Guest Blog: Montefiore Meets Biscuitland
What to make of a show that asks you to view a neurological disorder/disability, as a 'superpower'? Well Jess Thom wants you to know that Tourette's is what makes her special and she's changing the world 'one tic at a time' and has turned her tics into some riotous entertainment.
The show, Backstage in Biscuit Land, is a mini-guide into the life of Jess who lives with the tics and outbursts caused by the syndrome. The lazy language of writing about disease wanted me to instantly nominate Jess as a Tourette's 'sufferer' but there was not much suffering on display during an anarchic show in which Jess and her co-performer Jess Mabel-Jones (known throughout as 'Chopin') told us about Jess's life.
Her Tourette's required no description. Her vocal tic of 'biscuit' and repetitive chest beating were on clear display throughout and cleverly incorporated into the show. At times it was difficult to tell whether what we were hearing was an inventive script or a new tic. As a show it more resembled Vic Reeves at his most absurd than a medical documentary.Tourette's is a neurological disorder that has become a lazy comic shorthand for scatological and offensive behaviour. Backstage in Biscuit Land trod a fine line in both debunking and reinforcing that view. Whilst we laughed at Jess's disinhibited and furiously inventive swearing, we were also educated as she explained that only 10% of those with the syndrome will swear in this way. We also sympathised as she explained that the same behaviour which had brought her to the theatre as performer had also seen her turned away from theatres as an audience member.
The context was important but dislocating. Her behaviours were exhibited prominently and for comic effect; seeing Jess massacre a plate of strawberries on a stage in a show was hilarious but seeing the same thing unprepared in a communal dining experience might be terrifying. The medic in me wanted to know what short circuit in neurological wiring led to this, whether she hurt her chest and why she was getting worse (a fact that was signified by a comedic love letter to her wheelchair).
In the middle of all the hilarious insanity of free biscuits, songs about bestiality and hedgehog finger puppets, we were pulled up short when an audience member was asked to read Jess's care plan in the event of her tics culminating in a full-blown seizure (a common event). As the seizure was superbly enacted by Chopin's puppetry the volunteer struggled to read the banal medical algorithm (with its' litany of safety and diazepam) without shedding a tear. The theatre was silent but for Jess's own unavoidable interruptions. In that moment we saw that in sharing her superpower with us Jess was also allowing us the privilege of seeing her vulnerability.
As 'Touretteshero” Jess has positively incorporated her disease into her reality in a way that many of us could never do. Her resilience and humour in the face of being different is a lesson for us all.
By Richard Simcock, Consultant Oncologist, Montefiore Hospital.
The Montefiore Hospital working in partnership with Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival, supporting community wellbeing via the arts.
In Photos: Brighton Festival Week One
Our 49th Festival with Ali Smith at the helm has been a joy so far. We've had heaps of fun and with a plethora of great theatre, circus, dance, music, classical, outdoor, family, books and debates and visual art and film events still to come the fun is nowhere near over yet!
Take a look back over our first week of Brighton Festival 2015 right here...
Behind the scenes... on GLOW
With the highly anticipated children’s show GLOW opening today, Professor Anna Franklin from the Sussex Baby Lab discusses how their studies on infant vision, colour perception and what babies find most stimulating helped theatre company Flying Eye create the show
What have you found out so far in the Baby Lab?
The Rainbow Project, which is investigating how babies see colours, is still ongoing but we’ve just analysed the data from the first phase.
So far, we’ve found that babies can categorise colours and our analysis of recent data shows that they use the basic channels of colour vision to divide up the colour spectrum. So it suggests that when we group colours into categories such as green and blue that there is some kind of biological underpinning for how we do that; it’s not just random. And that’s been debated for a long time. People have argued that colour categories are random because there are different terms in different languages but it turns out that babies actually use the biology of their colour vision to do it, which provides some constraint on how languages can then divide up colours into different terms.
Babies have got some colour vision when they are born but it’s limited. It develops quite rapidly over the first couple of months of life and they’re trichromatic by the time they’re three months old, so three types of photo receptors are functioning. We work with babies at four months old upwards, once we are sure that they have got colour vision.
Colour perception gets a lot better as the baby develops. It actually gets better up until adolescence and then it actually starts to get worse. In toddlers we are looking at how they learn the words for colour but also how they keep colours constant in their mind when the lighting changes – something called colour constancy, which means that if you look at a banana under any colour light, you still see it and think of it as yellow. It’s basically because our brain factors out the illuminant so it can keep the surfaces constant so we’ve got a more constant world. We’re looking at that in toddlers and seeing how it develops.
Why is it important to understand these things?
It’s important for several reasons. First of all, from a scientific viewpoint, it’s important to know how the brain develops and how the brain learns to process the information in the world around it. And colour is a good way of testing questions around that - it’s a good testing ground for looking at the effect of environment on brain development and processing of stimuli. So, basic, fundamental questions about our cognition can be addressed using colour.
And there are practical implications. For example, we’ve done consultancies with toy companies on products related to infants, talking about what infants can see and what they prefer to look at and what will grab their attention.
Also, potentially there are implications down the line for how you educate children and what kinds of educational materials they respond well to. For example, if you’ve got colour vision deficiency, how would that impact on your learning in the classroom and your use of coloured education materials?
As a group, we’re most interested in the scientific questions - the goal of understanding the human brain and how we learn. But there is also practical, commercial application as well.
A huge guiding principle is that to understand how adults do something, or how the adult brain works, you need to understand how that process develops. So, for example, if you want to understand memory, then, by researching how memory develops, you can understand a lot about it in its adult form. And so the same goes with vision and with colour. Seeing things develop and seeing that development in action, you can actually understand the mechanisms much more.
How do you find your baby subjects?
We have a research assistant in the lab, Gemma, who advertises the Baby Lab studies on Facebook, and Alice keeps Baby Lab followers updated about our latest studies on Twitter. And then basically anywhere where there’s a baby in Brighton or Lewes or Eastbourne we try to get our postcards, which advertise what we’re about. A lot of people we get coming in have been told about the Baby Lab by friends who have also bought their babies in. It’s something fun that parents can do, something interesting, and they learn something about their baby in doing it.
Has anything you’ve found particularly surprised you (eg. gender differences)?
We’ve not found any gender differences before. There’s some evidence in the literature that male babies might be less good at one of the subsystems of colour vision; the red/green one. But we’ve not found any evidence of that ourselves.
The most surprising thing to me has been that infants tend to look longer at the colours that adults like. You tend to think of colour preference as being something fairly idiosyncratic – it’s just a personal choice – but actually the fact that adults’ colour preferences map on to infants looking suggests that there’s some kind of early origins of something about those colours that make us like them but also make infants look longer.
Colour is an interesting stimulus because it’s always there in everything that we look at and it can have quite subtle effects on us and our behaviour, how we process things and our emotional response. But we’re rarely really aware of that happening – it’s almost like an invisible vapour or something that you don’t really know is there but it does affect you. So it’s quite interesting from that viewpoint.
How did the Brighton Festival show come about?
Sachi and Kristina, who are the directors, just contacted me; they found the Baby Lab on the web. They wanted a play that was going to resonate with babies and that would fit with babies’ abilities in understanding and seeing. They came to the lab and we showed them some babies taking part in our research. We talked about infant vision and cognition, gave them some things to read and we just had ongoing discussion really about that so they could feed it into their play.
It was really interesting to see how science could be drawn upon in art. They’re such creative women and it was really interesting to see how they took the scientific findings and used them. I went to a couple of the shows where they were developing the different components of the play - to see how you get from the scientific work to putting it in action was really interesting for me.
Was the process quite different to how you approach things as a researcher?
Absolutely, yes. There is definitely creativity in research but their creativity has got a different goal.
I was surprised when I watched the test show how engaged babies were and how much enjoyment they got from it and also how it led to this bond between the baby and the parent. It seemed quite a rich experience for the parent to have their baby engage with something so much. When we were having conversations talking about the science and talking about their ideas, I didn’t realise that it was all going to knit together so effectively.
There’s certainly a need for more things that are directed towards infants. The GLOW show sold out on the first day that it was released and that really shows that we should be producing more things for babies. Especially because early experience is really important for shaping visual development and cognitive development, so we want to give young minds a rich experience.
Glow plays on Wednesday 6 and Thursday 7 May. For tickets, click here.
To find out more about the Sussex Baby Lab and how babies can take part in Baby Lab research, click here.
Exploring a Beautiful Cosmos - who was Ivor Cutler?
The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, coming to Brighton Festival this May, tells Cutler’s fascinating life story, interwoven with his songs, stories and poetry, but you’re out of luck if you are looking for a traditional tribute musical. Director Matthew Lenton tells The Observer it is, “an anti-Mamma Mia”, and it is only fitting that a play based on the life of a maverick defies convention. Mark Fisher from the Guardian calls it “a big grin of a show, as funny and idiosyncratic as Cutler and every bit as embraceable.” while The Telegraph describes it as “Funny, evocative and celebratory”.
Ivor Cutler was a poet, performer and certified eccentric. Born in Glasgow in the 1920s, he began writing songs and poems in the 1950s while teaching by day (a profession he took up after being dismissed from the RAF for ‘dreaminess’). Cutler began appearing on BBC Radio and after an appearance on Late Night Line-up in the 1960s, he was noticed by Paul McCartney. Cutler was subsequently championed by John Peel and released numerous albums to critical acclaim, but he remained ambivalent about his popularity and famous following, and was renowned for telling fans attempting to take his picture, “don’t you ever do that again”. He continued to ride his bike, hand out sticky labels covered with cryptic messages, and tell stories through song accompanied by his harmonium, such as I believe in bugs, Egg Meat and Mary is a cow, until his death in 2006. Cutler lived life by his own rules, his whimsical outlook and refusal to conform continues to capture the imagination and is set to enchant audiences of The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler. Read on to discover more about this wonderful man.
Ivor performing Beautiful Cosmos in 2004
As a young man, Cutler joined the RAF as a trainee navigator, but was promptly dismissed for being 'too dreamy and absent-minded' after being caught sketching clouds in mid-air.
He had an unorthodox approach to teaching and rebelled against the use of corporal punishment in his school. He cut the leather belt he had been given to discipline children with into 50 pieces, and handed them out to his students when he quit. He subsequently joined a progressive independent school ‘with no rules’ where he would challenge his pupils to improvise songs.
Cutler appeared in the Beatles psychedelic 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour as Buster Bloodvessel - the conductor of their multicoloured bus, accompanying them on their magical adventure. He was subsequently invited to teach the Beatles children but declined on socialist principles, saying, "What made their kids more special than other kids?"
He often communicated by handing out stickers with cryptic messages on them, both to people he knew and people he didn't: he would randomly distribute stickers bearing messages like, Funny smell, Let me out and To remove this label take it off.
Enjoy this short video of Ivor Cutler performing I’m Happy in 1986
His famous fans include: The Beatles, John Peel, Billy Connolly, philosopher Bertrand Russell and Johnny Rotten
He was in a relationship with English poet Phyllis King for over 40 years and the pair often collaborated. Despite their close relationship, they lived in separate houses to maintain their independence and Cutler lived in the same small second-floor flat surrounded by his collection of masks, paintings and sculptures until his death.
From the 1990s he was largely retired, but continued to ride around Central London on his bicycle, wearing pink flamingo shorts and a selection of curious hats and loud ties, accosting complete strangers in the street and asking them if they wrote poetry.
Book your spot now to see The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler.
Photos: Brighton Festival 2015 Opening Weekend
This weekend Brighton Festival began and we had smashing time! Here are some photos that showcase the festivities and it's nowhere near over yet, as there are lots more exciting events to come - see our What’s On page for full details
Brighton Festival 2015 announces full programme of events
Clear your diaries in May as England’s largest mixed arts festival returns with award-winning author Ali Smith as its Guest Director
Brighton Festival – under the watchful eye of award-winning author Ali Smith as this year’s Guest Director – has announced its full programme of events.
Over the three-week Festival - which runs from 2-24 May 2015 - many of Ali Smith’s ideas, interests and passions will be explored in a programme which spans music, theatre, dance, visual art, film, literature and debate from a wide range of national and international companies and artists; from a rare UK visit by 86-year-old legendary film maker and artist Agnès Varda to rising stars Kate Tempest, George the Poet and Hollie McNish.
With three central themes at its heart - Art and Nature, the Crossing Places between art forms, and Taking Liberty - this year’s Brighton Festival challenges visitors to look again, featuring an eye-opening array of artists and performers with the power to deliver the world we think we know to us re-seen, renewed, with a visionary twist in the tale.
Ali Smith says: “It's tremendously exciting to have been asked to help programme the 2015 Brighton Festival. I'm delighted and honoured – what a gift, to be asked to do this, imagine – the biggest international multi-arts spectacular in England. I've always loved Brighton's sense of fun and friendliness, its vibrant open-mindedness, the way it opens to sky, the way the rest of Europe is so close it's almost visible. It's a city that's always known how to live on the edge, a place full of endless energy, argument, possibilities, light. No matter the wildness or mildness of the weather, no matter the zigzag of zeitgeist elsewhere north or south of it, Brighton is always itself, and always uniquely welcoming.”
Posing questions about whether life imitates art or art imitates life, Art and Nature is explored in a host of events including an exclusive nightingale walk, with Mercury-nominated folk singer Sam Lee; an immersive multi-screen film installation of Marcus Coates’ entitled Dawn Chorus, featuring singers who uncannily recreate birdsong and bird movement; a discussion of the urgent conservation issues that face us today with celebrated author and bird enthusiast Margaret Atwood and her partner and fellow writer Graeme Gibson; and Fleeting, an outdoor spectacular over the West Pier by And Now, in which hundreds of individual points of fire create shapes and swathes of glowing light and shade.
Central to the programme is the notion of Crossing Places - where poetry meets music meets theatre meets dance – from works that defy categorisation such as The Measure of All Things, a new live cinema performance by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Sam Green to Claudia Molitor’s part installation part performance Vast White Stillness in the maze of tunnels beneath the Old Ship Hotel. In Being Both, acclaimed mezzo soprano Alice Coote, English Concert’s Harry Bicket and Susannah Waters stage a theatrical journey into the heart of Handel’s sublime vocal music, which, in a nod to Smith’s own prize-winning work How to Be Both, explores and challenges the experience and perception of gender.
Set against the backdrop of the General Election, Liberty, equality and freedom is celebrated in all its shapes in an astonishing cutting-edge line-up of artists, performers, thinkers and commentators - all contemporary game changers in their chosen forms. These include Liberty Director and author Shami Chakrabati who hosts an evening in celebration of the Human Rights Act featuring a dazzling collection of writers and performers such as Billy Bragg, Neil Bartlett, Rachel Holmes and Jackie Kay; Tony award-winning playwright Richard Nelson who brings the European premiere of his highly acclaimed four play cycle The Apple Family Plays from The Public Theater, New York; award-winning Pakistani/British author Kamila Shamsie; celebrated Russian-American journalist, author and activist Masha Gessen, Turkish writer Elif Shafak and Turner Prize nominated artist Nathan Coley, whose new commission Portraits of Dissension explore ideas of unrest, edge and shift, space and occupation.
Other highlights include Peter Strickland’s daring masterpiece The Duke of Burgundy accompanied by a one-off live performance of its seductive score by Cat’s Eyes - the collaborative project of The Horrors’ frontman Faris Badwan and Italian-Canadian singer and composer Rachel Zeffira; a series of screenings and accompanying talks by prominent female directors including Joanna Hogg, Carol Morley and the legendary Agnès Varda who will also create a special installation at Brighton University Gallery for the duration of the Festival; the English premiere of Vanishing Point & National Theatre of Scotland’s The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, a homage to one of Scotland's most likeable, most individual and most unexpected 20th century figures; a new lecture specially commissioned for Brighton Festival by acclaimed author Jeanette Winterson OBE on the practices and craft of writing; the UK premiere of Lucia’s Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, a theatrical ode to the life - and afterlife – of Lucia Joyce, the adored daughter of James Joyce created by legendary New York theatre ensemble Mabou Mines; the UK premiere of The Forgotten / L’Oublié(e), the directorial debut of Raphaëlle Boitel, one of the most remarkable performers on the European visual and physical theatre scene; and Laurie Anderson: All the Animals, a specially curated performance by one of America’s most daring creative pioneers.
Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival says: “Ali Smith, as Guest Director this year, has been a wonderful inspiration to us all in programming the festival. In her writing, Ali is renowned for pushing form and working with her has taught us to think differently about how we programme and the work that we bring. She has also brought an incredible range of artists to the festival who are responding to the world in a particular way, both people she knows well, and also people she has loved for many years and perhaps longed for an opportunity to work with - from Agnès Varda to Elif Shafak, Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood and Mabou Mines - the list is long and extensive and I think thrilling. I look forward to welcoming audiences to experience another exciting and innovative month of events in May.”
The annual celebration of music, theatre, dance, circus, art, film, literature, debate, outdoor and family events will take place in venues across the city and beyond from 2 to 24 May 2015. Brighton Festival 2015 features 396 performances taking place across 150 events including 42 exclusives, premieres and commissions.
‘Visionary’ Brighton Festival 2014 comes to a close
Brighton Festival 2014 - with critically acclaimed choreographer, dancer, musician, composer and performer Hofesh Shechter at the helm as Guest Director - came to a close this week. Described as ‘visionary’ by the Daily Telegraph, the wide-ranging programme of quality performance, visual arts, literature and debate from international, national and home-grown companies and artists has been acclaimed by audiences, artists and critics alike, with attendance across the Festival exceeding 81% of capacity.
With Hofesh Shechter as Guest Director, this year’s Brighton Festival programme was truly genre defying; and featured the highest number of premieres and commissions to date, including the world premieres of Vanishing Point’s Tomorrow and Lost Dog & Lucy Kirkwood’s dance piece Like Rabbits, alongside UK premieres of international theatre company Berlin’s multi-media work Perhaps All the Dragons and contemporary circus from Feria Musica in Sinué
Opus No.7 by acclaimed Russian theatre director Dmitry Krymov - which also had its UK premiere at the Festival - received 4 stars across the board from all the major broadsheet critics. Matt Trueman, writing in the Daily Telegraph, described the work as ‘visionary stuff, utterly singular’; Lyn Gardner in the Guardian said it was ‘unbearably poignant’, ‘visually stunning’ and ‘more like alchemy than theatre’; Dominic Maxwell in The Times praised the work for being ‘merry and macabre in a memorable mix’; while Maxie Szalwinski, in the Sunday Times referred to the piece’s ‘almost paranormal intensity’ and William McEvoy in The Stage described it as ‘unforgettable’.
One of the Festival’s biggest hits was William Forsythe’s interactive choreographic installation Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same time, no.2 in Circus Street Market with more than 12 500 visitors dancing in the piece during the three week period. Visitors described it as ‘amazing’, ‘hypnotic’ and ‘better than brilliant’, popular social networking site Instagram spread word about the installation to 32million international followers via its weekly ‘ArtThursday’ blog and a video documenting its installation attracted 60 000 views.
The 80th birthday of legendary composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle was celebrated with a series of events, headlined by a revival of his 1969 Brighton Festival commission Down by the Greenwood Side. Set in a disused brewery depot in Lewes, this unique production continued the Festival’s tradition of pioneering site-specific and immersive performances in unusual locations.
Other Brighton Festival 2014 exclusives included a new visual arts co-commission by Yinka Shonibare MBE titled The British Library, which has now been extended until 22 June due to popular demand, Tangled Feet’s immersive, free outdoor performance One Million and much more.
Brighton Festival also played host to an eclectic mix of names across contemporary music; from iconic country music singer Emmylou Harris to a rare live performance from Cat Power and a tour de force performance from Peaches in her one woman rendition of Peaches Christ Superstar – of which Caroline Sullivan in the Guardian wrote simply ‘what a woman. What a show.’
The books and debate strand of the programme boasted a number of high-profile events included a sell-out lecture by best-selling author and designer David McCandless, conversations with Irvine Welsh, Jeremy Deller, Viv Albertine alongside discussions and talks about maths, migration and dementia.
Events for all the family this year included a UK premieres of Tanzfuchs Produktion’s dance extravaganza Munch! for the under 4s and Enhanced Dance to Disguised Music; Belgian choreographer Thomas Hauert’s first piece for young people accompanied by a prepared piano soundtrack by John Cage. Meanwhile, on film the Cinema of Childhood (throughout May) - curated by Mark Cousins - looked at the depiction of children in cinema.
In a continuation of the Festival’s dedication to making the arts accessible for all, 2014 saw 13 shows - including six Brighton Festival exclusives like Wim Vandekeybus in conversation with Hofesh Shechter and a debate on immigration chaired by Simon Fanshawe - live-streamed to audiences around the world, for free. Brighton Festival 2014 also saw the launch of a new initiative Collidescope. Designed for artists and creators to intensively engage with the Brighton Festival programme, the scheme offered seven artists who have been making work for at least five years the opportunity for peer-to-peer creative development, with the goal of potentially creating new marriages of minds for future explorations.
As Guest Director, Hofesh Shechter followed in the footsteps of visual artist Anish Kapoor (2009), musician Brian Eno (2010), Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (2011), actress and human rights campaigner Vanessa Redgrave (2012) and poet, author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen (2013) in shaping the Brighton Festival programme. Resident in Brighton throughout the month, Hofesh was actively engaged in the programme – attending countless events and appearing in many, including leading in-conversations with Williiam Forsythe, Wim Vandekeybus and Yinka Shinbare. He also challenged audiences to respond to the world’s ugly injustices in the Brighton Festival co-commission Sun which “came home” to Brighton after touring globally.
This year’s Brighton Festival featured 448 performances and 147 events in 34 venues across the city. In total there were 37 premieres, exclusives and co-commissions and 26 free events.
An interview with Dmitry Krymov
Featuring larger-than-life puppets, duelling pianos, living walls and blizzards of newsprint, Dmitry Krymov’s Opus No. 7 (3 - 8 May) is theatre on an epic scale.
On the eve of their arrival in Brighton, The Argus newspaper’s Duncan Hall spoke to Dmitry about the show and what audiences can expect
What made you want to link the experiences of the Jews of Eastern Europe with the life and career of Shostakovich in Opus No 7? When did you first make that link?
I had two absolutely separate ideas a long time ago. One was about the Bible (for some reason there men always bore men). The second one was about Shostakovich, his ingenious martyrdom under the government's oppression. I had them written on different pieces of paper that were placed in different places. Once, when I cleaned up my apartment, I saw both these papers in front of me, and I thought ‘it's interesting to do a two act performance. One about the great people, that feels bad, and the other one about the great man, who also feels bad’. So, the idea to comprise the big and the small - one human being and a People, one man and his past, artist and music, man and death, man and his motherland, mum and so on - was the main idea for this work… the stepping stone for it.
How did the work develop? Did you originally envisage Opus No 7 as a whole piece, or did it come together separately?
Yes, I envisioned one piece made of two parts. The work on the two parts was parallel; there were two different set-designers and two composers working separately on each act. They were not really interested in anything outside their parts. And the idea of it as a whole was only in my head, only during the last period of our work we had started to combine these two parts into one piece.
Why did you pick those two pieces of music by Shostakovich - the Piano Trio no 2 and the Seventh Symphony? Are they two works which have a particular significance for you?
No, nothing personal or of particular significance. Both these pieces are simply works of genius, and both are very theatrical… and in the Trio there is also an evident Jewish theme, which helps combine the two parts.
Opus 7 was developed with former student designers from your course at the Russian Academy Of Theatre Arts (GITIS) - are they still involved in this touring version? How much has the piece changed since it was first performed in 2008?
The set-designers of the performance are two of my former students, they were on the 3rd year at the Academy at the moment, and this work was their diploma work in GITIS. The actors are the same throughout the years… and I hope, that the performance is too. There is one exception, though: Shostakovich's part together with Anya Sinyakina will be played by one more actress, Maria Smolnikova. Both are spectacular.
Your work has been described as "genre-blending" - is it important to you that your work doesn't get compartmentalised?
Yes, I like it a lot.
How much has your early career as a set designer influenced your stage work as a director? Do you see design and direction as being part of the same job?
What you are in the present directly comes out of what you have been in the past. A man is a unity. He consists of his past at 85% and of his present at the remaining 25%, but it is hard for me to take a look at myself from the side. I think, that it naturally looks as a kind of large compote.
What made you return to the stage after 12 years working as a visual artist?
It was a pure chance… like when you are walking a wide street and suddenly you come across a friend of yours, who asks you to look into a small sideway. You walk in there out of curiosity, and it turns out that it's so interesting there that you don't ever return to your broad street any more. The initial cause of everything is curiosity.
What was your experience of working with the Royal Shakespeare Company like on A Midsummer Night's Dream (As You Like It) in 2012? Were they supportive of such a dramatically different reading?
The people there are wonderful. When I said to Michael Boyd - their artistic director at the time - that I am a bit afraid of doing my piece on the same stage where Peter Brook staged his ingenious version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, he put my hand on my shoulder, smiled and said 'don't worry, do whatever you want'. It was a gesture of an experienced psychotherapist.
Are you looking forward to bringing your work to Brighton? Where has Opus 7 been performed before? What challenges do you face taking in to different venues?
Opus 7 was performed in New York, Lyon, also in Germany, Poland, Finland and Estonia. We were worried because of the new audiences; whether they will understand the performance, one that we did not intend to tour and that we did for ourselves and for our own pleasure… but so far, everything has been well, fingers crossed!
What do you have planned for the future?
Oh, I am afraid to talk about it...
Dmitry Krymov was speaking to Duncan Hall, Features writer at The Argus. For more Brighton Festival interviews and news stories, visit The Argus.
An interview with Lola Arias
Brighton Festival will present the UK premiere of My Life After from Fri 24 - Sun 26 May. We spoke to Buenos Aires-based writer / director Lola Arias about the genesis of this uniquely personal response to the Argentina of her parents' generation.
My Life After reconstructs the lives of the parents of the actors in the play. How much input did the cast have?
When I started the research for the play, I had only the concept: a group of young people born during the Argentinean dictatorship reconstruct the life of their parents. With this idea, I started interviewing people. I chose these 6 performers - not all of them are professional actors - because of their stories. I wanted to have people with different backgrounds: Carla is a daughter of a soldier of the ERP (Revolutionary Army of the People) who was killed in combat, Vanina is the daughter of a policeman who worked under covered and participated in torture… All of the performers participated in the investigations of their own family story but the concept and the text is mine.
Do the personal stories change if a cast member is replaced? Or do actors inherit the story in the script?
No actor was ever replaced in this piece. If an actor can’t be part of a tour, the story is cut from the play. The concept is very important: everybody is telling his or her own story.
Is this documentary theatre, a historical investigation or a mixture of fact and fiction?
You can call it documentary theatre because the play is based in documents, facts from the past. But I call it theatre. The performers reconstruct the life of their parents through their own family photo album, letters, tapes... But there is also a lot of fiction in it. They do re-enactments of scenes from the past, based on what someone told them or blurry memories… The past is also a fiction that changes every time we transform it into a story to tell to others.
What are your memories of growing up in Buenos Aires?
I grew up in small house in the very centre of the city. My mother is a literature teacher, my father an architect. The brother of my mother was part of the guerrilla and went into exile in Brazil; the son of my father’s partner disappeared but we never spoke about it at home. So what I remember is this kind of unspoken fear.
Are the clothes, photographs, letters and other props used the genuine articles owned by the actors' parents?
Most of them are original objects. We travelled already to 22 festivals all over the world with a small box with photos, mini cars and some other small objects from the performers. There are also 400 items of clothes on stage. But this is too heavy to put on the plane!
My Life After will be performed in Spanish with English surtitles, why is it important to present the work in your native tongue?
It is the story of these people in Argentina and we speak Spanish! The fact that English became the global language of communication doesn’t mean every piece of art should be done in English… Would you make this question to an Argentinean film director? I guess no. Well, it’s the same. We speak our language and you can read the subtitles or… learn to speak Spanish!
What do you want British audiences to take away from the show?
I don’t have any kind of particular expectation about British audiences. I always expect that the piece creates some kind of reflection about how our private lives are also determined by politics. This is a very personal portrait of six young people from Argentina but it’s also a portrait about how is life under a dictatorship.
My Life After performs at Brighton Dome Corn Exchange from Fri 24 - Sun 26 May
Brighton Festival Live: The Cult of Water
The Cult of Water will be live streamed on Sun 27 May at 9pm.
Join ‘masterful storyteller’ (Radio Times) Dr. David Bramwell for a candle-lit journey in search of the supernatural secrets of our waterways.
Aided by a witch, Jarvis Cocker, and magician-author Alan Moore, David Bramwell battles his own thalassophobia (the fear of ‘what lurks beneath’) to unearth little-known stories and myths that surround our rivers.
The River Don is the focal point for this psycho-geographical journey that blends music, animation and film with captivating monologue. You’ll also learn about Brighton’s lost River Wellsbourne in a post-show Q&A.