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Gabby Ferro reviews the film 'Breathe'

This documentary follows the preparation and the performance of an outdoor circus performance featuring mainly disabled performers.

The film builds up to a fantastic spectacle, which involves witnessing, as the Southbank website states “people who cannot walk, but fly”. The performance was a collaboration between people from Dorset and people from Brazil, made up of performers from The Remix and Double Act, and APAE from Brazil, to perform at Cirque Bijou. As a group they were being commissioned by Diverse City for the Maritime Mix 2012 Cultural Olympiad by the Sea.

As I was watching this I was reminded of my search for young disabled groups offering dynamic classes, where I found that you can all experience learning some circus skills. So if you too want to learn, have a search and you might stumble on something fun and adventurous!

The performance centered on the theme of sailing and all the events based around sailing in the Olympics and Paralympics. It seems that the whole community of Bournemouth was really involved in this project as the University of Bournemouth provided beautiful costumes for the event, and there were huge crowds on the beach, watching the event.

It is wonderful to watch the rehearsals and to see the joy in all the peoples faces as they fly around using their wires. As the documentary shows the Brazilians arrive, everyone is ecstatic to have their cooperation. The production brought all 64 disabled and non disabled people together to put on this fantastic spectacle. One of the people in the film, explained how the production included people with a variety of disabilities and how wonderful it was to be collaborating with such a diverse group.

One of the Brazilian girls stated how pleased she was to see this collaboration, and explained that in Brazil disabled people are a long way off from being treated equally. This raised questions of what it will be like to have the Paralympics in Rio and the state of equal rights for the disabled around the world. Hopefully, the Paralympics will be as successful as in Rio as it was here in London, and challenge peoples prejudices on disability successfully enough to break down barriers.

With the final rehearsal on Weymouth Beach, all of the performers looked truly happy to be a part of the event. As one of the non disabled performers said: “it just proves that disabled people can do the same things and achieve great results, just maybe in different ways.”

The performance itself was brilliant, as you see acrobats in wheelchairs being held up over the crowds by a crane. They then manipulate the wires to do fantastic tricks. As this is happening over the crowds, on stage the dramatics of the choreography, music, fireworks and costume really makes this feel like a magical carnival. I would agree with the statement at the end of the film in the credits, “Breathe redefined what is possible”.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 13 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 25 September 2012

Gabby Ferro reviews Chris Tally Evans’ 'Turning Points'

When you visit Chris Tally Evans’ Turning Points website you get a sense of what inspired him to make the film. You can also watch a few clips that are featured in his artistic film. The film focuses on life-changing events in disabled peoples’ lives. Each story is told accompanied by a thematic set of images.

For instance Lynn Street’s story is set when she was a young girl in a school for people with visual impairments. She talks about a visit from a local boys’ boarding school and her heartache as the boy she likes tells her that he only came on the trip to her school to avoid a trip outside in the rain. From then on she felt that: “because of my impairment, I wasn’t to expect fun.”  She describes her turning point in 2008 and her resolution to at last be free to have fun. Her story is set to images of the beautiful countryside. The Pippa Dee dress she described herself wearing when she met the boys from the boarding school is laid out in various different landscapes.

Chris Tally tells a fantastic story, about a social worker, which you can also see on the turning points website. When he became visually impaired a social worker told him he would need to leave his family for a few months to ‘retrain’ his brain. He said he realized he was going to be sent away to expect a second class life; to be a helpless compliant disabled person. Chris’ tale of his turning point is inspiring as he was able to find strength to stand up to this social worker and carry on to achieve his goals.

The striking images are powerful, but stronger still is the strength of the narrators’ stories. They all illustrate how they were all able to turn discrimination and individual self doubt on their head and to come out on top, was what stuck with me. I would recommend you all to visit the turning points website as you too can share your individual turning point, as the website is also about sharing stories. This really illustrates for me what a wonderful thing Chris Tally Evans’ doing, which is to bring disabled people together through art and story telling.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 13 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 25 September 2012

Gabby Ferro reviews 'Dash Arts: M21'

This documentary follows street artists in Much Wenlock (home to the founder of the modern Olympic games, Dr William Brookes) exploring what it means to be alive and disabled in the 21st Century. The live art event that took place in May 2012 features a host of personalities.

Sean Burn’s section of the film ‘Psychosis Belly’ shows the artist standing on the side of the road with a cluster of spectators as he invents his own take on Olympic events ranging from the depression hurdles (where he has to crawl under a hurdle whilst voicing feelings of depression), and a 100 yard walk as he holds his belly. He gets the crowd involved by getting them to motivate him to complete the hurdles, cheering him on with chants of ‘belly!’ His tongue-in-cheek events are done wearing a shirt that reads ‘Lower, Slower, Fatter’ highlighting the farcical nature of attitudes towards mental health issues.

In Noemi Lakmaier’s ‘0’ the artist reflects on the word zero; its meaning of nothingness, and what is to be counted as nothing, at the same time as she is used as a baton in a relay race by men wearing suits. The hilarious Disabled Avante Garde dress have a great time hamming it up as ‘The Wayward Mascots’ Wenlock and Mandeville.

Ann Whitehurst makes several interesting statements with ‘Training to be me part 2’. She talks about how people in society are punished for cognitive psychological and physical differences, rather than celebrating that difference. She quotes Karl Marx to illustrate her point about being disabled by society rather than actually having a disability. She also talks of cures for disability and how she finds the whole idea offensive. In fact she even says she would like to sue anyone who did invent a cure for her disability, raising questions as to how the word ‘cure’ can be interpreted.

Rather than embracing difference, society is striving for everyone to be the same, to be ‘normal’. When I stumbled onto a discussion about this on a dyslexia forum, someone raised the question as to whether there was a tablet that would ‘cure’ you of dyslexia would any of the people on the forum take it? There were some varying answers, but some took huge offense at the idea because it would mean your individuality and the way you thought being ‘cured’ also.

The Wandering Jew also raised discussion with ‘The politics of confinement’. He is shown walking the countryside wearing a suit of straw, illustrating evictions of so many differing communities through the ages.

He discusses persecution of Jewish people from medieval times to the 21st century, talking about the ways it has changed over time. He discusses the politics of being enclosed, raising questions about how communities rights are taken away. He goes on to talk about current challenges with all the government cuts and how to bring about change.

In all this engaging film is full of opinion and personality, provokes fantastic topics for debate.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 12 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 25 September 2012

Nina Muehlemann celebrates the last day of the Unlimited with 'Reasons to be Cheerful'

The last eleven days, during which the Unlimited Festival happened, were more amazing, exciting, and exhilarating than I could have ever imagined. And, fittingly, they ended with a massive bang. Graeae and the New Wolsey Theatre’s hit musical ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ saw an extremely diverse cast perform a coming-of-age story while playing, with a full band, the greatest hits of Ian Dury and the Blockheads.

As we get to our seats in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the cast is already on stage in character, and there is a deliberate atmosphere of chaos as they banter with the audience. The musical has gained a cult following during the last two years, and the people next to us proudly declare that this is the tenth time they've come to see ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’.

The story is set in a pub in 1981, where main character Vinnie (Stephen Lloyd) and his friends and family re-enact a series of events that have happened two years ago, in 1979. Vinnie and his best mate Colin, who is superbly played by Stephen Collins, are trying to organize tickets for Ian Dury and the Blockheads for themselves and Vinnie’s fatally ill father Bob (Garry Robson). We follow Vinnie and his mum (Karen Spicer) as they struggle coming to terms with Bob’s illness, and see how Vinnie becomes smitten with his co-worker Janine (Nadia Albina), who is currently dating their sleazy, Tory-voting Boss (Daniel McGowan). 

Despite the familiar boy-meets-girl plot, the show stays true to its punk aesthetics throughout. Whenever the ‘sentimental bollocks’ goes on for a bit too long, John Kelly grabs a microphone and, completely unfazed by the cutesy love story, bursts into another Blockheads song.

Reasons to be Cheerful’ is set in an economic and political climate that mirrors contemporary Britain in an almost uncanny way, and the characters’ frustration with cuts and a government that shows little interest in the rights of disabled or ill people is all too familiar to the audience. When the cast chaotically and joyfully belts out the songs of the late Ian Dury and proudly shouts ‘I’m spasticus autisticus!’, the audience joins in and the last day of the Unlimited Festival becomes a bold and snotty celebration of individuality and diversity.

Posted by Unlimited, 10 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 12 September 2012

Sophie Partridge with some 'spoilers' on Gail Sneddon and Claire Cunningham's 'Ménage à Trois'...

Begins with intermittent flashes of light. Claire (obviously). Claire with crutches (not exactly a surprise)!  Brilliant graphics.  She climbs like Alice up the furniture.  Her cupboard’s too full and things fall out... 

Words float across in an accessible stream as she DIY’s her Ideal Man; man with dog but no beard.  Could have heard a pin drop when she said “her ideal man would… not be disabled".

Will people comment: “She just wants a Normal Boyfriend! Is a `Sad Crip'?!”...  Deconstructing a fairy tale? Paper hats. Princess in a crutch adorned dress. Opera! Balletic movement. One wee bendy lassie sharing and baring for other bendies & Non. Real Artists can hack vulnerability. 

The Love Ache there amongst all other niggling, every day pains.  Superbly Human, exposing and daring. Honest. Loved it when she danced with ‘the bloke...’  Space changes, becomes Lived. Tears in the front row. Truly bold and beautiful… the essence of Unlimited. I come home and see more bendiness on my tv. 2012 I love you. Today...

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 9 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 25 September 2012

Amardeep Sohi reviews Janice Parker's unsettling 'Private Dancer'

“Your journey is your own individual journey” states Richard Layzell as the audience congregate to around a large, white, installation, made up of five separate rooms, seated neatly in the level five function room of the Southbank Centre. As the audience move through this space in the hour long promenade piece, the experience is certainly unique. 

Directed by Janice Parker, 'Private Dancer' plays with the boundaries between audience and performer, dancer and voyeur, private and public. Eighteen performers, made up of local, international and core performers have collaborated on the piece that becomes anew in every location.

Accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack, solo performers invite selected audience members into private rooms that have been adorned with items connecting to each individual dance; from rocks to photographs and elaborate costumes.

Once inside, the chosen few experience an intimate one-to-one performance. Outside, the audience have the choice to roam or peer into the rooms through holes in the doors. Each member of the audience is given the choice to pry, marvel or join in, but can only experience one section of a whole at a time. That is until a giant screen appears to allow outsiders a momentary birds-eye-view of the lines, rhythms and movements forming within the installation. Dawdle and you risk missing it altogether.

Performers are knowingly toying with the audience’s sense of expectation throughout. They’re an omniscient group who lead, guide and surprise through a series of individual and collective dances, but the lasting effect feels somewhat clinical and contrived.

Although aesthetically sophisticated, Private Dancer leaves one with the unsettling feeling of being neither fully immersed nor isolated. There’s rhythm, but very little connection.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 9 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 10 September 2012

Billed as Candoco Unlimited, Sophie Partridge reviews an evening of new works by Claire Cunningham and Marc Brew

A game of two halves with the tight rigidity of 'Parallel Lines', versus humour and apparent abandon of Claire Cunningham's '12'.  In Brew’s piece, dancers’ were initially battling against the taut, illuminated lines, which throughout, disentangled from the company and rose to fill the space above. 

With my view being restricted in QEH, this was a welcome element of the set design; they literally filled the space, leaving no blanks. As the piece progressed, pace picked up and the hypnotic score of Michael Galasso drove the dancers on in their highly skilled choreography. I could feel them having to work, to conquer the routine and the ropes. And they did. 

There was a great moment when Dan Daw, having been dancing solo, then joined another three who had been moving in unison; a quartet was then formed which just seemed to lift the piece and send it hurtling forwards to its climax when Mirjam Gutner, in slow motion, danced her way to the fore with a trail of more illuminated strands trying to restrain her. Technically brilliant, the connections were powerful in this piece by Marc, himself a top-notch choreographer.

I had really relished in Claire Cunnigham’s piece when I saw it previewed at Laban, so was eager to see it again at QEH.  It did not disappoint!  Altho’ there were some changes to the original 12, the subversive essence remained. 

Highlights for me were the opening sequence, with Vicky Malin shouting her army instructions to the New Crutch Recruits. And who can resist the singing of “This is what I like. Do It to me now!?” Not me. Nor the rest of the company by the end, when they rock out! 

Two great pieces in one evening. Let’s hope they get another airing…

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 8 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 9 September 2012

Nina Muehlemann reviews 'The Garden', an outdoor theatre spectacle by Graeae and Strange Fruit

After the fantastic spectacle that was the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, which was speckled with both Shakespearian and punk influences and saw golden wheelchairs flying through the air, I have very high expectations of ‘The Garden’.

This short outdoor play is a co-production between the theatre company Graeae and Strange Fruit, a performance company from Australia. It is co-directed by Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director at Graeae, who was also the artistic co-director for the Paralympic Opening Ceremony. ‘The Garden’, just like the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, involves disabled performers ‘flying through the air’, and draws heavily on literary references – this time on the works of William Blake, rather than on Shakespeare’s plays. Needless to say, I am excited to see whether ‘The Garden’ will enchant me in similar ways as the Paralympic Opening Ceremony did.

The terrace of the Southbank Centre is completely transformed: There are flowerpots scattered around everywhere, big and small ones, flowers of every shape and colour. The green stage is framed by poles, which are also decorated with huge flowers. High up in the air, on the poles, there are performers, dressed in black cloaks, swaying forth and back through the blue sky. An orchestra plays beautiful music, and the effect is magical, like we are in the middle of a world that has gone a long time ago, or that has never existed at all.

Then the story unfolds: The garden is protected by keepers, the figures dressed in the black cloaks, and we hear how three of the keepers have been transformed from being regular visitors of a beautiful garden into those aerial guards that protect the garden. The stories are just as poetic and fairy-tale like the setting of 'The Garden' is, and they seem enchanting and vaguely familiar both at the same time. Through this familiarity, I am drawn into ‘The Garden’ very quickly, and although the play is only about 30 minutes long, it feels to me like I have entered a different world. Jenny Sealey has done it again.

Posted by Unlimited, 8 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 9 September 2012

Trish Wheatley heads outside the Royal Festival Hall to join the crowd gathered to watch Joel Simon's Macopolis.

Evenings at the Southbank Centre are amazing, full of atmosphere and vibrancy. The place has been buzzing with crowds of people as they enjoy the last warmth of summer. As the light fades and night falls a story plays out, projected onto the wall of the Royal Festival Hall, stopping people in their tracks.

An enchanting animation, Macropolis, is the story of two toys who are factory rejects because they have acquired impairments in the making process. They escape from the factory, become friends, helping each other to find their way in the big city.

A cat with the missing eye acquires an eye patch and dog with missing leg innovatively using a golf tee for a prosthetic limb. In finding out where the toyshop is, seeing their perfectly formed brothers and sisters in nice neat packaging in the window, they break in and climb up to stand on the display shelf.  The next day a little boy in a pirate’s outfit sees them in the window and insists on buying those two.

It is a heart-warming story that plays on the innocence of youth and stereotypes within society. It also reflects how families have got behind the Paralympics and how children are being inspired by the athletes. Macropolis perhaps amplifies how - for this summer at least - there has been an acceptance of disabled people as an integral part of society, than ever before.

Above all, it is an excellently produced animation with captivating storytelling and a wonderfully fitting soundtrack. Macropolis is one of the Unlimited Festival’s highlights suitable for all the family.
The work is on show at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, until 9 September


Posted by Trish Wheatley, 7 September 2012

Last modified by Trish Wheatley, 8 September 2012

Obi Chiejina blogs about Sue Austin's 'Creating the Spectacle'

Is it a fish? Is it an aquatic bird? Is it Stingray?  No it is choreographer/artist Sue Austin and a self- propelled wheelchair flowing between the two opposing worlds of nature and machine in the video installation ‘Creating the Spectacle!’.

Austin, multimedia practitioner, performance/installation artist and Artistic Director of Freewheeling trained as a disabled sea diver with the Camel Dive Club, Sharm El Sheik, Egypt in 2005.  Austin returned to the panoramic underwater theatre of the Red Sea to film the content of this aptly titled short film currently showing at the Southbank Centre as part of the Unlimited Festival.

My initial response to seeing Austin drifting and swimming effortlessly amongst the coral and fish was to ask - what dramatic part is she playing?  Superficially Austin is sitting in a bog standard utilitarian wheel-chair and appears to be an unwelcome intruder in this blue deep-sea idyll. But look closer and you will see acrylic fins attached to the foot-rests, propellers fitted to the seat and torches fastened to the arm-rests.  The continuous sweeping movement of her arms might resemble human appendages, the wings of a bird, the gills of a fish, or the arms of a submarine.  

Now we must ask ourselves is Austin mimicking the swaying motion of the fish, adopting the contraction/expansion movements of the coral, or personifying the shimmer of the sea?   The self-propelling wheelchair is no longer an unwelcome guest but a member of this natural marine world.  Or was the inherent beauty of Austin and the wheelchair obscured by the dullness of the spectator’s imagination?  The questions and possibilities are endless.

What I loved about this short but engaging film is the way in which the production team gently encourages the onlooker to take a ‘ripple’ approach to seeing and understanding.  The audience member can look, look again, think and then reflect.  But above all the viewer is encouraged to look at this performance from two interrelated perspectives - namely artistic and cultural. 

From an artistic perspective Austin positions herself as a contemporary artist by combining performance, movement, video installation with the aquatic disciplines of diving and swimming.  Adopting such a flexible position gives Austin the freedom to explore the water metaphor to ask questions related to culture and self-identity.   Returning to the changing nature of the self-propelling wheelchair why do humans continue to use self-limiting cultural labels?

But if all this intellectual drama leaves you feeling exhausted then this versatile exhibit can simply be enjoyed as a sensory spectacle.  The intense colours - the vivid blue of the sea, the neon orange of the fish - are stunning.  And the rhythm (i.e. shoal of fish moving to the left and then to the right, and Austin’s arm gliding upwards and downwards) provided a soothing relief to the noise and bustle of the Royal Festival Hall. 

Like the fluidity of the Red Sea Austin creates a multi-layered dramatic performance as well as compelling the passive onlooker to become to an avid spectator.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 7 September 2012

Last modified by Trish Wheatley, 8 September 2012

Colin Hambrook can't resist the sound of Jez Colborne and the call of the sirens

‘I've got the sound of the sirens going around my brain. It's the sound of the sirens, driving me insane!’ I'm on the milk train home, having pushed the boat to watch the irresistible Jez Colborne doing his thang outside the National Theatre on the Southbank.

Jez, his backing vocalists and crew of dancers and siren players, created a riveting performance. I saw a pilot of Irresistible first at decibel a year ago, so it was interesting to see how it had moved on.

Instead of a huge stone edifice we had a square marble rock, used as a plinth to focus attention as a platform for Jez and a much larger crew of trumpeting dancers, attempting to resist the sound of the backing vocalists with their refrains and songs of desire.

The doubling up of the meaning of ‘sirens’ ie wailing instruments that were being played from pivotal locations around the roof terraces and ‘sirens’ as in enticing spirits was much clearer in this version. We see the sirens – as in the backing vocalists – helped by the power of the moon and a flock of murderous crows calling the travelers to cross the water. (As seen on a large screen placed behind the singers).

And separate, nearest the river, was a bonfire lit for warming hands and huddling up to against the cold.

Every bit of space was used to enhance the atmosphere. Performance areas, defined by rope, were interspersed within and without the main area. This meant the audience, seated between these areas, cleverly became part of the crowd of hobos and vagrants looking for home on the south bank.

The atmosphere had an echo of the days when Hungerford Bridge and the arches underneath Charing Cross station were home to a large community of homeless people, many of whom were disabled people, (still there but much dispersed since the revamp of the south bank in the late 90s)

The eerie quality in the siren sounds were used to annotate the building of the blues songs that were at the core of the performance with lantern-wielding Jez, wearing a roaming mike, free to sing his songs of hope and redemption, and rapping his way through a heartfelt number that told of his fear of the wail of sirens as a child, which led eventually to his realization of the many tones and the musicality within those warning demons.

Well done to Mind the Gap for giving Jez Colborne the opportunity to share his remarkable talent and vision for creating such an entrancing spectacle!

If you are up in the Royal Festival Hall do make a point of seeing 'Irresistible' on Saturday 8 September in the Clore Ballroom at 4pm & 7pm. Go to

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 5 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 6 September 2012

Gary Thomas blogs about his first live Bobby Baker experience - Mad Gyms & Kitchens

I sit waiting in anticipation of seeing my first Bobby Baker Show. A sign led us to meet at the ticket office, the guide telling us they're expecting 50 people. We’re going on a 'story tour' of the Southbank Centre first, but I wonder if this is actually part of the show. My thoughts are unfounded as I overhear staff say 'the artist will take them down’.

The tour wasn’t really a tour but a brief walk down to The Blue Room, via Bobby Bakers drawings that she made in hospital. I remember seeing these when they were first exhibited at the Wellcome Trust in 2009, and was glad to see them again. Only quickly though as we were taken straight to the Blue room.

The show gave us an at times hilarious account of what Bobby does to relax, and wind down following the slow realisation (after talking to numerous people) that
a) She was suffering from stress and
b) she didn’t really relax at all.

Bobby gave her own tips on wellbeing, and poses interesting questions along the way. What is wellbeing anyway? Is it well-being? (with a – in the middle?) She gave us a brief story of her life, how she was admitted into hospital 43 times, and her long list of diagnosis, including personality disorder (she told her doctor she was quite happy with her personality!).

One by one she demonstrated what she does now to relax, including lifting weights (though not often), cooking (she actually cooked live, though only a bit) and other methods, and how she came by them.

Though perhaps the most poignant moment of the show came when she asked us – the audience – what were OUR top tips for wellbeing. And then let us play (one of my own personal top tips!).
The audience certainly obliged and drew their own vision of wellbeing, and some were put up on the wall as tea was served up for those that wanted a cuppa.

Overall a rather inspiring show, and certainly one that I’ll want to remember, if only to ask myself – what do I do about my wellbeing?

The show is running from 4-7 September: 7pm; 9 September: 7pm. Go to

Posted by Unlimited, 5 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 6 September 2012

Colin Hambrook discusses the audio-described short film of Claire Cunningham's 'Ménage à Trois'

In my commissioning role of gathering responses to Unlimited @ Southbank the performance that DAO writers have been most enthusiastic about seeing in their communications with me, has been Claire Cunningham's 'Ménage à Trois'.

Watching the audio-described version of the 90 second pushmmeplease film on the Space makes you realise how audio-description can be used creatively and dramatically to enhance the filmic art process.

Using the beat and tempo of the short film, Sarah Pickthall's audio-description adds layers of poetic description to the work, dissolving the concept of 'accessibility'.

For the last two decades there have been wrangles around the costs for including audio-description. It is one of those resources that has huge cost implications in terms of the numbers of visually impaired people who actually make use of it. Often the equipment doesn’t work properly; and the description itself can often be dry and unimaginative.

The argument for adding description as an integral creative layer that everyone can enjoy is exemplified in Sarah's short film. She describes as someone with a background in dance with a clear but poetic intent in looking at Claire’s short emotive filmed performance.

It is clear to me that disabled artists are leading the way in developing creative approaches to the arts, inventing new ways of accessing art. In terms of digital and online exposure to the arts, this piece offers something unique and demands a question about whether poets should or could be utilized to provide creative descriptions that could be embedded in the Art.

If you haven't watched it already do go to You have to click on the AD button to hear Sarah's piece.

You can read a review of Claire Cunningham's Ménage à Trois at  the Tramway, Glasgowby, by Paul F Cockburn at

Claire Cunningham's performance of Ménage à Trois is in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Saturday 8th September at 8pm

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 5 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 5 September 2012

Obi Chiejina blogs about the performance of Kaite O'Reilly's 'In Water I'm Weightless'

Ok. Let’s get the ‘I met a famous person’ moment out of the way.  Nicola Miles Wildin (who played Miranda in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony), sitting to my left during the first performance of ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ at this years Unlimited Festival 2012 at the Southbank Arts Complex. 

However there are disadvantages to being this close to a famous person.  Nicola graciously received (or was subjected to depending on your point of view) an endless stream of air kisses and bear bugs guaranteed to blow away those of us unfortunate enough to be sitting in the first row or threatened to flatten Nicola’s tiny frame and the audience members behind her.

Although this enormous display of affection for Nicola (or was it Miranda?) within the auditorium seemed hedonistic it did provide a useful dramatic prelude to the performance onstage.  Over the course of an hour and half Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone, David Toole, Mat Fraser and Karina Jones recount six different accounts of disability and of being a disabled person using dramatic monologue, dance, movement, video and music. 

Given the experimental approach adopted by the writer Kaite O’Reilly all six stories are fragmented.   Sophie Stone connects and disconnects multiple experiences related to an unnamed woman before and after receiving a cochlear implant.

Sophie juggles playing the part of a deaf person adjusting to loud noises, adopting the personae of unnamed woman struggling to come to terms with the changes in her girlfriend whilst occasionally acting as a BSL interpreter.  

The subversion of the linear progression of the Sophie’s narrative may sound chaotic – but for me it gave the story a sense of emotional realism and impact that would be lacking in the worthy but boring story-line of ‘Young brave deaf woman receives ground-breaking surgery to restore hearing.’ 

Sadly the production of ‘In Water I’m Weightless’ has now finished at the Unlimited Festival. But if this should go on tour (judging by the packed house on the night I went there should be sufficient demand) do go and see this play. Just be prepared for as much emotional drama offstage as well onstage but without Miranda, cum Nicola.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 5 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 5 September 2012

Unlimited artist Chris Tally Evans blogs about what it’s like to have his storytelling project and film, Turning Points, as part of the Unlimited Festival at the Southbank Centre

It’s day one of the Unlimited Festival and I’m on the balcony of the Southbank Centre with London in all its sunshine glory as a backdrop. And I’m surrounded by a gang of teenagers, all thrusting things purposefully towards me. No I’m not being menaced. Far from it. This is a group from Roundhouse in North London doing a summer media course and they’re interviewing me on film and audio simultaneously for their website project.

How good is this? What more proof can I have that this unprecedented platform for disability art, which is Unlimited, is reaching some parts that I could never have got to without it: teenagers wanting to talk to a disabled middle-aged man about the power of stories and the way modern media can enhance them.

Sagal, my interviewer, is full of life and laughter as she checks out my star sign (Pisces), tells me she’s a crab (Cancer) and comments that we’re good fishy folk to be getting on together.

They all seem genuinely interested in my work and that of all the artists at the Festival. Since one of the main things I wanted to do with my commission was inspire young people to grab hold of the future and shape it for themselves, this moment’s pure gold for me.

Wandering around the Unlimited exhibition I am staggered by the variety of what’s going on that’s mind-expanding. Pieces of disability art are just everywhere. Some of it might be tucked away in corners so unlikely that I wonder if anyone who’s not in the know will actually find these gems. But that doesn’t alter the fact that just to be here shows that something must have changed in the last 20 years.

There are artists whose work I know here and many I don’t. But it comes to me that much of the work is speaking about voices, about people’s stories being heard and celebrated above the clamour of an image-obsessed world. It may be true that disabled artists continuously have to prove themselves but it strikes me that it’s probably going to be a bit easier with a CV that says: shown at Southbank Centre.


Hear (and/or read via the transcript) the podcast Chris was interviewed for by Sagal from Roundhouse Radio: Unlimited: Dive Deep.

Posted by Anonymous, 4 September 2012

Last modified by Anonymous, 4 September 2012

Unlimited and Beyond: What’s next for disability arts? Amardeep Sohi reflects on a discussion about where Unlimited artists go from here

After a successful two-week stint on one of London’s largest platforms, it was only right and natural to broach the topic of life after Unlimited. Jo Verrent brought together a rather large panel consisting of artists, producers and strategic bodies to ask the question teetering on everyone’s mind:  “what’s next?”

Artist Jez Colborne kicked off the discussion by stating his desire to become a director, travelling the world and collaborating with new musicians and actors. As he continues on his artistic journey he holds true the mantra: “No one can bruise a good warrior.”Caroline Bowditch followed suit with her far reaching vision for Leaving Limbo Landing: “I can’t go back to making little tiny pieces and I won’t allow myself to do that…for me to back down from that would be wrong.” She spoke of touring her work, remaking the work in other places and being able to build on the relationships with her company of performers. Their words confirmed that Unlimited had become a very real way of thinking for both Jez and Caroline.

CEO of Dada Fest, Ruth Gould shifted the conversation to the larger cultural landscape: “I really hope this will see big changes in thinking about what our work is about.” She spoke of how DadaFest was born out of “frustration” and has allowed artists to develop and subsequently “raised the bar in thinking”.

Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, Carole McFadden of the British Council and Moira Sinclair of the Arts Council were then asked: “Have you got it right yet?” McFadden spoke of the scope for international collaboration, whilst Kelly spoke of the Southbank’s responsibility “to help audiences see the world through new eyes” but rather honestly pointed out that “when you’re trying to push political agendas, there’s a hell of a long way to go”.

Sinclair reinforced the Arts Council’s commitment to work from deaf and disabled artists but declared there were still barriers in place and there remained “a huge amount of work to be done”.
Although the discussion offered no definitive answer, there’s no question that the temporary platform offered by the Southbank Centre should transform into a permanent cultural shift. Let’s ensure that Unlimited becomes the springboard to creating a legacy built on equality and opportunity. To Unlimited and Beyond.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 4 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 10 September 2012

Unlimited: Dive Deep - podcast from Roundhouse Radio

Reporters from Roundhouse Radio caught up with Unlimited artists

Dean Rodney (Dean Rodney Singers)

Joel Simon (Macropolis)

Sophie Woolley and Barnabee (aka Daniel Alun) (Bee Detective)


Chris Tally Evans (Turning Points)

and also Jessica from Southbank Centre’s Learning and Participation team.

Listen to their podcast Unlimited: Dive Deep or read the transcript.

The reporters are:

Lula aka Cycle Squid
Hani aka Phil the bus driver
Tori aka Ocotogirl
Brooke aka Dori
Sagal aka Mermaida

who have been working with Roundhouse through the project Take Part: 11–25 which “gives young people a chance to realise their creativity and offers audiences of all ages new and extraordinary experiences in live music, theatre, dance, circus, spoken word and new media.”

Hat tip to Chris Tally Evans for the heads up about this!

Posted by Anonymous, 4 September 2012

Last modified by Anonymous, 4 September 2012

Nicole Fordham Hodges on Rachel Gadsden's Body Mapping Workshop

Rachel Gadsden is an inspirational leader at this family-orientated hands-on art workshop. She's clear but not patronising: she speaks to the artist in everyone. The aim of this workshop, she says, is to make artwork which ' says what an amazing person everyone is.'

 Children and adults are both instantly involved. Body mapping involves pairing up, lying on the floor and drawing outlines around each other's bodies, then expressing yourself - heart and soul - within your own 'body map'. It shows ' how life experience is stored in your body' and tracks ' the connection between your thoughts and emotions and your physical experience.'

Bodymapping was the inspiration behind Rachel's astonishing collaboration with the Bambanani group, many of whom are present at the workshop. The taboo-breaking, humane, visceral results of her residency 'Unlimited Global Alchemy' are on display at the Southbank Centre until 9 September.

It's poignant and spooky to see people walk away from their completed maps. Children leave behind their outlines entwined in inseparable family groups. They are hugely overlapped, often looking the same way. Beth and Terry leave see-everything eyes, dots and swirls of energy, an unmistakable impression of family love. Eva and Magus have exuberant free fingers. They are grouped beside an unnamed toddler who leaves an explosion of unrepeatable first colour. Lily's fingers and toes extend light, whilst Rafael's long methodical bones show a piecing-together mind. An adult and child collaboration explodes with music. Every limb holds an instrument. 'It's everything we like,' explains Tilly. She has drawn her feet as a TV remote control in her imaginative dotty expression of the joys of life.

The adults take longer. Their maps are more contemplative. Their positions have the hesitant overlaps of strangers. I map myself too, pausing politely at the places where my outline overlaps with others.

My map is a barely-there foetal creation, receding in purple, taking up little space compared to the others. A hide and seek of wombs and spaces-within-spaces. 'Creation, but where from?' I write. I return later to sign it.

Jump in,' someone has written on a  yoga-posed figure. 'Life's a beach?'  Yes. It's poignant to see people jump in, then step away from what they have done, leaving a nobility of bones and inexpressible-by-word qualities of heart.

Posted by Unlimited, 3 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 5 September 2012

DAO reader Katie Fraser celebrates how an Unlimited production, In Water I'm Weightless, transforms and challenges her perceptions... about herself

This wonderfully written piece by Kaite O'Reilly challenges society's preconceptions about disability. It is a joy to watch from the very beginning and it transforms thinking right from the start when the actors  Nick Phillips , Dave Toole , Karina Jones,  Sophie Stone, and the very lovely Mat Fraser (my friend!), sadly minus Mandy Collleran  because of injury, come bounding on to the Purcell Room stage. Taking my seat right near the stage, I got a really good view. And it all took my breath away.

Watching it made me challenge my own conceptions about my own disability (having a "hidden" disability which you would only see from the inside of me, and not on the outside) and how people and society can belittle me sometimes.  But all the actors on the stage take away all the barriers, and obstacles. Kaite's fabulous way of writing it with empthy and understanding all adds to the excitement when these talented actors take away all the misconceptions and draw you into their world and their beiiefs.

The actors all have a part to play where they are characterising different personas. Sometimes funny. Sometimes dark and edgy. But there are also the fabulous visualisations on these huge giant bubble-like spheres suspended above the Purcell Room stage. This adds to the thrill and the way that you see disability in a new light.

Fraser, with his toy soldier monologue, shocks you by kicking and stamping the floor and falling to the ground with an almighty thump, then he manages to get back up again, fabulously. Then there's Phillips  with his funny tales of how people would think he wouldnt live on his own - by making an almighty mess. But, hey, that's what I do! And thats what I empathise with. And the way that Toole brilliantly goes around his fellow cast members speaking to them as a person without a disability would, as is the theme running throughout this show I have seen. It ends with the most darkest monologue ever. But it all adds up to make this show.

I was nattering on about it when I got home. About how my two friends Mr Toole  and Mr Fraser, and the other members of the cast, showed me how to be more positive within myself and challenge the way society sees disabled people like me, and the rest of us.


DAO reader Katie Fraser is a theatre addict who loves disability theatre and dance. She is soon starting training to be a dance leader with ActOne ArtsBase in St Albans. She works for Hertfordshire PASS in Stevenage, which is a user-driven organisation enabling disabled people to gain employment. She is also a trustee of the Alliance For Inclusive Education which enables children with impairments to have support in mainstream education.

Posted by Anonymous, 3 September 2012

Last modified by Anonymous, 3 September 2012

Jez Colborne from Mind the Gap shares a few soundbites in response to the Dean Rodney Singers installation on level four of the Royal Festival Hall

The lift sings you onto the fourth floor of the Royal Festival Hall. After being invited into Dean Rodney's world you go through a series of installations. It's all very spacey, with a wonderful futuristic feel to it. There's a lot of cool stuff with a lot of light and shade. It takes you into another world where you can find both heaven and hell represented at one and the same time.

The graphics and the lighting are incredible; the way they change and the fact you can interact with it. The various spaces have clearly all been produced with a lot of very big technology used to create a dance club atmosphere.

People tell me I'm too old to enjoy drum and bass clubs - and here you are.

It' s great the way Dean Rodney has represented people from all over the world in the music and the graphics. He visited six countries over a three month period to take snapshots of film and music and mix it all up together for the installation.

I like the way the styles of music and image change really quickly within the spaces, so you don't know what's coming next.

You get a range of moods in the various spaces. Some of its quite calming and other bits are full-on, robotic. Everything is triggered really randomly. The music and colours tell you that you are entering a space somewhere between good and evil.

It would be a great artwork to take to night clubs where is everything is happening and Dean has reproduced that atmosphere well. It's totally opened my eyes to what can be done in a new and exciting way.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 3 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 5 September 2012

Nicole Fordham Hodges blogs about Kaite O'Reilly's Writing Workshop: You Say Inclusive, I Say Subversive

Colour photograph of Kate O'Reilly

I am a poet with a very undramatic disability. I go along to this performance writing workshop slightly nervous. Like gleeful energetic birds picking apart an old carcass, we get stuck into dissecting hackneyed representations of disabled people.

We trace stereotypes through the primeval forest of fairy-tales, find hunchbacked villains with the marks of evil, find sexless mermaids floating in heavenly bubbles, discuss their sex lives. And the Superhuman disabled person with extraordinary powers: a stereotype which is thriving in these Paralympic times: are they heroes, and for whom?

In classical dramatic structure, Kaite tells us, a protagonist must undergo a change by overcoming obstacles – be they inner or outer. This produces a satisfying dramatic experience. As George Bernard Shaw said: ' no conflict no drama.'

We go to our metaphorical or literal corners to write alternative stories for alternative disabled protagonists, which nevertheless would hook an audience. At least that is the brief.

I enter my perverse poet-y thoughts. I have M.E. It's an undramatic illness. I'd like to think up a place – perhaps a competition category, part of the Olympics. For people don't strive, aren't driven and don't necessarily achieve anything tangible. Not even happiness or kindness. But – and here I remember my brief – this won't provide drama, or change.

Is being a poet rather than a dramatist intrinsically linked with my relapsing health condition? I come up with no storyline. I have no hook. I always want to move deeper under the water, where it is still. I have a net which traps what comes and then I lay it out.

I throw in something else to ripple the water. Motherhood, plus invisible illness, plus thwarted ambition. But I don't like the turmoil. The waters muddy. I reach towards it, then let it go. I feel for a moment the excitement of drama.

We gather back together, but don't share our storylines for our new-born disabled protagonists. In a successful drama, says Kaite, the world of the play is changed by what happens. The room buzzes with change, in the secret characters growing in the notebooks of others. I'd love to know about these characters, see some of them on stage. Perhaps one day I will.

Kaite O'Reilly goes on to give away all her secrets, in a fascinating exploration of how Audio Description and BSL can be integrated into the very fabric of a text, used as powerful creative tools. I learn a new term: 'aesthetic access.'

But I'm still a poet. I give myself Aesthetic Access by allowing my thoughts to break into fragments. I sink into low energy places where narrative seems extinguished and imagery seems magnified. I let things be, where I have no energy to force.

Posted by Unlimited, 3 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 5 September 2012

Deborah Caulfield on Liberty's Tenth Anniversary Cabaret

This show was a startling mix of mildly amusing silliness, overly loud but otherwise quite pleasant singing (sound technicians please note) with occasions of utter brilliance, punctuated by moments (too many) of thumb twiddling dreariness, when absolutely nothing happened and one was forced either to stare longingly at an activity-free stage, or seek alternative entertainment elsewhere.

Talk about talk amongst yourselves. Is it too much to expect gaps between acts to be filled by someone (anyone!) or something other than pulsating elevator music of the grey noise variety?

I so wanted comperes Liz Carr and Tanyalee Davis to have me in stitches. Apart from a well aimed pot shot at Atos, their para-paralympic antics just reminded me of me and my Chailey friends age 13. However, I chuckled when Liz apologised if anyone felt patronised, adding that if we were disabled we'd be used to that.

Did mad poet Liz Bentley have a train to catch, or was it that she forgot to visit the loo before going on stage? If she hadn’t been in such a rush, we could have had at least another ten minutes of her wacky little rhymes, witty throw-away one-liners (thrown away too quickly) and sweetly strange strumming.

Susan Hedges’ rock and roll band was probably excellent, but it was spoilt by atrociously poor acoustics and a badly (as in un) balanced sound.

I can’t believe I’m writing this (at my age) but the earth fairly moved when Johnny Crescendo (aka Alan Holdsworth) came onto the stage. That hat! His voice has become richer and rounder since he went to live in the US. Crescendo’s first number almost had me in tears. Choices and rights are indeed what we should be fighting for. Not, as he told me afterwards, to defend the status quo. He finished his (short) set with Pride. Proud, angry and strong, we all sang. It felt good.

Laurence Clark was amazing and completely uninspiring. This was the first time I’d seen him live and he didn’t disappoint. Smart, funny and erudite, he clearly puts a lot into his performance, making it look dead easy, the sign of a true professional. Aren’t we lucky?

Are we proud?

Posted by Unlimited, 3 September 2012

Last modified by Unlimited, 3 September 2012

Colin Hambrook reviews Kaite O'Reilly's 'In Water I'm Weightless'

I was really looking forward to seeing 'In Water I'm Weightless' and certainly wasn't disappointed.

The writing and the staging were beautiful. Tom Wentworth summed up the punky gutsiness of the show in a review of the show at the Cardiff Millennium Centre published on DAO four weeks ago.

From the opening moments as the six glowing spheres which hang above the stage fade and the performers come into focus we are confronted by the fact that impairment is an inevitable part of life; that our bodies will change and aspects of our physical, sensory and mental experience of the world will inexorably be altered by virtue of the ageing process, if not by circumstance.

"This will happen to you! I'm sorry, but it will happen to you" is the opening refrain, repeated by the cast and amplified in text via the spheres. We are immediately thrown into theatrical territory akin to Antonin Artaud's 'Theatre of Cruelty' in which the motivation behind the work is to set up a provocation to the audiences' ideas and preconceptions about themselves and about life.

The five characters played by Mat Fraser, Karina Jones, Nick Phillips, Sophie Stone and David Toole delve into the lived experience of disability and impairment. What they offer is to my mind the most eloquent, poetic, sexy, and at times humorous evocation of the Affirmation Model of Disability I have heard. [Dr Colin Cameron's definition talks about "impairment as something to be expected and respected as physical, sensory, emotional and cognitive difference to be expected and respected on its own terms in a diverse society."]

Despite a struggle to hear due to a distorted sound balance on the night I saw the piece, several phrases from the monologues remained within my grasp. Karina Jones' character challenges the accepted passivity of sight talking about how active sight is in flattening the world: "… through my mercurial eye the earth trembles."

Nick Phillips' character challenges the idea that having an impairment makes you 'broken'. He gives a speech  about how external oppression can lead to an internalisation of the assumption that having an impairment has a direct correlation to the notion of there being something ‘wrong’ with you: “’Broken’ suggests you had all the pieces to begin with… I was unmade…” He is talking about the impact of others attitudes, about how “Disability swells up like an unmade bed" as an invalidating social role, imposed from without.

And there was a line, spoken ensemble, that registered dramatically with me: "This is how madness begins, with the all-encompassing clarity of the truth of all things". I remember from childhood being thrown into the cavernous heart of having that kind of deathly understanding and the powerful paralysis that comes with a sense of responsibility for everything that that kind of sensitivity brings with it. And the fear it invokes in others’ misinterpretation that leads to disability as the result of challenging a ‘normative’ world view.

David O'Toole's final speech is one of the most lyrical pieces of affirmation, saluting the "glorious freak of nature" and the "gem of the genome.' He throws out a challenge to societies fear of disability giving a short history of the myths and attitudes which disable us and thereby validate and uphold the 'norm' by virtue of our being in the world.

Ultimately the beauty of 'In Water I'm Weightless' is its challenge to notions of tragedy and bravery, whilst equally talking openly about the difficulties that impairment can pose. There was one poetic line that seemed to sum up the premise of the play: "a cell has no morality. It doesn't know if it's good or bad."

'In Water I’m Weightless' deserves a bigger run. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 2 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 December 2014

Nina Muehlemann reviews Fittings Multimedia Arts' 'The Ugly Spirit'

We expect promenade theatre, a backstage tour through the 'secret spaces of the Queen Elizabeth Hall', but instead there is a party going on. It is someone’s birthday, so say the balloons, and performance artist David Hoyle, dressed in flowers, a flappy hat and high heels, hands out bubbly and strawberries as he welcomes the guests, which we are, apparently. He grins at us, but in a slightly discomforting way, saying: ‘Oh, lovely to have you here… Does anyone know that you are here?’ but all he receives for an answer are confused looks.

There are some people standing around in lab coats when we are ushered into the building. Inside the building, we are encouraged to explore the dark rooms with strange objects and toys in them. There are more people dressed in scientists’ or doctors’ uniforms, and an apparently confused young man who wanders around with a teddy bear under his arm. A lady dressed in white grabs my boyfriend for a dance, and then tells him her toes had frozen off, she can’t dance anymore. In the different rooms, we find open books, one of them showing a diary entry of Anne Frank.

There is haunting music coming from somewhere. In one of the dressing rooms, two women, one of them being pregnant, brush their hair. Suddenly the pregnant woman acknowledges us, the voyeurs, and hands me a postcard in German that has a reference to ‘Jews’ in it. Finally, the performance begins. 

Soprano Denise Leigh, presented as Lady Schwarzkopf, performs melancholically and absent-minded, as if she was a ghost. Then our host presents us the twins, and he is no longer charming and flamboyant: He is part mad scientist, part Nazi doctor, part freak show manager and part father-figure to the twins, Jessie and Bessie, who celebrate their birthday. Gareth Kieran Jones and Rachel Drazek, who narrate fragments of their disturbing story, portray the conjoined twins. Sometimes they behave like entertaining automatons, with a fake grin on their face, but mostly they tell us about their love-hate relationship with each other, longing for closeness and separation at the same time, and they tell us about babies who are taken away from their mothers, who are experimented on, and about their mother who was burned.  The Ugly Spirit tells us about all the darkest moments of disability history, lets us experience it, and as we leave the ‘birthday party’ with a ‘goodie bag’ in our hands, we are just glad that Sue Austin’s beautiful ‘Creating the Spectacle’ is flickering on the wall of the Southbank Centre and those moments are over.

Posted by Unlimited, 2 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 3 September 2012

Deborah Caulfield reviews Throw Them up and Let Them Sing

Tucked away in  little room at the far end of the Festival of the World Museum, this film, by artist filmmaker Helen Petts, explores the later years of Kurt Schwitters’ life and work, following the German artist’s journey to Ambleside in the Lake District where Schwitters escaped Nazi persecution because of his ‘degenerate’ arts and his epilepsy.

With no commentary and no subtitles, no words whatsoever, this beautiful film is a collage in pictures and sound.

Scenes include someone playing percussion with paint brushes, accompanying Schwitters as he makes music with his body, dressed in shirt and tie.

Intertwined with stunning shots of mist covered mountains, waterfalls that rush and tumble over rocks, we see Schwitters creating music with bicycle wheel, saw, plastic protractor, lumps of polystyrene, and all manner of natural and mechanical objects.

Close-up images of water and wood grain, stone and swaying grass, cobwebs and concrete, fields and flowers linger, unhurried, in pure luxurious naturalness.

This film has introduced me to the work of Schwitters and Petts. I plan to find out more.


Posted by Unlimited, 2 September 2012

Last modified by Unlimited, 2 September 2012