Author Archives: Ciaran Hammond


About Ciaran Hammond

Ciaran Hammond is an actor, director, writer and theatre maker with a background in devised theatre. Ciaran works with absurdist theatre makers LoudGround (UK) as an associate artist, and is a founding member of physical theatre company, Romantika (SWE/UK). Ciaran has a BA(Hons) in European Theatre Arts from Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance, and also trained at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre as an actor. Ciaran is interested in collaborative methods of theatre making, and is drawn towards the weird and wonderful. He also does a little bit of juggling.

Talking Dirty

 After seeing I want you to admire me/but you shouldn’t,  Ciaran Hammond talks to Dirty Rascals Theatre’s artistic director Pavlos Christodoulou and performer and maker Tom MacQueen about what makes this emerging company what it is.

When did Dirty Rascals start and who was there at the beginning?

PAVLOS: So in 2015 we became incorporated, but we were originally a duo, who were at UCL together studying philosophy, but we were very active in the drama society. We’d just taken a play to Edinburgh and we had become slightly disillusioned with the wonders of academic philosophy and we wanted to try new stuff out.

When we started it was me and Jeremy Wong who was executive director but now he’s working for Improbable, full-time.

We’ve done a lot of work in quite a short amount of time: our first show was in 2016, which was a Mike Leigh-kind-of-style, improv, it was two intersecting monologues. Then we did some new writing.

This project I want you to admire me/ but you shouldn’t, which has had lots of other iterations, has become a sort of mainstay, whilst doing lots of other work – we’ve got several other projects on at the moment as well.

You mentioned studying philosophy, was there any particular body of thought that was implemented into I want you to admire me/ but you shouldn’t?

PAVLOS: This show actually started as an adaptation of a Kafka’s The Hunger Artist. The story is very murky and is about the Hunger Artist’s desire to keep starving for longer than the audience want him to. So we created a show that was about us trying to tell that story, and bring in moments of our own failure, as part of our storytelling. Then from a showing of that at the Wandsworth Fringe, we then shifted quite considerably whilst retaining the core ideas that were at play into this gameshow format which we showed at New Diorama when we were Emerging Graduates there, and then at CPT, then at Brighton Fringe and now at Vault Festival.

What has the most formative experience been for you guys as a company, so far?

PAVLOS: Last year I was feeling a little bit restless, because I felt that while we had produced work at a rate that was maybe normal for a starting company, there were long periods of time between rehearsing and performing that left me feeling quite unsatisfied. So I started a company night at Rosemary Branch Theatre (Turbulence), where I’d make a different show every month. We made fourteen performances, starting in late 2017 finishing in late 2018. So having such a short time frame to make work and making it with lots of different artists every month was really exciting and removed a certain preciousness and desire for everything to be perfect. So for me, personally, that was the most formative. But the company very much functions as a collective, as well as myself there are also four associate artists – such as David who is in this piece as a composer. Everyone’s journey in the company is different which is quite important to me as well; it’s not a homogenised, top-down thing.

TOM: My involvement with Dirty Rascals was the first time where I made work that was informed by live art practice more so than theatre. I trained as an actor at Central after UCL, I was classically trained, which was great, but then I left and thought ‘This isn’t all I want to do’. I was interested in exploring this whole world of work out there. So Pavlos has been really important to me in introducing me to that and allowing me to explore it.

The piece feels like a play in terms of how the drama runs, but the live art elements were definitely apparent. It seemed like you approached it from a deconstructive angle, would you say there’s some truth in this?

PAVLOS: Yeah, as the show has had a lot of iterations, we played around with a lot of different scores and different game structures. And while a lot of that exploration ends up getting discarded there’s something that develops over the process of that. In that sense it’s deconstructed, but it’s deconstructed in practice rather than where we sit and talk about it. We don’t actually spend that much time talking about the ideas in the piece.

TOM: We don’t anymore, we did in the beginning.

PAVLOS: Yeah, whereas now it’s more like ‘let’s try this’ and if it works, it works and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

TOM: The show is about how the show works, rather than about themes or something.


What would you say the most influential artist has been for the company, and individually?

TOM: I saw a Forced Entertainment show around the time after we did this show for the first time, and there were some parallels there, in terms of pushing yourself and the patience of the audience.

PAVLOS: I’d say a couple. I’d say ZU-UK and Jamal Harewood. They’re very generous but provocative, participatory art makers. I’d I’m interested in the work that I’m doing being simultaneously warm and generous, where the audience don’t feel like they’re being judged, but at the same time being something that is provoking and slightly uncomfortable. I think it’s a really hard balance, but ZU-UK and Jamal are both artists that do that really well.

What do you feel has been the biggest change in the company’s artistic practice since you started?

PAVLOS: It’s massive! I find it so weird! I also work as an actor trainer, I just finished a Masters in Actor Training at Central, so I’m always obsessed with performers and performance, and I don’t really think of myself as much of a director. It’s like I’m battling with the idea of me being a director. So the first show we did was two very actor-led processes where they developed characters and we improvised monologues and that was it. And basically we shifted through doing more conventionally theatrical work and plays to now having a lot of focus on participatory work on politics and live art structures. So it’s been quite a big paradigm shift, and it’s happened very slowly over time, and different parts of the company’s work articulate aspects of that.

Two of the shows that we have on at the moment: one of them is called Crimson Wave: Craft the Resistance which is a feminist, craftivist rave space and then the other one, it was the second time Dad made your cheesecake that my heart sheared in two, which will be on at Camden People’s Theatre, and that is a very personal, autobiographical, live art, participatory piece. Both pieces exemplify something that is in a way a remnant of an older practice within the company to some extent. You can see the linearity, because it does have that participatory component.

What would you say the biggest change in the world of performance you guys are involved in has been?

PAVLOS: It’s weird because I’ve not really been embedded in the world for that long, and I really feel that what parts of it have changed are the parts I pay attention to, rather than the thing itself. It’s a difficult one… I would say that I feel like for whatever reason, there’s something about agency and the hotness of participatory work, escape rooms and that kind of thing that has felt like there’s a willingness on the part of audiences to become authors of their own experiences and that feels like a shift to me because I see it in the wider culture outside of performance work as well. It’s something that I’m quite excited about because I really like playing with audiences. (To Tom) what about you?

TOM: I agree with what you said initially, but I need to see more stuff first I think!


Dirty Rascals will be performing next at Camden People’s Theatre on 6 March with their piece it was the second time Dad made your cheesecake that my heart sheared in two.

Interview by Ciaran Hammond


Playing into Performance: an interview with The PappyShow

CARE, Vault Festival 2019

After the end of a very busy week, performing three productions (BOYS, GIRLS and CARE) at VAULT Festival, Kane Husbands and Eddie-Joe Robinson of The PappyShow chatted to Ciaran Hammond about their company, their practice and physical theatre.

Where did The PappyShow start?

KANE: We started six years ago. I was working full time at the National Youth Theatre. And then lots of us got made redundant. I was in a lucky position where I had been coming back and forth to freelance, and it meant that over the years I got to work with all these different people, so I just thought “I can’t now rely on the NYT to put me in rooms with brilliant people so I’m just gonna start something up myself!”

I went to the Caribbean for the first time which is where my family are from, and one of the most overused words over there is pappyshow and it means sillyness or foolishness or playfulness. I didn’t quite know that I wanted to make a theatre company. I just wanted to get a group of people together to play some games in a room. So I invited about twenty people and we just had a day of playing and then that day turned into a week and then we started to do it ad-hoc through the year, and then 4 years later we were like, “Let’s make a piece.” But initially it was just to train together and to be in a room with other people not necessarily to make a show or anything.

You’ve done a lot of shows that are a result of workshops or other projects, so BOYS last year was your first show that you made intentionally to be a performance?

KANE: Yeah it’s usually for a social inclusion project or like a creative learning thing, and we’ll share the work at the end of it. But BOYS was our first show that we made for an audience and that we put all of our research from over the years together.

CARE, Vault Festival 2019

Who was there from the get-go?

KANE: From the very beginning it was just me, and then about three or four years ago I thought I can’t do it all on my own, it was just too much, and there had been some people who had been really regular and consistent with all the work since the company started. So I spoke with the five people who are now in the core company and now we run it together.

What would you say the most formative experience has been for you, firstly as the Artistic Director of the company and secondly for the company as a whole?

KANE: I think when I was a member of the National Youth Theatre when I was 15 and those years of working with that company just changed my life. I wasn’t interested in theatre originally, I wanted to do sports; I was a sprinter and a swimmer and that was my thing. And then a teacher said to me, “I haven’t had anyone get into the NYT in about ten years” and I was like, “I bet I’ll get in”. It was so arrogant! I think it was my competitive streak. And that turned everything upside down for me, we toured all around the world. It broadened my horizons as to what I could have imagined my life to have been. It made me think much bigger, particularly being in China – I performed at the Beijing Olympics. From there I started working on my intercultural practice, which is really at the heart of what I do: celebrating difference and bringing different cultures together so they can tell stories.

EDDIE: For me it was Latitude.

What did you do in Latitude?

EDDIE: We did BOYS in Latitude last year… How many of us went? 20?

KANE: Yeah we took 20 of us to Latitude and it was insane, because it was the first time where somebody who had seen the work and wanted the work. We were just going to perform at one of their small stages and they came and saw it and they wanted it to be one of the headline events in the main theatre tent, and it was at the best time. You could come and watch our show and then half an hour after go and watch Solange. It was insane. I don’t know how it happened. And it was also on that day that we received our Arts Council Funding. So it was one of the most extraordinary days.

It sounds like it was a quick transition?

EDDIE: That was off the back of Vault Fest last year and so it was quite quick. But that was a real moment of the fruits of the labour paying off because for so long we’d been trying to make it happen ourselves, so when someone else steps in and kind of makes it happen for you, it’s a big moment. So there was a shift because people were putting in their time and effort to make it work for us rather than us doing all the work to make something happen. It was a real moment of “Okay, here’s a step forward.”

GIRLS, Vault Festival 2019

What would you guys say has been the biggest change in the company’s artistic practice since you started?

KANE: So BOYS took three or four years to develop. In my own personal practice, I teach a lot at universities and I might work with a thousand people a week. And I also did a lot of work with groups of men around London and the Middle East. Went to Dubai, went to Saudi Arabia. And I just kind of thought that they were all quite separate and sparse and then I started to go, “These are all linked!” We were in Croatia with a group of teachers, and I realised that it was directly informing the work with GIRLS. And I think it was understanding that the work in the room is valid research. And I used to view research as something like going to the library and sitting down and studying, but actually, it can be being in a room full of people and giving them questions and hearing their stories. Because they’re all experts about being a man and being a woman and the data you collect from that is all valid for informing the work.

It’s taken us years to get to this point. So in a way the product can happen quite quickly for us, because we’ve spent three years doing the research.

EDDIE: Yeah it has been a shift but more as a development than a change. Just to echo what Kane said really, you don’t need anything more than what is already in the room. In the style of work that we’re doing, where there are no characters and all that. Everything you need to make the show is in the people and the room. And yeah I guess it was just that realisation for me.

This definitely comes through in your work, and it has a very comforting effect.

KANE: It’s a very therapeutic way to create work. We work with a therapist quite a lot who comes and supports our work. She’s a consultant and a psychoanalyst, and she helps tailor what kind of questions we’re asking. How do we ask open questions that bring about interesting stories? Then it becomes really interesting to analyse the responses to those things; If you ask people about love they often tell you stories about heartbreak. And it just makes you go “Wow,” it really feels like a study of humanity, that you’re not just making a play but you’re looking at the process and thinking, “Aren’t people fascinating? Isn’t that interesting?” So we’re just trying to put those responses together on stage in the most authentic way. It’s just such an interesting study.

I love watching TED Talks and discussions, and I’m amazed at how a group can be doing nothing theatrical, they’re just standing there, telling their story and speaking. And there’s something that I really connect to in that, and I felt that we needed more theatre that has this authenticity and truthfulness to it. And then the moments of theatricality are where we do something different. We’re not trying to trick the audience. I don’t believe it, I don’t believe that you’ve just come from a pretend setting, it doesn’t work for me, but if you talk about yourself, I buy that. So I guess we’ve been trying to make the shift between, what is our theatrical language and what is our authentic storytelling.

GIRLS, Vault Festival 2019

You’ve mentioned your work with the NYT, is there an artist either inside or outside the NYT that has influenced you the most, and the company?

KANE: I think, the very first time I saw any of Pina Bausch’s work. I couldn’t believe it was such a mix of different things, there was dance, they were playing games. It really blew my mind and made me think “Wow, how can something be that visual?” And they’re never pretending to be other people, it’s just themselves. And I’m looking back at my own history and my own life and seeing what I want to see with what they present. Like, “Oh my God, that’s my Mum and Dad! That’s how they met! That’s the love that my Nan and Grandad had.” And it’s not being forced on me, I’m just seeing it. So she was a huge influence.

EDDIE: Sounds cheesy, but for me it’s probably Kane, because for me personally, I’ve never worked in a way like this before. I joined the company back in 2013, but haven’t performed in anything with The PappyShow until this year, which is odd. Being in it is hard because it’s quite an exposing thing to do, just to be onstage and be yourself, and nothing but yourself. It’s difficult to really strip off the layers, but once you do that it’s really liberating. I’ve felt like some of my most comfortable moments have been on the stage being myself.

KANE: We’re also really inspired by this researcher called Brené Brown, she’s an American researcher and she studies things like shame and vulnerability and bravery and risk taking. She’s not really a theatre person she’s more of a psychologist. But she’s been a huge influence, in the way that we operate, the way we set up rooms, the way we try to create trust in an ensemble.

BOYS, Vault Festival 2019

What artist do you most identify through your work?

KANE: I think the work that Augusto Boal did about trying to provoke change through playing games and how you can change a community on the inside through holding up a mirror. And because I was so sporty as a kid, as I was always so fascinated on how we can be so gripped in sport and how we can switch off so easily in theatre. And yet both places we see the full range of human emotion: when you watch men burst into tears and see strangers hug. You see that in the theatre, on the stage and in the audience. There’s something about the game, the audience know the game and we have a way in to be able to receive the work, and you go “I know what they’re going to do! They’re going to kick a ball in there!”, because you know the rules, and you can really let yourself live within it. And if it’s clear, you can enjoy the journey and you don’t have to work out what’s going to happen next.

EDDIE: And it’s such an investment on the audience side of things as well, because it’s genuinely live. When you’re watching a “normal” play, you can trick yourself into believing that what is happening in front of you is real, though it’s not. 99% of the time you go in and think “I’m watching a play,” whereas I think we try and create work that you can genuinely feel like is happening right in front of you, because it’ll be different every night.

BOYS, Vault Festival 2019

What would you say the biggest change has been in the world of physical theatre since The PappyShow started?

KANE: I don’t know about a change in the world of physical theatre. I know what I’ve wanted to contribute to the conversation and it’s specifically around inclusion and diversity. And I started to look around, mainly through my teaching, and I saw a big push on wanting to have more diverse people in the room, in the institutions. I wasn’t necessarily seeing it in the staffing in those institutions. I was looking around like, “Why aren’t there more people of colour leading rooms?” And when I started to look at the world of dance and the world of physical theatre, and asking, “Why am I not seeing any people of colour?” When you look at the world of sport, there are people of colour who are excelling, you go and watch the Olympics and all of our sprinters, and all of our athletes are people of colour How isn’t this translating? We can’t say they’re unfit. There’s something that’s not crossing here, and I believe that we’re not thinking about it as an accessible career path for people of colour and we don’t know how to get into that. So I wanted to actively make it possible that we see a range of narratives that challenge our bias. So that’s what I wanted to push. And then it became about what are the voices we don’t hear what are the unheard stories? And I guess The PappyShow is about opening up the conversation, and hopefully the conversation afterwards is about the work. When we go to see theatres who want to program BOYS, we ask, “Why do you want work like this? What’s the big push to have BAME men in your theatre, because your audience doesn’t look like it, so let’s have a conversation about it.” So I think for me, diversity and inclusivity are the biggest changes.

EDDIE: I’d just like to add, that we will always try to push for the feeling to come through the moves – if we’re going to talk about physical theatre – and I feel like a lot of physical theatre has good choreography but it’s hard to connect to, emotionally. And unless there’s something behind it, it may as well be a dance show. And so from that, I think for us, getting the moves right or having your perfect point isn’t really what it’s about. And correct me if I’m wrong [to Kane] but you’d always prefer it to be messy and have feeling behind it. So I think we’re trying to move away from the very primed and perfect technique of it, and into the expressiveness and feeling of it. Whilst also having great choreography – I hope so – but again just putting the parameters there and being able to play within that. Rather than, “This is what you have to do, night in, night out.”

KANE: With scripts, emphasis is put on the words, but when you study communication, the majority of it is through what we see in body language. So why is it that this piece of paper is dictating all of the work. It’s something about control, and it’s started to go into movement. It’s not the moves, it’s the feeling.


The Pappy Show are currently touring BOYS, GIRLS and CARE and run regular drop-in Monday night workshops from their base at NYT, Holloway Road.

Interview by Ciaran Hammond

Origins and Overlaps: New Public at Vault Festival 2019

New Public is an emerging London-based theatre company, bringing together diverse disciplines to make new work, including circus, performance art and clowning. The company members are: Katariina Tamm, Dean Elliott, Jo Moss, Stefanie Bruckner, Tom Kelsey and Christopher Adams, all graduates of the RADA Theatre Lab MA. Ciaran Hammond talks to Jo, Katariina and Dean, during rehearsals for their second production, White Noise.

So you guys met on the Theatre Lab course at RADA, when was that?

DEAN: In 2016, so coming up to two years ago. We formed two thirds of the way through the course. In the third term is a project where you’re basically placed into a company and have to create something independently outside of class time. That’s where our first show, Lucid, was born. It was a very short, twenty-minute version, and then we just took it through different stages of development from there once we left the course.

What would you say the most formative experience for you as a company has been?

JO: Two moments that were most formative, in my mind: there was our graduation show from the MA Lab, when we all worked together with the rest of our class, and that show, Clay to Flesh, was directed by Simona Gonella who’s directing White Noise. Clay to Flesh was where we really found and saw each other’s strengths in much greater clarity: from text and writing to physicality and puppetry and singing and musicality.

Then the other point where we all came together was when we went to Estonia and worked with Lloyd Newson [DV8’s Artistic Director] for seven days. That was a great working process, because we got to work together, being directed by this grandmaster.

What has been the biggest development in your artistic practice?

DEAN: In terms of the process for the company, what’s changed is that we’ve opened up to more collaborators; we’ve brought in a director (Simona Gonella), we have a designer involved (Julian Starr), as well as Chris (Christopher Adams) as a deviser and digital designer Shankho Chaudhuri. So that sense of expansion, in terms of the way we work has been quite a change I guess.

KATARIINA: There are always two sides, we have this artistic thing we do and that the same time we have to organise and run the whole thing. So I think, it’s becoming more and more clear to us how to run a company; we’re not just actors but we have to figure out everything around how to put a performance on. So that’s something that is constantly in development and still forming.

The way you work at the minute sounds quite flat, would you say you operate as a kind of collective?

DEAN: Yeah absolutely. One thing I feel that makes that option viable is that we share a common language from our training that’s fused us together. We all come from different performance backgrounds – so that’s the thing that binds us. For me, my theatrical instincts have been changed and formed by that, and I think that’s the case for all of us: we share a common instinctive sense of what works and what doesn’t, so it’s not often that we butt heads over creative decisions. We try things, and it becomes clear quite quickly whether they work or not.

What were your backgrounds, prior to the MA together?

DEAN: So as well as an actor, Stef is a singer, she tours in a lindy-hop swing trio and records. She’s Austrian but was based in Germany, performing in German theatre. Tom is an actor as well; he was based in New York and then returned to the UK. I was an actor, quite into physical comedy and clowning, a bit of writing. It was a mix of spoken word and comedy and acting.

KATARIINA: I was doing work as an actor in Estonia, I was trained as a puppeteer, so worked as both. I’ve done some comedy as well.

JO: I was a circus artist before, so trained in Europe and lived in Europe and mainly worked… well all round really. It was a mixture of contemporary circus, theatre and dance and acrobatics as well as circus skills. I was also doing corporate events – big shows – Franco Dragone, Cirque de Soleil type things around the world. Then I got a bit bored of that because I felt a lot of it was quite empty; not really telling stories or having any content or narrative. So I decided to shift into the more theatrical world and then came to the [MA Theatre] Lab.

Is there an artist that has influenced you the most as a company?

DEAN: …Lloyd Newson, Jan Fabre in terms of aesthetic, we worked with him for three weeks at RADA… Simona, obviously. There was also a show that was a real point of reference for us…

JO: The choreographer Crystal Pites with the writer Jonathon Young, who collaborated to make Betroffenheit.

What do you feel has been the biggest change in the world of the type of work that you make?

JO: In my opinion there’s a massive shift happening at the moment, in that we’re becoming less mono-artistic and we’re blending arts more: it’s huge. If you look at opera, circus has been massive in opera in the last decade and even more circus is being built into opera. Similarly, in the circus industry we’re bringing in all sorts of things like puppetry, so all of those artistic factions that used to be quite separate – if you were a dancer it used to be that’s all you did, or if you were an actor you acted – are being drawn together. Now what we’re seeing in theatre or performance art or live spectacle is all of those different disciplines starting to merge and complement each other in shows and I think we’re seeing that more and more: a new renaissance!

DEAN: It’s a lot more physical now, even shows at the National, mainstream theatre, really seem to be pursuing a more embodied physical form. It’s not always successful though, a lot of the time it does feel like it’s just a layer that’s been painted on, on a superficial level.

JO: In many ways I think the UK’s a little bit late on that. Europe’s moved away from naturalism about twenty or thirty years ago. But the UK has stayed more entrenched in this theatrical narrative and literary tradition. But now it feels like England might be catching up a little bit and starting to blend some of the arts and create more visual art.

I think it’s more of an assumed thing now that actors, particularly young ones, are going to be making their own work.

DEAN: I honestly find it hard to see how actors, at least on a certain level can even exist without having something to put their energy into. I can’t fathom not having that.


White Noise played Vault Festival, 22-24 February, devised by the company and directed by Simona Gonella.

Interviewed by Ciaran Hammond. Photos by Sarah Hickson, of White Noise.

Rites of Passage – LIMF 2019

Two of the UK’s top ensemble physical theatre companies, Gecko and Theatre Re, presented shows at this year’s London International Mime Festival.  Ciaran Hammond was there to bear witness…

A man is spat out of a helter-skelter slide into a pile of teddy bears, in a small crescent-shaped room; beginning a surrealistic life’s journey. Various other performers also have this initial introduction, and each at their ‘birth’ is adorned with a wedding dress. Once dressed in the bridal attire and whipped up into excitement by a clipboard-wielding businesswoman and four men puffing away on cigarettes, they step out of their isolated bunker with eagerness to seek out the happiness that the white gown has promised them… and the set caves in. As soon as the walls have hit the floor, they are blasted into a landscape made up of mobile cubicles assembled out of work desks, computers and lamps, each precariously supported by four small trolley wheels.

Gecko’s use of mobile scenery is strong, as always, and is used to drastically and quickly transform the set and setting; fifteen performers may be swinging from the cubicle lamps and a second later all but four of them have exited the stage, the remaining few cramped into one cubicle. Engaged in an aggressive business meeting, the interior of the box they are encased in has turned from grey to red, with cigarette smoke slowly emerging from the gaps in its frame.



Gecko: The Wedding. Photo Richard Haughton


In The Wedding, these bureaucratic machinations are the extension of the invisible antagonistic force in the piece, which explores the relationship between the individual and the state. We witness a marriage breakdown and an office party turn to violence without ever being provided with the reasons why. At first the deterioration of the figures on stage seem to be brought on by flaws in their character, yet as the piece develops, the fast-paced world they live in is revealed to be the cause. This is embodied in Gecko’s signature use of object and body manipulation: figures are contorted by poles attached to their limbs, and are constrained by the rapidly changing space, which flusters them into a rage.

Although the tonal shifts in The Wedding are aggressive and sudden, the rhythm of the piece expands and contracts itself with ease, in unison with the changing physical space. This assists the piece in encapsulating a variety of different life trajectories: the grandeur of the bourgeoisie dining above a wave of undulating office workers is quickly replaced by a family of four living out of a suitcase – literally – entertaining the audience for spare change.

We are periodically given a glimpse of the benefactors behind the demise on stage: faceless, Edwardian-fashion-sensed elites watching from afar. The majority of the figures on stage are lit from directly above. As the light shines through the haze, the space above the figures becomes noticeable, as if they all reside at the bottom of a great well. The lighting illuminates them from beneath, making them glimmer brighter than anyone else that they tower above. Coupled with their ghostly presence, it’s insinuated that they are influencers in this machine of pain that the piece depicts.

There is a strong sense of fatalism throughout the piece, or rather, an examination of fate and how to revolt against it. Towards the end of the piece, the figures tear off their wedding dresses, and pull the faceless elites down from their pedestal where they throw them around and beat them in a celebration of taking back control of their own destiny.


Theatre Re: Birth

Theatre Re’s Birth possesses a similar sense of fatalism and shares a similar theatrical language. In Birth, Theatre Re use their own brand of tightly choreographed, rhythmically driven physical theatre which carries the audience’s emotions along with the fluidity of its musical score. The score is present throughout the performance and assists in conveying an emotional journey that stretches across three generations.

The piece plays out the history of one family and examines prenatal loss of life. As a heavily pregnant woman delves into her deceased grandma’s diary, scenes from her family’s past unfurl onstage and are pieced together as though they are being imagined into existence in front of us. The passage of time is quick in Birth, and what moments stick around the longest seem to be what has the most emotional weight for the granddaughter (just as our own brains decide what memories to retain). This race through three different lives is achieved through startlingly magical transitions using a gigantic cloth, visually echoing the two most recurrent locations in the piece: the bed and the dinner table.

The characters also echo one another in their behaviour: the way both mothers are worried about their daughters leaving home, the way each of the two daughters introduce their spouse to the family, and the way they dance and sing together, are all significant points within the piece that help to build a visual demonstration of the likeness between the women, and makes their lives seem like one big continuous journey.

This repetition of fate is a big part of what helps Birth tug at the audience’s heartstrings, but also frames their existence as a determined event. Even when the fourth generation of the family is lost to a stillbirth, although it is a surprise for them, it seems just as pre-destined as everything else in this piece.

Much like Gecko’s The Wedding, Theatre Re’s Birth presents people pulled through lives they didn’t choose, yet unlike The Wedding, Birth shows a possibility of comfort within the cycles. The fact that all three women have so much in common is something that allows them to bond and live happy lives, and gives the granddaughter memories to save her during her grief, whereas in The Wedding, the system is presented as having little to no upsides.

What is interesting about these two pieces, when seen within a few days of each other at the same festival, is that they both belong to a realm of physical theatre that is concerned with bodily control, and yet use their physical prowess to illustrate a definitive lack of control that we have over reality. Gloomy? Not quite. At the heart of both pieces is a depiction of people as naturally good-hearted. In between the emotional gauntlets, both The Wedding and Birth’s characters are resolutely carrying on through life, just doing their best, and it seems that the performances share a wish for the world to reward them for doing this.


Featured image (top): Gecko: The Wedding. Photo Richard Haughton.

Theatre Re: Birth was presented at Shoreditch Town Hall 10–13 January.

Gecko: The Wedding was presented at Barbican Theatre 24–26 January. 

Both shows were part of the London International Mime Festival 2019. For the full programme for 2019, and for details of past festival programmes, see




It’s hopefully au revoir not adieu…  Ciaran Hammond reflects on the Voila Europe festival

Now in its 7th year Voila Europe! is an annual theatre festival focusing on cross-border European work, which showcases work featuring a variety of different practices. Originally established with a focus on French-English bilingual performance, last year (2017) the festival expanded its availability to artists from all European countries, as a response to Brexit. It describes itself as ‘a border-busting mix of multicultural, multilingual, and multidisciplinary performance’.

I managed to catch a meagre three out of the 36 shows on offer this year: The Lonely Room, Republica and Sylvia. All three shows, as you’d imagine they would, reflected on European identity – in very different ways. Considering the year we’re in, and what is due to happen in March 2019, the festival carries a different kind of importance with it this year.



Hoax: The Lonely Room


The first show I saw at Voila!  was The Lonely Room by Hoax, presented at The Cockpit Theatre.

Once you’re in The Cockpit’s main space, you see, downstage right – orange lit with orange hair (well, ginger, anyway) – two women, their contorted bodies wrapped around each other, as if caught in the act of something they don’t want us to know about. The geometry of their bodies bears some resemblance to the geometry of the totem-like structure behind them, upstage left, comprised of wooden chairs (also orange) stacked up on one another. Corners and edges jut out from both and the apparent hap-hazard manner in which they have been assembled makes both masses of wood and bones indefinite in their shape, as if there are many positions fighting to be visually dominant.

Immediately we see struggle, a struggle which, as Hoax claims, is at the heart of the performance’s identity. ‘This story is inspired by the power struggle between the different sides of our minds, the dreamer and the tactician, and the personality clash that happens when the two meet,’ says the show’s freesheet. And yes, the two women do frolic onstage as they play tricks on each other, fight for one another’s attention, and compete in hoarding the most chairs. This power struggle exists not only between the dancers, but between the two different theatrical languages, that of dance, and that of theatre.

In a conversation, when both parties are prioritising using their words for gaining power, the possible meanings and conclusions from the conversation remain undiscovered; as they pull chairs from beneath one another, and their double-takes morph into Bausch-esque repetitions, we’re presented with entertaining physical displays, but the dialogue doesn’t go anywhere. The dance and the theatre of The Lonely Room don’t allow either aspect to develop. Instead, they attempt to steal the same moment from each other, and the overall momentum of the piece never takes off.

The Lonely Room is interesting, as it uses the incompatibility between its two genres as an explorative platform. However, they are unfortunately too incompatible for the piece to explore their dichotomy without undermining the essential aspects that are needed for a performance to provide a good audience experience.






The second show I saw during my brief time at the festival was Republica by Juan Carlos Otero, Keir Cooper, and Lola Rueda, in collaboration with Emma Frankland.

‘HEY. PEOPLE. THE FIESTA IS OVER’ sings Juan Carlos Otero, with Keir Cooper and Lola Rueda at his side, all semi-nude and covered in orange paint, dancing like the Eurovision band we all deserve but will probably never get. The three performers are embodiments of aspects of 20th century Spain: Otero is the proud and partying 2nd Republic, Cooper is George Orwell (Union Flag boxer shorts on display), and Rueda is a passionate Mother Spain. It serves as a somewhat ironic commemoration of the Spanish Civil War, and a cheer for Spain and Europe, as the performers dance in union.

Dancing is very important in Republica. There’s lots of it – mostly flamenco and burlesque – and Otero and Rueda’s execution of it passionately demonstrates Spain’s political transformation. The brief pre-Franco freedom brought to the people by the 2nd Republic is embodied by the opening Catholic priest striptease routine. As the clerical clothing is lifted, red and orange sequins shaped as flames are revealed on the underside of the garment and from underneath its metaphorical ashes, Otero emerges in leather and fishnets, fireworks erupting behind him in a display of queer liberation. All of this is accompanied by a mixture of live and recorded music sang by Otero with Cooper on guitar and keyboard. This moves into an impassioned flamenco section danced by Mother Spain (Lola Rueda in a fiery red dress).

The party atmosphere of the performance quickly fades when we reach Franco’s regime. Rueda, as Mother Spain (her frilled skirt now slimmed down to a streamlined mini-skirt) and Cooper, (morphed from George Orwell into a clever personification of Britain, flagging up its lack of intervention during and in the run up to the Spanish Civil War) join Otero on stage and engage in minimal dialogue, as the house lights are thrown on, and the starkly-lit performers sit in the aftermath of an unspoken disaster. Above them, text is displayed onto the back wall to mark the chapters of the performance. Most pressing is ‘The Spanish Pact of Silence’ reciprocated in the performer’s lack of verbal conversation.

Republica’s focus on the Pact of Silence is a healthy yet grimly important reminder of the importance of conversation during times of change, and the entire piece is useful as a historical comparison to contemporary debates around the UK’s departure from the European Union.



Ja? Theatre: Sylvia



History is something that was also utilised by Ja?TheatreCompany’s Sylvia, the final piece I saw at Voila!

In Sylvia, we get a snapshot of the life of the subject of 1920s German artist Otto Dix’s painting, ‘Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden’. The piece centres round the creation of the painting. Portrayed by Joseph Morgan Schofield, Sylvia rarely leaves her chair as she sits, drinks champagne, smokes, and performs a monologue comprised of extracts from her memoirs merged with original writing. She spends the entire time in front of a portrait backdrop, which also acts as a surface for video to be projected onto.

It’s rare for a drag performance to be engaging without the use of high-energy theatricality, but Sylvia succeeds first and foremost on this level. The cigarette smoke-filled, slumberous atmosphere of the piece gives it a sense of eternity, the same eternity that we could suspect portraits would experience if they were sentient (a la Hogwarts), and the piece’s musical numbers are suitably slow and sultry. Intermittently throughout the performance, on the backdrop behind Schofield, videos of actress Caroline Tyka appear. Also portraying Sylvia, Tyka speaks in German and provides the female, non-drag version of the German journalist.

In Sylvia, the reverence of female idols commonplace in drag is mixed with multimedia to add new meaning that comes from beneath the performative veneer of Schofield’s drag. Through this, it gently investigates ideas circulating in current conversations surrounding gender identity, in regards to truth and authenticity vs the subjectivity of the onlooker. Although this method is unique in some ways, the piece doesn’t quite manage to provide original input into the conversation it is part of. This may be to do with the fact that the text is centred round Sylvia, and works more as an interesting biography of the woman than as something that can be used to measure where we are now as society.

As well as orienting around European identity, these three performances all seemed to be concerned with providing commentary on juxtaposing ideas. In The Lonely Room, this was the struggle between its genres; in Republica, it was Spain’s political clashes; and in Sylvia it was two different authentic versions of the protagonist. These juxtapositions seem indicative of a state of confusion as, in the UK, our relationship with Europe is at an apex before a change with significantly unpredictable outcomes.

It all seemed a bit bittersweet at Voila! What would have been a warming union of friends in previous years is now, in 2018, a festival that, due to the current climate of unease and concern about Brexit, feels inescapably political. Where shows used to act as friendly gestures of camaraderie and conversation, they now bear the weight of farewells and drastic warnings.


Featured image (top) Republica.

Voila Europe! London’s European Theatre Festival ran 5–18 November 2018, and took place across three venues in London: The Cockpit in Marylebone, Etcetera Theatre in Camden, and Applecart Arts in Newham.

Theatre Deli in the City of London hosted the Voila! Crossroads, a festival hub for artist networking, pop-up performances, and the festival’s European Theatre Forum.