Phenomenal People, ARC, Stockton-on-Tees

by Valerie Fairclough

Those that know me know that I rarely get excited about anything. This makes me reluctant to actually go out at times. I am one of those people who think, “Really, do I have to?”
It was with this same reluctance that I finally dragged myself to the Arc in Stockton some hour and a half after the Phenomenal people show kicked off. Makes me wonder how many others are like me.
I landed at the box office and duly paid my two pounds and made my way into the area set aside like a little garden. I announced my arrival by loudly saying: “Is it this way?” The nice gentleman at the door shushed me and guided me in.
The booklet I found on a table entitled “Phenomenal people” gives the impression that it is about people who are phenomenal, however when I looked on the back of the cover it becomes gender specific: “Think of a woman who inspires you.” What if it was a man that inspired me? Get ’em in under false pretences and slug ’em with feminism, that’s what I say. I am not a feminist, however like religion I pick and choose what suits me. I don’t care for flowers being bought for me, not because it offends me but because they belong on a grave or left where they grow. Chocolates, however… Don’t get me wrong: the ladies who were there were brilliant and I did have that communal, belonging feeling. For the record, I have admired Beatrix Potter ever since my run-in with a Pippi Longstocking-lookalike ignorant feminist, but that’s another story.
The room was laid to lawn – not your Astroturf rubbish, it was the real McCoy. Bushes in pots and a lovely little water feature in the middle full of pennies. Garden benches, tables and chairs were dotted around. I felt like I was walking on to the set of In the Night Garden. With all the lights above, the place was very warm. I was told the air conditioning was on; one look at the potted bushes said different.
I parked my backside on a little grassy mound and listened to a woman reading about her female line lost behind the names of men. I came in half way through her monologue. The lady in question was Kathryn Beaumont and she repeated her monologue later in the day to which I fully listened and appreciated. Kathryn admired the stoicism of her female line and told the story as if she was reading an extract from a Cathrine Cookson novel.
A supposed letter to a daughter was read out, it was written by Anna Reading. At some point I zoned out, then a sentence brought me back again: “When you are a feminist.” I think the letter was about making a better world: not sure if it was a better world for women or everyone, either way do you have to be a feminist to make a better world? There are plenty of men out there as well who want the world to be a better and more equal place for all, not just women.
Next up was the lovely Akiya Henry, who did a silhouette show of the woman she most admired, Joyce Dymock, her foster mother. No spoken words, just silhouettes and written words and dates all played out to music; she did her foster mother proud, even if I did have to go and ask her who the kid was in the wheelchair as she was clearly able to walk. It was her sister.
Lucy Stevens did a roll call of all those involved in the making of the show through singing an operatic song, least I think it was a roll call. I loved her voice.
Jenny Sealey spoke of her admiration for fellow deaf friend and actor Caroline Parker. This woman never allowed her lack of hearing to impede her life and what she wanted to do. She told funny stories of the things she and both of them got up too. Jenny had everyone stood up dancing and signing to a song, she signed by virtue of lip reading, when she lost where she was in the record she picked it up by looking at everyone singing. Jenny Sealey is a phenomenal woman as well as her friend.
I must give a mention to Roger, I’m all about equality I am. Roger was the lovely man who worked with Akiya in the silhouette show.
I have to say I left the show disappointed, not because it was rubbish, but because I was rubbish. I should have attended earlier. I had just gotten into it when it was over. I never learn.
Would I recommend the Phenomenal People show? Hell yes. The atmosphere was so relaxing and calming, the bird song just topped it off. I could have sat for hours.
I have since spoken to friends at work who seem keen to have gone, I have promised the next time something comes along I will give them the option.
Well done one and all, it was a marvellous show.

[Editor note: I met Valerie at a writing workshop in Doncaster Darlington (oops! thanks for pointing that out Val), and wrote about the encounter here. I’m so thrilled she accepted my invitation to write for this blog, and hope she continues. Maddy]

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