Tag Archives: mac

Apples & Snakes Present: Lit Fuse @ Birmingham mac


“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

Hetain Patel: At Home exhibition @ mac

at home‘Family’, one of the most obvious subject matters in the world, is filled with secrets and traditions. A side that no-one else in the world will ever see. The most universal topic in the world, yet rarely can its complexities be unravelled, if ever. Hetain Patel with this exhibition gives us a glimpse inside small characters, and scenarios involving his family. With a combination of video and photography he attempts to show us the personal with his own life being the centre of it all.

The exhibition includes the video ‘The First Dance’ which involves Patel’s wife as one of the main protagonists. She is involved again in the self-titled photographs ‘Eva’, showing us a glimpse into the couple’s relationship. Another installation, called ‘To Dance Like Your Dad’, focuses on the father – son relationship, and reminds us of our family legacy with its points on imitation.

Probably the most moving of all installations was the five-channel digital video titled ‘Mamai’. A portrait of Patel’s own grandmother going about her daily ritual of prayer every morning. It is quite affectionate, and in all of them she exhibits Patel’s recurring notions of faith and tradition, displayed through clothing in ‘The First Dance’ too. But, it’s Mamai which will pull on your heart. Perhaps because of the melancholy and sadness that is displayed on all of the screens, as through it all this is just an elderly lady sitting on a couch by herself singing hymns. After the decline of the body and memory with old age what is so poignant is the passion we witness as she is singing. This idea that keeps on coming up that our lives are our homes and families, and it is the small (considerably mundane) things we do daily is what define us. Mamai herself is a testament to this; she wipes her eyes one moment, picks at the seam of a nearby blanket and even fidgets with a napkin which never leaves her hands.

In 9 minutes with ‘Mamai’ Patel nearly brings you to tears, and a man who could do that in one installation is probably going to dwell in your mind, as with others who have seen the exhibition, for a long time.

By Shantok Jetha

Capital Festival: Playing With Words Workshop @ mac

CapitalThe-Logo-largeOn the 20th of November on a wet Wednesday afternoon I attended Hannah Silva’s workshop as part of Capital Theatre Festival at the mac in Birmingham.  Arriving at the mac at 2pm for my workshop I got sucked into the wonderful world of theatre, and from that point on the workshop just wasn’t enough! After my workshop with Hannah Silva I stayed on for a further talk with Fin Kennedy entitled ‘In Battalion’s’ and then Hannah Silva’s play The Disappearance of Sadie Jones.

Hannah Silva is a poet, play write, director and actor, and to have a workshop on play writing led by someone with such a vast understanding of many aspects of the field was incredibly helpful as a newly-emerging writer. The workshop was a very new experience for me, coming from a background solely rooted in writing I got an insight into the world of acting and performance. Throughout the workshop we explored words and how to mould craft and use them creatively. The activity I felt I gained the most from was when Hannah gave each of us four strips of paper, on which were a few lines of text. We then had to talk to each other using only these select words, various rules were then introduced; read them as if you’re a child and you can’t read, or pronounce only the vowels. We repeated the activity a few times, and as we did a story began to emerge – it felt as if we’d begun to write. Characters and meaning began to form through these very basic and abstract interactions.

The workshop was with a rather limited group of people (only three of us in total!), and we had an opportunity to talk in detail about Hannah’s work and how she works creatively. Hannah’s work is not your typical “Aristotelian, three act play”, and through discussions with her, I began to feel inspired about my own submission for playwriting. Hannah spoke about theatre passionately describing it as a form that can be changed and played with. Some would say that her work ‘breaks the rules’ but I think Hannah would present it more that there shouldn’t be any rules in the first place. Theatre is a creative and varied form and so much can be achieved through personal or ‘different’ creative processes that the thought of assigning certain rules to theatre is surely just stifling to a personal creative voice.

Hannah talked a lot about the process that took her play The Disappearance of Sadie Jones from script to production. This wasn’t something I’d ever thought about – after all being a new writer, the thought of my work being on stage is a far-off distant dream. But the process Hannah takes in approach to her work was food for thought and a lot about what she said clicked after I’d watched the play. Hannah said when they approached the play with her actors that they were looking for direction she suggested they approach the script as if it were a piece of music, this when first hearing it seems like an abstract idea, but it really made sense in the context of her work.

My experience of ‘Playing with Words’ was a highly positive and inspiring one, it really helped me channel my elusive creative juices in time for up and coming creative writing submissions.

By Noemi Barranca

Capital Theatre Festival: Ugly Duck @ mac


Ugly Duck was the only production that got more than one night at this year’s Capital Theatre Festival held at mac, giving it a special ranking as one of the bigger events. The play, firmly set in Stoke, is about struggling middle aged Dennis who takes on a job as a life model for painter Kat Drosdzowski. What starts out as apologetic ignorance about art from Dennis eventually spans to conflict with Kat and her family about cultural identity and racism.

Before tackling these heavy themes the play begins very light-hearted, making easy jokes at Dennis’s discomfort when stripping down to model. However at times it felt like too many jokes were signposted with stares at the audience initiating cues for laughter. The humour that got a healthier reception was more subtle, like clever wordplay about sticking-out arses. Even small gestures such as Dennis returning to the stage wearing the flowery robe got good laughs.

The most enjoyment from this play came through the way it set up and tried to address important issues. In the third scene of the first act Dennis talks about his family and his employment woes in greater detail. Here the play begins to delve into a deeper meaning which continues when Dennis becomes uneasy after learning Kat and her family are Polish. However it should be said the play doesn’t sharply turn from funny to serious; jokes of a similar vain to earlier appear, but less frequently.

Considering the play describes Dennis as a Port Vale fan in the second line of its synopsis I was disappointed at the lack of football references by the interval. The reward came in the first scene after the restart, and arguably the best of the play. Dennis and Mark, both running away from family problems, discover each other sleeping rough in the art studio. The chemistry of Phillip Wright and James Masters is fantastic here as their bloke chat about ‘kids these days’ and football can’t help but bring a smile.

Drawing to the conclusion, the attack on an Albanian Port Vale fan is reported and quickly it is discovered that Dennis is involved. The dilemmas regarding Dennis’s beloved son being an instigator of the attack, Dennis’s isolation from his friends, and the larger problem of racism is dealt with the line “Not everyone’s a racist in Stoke.” This, and the unveiling of the beautiful painting of himself, is a good enough resolution for Dennis. Yet it felt like there was more to discuss and the disputes were not satisfactorily resolved.

Ugly Duck is a solid play that gets you to laugh one way or another. Important issues are addressed and there are scenes of quality, but disappointingly the happy ending undermines the devastating state Dennis’s life is left in.

Andy Cashmore

Capital Theatre Festival: The Disappearance of Sadie Jones @ mac

sadie jones blogfestMeet Sadie Jones; unpredictable, unreliable, insane, and probably quite a lot like you.  Or so I was told by Elizabeth Crarer, who plays the complex character of Kim Jones, Sadie’s sister, in Hannah Silva’s disorientating new play, The Disappearance of Sadie Jones. I went to see this on the 20th November at the Birmingham mac, where it was showing as part of The Capital Theatre Festival, a movement that aims to give up-and-coming playwrights the opportunity to showcase their newest work.

The play tells the story of teenager Sadie Jones, her struggle with mental illness, and the impact this has on her family and friends. A form of ‘experience theatre’, the aim of the play was not necessarily to create a piece of entertaining narrative, but to present to the audience a challenging and thought-provoking piece of theatre. Silva beautifully combines the medium of flashing lights and sounds (namely, the motif throughout the play of a ticking clock, linking with an hourglass on the stage, one of the only props on a very minimalistic set) to create a disorientating and chaotic atmosphere. The format of the play is very intense; only containing three characters that remain in full view of the audience for the full hour-and-a-half provides a clever and acute insight into the mind of one person. The writing constantly switches between different perspectives and narratives, too – at one point, Sadie is describing her actions in the third person whilst simultaneously acting them out.

The play has echoes of a fairytale, containing the resurfacing symbols of apples, skulls and clocks; juxtaposing piles of human bone-strewn dirt with a kitchen sink and a box of cheerios (which, in a moment of rage, end up all over the floor). The dialogue is quick-witted and sharp, the actors often finishing each other’s sentences, creating a sense of urgency but also of unity between the three characters.

There is indeed a warm closeness demonstrated between Sadie, Kim and Danny, Sadie’s lover, and the idea of family ties, maternal care, and unconditional love pop up throughout the play. The relationship between Kim Jones and Danny is particularly poignant, beautifully and carefully crafted, creating a beautiful and touching dynamic of close friendship united through difficulty for the backdrop of Sadie’s descent into insanity. The character of Danny (played by Alan Humphreys) seems to act as a voice of reason over Sadie, and, in the apparent absence of any parent-figures, has a paternal-type concern for her and her actions, not just from a lover’s point of view – a touching and well-written aspect of his character.

The issue of mental illness is never explicitly mentioned, and only acknowledged once by Kim, who refers to “the last time the doctor saw Sadie”. However, at no point does Silva attach any sort of stigma to this illness, and even alludes to certain other forms of illness when regarding the seemingly ‘sane’ Kim and Danny – OCD for Danny, alcoholism for Kim – creating a commonality, drawing the characters even closer.

The narrative of the play comes full circle, the end scene seeming visually identical to the opening one – the three actors resume their original positions on stage and the initial dialogue is repeated. However, with our new sense of perspective, what at the start seemed meaningless and confusing, the audience are now able to find enlightening and touching. Perhaps this is what Silva meant when she said, in conversation with me after the play had finished, that she didn’t want to “spoon-feed the audience a story… I wanted their imaginations to work.”

Despite the feelings of confusion, disorientation and, at times, being downright uncomfortable (the ‘sink scene’ springs to mind, where Sadie (played by Stephanie Greer), dressed only in her white, sterilised and institutionalised underwear writhes on all-fours over the kitchen sink, pulling a long red string out of the end of the tap), The Disappearance of Sadie Jones was most definitely an experience, and, against my better judgement, I found a part of Sadie in me.

by Alice Cudmore

Apples & Snakes: Public Address II @ mac

apples and snakes

The Hexagon Room of the mac provided the setting for a fine evening of poetry by Apples and Snakes, the last night of their ‘Public Address II’ tour.

Local poet Bohdan Piasecki was compere for the evening and was charming and self-effacing throughout. After warming the crowd up he introduced the first poet of the evening, Brighton-based Tom Sissons. It would be fair to say he was the most conventional of the night, with poems that touched on politics, revolution and God. But he delivered a performance that had as much raw honesty as it did clarity and he offered a distinctive take on the issues he touched upon. It was a great start to the night, one that set a marker down for the other performers.

Selina Nwulu was the London representative and followed with just the one poem, a story that juxtaposed her mother’s tale of living in a chaotic civil war-torn Nigeria with that of her comparatively dull Yorkshire upbringing. From the initial description of a hectic scene in Lagos, she went on to combine a heavy political backdrop with her own personal story with intensity, as her mother’s fight for life also became hers.

Representing the North-East was Christopher Stewart, who cut an unusual figure on stage in his overcoat and mutton chops.  He involved one unfortunate audience member in his discussion of his relationship with women and had an odd obsession with the moon, about which he’d apparently written fifty poems. When you felt like you were following his train of thought, he threw you off with surreal lines and obscure tangents that made the ideas you could totally grasp all the more worthwhile. Awkward, off-beat and probably the funniest performance of the night, he is clearly an enigma wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a full English.

After a short break came local poet Lorna Meehan, who got a suitably enthusiastic welcome from the home crowd. She performed poems inspired by and dedicated to Florence and The Machine and Michael Buble respectively. The latter didn’t quite convince me as to his charms, but was funny nonetheless. Her best however were ‘Rebel Heart’, a poem that combined the story of her and a friend, one who found love and the other turned to heroin, and ‘Waves’, a story of adolescent love on a holiday to Newquay.

The final poet, and probably the best of the night, was Jack Dean. His piece ‘Rain’ felt the most complete of the night, and was also probably the most varied. It centred on the flooding in the South-West and included a rap, a visit to his psychiatrist, and a list of anti-depressants he admitted he’d found on Wikipedia. He also had the audience singing ‘Three Little Birds’ before twisting it into something darker. However, the piece was ultimately about acceptance, and provided an excellent conclusion to the evening. The night was an entertaining, diverse and perfectly paced evening showcasing five very distinctive poets from across the country that not only affirm the Midlands’ but the nation’s spoken-word credentials.

by Daniel Moroney


Mark Thomas ‘Bravo Figaro’

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.

Bravo-Figaro-Mark-Thomas-796x1024This 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