<![CDATA[Within Her Words]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/homeRSS for NodeWed, 15 Jul 2020 04:45:17 GMT<![CDATA[In Conversation with Poet BilliePN]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/in-conversation-with-poet-billie-p-n5f0d394baedbdc0017178dfaTue, 14 Jul 2020 10:11:59 GMTAmy Toledano

Billie – thanks so much for speaking to Within Her Words. How are you feeling?

Thank you so much for having me! How am I feeling? So much deeper than how am I! I’m surviving as best I can during these crazy times. I’m doing my best to feel hopeful! Excited to chat to you about my favourite subject – me.

How did you get involved in poetry and spoken word?

I’ve always loved writing in all its forms, be it stories, diaries, whatever. Realistically mostly oversharing on social media. I started writing poetry just for myself when I was around 19. At the time, I was really inspired by the poetry I was seeing online on places like Tumblr - poetry by people who sounded like me. From there, it was just poem after poem in my notes app, and only really as a way to get things off my chest and to process how I was feeling. That kind of thing. What I realised is that no one is going to invite you to become a poet or a writer. There’s no club you become a member of. You just need to start! It took me years to get up on a stage and perform. I started out as an audience member at open mic nights I’d found online around 18 months ago, and finally I plucked up the courage to book a spot at That’s What She* Said in Shoreditch. It was the best first gig I could have hoped for - really warm and welcoming, lots of laughs! My only regret is I didn’t go for it sooner. From there, it’s been a mad whirlwind of amazing opportunities I’ve been given. I’m honestly so chuffed (and mildly baffled) about it.

Your poetry so often returns to themes such as womxn’s empowerment and body positivity. Do you consider feminism to be a driving force behind your art?

I really do, yeah. I think in 2020 you’re proper weird if you don’t consider yourself a feminist, and yet there are people out there who are still afraid of saying they are! I’m so inspired by so many powerful womxn, from my incredible family and friends, to the other amazing creatives I’ve met on this journey and the prominent figures out there doing the hard work. It’s these womxn who push me to keep going, lift me up, and help me put pen to paper. I fucking love being a womxn, I could talk about us all day. I think we’re great.

In my experience, there are so many times where I’ve told a story about something that’s happened to me, and the men in the room are just unable to comprehend that experience. They have no point of reference for the harassment we get when we’re out, the feeling of carrying keys between your fingers on your walk home, the weight of expectation on you to be this carer and nurturer. So I speak up. I try not to shy away from the ugliness of it, and I find great power in that.

I know there’s so far to go in terms of womxn’s rights. That’s why we can’t take our foot off the gas. We need to push our art further, amplify unheard voices and acknowledge intersectionality to really make change. My experience as a white-passing mixed heritage womxn is completely different to that of womxn of colour and it’s SO important for us to listen and learn and change. That’s what I’ve been trying to do throughout the recent Black Lives Matter protests. We’re living through a movement right now and that’s what I think feminism should look like. Growth.

Your poetry often deals with difficult issues but in a really entertaining and funny way. How do you find the performance aspect of your work and have you found your performances have evolved as you’ve grown in spoken word?

Well firstly thanks! Every time someone says I’m funny I have a tiny little brain orgasm so I appreciate it. I think the performance element of spoken word poetry is huge for me. I come from this theatre-y background which I think has massively influenced the way I perform. I try to make everything believable. I want people to come on the journey with me and I think creating that believable presence on stage is a big part of that. I am also a massive show off so I find it comes naturally to be a bit of a tit for a laugh.

In terms of evolving - my performance style has remained the same but what has changed is my confidence. I feel brave enough to make big bold choices when I’m on stage now, and knowing the material and feeling comfortable in your poetry-skin is a huge part of that.

You’re an active performer in the spoken word scene across London. What do you think of London’s spoken word scene and where do you hope to see it go in future?

I honestly feel insanely lucky to be a part of the London poetry scene. It’s so joyful and diverse and supportive. There are so many amazing poets out there who I admire greatly, and I think the scene really pushes me to be better. I see someone amazing at a night and I think, damn I wish I wrote that – the most creatively frustrating and yet encouraging feeling ever. People are free to express themselves exactly as they want to. I just hope that after this awful time the scene is able to get back on its feet again. The lack of funding in the arts up until now has been abysmal. The amazing small independent venues that so many of our nights are hosted at will struggle massively without a surge of support very soon. I’d love to see more professional opportunities for more of us, nights paying feature artists as a standard, more people having access to publishing, but for now I just hope we get to go back to doing what we love!

What advice would you give to people who might want to get involved in poetry and spoken word whether it is as a fan or a performer?

As a fan, I would recommend treating the spoken word scene as this giant buffet table. Like crab sticks? Great, here are crab sticks. More of a samosa gal? No worries, we have those too. There is so much to choose from here, nights which amplify voices that appeal to you, nights that are laid back and informal, nights that are competitive and fast paced. Try it all out. See what tickles your fancy, and remember everyone is genuinely happy to see you there. There are so many nights I recommend: Rise Up, BYOB, Mind Over Matter, That’s What She* Said, Rebel Soapbox and Chocolate Poetry Club to name only a handful! And of course, go listen to Word Spoken Podcast to get a feel for the scene and all the insider info on what’s going on!

As a performer, just bloody go for it! Which is such obvious advice but that was my main blocker in my mind when I was starting out. I felt like this huge imposter, like someone was going to figure out sooner or later that I wasn’t part of whatever secret spoken word guild everyone else was in! There is no one else who sounds like you, who has experienced life as you. That’s magical, and you have a voice and a story to tell. Yeah, just go for it man. Don’t let anything get in your way.

How have you seen poetry and spoken word in London evolve amid the COVID-19 pandemic? What do you think the scene might have learnt from its time in lockdown?

The move to online poetry nights was almost instantaneous! Right off the bat a lot of the nights we go to regularly were like right how do we move this online and keep this energy? It was really comforting. I, and I think a lot of people, were really trying and carry on as normal. It’s opened up doors to places we’d never have found had it not been for lockdown. There’s been so much collaboration with artists from around the world which has been awesome to see.

I can’t speak for everyone but for me it’s just given me such a huge appreciation for what we have here in London. The electricity of being in a room full of creative people bouncing their ideas off each other and inspiring each other is like nothing else! Feel like pure shit just want live poetry back x (Insert crying snapchat kid).

Am I right in thinking you might be hosting your own night after lockdown?

There might have been some talks with two of my lovely poetry pals, Henry (@Wordspokenpodcast) and Aiz (@Aizzzofficial) about setting up a night under the Word Spoken umbrella which we’re pretty excited about. It’s all TBC with everything going on right now, but I think people will be super keen to get back out there and experience live spoken word as soon as it’s safe to do so. And it’d be amazing to be at the forefront of that, making sure that there’s a place for people to go! Keep your eyes peeled and fingers crossed for us!

Any other plans for future projects whether it’s virtual/in lockdown, or once we’re all allowed out again?

I’ve been taking this forced break as a bit of down time. There have been some really fun bits and bobs I’ve been asked to do in lockdown that I’ve really enjoyed but mostly I’ve been keeping my head down. I’ve been reading other people’s work and reflecting a lot which I always find really helps my lil brain when it feels tired and overwhelmed. Even though I’ve been quiet lately I’m starting the process of poking my head above the parapet to see what’s going on out there. I’m hoping to record some content over the coming weeks but it’s also important not to put loads of pressure on yourself. I never want to sound insincere or not like me. I’m taking each day as it comes and really leaning into the fact that we don’t have a lot of control over external events! As soon as we’re allowed back out safely, you will 100000% catch me arsing around onstage at the earliest possible opportunity, and I cannot fucking wait! And hopefully working with video producers to get some quality video content out there. So if COVID could just fuck off now that would be great!

Thank you so much for talking to me and I look forward to seeing you back on stage soon!

Thank you, Within Her Words! What a lovely natter. I can’t wait to see everyone back performing!

Leah x


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<![CDATA[JOAN presented by by Cressida Peever]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/joan-presented-by-by-cressida-peever5edcb23b61048b001769ba56Tue, 09 Jun 2020 09:26:28 GMTAmy Toledano

What Is It?

JOAN is a brand new audio drama written by Cressida Peever, directed by Katharine Farmer and performed by Stephanie Booth.

What Is It About?

JOAN follows the young titular character as she strives to make her mark on the world and change it for the better. But the stresses of school and the fear of failing to gain entry into Oxbridge loom large in Joan’s loftily ambitious life, and when her plans to visit Oxford University are scuppered by her Mum’s diagnosis of high blood pressure, her dreams seem even more remote. Yet, everything changes after Joan posts on TikTok about her Mother’s never ending schedule of cooking, cleaning and caring, the majority of which goes unpaid. The post goes viral, and Joan is pulled into the debate of unequal pay and the gender disparities around domestic work and familial care, propelling her into the world of social and political activism. But as her dreams of changing the world begin to come true, her relationship with her Mother becomes strained and fractured, leaving Joan with some tough decisions to make.

How Did It Make Me Feel?

The inherent powerlessness that has come with this pandemic is something that powerfully resonants within this audio drama. Across the globe, we find ourselves in a situation we cannot control, and while the theatre industry suffers under the financial pressures this crisis has brought in its wake, artists are still finding unique ways in which to create and share their work in an accessible way through these socially distanced times. JOAN achieves these creative feats with assured confidence.

This is a well conceived adaptation from a live stage performance to a recorded audio performance. The sound design by Writer Cressida Peever and Director Katharine Farmer strongly evokes the settings and atmosphere of the piece with precision while Stephanie Booth’s performance is both arresting and impactful. Booth brings Joan’s inner turmoil to life with conviction and clarity, defining Joan’s distinctive voice through a carefully crafted performance.

However, while Joan is a somewhat relatable and well intentioned young figure, the play falls short of allowing any intensive exploration of the subject matter it intends to examine. The intersectionality between class, race and gender are left somewhat unaddressed with regards to the re-evaluation of under or unpaid domestic work, causing Joan’s movement to seem somewhat one dimensional and simplistic. Though Joan is pulled into activism via her Mother’s experiences of being an overworked single mother, the bond between these two women is never given the weight it needs for the play’s final moments to land with emotional resonance. Not enough time is afforded for the emotional and political depths of this piece to really take root, and while it is an enjoyable hour of entertainment which does provoke some thought, it needs to be given more time to give JOAN’s subject matter the attention it deserves.

Anything Else?

An enjoyable piece of audio drama in these troubling times, but one that does not quite hit home with the political resonance it intends.

JOAN is available on Apple Podcasts


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<![CDATA[The House Never Wins presented by Turtle Key Arts]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/the-house-never-wins-presented-by-turtle-key-arts5eca1aeeb167f20017b0cf88Sun, 24 May 2020 07:58:19 GMTAmy Toledano

What is it?

Kill the Cat Theatre Company’s latest show, this time an interactive gambling fiesta through Zoom and your phone. The piece runs at between 75-90 minutes based on the choices that are made by the audience separately and as a collective entity and there is a real cash prize (£10) for the lucky winner in this theatrical casino.

What is it about?

The House (fictional zoom casino in which the Dealer operates) begins at full capacity of 100% at the start of the piece. Throughout the show you are asked to bet your chips and donate them to keep said ‘House’ from crumbling. The power is in your hands and you are left playing with the Dealer games of Blackjack with certain twists and rules that are made up to really get you thinking about your footprint on the world and for others around you. There are images, quizzes, tests and text sent privately through your phone throughout the night to take part of too until the lucky winner is decided or the house falls.

How did it make me feel?

For me, this was a really imaginative and ambitious piece, one that I’d like to see more of in lockdown. I’m not the biggest fan of the streaming alternatives being put out currently (nothing compares to the real thing) but this was a totally different angle at live theatre. It accounts for inevitable technical failures, accidental mute buttons and let’s you sit and enjoy/be part of an event first hand with a glass of wine or whatever you choose from the comfort of your own home.

Where is it playing?

Zoom is the place to be at the moment it seems, and with this run sadly finishing Sat 23rd May but there will be more from Kill the Cat either with a reincarnation of this or a new production. They are now definitely on my radar for the future.

Anything else?

Less a show and more of an event I’d say. If you’re looking for more of the traditional alternatives to theatre in this uncertain time we find ourselves in then maybe this isn’t the place for you. However, for those of you that can good entertainment, and if you ask me the best interactive/online virtual experience I’ve seen since lockdown then this totally fits the bill. There’s real games of blackjack, betting and staking, apple bobbing, forfeit shots, whatsapp quizzes the lot that you can take part in as much or little as you feel.

Sophie x

The House Never Wins was performed via Zoom, until the 23rd May 2020.


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<![CDATA[Performance Live: The Way Out, aired on BBC FOUR & presented by Battersea Arts Centre]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/performance-live-the-way-out-aired-on-bbc-four-presented-by-battersea-arts-centre5ec76daa25819f0017083904Fri, 22 May 2020 06:41:42 GMTAmy Toledano

What is it?

Performance Live is a series of works from a wide spectrum of exciting artists. From poetry and comedy, to dance and drama, The Way Out is the latest addition to this exciting and experimental series. Directed by Suri Krishnamma, The Way Out features a number of powerful performance works.

What is it about?

An Outsider, played by Blaithin Mac Gabhann, is trying to escape the rain and stumbles into a seemingly deserted Battersea Arts Centre. She is greeted by the Guide, played by Omid Djalili, and they explore the building, weaving through stairways and corridors. Along the way, they meet a number of performers. Revolving around the search for exits and doorways and meanings, this journey takes the viewer through the entire building in a way you have never seen it before.

How did it make me feel?

An ethereal, bizarre and amusing triumph showing the Battersea Arts Centre and it’s programme in its finest. If you have ever been to this mosaicked relic of a building, even once, you will have a great sense of the atmosphere of the place - vintage, experimental, rough around the edges. 

This 42 minute exploration through the corridors, stairways and performance spaces of the BAC features spoken word, movement, music and monologue amid a darkened yet serenely lit building. The individual performers that we meet along the way are flawless in their delivery - the true highlights are the appearance of dance-innovator Botis Seva with his piece Quick Sand, and Le Gateau Chocolat draped in gauze and hidden away in the rafters of the building with a hypnotising string trio in Liminal.

Omid Djalili provides an excellent framework for the film as the masterful and mysterious Guide, who leads the Outsider forward into the depths of the building. Also taking on a role of writer for the piece, Djalili is as poetic as he is powerful. The viewer is swept along as much by the single continuous shot in which the piece was filmed, as it is by Djalili’s Guide. Like a promenade performance from a distance, Djalili delivers you from start to finish in one motion.

The surreal showcase also includes hauntingly beautiful spoken-word poetry from Sanah Ahsanand, with Come As You Are, and Caleb Femi, performing Gentle Youth. The evening is given a celebratory and uplifting note by the acrobatics, movement and musical stylings of The Cocoa Butter Club.

Where is it playing?

The Way Out is available to view on demand via BBC iPlayer.

Anything else?

This performance gives hope and anticipation to the future of independent, experimental theatre and performance. It is a reminder of the rich variety of talent that exists in the UK and beyond, and I certainly can’t wait for theatre to return.

Emma x

,,The Way Out is streaming now on demand on ,,BBC iPlayer.


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<![CDATA[Wasted presented by Southwark Playhouse, #SouthwarkStayhouse]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/wasted-presented-by-southwark-playhouse-southwarkstayhouse5eab8df4e3e51c0017fde9f9Fri, 01 May 2020 03:02:13 GMTAmy Toledano

What Is It?

A rock musical about the Brontes.

What Is It About?

The Bronte siblings from childhood to death, as they attempt to follow their artistic - and romantic - ambitions. There is an inherent conceptual problem in the choice to show us everything, in chronological order. It makes it plodding, and unclear why we’re being told this story. This production chooses to emphasise that these were women (and a man, although poor Branwell is a bit of dead weight) who defied the roles allocated to them. It then allows the rock musical form to do all of the heavy lifting in making this point, and is otherwise dramaturgically lazy in organising the narrative in a way which encourages us to recognise the Brontes as the pioneers they were, rather than the mewling children this production makes them out to be.

How Did It Make Me Feel?

The first 20 minutes or so are spent with the four siblings howling about how they’re ‘stuck in Howarth’, which is confusing as Howarth seems great; they have microphones and a rock band and are a few degrees away from a slut-drop. I jest, but this production takes far too long to give us any sense of who these people are as individuals and therefore why we should feel any inclination to take them out of Yorkshire and let them loose on the rest of the world. Yes, the Brontes are famous, but if you’re going to make us bed down with them for a couple of hours, then you need to let us see them as people rather than a historical movement. Once a more introspective tone kicks in, the musical finally feels like it’s trying to tell us a story; there’s a tender duet between Charlotte and Bramwell about their respective broken hearts, and an evocative, albeit brief, scene when Charlotte and Anne take a train to the seaside.

The strongest song by a Yorkshire mile is the one where Charlotte writes her masterpiece (it’s also preceded by one of the show’s best lines: ‘Fuck off, I’m writing Jane Eyre’). The song works because it’s active - Charlotte is discovering her story in the moment, and the writing of the novel comes, in the way it’s told in this production, as a direct emotional response to her sense of injustice at her first book being turned down by a publisher. Many of the songs are good fun and others beautiful, but they tend to be far more expositional and therefore static, so it feels like we’re being presented with a musical concept rather than a narrative.

Cultural portrayals of the Brontes often resort to giving them capsule personalities, which here they don’t escape. Poor Anne, portrayed as the daffy child. Poor Branwell, presented here neither as an equal character, worthy of investing in, nor an oppositional force. (There’s also a bizarre posthumous debrief from Branwell in which he and Charlotte have an inflammatory argument about the privileges afforded to him due to his gender, despite their relationship having been blandly genial up until that point.) And poor, poor Emily, who is done a major disservice in this production by being characterised somewhere in between a werewolf and Kate Bush on coke. I found her descent into something akin to depression a truly distasteful depiction of poor mental health. I don’t mean to overlook the fact that this has clearly been written with a sense of fun rather than reverence, and musicals are necessarily larger - and more superficial - than life, but the story arc asks us for an emotional investment which the characters simply don’t earn.

Charlotte gets off the best; it initially seems she might be relegated to a dull narrator’s role as ‘the sensible one’, but Natasha J. Barnes’ fierce and intelligently sensual portrayal lifts her into somebody who we can conceivably believe is capable of writing a work of fiction still read 200 years later. It’s her emotional journey which ultimately succeeds in hooking us in the second half; it’s a shame that the production doesn’t seem to have worked out its own story earlier.

Anything Else?

I haven’t given this a star rating, as it feels pointless so long after the original production, and it doesn’t seem fair given I was viewing it through a medium it wasn’t designed for. The show divided critics at the time; it garnered a crop of 4 star reviews as well as a thudding 1 star from The Times. I can imagine there are generational factors at play. Yet I wonder whether the show’s battering-ram depiction of Emily and, by implication, mental health, would thin that divide now. Either way, I reckon that the less respect you have for the Brontes before you watch this, the more you’ll enjoy it.

Grace AK x

Wasted is streaming for free now on as a part of #SouthwarkStayhouse and can be viewed on the Southwark Playhouse


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<![CDATA[In Conversation with Poet Luke Wright]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/in-conversation-with-poet-luke-wright5ea7dd189a4dcf009b936c86Tue, 28 Apr 2020 07:58:58 GMTAmy Toledano

Luke Wright is an established poet in the British spoken word scene. He has performed a huge range of spoken word shows and plays including The Toll, Frankie Vah and What I Learned from Johnny Bevan. He has performed at Glastonbury and has been an Edinburgh Fringe regular for years. Lockdown has even interrupted the tour of his new play, The Remains of Logan Dankworth which debuted at Norwich Arts Centre in November and will be returning to venues in the autumn.

Luke Wright – Thanks for talking to us today. How are you finding the pace of lockdown?

It’s changed my life beyond recognition. I’m used to being away a couple nights a week on the road so it was a bit of a shock. I immediately thought what can I do, what can I do. That’s when I took to doing gigs online every night – probably went a bit too hard – but at the same time, I think there’s something in that. There’s something in committing yourself to a project. It felt like a defiant act in a way.

But it’s not like I feel like I’ve got lots of time on my hands because I’ve got two young children. The same as any of us really – my life is usually quite ordered when I’m at home, lots of writing and then I get to go out on tour and cut loose. I’m missing cutting loose. I’m missing that slightly more irresponsible side of my life.

You have talked previously about getting into poetry in your late teens and early twenties, your time with Aisle 16 at university and being spurred on by creative friends. What inspires you now?

I am definitely still spurred on by those around me. I don’t always work closely with people in the way I did with Aisle 16 but I’m always surrounded by other poets. The summer months are always great for that because you end up going to festivals and seeing more of your peers. It’s always good to see what new material people have and it fires you up. Right now, I’m writing this series of ballads based on existing Georgian ballads. So, I’m doing historical fiction in a fun and not meticulously researched kind of way. I’m spinning them in my own language. It’s been great to have the time to get stuck into them.

I write much more about myself these days. I spent the last year writing confessional poems. When you’re younger, anything goes, and as you get older, you get a greater sense of what you write. Sometimes that can box you in. You gain a greater self-awareness. Of course, you can’t help being influenced by the way other people see you but you become more confident in your voice. It’s important not to gain too much of an idea about yourself from others because that can constrain you. Nobody wants to think they’re recreating the same old ground. Making art is always about reinvention and not being afraid to go into new places. I’m very aware of that; I don’t want to become stale. It’s about risk-taking. You’ll do something because you know it works. You’ll think people like it when I do this sort of thing but you can’t be making art for other people; you’ve got to make it for yourself and accept that sometimes it’s not going to be as popular.

Would you say there’s a piece of your work that doesn’t always get the best reception but that you love, or a piece that you started off thinking it wasn’t as good but now gets a great response?

If you’re writing funny stuff, you get an immediate response from people and it always surprises me that some bits get a laugh when you weren’t really intending a laugh there and other bits you’ve slaved over don’t go down so well. There’s a piece of mine called ‘One Trick Bishop’ which when I started performing it, it just didn’t go anywhere near as well as I thought it might but I kept performing it because I really liked it. And actually, it does get the response I want it to now and I think maybe there was just a stumbling point on the performance. My greatest vice as a performer is that I go too fast. I’m in love with the sound of the words and, for me, it’s a composition. It’s almost a song but, if you’re going too fast, people don’t have time to appreciate the bits of language.

Generally, I think my consensus falls with the audience. One of the nice things about doing these online gigs is that it forces me into my back-catalogue and often to pieces which really never made it onto stage and, for one reason or another, never made it into a book. I’m finding pieces that had been completely lost, that I’d performed a couple of times but that had never been published. It’s been great to return to things I wrote five years ago and go there’s something in this. Some nights I feel very confident in my abilities but some nights I feel tired and think I’ve never written anything of any note but that’s just the ego of an artist! If I’m going to be doing lives every night, I need to do them in a way that’s honest and good for me. Some of these online gigs actually suit more meditative works because it’s nice to basically have someone read you a story. I need to not worry about whether it’s right for people or not.

That sounds quite freeing because it must make you feel more authentic as a poet and you don’t have to feel like you’re a performer on stage all the time?

Yeah, I think that’s completely right! In many ways, you can be much more yourself when it’s just you and a camera in a room. At first that was quite nerve-wrecking and I was still trying to put on a performance [in the first few shows]. All my poems have intros which aren’t scripted but the more you do them, the more you know where the gags are and they become little bits of stand up. Those bits obviously don’t work to camera. People can tell when you’re doing a bit and it can feel much less honest. So, the lives force you into a more honest place. It encourages you to speak your mind a bit more, to go on flights of fancy and I enjoy it! There’s not once have I clocked off and thought thank God that’s over.

What made you want to start doing the Twitter lives and what role do you think art can play in difficult times like these?

I feel like Twitter’s more my platform than some other social medias. I’ve thought about re-streaming it on other networks but then it gets a bit complicated and my head hurts. I had always fancied to do a live feed but I had always felt a bit self-conscious so I thought this is as good a time as any. And it gives me something to do! I’m so used to doing gigs these days. I don’t think I’ve gone more than three weeks without doing a gig. It made sense that, if I was going to do something, I should do it every single night. Later on, if we’re still in this, there’ll be a masochistic element like look here he still is, dragging himself to his chair every night. These are extraordinary times so if I did something, it had to also feel extraordinary. We still need art in our lives.

You regularly return to politics in your work. How do you see your politics interacting with your work? How impactful do you feel political poetry can be?

Satire exists to remind the powerful that they shit and die, as Martin Rowson always reminds me. It’s important to have those subversive voices. Do I think political poetry alone can change politics? No but I know my politics came from art initially.

My parents would call themselves apolitical but of course no one’s apolitical. It was through listening to bands who mentioned politics or subversive writers who I then went and read, and that led me to poetry like [Attila The] Stockbroker, and The Ranting Poets. They helped to shape my politics. They can have an effect particularly on younger people whose opinions are less formed yet. Sir Bob Worcester, who founded the polling company MORI, said when we were guests together on Poetry Saturday Live, that by the time people are twenty-five, their core beliefs are mostly formed and they’ll never move from those. The politics on top of that might waver but essentially, their core beliefs are formed. So, while I don’t think political poetry is going to change hearts and minds, it gives a voice to people. All art gives voice and understanding to things we might be thinking. So much of what I understand about the world has come from books I’ve read and songs I’ve listened to. Art has a responsibility to interact with the world in which it exists whether it offers up a mirror or whether it becomes a hammer to smash those things.

I’m definitely less overtly political in my work these days. I think politics is an interesting backdrop and I’m very interested in the way that we think and move as a body of people. I’m interested in those big political events and how they affect us personally. I don’t soapbox in the way that I used to because I don’t think there are any easy answers and poetry should be striving towards some kind of truth.

In my plays, there’s always a big political event in the background but I try to represent that event or the attitudes towards that event through a single character. In some ways, it helps me explore my understanding of the event. It takes that event and says well what does this actually mean? In my latest play, I ask what if Brexit was a marriage and you start getting into the idea of trust. It is interesting to examine the argument through characters. Inevitably what happens is the characters take over and their story becomes bigger and more important than the event which seems right because we’re more interested in people and their contradictions than we are in politics. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and take the piss out of the Tories if you want to.

You’ve been performing poetry now for over twenty years. In one of your Twitter lives, you joke about the return of clicking at poetry nights. How do you think the art world has changed since you started performing?

There’s much more of a performance poetry scene than there was when I started. It’s more professionalised and there’s easier ways to see a career path in it. Not that that’s why people do it – they start because they love it. I was just mucking around with the clicking thing. In some ways, it’s a nice way of showing appreciation for certain things and they click during the poem, like that was a good line. Nothing wrong with it – I was just shocked to see it. We always thought it was part of that naff pretentiousness of poetry when we were first aware of it. It was one of those clichés. I didn’t think people actually did it.

As far as the poetry scene now, it’s amazing that people will start doing a poem now in 2020, and you think God I heard that poem ten years ago. The same sorts of poems. There’s lots of good stuff out there but, as I get older, I’m less into performance poetry. I’m less interested in the poetry of younger people because they’re not talking about the things that are relevant to me. Of course, there’s exceptions to that and you can appreciate a brilliantly written piece no matter who has written it. I think back to when I was starting out and I could tell older people were a bit disparaging about us. Well, of course they were. I was talking about the things that were important to me and the things I had just realised and they’d realised them twenty years before. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Molly Naylor has a great line: being young is knowing everything and getting older is losing it. And I think that’s true! I’m much less certain of what I think. I’m less ideological and I’m more empathetic. I have sympathy for the frailties of the human condition in ways I didn’t when I was younger. I used to think that everyone who didn’t agree with me was a fucking idiot and how couldn’t they see what was so obvious. When I wrote Frankie Vah, which is about a twenty-five-year-old starting out in poetry in the mid-80s, people would come up to me afterwards and say I was there, how did you know? And I said I sort of guessed. I know what it’s like to be an angry twenty-five-year-old. When I was an angry twenty-five-year-old, it wasn’t Thatcher but I can imagine the things that I thought about Blair. You change the names, the scenery changes but the sentiment is the same.

I think that people in their twenties today are much more emotionally mature and better self-explored than I ever was. I think part of that is to do with this revolution around mental health. A lot of it is to do with defying gender roles as well. I was still very much pinned in by the way I was forced to think at school about what men could do and what women could do. Even in the Nineties, men weren’t encouraged to talk about their feelings. Now, it’s much more normalised. We were much less questioning about the world than people are. So yeah, I think people now are probably making more mature work in their twenties than I was in my twenties.

Any plans for future projects whether it’s virtual and in lockdown, or once we’re all allowed out again?

I’ve got the second half of my The Remains of Logan Dankworth tour lined up for the autumn. So, I’m hoping I can finish that off because I’m pleased with it and I’ve worked long and hard on it.

And I’m writing something new, and I’ve got a new collection coming out next year.

Do you have any advice you would give to emerging artists now?

If you’re an emerging artist, there is the online world and you can find ways to build up an audience there. Of course, it depends what you do. If you’re making multi-person theatre shows, it’s a difficult time to do that. I think, for all of us, being nimbler and more adaptable is important. 90% of the work is just words so that’s an easy thing to adapt whether it’s in a pub with no mic or on a theatre stage. It’s about being smart and savvy and spying where you can fit in. In many ways, adapting will suit emerging artists because they’re less stuck in their ways.

Luke – thank you so much for talking to me and all the best from everyone at Within Her Words! Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

If you get a chance, check out the gigs! You might find me tired; you might find me full of energy – who knows!

Leah x

Tune in to Luke's


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<![CDATA[In Conversation with Spoken Word Artist Aizaz ‘Aiz’ Hussain]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/in-conversation-with-spoken-word-artist-aizaz-aiz-hussain5ea02dd542df1d0017a3f896Wed, 22 Apr 2020 12:20:00 GMTAmy Toledano

Aizaz Hussain – firstly congratulations on having recently had your first-year anniversary as a spoken word artist. How are you feeling?

Thanks for having me! I am feeling very blessed to experience a full year of this incredible artform. I have several friends who were never able to make it to twenty-three and achieve their dreams, so I am doing this for them as well as for myself. May they all rest in power. It seems crazy that, as a kid, I felt discouraged to speak up so recently I made a highlights video to thank everyone who has supported me to get to where I am today. I couldn’t have done any of this without them!

How did you get involved in poetry and spoken word? Can you tell us about your experiences with BBC World News and the Asia House Poetry Slam?

I got involved with Spoken Word very sporadically. As a kid, I hated poetry but living in South London, I was always exposed to that type of rap through Garage and early Grime culture. In my first year at Loughborough University, a friend nudged me onto the mic at a poetry event called ‘Speech Bubble’. I’d written a semi-autobiographical poem called ‘Life’, but I wasn’t quite ready to admit that the piece was based on me or my life in London. After a couple of difficult years and the deaths of a few friends, my mental health deteriorated. I attempted to commit suicide on my twenty-first birthday, writing a sort of explanation or goodbye which became my poem ‘Death’. I had no idea it would go viral. I received so many kind messages from friends and strangers. People opened up to me about their own experiences with mental health. It gave me a new perspective. Poetry literally saved my life.

Performing for the BBC and in the Asia House Poetry Slam in 2018 was extraordinary! I stumbled across Spread the Word and Asia House’s Poetry Slam after graduation and submitted my poem, ‘Death’. I wasn’t really writing or focusing on poetry but I found it jarring that there wasn’t much Asian representation in mainstream British arts so I thought why not! Out of nowhere, I found myself in the Slam Final. I didn’t really know any professional poets at the time – I just about knew of Kate Tempest and Benjamin Zephanniah. When the BBC offered to feature my poetry internationally, I accepted because I thought if only one other young Asian out there could benefit from my words, it would be worth it. I had no idea it would go viral! Over 125,000 people witnessed my story on BBC. It was broadcast to BBC World News which reaches something like 99 million viewers per week! I began to accept my role as a ‘poet’ when the BBC Asian Network got in touch too and I went on the radio a few times to discuss my work, my journey and why talking about mental health is so important.

You regularly return to difficult themes in your work such as death and mental illness. In ‘Death’, you say, “You can’t help other people if you can’t help yourself first.” Why do you think that’s so important? How do you think poetry can become a form of therapy for people?

I learnt the hard way that self-love and self-care are vital. We need to spread more love and positivity around the world. We need to learn to receive love and not think it’s selfish to look after ourselves.

Recently, there has been a lot of debate around the idea of poetry as therapy. Of course, poetry should not replace professional therapy or counselling but, at the same time, not many people can afford professional help so writing and performing can become their way to express their feelings. I was lucky enough to receive therapy at university but I couldn’t afford it after graduation when I really needed it. It was around this time that I really discovered poetry so I can empathise with both sides.

Your poetry feels so relatable and simultaneously so specific to growing up in London as a second-generation Pakistani immigrant? How do you find those different aspects of your identity interact in your work?

I often feel like there’s virtually no representation of my culture within our Western-mainstream. It’s fantastic to see my African & Caribbean brothers and sisters gaining the success they’ve been due for a long time, but there still seems to be a divide and stigma around British Pakistanis and Asianness. My dual heritage definitely forms a unique identity I now choose to embrace. After years of being conditioned to think that mental health is taboo, I now feel able to speak up about my emotions. My writing has evolved since I started but it remains rooted in personal poetry. I’m a product of my environment which has involved becoming a voice for the voiceless until they find the strength to speak up for themselves so you’ll will never hear me shy away from raising awareness on issues like knife crime, racism, austerity, mental illness which many people in my generation believe are side-lined by the mainstream media.

You’re an active supporter and performer in the spoken word scene across London. You’re South London-born but regularly perform all over the city, have performed across the country and internationally and recently toyed with a trip to Germany. What do you think of London’s spoken word scene, how does it compare with scenes in other parts of the country and beyond?

LARGE UP SOUTH LONDON!!!! Mitcham reppin’. Seriously though I’m very fortunate to be working in London’s creative industry. It is the biggest melting pot of the best talent I have ever seen. This city’s Spoken Word scene is phenomenally welcoming and diverse. I’m thankful for the opportunities and feature sets it has given me, including the likes of JolyLicks’ ‘Sip + Rhyme’ workshops and N’Calma’s ‘Worlds Words’. I’m thankful for the friends and family I’ve made. Every event is different with a unique vibe, and you genuinely do find a home in various spaces across all corners of London. Chocolate Poetry Club and Off The Chest have a more intimate vibe, BYOB and BoxedIn garner fantastic audiences within their respective Boxparks, and events like Mind Over Matter explore important issues. There are so many more amazing events that I love and could shoutout but I’d be here for days.

London is its own bubble but I’ve been fortunate enough to perform across the country and headline events in cities like Liverpool and even perform in Asia. As much as it may feel like, our liberal capital city is not always representative of the wider world and we need to consider immersing ourselves in sharing culture with people elsewhere. Learning about each other’s similarities and differences is the way to unite people. Social media has allowed me to learn and experience the truth of people I’ve never met before. Interacting with people through Instagram live-streams has been a great way to expand my network and hopefully the wider scene, and yes, one of those live-streams led to an invite to explore the German poetry scene! Representing the UK on a European road-trip would be a dream.

What advice would you give to people who might want to get involved in poetry and spoken word whether it is as a fan or a performer?

As a fan, start telling more of your friends and family to come to spoken word events. Follow poetry accounts on social media. Tell people to spread the word. For whatever reason, the majority of our society is still sleeping on massive poetic talent that’s being shared (often for free) and it’s a shame because it is such a loving community. The only way to elevate our scene into the fully-fledged industry we know it has the potential to be, is to take a little bit of time out of our lives to support other artists. Listen to WordSpoken Podcast for a great introduction to the scene. You’ll often find someone you can relate to and you’ll wonder how you didn’t find them sooner.

If you want to perform Spoken Word and/or share your own Page Poetry:

1) Do it. Don’t ever be afraid to speak your truth. A poet’s job is to expose our feelings when we can’t articulate them, when we find it hard to tell someone how we’re feeling in more than just a few words, in order to put a mirror up to ourselves both personally and societally. I resigned from a company and job I loved because I wasn’t getting enough time to create the poetry I believed in. Follow your belief.

2) Try not to create in order to seek validation from others. You’ll find that your art has changed drastically in terms of authenticity and intentions. You should always create for yourself first, above anything and anyone else.

3) Show love. Stay humble. Dream big.

Of course, COVID-19 has put a temporary lockdown on all in-person poetry events. How has the poetry scene tried to adapt to these times?

Lockdown is a great shame but of course a necessity. I hope everyone is continuing to take care of themselves, their loved ones, those most vulnerable and our key workers. The poetry scene has been fast to adapt to the crisis and come together in a beautiful and organic way through social media and video-calls. Obviously, the current situation often infiltrates the poetry we post, but there are also many of us writing and talking about things that help us escape from our current reality. Established/upcoming poetry events have taken their heartfelt open mics to worldwide platforms like Zoom and Instagram and there’s the live-streams and social media challenges. The creativity has been flourishing and it just goes to show how inclusive and connected the scene has always been and will continue to be.

Any plans for future projects whether it’s virtual/in lockdown, or once we’re all allowed out again?

I may have a few tings in the pipeline *eyes emoji*

In all seriousness, I’ve not been thinking too far ahead with the current situation. The week quarantine began, I was going to host my first unique poetry event so I’d love to get that started again! Recently, I’ve been appearing on podcasts, featuring for virtual live gigs and messing around with music to compliment my poetic style. It would be cool to hit a studio after lockdown and record some art for a debut project - if anyone would like to collaborate, don’t hesitate to hit me up!

The main future project I can guarantee is giving my poetry family a massive hug once we’re all allowed out again. These are the same people I had seen week in and week out, so believe me when I say it’s been too long! If you know me, then you’ll know I’m all about spreading positivity to make this world a better place. No doubt, I’m working hard to create another year of more blessings for myself and us all, collectively.

Aiz – thank you so much for talking to me and I wish you all the best in your career!

Thank you – it really means a lot.

Leah x

For bookings / commissions / collaborations or enquiries, contact Aiz at: ,aizazhussain.work@gmail.com

Watch Aiz’s Highlights Video


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<![CDATA[I Want My Hat Back presented by The Little Angel Theatre]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/i-want-my-hat-back-presented-by-the-little-angel-theatre5e9ec713d082c300173bcd17Tue, 21 Apr 2020 10:22:44 GMTAmy Toledano

What Is It?

Ian Nicholson and Sam Wilde’s adaptation of Jon Klassen’s family-friendly picture book, ‘I Want My Hat Back’, in the form of an 8-minute puppet show. Every part of the production, from puppet design to music, was created entirely using what the artists had available to them in their homes during lockdown.

What Is It About?

Bear’s hat is gone. He wants it back. And by golly, he’ll get it back. We join him on his mission to find it.

How Did It Make Me Feel?

Oh, my heart. This is so sweet. It’s an action-packed eight minutes. Bear goes through a whole journey, and he ends up somewhere quite different to where he started.

The puppet design and articulation is gorgeous and expressive, and Ian Nicholson is a brilliant puppeteer. He brings each character to life, no matter how brief the appearance, and his different voices and facial expressions are fantastic, funny, and subtly intricate. In his interpretation of the characters there is even room for adults rather than children to get the full benefit of a joke. Look out for the ennui-laden ‘can you believe this guy’ moment. Also, the very end. After a well-executed moment of revelation, the action takes a darker turn, without ever losing any of its humour and charm. Rather the opposite.

A wonderful touch is how polite Bear remains throughout, making sure to thank everybody he meets, no matter how strangely they respond. Even if they seem to be too defensive, or are wearing hats that seem suspiciously like the one he’s lost. Even though he is in a hurry to find his hat before it’s gone forever, he still stops to help the exhausted Tortoise. Perhaps this is a tidy little lesson to children and adults both. Be polite and kind, because you never know what somebody is going through. Even if swift retribution should follow. Or something to that effect.

This is a sweet and funny mood-lifter, suitable for children of all ages. I keep watching it for a quick laugh. It’s becoming memetic in the household. The music is charming and acts as perfect accompaniment. It may get stuck in your head. Most of all it is commendable that the team put together a production of this quality under lockdown conditions and limitations, and in such good humour.

Anything Else?

Visit the Little Angel Theatre on Twitter @LittleATheatre for additional goodies. There you’ll find delightful snippets from behind-the-scenes, as well as tips, tricks and resources if you want to get creative and have a go at making your own puppets. You can also see some lovely examples others have shared.

Arden x

I Want My Hat Back will be streaming for free on the Little Angel Theatre’s YouTube channel until Monday 27th April 2020.


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<![CDATA[The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/the-maddaddam-trilogy-by-margaret-atwood5e9ec36dce02fb0017da5259Tue, 21 Apr 2020 10:04:58 GMTAmy Toledano

What is it?

Margaret Atwood’s The MaddAddam Trilogy consists of Oryx and Crake published in 2003, The Year of The Flood published in 2009, and MaddAddam, published in 2013. Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, humanity has been more and less decimated by climate change, capitalism, and ‘The Waterless Flood’.

What is it about?

Oryx and Crake introduces us to Jimmy or Snowman, depending on who you speak to, a commitment-phobe with a habit for talking to a bodiless woman in his head. He sleeps in a tree on an undisclosed beach somewhere and spends a lot of time foraging for food. Isolated, it falls to him to become the glorified babysitter of a new species of sort-of-humans - the Crakers. Childlike, impossibly beautiful, sickeningly peaceful and - they like singing. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn about the world of Jimmy’s childhood before The Waterless Flood, which is not so different from our own. Gleaming corporations, shimmering commodities, biological hybrids, genetic splices, meat alternatives, seedy pleeblands and new cosmetic procedures. A fancy, futuristic and gloriously messed up form of capitalism. But how do his emotionally insensitive but kind of ingenious schoolfriend Crake and their mysterious love interest Oryx fit into this?

The Year of The Flood. It’s Year Twenty-Five, whatever that means, and we’re introduced to Toby, Ren and a mysterious environmentally obsessed religious group, the God’s Gardeners. The Waterless Flood has happened; Toby watches over a decimated city wondering if she’s alone while she tends to her rooftop garden. Elsewhere in the city, Ren, a young dancer, is trapped among the flamingo costumes and synthetic snakeskins in the upmarket sex club in which she works. Or worked. Before everyone vanished. Is anyone alive? Where’s Amanda? Will the Painballers come back?

MaddAddam. A group of survivors. In a new kind of Genesis story, Atwood goes back to her Handmaid’s Tale roots, using an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible to generate a new theology. But is this world really an Eden? The MaddAddam world is a morally bankrupt dystopia, as meticulously cultivated by Atwood as Toby’s rooftop allotment, baptised and arguably reborn.

How did it make me feel?

As usual, I love literature that reveals something about and criticises the way we live our lives. Atwood grabs hold of the rampant commodification and environmental downfall of our current society and runs with it, inventing a world that is futuristic and separate from our own in one sense but could easily be our cousin. It warns, it entertains, it terrifies. A gloriously messed up masterpiece of dystopian fiction.

Where is it available?

In our new weird quarantined life, a plethora of local independent bookshops are doing home deliveries! Have a look for your local and let me know what you think.

Anything else?

Pigoons is a great word.

Leah x


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<![CDATA[Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/everything-i-know-about-love-by-dolly-alderton5e9e9f858d04c00049fb0100Tue, 21 Apr 2020 07:36:15 GMTAmy Toledano

What is it?

Everything I Know About Love is the energetic and zesty autobiography by journalist and presenter of The High Low podcast, Dolly Alderton.

What is it about?

Everything I Know About Love follows Dolly’s dating epiphanies from her teenage years until turning thirty. Alderton honestly and hilariously recounts her dating horror-stories, her tongue-in-cheek flawed advice and a few sporadic dating-related food recipes to overcome even the toughest of break ups.

How did it make me feel?

I laughed a lot. I felt warmed, encouraged, comforted, understood. Like wearing a good pair of slippers or drinking far too many gins.

We are often made to feel lost and clueless in the world of dating. The older you get, the more you become terrifyingly aware that you have no idea what you’re doing and it’s oddly enjoyable to find out that most people seem to be in the same boat. Not quite sinking but often flailing awkwardly against one tide or another.

Let’s play a game you might be familiar with. Never have I ever. Never have I ever been the messy extroverted friend in her early twenties who’d drink far too much and jump in a taxi in the search of a questionable afterparty with people she’d just met. Cheers. Never have I ever associated alcohol with a complete loss of inhibitions and a gain of unshakable, sky-rocketing confidence. Slainte. Never have I ever spent a romantic night with a boy in a hotel room having very intense, meaningful conversations about his father who was – to quote Alderton - the ‘last of the colonizers’ and wrote a book about a rare type of fish he discovered on his travels. Ok, so his dad might have been emotionally manipulative, and the book was a painfully mediocre EP but we move. Prost. Never have I ever been guru-ed. I haven’t. Read the book. Have you?

In between the laughter and Mac and Cheese recipes, there’s some seriously heartfelt feelings regarding Alderton’s relationship with food, her friendships, loss of a loved one and learning to understand your own vulnerabilities. Ultimately, none of us really know what we’re doing. We’re just flailing around trying not to step on too many toes in the process. But now, thanks to Alderton, I know very little about love has really got anything to do with dating.

Where is it available?

In our new weird quarantined life, a plethora of local independent bookshops are doing home deliveries! Have a look for your local and let me know what you think.

Anything else?

Throwing a Rod Stewart-themed party is unsurprisingly a failure. Read the book.

Leah x


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<![CDATA[Treasure Island (2015) at The National Theatre: At Home]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/treasure-island-2015-at-the-national-theatre-at-home5e9e47068f9c7e004206f5daTue, 21 Apr 2020 01:13:37 GMTAmy Toledano

What Is It?

Bryony Lavery’s 2015 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic 1883 adventure novel, directed by Polly Findlay at the National’s Olivier Theatre.

What Is It About?

A coming-of-age story of money, mutiny, and murder. Buccaneers, betrayal and buried gold. Mysterious maps leading to remote tropical islands. The cheekiest parrot since Iago from Aladdin. And, say it with me: pirates!

How Did It Make Me Feel?

Without a doubt, the true star of the show is designer Lizzie Clachan’s gorgeous, intricate set. It transforms and transports us to the world of the play at every step of the unfolding adventure, with plenty of surprises. It’s always organic: we watch the rigging and the sails go up, building into the Hispaniola as we watch the crew getting the vessel ready and seaworthy; we follow the mutineers down dark tunnels in search of treasure.

All this is accompanied by lighting design that makes us feel, at times as though we are surrounded by the open sea, or buffeted by storms. And of course, always, the stars. The sea shanties and music that make up the score add to the strong sense of atmosphere.

Robert Louis Stevenson originally called Treasure Island a ‘story for boys’—the Yorkie Bar approach. It’s great to see it in the hands of a female-led creative team, with Patsy Ferran strong in the leading role of Jim Hawkins. Ferran in the role adds intergenerational dimensions to this iconic character; throughout the play she asserts herself as a sea-farer and as a provider for her Grandma, whom she idolises.

I’m not sure how I feel about the way the play addresses her gender. (I use she/her pronouns as that is what the play uses.) “Be you boy or be you girl?” she is asked at the very beginning. “That be my business.” That’s cool: a gender non-conforming Jim Hawkins is an interesting step for such a major story, in such a major venue. It might even be a throwback to the real stories of LGBTQ people who were active in the Golden Age of piracy, that have mostly been erased. Taking this approach to Jim Hawkins also makes inclusive narrative sense, with the character essentially meant to be a stand-in for any child watching to project themselves into the adventure. However, the script seems to be unsure how to refer to her (and Dr. Livesy for that matter), fluctuating between ambiguity and true gender blind conventions, only to then double-down and make sure that characters address her as ‘girl’ every other line. Grandma using her full name in the end—‘Jemima’, for this adaptation—feels like an unnecessary non-reveal. Perhaps they would have done otherwise in 2020. As it stands, it feels like they were trying to do more than your typical ‘girl-dresses-as-boy-for-safety’ trope, only to shy away at the last minute.

Arthur Darvill’s Long John Silver is a charismatic, strong presence from his very first stylish entrance. That he doesn’t outright steal every scene he’s in is down to the strength of the ensemble. Nick Fletcher’s Squire Trelawney is comedy gold, and Joshua James’ Ben Gunn is hilarious and sympathetic—and somebody get Captain Flint the parrot an Olivier. “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!” Iconic. Delightful.

There are some exceptional moments that stand out, including the scene where Long John Silver teaches Hawkins to navigate by the stars. The action clips along at a good pace, punctuated by some great fight choreography. The narration sometimes slides into telling over showing, dampening the stakes in certain moments. During the mutiny, for example. We never get to feel the danger and the uncertainty the original story and other adaptations place us in. That moment of worrying whether this is truly a kids’ story—whether the main characters will always be safe.

It all ends somewhat abruptly, and a little differently to the book, if that matters to you. I would have liked another few minutes with the characters. One is left asking questions. But isn’t wanting more a good sign?

Overall, it’s a fun play boasting high production values and brilliant artistry from a talented creative team. Get your pirate hat out. Be a kid. Find some treasure.

Anything Else?

The National Theatre’s Twitter feed is full of heart-warming stories and pictures that families have shared of themselves enjoying the livestream. Plenty of costumes, creativity, and memes, and it’s wonderful to see how many people are enjoying the same thing at the same time.

Arden x

Treasure Island will be streaming for free on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel until 23th April 2020.


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<![CDATA[The Testaments by Margaret Atwood]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/the-testaments-by-margaret-atwood5e967151a40ca10017cdfc21Wed, 15 Apr 2020 02:43:40 GMTAmy Toledano

What is it?

The Testaments is the long-awaited sequel to Margaret Atwood’s infamous 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. While Handmaid’s has been holding territory on university reading lists and in book clubs as a staple of feminist literature for decades, Atwood’s infamous novel re-emerged into our cultural psyche during Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign which, for some deeply mysterious reason, people have associated with the slow degradation of women’s rights in the United States of America. The reason why of course remains a mystery. Thirty-five years later, the red dress of the handmaids has become a symbol of female oppression at Women’s Marches and protests around the world, and Atwood’s novel has been adapted into an enormously popular TV series on Channel 4 and Hulu starring Elisabeth Moss as Offred/June Osborne. Published in September 2019, The Testaments throws us back into Gilead fifteen years later.

What is it about?

It is fifteen years since June found herself escorted into the back of a van by the authoritative Eyes, with no idea where she will be transported to next: “And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.”

This is where I advise, if you’ve skipped the TV adaptation, you watch it. All of it. Because June and Gilead have evolved and grown into a world far beyond the one which we left at the end of Handmaid’s. Names. Characters. Storylines. Crucial details. It’s all in the TV show and the references won’t be quite so smooth if you’re out of the loop.

Fifteen years later, we’re not met by June. We’re met by the voices of three women: one in the authoritative drawl of Aunt Lydia in The Ardua Hall Holograph; one in the almost subdued, obedient voice of a young women named Agnes in the Transcript of Witness Testimony 369A; and finally one distinctly sassier, more disobedient, stroppier voice belonging to a young woman brought up in Canada, ‘Baby’ Nicole in the Transcript of Witness Testimony 369B.

How did it make me feel?

Like a lot of Handmaid’s fans, I counted down the days to the 10th September 2019 for Testaments to be released. I stared longingly at the black and green Tube posters on my commute. I watched Instagram Lives and listened to podcasts recorded at Piccadilly Waterstones where feminist speakers and authors and Handmaid’s fans alike gathered to listen to Atwood herself read the first few pages of her book. I bought my copy on 11th September 2019, read half of it sporadically on Tube journeys and in between waitressing shifts in the days that followed and then… put it back on my shelf, unfinished.

Blasphemy, I know!

Imagine for me, just for a second, that Testaments is that guy you know you should be dating. He’s brilliant. He’s intelligent. He’s attractive. He has a good job, his own flat, only drinks at the weekend and totally and completely respects you. But… you don’t fancy him. That’s how I feel about Testaments. It took a global pandemic, a lockdown and a quarantine for me to re-pick up and finish a book by my favourite author. I’m gutted and I feel terrible.

I love bits of it. I love the complicated is Aunt Lydia a friend or a foe narrative. I love the insight Agnes gives us into the world of daughters and wives in Gilead, a story we were lacking from June’s Handmaid’s narrative. I love Nicole’s association with the rebellious Mayday group who saves Gileadean refugees and helps to build them new lives in Canada. I love the details of the Pearl Girls and the disastrous marriages to Commanders.

I think what I struggle with is that there’s not really a villain. In Handmaid’s, it felt like everyone was. One minute, you couldn’t trust Serena Joy. Then Fred Waterford. Maybe even Nick. Aunt Lydia was a brute we loved to hate. It was June against enemies at every turn and she battled them all. In Testaments, we have the system; we have Gilead as our enemy. But there’s no one specific we can really turn our hate towards, and I think that is where the book falters. I understand in life the system is often the enemy, but it doesn’t make for a great story. We want a villain. Or, at least, I do.

Where is it available?

In our new weird quarantined life, a plethora of local independent bookshops are doing home deliveries! Have a look for your local, read Testaments and tell me I’m wrong. Please, I love being wrong.

Anything else?

Atwood, I still love you.

Leah x


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<![CDATA[Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2018]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/hamlet-shakespeare-s-globe-20185e9111602648000017953539Sat, 11 Apr 2020 00:54:00 GMTAmy Toledano

What Is It?

A tragedy by William Shakespeare. New writing in mixed prose and iambic pentameter blank verse hot off the press, from sometime between 1599-1601. This production appeared at the Globe in 2018 with a gender-blind ensemble cast of twelve. It was rehearsed and performed in the same time frame and with the same cast as that year’s production of As You Like It.

What Is It About?

Claudius has taken the throne of Denmark and married Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude, after murdering his brother—Hamlet’s father—the King. Hamlet is not best pleased. We join him on his quest towards revenge.

How Did It Make Me Feel?

There is a fun little moment I look for in productions of Hamlet. It is in the immediate aftermath of the climactic duel scene that follows several hours of simmering chaos. Once it inevitably runneth over, the stage takes about two minutes to fill with corpses. (Spoiler alert, but you’ve had four hundred years or so.) The moment is this: the Norwegian invader Fortinbras’ startled entry. “Where is this sight?” aka, “Bloody hell.” For me, a production of Hamlet’s ultimate pay-off is whether that moment carries with it the darkest of—crucially—unintentional dark comedy.

In this the production succeeds, having maintained an effective undercurrent of gallows humour throughout, and not just in the obvious moments as in the grave-maker scene, exceptional here with Colin Hurley’s cheerful digging. The tragedy’s shades of light are teased out and played with, and much of this owes itself to Michelle Terry’s Hamlet.

Most 21st century productions of Hamlet seem actively terrified of playing to the clichés that have built up in our collective consciousness of the play: the skull in the hand, the man behind the curtain, to be or not to be… This production and Terry’s Hamlet embraces those moments, and let those moments unfold for themselves. (Though there is no skull-in-hand moment.) This, together with the decision to reduce emphasis on set and costume, results in a play stripped back to the words and their consequences, with mixed results. Fundamental as that is to theatre, it is sometimes lost amidst the excitement of improving technology. It is interesting to consider, also, that this production is from 2018, and to reflect on how the theatrical landscape may have changed since then, for this to stand out now.

It is good to see that Terry does not shy away from Hamlet’s entitled misogyny. There is nothing at all apologetic in this Hamlet’s cruelty to Gertrude and Ophelia. To him, they have personally wronged him by being ‘weak-willed women’, and flighty as fortune. Hamlet is absolutely part and product of the state’s rottenness, just as the King his father is no guiltless benevolent. Terry welcomes this, and doesn’t try to absolve him of it. That said, the extent to which others come to perceive him as a real danger could have been further explored.

Following on from that, there are some missed opportunities. The Globe’s stage is an extraordinary space, and could have been used more effectively, for one. Most of the background political subplot is cut out, so we lose out on the sense of Elsinore as a place of self-involved decadence and navel-gazing subterfuge while there’s a war on. In a similar vein, while Richard Katz’s Polonius is fun and plays off Hamlet with great humour, the cut material as well as the direction does the character and Katz a disservice, in that we don’t get as much of a feel for Polonius-as-spymaster, so he almost becomes a Malvolio instead. By extension, we lose much of the original play’s general atmosphere of high-octane paranoia, to the detriment of this production. It shows the subtlety of the Bard’s writing, that you don’t notice the lack of it until it’s gone, and it has a knock-on effect on our shifting perceptions of Hamlet’s madness. We never truly wonder whether his madness is genuine before he begins to play with the appearance of being so. He is somewhat too calculated.

The ensemble approach comes through strongly in the cast. Shubham Saraf’s gives an exceptional, dignified performance as Ophelia. James Garnon brings charisma and much put-upon humour to Claudius. After having seen his Touchstone in the 2019 revival of ‘sister play’ As You Like It, the idea of Claudius as the fool, played straight is an interesting take. Catrin Aaron is empathetic as Horatio, and is convincing as a potential grounding force to Hamlet in a relationship that could easily be read as platonic or otherwise. Nadia Nadarajah succeeds in giving Guildenstern a strong personality of his own. The incorporation of BSL is great, and raises important questions about accessibility for the Globe. It is a shame that there is no use of BSL or BSL interpretation outside of the scenes featuring Nadarajah.

Theatre videography is notoriously tricky, but the performance is captured well and succeeds in immersing you in the iconic ‘wooden O’. You even get the odd pigeon and helicopter in the audio, as you would in the space. For the full groundling experience, and for the sake of your calf muscles, watch it standing.

Anything Else?

Be it Terry’s delivery, or the strange times we’re in, the beauty of this speech stands out a little more than usual:

“We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.”—V.ii.

Arden x

Hamlet (2018) will be streaming for free on the Globe’s YouTube channel until Sunday 19th April 2020.


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<![CDATA[In conversation with Director Callie Nestleroth]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/in-conversation-with-director-callie-nestleroth5e8fd194bdd2e90017bbec29Fri, 10 Apr 2020 02:41:10 GMTAmy Toledano

,,Interdisciplinary performance director Callie Nestleroth talks to Amy from Within Her Words about her varied and exciting work and how she is making the transition into new mediums.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and the kind of work you create?

I am an interdisciplinary performance director for both stage and site specific locations, and Artistic Director for The Heroine Chronicles, a theatre and participation company which focuses on exploring literary heroines across their cultural evolution in adaptation. I believe that something magical happens when people share a space, a story and an emotional experience together, and I create work for which the audience presence is intrinsic to the journey of the characters.

Where did the idea for The Heroine Chronicles come from? How has the company evolved since it began?

The Heroine Chronicles’ concept can be traced back to a specific moment I remember having as a teenager…Shy and a bit awkward, I found myself letting others dictate my actions, often with the result of wishing I was doing something else. As an avid reader, I thought about what it would take to actively become the heroine of my own life, as opposed to the supporting character in others. That thought process took me on a journey to become more independent and brave. The idea for The Heroine Chronicles was a merging of a desire to encourage bravery and self-reliance in young people at this crucial developmental stage, deciding what kind of adult they wanted to be, and my creative interest in female characters widely adapted across popular culture. The company in effect grew out of the production Oh Heroine How I Love You! which charts Catherine Earnshaw, the famous literary ghost from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, across generations of adaptation, from Merle Oberon to Kate Bush and beyond. Site-specific to libraries, this heroine haunts our collective houses of reading at dusk turning to night, taking the audience with her to question how their own identities have been adapted in how they choose to share themselves with the world. This performance is still active, with a UK Tour scheduled for this year, but the company now also produces Social Media Suicide and Heroines in Limbo as part of it’s program for young people. As a company our work and our structure continues to evolves as we engage with more audiences.

Have you always been a Director? What sort of pieces do you lean towards? Do you have a particular style?

While I have always been interested in theatre, I didn’t start studying it until a later age. Early signs pointed strongly to my preference for directing, but I had a very holistic education and learned skills covering a wide range of jobs in the theatrical profession, including several years in costume design and costume construction. I lean towards work that surprises or confounds me. If I have to work to understand how the creative team has achieved a particular logic I find that the most interesting. I prefer work that has a complex world structure, and which encourages me to untangle the logic behind it. I am thinking of work by companies like Elevator Repair Service and The Wooster Group. I appreciate performance that has a strong sense of depth, like the work of Katie Mitchell, and theatre that keeps me active as an audience member. My style is informed more by the feeling created for an audience rather than a particular medium. I consider myself an interdisciplinary director, as I like to pick and chose, from a theatrical took kit, a combination of choices that will create the alchemy for my audience in relation to a specific story and set of characters.

Can you tell us about your experience of working with educational company Hidden Tales? How is it different about your other work?

My partnership with Hidden Tales started with a immersive audio adventure in the Sedgwick Museum as part of the book’s launch. I was immediately drawn in by the concept that Producer Sorrel May presented to me of a book which links actually visiting seven different museums, one per chapter, in order to fully read the story. Sorrel felt that while Hidden Tales offered a book, there was a natural link to live performative elements with the work, and I agreed!

The target age group for Hidden Tales projects is 8-12, so younger than the audiences of my other work, and the site-specific nature involves an adventure tied to a specific partner museum. I have found creating new projects within a pre-existing concept for a space very exciting. It is my collaboration with Sorrel that really pushes me to consider ideas and concepts beyond my current understanding, and I love the excitement and learning that these projects bring to my wider creative practice.

What kind of work did you do in New York before coming to the UK?

My time in New York City set the basis for the work I am doing now. Coming from a training at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute, a place with a focus on playwrights and new writing (they are the home of the National Playwrights and National Music Theater Conferences), it was a playwright centric community that I initially found myself working in. From weekly new writing development sessions, leading to staging readings and one acts, I had the chance to hone my skills working with writers and new texts. Under the mentorship of New Georges, a company which produces wacky experimental new writing by female artists, I developed my skills as a script reader and the ability to engage with new writing at multiple levels.

I have always been eclectic in my creative interests, and my New York days at the very start of my career are no exception! I was an assistant at The Wooster Group for my first year in the City, as I had studied their unique theatre making technique and was curious to learn more about it, and have subsequently been influenced by their experimental style. I worked at The Tenement Museum, an interactive storytelling museum, which I believe has heavily influenced my current museum work with Hidden Tales. I began my own experimentations in site-specific theatre, most notably through a new collaborative musical set in a highly trafficked community plaza in Sunnyside Queens. A lot of the work I was doing when in New York City involved experimentation with form, and pursing my instinctual interests as a director without having the language to articulate what that interest was. What completing a Masters at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama provided me with was the ability to further develop and articulate those interests, including site-specific and interactive theatre.

Tell us about why your are drawn to Site Specific work?

At the heart of my interest is work that considers the audience first, work for which the presence of the audience is vital to the story being told and the journey of the characters. I believe site-specific work provides an excellent platform for prioritizing these things, as working in a space not originally designed for performance requires unusual thinking. I think it is incredibly important when making a piece of site-specific theatre that the space is not altered in a way akin to a set on a stage. I believe the challenge of working with a site enriches the work. And most importantly, when an audience arrives at a site-specific performance their expectations for behavior are different than in a theatre. Their behavior is in part informed by the qualities of the site they are in. I have found this allows for the development of unique audience engagement with the work.

Some of my original site-specific projects came from a desire to create atmosphere on a very small budget, so I worked to set a project in a site that came with the atmosphere that I wanted. Now I have a much more nuanced appreciation of the benefits but also the challenges of making site-specific theatre.

How was GLITCH at VAULT Festival 2020? Tell us about the experience of getting your work seen by audiences and industry during such a busy festival.

Glitch is a wonderful character driven play with accessibility at it’s core. We prioritized integrated captioning as part of this performance, and our VAULT run was in large part a chance to see how this element worked in practice. The production very well received, and we were lucky we got to complete our run before theatres were shut! We always viewed our VAULT performances as a first pass at the show, and I am looking forward to when I can get back into rehearsals for our next performances, to integrate the things we have learned, specifically from working with the captioning and working with audiences.

And you are now transitioning into Opera? How did that come about, and where are you in terms of beginning to work professionally in this field?

Yes! I am at the very start of this journey as, indeed, it took me a little while to understand what the journey itself is. I have a background in instrumental music (piano and clarinet), as well as vocal singing on a less serious scale, so I have long been comfortable reading music and working with music theory. However opera, for a long time, felt like something inaccessible to me. While I was studying for my Masters, I took on a part time job working as an usher at the Royal Opera House. This introduced me to so many different operas, started developing my opinions on opera, and sparked my interest in understanding more. After about a year of seeking advice for how to break into this field, and studying Italian, I got access to the first stage in this transition, a Directing Observership on a revival of Richard Eyre’s seminal production of La Traviata at The Royal Opera House. This experience has only made me more keen to work in this medium, and I’m excited to now be the 2020 Young Artist Director with the Waterperry Opera Festival this summer and have the opportunity to work on two additional operas, one as an assistant director and directing the other myself.

I’m excited by working in opera because at my core as a director I love creating a curated emotional response in an audience of people, and opera is a form that does this intrinsically. I still have vast amounts to learn, but now am aware of how to proceed deeper.

Who are your biggest influences when it comes to theatre?

I am influenced by work that is doing interesting things with audiences, performances like Underground Railroad Game, What the Constitution Means to Me, Fairview, etc. I am inspired by company work, for example Belarus Free Theatre for their unapologetic bravery, Kneehigh for their unapologetic playfulness, Publick Transport’s humorous deconstruction…Pina Bausch, Min Jeong Seo, Valerie Hegarty, Surrealist Artwork…I get very inspired by landscapes and spaces. I read a lot and tend to get inspired by specific things for specific reasons in specific moments in time and then move on. For example, when I first encountered Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” music video, I stayed stuck in her musical works until Oh Heroine How I Love You! completed it’s development.

Do you have any new projects coming up that we should keep our eyes peeled for?

As with us all these days, there is a lot of uncertainty going forward. Postponed projects waiting to be rescheduled and the entire theatre industry on hold waiting for when it is safe to start up again. I can say that a new play I have developed with The Heroine Chronicles, Heroines in Limbo, will be performing at the International Youth Arts Festival, now in 2021, and a tour of Oh Heroine How I Love You! is currently being rescheduled for performances in libraries across the UK spanning the upcoming year. Hidden Tales will reschedule our show in the Museum of Cambridge as soon as we have a better sense of the end of closures, as well as plans for Glitch to happen again. I am part of a collaboration of international artists developing a new project on the subject of Fake News, and that is scheduled for early 2021 in South Korea! Fingers crossed that one upcoming project stays upcoming - this August I will be the Young Artist Director at the Waterperry Opera Festival, assistant directing Donzetti’s The Elixir of Love and directing Jonathan Dove’s Greed.

An eclectic mix, of course, and hopefully an exciting one as and when the world of live performance reawakens.

Amy x


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<![CDATA[Julius Caesar presented by the UnDisposables]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/julius-caesar-presented-by-the-undisposables5e75d75fd4b1c000174702a1Sat, 21 Mar 2020 09:21:29 GMTAmy Toledano

What is it?

The UnDisposabes present a new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s political drama.

What's it all about?

Caesar’s rise to power cause those around him to question his ambition and whether Rome would be better off without an all-powerful ruler.

How did it make me feel?

The interpretation of Caesar, Brutus and Cassius as female is interesting as this gives new weight and produces other choices in comparison to what a male actor would perhaps do. For me, Cassius played by Rachel Wilkes completely steals the show as her bold choices bring new life into what can sometimes be a very thankless role. Sarah Dean’s Brutus is quite bland at the beginning and only really warms up near the end of the play which is unfortunate as Brutus has some Shakespeare's best lines. Romo Sikdar-Rahman’s Mark Antony just doesn’t feee detailed enough and at times shouts the words rather then letting the text do the work. The Ensemble cast is very strong and there are lovely performances given from Isobel Hughes, Grace Hussey-Bird and Jake Saunders. The soundscapes by Tom Triggs are beautiful and atmospheric but at times too loud for the actors to be able to talk over. The use of ab-libbing sometimes takes over the actual language of the piece. There are some beautiful choreographed fights however throughout the production.

Anything Else?

Expect more then 2 hours as this production run more to 2 hours and 45 mins as a lot of the text could have cut to make it the 2 hours mark - a lot of scenes were in that were not necessary to this version of Julius Caesar.

Claire-Monique x

Julius Caesar was playing at The Space Theatre, until the 20th March 2020.


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<![CDATA[Freedom Hi 自由閪 presented by Papergang Theatre]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/freedom-hi-presented-by-papergang-theatre5e74fb726c457e00176b1988Fri, 20 Mar 2020 17:33:00 GMTAmy Toledano

What is it?

Freedom Hi 自由閪 is a collaboration of Papergang Theatre Company actors, writers and filmmakers of Hong Kong and British East Asian Artists to portray experiences on the front lines of the Hong Kong Protests against the Chinese Government.

What's it all about?

Exploring the traumatic events of the on going protests in Hong Kong, told through five different pieces to create one complete piece of artistry.

How did it make me feel?

Going into the space you don’t really know what you are about to witness. Before it starts we are all asked to join a messenger group which is linked to a protector in real time. What unfolds is very raw, emotional and at times disturbing. A moment that is very powerful is when one of actors playing Puss in the Booth is stating the names of some of the students who were found dead, while another actors peels an orange and splits them representing their lost lives. Because there is no linear story line as such, and each piece is a depiction of what is happening and what has happened, it is important to know the underlying facts before you go into this show.

For me this performance, this work of art, is so integral for the west to understand the struggles of the people of Hong Kong and how they are suffering everyday, as well as the brutality they are facing. Another moment that is hard to let go of is when boxes are put in places on the floor in the exact format the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and the actors along with a video camera, show us the perilous route the students had to take in order to escape the Hong Kong police who were about to arrest them.

All the acting, soundscape and physical exploration in this piece of art are astounding. The performers speak not only English but Mandarin, and put more importance into the brutality of what is happening to the people of Hong Kong, even now.

Anything Else?

This production proves that the use of technology in theatre can work but as part of the storytelling, not as a substitute.

Claire-Monique x

Freedom Hi 自由閪 was playing in the Pit, VAULT Festival until the 15th March 2020.


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<![CDATA[When We Died presented by Alexandra Donnachie ]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/when-we-died-presented-by-alexandra-donnachie5e7363ceb2c0b10017068964Thu, 19 Mar 2020 12:32:49 GMTAmy Toledano

What is it?

A macabre telling of the encounter between a woman and the man who assaulted her. But it turns out he is dead, and she’s is the person to embalm his body.

What is it about?

This one-woman story takes us through, step by step, every gruesome yet fascinating detail of embalming; from gluing the eyes shut to pumping a carefully balanced chemical solution through the body. Intertwined is also the events of how the man she’s working on came to assault her. When dealing with a body, the character Rachel explains, it is normally a poignant, intimate and strangely beautiful moment, often piecing together clues to build a full image of who the person was in life, to give them the most respectful last moments on earth as possible. However, this time there’s fear, anger and a need to unload and expose his true colours to someone, to his wife, her family, and in making a decision to do so, the moral implications are revealed.

How did it make me feel?

Uneasy. Going into the show knowing the brief doesn’t necessarily prepare you for a bizarre combination of talking about a dead body and a sexual assault. Steadily growing more and more uneasy as the story progresses to that inevitable event. Predominantly I’m angry for her, as discussed in the play, that one action can destroy a lifetime of relationships; one brief moment can undo 10 years of building love and connection with someone. It wasn’t her mistake, it’s not in her power to change anything. The piece is delivered delicately and poignantly by Alexandra Donnachie, who also wrote the show. A mammoth story to undertake with the focus being on the experience around it, of party angst and work routines compared to the unravel of her mental state, all heightened with a bare stage other than LED lighting surrounding her, giving a clinical feel of her workplace but also a useful tool for the performer. There is also abstract movement to symbolise events rather than sharing explicit descriptions of the assault, and is a stunning way to represent this story.

Anything else?

I commend the work that Carbon Theatre have put towards protecting their co-workers and audience members in the dealing of this potentially triggering subject matter. By booking a quiet room afterwards for anyone who needs it and for their work hand in hand with relevant organisations that aid sexual assault survivors they are taking necessary precautions and giving necessary support. It’s an extremely important aspect of making theatre of this nature.

Eleanor x

When We Died played in the Cage, VAULT Festival, until the 15th March 2020.


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<![CDATA[Giving Up Marty presented by Motormouse Productions]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/giving-up-marty-presented-by-motormouse-productions5e6f50e6f41642001715b9acMon, 16 Mar 2020 11:33:04 GMTAmy Toledano

What is It?

Giving Up Marty is an original piece by Karen Bartholomew that deconstructs the romanticism of adoption reunions by sharing with audiences just how life shattering it can be.

What is it about?

It's the 80's. Fun times, fun music, fun fashion. But, "it was a different time then"; a phrase we hear again and again throughout this play from the older characters as they try to explain and justify the past. Joel is a happy and successful eighteen year old. He is comfortable in his life and with his family, he is excited about travelling and exploring new things, and he has no interest in finding his birth parents. Until they come to find him. Joel's birth mother, Martha, and sister, Melissa, are the ones to seek him out. We soon learn, along with Joel, that they've done so to fill a void in their lives: the loss of Martha's eldest son. We watch as Joel learns more about the family and life he could have had if he had grown up as Marty. Unlike versions we see on TV, not all adoption reunions are joyous. Not everyone wants to find their birth families and face the brutal truths of their blood line, for everything is not always what it seems. Joel learns this quite rapidly as he sees the council estate he could have lived on, the phyiscal abuse he could have endured, the lack of experiences he could have had, and the health problems he could inherit. The audience travels with Joel as he faces who he is, who Marty is, and who Joel wants to become now that he knows Marty. It is a struggle, for sure, and ultimately Joel is able to separate from Marty and continue on his own path.

How did it make me feel?

This play made me feel proud of the playwright for telling this story. It cannot be easy to share such a private matter with the world, especially one that is so personal. The way Bartholomew writes makes one truly connect with the characters and with the story, even those who do not share these experiences. Why? Because Bartholomew writes about love. If there is one take away is that love carries us through life and Joel has a lot of it, even if it is misguided.

Danny Hetherington plays Joel with such conviction that the audience is hurting and thriving along with him.

Dorothy Lawrence as Martha and Natasha Atkinson as Melissa portray their characters in such a way that it draws a spotlight on the mental stress, pain and anguish that families can feel in their search. Lawrence's performance is truly heartbreaking as we watch her suffer with knowing what she has done, admitting it, yet still living in denial. Lawrence plays Martha as being strong in her belief that she has the right to know and love Marty and it is difficult to watch because we know she gave that right up eighteen years ago, but we also feel empathy for her because she just wants her son.

Anything else?

Giving Up Marty is produced by Motormouse Productions and directed creatively and honestly by Annie Sutton. The play highlights a real-life issue that everyone knows about but does not know enough about. It is important to keep telling stories like this and giving light to those who feel they may be overlooked.

Natasha x

Giving Up Marty is playing in the Crescent, VAULT Festival, until the 12th March 2020.


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<![CDATA[Super Scary Film Club (For Kids) presented by Burn Bright Theatre]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/super-scary-film-club-for-kids-presented-by-burn-bright-theatre5e6f48c4cfe7d10017f70f5aMon, 16 Mar 2020 09:44:03 GMTAmy Toledano

What Is It?

An hour of spooky sketches and songs, in family-friendly homage to iconic horror films throughout the ages.

What Is It About?

The mission of the night: to watch all the scariest films ever made, back-to-back. A celebration of staying up until dawn to watch scary films with your friends.

How Did It Make Me Feel?

Super Scary Film Club is, at heart, a love letter to the horror genre. The framing device of the children’s film club gives the adults in the room the startling realisation that, goodness, it is quite possible we first watched these films a tad too young. Which naturally, only increases one’s overall affection for the genre.

The framing device in itself has a spooky-sweet arch: don’t be fooled into thinking this is an MST3k imitation. The cast is good at involving the audience from the very beginning. From setting up the Club’s secret password, to handing out popcorn from the snack stash care of Propercorn, we feel like we are part of the clubhouse. This makes the sketch format of the show even more engaging, as every new sketch or song is introduced by one of the ‘kids’ popping a cassette into the old-school VCR. The overall effect is that of a friend group joking to each other about a film as they’re watching it.

I’m right there with them, finding myself hoping they’ll do my favourites next. Your fave is probably in this. Catch me whooping for The Thing in a way that is perhaps more invested and child-like than the actual child sitting near me displays. That’s the power of inclusive theatre done well.

The songs and dances are fantastic reference-laden pastiches, and catchy to boot. The company’s approach to depicting horror’s hall of fame is charming and clever, deconstructing the stories in a way funny to all, on any level you care to examine. Children who may not be familiar with the films first-hand can laugh because they are inherently funny. Older horror fans can laugh because everything about Norman Bates is indeed silly. Because yes, horror is silly. Horror is ridiculous. Vampires are indeed too mushy: it seems to be true that they only care about ‘kissing and cuddling’, ultimately. ‘Scary Oldman’ never even shows up in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. There are plenty of surprises I wouldn’t want to spoil. There is an overarching conversation about the nature of our horror-based media shifting with global anxieties. This play understands that fear is the opposite side of the coin to laughter, and it never stops being playful.

I find myself moved by Rule Number One of the Super Scary Film Club: it’s ok to be afraid. We see Mikey become terrified by the films. He watches them anyway because he feels safe enough to face his fears with his friends. Super Scary Film Club reminds us that it’s ok to be afraid, but also to not forget to see the funny side—and that we’re all in this club together.

Essential for fans of horror cinema, and for anyone interested in family-friendly theatre. A perfect tonic for grim times that has you smiling from beginning to end. See it if you can. Miss at your own peril…

Anything Else?

Iconic Emma Read does a better Kurt Russell in The Thing than Kurt Russell in The Thing. And Kurt Russell in The Thing is already an excellent thing. Whether or not you think he turns out to be The Thing. Super Scary Film Club is not afraid to reawaken that debate.

Arden x

Super Scary Film Club (For Kids) is playing at the Vault Festival until Sunday 22nd March 2020.


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<![CDATA[Bin Juice presented by Cat Kolubayev]]>https://www.withinherwords.co.uk/post/bin-juice-presented-by-cat-kolubayev5e6df29011ad2b0017038c9dSun, 15 Mar 2020 09:58:30 GMTAmy Toledano

What is it? Belinda has come for an interview at a waste disposal company because she thinks it looks cool, but the dark underbelly of this operation quickly presents itself.

What is it all about?

This hour long three hander is a sharp witted comedy set to the sights and smells of bin juice. Belinda, or Barney as she’s sometimes known, is desperate for a job and the voice at the end of the phone is willing to give her one because she’s impressionable. Hilarious double act Francine and Marla get her trained up as they deal with an indiscretion of their own.

How did it make me feel?

This show is hilarious, frighteningly dark, but mainly hilarious. All three actors in this show are pitch perfect, hitting every single beat and every single understated punchline. Adeline Waby plays the woman in charge, Francine. She is contrary and pedantic and holds the power in the room so tightly you worry what might happen if she leaves. Madison Clare plays dim-witted side kick Marla with the physical precision of a ballet dancer. Every facial expression, every tiny change in body language is perfectly crafted and makes Marla one of the most heartbreakingly empathetic characters in the play. Finally we have Helen Antoniou as Belinda, her character is used to drive the plot forward and she does this with subtlety and ease, every line is off-kilter and curious. Direction by Anastasia Bruce Jones is intricate and clever, she has clearly spent a lot of time on character work and it pays off. Bin Juice is written by Cat Kolubayev who carves a space out for women in the world of crime fiction. Bin Juice is a shining example that female representation doesn't have to feel forced as all three female characters were right at home in this seedy underbelly of waste removal.

Anything else?

Bin Juice is a faultless crime comedy that I would recommend anyone to go and watch.

Serafina x

Bin Juice is playing in Cavern, VAULT Festival, until the 15th March 2020.


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