Author Archives: Lisa Wolfe


About Lisa Wolfe

Lisa Wolfe is a freelance theatre producer and project manager of contemporary small-scale work. Companies and people she has supported include: A&E Comedy, Three Score Dance, Pocket Epics, Jennifer Irons,Tim Crouch, Liz Aggiss, Sue MacLaine, Spymonkey and many more. Lisa was Marketing Manager at Brighton Dome and Festival (1989-2001) and has also worked for South East Dance, Chichester Festival Theatre and Company of Angels. She is Marketing Manager for Carousel, learning-disability arts company.

Sh!t Theatre: Dollywould

I saw a snippet of this show in preview a while ago and marvelled then at how a simple snip of fabric from a vest could make such a fabulously appropriate costume. In economy it’s up there with Liz Aggiss pulling all of her costumes, and more, out of her pants. It makes a statement about the female body and performance that is both sassy and comical, which is pretty much how the modern world views Dolly Parton. There’s an ear-shattering moment late in Sh!t Theatre’s entertainingly chaotic show when Dolly’s body and appearance are picked over by male interviewers in the most sexist language imaginable.

It’s a given that Louise Mothersole and Rebecca (Becca) Biscuit would base the sixty minutes of Dollywould around Dolly Parton’s distinctive look and sound, her music, how much she is a construct of her time, how she fed an industry and built an empire. They do all this of course – but being Sh!t Theatre, they do so much more.

So we have Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal, butting up against Dolly Parton look-a-likes and Dolly dolls, and Dolly herself as a created being. Very little is known about Parton’s private life: there’s a husband she rarely sees and a Judy she shares a room with on tour. Might she be gay? Of course – just listen to the lyrics of ‘Touch Your Woman’! We have death, courtesy of the Tennessee Body Farm, conveniently located next to Dollywood, to remind us of what we leave behind. Parton has made sure her legacy survives in countless Dolly branded gifts and merchandise, let alone the unforgettable ‘Nine to Five’ which titled the inevitable jukebox musical.

We have musings on fame and stardom (the show is Sh!t Theatre’s self-proclaimed mainstream cross-over hit), and on sexism and feminism, exhilaratingly delivered by the couple wearing their familiar white-face make-up, plus woolly wigs and pink vests with boob holes in. The stage is a messy white romper room spattered with clothes and balloons – a swing seat becomes an abattoir hook.

Louise and Becca vocalise in unison Parton’s answers to a probing 1977 interview by Barbara Walters. Every nuance is accentuated making you almost hear Parton’s thought process as she fields another personal brickbat. They harmonise beautifully, even though the mandolin is out of key. Other commentators have their words performed with added speech affectations, a device which is oddly thrilling.

A film of the company’s road trip to Dollywood provides the backbone of the piece and both helps and hinders the storytelling. It’s funny and revealing, but the frequent switch of focus between screen and stage slows things down and it sometimes seem a struggle to pull all the various themes together. There are moments of clever narrative interweaving: the photocopier malfunction (hinted at in the film) and the description of tattoos hardening into dead skin which loops back to the Body Farm episode satisfy. I do miss the intimacy of Letters to Windsor House. This previous show and most of their earlier work – from the first experiments seen at The Basement in Brighton, through to the Total Theatre Award winning JSA (Job Seekers Anonymous) in 2013 – had been built around personal experience, so Dollywould is a move in a different direction. In pulling off that tricky transition from small- to mid-scale, Sh!t Theatre have proved themselves capable and successful theatre makers. They sit alongside other pioneering young feminist performance anarchists such as Get In the Back of the Van and Rash Dash with their own special character and popular appeal.

Ladies of Sh!t Theatre – long may you continue to knock us out with your great voices and brilliant comic timing. Behind the enormous false boobs and shaggy wigs, you have a lot to say, and you so it so well. Dolly would, no doubt, approve.





Tom Adams and Lilian Henley: Elephant and Castle

A man and a woman. A husband and a wife. A double bed. An audience.

John and Yoko’s agenda for 1969’s Bed-In for Peace may differ wildly from Tom and Lilian’s in Elephant and Castle, but as a married couple, then on honeymoon, they perhaps asked similar questions of themselves when planning the work.

Because this is a properly personal and revealing show about the shared space of the marital bed and how the night there is spent. It’s vulnerable territory for the performers. How much are you willing to share and how will it affect your relationship? The line between your real and your performing self is inevitably going to blur. Factor in what you want the audience to experience and to take from it, and you’ve made yourself a bit of a hard bed to lie on.

Fortunately for theatre, if not for the couple, is the fact that Tom’s slow-wave sleep parasomnias interrupt their repose with great comic effect. His somnambulant grunts, shouts, words and actions often terrify and sometimes amuse Lily and disrupt her own sleep. Why does this happen and how will they cope?

The story is told through delicate songs and economical text that interweaves his story with hers and includes a bit of science and somnambulist history.

A bed centre-stage is the set and occasional backdrop. Lily is on piano and Tom on guitar. Recordings of Tom’s sleep-talking feed through as starting point or illustration. The songs are spare and often haunting, especially those delivered in Lily’s crystal clear voice with its huge range and clipped vocal precision, familiar to many from her work with 1927. She describes Tom as a golem in one song; a nice touch for those in the know. Tom quips and smiles, all the while alert to the potential harm or irritation he causes his wife and others with his unusual and uncontrollable behaviour. It must be so strange to hear your recorded voice spouting about potatoes from your subconscious and to know that you’ve been walking around naked barking like a dog. As someone who once woke a friend by shaking her and shouting ‘Give me back my camera!’ I can sympathise with them both.

The songs feed the narrative, without ever dipping into musical theatre territory. They swerve sentimentality too, something that Cora Bissett’s Midsummer, another song-based lovers duet performed on a bed, positively mined, to lesser effect in my view.

We hear from Dr Ian Smith, the Papworth Hospital sleep expert, and Tom’s brother Mark pops up in sleep talk. Tom’s condition is hereditary and is affected by stress and various stimuli that they will have to navigate through in their lives together.

If the songs are rather too similar tonally and the pace a little, well, sleepy, this is nonetheless a joyful hour. A film of Tom sleepwalking projected onto a wrinkled sheet doesn’t work, but first night’s allow for such things. You want to be a bit closer to them too: the big proscenium arch stage frames them nicely but isn’t exactly intimate.

Playful yet deeply and sincerely felt, you can’t help but love them both. The closing duet, Another World, where their voices have hints of Mary Margaret O’Hara and Mark Lanegan, has a refrain ‘please don’t shake me’. It’s a thing of beauty and leaves you feeling if not shaken, certainly stirred.




Schweigman&: Blaas (Blow)

Ever dreamed you were being smothered by a giant marshmallow? Me neither, but this is one of the many thoughts or sensory images that might occur when watching Blaas

Categorised as dance in the Brighton Festival programme, it is a dance of sorts – between an inflated white cube and an audience, initially seated. Director Boukje Schweigman says her intention is to make us think about our bodies in relation to a space or an object. Blaas, meaning blow or bubble in Dutch, is a collaboration with designer Cocky Eek, who, apart from having a brilliant name, has created a sensational bit of kit with which to fulfil that intention.

It would be unhelpful to say what (ahem) unfolds, as this is a seriously experiential work. I find myself considering scale: the big billowing cube, skilfully manipulated by performer Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti, seems delicate in the lofty public gymnasium. I’m aware of it clanking against metal doors and reflecting light from the green netting that separates off the basketball pitch. There’s a feeling of being underwater from that green light and the way the thing sways, lifts and rebounds almost weightlessly, anchored by human limbs inside. Some might find the setting distracting but I like how this workaday environment contrasts with a pristine, almost clinical, otherworldly encounter.

Further transformations take the audience by surprise and increase our anticipation. There have already been confrontations with air-filled fabric and now things are getting bigger, louder and closer. We feel a little in jeopardy on tiered benches as our plastic foot coverings rustle against Jochem van To’s subtle and curious music. His soundscape seeps into your brain, occasionally reinforcing the idea of oceans with whale song and clicks. A boy who looks about ten is spellbound and keen to engage and it’s a shame he’s the only child: the guidance age of twelve seems strange.

That said, I keep seeing body parts amidst the abstraction of form: a bosom with an inverted nipple, a sphincter. Fabric full of air lends itself to these images, especially when gripped and twisted in a fist. You’re never unaware of the person making things happen, and you do get to meet her (she pops out of another orifice), but you can suspend disbelief enough to feel wonder and enjoy working out how it is all done. Who is running around the outside? How are the fans positioned to make such effects? In the central 20 minutes of the show, when we’re asked to just ‘be’ in the chilly space, I think about other large inflatables encountered over years of theatre going. Forkbeard Fantasy’s magnificent pneumatic Blue Woman, The Luminarium becoming a glowing and disorientating space for dancers, the Udderbelly deflating on the Ornate Johnson’s in 2008, turning into a giant purple cow pat…

The masterstroke comes in how the piece resolves. We have all been quite separate for the past hour, thinking about breath or light or nipples (OK, just me) but the company cleverly brings the audience together at the end to the extent that I was I able to blag a lift home from a fellow traveller.

File it under a visual, sensory, performative, disorienting experience then. Or, as my kind driver said when asked why she had booked for this show: ‘I had no idea what it was. I just like the strange stuff.’


 Featured photo (top) by Geert Snoeijer.

 Schweigman& will be presenting For The Time Being (UK premiere) at IF, Milton Keynes International Festival, on 22 and 23 July 2018.




Dancenorth, Lucy Guerin Inc, Gideon Obarzanek & Senyawa: Attractor

We are at a tribal campfire or perhaps a sweat-lodge. At the centre our Shamans, the Indonesian musicians Senyawa, are building an unearthly soundscape from Rully Shabara’s throat and Wukir Suryadi’s bamboo spear.

At a certain moment, when the energy is ready, the eight dancers spark out of the circle like electricity – shaking, whirling, sinuous, crazed.

Lit like a Caravaggio painting (by Ben Bosco Shaw), Attractor is beautiful to look at and deliciously abandoned. It’s no surprise to read in the programme that the Australian directors/choreographers Lucy Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek met Senyawa at a traditional trance ceremony in Java: they have transmuted that experience into the work with all its raw energy and transcendental overtones.

Whilst Attractor uses some familiar contemporary dance tropes – dancing in unison, flailing limbs, repeated rhythms, running in circles, and flinging of hair – it avoids ever being dull. How? By always having the stage picture in mind and choreographing with an artist’s eye. Patterns are formed and swiftly broken at a satisfying pace. Amidst the euphoric action are moments of repose and gathering, of listening and breathing. A Pina Bausch-esque tableau gives us a pale and flickering kaleidoscope of arms and fingers.

The integration of the musicians into the work is skilfully done. At one point they are picked up, still throat gurgling and flute tooting, and moved around the stage, then dragged along the floor. The Shamans are temporarily spent. There seems to be percussion coming from the audience – it is, and soon the dancers are joined on stage by a procession of ordinary folk who join their circle and begin to dance. It’s an open-hearted gesture that adds extra humanity to an already heart-felt piece. The company has, throughout, been one of unity with no stars or lengthy solos, and now the mass of people move through simpler steps as one big family, different shapes and sizes, each themselves yet part of the whole.

It’s no surprise that Attractor has won several awards around the world. Nick Roux’s sound design is a masterpiece in its own right: the music is truly exciting. Only the rather lacklustre costumes, which are little more than street-wear, let it down.

But in the way it makes dance so vital, so part of everybody’s life, is magnificent. I would have joined them all on stage and danced myself to oblivion given half a chance. Maybe next time.



Ever So English: Caravan 2018

Lisa Wolfe attends Caravan, a biennial showcase that introduces England’s brightest independent theatre artists to festival organisers from around the world. 

In his welcoming address to Caravan 2018, Gavin Stride, director of host organisation Farnham Maltings, described the event not as a showcase, but as a conversation between ‘us’ (Caravan self-describes as ‘new English performance’) and the rest of the world. That conversation is getting harder to navigate as we move towards Brexit, but we will, he believes, be defined by the things we share, as that is how we express who we are.

The programme, held over four days in May, follows the Edinburgh British Council Showcase model of performances, a ‘marketplace’ of stalls hosted by artists, and pitch sessions. Caravan is a partnership with Brighton Festival (within which it is embedded) and supported by the British Council, whose programme managers, along with the Caravan team, liaise between delegates, artists and producers to further these conversations.

Work presented in this year’s showcase (as I’m afraid I am going to continue to call it, because great conversation aside, that is what it really is.) included the Total Theatre Award winning Palmyra, an investigation of the politics of destruction, made by the creators of Eurohouse, Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas; Milk Presents’s acclaimed Joan, performed by drag king champion Lucy Jane Parkinson; and Gobbledegook Theatre’s mesmeric outdoor arts piece Cloudscapes, which Total Theatre Magazine saw at Inside Out Dorset 2016.

Due to time restrictions, I could only experience a small sample of the programme – but that sample included Stopgap Dance Company’s The Enormous Room, a reflection on bereavement reviewed here; Third Angel and SBC Theatre’s durational installation The Journeys, reviewed here; and a smattering of the pitch sessions and presentations.

On Monday, I slipped into the Old Courtroom in time to hear Anna Beechar and Rachel Lincoln present a pitch for their show for babies, Nest, which was a great success at Brighton Festival 2017. In this rather adversarial setting, more suitable for a Ted talk than a ‘conversation’, the attention was firmly on the work and the artists and all the pitches were well received.

Jenny Sealey MBE has been ‘Shouting and Signing from the Sidelines’ (as her provocation on Tuesday afternoon was titled) for nearly three decades as the artistic director of Graeae, who describe themselves as ‘a force for change in world-class theatre, boldly placing D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage and challenging preconceptions.’ She talked passionately about loving difference, the importance of authenticity in casting, how accessibility needs to be artistically imbedded in the work and the lack of training for D/deaf and disabled artists in the UK. What most provoked her was that despite the huge gains achieved through, for example, the Paralympic Opening Ceremony (which she co-directed), and the strides being made by Arts Council England and others, she is still having to do daily battle to make diversity in all its senses understood. Her words all rang true to me from my work with Carousel’s learning disabled artists, who, if anything, have even higher mountain to climb in terms of visibility and viability as artists.

As for the marketplace, it was good to see Brighton artists Seth Kriebel and Rachel Henson in the mix alongside Edinburgh Showcase favourites such as Deborah Pearson, Blind Summit, Dante or Die, and the inevitable Richard DeDomenici.

There were a few shows programmed at Caravan that I’d seen previously, including Ursula Martinez’s Free Admission, about which I wrote: ‘She’s not one to do things by halves, so if there’s going to be a stage metaphor, it’s going to be a bloody great big one.’ Since making this show, she’s been baring her all with Adrienne Trustcott and Zoe Coombs Marr in Wild Bore, which divided critics but, when I saw it, held and entertained audiences. From the social media gossip around the Caravan performance, it seems Free Admission is having a similarly divisive impact amongst some who saw it.

I’ve followed Victoria Melody’s career for about ten years, seeing her change from visual artist to solo performer and now heading up a mid-scale show with a New Orleans style band and her dad in a giant barrel. Ugly Chief, which I saw at BAC last year, is hugely ambitious and risky – her dad, Mike Melody, whilst no stranger to performance (he’s a TV antiques pundit) is a liability on stage. The push and pull between them, and his staged demise, is often hilarious and frequently disarming.

Vic Llewellyn and Kid Carpet’s The Castle Maker is a lively battlecry for art in all its messy glory. I loved this show in Edinburgh Fringe last year, as did Dorothy Max Prior when she reviewed it.

When I asked an Italian delegate if she enjoyed The Castle Maker, she said yes, but it was ‘very English’. I think the same might be said of Ugly Chief, which if anything is more idiosyncratic – but both shows have universal themes: the democracy of art in one, the inevitability of death in the other.

It seemed an odd comment, too, given that Caravan is all about new English performance. Perhaps some national characteristics just can’t translate after all. It will be interesting to see which of this year’s showcase works make waves overseas.


Additional material by Dorothy Max Prior.

Featured image (top): Vic Llewellyn and Kid Carpet: The Castle Builder. 

Caravan is delivered by Farnham Maltings with the ambition of increasing the national and international profile of England’s artists. This year’s programme took place 12–15 May 2018 as part of the Brighton Festival.