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Review: Gutted, HOME

Gutted - High-Res Image

Gutted by Liz Richardson and Tara Robinson

HOME, Manchester [20.07.17]

Three toilets. One lid up. One lid down. One lid-less. The sort of breakfast bar that you’d found in the Studio Christmas catalogue. A cake stand filled with at least nine delights. Some flowers. Some ‘Thank You’ cards. Red Sauce. Brown Sauce. Lots and lots and lots of Activia Yoghurt.

Gutted invites us to listen to Liz’s true story of her experience of ulcerative colitis. It is a comic and honest exploration of a medical condition that has a drastic impact on quality of life, but is yet to become a condition that the general public have a good awareness of. Liz takes us on a journey through her hospital trips and treatments and, her feelings surrounding what happened to her at different points in the process. Her exploration of shame, pain and dignity is highly moving and prompts the audience to empathise (rather than sympathise) with her experiences.

What truly made this show unique was its ability to share a serious topic with humour, but also its method of raising an audience’s knowledge of a medical condition, without giving off the vibe of a boring science lesson. Liz draws her digestive system on to her torso and marks out the changes that the surgery she is asked to undergo makes to this system. The process itself is described via voice over as Liz draws. This reminded me of a number of things: the bits of A Level Biology that were actually interesting, my time working on hospital wards as a trainee SLT and my sheer love of diagrams. This was a very informative element of the piece which did not feel out of place nor did it feel as though we were sitting in a lecture. I always like to leave a show knowing that I’ve learnt something and it’s refreshing to leave with a heightened knowledge of something concrete rather than leaving solely with abstract ideas and feelings. That being said, Gutted gave me lots to think about in terms of how we as individuals perceive the experiences of others and how we navigate feelings surrounding shame and stigma.

Liz is incredibly gifted at drawing laughs from the audience, as she is at making them comfortable. This stretches as far as her inviting audience members onto the stage to read aloud notes in her thank you cards, in exchange for a fairy cake or a bottle of beer. Despite usually not being a fan of audience interaction, I felt that this was well executed and it almost (we’re not quite there yet) tempted me to volunteer myself. That alone, is an achievement!

Arguably the most hilarious element of this show is the input of Liz’s stoma to the conversation. It is both an interesting and clever concept to give the stoma a voice within Liz’s experience, especially when it certainly knows how to crack a joke about its day job, “it’s not an easy job, gotta deal with whatever shit gets thrown at you”. Giving a not-so-inanimate part of the body an opinion, welcomes us to understand Liz’s situation from a multitude of perspectives. This is also built upon by the myriad of characters we encounter who were part of Liz’s journey. We meet everyone from a ‘softly spoken nurse in crocs’ to one of her slightly dippy colleagues, ‘Matt’. Initially, I found it a little difficult to follow the character changes (Liz performs every single character). However, the display board behind her included the names of all characters and highlighted individual names as she performed them, this was a really useful tool and certainly aided the accessibility of this performance.

Verdict: Gutted is a hilarious, honest and important piece of theatre that raises awareness of a health condition that conversation is far too silent on.

 

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Review: Heads Up, HOME

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Heads Up by Kieran Hurley

HOME, Manchester [19.05.17]

Kieran Hurley’s Heads Up is an end of the world storytelling sesh that, at times, resembles the sorts of stories you hear from people sat in Chicken Hut after a night on the lash in the toon. Except this didn’t have the “must keep talking about it” quality that late nights in Chicken Hut do.

Whilst Hurley is clearly a very talented actor and vocalist with the ability to use small and subtle movements to give the performance an urgent physicality, the story itself lacked legs. Either that or it had too many legs that, when lined up, unfortunately tumbled like a house of cards caught in a gust of wind. The four narratives that were delivered to us were rather far fetched, but nonetheless had some important home truths (that are possibly humbling when the world is about to end) and at times, were funny. However, the stories were so jumbled that they didn’t really get off the ground and the linking points between them were too obvious at points.

I appreciate shows that do not crave a set in order to make their world exist and was impressed by Hurley’s ability to provide his continued presence, vocal range and physicality whilst engaging in a live form of play with sound effects. But, and this is a very big but, the lighting of this piece was atrocious. And, I’m not saying that to be harsh but, because at points, I had to sit with my eyes closed for a moment to counteract the pain in my eyes caused by the lighting. The stage was in darkness with Hurley in the centre barely illuminated. It is clear that the thought behind this lighting choice was to create a feeling of tension and urgency. However, there is a difference between giving your audience the feeling of tension and actually causing tension in their eyes. This piece of theatre was not accessible for individuals with sensory difficulties and I believe these staging decisions cut off a potential audience and hindered some of the audience who did attend.

Verdict: Heads Up has the potential to be something great – Hurley is a skilled performer and storyteller and, the stories of this piece have some interesting elements. However, this was a physically uncomfortable experience that I wouldn’t want to have again. Though, I would be interested to see a relaxed performance of this piece to see how much of an influence the poor conditions had on my experience of the narrative.

 

 

NB Having spoken to other attendees at this performance, it is clear that where you were seated really influenced your sensory experience of the show.

 

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Review: My Country, HOME MCR or Anti-Black Propaganda 101 or Is Shirley Bassey Even Welsh?

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My Country by The National Theatre

Directed by Rufus Norris; Poetry by Carol Ann Duffy

HOME MCR, Manchester [22.04.2017]

As a black-mixed, british person, I’d just like to say, what a load of old tripe that was! Filled with anti-black, right wing propaganda from the off – this is a concrete expression of how Britain attempts to derive its ‘greatness’ from basking in its ‘lets just brush it under the carpet’ afrophobic rhetoric, mixed with a superiority complex.

My Country is a verbatim piece of theatre about the UK’s decision to exit the European Union. It shares real people’s stories, through seven characters who represent: Britannia, Caledonia, Cymru, Northern Ireland, North East, East Midlands and South West. The National Theatre team who went out to conduct these interviews ‘nationwide’ clearly didn’t travel very far or rather they only ventured to a handful of Virgin train stops. And as for their sampling method, they picked up a few token brown and black people (mostly men and with right leaning opinions) to make this top heavy piece seem representative… in all of its white supremacy. The fact that the company failed to include a black person in their cast but wanted to create a piece that represents this country demonstrates why as a black person in the UK, you are not british by design.

I do not agree with most of the views that were aired in this piece. However, I recognise that this is verbatim theatre and so it’s going to air an array of views and stories, from real people. But, there was no balance here, which makes no sense given that leave or stay was close to a 50/50 split. The major problem was that there were lots of views describing non-white and/or non british people as: terrorists, benefits scroungers, rapists and non-english speakers, not conforming to british culture (to name a few), but virtually no stories/views conveying them in a positive light. Even the views aired by POC interviewees are relatively anti-immigration. This is just another piece of propaganda to replace the buses that promised £350 million to the NHS.

But what really struck me was the clear lack of platform to black women’s voice – misogynoir really reared its ugly head here and it has not gone unnoticed. Black women’s voices are continually erased and, to not seek out the views of black women for this piece of theatre is damaging but unfortunately not surprising. This is the reason that platforms such as No Fly On The Wall and Galdem exist – to give space to black women and to challenge racist patriarchal structures.

In terms of the direction of this piece, there was very little – lots of sitting at desks and occasionally standing up to have an argument. My year 7s could have done a better job than this! Though to be fair, some direction did occur when each representative decided to share an item that represented their area and do a little dance. Of course, there was a bit of Irish dancing (his legs weren’t straight) and some Morris dancing. But the party really started when Wales began dancing to Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey and the man sat next to me said very loudly: ‘is Shirley Bassey even Welsh?’ Yeah, that sums it up really.

My Country is a play that failed in so many areas: the direction, the production, the research, the casting, the poetry… oh and whilst it managed to platform the views of Farage, May, Cameron and Johnson, it couldn’t possibly include any left or liberal views, could it? I guess we all know, how this came about.

Verdict: I gave up my Saturday night to watch some anti-black nonsense and experience a stranger’s out loud confusion over Shirley Bassey. This play brings nothing to the table that you can’t already find on Facebook – if you need to refresh your memory, just re-add all the people you deleted when Brexit made its debut. The National Theatre needs to check itself, seriously (and maybe go back into education to study research methods).

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