Tag Archives: hexagon theatre

Apples & Snakes Present: Lit Fuse @ Birmingham mac

LitFuse-full

“I want a man who pulls kindness out of his back pocket.” This was the beautiful and intriguing opening line of spoken-word artist, Nafeesa Hamid, during her performance on Friday night.

Nafeesa spent last week working alongside three other brilliant artists, Amerah Saleh, Carl Sealeaf and Sipho Eric Dube, making up the quartet of poets that brought Lit Fuse, a spoken-word collaboration, to the Birmingham mac on the 7th March 2014. This event, developed jointly by mac Birmingham and Apples and Snakes poetry collective, is a series of events showcasing brand new work devised by UK poets in collaboration with top directors and producers, encouraging poets to write and perform outside of their comfort zone. This set of poets were working with the help of Birmingham-based writer and director, Caroline Horton.

The four poems were part of the current season of work at the mac, ‘Exit Strategy’, a theme exploring death and its effects.
The event combined poetry and theatre, using lights, sound effects and short films to create atmosphere and background for the spoken word pieces. The performance began with all four poets speaking at once, moving from various areas of the intimate space of the Hexagon Theatre, before gathering together on stage. The effect of the clashing of lines and styles, and interrupting of each other made for a disconcerting and slightly wild beginning, and I struggled to make out what each individual was saying, let alone find any kind of meaning in the cacophony of noise and sound effects. Indeed, as each poet left the stage and then returned one by one, performing an individual 10-20 minute monologue, the level of intensity remained high, due to the heavy and sometimes controversial content, and the fact that the overall performance was only just over an hour in length.

Although four very different poets, all creating various interpretations of the topic of death, the pieces were beautifully crafted to fit perfectly together, moving seamlessly from one to another. The themes ranged from a heartbreaking monologue by Carl Sealeaf on the breakup of previous relationships and the death of a loved one, to a touching and intimate insight into a story of childhood, heritage and loss from Sipho, and an uncomfortable but beautifully important piece on rape in marriage from Amerah Saleh.

The influence of theatre was reflected differently in each piece, some of the poets choosing to use props. At the beginning of Amerah’s piece (written largely using stories collected from girls with real experience of rape in marriage), all the props, including a desk lamp (left over from Carl’s piece moments before), a mop bucket and a mug were turned on their side, and set right way up as the poem progressed. Using everyday objects reinforced the setting of a domestic home, and the act of setting them right reflected the healing process that took place throughout the poem.

The performance ended in the same way it had begun- all four poets speaking at once, and moving together to gather on the stage under dim lighting. This time however, the words and phrases they were saying had a poignant clarity – now I recognised them as lines from each of their poems. The idea that all these pieces shared the same subject matter, yet had wildly different interpretations of it was reinforced by the clashing and uncomfortable jarring of these lines, yet combined, at the end, a subtle and carefully crafted shared understanding and acceptance.

 by Alice Cudmore

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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