Directed by Nikolai Foster
A play by Jonathan Harvey
Designer Colin Richmond
Lighting by Ben Cracknell
Sound by George Dennis
Our rating: ***
When the publicity for Beautiful Thing came out; we thought we were in for something special. The promotion created a sense of expectation. I am not sure that tonight’s offering lived up to the hype.
The five actors were cast well; Sam Jackson’s portrayal of Jamie and Thomas Law’s Ste were good; Vanessa Babirye’s Leah was excellent. The three kids put on lively and entertainment performances. The two adults: Charlie Brooks as Sandra and Gerard McCarthy as her boyfriend Tony were less convincing though never short on character and punch-lines. The play was rather like an episode of East Enders blended with Benefits Street with flavourings of South Park added in.
Set on the landing of three flats in a Bermondsey housing estate, Beautiful Thing is a story of sexual awakening – a tale of self-discovery of two teenage boys – Jamie and Ste – neighbours in the flats and both less than happy individuals, troubled by parents, both having a rough time at school, confused and failing to attain expected standards for working class boys.
Into this not terribly promising background comes a truly beautiful thing; a simply beautiful story of young love told with beautiful simplicity (The Public Reviews)
Jonathan Harvey’s play started life at the Bush Theatre in 1993 – the year that Stonewall began to campaign for an equal age of consent in Britain. The play moved to the West End in September 1994 and in 2002 opened at the Nottingham Playhouse and then went on a UK tour. The world premiere was greeted with rave reviews. A film version of the play was produced by Film4, released in 1996 for TV but the response led to it being screened in cinemas.
In was not until 2001 that the age of consent was set at 16 throughout Britain (except Northern Ireland which did not fall into line until 2009) and since then teenage gay themes have appeared in a variety of popular TV soaps such as Skins and in cinema films Clueless (1995), Easy A (2010) and The Perks of being a Wallflower (2012). On TV, audiences were treated to Queer As Folk (1999 – 2000) and this year Russell T Davies pulled off another amazing coup with Channel 4’s Cucumber and Banana. In this respect Beautiful Thing was ground-breaking in its time.
In his programme note about the play, Director Nikolai Foster reminds us that when Beautiful Thing was launched, Thatcher was in number ten and we still had Section 28. Contemporary context for the play was both a blessing and a curse. Some younger members of the audience might not have appreciated the references to the Richard and Judy TV programme or even the significance of Erasure (which even the characters failed to comprehend) but some of the older audience members knew what these meant and the first half raised some laughs. Sandra (played by Charlie Brooks) refers at one point to an island in Greece which she amusingly refers to as ‘Lesbian’ (meaning Lesbos.)
Foster points out correctly that this is not a ‘gay play’ – it is a play about two working class teenagers who emerge into self-identity and self-understanding through their discovery of what they share in common. As a piece of drama, it is a play in which cathartic scenes rub shoulders with moments of tenderness and funny lines. Sandra asks “you got a match?” and Leah replies “Yea – my arse, your face. ” Jamie says to Ste “There’s no such thing as just a kiss.”
Act two is about coming out. On a working class estate everyone knows everything about everybody else. As Leah says “The walls are paper thin” and this is true of both structural and social walls. Sandra (Jamie’s mother) finds out that she has a gay son and Ste is terrified that his violent and brutal father will kill him if he discovers that he has a son who is queer. Setting the play in a working class culture gave it an edge that would be absent in a more public-school setting (such as we saw in History Boys (2004) with the character of Posner.
The actors were good. Their acting was good. However, I didn’t like the dialogue – it was rather cardboard and lacked the natural fluidity that we would have seen had it been a TV production. Channel 4’s Skins hit the mark with the dialogue but somehow on the stage at Curve the stage-craft failed to get that naturalism into the spoken lines and I think that was a weakness in what was otherwise an excellent production. That did not detract from feeling sympathy for the characters or from being drawn into the plot. The moments in which Jamie (Sam Jackson) and Ste (Thomas Law) are alone on stage were convincing and their acting suggested a real chemistry and rapprochement between them which made their friendship appear real and their affection for each other poignant.
Beautiful Thing was not as good as I hoped it would be, both as a play and as a piece of acting but having said that I enjoyed it a lot. As drama it was thought-provoking and heart-wrenching with moments of engaging tenderness, emotionally charged scenes of weeping and disturbing episodes of conflict. Personally, I thought the ending was decidedly odd – the story stopped almost in mid-flight as though it had run out of time or did not know where to go next. The first act was all about setting the scene and introducing the characters – a necessary part of all stories of course – but for me it dragged on a bit. Act two was where we got the action – the punch-line of the plot. The boys went to a nearby gay bar – a bad move on a housing estate with a mother who was a bar-tender – and were spotted there. That lead to the ‘outing’ and to the play’s denouement. Not wishing to spoil the story, let’s just say the play ended on a positive note. That in itself was an achievement for a play that had a gay element, given that so many similar stories end in death or distress.
Beautiful Thing was a testament to youth and a life-affirming experience. As a drama and as a story it had its short-comings but tonight’s production was well worth seeing. Well up to the bar set by The Woman in Black and Abigail’s Party and the recent Shiv, it represented another success for Curve.
Nikolai Foster’s celebrated anniversary production of Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing will run at Leicester’s Curve theatre from Mon 25 – Sat 30 May.
Beautiful Thing is a glorious urban love story between two young men set on an inner city housing estate. It tells the story of teenager Jamie’s relationship with classmate and neighbour, Ste. Together the two boys find comedy, warmth and the music of Mama Cass through their loud-mouthed next door neighbour Leah. Jonathan Harvey combines comedy with drama in his critically acclaimed award winning play. Beautiful Thing truly captures what it is to be a teenager and to fall in love.
Multi-award winning actor Charlie Brooks, best known for her role as Janine Butcher in EastEnders, will lead the cast as Sandra. Other notable credits include Jenny in Bleak House, winner of Strictly Come Dancing, I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!, and a critically acclaimed stage performance in Our Country’s Good (Liverpool Playhouse). Thomas Law, whose role include Peter Beale in EastEnders, Matt Haddon in Casualty and most recently as a young Simon Pegg in blockbuster film The World’s End will star as Ste. Sam Jackson, whose roles include Alex Henley in Skins (E4), Jack in Drifters (E4) and a critically acclaimed performance as Billy Casper in Kes (Derby Theatre), will star as Jamie.
Best known as series regular Kris Fisher in Channel 4’s Hollyoaks, most recently seen on screen in BBC 2’s The Fall, and on Netflix’ epic Titanic: Blood and Steel, Gerard McCarthy will star as Tony. Other theatrical credits include The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe, and Blue/Orange for ATG. Vanessa Babirye, recently seen on screen in BBC 2’s Our Girl, and at the National Theatre in Romeo and Juliet will star as Leah. Also joining the company will be Rob Ellis and Natalie Law.
Nikolai Foster, Artistic Director at Curve and Director of Beautiful Thing said: “Beautiful Thing empowers everybody who sees it. It’s a hugely entertaining play, filled with big laughs, loads of drama and a big heart, performed beautifully by an incredible cast. I am proud Beautiful Thing is part of my first season here in Leicester, where I know it will make a positive difference to many lives.”
Beautiful Thing is a co-production between Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company, Curve Theatre Leicester and QNQ.
Venue: Curve, Leicester
Dates: Mon 25 – Sat 30 May
Performance times: Mon – Sat 7.45pm, Thu & Sat 2.30pm
Tickets: £26* – £16* with discounted tickets available
Ticket office: 0116 242 3595 www.curveonline.co.uk
Dating back 600 years, Leicester’s Guildhall is one of the oldest timber-framed buildings in the country. Built in around 1390 for the Guild of Corpus Christi, the building was restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1926. Today, the Hall serves as a performance centre for the arts, music and plays.
Phoenix serves as a cinema and arts centre and is situated in Morledge Street in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter. Phoenix is Leicester’s centre for independent cinema, art and digital culture. The centre’s address is given as 4 Midland Street, LE1 1TG
The area in Leicester’s city centre that is known as The Cultural Quarter, has undergone substantial changes since it received its title. The area was called St. Georges, after the church that still stands in the vicinity. The area was urbanised between 1741 and 1857. In 1989, St. Georges was designated a conservation area which was enlarged in 2003 and again in 2010. The area was at one time an important focus for industry and commerce and many factories and warehouses dominated the streets.
The run down St. George’s area with its many empty factories became the haunt of drug addicts, homeless people and criminals. The approach of the Council was to attract private developers to come in and bring all these empty factories back into use. The Exchange Building in Rutland Street (the former telephone exchange), Queen Street Apartments, St. George’s Mill, The Fair Brothers building at Alexandra House, and other city centre properties became flats and apartments for the growing number of students coming to the new De Montfort University as well as the growing number of young professionals finding working in the city’s growing design, digital and arts businesses. The large factory at the end of Wimbledon Street was converted into apartments known as St. George’s Mill.
The St. George’s area was transformed from one of run-down, empty factories and warehouses into one of residential, leisure and small business opportunities. On the outskirts of the area, the old Charles Street police station was converted into swanky offices.
City Council review
In 2008, the City Council undertook a review of what it called ‘The St. George’s Conservation Area.’ The Council, at that time, had 24 conservation areas. The city was at the time complying with requirements to regenerate the inner city and had formed a regeneration company to do this. St. George’s had been designated as a regeneration area in 1989. In 2000 central government published its Urban Regeneration white paper. All across the UK, city centres were becoming run down and many large buildings became empty as businesses moved away or lost trade to foreign competitors.
As businesses went bust (or lost their trade to foreign competition) or moved away, Leicester inner city became increasingly run down and blighted. Many of the once prosperous hosiery and knitwear factories became empty. The Council began to develop a vision of making the St. George’s Conservation Area into a ‘Cultural Quarter’ – the name that is now bears. The area was noted at that time for its ‘fine heritage of Victorian buildings.’ Not all the properties in the St. George’s area were fine; many were commercial slums and a number of these were demolished to make way for the site now occupied by Curve (which opened in 2008) and Phoenix, the two flag-ship construction projects that are the icons of the Cultural Quarter.
Some interesting buildings
The centre piece of Leicester’s Cultural Quarter is CURVE, the name given to the new multi-million pound theatre designed by internationally renowned Rafael Viñoly Architects. Curve was the only new Theatre to be built in Europe in recent times. Opened by HM The Queen in November 2008, the building was given a prestigious award by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). It cost a staggering £65m to build and fit with the latest state-of-the-art equipment. With a main auditorium limited to 800 seats, critics saw the new theatre as being too small to attract many of the larger shows that now go to centres like Birmingham and Nottingham. Lauded by local councillors as “world class” and “iconic”, Curve now has a international reputation for its own productions and for touring shows.
The Church of St. George
1823-7. Architect William Parsons. Chancel built 1879 by Sir A. Blomfield. After a fire in 1911, the church was restored by W. D. Caroe. The building is constructed in Ashlar in the Perpendicular style, comprising: nave, north and south aisles, chancel and west tower with porches on each side. The aisles have battlements and crocketed finials at angles, gabled buttresses between tall windows with curvelinear tracery. West tower with twin ogee arch bell openings and clock face below in panelled frieze, panelled angle buttresses in three stages each gabled and topped by crocketed finial, pierced battlements. The tower originally had a spire. The galleries inside were destroyed in the fire of 1911 and not rebuilt. A place of worship with Grade II listing, it is now in use as a Serbian Orthodox place of worship in the centre of Leicester.
Deuce House in a building that stands at the corner of Wimbledon Street and Southampton Street. The name Wimbledon Street is said to commemorate military exercises by the Leicester Volunteers on Wimbledon Common around 1860. Sir Henry Halford was a Leicestershire man who formed a company of volunteer soldiers. He was also the first Chairman of the Leicestershire County Council. He was present at the formation of the National Rifle Association in 1861 at Wimbledon in London. Originally it was built to house Deuce Designs, a knitwear company. The business that installed their factory in Deuce House must have associated Wimbledon with tennis (rather than with Rifle Shooting). Today the building contains 20 residential apartments. The planning application to convert the empty former hosiery factory into flats was put to Leicester City Council in May 1999. The application was for the conversion of an existing four storey factory to 17 self-contained flats. The applicant was a Mr. R. Ekaireb of London. The application was granted in July 1999. At the time the property was in Castle Ward. Deuce House overlooks both Wimbledon Street and Southampton Street; the latter was named after Lord Southampton (1804 to 1872). Previously it was called Brick Kiln Lane (up to 1843.)
In September 2000, another London-based company (Royalstone) applied to the City Council to convert an existing factory in Morledge Street, into 62 flats (car parking to be included.) The Application was approved in December 2000. The large three storey building in Morledge Street was converted into apartments called The Atrium.
In 2002, an application was made to convert another of the Wimbledon Street factories into flats. This was known as Wimbledon Mills. This project was to provide 24 self contained flats between Deuce House and the next building down called, in the application, ‘the former Cygnet hotel’ but later known as the Central Hotel the address of which is given as 57 Rutland Street (which at one time served as the Kosova Reception Centre.)
The Rowley Building (Queen Street Apartments).
In Queen Street, the large factory (The Rowley Building) was converted into what we now call the Queen Street Apartments.’ It was formerly the knitwear factory of R. Rowley & Co, established in 1867 and was housed in this building from 1913 to 1999. The Rowley Building was home to R. Rowley and Co. Ltd which was established in a small building in Queen Street in 1867 by the 21-year-old framework knitter Robert Rowley. The warehouse burned down in 1911 and was rebuilt in 1913. The building was bought by Courtaulds in 1960s and closed in 1999. During the 1950s the company began to struggle with the decline of its fully-fashioned stockings and fully-fashioned knitwear departments following changes in fashion. In 1962 the family connection of the firm was severed with the retirement of the grandson and chairman of Rowley, Leslie C. Robertson, and in 1968, in common with wider trends of conglomeration, Rowley’s was bought out by the textiles giant Courtaulds. Masterminded by Frank Kearton, Courtaulds aimed to build a massive vertically-integrated textile empire consisting of a variety of textile businesses across the country, and later abroad. By the end of 1968 Courtaulds controlled around 20 per cent of the hosiery industry in Britain, and owned thirteen firms in the Greater Leicester area.
With reinvestment in plant, equipment and maintenance Rowley’s weathered the general decline in the hosiery industry experienced during the 1970s, and did not follow the movement of others out of the city centre to suburban industrial estates. This only prolonged the eventuality of decline, however, and by the 1990s the company struggled to compete with the lower production costs of the newly industrialising countries of the Far East. Courtauld’s payroll rapidly decreased from 80,000 in 1980 to 40,000 in 1986 then to 20,000 in 1994 as the group began to shutdown unprofitable subsidiaries. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Rowley’s was a victim of these redundancies until finally, in 1999, the Queen Street location was closed altogether.
J. Herbert Marshall Music Depot
This building was constructed in the late 1870s for the wholesale and retail bookseller James Marshall. Not long after, in the 1880s, it was taken over by his son Joseph Herbert Marshall and used as a showroom for his piano wholesale business; its distinctive and impressive Victorian shop-front still survives today. The building now houses the Helsinki Nightclub.
The LCB Depot
The 1960s Leicester City Bus Depot at 31 Rutland Street was converted into a centre for business and the arts and now functions as The LCB Depot. It opened in July 2004. Not far from Curve and The Athena, is another new building, The Leicester Creative Business Depot. Converted from the entrails of the Leicester City Bus Depot, the two-block site now offers offices and studios for arts and creative businesses and organisations. It was in fact the birthplace of Arts in Leicestershire, when we had a studio there, three years ago (in the block shown in the above picture.)
Run by the City Council, the complex features rentable spaces, a cafe, an exhibition hall and meeting rooms. The project proved popular and nearly all of the units were filled within two years of the opening. The building housed the Leicester Comedy Festival and the organisers of the Caribbean Carnival were also based there for a while.
Much later on, an old hosiery factory was converted into starter units for arts and crafts business – Makers Yard. The listed building is the oldest surviving hosiery factory in the East Midlands. It’s been sensitively restored into 10 studios which house a growing creative community of artists and designer-makers. In 1854 John Brown built a warehouse on the site and rented frame knitting machines. In 1862 Brown completed a complex of buildings and another warehouse. The hosiery industry was initially dominated by male workers, but women became a large portion of the work force when men left to first in the first world war. In the 1960s Leicester’s hosiery trade boomed and the city was said to ‘clothe the world.’ In the 1980s the building became known as the Charnwood Hosiery Factory. In 2002 the building became empty. It was granted Grade II listing status in 2006. As part of £1.05 million project – funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Leicester City Council – building was refurbished into a creative workspace. Period features such as cogs, wheels and original paintwork were retained to enhance the creative industrial feel of the building.
The Central Hotel
The one building that has escaped these developments is the Central Hotel, at the end of Rutland Street. Since being used as a hostel for refugees, it has stood empty and continued to be a blight on the area.
The new digital media centre, not far from CURVE, attracted sceptical comments about its location. The quality of its facilities and the inventiveness of its programmes is beginning to pay off. The centre in Morledge Street cost over £21 million and is a multi-use project including a cinema, work spaces for media businesses and apartments.
Standing right by the side of Curve, is The Athena Theatre. Converted from the 1938 Odeon Cinema, the Athena bears all the hallmarks of the Odeon Style of the 1930s. The re-vamped venue opened in 2005 and has a capacity of nearly 1,300 and now caters for shows, exhibitions, conferences and dinners.
Opened in September 2011, Manhattan 34 bar in Rutland Street is styled around the theme of the prohibition era in the 1920s. Run by Roop Kahlon and Chris Baker, the venue has a ground floor bar area and a basement room downstairs. Roop and Chris say they are “two of Leicester’s longest standing bartenders”. The ambience is fresh, clean and themed around the ‘roaring twenties’ in New York. Even the clocks are set to Manhattan Time. Hopefully they don’t call time by them! “No, we open and close according to Greenwich Mean Time”, Roop said.
At the back of the Leicester Mercury building stands one of Leicester’s new breed of live music venues. Occupying what used to be the old Queen Victoria public house, in Southampton Street, The SoundHouse opened in 2010 after an extensive refurbishment.
The old pub used to put on live music but the sound system and staging were less than adequate. The building stood empty for a couple of years, until new landlords moved in and invested in a considerable upgrade of the facilities, to turn it into the vibrant live music centre that we see today. A new stage was built, new production lighting was was fitted and a permanent sound system was installed. Whilst the main body of the building still retained the ambience of the twentieth century (and in some aspects, Victorian) pub, the performance area took on a whole new lease of life. In 2015 several refurbishments were made to the bar area.
Some of the material in this article was drawn from the old Arts in Leicester Magazine, articles published between 2011 and 2013.
Crying Out Loud and DREAM presented Barely Methodical Troupe in their performance of Bromance. On stage tonight were Charlie Wheeller, Louis Gift and Beren D’Amico. Directed by Eddie Kay, choreography by Ella Robson Guilfoyle.
This hour-long show was sensational. We have tagged the show as ‘dance’ but only because we don’t have any other labels that are suitable.
This show brought together and fused into one sensational act – gymnastics, acrobatics, dance, mime and acting. They referred to it as ‘circus performance’ but that to me was not helpful, even though Bromance won the Total Theatre/Jacksons Lane Award for Circus.
The acrobatic routines and the dance moves required split-second timing; the dance routines required synchronised choreography. The three guys achieved all of this with consummate ease and laudable levels of agility.
The show had moments that were funny; some of the moves and actions drew laughter from the audience. A lot of the acting involved looks, expressions and gestures that were quite subtle. The first scene showed the three guys meeting and shaking hands. That might seem simplistic but they turned it into a piece of theatre that set the whole tenure of the show.
The routines involved trust (one member falling backwards and being caught by other members, often running across the width of the stage to achieve this), support (the finale was the three of them standing on each others shoulders to form a human tower), and personal space (there were amusing moments as the guys explored each others bodies and several jumps ended up with two or more of them being very up close and personal.)
So what was it all about?
The title gives us a clue: Bromance. OK, I did have to Google it. Wikipedia had the best explanation:
A bromance is a close, emotionally intense, non-sexual bond between two (or more) men. It is an exceptionally tight affectional, homosocial male bonding relationship that exceeds that of usual friendship, that is distinguished by a particularly high level of emotional intimacy. The emergence of the concept over the past decade has been seen as reflecting a change in societal perception and interest in the theme, with an increasing openness of society in the twenty-first century to reconsider gender, sexuality, and exclusivity constraints.
The show portrayed the changing companionships between the three characters performing on stage. As they performed their moves and routines, the three men went though various dynamics with their portrayed relationships, two or them bonding together to the exclusion of the other one, recombining their affections and loyalties and revealing the changing patterns of the trio as whole. It was a gymnastic ménage à trois.
In the programme notes for tonight’s show is said: ‘What did it mean that a bunch of heterosexual men would leave circus training sessions still holding hands? What did it say about their relationships and masculinity?’
Bromance was as much captivating as it was exhilarating. The show presented an emotionally engaging portrayal of male relationships with some of the most stunning acrobatics I have sever seen. I have watched gymnasts performing (floor, Pommel Horse, Still Rings, etc.) and this is a type of sport that I can appreciate for its supreme skill. The three guys did some amazing things: at one point one of them used the back of another to do a Pommel Horse move and in a breathtaking manoeuvre one of them did a hands-free spin on the the head of Louis Gift (the biggest of the three) which drew gasps from the audience.
It is amazing what three guys can do. Three of them – a small one, a middle-sized one and a big one. That worked well in terms of the acrobatics, especially when the three of them stood on each others shoulders, one of the top of the other, a feat that drew rapturous applause from the audience. During the show all three guys were on stage together, except during a duo when Louis Gift and Beren D’Amico performed together in a scene of heart-warming togetherness.
Charlie Wheeller’s solo involved a large hoop (apparently called a Cyr Wheel) – large enough for him to span across across it, his feet on one part of the hoop and his hands on another. He rolled around the stage in it, used it to do tricks, played with it and generally showed us a range of impressive skills at using this prop, to good effect. A Cyr Wheel is a large metal ring that rotates gyroscopically as a person ‘spins’ it. It acts in a similar way to a coin/penny, but every movement and motion is caused by the person inside it, Wikipedia helpfully explains. The only other other props on the stage were three chairs which were used in one of the routines.
This was like nothing I have seen before. It’s a real shame that this was a one-off performance; I hope these guys come back to Leicester again because I for one would definitely want to see this show again. Judging from the enthusiastic response of the audience tonight, I think I am not the only one.
I am not going to get hung-up on whether it’s circus, dance or acrobatics – I just loved this show because of its breathtaking artistry and the compelling story it portrayed.
Us and Them was a platform for new emerging artists and this was its third night at The Attenborough Arts Centre that presented tasters of new work by local artists.
The evening formed part of the Hand Made festival programme this weekend. See below for a link to a report on the music side of the HMF.
Tetrad is a collective led by artists, dedicated to engaging with the creative discourse of performance practices through the bringing together of local artists, thinkers and citizens.
The collective was founded by four Leicester based artists: Comedian Daniel Nicholas, Performance Artist Jack Britton and Dance Artists Lewys Holt and Katherine Hall (who performed at the UK Young Artists festival in Leicester November 2014). The collective, in partnership with Attenborough Arts Centre, are presenting a series of events throughout 2015 with the aim to foster performance and networking opportunities for emerging artists in the East Midlands.
The third Us and Them event will feature six local artists including De Montfort University student Nicky Daniels, Leicester-based dance artist Fern Chubb, Leicester-based artist Heather Forknell and Leicester based comedian and live artist Lindsey Warnes-Carroll.
Tonight, the audience gathered in the cafe/bar area of the arts centre at the opening of the evening; members of the company illustrated the theme Lost In Translation in this way: a member of the audience was asked to say something which was then communicated from one actor to the next by means of semaphore-type messages. various other actors then passed on the message to the next station until the communication arrived at its end point where the presenter announced what he had heard from the others – not what the audience member had said, presumably, a play on Chinese whispers.)
In the main hall (The Diana Princess of Wales hall), we watched a show that featured the story of an inflatable crocodile called Terrance and a mannequin called Julia.
This was the invention of Daniel Nicholas and told the story of how these unlikely creatures met, formed a relationship and married. It was a sort of soap-opera storyline that involved extra-marital affairs and Terrance touring the country as a Ukulele player and night club entertainer. Amusing, whimsical, satirical, it was party comedy sketch, partly fringe frolics but very funny.
Daniel Nicholas’s Reverb was part of Dave’s Leicester Comedy festival this year where it as nominated ‘best Festival Debut.’
Reverb (the love story of Terrance the crocodile and Julia the mannequin) was billed as ‘a surreal anti-love story, in reverse. Mixing story telling with comedy, draft surrealism was coupled with honest autobiographic discourse’, the programme notes explained. The story explored the highs and lows or a struggling performer and the strains that an obsession of a dream can have on loved ones.
Fern Chubb and Lily Thomas presented their dance sequence Who We Are. The girls’ gymnastic ballet was a visual into which you could read what you like. The choreography suggested a playful meeting of two children with duos and solo sequences reflecting their feelings and reactions to each other. The programme notes said ‘The work is semi-improvised with a set structure and material that we ‘riff’ off in performance.’ It was a performance that was richly poetic.
The evening was a really rewarding event that added something extra to the main festival programme of Hand Made.
We listed this event on our What’s On page; here is the entry:
A night for emerging artists
Us and Them at the Attenborough Arts Centre
New performance platform night Us and Them will have it’s third night at Attenborough Arts Centre on Sunday the 3rd May (7pm) presenting tasters of new performance work created by local emerging artists.
Us and Them is brought to you by Tetrad, a collective led by artists, dedicated to engaging with the creative discourse of performance practices through the bringing together of local artists, thinkers and citizens. The collective was founded by four Leicester based artists: Comedian Daniel Nicholas, Performance Artist Jack Britton and Dance Artists Lewys Holt and Katherine Hall (who performed at the UK Young Artists festival in Leicester November 2014). The collective, in partnership with Attenborough Arts Centre, are presenting a series of events throughout 2015 with the aim to foster performance and networking opportunities for emerging artists in the East Midlands.
As Leicester prepares to elect a mayor (or should I say re-elect?) it is a good time to think about the role that the arts and music might (or should) play in the future of Leicester.
I say ‘the arts’ but let me be quick to clarify that the way I use that term, is quite different from its usual use. For me the arts includes music, entertainment, heritage and many other aspects of culture. It might be a convenient label but what I do not mean by it is arts as in painting, drawings or any other form of the kind of fine arts that are too frequently associated with the proclivities of middle class intellectuals.
For me the arts is an inclusive phrase that encompasses the wide diversity of cultural interests and in this city that stands for a lot. It most certainly includes the creative industries -something for which Leicester has an outstanding reputation.
The arts – broadly defined – plays a key role in the city’s economy – more so now than at any time in the past. Many people would acknowledge the contribution that the whole Richard III thing has done for the city; so too, many would salute the impact on the city of the Comedy Festival. Leicester might have significant sporting achievements and it is might be the case that some aspects of sport also bring wealth to the city. I am not the best one to ask about sport.
Of all the arts, various defined, music stands out where Leicester is concerned. I have long argued that music is the biggest sector of the arts – in terms of the proportion of public engagement and in terms of its contribution to the overall economy. The loss of the Summer Sundae music festival was a blow for the city. Each year it brought a lot of people into the city and was probably the most valuable cultural asset we had after the comedy festival. Sadly, there are no plans, that I know of, to replace it with another national music event. The Simon Says festival is great for showcasing and celebrating our local talent but it largely engages only local music fans. People should be heading into Leicester to witness the amazing spread and quality of our local bands and singers; sadly this is not happening. What keeps Leicester out of the major tours of the big national and international acts is the small size of our venues. Leicester simply does not have a big enough venue to attract major music acts.
Two of the biggest festivals in the country take place in Derbyshire. Even Nottingham has a bigger pull for music fans from around the country. If we cannot attract commercial finance for a large arena, then plan B should be to use our valuable public spaces (Victoria and Abbey parks) for a music festival that would place the city on the national map.
Open-air events take place in the city throughout the summer. Our city is fortunate in having the infrastructure to host large-scale indoor festivals – as the comedy festival ably demonstrates. The city has a wealth of small venues and audiences seem to like the intimacy of crowded rooms for comedy and music shows. We have three venues that can host audiences of up to two thousand and one that can seat up to 800. That is roughly speaking enough to mount a major festival for music or other forms of arts.
What helps Leicester is its transport infrastructure. Good train connections and motorways makes it a destination that is relatively easy to get to. Much more needs to be done to plan and integrate out transport networks but as they stand they are not that bad. Within the city there is a fairly good bus service, at least up to 10:30pm. Late night public transport to and from the city centre is an issue that needs a lot of work; the night-time economy is important but for some reason the bus companies cannot seem to make a profit from running buses after 10.30pm.
The Mayoral candidates were asked, on the Radio Leicester hustings programme, where they thought Leicester would be in ten years time. This was asked right at the end of the programme’s allotted time and each candidate could make only a one sentence reply. What a wasted opportunity. I would have started with that question; it would have challenged each of the seven hopefuls to set out their vision for the future of Leicester. if you are going to elect someone to run the city (that is more or less what the role of Mayor entails) then the one thing you want to know is whether they do in fact have a vision for its future. You also want to know if their vision makes sense. Even if you do not agree with the idea of a city having a powerful Mayor, you have to accept that (for now at least) we have one. What I most wanted to know from each of those seven candidates was whether they had a vision for the future of the city. The hour-long debate (or perhaps cross examination) did give us a few clues as to what these people think are the issues for Leicester. There were a few moments of decisive thinking but a lot of what they said was party rhetoric or their own idiosyncratic musings.
It is good that we have had Mayoral hustings. It is good that we are able to vote and have a choice of candidates (not all of them represent the mainstream parties) but it sad that the candidates were not offering robust or credible visions of what they could do to make Leicester more successful than it is. Most of the candidates (except one) were uninspiring and weak on vision and experience. Let us hope that whoever gets elected will see the arts and music as being important to the city’s future – all of the arts and not just some blinkered take on what we think the arts is or might become.