Kendal Mint Fest – Hippodrome Plus Youth Ambassadors Trip

DSCF2043

After yet another successful Summer in Southside, things have begun to wind down at the Birmingham Hippodrome before the Autumn-Winter season kicks off next week with CATS. But for the Hippodrome Plus team, there’s no rest yet, since planning for next year’s festival has already begun!

On Saturday 30th August, four of the Hippodrome Youth Ambassadors, along with Hippodrome Plus Creative Programmes Administrator Zara Harris, travelled up to Cumbria to catch some shows at the Lakes Alive Kendal Mint Fest. Fun and games ensued, but with a purpose: our mission, which we chose to accept, was to scout for talent and exciting show concepts to bring to Summer in Southside 2015.

DSCF2093

First things first, we headed over to the Westmorland shopping centre for a taste of the strangest meal you’ve never seen. Ola Szostak and Willemijn Schellekens’s Table of Thoughts was a strange and startling audio-visual installation, inviting participants to listen in to the private thoughts of a group of dinner party guests. One pair of headphones for each empty chair was fixed to a long dining table, upon which food and crockery had been transformed into unnerving manifestations of the themes and images explored in the recordings. What each listener heard ranged from the childlike to the raunchy, and worked best with a full table, when no one could tell what anyone else was hearing. Participants thus became a part of the “show”, embodying the party guests as they observed each others’ reactions. Sadly, this didn’t happen nearly often enough, since the piece was tucked away in a disused shop that was quite difficult to find if you didn’t already know your way around the town.

DSCF2051

DSCF2067

Out on the streets, meanwhile, Peut-Etre Theatre and Dante or Die adapted the surreal writings of Russian author Daniil Kharms with music and madness in their colourful, kid-friendly show Clunk. Aimed primarily at under-5s, it did a great job of engaging the little ones, who were all really excited and made to feel part of the performance. It was a pretty big hit with the grown-ups, too, mind!

DSCF2102

DSCF2106

DSCF2123

In perhaps the most powerful and moving show of the weekend, surrealist comedy duo Desperate Men explored the absurdity of war and its impact on art, culture and society in Slapstick and Slaughter. Ideas and images crashed and collided with an exuberant, anarchic playfulness half-masking its dark and disturbing themes, as when the classic trust-building exercise of falling backwards onto a partner evolved into a vision of a soldier carrying a dead comrade, a set-up at once funny and desperately sad.

DSCF2190

DSCF2221

DSCF2217

DSCF2230

Roaming the streets amid fixed productions were a series of mobile shows, including Encore’s Sheep, a frolicking flock led around by a singing shepherdess and her faithful sheepdog, and Talking Birds’ The Q, a group of orange-clad representatives from “The Q Corporation” attempting to restore order to the town by awarding prizes to quality queuers and offering Extreme Queuing demonstrations.

DSCF2232

DSCF2241

Outside the library, audiences were transported from the old English streets of Kendal to the vibrant, colourful carnivals of Brazil and New Orleans through the lively music of BLAST! Furness, a huge, 20-piece community band whose diverse players were kitted out in crazy hats and striking, red and black attire. Their sound was irresistible – by the end of the performance, even the band themselves were dancing down the road!

DSCF2249

DSCF2267

DSCF2259

As day wore on into dusk, the amazing Les Krilati performed spectacular feats in their circus cabaret extravaganza, Little Pleasures. Seeking “to snub contemporary society”, the show was set up outside The Factory, Kendal’s newest arts venue, and saw performers climb up into the clouds on ropes, poles and swings, seeming to search for escape and freedom in the sky above them. Gleefully childish and simple yet with a cheeky grown-up edge, this show enthralled and astonished audiences of all ages.

DSCF2319

DSCF2373

DSCF2382

DSCF2391

DSCF2430

DSCF2521

One of the few productions to follow a clear narrative, Ramshackalicious’s Grime told the story of a dysfunctional family in the unusual setting of a mobile burger bar. Described as “a modern soap opera that aims to push the boundaries of possibility”, the show seemed to take as its theme our taste for the macabre, both in the modern world and throughout entertainment history. Its initially gritty vibe quickly gave way to slapstick comedy and exaggerated goriness, the abusive patriarch morphing into an overblown monster of Penny Dreadful proportions. Grime repeatedly subverts its audience’s expectations, mixing elements of Mr Punch and Sweeney Todd with realistic menace. Both frightening and funny, it’s a fascinating acknowledgement of how violence has always been bound up in the history of British theatre and culture.

IMG_20140830_201255

IMG_20140830_203250

IMG_20140830_203741

From one violent feast to another, Tetes de Mules’ Parasite Circus saw viewers mercilessly showered with the blood of its “artists”, a series of puppets torn and exploded into pieces before their very eyes. A pair of grim, grimey hosts presented a miniature, mobile circus from their battered caravan, with a strong man, a dancer and an acrobat all brought before the audience and promptly murdered for its entertainment. Parasite Circus is a hilarious splatter-fest with a little of Grime’s influences combined with a few more from the films: from Hammer Horror’s theatricality to the outlandish blood baths of Tarantino movies. Though it took place after hours, squeals of delight were soon ringing out from kids and adults alike – after all, there’s nothing for bringing the family together like a bit of comedy slaughter!

IMG_20140830_212937

IMG_20140830_213552

IMG_20140830_214211

IMG_20140830_214946

To end the evening, Gentleman Juggler Mat Ricardo took over the Brewery Arts Centre’s Mint Room for a cabaret night packed with danger, dexterity and dapper elegance. Having sold out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and in London’s West End, Ricardo wowed the Kendal audience with a spectacular array of tricks and stunts, juggling everything from hats to bowling balls, poker cues to electric knives.

The following day, after listening to a series of exciting-sounding pitches in Town Hall, we headed over to the Brewery’s Mint Garden to relax to the cool, uplifting sounds of Polly and the Billet Doux, an energetic four-piece blending elements of soul, pop, folk and blues styles.

DSCF2531

DSCF2560

DSCF2570

DSCF2565

Even with just a few of these acts, it looks like there’ll be plenty to look forward to at next year’s Summer in Southside! Hope to see you there!

DSCF2046

Advertisements

Summer in Southside, Day 1: Live and Local

DSCF1523

The summer holidays are here at last, and what better way to spend the warm, sunny days (well, mostly…) than enjoying three weekends packed full of free theatre, music and dance? This Saturday (9th August), marked the first day of Summer in Southside 2014, an exciting outdoor performance festival put together by Hippodrome Plus and taking place in streets, squares and pubs around the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre.

DSCF1524

DSCF1528

After the success of Summer in Southside 2013, the festival has this year been expanded from just two weekends to include a much broader range of performances. On Saturday, “Live and Local” kicked off at 1pm with A Haka Day Out in Arcadian and Talking Birds’ Cricketers in the Hippodrome Square. Cricketers is a short, interactive comedy show that sees viewers roped into an amateur game of cricket with some hilarious consequences, while A Haka Day Out allows audiences to learn the traditional Haka war dance in workshops with Maori (New Zealand native) performers. Related arts and crafts activities such as tribal face and body painting also took place alongside the show.

DSCF1598

DSCF1569

DSCF1580

Next up were 2Faced Dance Company’s Two Old Men, an extraordinary, acrobatic, dance fusion performance telling the story of two old friends over a little journey ending at the local pub, as well as Tin Box Theatre’s Pint Dreams, a blend of folk music, puppetry and traditional storytelling taking place at The Old Fox pub. Following these, Corey Baker’s light-hearted Headphones emerged in Hurst Street, showcasing a plethora of dance styles and musical genres, and at 3pm, Arcadia played host to an hour of hip hop and break-dancing by a series of talented local acts.

DSCF1521

DSCF1536

DSCF1527

Throughout the day, performances were repeated to ensure plenty of opportunities to catch each show. Every 10-15 minutes, Highly Sprung’s beautiful fairy tale Travelling Treasury was told inside a caravan in Inge Street that had been gorgeously decorated to give audiences the sense that they were walking into the pages of a book. Also by Highly Sprung, alien family The Roswells wandered around the Southside area, taking photos, having a picnic and enjoying their summer holiday on Earth. Meanwhile, Pod Projects and Eye Candy Festival presented an assortment of wares by regional artists, illustrators and designers at the Bicycle Basket Bazaar – a “kind of art fair meets car boot sale”.

DSCF1551

DSCF1554

DSCF1562

Those who wanted to share their thoughts on the performances – or anything else on their mind – were invited to come and chat to Hippodrome Plus Ambassadors over a cup of iced tea at the Talkaoke table situated in Hurst Street. Talkaoke is a relaxed, pop-up chat show that enables participants to lead a discussion on a topic of their choice. Set to reappear on every day of the festival, Talkaoke will be situated in Arcadian next Saturday.

Talkaoke 1

Talkaoke 2

Talkaoke 3

Talkaoke 4

Talkoke 5

Talkoke 6

As the daytime performances wrapped up and the evening began, budding DJs were invited to bring along their own records and show off their skills in Come Vinyl With Me while enjoying a drink in Arcadian, before moving on to the Hippodrome Dock for a trippy clubbing experience inside a giant white balloon called The Pod.

DSCF1606

DSCF1608

DSCF1609

If you missed Summer in Southside this weekend, or if you enjoyed the shows, make sure you come along next Saturday (16th August), for “Euro Stars”, where you’ll be able to catch some amazing international acts, ranging from Acrojou’s spectacular Frantic to Gijs van Bon’s sand-writing robot, Skryf. Don’t forget to let us know what you thought on Twitter (@brumhippodrome) using the hashtag #bhoutdoors. For more information on the festival, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website, or check out the Summer in Southside tumblr.

Talkaoke photos by Matthew Kong.

Works In Progress – Pilot Sites Showcases New Talent

Pilot Nights Logo

As part of a bid to promote and develop new work by emerging performance artists, on Thursday night, the Birmingham Hippodrome played host to Pilot Sites, a series of works in progress showcased in collaboration with Pilot Nights.

Founded in 2003, Pilot Nights provides a platform for performers to test new ideas in front of audiences at special events held in venues across the West Midlands. Making its debut this year, Pilot Sites featured previews of a range of indoor, outdoor and one-on-one projects performed in and around the Hippodrome theatre. After watching the shows, audiences were then invited to offer their feedback to the performers at a “Talkaoke” round table discussion.

Over the course of the evening, I saw four shows, the first of which – The Tea Project – was a relaxed, intimate performance blending scripted action with audience participation and talking with tea drinking to create a truly organic, viewer-led experience. Though it took a little time for the participants to warm to the set-up, by the end of it, everyone was talking freely and interacting naturally. I really liked the concept behind this show, and am interested to see what it develops into. Its creators, Tara Buckley and Lyndsay Price, will be performing a full length version at the mac Birmingham on Tuesday 3rd June.

Next up were Artizani and Avanti, who presented viewers with a series of strange scenarios and encouraged them to indulge in a little silliness. This was a really funny and entertaining show that exercised all its participants’ senses: as well as watching and listening, we were given honey to taste and surprised with a jet of water. Sadly, because of the size of the audience, not everyone was able to experience every part of it. For the first half, some of the participants were passive spectators, while the other half followed instructions given to them in an audio recording through headphones. After this, the first group were showed round other things until the second group had finished with the headphones, at which point we left. Nevertheless I’m sure that this is something that would be resolved by regulating audience numbers in a full-length show.

Talking Birds next gave a comic performance in front of the Hippodrome, acting the parts of two hapless, would-be cricketers whose ill-fated attempts to begin a game outside the theatre lead to some trouble with a security guard. Audience members were involved as a wicket-keeper, fielders and an umpire. This brilliant little piece was the most well-developed show of the evening, and it was hard to believe this was still a work in progress: I could easily see it appearing as a piece of pop-up street theatre in its current form.

Finally, we were taken to Arcadian Square for an interesting, improvised piece called Osmosis. Created by Freedom Studios, Osmosis explored sound and movement in a simplified, engaging way. Colourfully clothed actors sang, made silly noises and danced around with actions partly inspired by the audience. Though the group of adult participants were initially a little too self-conscious to fully immerse themselves in the show, I could imagine something like this working well as a daytime performance for families: young children in particular would probably be quicker to respond.

Overall, Pilot Sites was a really interesting experience, and an event I hope will be the first of many!