Category Archives: Theatre
Kicking off the University of Birmingham’s Arts and Science festival, the lecture from Dr Kate Ince introduced the work of the acclaimed architect Robert Atkinson; examining his professional progression as ‘architect of cinema’ and the principal architect of our very own Barber Institute. Atkinson’s ideological progression from designing ‘super-cinemas’ for the masses, to viewing the cinema as an institution which should be interchangeable with buildings and their varied uses, is succinctly demonstrated by the plans to equip the Barber’s auditorium to screen view – turning it into a cinema for all intents and purposes.
The talk itself was illuminating. A snapshot of the history of cinema development, and Atkinson’s creations, Dr Ince focused on The Regent Cinema, Queen’s Road, Brighton as the epitome of Atkinson’s career. He had a particular style, easily seen through the range of black and white photographs we were shown, although they could do no justice to the bright and vivid colours Atkinson was known to use. It is a tragedy of history that most of his work has been demolished or destroyed by fire through the 1950’s-70’s, when cinema attendance was at its lowest.
Comparing the ‘Picture Houses’ of our past and today’s multiplex giants is fascinating. They had ballrooms, The Regent had an Italian restaurant on its second floor, and crucially they were so much more beautiful than, for example, the Cineworld on Broad Street. Atkinson’s style made cinemas beautifully decorated, two storey galleries, with motifs and frescos often having an art deco feel; the classic features creating an air of elegance. The Regent Cinema exemplified this beauty and, more like a theatre to our modern eyes, it seated up to 3000 people. An example of a remaining cinema today that is similar to this, although not designed by him, is the Majestic cinema in Leeds, a listed building since 1993.
In my eyes the era of Atkinson’s architecture is a romanticised view of what cinema has come to be known as. Super-cinemas of the 1930s are perhaps a snapshot into what we have come to know as the modern cinema. However, we should look more to the past and recreate the masterpieces that cinemas were. We should appreciate film as an art form, and give them the setting they deserve. Eros News Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue Piccadilly Circus was a piece of his work, and in 2002 its interior was gutted and re-opened as a Gap clothing store. It is clear this is such a shame to the heritage of Cinema.
I turn to his work designing the Barber Institute, only twenty years before his death. The Institute we have today, although having stood the test of time, does not exactly resemble his work. For example, by the 1960s the flat roof needed to be replaced and a truncated glass pyramid was constructed in 1986-9. Atkinson presented three plans to be considered. Interestingly, one of which shows how we could have had a Barber Institute which could have looked much more like the traditional cinemas he designed, with an oval shaped entrance and two sets of steps leading up either side.
There is no doubt though that the Barber Institute is a beautiful addition to the University. Borne from the mind of an acclaimed successful architect of cinema, the fact the auditorium may soon be equipped with a screen should be celebrated. Atkinson would no doubt approve of such a use for his masterpiece.
The lecture provided an opportunity to appreciate more of Birmingham’s culture and heritage. The rest of the Art and Science festival will no doubt do the same.
If John Lewis were to open a tattoo parlour, Mark Thomas would be first in line. It is this middle-class spirit that would have disappointed his father, Thomas explains in Bravo Figaro, the second half of a powerfully humorous show, performed at mac last month. Bravo Figaro is an exceptionally poignant tour de force, describing in painstaking detail the build-up to his crowning moment as a son; using his connections to get the Royal Opera House singers into his parents’ bungalow in an attempt to revive his father’s love of opera.
His father’s mental deterioration is described simply, and, as Thomas assures us, is not the focus of the show. The emotional intimacy is lessened by Thomas’s matter of fact style, his simple stage setting and his brief descriptions of what is going on. Thomas does not allow his audience to indulge themselves in tears, this is not a sob story, it is just a story, stand-up mixed with storytelling, and we are required to laugh when told and not to answer back to any of his questions. It is the strict nature of these rules that gives his show its freedom; on the stage he has the ability to decide how to tell his story, and his performance in Bravo Figaro is truly startling.
He tells the simple tale of a hard-working man who somehow fell in love with opera, not so he could attend and be ‘as good’ as the other opera-goers but to say, as Thomas puts it, ‘ I’m better than you, because I worked for this’. We are not to be drawn in though. Thomas constantly warns his audience about over-simplifying the message; his father was crass, sometimes violent, and the language used to describe him was not for the soft hearted. However, our role is not to act as judge or jury, to assess whether he was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but instead to listen, and watch a story that has been told a hundred times but is never less personal.
This second half of the show was a great contrast to the first, yet the sides complimented each other perfectly, his ideologies summed up in a line in the latter half ‘we’re all middle class now- tell that to your cleaner, she’ll be fucking delighted’. The first half involved Mark Thomas on an empty set, telling the audience of his latest exploits, such as The People’s Manifesto and the concept of ‘book heckling’ , yet it was clear that the class issue was an important one for Thomas, and this was explained in the second half.
Surprisingly, considering the middle-class, middle-aged demographic of the audience, Thomas had the spectators roaring with laughter at their own class status, probably because he included himself in the subject of the joke. Indeed, outside of the world Thomas created for his audience, I’m not sure I would openly admit to my more middle-class tendencies, but inside the security of the theatre it was only encouraged. Moreover, book-snobbery was applauded as Thomas described the art of ‘book heckling’, placing notes inside books to congratulate the reader if they have succeeded to read at least a part of a book that could be classed as modern-trash, he mentioned Twilight and One Day explicitly.
Outside the safety of the theatre, Thomas was signing copies of his book and we tentatively picked up some book heckling stickers for a small donation, mine are still in my coat pocket, waiting for a suitable target. My partner-in-crime, however, followed Thomas’s advice to a tee, sticking ‘Staff Recommendation: Keep the Receipt’ on Jeremy Clarkson’s memoirs; a suitable way to end the days endeavours. Thomas told us openly and clearly what he felt, and we were so moved and amused that we entered into his world, and if book-heckling is allowed here, I think we’ll stay.
By Eleanor Campbell
Imagine attending a wake for the past year. What is there to say? Except the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee do we have much else to celebrate? Mac in Edgbaston seem to think so. The Arts Centre hosted the Jane Packman company, who have devised a moving performance that brings the imagination to life and looks beyond the tangible.
Upon arrival, we were delighted to have our coats taken. We received complimentary drinks; the wine certainly added to the ambience. We took our seats in a small room of 30 other people, nestled on wooden chairs with bark beneath our feet. Small side tables were dotted around, with a small ‘Living Room’ space in front for the actors to begin their performance.
Before they began, a spiral bound notebook with envelopes in was passed around. The cast members asked us to put our names and addresses on as they want to send the audience a gift during the Christmas period. Then, as an act of participation, we were asked to fill out small cards, completing sentences such as: ‘I was livid when…’ or ‘The most splendid success I heard about was’. After filling these out, they had to be placed on the ‘bed’, on the far right of the stage.
The performance then began. With a mixture of acting, singing, music, interpretive dance and even a cat of destiny it was hard to not to feel involved in the piece. Each member of the audience was also given a bird whistle to join in the ‘autumnal’ scene. Immediately after seven lines were designated to the ‘brave’ audience members who volunteered their vocal services. When they were pointed to, their lines were read; the cast responded well to the hecklers, joking and laughing along merrily.
The actors read out the audience’s memories from 2012, which also added to the feeling of involvement. It was an inspiring and uplifting performance that made it easy to dwell on the year in a very positive light.
At the end, a shot of whiskey was given to each audience member and the cast made several toasts: ‘to new boyfriends’, ‘to engagements and marriages’. Just before we toasted we were asked to write our goals for 2013 on little blue cards, which were then put into a box and taken away.
The performance was humorous, lively and energetic – not one to be missed.
By Hope Brotherton
Situated on Temple Row, at the edge of St. Philip’s Cathedral, the Old Joint Stock Theatre Pub is like a trip to Wonderland, and indeed to its Victorian roots. Built in 1864 and designed by Julius Alfred Chatwin, the building is Grade II listed. Originally a library and then a bank, it has been renovated into one of the most impressive bars you’ll find in Birmingham, with an 80-seater theatre upstairs.
Passing the stone pillars of the building’s façade and entering through its gigantic doors, you will step into a vast space filled with plush patterned carpets and gleaming floorboards. There are great draping curtains over enormous windows, a marble-topped island bar, with wonderfully atmospheric lamps and its own clock tower, gorgeous paintings and rustic furniture. And that’s before you look up.
On the ceiling are countless historical busts, viewing the whole scene with eyes from another era. Chandeliers and a balcony, where you can touch the stonework, are completely outstripped by a titanic domed ceiling.
Since it’s the festive season, their titan Christmas tree will be out now; delicious mulled wine and cider in glass tankards will warm your frostbitten hands.
As a past employee of the pub, I can vouch for their excellent food (pies are their speciality), as well as the quality of their ales and beers, and the welcoming and friendly staff. The only downside is the expense – if you want to dine in a beautiful Victorian building with quality food and drink, you have to be prepared to pay £3.60 for a Carling.
For a list of events at the Old Joint Stock theatre, visit: http://www.oldjointstocktheatre.co.uk/rte.asp?id=2
By Danielle Bentley
In the second gallery of the Eastside Projects building, hemmed in by wooden panels and abstract grey portraits, Hooky Street Press hosts a symposium upon humour and seriousness in art writing. Alternative youths sporting chunky knitwear, piercings, hair dye and dreadlocks are scattered in the audience, amongst their more sophisticated elders.
Gavin Butt begins the talk with a straightforward dissection of the humour-seriousness dilemma, using a quote from Charles Ludlam: ‘Now the whole idea of seriousness is awful to me – it sounds like something imposed from without. It doesn’t really imply gravity or profundity; it implies decorum, behaving yourself.’
Butt explains that society views ‘significant’ things through the lens of seriousness because we believe it is the only way to attribute value and prove our commitment. However, this has become so common that it now sounds more like ‘bloated pronouncements of value’ than genuine feeling. He asks whether we can separate ‘gravity and profundity’ from seriousness. Exampling Joe Brainard’s art, Paul Morrisey’s film Women in Revolt, and performance artists Kiki & Herb and David Hoyle, he demonstrates society’s confusion when faced with blended solemnity and comedy.
David Burrows proceeds with the point that ‘there’s a seriousness to humour’, recalling a performance artist who dressed as a soldier and lay ‘dead’ in the streets of Birmingham for a whole week. According to Burrows, ‘he points out the fact that the whole world is wrong’, underlining the irony of the show as criticism of war itself.
Andrew Hunt’s talk on Jacques Lacan has me utterly lost. He dons a mask that makes him look like a cartoon psychopath, and launches into a complex rant about the ‘discourse of the university and the master’. Milkshake by Kelis plays during an animated slideshow. I don’t quite know what to make of it, but the basic point I gather is that one’s unconscious desires are barred by the rules of society; a hysteric will show the ‘truth’ of these desires by denying ‘knowledge’ of culture.
An interesting but unnecessarily extravagant ‘symposium’, and appropriately enough by the end, I’m not sure whether to laugh or frown.
Filled with the usual paraphernalia of family life, Dolly West’s could have been anyone’s kitchen. The room was clearly the hub of the household and the effective staging certainly made the audience feel like they were part of the furniture in this family’s home. However, from the first dialogue between Dolly West and kitchen maid Anna, it became clear that times were hard; far from the peaceful domestic life the audience might have anticipated. Amie M. Bjorklund’s Dolly West quickly commanded the attention of the audience. Bjorklund effectively portrayed a mature young woman, yet with a sense of vulnerability following talk of approaching war and lost love.
The entirety of Frank McGuinness’ critically acclaimed play takes place within this kitchen. Despite being set in the neutral Republic of Ireland, it becomes clear that World War II has not left the West family unscathed. In contrast to her free spirited past life in Italy, Dolly West became head of the household, which also involved caring for her elderly mother Rima. Following the arrival of English officer Alec Redding, whose past relationship with Dolly is hinted at, tensions between the family and strongly patriotic youngest sibling Justin are increased. Here the strength of Ryan Buen’s performance allowed the audience to believe that there was more to his anger than distrust of the English.
The complex family relationships were successfully explored and portrayed by the strong cast, but Sarah Levine’s Rima West shone throughout the play. Levine acted the part in a way which gave precedence to Rima’s wicked sense of humour, but also provided some of the most thought-provoking moments of the play. Furthermore, the chemistry between Levine and Bjorklund was certainly enjoyed by the audience. Rima’s quick wit was consistent throughout the play, the comedic moments essential in relieving the tension caused following the arrival of American soldiers Marco and Jamie.
The moments of comic relief were needed even more as the play progressed. Issues of jealously and loyalty emerged along with questions of identity. The dark shadow of the war continued to loom over the family, constantly reminding the audience that any moments of happiness were short-lived. However a particularly touching occurrence was the development of Justin and Marco’s relationship. This was undoubtedly a highlight of the production, acted with subtlety which made Justin’s character change believable. Buen certainly helped the audience to understand the confliction he was suffering; his endearing closeness to Marco certainly directed sympathy at him rather than frustration.
Despite being set in a single location, this production was by no means one dimensional. There were no distractions in this honest, sometimes dark, exploration of the realities of family life. The strength of the cast certainly contributed to the overall impact of the story; the audience were able to understand the characters’ flaws and empathise with their troubles. This is a play as much about tumultuous family relationships as it was about history.
Dolly West’s Kitchen realistically explored how the effects of war were felt no less harshly in a family home, but with a touch of humour and courage, demonstrating that this was no ordinary kitchen.
Words by Annabelle Collins
Jim Cartwright’s Road is regarded as a cult classic. First performed at the notorious and politically subversive Royal Court Theatre in 1986; it is an angrier, edgier, homage to the angry young men plays of the 1950’s, such as John Osborn’s Look Back in Anger, complete with the defining class satire and explicit, shocking content. In the 1980’s it did for theatre what John Cooper Clarke did for performance poetry, in that Cartwright made the form appeal as being refreshingly punk – a vital part of fringe culture, as opposed to being reserved for a social elite as was, and perhaps sadly still is, the attitude of many towards theatre.
It is fitting that Road be restaged here in Birmingham during a time of grim austerity under recession and rising unemployment. The stories of working class characters on a derelict estate appear as relevant as ever, and as a huge fan of the source material I was anxiously anticipating a night of unrelenting venal and crass assaults that ought to challenge any audience of unsuspecting patrons.
On entering the Crescent’s auditorium it was a shock to discover that Stage2 is an all-youth troupe! It was a cast of school kids performing a play rife with sexually explicit scenes and filthy language, not to mention an unrelentingly bleak tone. There is no moment of redemption or reconciliation at any point; Road starts depressing and ends with the characters either miserably despondent or (spoiler alert) dead. Could this be a diluted version of the source material, perhaps a cleaner, twee version? Two minutes in, however, and it became apparent that such apprehensions were thankfully, though terrifyingly, unfounded.
The young actors were genuinely stunning. The nuances of emotion and self-awareness required for such complex characters always felt natural and effortless. For example, Sam Hotchin put in a brilliant turn as the boorish Scullery, the linchpin narrator character guiding the audience through the vignettes in each house along the road. Hotchin was an intimidating presence; impulsively aggressive, morose or playful, this Scullery was a welcoming host who could snap at any moment. Though beneath the crass repartee, he inscribed his Scullery with a certain world-weariness that is only implied in Cartwright’s script with the pessimistic line ‘just remember folks, if God did make them little green apples, he also made snot.’
Other highlights included George Hannigan and Anna Gilmore as a young couple on an existential hunger strike. Both of their monologues were particularly affecting, especially given their initial light-hearted exchange. Indeed the playing off of hilarious pathos with the tougher scenes had the effect of making the heavier moments feel even more sincere and earned throughout; something largely in debt to the strength of the young actors’ performances.
A word must also be said for the production. Stage2 really made the most of the Crescent theatre auditorium. There was a two-story scaffold construction in the centre stage that divided into six subsections, each representing a house along the road. Framed by dustbins and litter, the cast were scattered all around the theatre. They were in the isles, on overhead galleries, as well as climbing the walls and us the audience were effectively cornered by witty, feral teenagers playing drunk and shouting at each other. Nevertheless, the chaos of it was never arbitrarily out to shock, but rather to engage and tune the audience into the vernacular of Road.
The chanting scene in the denouement of the last act ended the production with the entire cast and chorus surrounding the audience and screaming ‘Somehow, a somehow might escape!’ It was oppressive and chilling in an unexpectedly Lord of the Flies kind of way.
The exuberance of the performances and the uncompromising production of a challenging play had the culminating weight of both uplifting and exhausting the audience, as they left seeming somewhat shell-shocked. It was a truly immersive evening of theatre; unpretentious, funny, sad, and brilliantly played.
Words by James Grady
As the end of the Easter Holidays dawned upon me I decided one last cultural experience of Birmingham before I became bogged down with exams, revision and a multitude of stress upon the return to University was necessary. So, I left my books behind and set forth for Brindley Place where this month’s Tell Me On a Sunday was taking place. Walking into the Ikon Gallery’s café we were greeted immediately by Katrice Horsley, the national storytelling laureate, who was to be our host for the afternoon. Dressed appropriated for the theme of ‘Feathers and Bones’ she wore a black, corseted and fabulous dress with a dark birdcage veil completing the ensemble. Reminding me of a coquettish black widow, she took to the mic to welcome us and we settled back for an afternoon of stories.
Katrice captured the audience with the tale of her mother, the beautiful woman who taught her the secret of the ‘3D pout’ but allowed herself to relax amongst her animals. In a comical telling of her mother spending the little money they had to purchase chickens, Katrice shared the story of her childhood with her Mother through these little chicks. They were the ‘happiest days of my mom’s life’ we were told. The whole room seemed to collectively hold their breath as Katrice gazed silently and with glassy eyes at something in the past. From the warm humorous tale of her mother and the chickens we were then reminded of the theme ‘Feathers and Bones’ and we learnt of her mother’s death of lung cancer. In an emotional finish, Katrice tells of seeing her mother’s body, ‘a husk’ which she dressed as the feather boa sister. From this tale of her mother we learn how Katrice was given her wings, her feathers, from her Mother but we are left with the poignant note that feathers turns to bones ultimately.
Next to the stage was Guari who lightened our hearts with a story of ‘Bootie’ the squirrel she met when she was researching in an Indian Village. She talked about learning the difference between asking questions for research and the opinions and personalities you learn through actual conversation; she told of how this was denied to her because she was an ‘ignorant city girl’. Everything changed for Guari when an injured squirrel adopted her as her mom. She comically described Bootie ‘peeping out of my ponytail’ and how this squirrel brought her together with the village community. A laugh went round the room as she recalled the moment it was discovered her ‘little daughter’ was in fact a son. In-keeping with ‘Feather and Bones’ we learnt about Bootie’s death, but were left with the heart-warming reminder of the ‘little baby squirrel that ran towards people instead of away from them’.
David took to the stage next and with gruesomely comic details described his medical history and how a condition he developed in his bones led to his hospitalisation, but also the making of some special friends. With vivid descriptions, we shared his hospital experiences from the death of his friend John, as well as the spurting of blood over a nurse which led to his decision to take up painting. We are reminded how despite death and the body going to bones, memories live on and David credits his painting due to this brief friendship with John.
Next up was Cath who enthralled us with a story from her childhood; a tale of boredom on childhood holidays which takes on a supernatural feel as she intones the ‘Cry of Dart’ in a dark voice. The story of an apparently un-kept grave always adorned with permanently present fresh flowers is a spooky one until, in an anticlimactic move which induces laughs from the audience, we learn that ‘The council pays a bloke to do it’. The disappointment in the room that the ‘spirit’ doesn’t exist was evident but so was the enjoyment gained from this refreshing twist at the end.
Polly then entertained us with a ‘nugget’ from her youth, a young love story which ended in vegetarianism. The humour is evident in the tale with memories of this ‘dark, handsome boy’ she fell for and her good humoured cringing at herself when remembering the crush she had on him. She recalled the essay she wrote him on the subject of vegetarianism and we felt for the younger her while she remembered with us the realisation that he, sadly, didn’t share her feelings of affection. The tale ended with the humour of sods law that upon meeting years later they both have boyfriends but only she was a vegetarian.
An American woman finished off the story telling with her tale of a life full of ‘feathers’ and birds that were thrust upon her by her enthusiastic mother. She regaled us with stories of her bird ‘Teely’ and the bird sound affects she added in were brilliant. We delighted in her tales of the birds depression and she finished by telling us how these birds have always been a constantly important feature in her life, despite never wanting to keep any of her own.
Tell Me on a Sunday is a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The intimate café at the Ikon gallery and the high standard of storytelling makes it an experience you will be hard pushed to find elsewhere. The stories may make you laugh, they may make you reflect upon your own life, but what is for sure is that you will really enjoy listening to them.
Words and photography by Libby Hewitt
Last Thursday night I went on a tour of Berlin…in Birmingham. Part of the fantastic Fierce Festival of live art, Berlin Love Tour was a guided tour of the German capital city through the streets of Birmingham, led by Hilary O’Shaughnessy. Hilary, as she explained at the outset, had lived (and loved) in Berlin after leaving her native Ireland. The Berlin Love Tour came from an idea by O’Shaughnessy and Tom Creed, and was first performed at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2010.
Meeting outside the Crescent Theatre (a local gem just off Brindley Place and Broad Street) were around 15 to 20 people ranging in age from early twenties to their sixties all wrapped up warm in the bitter cold. As we gathered we were accompanied by what looked like a busker with a guitar; however, his clean and smart-ish attire gave him away as part of the performance. We were then greeted by Hilary, who warned us against jaywalking (illegal in Berlin) and also that anyone expecting an erotic tour would be disappointed. She introduced us to the key themes of the performance: what’s remembered and what’s forgotten, what’s been destroyed and what remains. It was clear from the outset that the legacy of the Second World War, Nazism, and the Berlin Wall would be all pervading during the next two hours.
First stop was the Palast der Republik, a relic of the East German past which housed galleries, a theatre, restaurants, a bowling alley and a discotheque. The Birmingham backdrop for this was a piece of waste ground off Broad Street, a fitting blank canvas to get our imaginations in gear. Next up was the Mitte – the heart of Berlin, or in our case just outside the Slug next to the canal. Hilary told us how the Mitte was considered ‘poor but sexy’ and is now a victim of its reputation as the cool and hip area of the city: high rents, coffee shops and bars are the defining characteristics now (an appropriate echo of Brindley Place). The Brandenburg Gate was envisaged in place of the Regus building next to the Sealife Centre, and our guide’s moving tales of memorials to those killed in concentration camps was an interesting contrast to the suited city boys and girls hanging out and smoking outside Bank. It was at this point that the guitarist caught up with us and played Blur’s Out of Time. This brought us straight back into our modern physical surroundings and out of our journey into the past.
Our next stops were the River Spree and the Unter den Linden boulevard. At both stops we were told fragments of Hilary’s relationship with Alex, her German boyfriend, and the sinister aspects of their time together hinted at an emotionally abusive and turbulent time. The Bebelplatz was next up, projecting the site of the former royal library where Marx, Engels and Einstein had all studied on to the site of the impressive new Library of Birmingham. The Bebelplatz was also the site of the infamous Nazi book-burning ceremony of 1933. By this point Hilary’s recollections of her time with Alex were getting more intense and distressing and at the next stop at Birmingham’s Hall of Memory in Centenary Square she told of arguments through tears.
We moved on via Hitler’s bunker to the Berlin Wall, along with the climax of Hilary’s own story (all interspersed with distracting musical interludes). Stories of failed escape attempts over, under and through the wall were combined with the account of how Alex left Hilary. What was striking about Hilary and Alex’s story was the depth of her love for him, no matter how much they fought and what he did to her. The influence of the Berlin Wall was also clear; ‘it’s just a wall’ Hilary said at one point, but it is undeniably much more than a physical symbol.
Our final stop was the rooftop of the Brindley Place car park where we could look out over the city. The last account was of Stasi informants; since the wall came down and records have been released, families, friends and co-workers have tried to both forget and remember their betrayal. Hilary also explained how hard a ventricular assist device (known as a ‘Berlin Heart’) is to remove from patients, a true allegory of her time with Alex. The final scene of the performance was the guitarist accompanied by members of the Birmingham Choral Union singing Tender by Blur. His appearance brought us back to Birmingham from Berlin (and sadly in this case, to a deserted car park).
The tour was largely enjoyable and Hilary O’Shaughnessy was a brilliant guide and performer. Her skills in taking us not only to those landmarks of Berlin but also into the depths of her own relationship proved the event a true ‘love tour’. However, the regular appearances of the guitarist, Greg Milner, were at times grating and distracting. The choice of songs, mainly modern brit-pop tracks, were not in-keeping with the historic narrative and were sung in a way that they became a dirge. Considering Hilary’s story, it would be unfitting for the songs to be upbeat, but her skill in storytelling had already evoked the emotions Milner was trying to get across. The music therefore added nothing but did take something away, always bringing us back to our real surroundings. Still, it was a unique and innovative piece, truly in keeping with Fierce Festival as a whole, and I would recommend the experience to all.
Words by Andy Newnham
The Message is a literature meets theatre installation running until Saturday 7th April as part of Fierce Festival. The performance is taking place in the ‘Edible Eastside’, a new development area on the bank of the Grand Union Canal that, when complete, will be a new cultural hub for art in the city.
Seeing great crowds for the opening of The Message on Sunday, the Edible Eastside is certainly quieter in the week, with visitors trickling in to take part in the event. On arriving, all spectators are invited to write their own personal message of Hope or Fear on a notepad, which is then folded to be passed to Eloise Fornieles, the creator of the installation, who is positioned pacing around a large mound of white chalk. On top of this mound is a large rectangular wooden crate, standing tall against the backdrop of east Birmingham’s urban landscape. On taking the messages, Eloise reads, folds, then posts them into the coffin-like crate, ready for a ceremonial burning on Easter Saturday. When burned, the crate will fall away to reveal a marble sculpture that has been encased by the wood and messages, whilst creating an impression of the messages being dispatched to the world.
Having to sit and spontaneously write a personal pearl of wisdom on either hope or fear is a somewhat unusual act in itself, but to then hand this message to Eloise as she circles the sacrificial crate, so ‘in character’ that she appears almost mechanical, creates an experience nothing less than surreal. Despite this, the notion of an interactive audience is a feature that Fierce Festival appears to be increasingly focused on, promoting new ways into art and abandoning the traditional artist/viewer boundaries. The Message is running until the burning of the crate on Saturday (tomorrow), so if you haven’t had a chance to experience it before now, make sure you come along to witness the final stage of this innovative installation. What’s more, the Edible Eastside is certainly a project to watch for the future of the Birmingham arts scene.
Words and photography by