

As a creative writing student and writer of poetry, The Poet’s Place is an event I have been meaning to go to since it was first set up early this year. It happens twice a month on a Saturday between 2pm and4pm and is located on the lower-ground floor of Birmingham Central Library. It is hosted by West Midland’s Apples and Snakes, who also run the successful monthly spoken word event Hit the Ode and various other workshops and open-mic events around the city. You can sign up to the mailing list for more information by looking them up online.

Firstly, I will definitely be going back. The event is held in what feels like a mixture between the library’s basement and a conference room. The space is also shut off from the main library so you can get fully involved in the poetry and poets around you without feeling self-conscious. Most importantly there is plenty of tea and a fantastic selection of biscuits, which in itself is a good incentive.

There was wide a variety of people ranging from the poet laureate of Birmingham, Jan Watts, who this week was conducting interviews about people’s involvement within the Birmingham arts scene for the local radio. There was also a stand-up comedian who told the group that she had started writing poetry because her character wrote poetry. I also got chatting to the poet in residence of St. Martin’s Church (the church by the Bullring and markets) who told me about her workshops and the free art exhibitions the church regularly holds. However, most of the people there were aspiring poets and artists wishing to share work, talk about poetry and publishing routes or use the focused environment to sit quietly and write for an hour.

If you are thinking about starting to write poetry, read a lot of poetry or already write poetry this is a wonderful opportunity. Not only will you gain practical advice about writing from fellow poets, it is a place where any poetry related events around the West Midlands are advertised; I walked away with a list of four events which I would never have heard of otherwise. Birmingham has a thriving poetry scene, but it often remains unknown to people who are not a part of it already. Yet, meetings such as this contribute to the development and spreading of the genuine inspiration produced by everyone involved.

The next Poets’ Place will be held on Saturday 10th March.

Words by Alana Tomlin

Tell Me on a Sunday (part 1)

Birmingham Book Festival  sets out every year to cultivate the city with one statement standing out above the rest: ‘We want to hear everybody’s voice’. Not a traditionally literary city, it is sometimes difficult to track down more writer orientated events in Birmingham, and this is what the festival seeks to change. They do not simply want renowned authors to make their voices heard, but to encourage everyday people to engage with words as well. One of their newest events, Tell Me on a Sunday falls exactly into this calibre. Cat Weatherill, an internationally acclaimed story teller and author, is the curator for the monthly afternoon where she not only exhibits her own dramatic talents but invites ‘ordinary guys and girls’ to take the stage with her. The event states ‘We know you have a story in you’, and anyone is encouraged to ‘conjure a memory’ and ‘embellish it’, with the charming result that each story truly does appear ‘with truth at their heart’. The IKON Gallery is the perfect setting for this, since its emphasis on unconventional art, such as film and installation, invites works from all kinds of contemporary artists around Birmingham who these writers could easily be categorised as.

On the 19th February, performers and friends alike gathered in the IKON café for the event’s debut. The café is an intimate setting where a ‘Story Supper’ was to start the evening. Tables were moved around and pushed together so that storytellers and listeners were able to meet and greet each other. A sense of a writers’ community was created over the first glass of wine and, as Weatherill excitedly repeated, ‘cake!’ This was not only a networking opportunity for any aspiring writer, but a way of breaking down boundaries between storytellers and audience; it seemed that the guests that appeared onstage were not so much performing but sharing, as should be the nature of storytelling.

Each week is based around a specific theme listed on Tell Me on a Sunday’s website, and this one was ‘Off The Beaten Track’. This was evidently open to creative interpretation, and the result was a wonderful variety of stories tied no matter how loosely to the title. One that stood out was ‘Bruised Blondes’, told by local writer Gavin Young, which portrayed the long journey of the heart to find the one ‘that fits’. As Young put it, ‘the heart knows what it wants’, and he depicted this by describing the ‘sat nav’ heart that led him across the world (from South Africa to the UK no less) to find the right girl.

One advantage that Birmingham arguably has over other Book Festivals across the UK is the cultural diversity that the city houses. People from all over the world now inhabit the huge urban landscape, and this really added to the wealth of variation amongst the stories. We were treated to storytellers from South Africa (on the part of Young and Kate Lowe, an ‘erstwhile lunatic and gardener’), Brazil, the USA and even India, told by organiser of the Midlands Literary Edge Festival, Peter Chant. His, he explained, was a story of being ‘On the Beaten Track’ which described his family’s journey to their new home is Wolverhampton all the way from the Punjab. Aside from the sickness suffered by his sister on the boat, arguably the most harrowing part of the journey was when the children were confronted with unfamiliar food; they were well and truly far from home when the French idea of curry was salt and pepper. It was easy to feel joy too when we learnt that Chant’s family arrived in Wolverhampton to enormous quantities of traditional Punjab bread; the café never felt like more of an appropriate setting, since culture was inexplicably based around food and for each ethnic origin; indeed, ‘food means home’.

Tell Me on a Sunday is an excellent opportunity to see the breadth of literary talent that Birmingham has to boast. It is a free event, though it is recommended that people try to book in advance, and there are three afternoons still remaining. The next will be on the 25th March, and its theme will be ‘Hope and Glory’.

Words by Becca Inglis

Empirical @ mac

Last Saturday night saw the return of exuberant young quartet Empirical to Birmingham’s mac to perform a selection of pieces from their new release Elements of Truth. Echoing not only their musical influences but also their life philosophies in their playing, this band’s sound is something quite different from what you might usually expect from a small jazz ensemble.

As is customary for gigs in mac’s theatre, the audience awaits the performance in a low, blue light. In this case, just the near-silhouetted instruments appear on the stage; a double bass, drum kit and vibraphone all clustered tightly together in the centre. However, when Empirical took to the stage, this still, almost sombre image was soon forgotten, giving way to an instantly captivating rush of sound. The first tune, Out But In, began with clear-cut, angular melodies from Nathaniel Facey on alto saxophone, reflective of the sounds of horn players of the 1950s such as Charlie Parker and perhaps Ornette Coleman, as well as more modern players such as Martin Speake. What is most striking about these musicians is the way they play so tightly as a unit, underpinning each melody with stunning harmonic and rhythmic precision. This was apparent on rhythmically demanding tunes such as bassist Tom Farmer’s composition Simple Things, in which the motives, notes and textures appear uncomplicated, but are distributed in such a way over the pulse of the tempo that unique and mesmerising rhythms are created.

Each member of the quartet is seen to be equally responsible for the feel and texture of the music, the way the instruments layer to create the sound. This was particularly apparent in In the Grill, a tune entitled after a boxing reference in which the band place emphasis on spatial awareness in their playing, listening intently to the overall sound and adding their individual contributions accordingly. The vast array of colour tones that drummer Shaney Forbes achieved from the kit and cymbals in this piece and throughout the performance was especially fascinating, switching from using sticks, to mallets, to brushes, to his hands to create the right sound.

With an emphasis on well known sayings and philosophies for their music’s foundations, Empirical presented pieces such as like Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, and the tune the new album takes it title from, The Element of Truth composed by Vibes player Lewis Wright. A stunning combination of ethereal, ringing chords with occasional striking dissonance, this thought provoking tune brought a wonderful clarity to the end of the set.

For anyone who believes that jazz is random, it just takes watching a band like Empirical to see how even the most free and unusual sounding jazz has solid underlying structure, underpinned by a precise sense of rhythm and patterns. Yet, equally, for anyone who is perhaps keen to intellectually decipher the exact, constant beat of such music, my advice would be to leave this to the experts. Empirical’s sound is both musically and intellectually experimental, pushing the boundaries of contemporary jazz. With a group of musicians so advanced their craft, the listener can entirely trust in them to deal with where the beat is (wherever it is) and just take pleasure in what is created.

Words by Anna Lumsden

Jam Jah Mondays @ the Bull’s Head

Moseley has a great reputation for housing a vast and eclectic selection of alternative music events, including its annual Mostly Jazz Festival (held in Moseley Park), Moseley Folk Festival and Sam Redmore’s electro swing night Freestyle run every Friday at the Bull’s Head. It is little wonder then that it is home to Birmingham’s longest standing reggae night, Jam Jah Mondays, which the Bull’ Head also hosts each week. This ought to be something of a pride and joy for the suburban pub, since Jam Jah’s collaboration of DJs, or ‘selectas’, are joined under the Record Company collective Friendly Fire Music (who boast widely popular artists such as Tippa Irie and Friendly Fire Band.) This much anticipated Monday night is in fact an opportune platform where Friendly Fire performers are able to showcase their music, as well as playing ‘strictly vinyl’ reggae, roots and dance hall classics for their eager audiences.
It turns out that the Jam Jah DJs, Robin Don, Bongo Damo and Lion Art, had quite a special show lined up for the 13th February; instead of the standard Valentine’s Day lovers’ meal in the centre of town, Jam Jah fans headed for the first floor of the Bull’s Head to be graced with their selectas’ ‘Pre My Valentine’ assortment of romantic reggae tunes. Considering Jam Jah’s reputation, it was a surprise to see the room so empty with only a few people dotted around the edges nursing their drinks. The music was fun, but there was no one there to enjoy it, and doubts were admittedly raised about the remainder of the evening. These reservations were however abated once Bongo Damo took to the decks. Accompanied by Lion Art, one of Friendly Fire Music’s longest affiliated artists, a crowd gathered on the dance floor; drinks were visibly abandoned around the room, whilst bags are coats were distributed on the floor at all sides so that their owners could be free to skank the proper way. Jam Jah Mondays certainly showed its true potential in the smiles on people’s faces, and in the heartfelt hugs that were exchanged by strangers.Of course the selectas could not be expected to keep to their sentimental theme all night (as they profess on their mixcloud website, ‘it’s difficult to keep the fire out of Jam Jah!’). It was towards the second half of the night when Buju Banton’s Love Sponge was interrupted by the iconic soaring tones that open Barrington Levy’s Under Mi Sensi (not exactly a typical Pre-Valentine’s Day song). This set the tone for the rest of the night; love themed lyrics were abandoned in favour of a more political agenda and songs such as Big Youth’s Soul Rebel and a live performance of New World Order by Lewe Irie. The night’s own MC Lion Art roused the crowd so much that midnight came around far too soon. Comfort had to be sought in the reassurance that reggae would be played into the early hours on another night, namely this Friday, 17th of February, at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath.

Readers considering sampling this event must not be perturbed by the Bull’s Head’s non-student friendly drinks prices; offers are bountiful until half ten, by which time the crowd is raring to dance. Reggae of course is not for everyone, but for those still unconvinced to venture to Moseley on a Monday night, Jam Jah does post the setlist’s recording for each week on their website and mixcloud. Anyone who is considering sampling this event, or simply did not make it for one week, will be able to get an idea of the Jam Jah experience here, as well as broaden their reggae musical horizons.

Jam Jah Reggae is every Monday from 9pm @ the Bull’s Head and is free entry.

Words by Becca Inglis

Lucinda Hawksley: celebrating 200 years of Charles Dickens

The 7th of February this year marked the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’s birth and a multitude of events will be going on all year to celebrate one of the most famous British authors. This anniversary was marked by Lucinda Hawksley, great, great, great granddaughter of the man in question, giving a talk in the National Portrait Gallery, London, on his family and social life two days later. Since then, Hawksley has been touring the country giving the same presentation to Dickens enthusiasts everywhere; on Sunday, she came to Birmingham’s Modern Art Gallery the Waterhall.

As a public speaker and lecturer on Dickens as well as 19th century literature, art and culture, Hawksley was well suited to presenting an in-depth talk. Focusing on the lesser known facts, Hawksley took her audience through Dickens’s life, starting with his parents and the debtor’s disgrace faced by his father, and ending with his humble tombstone. She emphasised the importance of certain figures in regards to his fame, such as George Hogarth, a journalist who first published Dickens’s work Sketches, under the pseudonym ‘Boz’, in the Evening Chronicle. Moreover, Hawksley drew attention to Dickens’s social impact on 19th century culture and his activist writings campaigning for reform. Indeed, she revealed his dramatic impact on the poor quality of the Yorkshire schools where bad children were sent to board. Upon hearing of two boys who were blinded by the awful conditions, Dickens wrote Nicholas Nickleby, which highlighted these issues and within two years all of these Yorkshire schools were shut down. These nuggets of information lent further authority to her argument and showed the audience how Dickens’ works were thoroughly important, focused on topical issues of the time. The talk was perfectly balanced between being in-depth enough to entertain any scholar of Dickens, and being accessible to those who have had no engagement with the texts; it was a brilliant preview to her book Charles Dickens written for the bicentenary.

This event is only one of many going on around Birmingham about the celebrated author, but with Hawksley’s extensive knowledge matched with her family ties it was a terrific introduction. She also referred to many important events occurring this year in regards to his anniversary. Hawksley disclosed that although Dickens stated in his will that he wanted no memorial in England, two statues are set to be erected this year, one in Portsmouth where he grew up, and one in Southwark, London to honour this influential figure. Moreover, it was revealed that the Royal Mail is set to produce Dickensian stamps which will be released in June, two of which are available for preview now. Hawksley provided a fantastic insight into why Dickens has become the icon he has today, and we she should look beyond the books to see the influence he had on his society.

For more Charles Dickens events, see the exhibition currently on display in Birmingham Univeristy’s Muirhead Tower Atrium.
Also keep an eye out for the up and coming production of Great Expectations @ the Crescent Theatre.

Words by Eleanor Campbell

Lost in Lace

Lace. What does it evoke? I envisage yellowed net curtains, doilies and Miss Havisham’s wedding dress. A bygone age, elegant Edwardian ladies twirling parasols, fragility and antimacassars on chairs. What I do not imagine is a swathe of Swarovski crystals, a mesh of metal or a suspended mattress of feathers. Cue Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery‘s Lost in Lace exhibition located in the Gas Hall, which sets to reform the way we view the aesthetic quality of lace.

Instead of focusing wholly on the materials that make up lace (typically cotton or silk), the 20 leading international artists involved in this exhibition also concentrate on the intertwining, interconnectedness of their mediums and on the meanings translated through semiotics. Naomi Kobayashi of The Cosmos Series reveals how, ‘Like lace, [her] work is about the spaces in-between. The columns rise up like mist, giving a light flexible border dividing exterior and interior within an architectural space. This semiotic notion is also carried forth in Iraida Icaza Panam‘s series of Untitled Photographs of Lace, which she exclaims convey the ‘duality of darkness and light, the creative tension between negative and positive.’

Other striking works within the exhibition include Nils Völker‘s installation One Hundred and Eight. Initially, his work may appear seemingly unrelated to the core theme of lace. The viewer stands in front of forty-eight inflating and deflating bags that mimic the respiratory motion of the lungs. The complexity of this work however, lies beneath what the viewer can see, in the form of a circuit board. This circuit board is an interwoven web of wires that mimic the intricacy of lace. Through this, we discover that the practise to create patterns indicative of lace are not only bound to be used as embellishment or decor, but can extend way beyond into the world of engineering.

This exhibition is, in essence, like a dream-world. Annie Bascoul’s works Moucharabieh and Jardin de lit, lit de jardi ncan be seen to work hand in hand, and are evocative of a fairytale world. Bascoul’s floral lace partition Jardin de lit, acts as a kind of thicket that the prince must pass to reach the Sleeping Beauty in her chamber, Moucharabieh.The Princesses’ lace dresses hang in an exhibition space created by Chiharu Shiota entitled After the Dream, to the opposing side of the Gas Hall. In light of this, we can note how all these separate works of art interlink together in the viewer’s imaginations, just as lace does.

This exhibition was also refreshingly favourable in terms of its interactive elements. Individuals are encouraged to touch examples of the works of art through samples provides in conjunction with them, There is a section towards the back of the Hall in which visitors can cut snowflake-like patterns from paper and contribute their own work of art, by threading and interweaving yarn through other pieces on the wall that visitors have left before them, creating their own little memory. Lace has a timeless quality. Through this innovative exhibition, we can clearly see how it is not restricted to a bygone age, but can be carried forth in new and exciting ways in a whole range of materials.

Lost in Lace is at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until the 19th February 2012.

Words by Jessica Holroyd

The Paper Birds: Thirsty

Startlingly personal yet utterly relatable, Thirsty by the Paper Birds theatre company is a brutal representation of the truth of binge drinking culture. The play has been touring around the UK after winning a number of awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with many sell out performances and has tour dates booked up until 2nd April 2012. One of the latest performances came to the cultural ground of Birmingham’s mac on Thursday last week.

Combining drunken tales from hotlines and blogs, Thirsty attempts to determine not only why we drink, but also the effect of drinking on us. However, the tale is not a particularly didactic one extolling the virtues of a sober lifestyle. Instead, through their research techniques, writers Kylie Walsh and Jemma McDonnell have found the hilarious highs and lows of drinking, portraying the highs as honestly as the lows. The stage setting reflected the Paper Birds’ research into their field, and in the after show discussion they explained their choices. The staging involved a club bathroom being put in front of the audience: three toilet cubicles with removable toilets on a tiled floor lined with half full glasses. What was created was a type of documentary theatre, a place where late night secrets can be revealed; therefore, the club bathroom is the only suitable setting, with its communal but private areas.

The play itself is a confused tale between the subject of the plot, ‘She’, an 18 year old first year at university, and the narrators of the story. We are told that the narrators are the writers of the play, Walsh and McDonnell, who have their own story: the story of how they devised the play and of their own relationships with alcohol. Their story runs deeply through the play and the portrayal of their friendship, brought together by university but pulled apart after graduation, is painfully applicable. Missed trains and phone calls resulting in empty voicemail messages acted out on the stage brought the audience near to tears, but within seconds the pair are reunited on a night out, clinging to each other and stumbling over the all too familiar phrases ‘You’re so great, I love you so much’ and the audience are roaring with laughter. These emotional turns were helped by Shane Durrant, who provided live background music to the action on stage. Sitting in his own separate cubical with a ukulele, two computers and a keyboard, Durrant was adept at providing the perfect soundtrack with a comic undertone.

The writers’ story is used to create a rapport between them and the audience, resulting in an atmosphere of absolute belief created by plain honesty. The play needs this believability to back up the story of ‘She’, the real focus of the narrative, the one story they repeatedly emphasise that they didn’t want to tell. This character has no actor to play her, only a pair of red shoes which are moved by Walsh and McDonnell on stage. The plot is chaotic, with the narrators arguing with what she does, how she feels. She is introduced to us as ‘18 and she’s on a night out in Fresher’s Week and she’s feeling great!’, yet later this description is edited multiple times. However, the distance created between ‘She’ and the audience and narrators encourages us to properly discern the situation as it unfolds onstage. After going home with a man she met that night, then passing out, was she raped? Was it her fault or his? The Paper Birds don’t attempt to provide any answers to these questions, but attempt to show the story as honestly and plainly as it was told to them and to make their audiences think about the questions themselves.

The Paper Birds have chosen a controversial topic in Thirsty, one which is relevant to everyone, but they manage to touch upon painful issues with an objective eye. The group know exactly how to play with their audience, allowing a serious topic to be a comedy, but also allowing the audience room to determine their own opinions. Overall, a fantastically emotional play, bringing frightening problems of drinking culture to the fore.

Words by Eleanor Campbell

Somesuch Theatre Company presents: Imaginary Friends

This weekend, Somesuch Theatre Company set out to consider the ever prevalent topic ‘the myth of the one’ in their new play Imaginary Friends written by Deirdre Burton and Tom Davis. Set in mac’s Hexagon theatre, the small venue immediately established an intimacy reminiscent of a miniature lecture theatre; this was enhanced by the performers’ coming to the stage from their seats in the first row of the audience as if they were mere speakers rather than actors. Given the company’s long-standing association with the University of Birmingham, it is little wonder that the piece, rich with literary references and abstract motifs, divulged into what sometimes felt more like an academic discussion than a simple play.

Yet, our performers’ position upon the play’s theme was far from easy to extract; the questions ‘Who are you? What really matters? Where are you going?’ endlessly returned to tantalise the audience, whilst fragmented dialogue combined with song and mime seemingly to construct an impenetrable wall behind which the actors hid their point.

Extraction was hardly the point however. The beautiful movement sequences that punctuated the piece complemented the DIY soundtrack provided by the actors’ singing to create an extremely visually gratifying show. The skill with which we were navigated through the characters’ worlds within minimalist stage set brought a fluidity to the piece, a testament to what the company is able to do with such a small space, as well as encouraging the audience to forget their lack of comprehension. We were convinced to sit back and believe that all would be made clear, just not in the most linear fashion.

The acting of university student Becky Sexton especially could be described as endearingly strange, her character’s vulnerability and partiality to nonsense touching the audience so that we greatly pitied her struggles in the world of first dates and were relieved to learn that she is still on the ‘quest’ for love, and has not yet reached the end of the road.

At first, the writers’ partiality for new explorations of William Shakespeare was not evident. Having titled previous plays Actors, eat no onions! A Midsummer Night’s Dream turned inside out (2011) or Remember me: a most unusual Hamlet (2010) where the reference was obvious, Imaginary Friends presented more of a challenge for fans of Shakespeare. Yet his avid readers may rest assured that as the play unraveled, links became less tenuous. The clownish Jane Brown, for example, performed wonderfully the crudely comical individual typical of an interlude in one of Shakespeare’s more downtrodden plays, her exaggerated mime and hilariously bawdy manner provoking much amusement from the audience.

It was in this scene too that the self-proclaimed ‘Symbologist’, played by Ramesh Krishnamurthy, drew the illogicality of the piece together. He stated that his aim was not to make sense of the bigger questions that are asked, but to open discussion and give an ‘unlikely explanation’ so that we can look at topics in a much more interesting way. This is typical of the ‘alchemy of the heart’ that the company assumes as its tagline; having been refused a coherent plot, we were instead given a collection of strange stories which gave a warm-hearted message to those who still feel like ‘half an archway’. The subtle reassurance that the ‘quest’ for ‘the one’ is not a futile one is reminiscent of Twelfth Night, as is hinted at by the Viola and Sebastian of the second act, since the paired characters either already are, or inevitable will be, a complete set much like the reunion of Shakespeare’s twins.

This was yet another successful script from Burton and Davis who continue to make Shakespeare and literature relevant to contemporary theatre today. More photographs of the cast and information about future productions can be found at the Somesuch Theatre Company’s website.

Words by Becca Inglis