In a Covid world, when we thought that Theatre was losing its life, out comes Hampstead Theatre with their revival of The Dumb Waiter.
A long time fan of Harold Pinter from my study days, I am always intrigued with how his plays are performed and how the director has interpreted the piece.
Well known for his unusual yet naturalistic narratives and inclusion of his infamous pause, Pinter creates tension and atmosphere merely with his writing. Something so specific is always difficult to direct as your own and to bring something new. But Alice Hamilton achieves this while still keeping the Pinter essence.
The Dumb Waiter is the story of two men contained in one room, where their quite peaceful lives waiting for their boss to action their job is interrupted by a dumb waiter with unusual requests.
Hamilton, along with the actors Alec Newman (playing the character of Ben) and Shane Zaza (Gus) take on this funny, awkward and fantastically written play and run away with it. The purposeful silence never feels rushed, nor does the action; the pauses adds an atmosphere, a tension, and even at times, comedy.
Newman and Zaza in themselves are brilliant. Not only keeping to Pinter’s techniques, they embody their characters, to a point where we feel as if we really are intruding into this singular room and the unusual activities. Newman is content, calm, pristine – his newspaper is folded carefully and collected, his bed is tidy, even putting his clothing out is done slowly and precisely. Zaza in comparison is a little more energetic, messy, wired and this informs the action later on when the orders from an unknown entity come it; Zaza is heightened in his emotions and soon the unknown rocks the cool and collected Newman.
A short play, The Dumb Waiter felt as if no time had passed yet all the the time in the World had as it was so enjoyable to watch. In a time of uncertainty, something full of simplistic comedy, of simple yet effective design and so well acted and directed is what we clearly need.
Gemma Connell is a dance artist based in Wales, whose latest work, footSTEPS, is a series of dance films in starkly different locations. Born in south Manchester and with Welsh ancestry, Gemma started dancing in her local youth club. She explains,
‘I come from a working class family and a very big family, certainly couldn’t afford dance lessons. So it was the youth club, it was things that were free that were there for me.’
She later went to Warwick University to study English literature, but found herself spending most of her time dancing and setting up shows. It was then when she decided that she wanted to devote her life to the arts. I ask her what dance is for her and she tells me,
‘Dance for me has always been therapeutic. It’s my way of processing the world, It’s my way of working through things that I find difficult. It’s a way of expressing myself when I can’t find the words.’
Used to moving freely, the lockdown in the spring brought a new challenge. She didn’t have enough space at home to dance, she tells me,
‘You try and dance and you’re gonna hit the coffee table. I felt trapped and I think footSTEPS was a way of trying to get that freedom back. Dance and dancing outside was a way of dealing with that.’
Once allowed to go over 5 miles from the house, Gemma and her partner Ian Abbott, who is the Director of Photography , decided to explore different locations and experiment making short dance films. footSTEPS thus became her escape.
‘I felt very free the first couple of times we tried to create these dance films. I suddenly found myself really excited about dancing again.’
The first season of footSTEPS is set in south Wales. The locations include Chepstow Castle, Wentwood Forest, a bus graveyard, an underpass in Newport, and a beach in the Vale of Glamorgan. In her dances, Gemma interacts with the features of each place and reacts to their different feel. Bringing contemporary dance into a castle felt like a meeting of two eras, while the bus graveyard had an apocalyptic feel to it. She says,
‘There’s something for me with being at a castle of one time meeting another. We film in this medieval space but I’m very much in modern clothes and doing this kind of dance that they definitely wouldn’t have done back then.’
‘The bus graveyard for me was quite eerie. It looked a little bit like the apocalypse. As if humanity had disappeared and everything had been left. It made me a little bit nervous that site. I think it comes across in the movement as well. There’s something about me trying to create a boundary, a barrier around me. I seem to be making circles around myself.’
In each film, Gemma improvises bringing together different dance styles to respond to her immediate environment; yet there is a consistency in her moves. I ask her what Covid made her realise about dance. She tells me,
‘The tactile nature of the way I work. I do a lot of contact work. Covid means you aren’t allowed to touch anybody or anything, that you’re not allowed to get close to people. As a dancer, I’m used to being in contact with people all of the time. I found that very, very difficult.’
I remark that in our everyday life we, non-dancers, tend to suppress movement. We are not at ease with our body. I ask her how dancers gain that confidence to express themselves through movement. She tells me,
‘The late Ken Robinson used to talk about this and I think he’s brilliant. He said that people are educated out of their body and into their heads. I really do believe that. I work a lot with young people. As young people, they get less and less comfortable with their body or with moving in a certain ways. I do think that that is related to an education system which is focusing on academic achievements. There are so many kinds of intelligence. I think dance is one of those kinds of intelligence. Embodied knowledge certainly is.’
For non-dancers, dance is something one might do in a club or a dance class. We do not dance on the street, in a park, or forest. Gemma takes her dance into the wild, into historic settings, and urban sites. She frees it not just from the confinement of lockdown, but from the restrictions our society imposes on dance. Movement is how Gemma, as a dancer, deals with life and expresses her emotions. We might do well to follow the example of footSTEPS and dance wherever and whenever we feel like it.
The films can be found here.
Get the Chance was extremely saddened to learn that journalist David Owens is being made redundant from his role at Media Wales. Dave’s championing of the arts, especially Welsh music has been hugely important for the sector. His unique voice has raised awareness of new music, discussions around class and culture, he has supported music festivals, fought against the destruction of music venues in Cardiff and has created heartfelt articles about Cardiff characters like Toy Mic Trevor!
In the article below fans and colleagues pay tribute to him and his work.
Bethan Elfyn, BBC Radio Wales, Horizons Music Project
Dave Owen’s respect amongst the South Wales music family is well earned and his genuine passion for the music, and the individuals making the music, breathes through all his writing.
I believe I first met him around the time he published the Catatonia story – he might correct me on this – but I have a vague recollection of meeting and possibly interviewing him about the book, released in the year 2000.
Our paths would cross from there at a number of music gigs, events, panels, and anything music related in South Wales.
Dave is more than a journalist to me, more than a talented writer and music fan, he’s also a friend, and I look forward to seeing what the next chapter will hold for him.
John Rostron, Making Music Wales Manager
The people I really connect with in music are those who just cannot turn it off. They devour music – new and old – in all its forms – recorded, written, live – and it’s between bands and bar at a gig that you usually become friends with the people that are particularly special. Dave is one of those people.
Possibly in Dempseys, probably in Clwb Ifor Bach, certainly late in an evening, with ears ringing from whoever we’d both been to see and hear, Dave became, for me, a solid, reliable, passionate part of the fabric of music in Wales. I got used to seeing him bouncing between bands, and I loved to see him. I always do. He’s a good guy. A funny soul. A trustworthy man who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’d give before he got, and he’d never take anything without permission and grace. For a long time his words were my only route into the Echo and The Western Mail where he’d write so enthusiastically about music. He became someone whose opinion I trusted. Through his words I’d go listen to some bands I’d never heard of. But more importantly I’d return to acts I’d skipped or dismissed for some reason that had felt right to me at the time. But If Dave was enthusiastic, then I would doubt my first instinct and give the band a second shot. He would often prove to be right.
When once just music and culture and art were all I cared for I began to get more interested in the politics and policy behind it. I’d share that with Dave, who increasingly became interested in it himself. I love those conversations and those debates we have. He wasn’t just writing about music, he was – and is – part of the push and pull that makes things happen in Wales. He wants there to be more; for it to be better; for it to be fair. He’ll shout about it and write about it between the bands, over the bar, late into the evenings as only he can.
Minty’ s Gig Guide
It’s sad to hear David Owens – Wales Online has been relieved of his duties from Media Wales.
⚡️ There is NO QUESTION that Dave has been a TITAN in Welsh Music Journalism since I can ever remember – his passion for this industry is something I’ve always been enormously enamoured with & he has supported me no end since I started. ❤️
So…whilst some may say…this is a huge loss for Welsh Music Media…
I say it’s a HUGEEEEE gain for independent media…there are much greener pastures ahead for Ser’ David – and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I Loves The ‘Diff
Many of us have watched with dismay at the decline of decent local journalism in South East Wales at the hands of a non-Welsh plc, yet amid the slide toward online lowest common denominator, catch-all, hit rate, click bate driven drivel was a rare stalwart – Dave. A man whose passion for the place in which we live, its people, and music (Music! Music! Music!) is tangible in his writing, his choice of stories, and the people and bands he celebrated. So thank you for the (words about) music, Dave. Looking forward to hearing about what comes next for you.
Patrick Jones, Poet
I got to know of David’s work through his love of music. His writing was always passionate interesting educational and real. You could tell it was so important to him and this was reflected in his pieces.
He is an important voice in Welsh journalism. You could always hear his authentic voice in his words. Rare in journalism these days. I liked his societal take on bands and music. He knows where it originates. A decent good guy that you could sit down and openly talk with. I shall miss his writings x
Spike Griffiths, Project Leader – Forté Project
I call Dave a ‘mouthpiece’. He has spent endless column inches tirelessly devoted to covering welsh music; be it through reviews, previews, features, or simply highlighting recent concerns to our troubled sector. All of which has helped spread the importance of music. And never has that been more valuable than right now.
His kind words about our youth music development work have always been much appreciated. Whether inked through a feature in his “New Wave” segment or accompanied by a raised glass at one of our gigs, they have all been warmly received.
Illuminating the emerging music talent in Wales is something that we both strongly believe in. The young acts we work with, in particular, treat his music reviews with reverence.
At times like these, Dave’s honesty and passion for music are much needed. I have no doubt he’ll establish a new ‘mouthpiece’ soon and continue the important work he’s well known for.
In the wake of the Black Lives Protests, it has become clear that the majority culture has missed a few episodes so a look at Spike Lee‘s BlacKkKlansman is needed. The film makes subtle points in a non-subtle way. The most important is that white liberal middle-class Christian male identity is the ‘original’ identity politics. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being a white liberal middle-class Christian man, the problem lies in the refusal to see that our society has been shaped in that image and our consciousness reflecting specific prejudices and values.
Society is not a neutral space where individuals interact with other individuals, as libertarians think. Society has structures of power, which create obstacles for the Other (the non-white liberal middle-class Christian man). Culture is the narratives that emerge from social relationships and that legitimise them. The image of a neutral individual colour-blind, gender-blind, etc. is ‘white privilege’, the privilege of not being racialised, gendered, othered. White privilege means never having to ask yourself what it means to be white. BlacKkKlansman explores what it means to be black and what it means to be Jewish, but also how white Christian nationalism has shaped whiteness.
BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), an African-American detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. He does so by establishing contact with Klan’s leaders on the phone and through a Jewish colleague, Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver). Spike Lee oscillates between teaching his audience about American history and identity politics and portraying the KKK as fools, between tragic and comic mishandling both. I grew up with Spike’s movies. They shaped my consciousness, so I miss the old Spike.
In BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee has played it safe giving us a crowd-pleaser, but one that is muddled and weakened by the tension between comedy and melodrama. Gone are Jungle Fever and Do the Right Thing with their uncompromising look into a messy reality told with ironic anger. Yet, buried underneath the self-satisfied humour and self-righteous preaching, BlacKkKlansman offers a few glimpses of the making of racial identity that are worth considering.
In the film, the KKK repertoire of language, symbols, and rituals is contrasted with that of the Black Power Movement. The storytelling of White Supremacists watching DW Griffiths’ A Birth of a Nation, is counterposed with Harry Belafonte’s telling of the lynching of black people. American culture has been shaped by Christian nationalism and capitalist individualism. It has been presented as the default, the universal, while suppressing the experiences of the Other and depicting them through stereotypes and labels, and confining them into social roles (e.g. women as mothers and wives). Above all, it has hidden the systemic violence and oppression black people have suffered and are still suffering.
BlacKkKlansman shows that racism and systemic inequality have been legitimised and reproduced by the cultural process of Othering. Racism is not merely individual prejudice, but a whole set of norms and material obstacles that keep the Other in ‘their place’.
The film highlights that race is embodied but also performed. Ron Stallworth does a ‘white voice’ to fool the Klan, but can only infiltrate it because of the ‘white body’ of his colleague Flip Zimmerman. To persuade his boss to let him go under cover with the Klan, Ron tells him there are those who speak ‘King’s English’ and those who speak ‘Jive’. He’s perfectly fluent in both. Ron needs Flip Zimmerman to play him as a white man with the Klan. In a moment of camaraderie, under instruction from Ron, Flip tries to perform a speech by a black power leader, only to be outperformed by another colleague (on blackness, performance, and politics see Patrick Johnson’s Appropriating Blackness).
The image we have of the body is also highly racialised (voice, hair, skin etc.). White privilege means whites do not normally ask themselves what it means to be white. Yet, there are many shades of white. Foreign-born and Jews are not considered ‘whites’. Zimmerman had never considered himself anything other than white because he had not grown up as part of a Jewish community. It is the Klan’s idea of whiteness that leads him to confront his identity.
Flip tells Ron that he was not raised to be Jewish, it was never part of his life, he had never gone to bar mitzvahs, and never had a bar mitzvah. He never had Jewish friends, he was just another ‘white kid’. Flip’s Jewishness is called out by a colleague mentioning his ‘Jewish necklace.’ Flip replies that ‘it’s not a Jewish necklace, but the Star of David.’ Asked whether he’s Jewish, he says: ‘I don’t know. Am I?’ Zimmerman realises he too is Other as he faces white supremacists.
The most poignant scenes are the real footage of Charlottesville’s ‘Unite the Right Rally,’ where a white supremacist drove his car deliberately into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters and killed Heather Heyer, to whom the film is dedicated. It may seem far away from our British and European sensibilities and yet it is very close, we just have not talked about it much (please read Paul Gilroy’s There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack). BlaKkKlansman is weighed down by its pedagogical impulse, yet it’s a lesson many have not yet heard.
If you, like me, are tired of the formulaic plot-driven writing that saturates our screens, head for The Guardian channel on YouTube. There you will find Europeans, a series of seven short films with seven writers, each from a different European country: Poland, Spain, Germany, France, Sweden, UK, and Ireland. The Guardian shows that it’s ahead of the game in producing documentaries and now drama. The writing of Europeans is fresh and original. The format allows the films to go beyond the demands of TV, where short films have no presence, and crucially the constraints of national cultural traditions.
The films are so different you wonder whether they were responding to different briefs, but that is precisely what’s good about them. They are not made to fit into a category, although all of them have a strong theatrical voice. This is partly because each film is a monologue delivered to camera exploring Europeans relationship with Europe.
The series opens with the French film One Right Answer, the most overtly political episode of the series written by Alice Zeniter and performed by Sabrina Ouazani. A young woman talks of her experience of democracy betrayed. She voted for her first time against the Treaty of Nice in the European referendum of 2005. The referendum was lost and yet the result ignored. She was against the neoliberal Europe dominated by consumerism and the free market, but little transpires as to what she believes in. Sabrina Ouazani gives credibility to the monologue, but it doesn’t go past the disillusionment with the process rather than touch on a generation’s aspirations for Europe.
Borders, the second episode comes from Poland and was written by Jakub Żulczyk and performed by Jacek Koman. It is the story of a lorry driver who has travelled Europe everywhere but has been nowhere because always on the move. Before Schengen, he travelled east and would read books during the long waits at the border. The lorry driver had to sacrifice time with his family to put food on the table. Today, he travels to Germany in a Europe that has no borders. A Europe where his son earns well and can spend time with his family.
In the UK episode, Dim Sum, written by Clint Dyer and performed by Javone Prince, a bailiff acts tough while he empties a house. It is the longest piece, which allows the monologue to be interspersed with short bursts from the people whose house is being emptied. The bailiff, a black man, presents himself as the product of British society, where people only care about themselves and trample on others to be rich. He is British and has nothing to do with Europe, though he is not blind to the deep racism that casts him and his children as outsider in their own country. The bailiff does his job with no compassion, and yet, that one time, when a pregnant woman from a European country opened the door, slightly trembling and then crying, that time left a scar. The captivating writing gives life to a rounded character. Javone Prince’s intensity makes us relive with the bailiff the memory of that encounter.
Equally dramatic is Terra Firma, the Spanish episode, written by Blanca Doménech and performed beautifully by Paula Iwasaki. A woman tells us of when she left her rural village for London only to find herself exploited in demeaning jobs. Now back home, as she walks down the streets of her village, her anger at the dehumanising economy is mixed with a feeling of guilt for betraying her roots. She looks up, to the statue of Mary during a procession, and all is forgiven. She is lifted up, away from the the everyday struggle, from the pain, and feel worthy as a human. Thus she can be true to herself.
For the German episode, Neanderthal, the writer, Marius von Mayenburg, has chosen a Neanderthal man, performed by Robert Beyer, to tell a poetic tale warning of the danger of forgetting the past. It is the story of a tribe that thought themselves stronger than others, which led to war. As he tells the tale, the setting changes from a museum, to the woods, to a theatre, just as a country and a continent change throughout history, and yet repeat the same story, that “Those who don’t want to live together, will die together.” Only in friendship there is life and the future.
Written by Jonas Jonasson, Top of the Class, the Swedish episode makes fun of the Swedish attitude of superiority saying that “We didn’t really join the EU, we rather decided they could join us.” It blames social media for reducing politics to soundbites and creating divisions. The shortest episode, it is performed well by Viktor Åkerblom, but it feels a little too underdeveloped.
The Irish Fake Tan, written by Lisa McInerney, alludes to Brexit by presenting an Irish woman splitting up from her British boyfriend. Lighter in tone, the woman, played delightfully by Evanna Lynch, is the embodiment of an Ireland that no longer needs Britain and can fit anywhere.
I was particularly touched by Dim Sum, Terra Firma, and Neanderthal, which convey complexity through elegant simplicity. They are part of a whole. The films may seem very different dramas, but you get a sense of cohesion, partly achieved by the excellent direction of Amy Hodge, who conveys the emotions in a few careful shots. This cohesion out of difference is just what Europe is, or dreams to be. Europe is not defined by the past but by a dream of the future. Europe looks to what has been to imagine what can be. It is my hope that The Guardian will now commission a series that speaks of our hopes, our dreams, our imagined future.
Edalia Day has brought a very unique and very interesting production to the forefront at this year’s Vaults.
Beginning slow and slightly awkward, Day seems nervous and uneasy in this plain white room. Soon we are to realise, this is very much a clever theatrical technique to their story and very much the beginning of something special.
Too Pretty To Punch brings Day’s autobiography to the stage. Identifying as trans, Day transforms the stage into their life story, the trials and tribulations and turmoil in accepting who they are and seeking acceptance in society. It then continues into a widen view of the issues trans people face and eventually brings in verbatim videos to others facing the daily obstacles.
It would be easily and still powerful to have used these videos to support Day’s points, but they go the step further – animation is projected onto screens, one an ordinary square screen, another slightly misshapen and another as a moveable canvas. These are used to flick between images and animations as they move across the stage, along with physical theatre by Day, making the action come to real life in our eyes.
Some of the performance feels like we are getting to know a new friend – Day addresses us and talks to us like a new friend being made, but then some poignant moments being transferred into visual elements adds a unique and clever nature to this production and hits the points home.
Supported at times with kitsch music that reminds me of Golem by 1925, this makes the production feel a little special and like nothing on the theatre scene right now.
Too Pretty To Punch is not only a really important production to see but is also one of the most unique and fascinating pieces of theatre I have seen in a long time.
What can I say that drew me to this production? Ultimately that the show image is of two men in the nude hiding their gentlemans and looking like they are loving life.
Animals is the story of two cousins, a long way from home, trying to make a life in London. They enjoy drugs, music and cheese. They enter moments of absurd hallucinations, finding the meaning to life but ultimately gaining a new love for their friendship.
Animals is an interesting production; mainly consisting of a duo doubling up on characters, there’s an element of The Inbetweeners, with rude jokes, silly humour and really unique moments of comedy.
It took me some time to get into the rhythm of the production and understand its niche concept, but equally there were moments of comical genius and once I understood the approach, it became more enjoyable.
The two performers play very good parts; similar yet very different, there was a naturalism to their performances, even as hallucinated characters, and the chemistry between them was relaxed, bouncing off one another with ease.
I am not sure where this production can and should go, but it felt much as if there needed a bit of development and perhaps a moral direction to the narrative.
Animals is comical, enjoyable and unique. While I wouldn’t say that this is a must see production at the moment, I would say that it is however a good laugh and an easy production when you’re not in the mood for anything too heavy.
Take audience participation, the hilarious parts of life and throw in two comedians and you get a whole hour of a great night out.
Dave Bibby, in his new show, takes his usual love of getting the audience involved and on stage and transports us through elements of life, competing to be the better sex.
Games range from releasing blown up balloons, representing our first poo as babies, to scooting along our bums in our first car, to losing our virginities with slinkies. The inventiveness and creativity of the games and their representation is unique and clever, leaving us laughing firstly at the intelligent creations but also gearing us up for how the ordinary human completes such a task.
Bibby is totally honest with us, finding elements hilarious, turning any “mistakes” (as this is a show in progress) into a hilarious addition, and picking up or moving along the action with ease and confidence. We feel safe and well within his hands but happy to make fools of ourselves and join together to cheer on strangers.
Life: The Gameshow is exactly what we need in these uncertain times; a moment to relax, have fun, be pleasantly surprised but also to join together for common enjoyment.
Fabulous Animal is a composite artistic project, which includes photos and videos of professional dancer Zosia Jo and of workshops’ participants and Zosia Jo’s live performance at Cardiff Made. It is an exploration of the body in its fleshy and animalesque dimension. The performance begins with Zosia Jo feeling her body, her teeth, her arms, licking her arm, comparing the hair in her armpits with the hair on her head. She stretches her muscles and shakes her body. She dresses and undresses.
The performance starts with playfulness and warmth. Zosia Jo is friendly and puts us at ease. Zosia Jo has a beautiful physicality and control over her body. Every move looks natural, with no tension, and easy. As her body moves slowly and softly, it becomes seductive. It is seductive in the literal sense of the word, in bringing us closer. She embodies an eroticism without a mask.
In the very small space of Cardiff Made, Zosia Jo projects a sense of wider nature. She moves like the waves of the sea, like the movement of our lungs as we breath. What is striking of the performance is her ability to give a sense of being in nature and part of nature. Zosia Jo is successful in stripping us of our everyday masks and let us see that underneath our clothes we are animals. In nature, the spectators would have been able to sense more their own body and their relationship with rocks, sands, trees, or water.
The texts beside the photos give a thoroughly research context linking this exploration of the body and nature to feminism. However, it is too abstract for the performance, while it is probably more powerful in the contexts of the workshops Zosia Jo did in Egypt. The exploration of the body outside of societal constructs of beauty, strength, and skill can resonate with men as well as women. In a disembodied society, we can all benefit from experiencing our bodies differently. At the performance, we remain spectators; yet as we watch Zosia Jo, we can imagine her as an animal. Like a butterfly she spreads her wings and she is nature. She is a fabulous animal.
You can watch the video online at the following address: https://www.zosiajo.com/