take this longing

An introduction from Maddy Costa: This piece is unlike anything else that has been published on this blog, but then its writer, Simon Bowes, isn’t really like anyone else I know either. I first met him at a Devoted & Disgruntled event: taking place each year in January, it’s a big get-together for theatre-makers of all backgrounds, experiences and disciplines, in which we share concerns and thoughts and reinvigorate ourselves in conversation. At that particular D&D, Simon was talking about time, and in particular, the way in which his work and temperament pull away from the conventional expectations of time that govern the theatre industry – the expectation that work will take a certain period of time to make, that it will be performed for a certain span of time, that makers will follow a linear progression from one work to the next. What if he thought in decades, not years; what if each work wasn’t a single entity but a small part of a whole? That desire to trace his own path, work at his own pace, disavow convention, appealed to me; I decided then that he would be someone whose work I would follow for the rest of my life.

This piece came about after another conversation the two of us had, on email, about time. Something I’ve been thinking a lot about while working on NTiYN is that there are no quick fixes to the questions of audience engagement: this work requires long-term dedication, and a different sense of value. Getting 1000 people to come to the theatre looks impressive, but what’s the point if it’s once and never again? For me it’s better to accumulate audience members by ones and twos, take them on a slower journey, give them real attention, and build lasting relationships. But that can be difficult, emotionally: there are times when it feels as though nothing is changing, times when you’re forced to recognise that the work isn’t a job you can finish neatly and move on, times when all you feel is a pervading sense of failure. Simon is someone who recognises that emotional difficulty. And so I asked him to write for this blog about time. This is what he wrote.

Incidentally, there is a terrific and informal companion piece to this writing on Simon’s blog, triggered by him seeing a double bill of works about time by Deborah Pearson. Both make me really excited about the work Simon is beginning to make as part of a new collaboration, Ding & Sich.

By Simon Bowes

this is about enchantment. i once had to ask what the word meant and the man who i asked told me ( without making me feel small for not knowing ) : to put into song . it’s about dis – enchantment , and re – enchantment , too : singing , wanting to sing , not wanting to sing , and wanting to sing again

i.

s ,

i never told you – never told anyone – how i felt – how lost i felt – sitting in the audience of your perfor-mance . i never told you because i was sure that the fault , or the lack , was mine – that i was not yet ready to accept what it was that you had to give . i remember you stood tall , despondent , naked , asking the way when no-one could tell you the way . the performance , of course , concerned being lost . we are often lost in the theatre and sometimes we do not find our way back to where we were , some of the roads we arrived by – in the short time of the performance – quickly erode . but years have passed – years, years [1] – and often when i think of what i have hoped for – in going to the theatre – i think back to your show

ii.

many things that i see in the theatre i did not – and still do not – understand . it is not always – in fact it is rarely – a case of not understanding , until the artist makes their meaning explicit , or until somebody else paraphrases it , or until you draw a certain set of conclusions afterwards , or until you read an incisive review . sometimes what is said is something unsayable . sometimes what is said may be at once plain and like no speech in any tongue

iii.

a ,

beginning to work together at a certain – necessary – distance , over an indefinite period of time – learning what the circumstances are , i thought i would begin with a familiar story , one that i always keep coming back to :

the first was a hare . at two thousand meters on a mountain frontier … it was a lean hare with tufts on the tips of its ears of brown smoke . and although it was running slowly it was running for its life . sometimes that can happen [2]

iv.

s ,

on the night you asked asked me to join the company , i was singing in the bar . i started with a hymn , idumea , but i remember what it felt like to sing , feet stamping , reddening hands , keeping time against the fullness of my throat :

and am i born to die
to lay this body down
and must my trembling spirit fly
into a world unknown
[3]

v.

a night at the theatre may not give you what you expected , what you wanted , it might insist that your expectations, your wants, were unimportant , and sometimes you might be persuaded . it all takes discipline . i’ve learned that i don’t have enough of it and , chances are , neither do you . much of the theatre i’ve seen ( and , yes , everything that i’ve made myself , by one measure or another ) hasn’t had one tenth – sometimes a hundredth – of the discipline

vi.

s ,

like a nail that i repeatedly snag my clothing on , still a smoker , sometimes a maker :

a cigarette is a breathing space . it makes a parenthesis . the time of a cigarette is a parenthesis , and if it is shared you are both in that parenthesis . it’s like a proscenium arch for a dialogue [4]

vii.

the playwright and academic sarah grochala recently wrote about a critical mass of theatre that fails to impress , suggesting three elements that make a show stand out :

the first is an engaging narrative . the kind of narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat because you’re genuinely not sure where it’s going to go next . i should add here that by narrative i mean something much broader than what people often mean when they talk about narrative

the second element is an engaging form . a form that illuminates the con-tent . that either fits the content like a glove or stands in a productively dis-cordant relationship to it , or a form that takes a form that you are familiar with and twists it in a new way

finally , i’m looking for craft and skill . i want to be inspired by the execution of the performance . i want to see a performance in which all the creatives involved are working at the top of their game and performing artistic miracles . this doesn’t necessarily mean that the production has to have ‘high’ production values in the conventional sense ( … ) plays or performances that fulfil these criteria have what i would call ‘thickness’ , a sense of depth . they take their audiences on satisfying mental and emotional journeys to somewhere they didn’t expect [5]

viii.

s ,

we’d come out of rehearsals – or , finally , after the show – and we’d lean up against a wall to smoke , but you’d never say anything . later i came to appreciate these moments of silence

ix.

i stopped performing , stopped writing , stopped going to the theatre , just about . to return as a member of the audience took its own kind of discipline . i write this from within what i hope is at least the middle of a fallow period – i had to declare that to myself first and i am not ashamed to declare it here . but this spring i started turning up again . the one theatre i go to the most had put together a very enviable sea-son – it showed some exceptional work , and on one occasion , work where the form was unlike anything i had seen before

x.

narrative ( however broadly we might apply the term ) , or the relation between content and form , or craft , or thickness all count. what also counts is a deepening acknowledgement that what a theatrical event asks of us – at once by invitation and demand – is openness , and vulnerability . even when all of the expectations are met and surpassed – in terms of form and craft – the theatre can be a place of rigorous uncertainty . in a recent interview between comedian and podcaster marc maron and the playwright annie baker , much of this is distilled :

baker : i feel like being in a play or putting on a play is like the most humiliating vulnerable thing to do and- maron : musicals ! baker : that’s – that is – but there is something like that’s also really when it works and you’re in the audience and these people are being so vulnerable- maron : right ! baker : and you can get like a high off of it- maron : well not just a high but it’s like it’s-it’s – vulnerability – and- and- in a space where it’s permitted and allowed to be connected with by an audience or others is sort of an elevation of the human spirit it’s sort of why we’re here in some weird way it’s a part of being human that gets very distant from a lot of people ( … ) baker : a play is an opportunity to be in a room with a lot of people and talk about important things or like things that matter to people- maron : but that’s – but that’s – baker : and get really vulnerable with each other [6]

xi.

much of my work so far has tried to explore theatre in relation to time , because i think that time spent at the theatre often doesn’t – and need’t – feel like time spent anywhere else . whether what unfolds in the theatre is a familiar story , or whether it feels that a new and distinct language is forming , time in the theatre can feel denser , or lighter , than anywhere else . at the theatre , we are – or ought perhaps to consider ourselves – in training – we are training ourselves to speak and listen and to look with ever more acute sensitivity . the time designated under the name ‘ performance ’ is only a rehearsal for the next one , and the next one , and the next one . sometimes what we learn in this most contrived of circumstances might apply elsewhere . we ought’nt perhaps to expect it to , but sometimes it does

xii.

the maron / baker interview continues :

baker : here’s all this worry in the theatre community about like is theatre dead ? y’kno- maron : always baker : -w and people have been talking about this stu- maron : yeah baker : -ff for like seventy years maron : right ! baker : uh so i just think it’s funny that people keep thinking that theatre’s dead and no-one’s gonna go see theatre anymore but i feel like people react to that by trying to make stuff that’s like mo-ore entertaining and mo-ore fast moving and like mo-ore glitzy and for me i feel like the thing theatre do-es– you can like slow time down and we can all be in the room together maron : just to tell you i did not feel that either play was long- baker : o-oh that’s grea- maron : at all i don’know why- must be w-why you’re good- baker ; -t [7]

we can use the theatre as a place to retrain our our gaze and our consciousness . individual and collective time can take flight , or come to a pause , with a certain sense of a reckoning .

xiii.

a ,

the gig was in the car park of an industrial estate , i’d’ve preferred a small room . it was my first perfor-mance in a year . i sang three songs , green and yeller , to the pines , passing away . audience horse-shoed around me , i sang for no-one other than you

xiv.

s ,

was it your last performance . i don’t know anymore what you do , for a living , or how you live . i do not know whether you intend ever to perform again . perhaps the theatre does not matter to you as much as once it did . perhaps you have lost all interest . sometimes that can happen . perhaps you are only in a fallow time . i just wanted to tell you i remember it – the title of your last performance – knowing the title is enough : nothing but the living and the longing [8]

xv.

a ,

it has been ten years since we first met , and i’m thinking now about the time it will take to make some-thing – anything – worthwhile . i’m thinking of a small room , not a theatre as such , a studio perhaps , but there certainly is a stage . when i think of myself – or of you – onstage , that person – i , or you – whether s/he leaps clear or flails , s/he runs as the hare runs

xvi.

nothing but the living and the longing
nothing but failure and heartache
nothing but grace but grace nothing but grace
nothing but the living and the longing
nothing but the pleasure and joy
nothing but luck but luck nothing but luck
nothing but the living and the longing
[9]

notes:

[1] years, years : deer park (2004)

[2] and our faces , my heart , brief as photos : berger, j (1984) p.4 , london, bloomsbury paperbacks

[3] idumea: words , charles wesley ( 1763 ) ; tune , ananias davisson ( 1816 )

[4] a radical returns : berger , j , in o’hagan, s ( 2005 )

[5] theatre of the unimpressed : groschala, s ( 2015 )

[6] wtf episode 645 – annie baker ( 2015 )

[7] ibid .

[8] nothing but the living and the longing : hauser (2009)

[9] ibid .

The listeners: Slung Low’s Knowledge Emporium in Jaywick

by Alan Lane

By many measures Jaywick is Britain’s poorest town. A collection of bungalows south of Clacton, it is, regardless of whichever measure you use, an area of some deprivation. Old amusements stand burnt down, many of the streets aren’t really streets in any modern sense and there are few of the contemporary touches of affluence that one might expect. Which is my way of saying that the nearest Costa coffee was 3.4 miles away.

There’s also a defiant air about the place, an almost punch-drunk sense of independence. The last time I was in Jaywick [on one of two research visits to the area, which began Slung Low’s relationship with NTiYN], a confederate flag flew high in a yard above a pile of old boat engines and land rovers. The pile remains the same but now the flag is rainbow, an equally contentious statement in UKIP central.

This narrative, of a town lost and desperate, has been captured by a recent TV documentary. I didn’t see it but it’s the first thing I hear when I arrive and the constant snare drum through our week:

“Are you with the Tele? They can fuck off! They just showed the bullshit. Lying bastards they are, they told us they were doing one thing and then did another.”

There isn’t one person we meet that doesn’t mention it. The television company is hated. They got their easy narrative and scarpered.

I don’t know. I haven’t seen the show. But, beyond any morality, I do know that if you make a film about a community and you end up this hated by your subjects then it’s a pretty short-sighted view of community engagement and documentary making. A slash and burn approach. But maybe that’s the point. The betting is that these places will be burned in the not so distant future and there’s no real risk in being hated by the people who live in Jaywick. Maybe they’re right. Personally I think they should make the same team do a follow up doc in a year’s time but then there’s a reason why I’m not in charge of commissioning at Channel 5.

Whatever your opinion on emotionally manipulative, social vulture, class sneering poverty porn documentaries – and there have to be some folks who like these things because they’re always getting made – we can all agree that they got their narrative and buggered off.

And then, about a month after it aired, Slung Low arrived.

A silver airstream caravan parked up in the centre of the town. In bow ties and candy-striped waistcoats, four of us stood outside. If anyone approaches and asks what we are about then we explain that we are a sweet shop that accepts no money: we trade our sweets (a whole bag of your selection) for your knowledge which you enter – unobserved – in our Great Big Book of Everything That We Know.

Suspicion and open disdain always disappears in the face of actual sweets. Once it’s been ascertained that there is no catch and this is no cruel trick, most people get involved. Most came back day after day with new knowledge for more sweets. A deal is a deal.

That’s the easy part of the Knowledge Emporium. It’s easy because it’s simple and it works. Sweets for knowledge. Everyone loves sweets.

The rest of the week was harder in Jaywick. We struggled. Stood in a candy striped waistcoat, it’s not easy to hide. There was a man who stood in the car park in the town centre shouting, to no one specifically, that the police had come and taken his little son. Again. We ended up talking to him for a while that day – there was no one else about, the town abandoned during the day – but for all the talking I never found anything useful to say to him.

There was the man who came to explain to us that Iceland had sold him mouldy meat and he was going to take it back for a refund. It became clear as we stared at him in confusion that we were as close to authority figures (if your idea of an authority figure wears bowling shoes) that there was around and this rehearsal of his story an important boast of confidence before he got on the bus to argue his case with the supermarket (he got a refund and vouchers).

There was the unbelievably friendly older woman who kept returning day after day. Her pride in her new husband and his various achievements (endlessly told in winding anecdotes) sharpened by the sight of the actual man in front of us withering with Parkinson’s. That she had found someone new to tell all those old stories to had a clear, profound effect on her: a little, rare new audience for her memories. The two of them isolated by his disease, we were – only for a moment, but still – vital.

But it was tough. Not just emotionally draining. We expended a lot of energy combating the various and frequent attempts to steal Alfie the Airstream caravan, and there is a limit to how much aggression that even a neon candy-striped waistcoat can defuse. For all the light and shade we found, Jaywick is the hardest place we’ve ever taken the Knowledge Emporium.

At the end of a residency, we perform a reading of a town’s knowledge. We type up all the knowledge, placing each piece on a scrap of paper, which is then drawn at random from a box and read to an audience. The show is timed according to how long it takes for a member of the audience to cook a tortilla. In Jaywick the reading took place at a village fete thrown to mark the anniversary of one of the Martello Towers opening as a museum and art space. The reading was competing with a local community African drumming band, a very hard working acrobat show and a woman set up just behind the reading who was singing plaintive covers of the hits of the Cranberries. If art can ever be a competition then we lost with this one. The African drums overlay everything, the departing acrobat audience walked right through ours without a second glance and the mournful rendering of already mournful songs still echo in my ears: “LiiiiiiiinGARRRR”. This was not Slung Low’s finest moment.

But that’s OK. The realisation that the Emporium does its real work long before the reading is many years old. The vast majority of people who came to the caravan weren’t at the fete. That’s not a criticism of the fete, nor of the caravan. Wild horses wouldn’t have dragged some of those people to the fete. But regardless, the Emporium had done its work, and performed its important function by simply standing and listening. In a town so full of loneliness and the tangible sense that no is listening and no one cares, the simple act of standing and remaining available was the most useful thing we could have done.

And in standing and listening, what was overwhelming in nearly every conversation we had was how very proud people were of the Jaywick they live in. Not the “we don’t care if other folk hate us” of some towns (Leeds, I’m looking at you), nor the “We’re glorious” (side eyes Manchester), but: “It’s so wonderful here, the people are so kind, we don’t understand why everyone else can’t see it.” If we had read out every comment that talked about how wonderful the sense of community in Jaywick was, the reading would have been a week long.

Jaywick’s knowledge turned out to be made up primarily of how great it is to live there.
As we were reading out the knowledge, I found myself facing directly the area’s councillor who had turned up on a Saturday morning. If we only had one audience (and we weren’t far off at times), then this was the one that made it worth the effort.

Slung Low talks a lot publicly (and certainly within the press) about our large, explosive shows full of fire and politics and vainglory and noise. I cannot express the importance within that context that we give to still doing the Knowledge Emporium: which, if it goes well, doesn’t involve setting fire to anything. The simple usefulness of going to a place, offering a fair trade and listening.

It’s normally reliant on piggybacking on an existing structure: a street festival, a theatre with a progressive marketing budget, Christmas light switch on. Jaywick doesn’t have any of those. Without Fuel’s New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood, there is no way that the Emporium could have gone to Jaywick. As challenging a time as it was, there was a clear sense and understanding that the ground had been prepared for us. Relationships made by Fuel with key people in the community to ensure that there was room for us to stand, hold space and listen. You can’t rock up to a village and look to make any sort of positive impact without real relationships. And Fuel created those relationships and created the space for us to be able to place the Emporium.

Maybe that’s what the TV people were missing. Someone like Fuel, who had taken the time to make the relationships needed to REALLY see what Jaywick is like and who lives there.

Alan Lane is the artistic director of Slung Low.

Wor Lass

A reflection by Kathryn Beaumont on her involvement in Phenomenal People

When Fuel asked me to write about a woman that inspired me, I knew I couldn’t limit myself to just the one. But was there a way to bring many women together in one idea?

Who inspired me?

To inspire:
1. 1) fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. 




2) create (a feeling, especially a positive one) in a person 




3) animate someone with (a feeling). 




4) give rise to
2. 5) breathe in (air); inhale

Who filled me with ability to do or feel something? Who created feelings in me, animated me, gave rise to me? Who gave me breath? Perhaps I took the question a little literally:

‘But everyone will write about their Mam,’ I thought.

This has been a good year for me: a year for putting down roots artistically and emotionally too. As a backdrop to a run of work with, and produced by, North East companies, I made the decision to stay. Sure, my stuff is still in storage, but there’s a flat on the horizon, and it’s in Gateshead – where my Mam comes from. Home has always been more of an idea than a place, growing up as an expat you get used to not feeling at home when you are at home. I made a friend in Theodor Adorno at university, but have increasingly felt a need to know feelingly where I come from.

In studying transactional analysis and script theory I was taken with the idea that motifs repeat down family trees: that families can pass on ‘scripts’. You see it played out time and again on the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are – professional actors who happen to be amateur yachting enthusiasts find out they come from a line of seaman, etc. I started to wonder whether the women who went before me passed anything on.

fuel kb 11

Lucky for me, me Mam has an encyclopedic memory, and gave me a lot of detail that Ancestry.co.uk couldn’t. That already had me thinking about who passes down the stories, men’s names move forward, but it seemed to be the women who passed the legends down from one generation to the next. Thing about looking up your female ancestors is they disappear behind men’s names, either their husbands’ or their Dads’ so tracing mothers requires a little more digging. That’s where the title Wor Lass became obvious, women are labelled in relation to someone else, if not a husband then a father. It’s also a Geordie term of endearment and one that can be applied across the board to sisters and daughters as well as Mams and wives.

I was primed to be told wor lot were barn stormers and ball breakers, shaking placards on the barricades and marching for their rights. What I found, was that my line accepted their marching orders and got in line with everyone else. The first story Mam told me was about my great-grandmother’s sisters, who used to go to town during wartime rationing ‘to queue’. A queue meant there was something worth queuing for, so you joined the line first and asked questions later. This became a metaphor for me throughout the development of the piece, as I started to spot more and more lines that my lineage lived on.

As a sub plot to the development of this piece I was also working as a Local Engagement Specialist for Fuel’s sister project New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood. Talks with ARC made it very clear that the communities they wanted to reach out to are the old mining villages in County Durham, communities who wouldn’t necessarily think of travelling to the theatre for an evening’s entertainment. There was only one thing for it: I was going to have to gatecrash some village halls and find out what the craic is.

fuel kb 8

I wish I could remember how to knit. Thankfully I can talk, which is the other major activity at craft afternoons. The craft and chat session in Trimdon has been going for 30 years; the women who attend take it in turns to introduce new crafts to the group, but there’s always the option of bringing whatever bit of knitting, crocheting, bobbin lace or tatting you happen to be working on, and cracking on over a cuppa. There they were again, more lines, of yarn and wool and thread weaving and looping as the lasses talked. I took notes.

So I did what anybody with an approaching deadline and limited time would do: I drew a tenuous literary connection between me and my ancestry. Their lines and mine. They worked on washing lines and factory lines and here’s me wanging on over a blank page. Every new thing I found out about my family seemed to demark a greater distance. They left school, got married, had children: that was success. I’m doing my third degree, happily independent, and would quite like a french bulldog. The lines they drew about what was allowed or desirable look like sentences to me, life sentences that is, of drudgery and acceptance – but only because there wasn’t any choice, the inevitability got my back up.

When I sat down to write Wor Lass the first two lines rhymed:

I’ve been invited here to tell all you’se
About a woman who inspired me muse (!)

That’s all right I told myself, there’s a strong rhythm to draw people in, a cheeky allusion to the openings of epic ballads, and a knowing bathos about writing heroic couplets in Geordie. Canny craic. But then the second pair of lines had to rhyme too, and now I’m writing poetry. Oh bliddy hell. Thing is it fits (my scansion might not always), but what’s more inevitable than rhyme? What is less likely as the subject of a string of heroic couplets than a series of Gateshead lasses who worked in factories and other (grander) people’s houses? Somehow it let me feel more connected to these women who, whether it seems likely or not, inevitably lead down to me. And what’s more, Wor Lass, who has to borrow names from Da’s and Husbands, is suddenly sharing an heroic playing field with Odysseus, maybe. Indulge me. No more tapestry and tatting for ye pet, you’re the epic main event noo. And if it’s good enough for Chaucer’s ‘Legend of Good Women’… Reet, what else rhymes with ‘family tree’…?

Oh, and you’ll never guess what: I start recording my first radio drama this week, playing a factory worker in a munitions factory on Tyneside. This one’s for ye Wor Lass.

Wor Lass

I’ve been invited here to tell all youse
About a woman who inspired me muse (!)

I sat and thought about who got us here?
Who’s stood behind me yammerin’ in me ear

To keep on keeping on and keep ya heed?
Thing is most of those lasses are well deed.

And that got me to thinking about lines
The ones we stand in from the start of time

The kin now buried deep, from yonks ago
Who shaped what we are, but they’ll nevaa know.

And so I started digging for me roots
Past factory clocks and clarty miners’ boots

In censuses the women disappear
You need to knaa whose lass they were, each year

I mean you need their Da or husband’s name
If Mam’s and wives you’re looking to reclaim.

Sometimes they nudge you back by saying ‘née’
Naysaying being labelled in this way.

There’s nee mistaking lineage for the lads
Ancestry gans: ‘here’s me, and there’s wor lass.’

Wor lass! That’s it! I’ll sing her famously
She’s one and many simultaneously

She’s mams and wives and sisters, maids and gannys
She’s mine and yours, she’s wors, and she’s dead canny.

I’ll sing the bords doon from my family tree
Find names for who made me phenomenally

Replace ‘Wor Lass’ with Kathy, Florrie, Lizzie
Wor Mary, Meggy, Rosie, Winnie, Kitty.

And youse could find ya own if you’re not busy
For now I’ll lend ya my lot in this ditty.

“Reet Mam!” I hollered “who comes afore Nanna?
Were we on’t pickets? Did we march from Jarra?”

“Whey nar” Mam said (and her name is Patricia)
“They just cracked on, nee feminist militia.”

Awh.

“Did they not want to change the status quo?”
“You divvent wish for owt if you divvent know –

They just cracked on, the lads went doon the pit
The lasses left school and got on with it.

They towed the line, there wasn’t any choice
Nee buggar telt them that they had a voice.

During the war wor Lizzie’s sisters, two
Would gan doon Gateshead high street just to queue-”

“To queue?” “Aye, well with rationing still on
You saw a line and joined it-“ “now haddon”

“I’m telling ya! Wor Katie and wor Bella
What are we waiting for?” “Whey what’ they tell her?”

“Whatever bit of meat or veg was on
You got in line before it was all gone.

(They had a press packed chocka with molasses
Come World War Three they’d still be sweet them lasses)”

“And what about wor Lizzie?” “Your great gran?
He ran the Askew Arms, but she was banned.”

“He didn’t let her serve behind the bar?”
“No, she refused, felt it a step too far –

“The bar’s nee place for lasses”, so she said
She worked in Sinclairs packing tabs instead.”

Nee place for lasses; what we waiting for?
I follow lines cued by who went before.

Me Nanna, Kathy, was a cracking singer
Worked in Osrams: had asbestos fingers

From testing light bulbs, picking oot the duds;
Would pass yah bait straight oot the oven, nee gloves

“How Nanna man! That’s red hot! Where’s a cloth?”
“Yee’d be nee use on line, yee, ya tae soft.”

Her Mam, wor Florrie, filled her washing lines
With giving birth at hyem a full six times

But only two bairns made it oot the cot
She planted four graves with Forget-me-nots

Nee National Health to help those poor bairns in
And naen for us if the bastard Tories win.

Not one for soft touch, Flo kept up her guard:
“Away with ya slavour”; grief makes you hard.

In factories and at hyem they worked on lines
My lineage file along the winding Tyne

Next, great great grandma, Flo’s Mam, Mary Ann
Had ten bairns, although not to the same man

Widowed at twenty six and mam of two
She left Derry for Felling, to start anew

And lost nee time in courtin’ a new Da
For Rosie and Maggie who didn’t knaa

That Florrie was already on her way
Arriving six months past the wedding day!

Eeeeh scandal! Worse, hypocrisy to boot
She threw wor Lizzie and wor Meggy oot

For getting preggers afore they’d been wed
Coincidentally both by men called Ned.

Meanwhile wor Rosie grafted doon Armstrongs
Making cartridge cases, but afore long

The war was over and her contract too
Was put on short time, or to me and you

A zero hours deal. Sound familiar?
S’Almost as if progress is not linear.

When Wall Street crashed wor Rosie headed South
Laid off and paid off, living hand to mouth

She found a family in that London who
Were looking for a maid, and said she’d do.

Living in service did not gan to plan
The cook was always pissed, she missed her Mam

So Rosie caught a train to come back hyem
“Cockneys” she’d say, “you canna understand them.”

Three of her sisters had since gotten wed
Wor Lizzie and Meggy had married the Neds

Wor Florrie had led the charge down the aisle
Winnie, Kitty, Norah still in single file.

Poor Rosie, an old maid in more ways than one
Still mourned the lad she lost in World War I.

When Kitty started courting, Rosie ‘changed’
They said the menopause made her deranged

Maybe she finally grieved all her losses
Father, sister, lover buried under crosses.

She crowded Kitty’s twosome: suitor flew
“I would be married if it weren’t for you”

The line was drawn between these half sisters
Neither were missus to anymore misters.

Not hitched at thirty and you’re on the shelf –
I’m glad to be free of that sentence myself.

The Beaumonts lead on to Isabella
Living in service ‘til she meets her fella

Miners die young, so did this poor codger
Bella eventually married the lodger.

Her bairn, wor Ella, stops me in my tracks
A mishap at home, she ran oot the back

Starched apron, flat iron, an ember let fly
Her daughter, wor Ethel, watched her Mam die.

And then in another cruel twist of fate
She orphaned her son, who was sent away.

Grasping at straws noo, one more Mary Ann
1831: far as I can gan.

These lines I follow are getting hazy
Wor names are misspelt, scribes getting lazy

Beaumont is Bowman; but with no arrow
To give me a route down straight or narrow

Lines that would link up more roots of my tree
That lead from these lasses reet doon to me

The lines that join birth date with when you’re dead
That quick dash between in which whole lives are led.

Wor lass joined the queue, and worked on the line
Made weapons and warriors along the Tyne

She loved and she lost and she buried in droves
Her husbands and bairns in neat little rows.

Wor lass towed the line, wor lass knew no choice
Nobody had told her that she had a voice.

She sings to me now, sends a call down the line
I’m freelance, and free-wheeling on my own time

No forgone conclusion on whether to wed
I stayed at school and make theatre instead.

Wor lass stands behind me, wor lass is good craic
She’s driving me forward e’en as I look back.

Here is my line; cued by who went before:

Haway wor lass what are you waiting for?

Hunt & Darton find out about the people of Colchester through the medium of food

In the first phrase of New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood, Fuel invited artists to undertake reccy missions in each of the places we’re collaborating with. Earlier this year, Hunt & Darton – whose pop-up cafe is a delight of the live-art circuit – visited Colchester for a day. Here’s what happened:

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Notes:
It’s half term
Families and groups of young people
Shopping bags branded with high street logos such as JD sport, Burton and Topshop
Buggies and prams with excess kids hanging from either side.
Tartan shopping trolleys
Polo shirts donning a small logo
Rowdy kids grouped by gender
Builders and men that look like they have been carrying out some form of manual labour
A couple walking hand in hand with no excess baggage
Buses and lots of cars
1 big H&M
1 cinema
Several fast food chains
5 discount stores
1 Wetherspoons pub
5 outdoor market stalls.

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EQUIPMENT
100 questionnaires
4 pens
20 Tunnocks tea cakes
6 packs of Polo’s
50 Hunt & Darton Cafe badges
50 Business cards
2 coats (it was a cold day)
2 bottles of water
1 camera
1 shopping trolley

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CAN WE TALK TO YOU ABOUT FOOD?
What do you prefer tea or coffee, what do you like to pay for a tea, sweet or savoury, how often do you go out for lunch and where do you go, what do you like to spend on adults, on kids, do you like Coco Pops, what’s your favourite food joke, what do you think Live Art is and who do you prefer Hunt or Darton?

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DO YOU PREFER TEA OR COFFEE?

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WE MET…
A lady who was visiting her daughter for the day
Two men in a van taking a lunch break
A group of 4 men from Denmark
A elderly man who likes Tunnocks tea cakes. He was 82
Two teenage boys, one wearing a hat that said DUDE
The mum who was really into food
2 Jehovah witnesses from the USA
A van driver who didn’t want to talk
The couple that looked down and said no thank you
A guy who worked in Lush and got his lunch from the pasty shop. He smelt good.
A group of girls with ice creams

A taxi driver who liked to drink at weekends
A couple from Norwich
A couple from Clacton
3 cool girls… too cool to stop
A sweet teenage couple
2 charity canvassers wearing purple hoodies
A family on their way to the cinema- they were running late
1 heavy-handed shopping centre security guard who moved us on

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WHERE DO YOU GO
OUT FOR LUNCH?

Nandos
McDonalds
Café
KFC
Pizza Express
Pub
Art Café
Café Nero
Subway
Zizzi
Bakers
Pizza Hut
Cornish Kitchen
Starbucks
Happy days
Belle pasta
Chinese
NO! I’m A pensioner

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TELL US YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD RELATED JOKE
What do you call a mischievous egg?
A practical yoker!

Why did the chicken cross the road?
To get away from KFC!

What did the cheese say to itself in the mirror?
Halloumi!

What cheese is not yours?
Nacho cheese!

My ex is on a diet. If you she her walking down the road, you can’t miss her.
What did the tomato say to the other tomato?
Don’t get squashed?

What did the big tomato say to the little tomato?
Ketchup!

There is a mouse in the cupboard?
It’s a computer mouse!

Sheep on a trampoline is a wooly jumper!

What is a vegetables favourite sport?
Carrotee!

WHO DO YOU PREFER HUNT OR DARTON?

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Where there’s a will…

Admin note 1: due to an unexpected oversight, this was supposed to be published in January. (Sorry!)

by Daniel Bye

A place you leave is never the same as the place you arrived. That’s not simply because you’re looking at it from a different angle, it’s because you’re looking as a different person. Arriving somewhere for the first time, you have nothing of that place. Leaving, you take it with you. We’ll always have Paris.

Sarah Punshon and I arrived in Margate on a windy Tuesday, to spend a week researching our show Story Hunt. On arrival, Margate was a run-down former resort, down on its luck, all empty streets and chip paper. A sputtering high street and a lot of empty buildings. When we left, it was an inspiration to artists and thinkers, the home to dozens of brilliant, driven and creative people, the site of grand guignol triumph and disaster, every building a beautiful one, every chip paper telling a story.

Story Hunt is a walking tour of the forgotten and disappeared things in a town: the buildings burned and bulldozed, the people and places now lost. We’ve made three different Story Hunts so far, in Gateshead, Stockton and Berwick, and Margate’s will be the first of 2014. This was our first foray, our introduction to the town. We spent a week walking the streets of Margate, researching the known and the forgotten history, digging through archives in the museum and reading long-unleafed-through volumes in the local history section of the library. And then we walked some more.

We learned about Turner and TS Eliot; bathing machines and lion tamers; about Karl Marx and Cobbs’ brewery. We learned that 45,000 evacuees from Dunkirk landed on Margate beach, right by where the Turner Contemporary is now. We learned about a mechanical elephant marching along the front, and live elephants swimming in the sea. We learned about the Brighton poisoner, the mad architect and the guy who strangled his mother for the insurance money. And of course we learned about Dreamland. That isn’t a pet name for the town, it was and will be the amusement park.

Dreamland is so central to the story of Margate’s past hundred years and next hundred that it’s tempting to make it a metaphor for the whole town. The name itself, Dreamland, is pregnant with that temptation. For ten years Dreamland has been an empty concrete wasteland. Its decline marks the nadir of Margate’s. Next year it will reopen and, it is hoped, bring new vigour to the town. So you can see why this fun-park-within-a-town starts to represent that town. But an empty park isn’t a town.

Most importantly, then, we met the people of Margate. Or at least, some of them. Some we managed to scrape an introduction to, others we got talking to in pubs, libraries and shops. Artists, small-business owners, librarians, council officers, teenagers, blokes in pubs – everyone had something to say about their town, what it means to them, and how it’s changed. And, from resort for the Georgian gentry to destination of choice for Del Boy, oh boy has it changed.

Listening to the people of Margate, it’s clear the town has passed its nadir and is on the up. The old town, an empty desert ten years ago, is now precarious but buzzy. The new Turner Contemporary, the bloke behind a nearby bar grudgingly admitted, has brought new visitors to the town. And Dreamland itself, the town’s pride and symbol, will open its gates again. But the town is more than Dreamland. Dreamland will help, will boost the resurgence. But it’s not a panacea. There’s plenty to be done that won’t be managed without collective will.

Story Hunt could be seen as a show that gets made in towns a little down on their luck, towns easily seen as victims of history. It’s a reflection of a town’s extraordinary people and victorious popular movements – and if you look, whatever the town, they’re never hard to find. It’s a show made in a spirit of wilful optimism, however absurd that optimism may seem at times, that things will be changed for the better, by us, by you. It’s a show about the collective will that – after this street or that street has been rerouted, after this building or that building has been closed, opened, and then knocked down, after this painter or that poet has visited, made some art, left, and died – endures. And that’s what makes a town.

It’s easy to find in Margate at the moment.

Admin note 2: Dan and Sarah are now back in Margate gathering more stories and gearing up for the performance bit of Story Hunt, an hour-long walking tour of a Margate that was, is and might be. There are five tours taking place this Saturday, April 12; for tickets, visit: http://theatreroyalmargate.com/event/story-hunt/

The lion, the wytch and the wardrobe

by Sylvia Mercuriali

Lost in the Darkness 

I arrive at Malvern at 9pm.

Beyond the lights of the station building I am surrounded by darkness.

It is cold and I need to find my way to the hotel. I Imagine that Malvern is small enough to walk around , so I set off on foot.

I ask somebody for directions and before I know it I am sitting in a warm car, with the heating on full and an expert driver at the wheel. Sue, has very generously offered to give me a lift.

She lives in exactly the opposite direction to where I am going, but in a very friendly spirit that I will learn is quite common around here, she goes out of her way to help me out.

Having dropped my bag at the Hotel, I set off to find a place to eat, soon finding my way to ‘The Flute’, a very good little Indian restaurant owned by a man who lives in Birmingham.

There is a big party of friends celebrating a birthday at the restaurant and as I eavesdrop on their strange conversation I start to feel that I am somewhere quite magical where dreams take on some surreal tones and one might encounter witches flying on their brooms  in the moon light….but maybe it’s just me, the fresh air of Worcestershire and the delicious spicy food!

Manda, my secret agent here, has encouraged me to have a walk around at night as the town is really nicely lit.

In truth it feels like being in a Neapolitan nativity reconstruction where stone houses are lit in pools of dim sodium lights…and it being almost christmas…well it couldn’t be more perfect…apart from a weird shady figure in the main square standing still looking straight ahead with scarf and a hat on…

I wonder what they are doing…are they drunk? are they waiting for someone? are they so immersed in their thoughts that the cold of the night doesn’t bother them at all?

I leave ..off to bed.

The great wall of Malvern. 

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The morning after I awake very early to meet Manda and set off for a walk in the hills….

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Manda used to work for the Council in the Arts department and is now a freelancer artist and amazing tour guide.  She tells me about the feeling that Malvern hides behind its hill somehow [???]

The curse of being such beautiful place where people come to gather their thoughts as they enjoy long walks and imagine Tolkien’s like atmospheres, is that anything else happening here seems to be obscured.

Malvern sits amongst the famous hills: Great Malvern, Little Malvern, West Malvern and Malvern Link… (I might be making the names up a little)…so it is that wherever you are in Malvern you can always see a hill. 

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I discovered that the hills naturally would have lots of trees on top but by law it is conserved bald…..some rule set up during the victorian period to make sure they are left as much as possible in their beautified version of themselves.

I do love the hills.

I would like to make an audio piece to be listened to sitting on this bench looking at the horizon and imagining the surroundings as the backdrop for a story..maybe real maybe fictional, in which the listener feels immersed fully.

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From here the horizon is so vast and peaceful. The wind is blowing hard and Manda and I are pushed along the path and must make sure not to get blown away.  Nature is taking over today and  my plan of recording our walk definitely encounters some obstacles.  It’s a typically ‘sublime’ landscape and would make an ideal subject for a paintings and books and Music.

We talk about pagan rituals and hippies and teenage sleepovers on the hill. We talk about the old Spas that made Malvern so famous and affluent in the past until somebody got typhoid and all the Spas got closed down and turned into Boarding schools.  We talk about The Malvern Gazelle….an independent satirical publication which doesn’t exists anymore… we talk about how, even though the place is very small and there are less opportunities then in the big city, there is the sense that people really want to make things happen in an independent, guerrilla style and are always backed by the community.

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We visit the parish church, where the vicar is battling through an enormous pile of leaves to get in through the door, possibly wanting to admire the beautiful tiles that used to decorate the floor and that have now been moved onto the walls to preserve them.

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We visit the Winter’s Garden with it’s lake and duck and the statue carved out of a fallen tree, a celebration of water and life that comes with it. The artist decided to carve some little houses at the top of the statue that look like they are being swept away by the current. This vision turned out to become reality a year later when a great flood swept away the houses around the hill.

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Finally we visited the Theatre, built in 1885 and renovated in 1998 and comprised of three different spaces.  The large modern theatre and foyer reflect more practical times and have a sheen of modernity,  but the old theatre has been left untouched, as has the little cinema, the only space that remained open throughout the war.  It is said that the ghost of Bernard Shaw still makes an appearance from time to time, in the back row, up in the gods or down by the old theatre bar, now just a store room that I have the fortune to visit.

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Unfortunately I did not see the ghost, but I was slightly scared by the massive portrait picture of Burt Lancaster half hidden amongst the fake Narnia wardrobe’s doors for the next production.

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Manda and I get in the car and drive all around the big hill. The landscape changes so much from one side of the hill to the other; a large expanse of flat land is in front of Great Malvern with most of the buildings concentrated there  and spreading out at the feet of the hill. Over to the other side is hill after hill and little pockets of smaller inhabited areas.  Bald hills and furry hills where the trees are growing strong and the colours change with the seasons.

Today the leaves are falling and the wind is blowing them around the country like kids on a funfair ride.

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We drive past the installation that appeared all around the side of the hill towards West Malvern…or was it Little?…three stone cottages big enough for a small family of mice to live in beautifully built and cherished by the locals.  A reminder that rules can be bent and that if something is worth having there is a way to make it happen.

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I discover that in 1942 the  anti-aircraft radar and searchlights were moved to Malvern. During the war the coastline was far too exposed and the scientific labs and research groups were moved here… and stayed, leaving Malvern with a high scientific population  to this day. The new system to regenerate the old gas lamps in a more eco friendly way has been developed in Malvern and is now being adopted by London as well.

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Off course I mustn’t forget to mention the beloved local hero Sir Edward William Elgar, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. It also turns out that the shady figure in the main square is not a drunken soul at all but a statue of Sir Elgar, which has been dressed up for the season with a woolly hat, a scarf and a cosy woolly moustache.

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It is almost time to go for me but I can’t leave before having seen the famous WORM .. a tunnel built at the height of the Malvern’s fame as a Spa heaven to connect the station to the basement of a former hotel (now the Girls College) to allow passengers to access the miraculous waters directly, without the hassle of even seeing the roads.

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This is very exciting! You can clearly see the tunnel from both station platforms.  The old door is now shut and boarded up, but there is a bit of an opening through which I can peep. It is pretty dark in there, but there is some light coming in from the other side of the tunnel, as well as from some oval windows on one side.  Yes it is just a long corridor….but you can almost see the tiles on the walls on one side.

Malvern is like…Moriana, a city of two sides…one one side is grand Victorian and Edwardian houses, lush former hotels and the beauty of nature…but you only have to walk in a semicircle to discover Malvern’s hidden face … radar dishes, guerrilla art installation, music and a little bit of witchery.  

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We Need Your Stories of Lost and Forgotten Margate

by Sarah Punshon

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Last year, Dan and I came to Margate for a day trip.  We visited the new Turner gallery, walked along the beach in the rain, ate fish and chips on the front.  It was fab.  This year, we’re coming back – and this time it’s for work.  We’re coming to hunt for stories.  We need tales of lost and forgotten Margate, of buildings long since bulldozed, people no longer with us, and events that left no physical trace behind them.  We’re going to try and get our heads round what Margate is, was, and could be – and we need a lot of help from locals.

Story Hunt is a theatrical walking tour: on April 12th, Dan will lead one hour walks round central Margate, telling his favourite stories in his own unique way, taking audiences on a journey into the past, present and future of the town.  We’ve already made versions of the show in three other towns: Gateshead, Stockton, and Berwick.  In all three, we discovered amazing stories of heroism and protest; love stories; riots, fires and disasters; quiet determination and extraordinary kindness.  Story Hunt celebrates the impact ordinary people have had on the course of history, telling the kinds of stories that don’t always make it onto blue plaques or bronze statues.  In every town we’ve found more stories than we could ever use in a one hour show: I’m looking forward to discovering Margate’s tales.

We collect our stories from library books, museums and archives – but also by talking to as many locals as we can.  Everyone has a story about their home town.  We want to know about the shop your Mum used to visit before it got knocked down; the dance hall that’s now unrecognisable; the local hero who deserves to be better known – everything that makes Margate what it is today.  We’re coming to do our first stage of research in January, and will be back in April.  If you’ve got a story about Margate, we’d love to hear it.

Ways you could get involved:

  • Look out for the Story Hunt booth, which will be popping up in town in April.  Join us for free tea and biscuits, and a chat about lost and forgotten Margate.
  • Submit a story via email to storyhunt2014@gmail.com.  We’ll read all the stories submitted, and they may find their way into the show itself.  They don’t need to be long they don’t need to be long and it doesn’t matter if you’re a published writer or this is the first time you’ve shared anything you have written: you could just tell us about a building, a person, or an event in Margate that it seems important for us to know about.  You could send us pictures, too, if you like.
  • If you’re feeling creative, write your story down as a poem or fictionalised account.  Pick a building or an event, choose a point of view and describe what you see, feel, hear, and smell – and why it matters.  You could describe the moment from your own point of view, if it happened to you, or you could imagine yourself into the shoes of a Margate resident of two hundred years ago.  It’s entirely up to you.  The only rules are that it must be based firmly in Margate – a specific street or building – and it must be no more than 300 words long. Submit your poems and stories to storyhunt2014@gmail.com by 8 April.

Please note: some of our favourite stories will be showcased here on the New Theatre In Your Neighbourhood website.  You should let us know when you submit your story, poem or picture whether you’re happy for it to be freely available to members of the public, and if so, how you would like to be credited: full name, first name only, or anonymous?

We’re looking forward to meeting you in Margate and hearing all your stories.

Dan and Sarah

blog by Sarah Punshon, director & dramaturge for ‘Story Hunt’ by Daniel Bye

Story Hunt will be taking place on Saturday 12 April, departing from Theatre Royal Margate.  Tickets are £5 and you can find out more and book your tickets here http://theatreroyalmargate.com/event/story-hunt/