Well hello there my dear Jabberwockies, your resident blogger Gemma Hirst is back this year hoping to fill you in on the latest goings with the Jabberwocky Market events this season.
For those of who you may not know me, I am a third year journalism student at Sunderland University and Culture Editor of Kettle Magazine. I used to perform but now I prefer to be on this side of the stage reviewing theatre.
Usually working behind a laptop, I decided to get my hands dirty and go to the Jabberwocky Market to help turn the Cattle Market into a suitable performance space.
It was my first time in Darlington and I was looking forward to the work that had to be done. Arriving in the afternoon, I finally met Caroline and Jade (after only conversing via email) and they introduced me to the rest of the team who would be turning this place into a fabulous venue.
No messing around the Jabberwocky volunteers like to get to work straight away. The first task on the agenda was to clean and sweep out the auction ring (theatre and auditorium) to make sure it was spik and span, after a good measure of sweeping and elbow grease the place looked fit for Shakespeare.
We here at Jabberwocky want to make sure you feel as comfy as possible when you experience a show with us, so we turned the animal pens into a cafe like sitting area- decorating it with cardboard grass, flowers, plastic bugs and of course lots and lots of bunting for you guys to relax and talk about the fun shows that we have at Jabberwocky Market.
I had not realised how hard it is to turn an everyday cattle market into a theatre, well done to the team of volunteers who managed to make it look Jabberwocky ready.
Sorry for the break in updates, we’ve been working on a load of new ideas for Jabberwocky Markets in 2016 and they’re really exciting, so we’ll start to tell you now.
This is the line up for shows this spring. Each show will sit within a bespoke event, so make sure you arrive early and plan to stay after the end of the show; we’ll bring along the Jabbervan and loads of things to see and do that complement the themes.
The ink is barely dry on the last Jabberwocky Market, but we already have some news about what’s happening next.
From 2016 onwards you will see a slight change. Jabberwocky Market Festival will continue, once a year in early October, with all the things we know and love – a Scratch Night, a launch party, panel discussion and a load of brilliant shows. As well as that, throughout the year there will be all sorts of Jabberwocky Markets – one-off alternative theatre events, each featuring one show in a surprising venue with loads of related fun stuff.
And one more thing. You can see Backstage in Biscuit Land on BBC4 on Saturday 15 November (9-11pm) as part of Live from Television Centre, alongside loads of other shows from our friends at Battersea Arts Centre. Set your telly to watch and record – it will be awesome.
Jabberwocky Market festival is something I look forward to every season and their launch night surpassed my expectations.
Featuring Kate Fox, Mush and Flex Dance, much of the subject for the performances came from personal experiences, making it that bit more unique, while Flex Dance, a group of dancers with learning difficulties, told a gripping story without the need for much speech at all.
Mush, a band with an odd but tuneful mix of musical instruments, played songs written from their own experience and while not what I would usually listen to, the mix of voice, piano, violin and electric guitar worked well. While many songs built suspense and an eerie feel, this brought more drama to the performance
Kate Fox, a regular on BBC Radio 4 and having performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, as well as being Poet in Residence for The Great North Run, had a varied and comedic repertoire of poems, ranging from those about the North to Disability but also very random. I found that much of this was very relatable and the poems were extremely catchy, much like a song.
Flex Dance, based in Durham, told the very moving story of a man who had lost a big part of his life in his partner, however, the performance was very engaging and told a story without the need for many words. Given that the performers have some degree of learning difficulty, it wasn’t noticeable if you didn’t know already.
Overall, the launch night was extremely enjoyable and it was good to see some lesser known people getting to show their talents. A great way to launch a festival about just that.
“At The End of Everything Else” by Make Do and Mend Theatre, while rather appropriately being the last show of this season of Jabberwocky Market, was not the reason for its namesake. A creative and beautiful story of a girl how she copes with life after her mum dies, it uses silhouettes, made by props and a video background to tell the story of the girls journey.
Finding comfort in helping an injured bird, the girl goes on a journey round the world which will change her outlook on life. Will she succeed in finding the bird? You’ll have to see for yourself. Not only does she go to find the bird but also herself and this is what makes the story so gripping.
With great audience participation, getting the audience, including me, to ride a bike in order to power the show, this was a fun show for all the family. Overall, the story is a journey of ups and downs and will keep you interested throughout the show. While you may not be able to go and see the show in Darlington, the show will be on in other venues and I would definitely recommend seeing it.
– Robert Mooney
Performance: Sunday 4 October, 2pm at Mercure Darlington Kings Hotel Running time: 40 minutes.
It’s been 12 months, to the weekend, since I last visited Darlington, and its Jabberwocky Market. It was wet then, with Fun Palaces fighting gamely against the weather in gazebos by the indoors market, a damp walk from the town centre to Pollam High School to catch Ballad of the Burning Star, and a bizarre, stubbornly interactive take on ‘A Christmas Carol’ as the first tentative wave of tinsel and baubles appeared on the top floor of Binns department store.
This is the fifth Jabberwocky Market. It’s the fifth wave of shows transported with the help of Battersea Arts Centre, and twinned with local produce as part of the Collaborative Touring Network. Five festivals is a lot of festivals, and the project is far from over, though you sense it’s found more of its own shape, an appropriately strange and surprising shape for a festival named after a mythical mirror-beast.
Catching up with festival producer Caroline Pearce, we talk about the journey the Jabberwocky has taken over the past 12 months, the things that have worked and been built upon, and the things that have been cast aside. The latter includes a centralisation of the performances into a single space, while the former takes in what Caroline describes as the innate cautiousness of Darlington audiences. Darlington is not Newcastle, and it isn’t Leeds. It’s something of a liminal town, between garrulous Tynesiders and the more reserved Yorkshire types. It’s not the richest of towns, and has found itself and its cultural landscape in particular savaged by cuts (snicker-snack). What is surprising, and seems to have surprised Caroline and her Jabberwocky team too, is that that question of centralisation versus a more diffuse spread across the town has proven crucial to hooking in those more reluctant audiences:
‘I think there’s something much more interesting about taking shows to lots of different places,’ she tells me ‘What I enjoy about that process is thinking about who the audience are, thinking about what the shows are, and then matching them and finding a space which accommodates both of those things. And you often find that the most unexpected space is the best one.’ It’s why this year’s festival sees Jabberwocky’s most adventurous use of spaces yet, as well as its most populous and enthusiastic audiences.
North-East poet Kate Fox steals the Festival Launch Show, a bit like a non-shit Pam Ayres, but more political, her short poems and stories of ‘taking on the Southern Media hegemony one flat-vowel at a time’ are irresistible, as she describes her residences with Glastonbury and the Great North Run. There’s similarly cockle-warming work from Flex Dance, who present ‘Parked’, the story of an everyday hero, a down and out who weathers the seasons on a park bench with his suitcase of memories. A company dedicated to producing and promoting work by learning disabled performers, there’s a sly and suggestive anti-austerity angle packed in there with the fun and the whimsy. There’s an impressive control of pathos here too, in a work that touches serious subjects without ever dropping its smile.
A year ago the Scratch Night crammed itself into a function room above the Voodoo Café (dispenser of fine enchilada’s and craft beer), this year it has ballooned to fill the Liddiard Theatre in Pollam High School, with a packed audience watching and scribbling feedback for four work in progress pieces from the North East. Most polished and accomplished are Fun in the Oven, an all-female dance and physical theatre group who present a section of their latest project Munitionettes titled ‘The Canary Girls’. Taking its inspiration from the work of women in wartime factories, where the Trinitrotoluene they packed into shell casings would stain their skin yellow and expose them to horrific physical ailments. A musical grotesque, they clearly take inspiration from groups such as 1927, Kill the Beast and Les Enfants Terribles, but in their mixing of gruesome comedy, movement and a real political and social message, their work is very promising. There’s still development required to link the (often very funny) physical skits with the wider narrative, but that’s what scratch is for, eh?
Smaller but neater is Bolivian dancer Yuvel Soria’s short piece ‘Retratos’, which suggests a figure trapped in an urban environment, driven by an obsession with an elusive and complex thing that flees any attempt to grasp or unpick it. Soria blends traditional Bolivian dance with something far more local and contemporary, and whether he chases an addiction, a lost love, or an escape is never clear, but Soria’s performance is eloquent and intriguing. Neither a short episodic reflection on mother/daughter relationships by Celeste Hay nor a humorous but thematically obscure short play set in a mysterious blend of a brothel and Dignitas are as effective or complete, but that’s the joy of these evenings, and it feels like a form that Darlington’s audience are becoming increasingly comfortable and enthusiastic to embrace.
Beats North makes a stop off on its tour of the North-East to spread out across the Quaker Meeting Hall. A pair of monologues by Luke Barnes and Ishy Dinn, they take in two disaffected Tyneside adolescents, who find the identities their difficult upbringings threaten in the music that they love. Wright’s piece, performed by Tom Booth, tells the story of Jack, whose attachment to rag-doll Jade and the music of Bonnie Tyler puts him at odds with his macho father and his peers; while Dinn’s introduces us to Ali (Afnan Prince), whose relationship with posh-girl Bernie and the sparks set off by her father’s record collection creates tensions with his strict Pakistani father. Performed on a stage shaped like a 7”, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that Barnes’ is the lead single, with Dinn’s shorter and less complete piece the inessential B-side, but taken together they’re punchy and satisfying, if the presence of Mariam Rezaei’s DJ cum master of ceremonies never quite gels or boosts the energy in the way you feel it should.
It feels particularly at home in a festival which Caroline describes as ‘transitional’, both in its outlook and the audiences it’s looking to hook in. ‘A lot of the people who are coming to see these shows are people who are at a phase in their life in which things are changing for them: they’ve just got married, or just left university or retired. And they’re looking for something new. They’re not just looking for the same old routine.’ These are the windows of opportunity, the cracks in the busy schedules of individuals who might not generally consider a theatre trip, which Caroline hopes to fill with the work at Jabberwocky.
This season’s spine shows, selected by the Jabberwocky producers from a menu of recent acclaimed productions, include Danny Braverman’s warm and elegiac Wot? No Fish!! and Chris Brett Bailey’s pupil-black This Is How We Die, both playing to packed houses, the vast majority of who had never encountered these works before. Both recent darlings of the alternative theatre scene, their presence in Darlington, where Braverman reduces a school hall into gentle sobs and Brett Bailey tears through a local night-club, fulfils one of the Collaborative Touring Network’s core objectives: improving access to some of the UK’s most talked-about and vital work. After TIHWD Maddy Costa led twenty or so local residents in a Theatre Club discussion, rebadged for Darlington as the Jabbering Theatre Club, and as in Margate earlier this year, the piece found more or less blanket approval. As well as the usual comparisons to William Burroughs and the Beat poetry of the 1960’s, the discussion covered questions of nihilism versus celebration in the text, its ‘orgasmic’ structure, the identity or position of the narrator, and his complicity or otherwise in his monologue’s frequent attacks on categories, boundaries and the politically correct.
The Jabbering also opened up a few questions which have been stirring around Brett Bailey’s piece all year – namely the weight of expectation created by the show’s unprecedented cult hype, one that’s only increased by its reputation as a ‘shocking’ piece. On entry to the club, the audience were handed earplugs because it ‘gets loud at the end’, others had been told to expect something wild or wildly offensive. There was even an air of disappointment that the expected wave of revulsion and horror hadn’t arrived. It’s not the way that people usually talk about theatre at all. If it has an analogue, it’s something like the way that illicit films are passed between school-friends, or shared on the internet. It’s a VHS of The Evil Dead in 1989. It’s ‘Two Girls One Cup’ 20 years later. When it’s all over, people say things like ‘It wasn’t that bad’, ‘it was gentler than I thought’, ‘It could have gone further’. It’s the Nemesis at Alton Towers. It’s the Pepsi Max and a bungee jump and a scotch bonnet and a video nasty. While it continues to unfold as a text, it’s also still unfolding as a sensation. It isn’t touring in a normal way, to Darlington or anywhere else, it’s touring as part of the story of itself, which everyone who has written about it and Tweeted about it is complicit with. A story in which, even in an ex-railway town hundreds of miles from London, Megan Vaughan is probably the main character. How cool is that??
Eating fried fish balls in a school hall. Dancing at 3pm in a Quaker Meeting House. Chatting the erotics of death under a deserted nightclub at 9pm on a Saturday. The Collaborative Touring Network feels quite open to criticism at times. It’s at least as full of the sort of stuff that London has decided is cool as the stuff that burbles from the grass-roots, and it probably costs a heap of money. But I defy you to go up to Darlington, and talk to the people there who are so excited and invigorated to be there, and to see this work blossom on their doorstep. To talk so excitedly and enthusiastically about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and not just think that this is just absolutely, utterly brilliant. They’ve got Backstage in Biscuitland is coming up for the next festival in March, and they’re not just super stoked about that (and believe me they’re super stoked), but Caroline has already started putting access at the heart of her festival’s agenda. Signed shows are planned. Large print programmes are already available. She’s moving faster, and more nimbly and affirmatively than a good half of the art scenes in bigger and more populous towns and cities with bigger and more funded and more visible arts scenes.
Beats North is a double bill of one-man plays about growing up in the north east and how music helps/hinders that journey.
The characters Jack (played by Tom Booth) and Al (played by Afnan Prince) are assisted by DJ Mariam Rezaei as ‘musical puppeteer’; their performances are fun, energetic and full of light and shade. Both plays address teenage angst and other people’s expectations as two boys from different backgrounds explore their musical tastes and try to figure out the meaning of life, or at least how to get a girlfriend.
The first play, by Luke Barnes, is about 14-year-old Jack who has a doll that understands him and a father who doesn’t. Father and son disagree over music choices but agree it defines and inspires them. The live-mixed soundtrack provides scenery for the ears, and the imagery of Jack being beaten up at school made me believe he’d have bruises.
In the second play, written by Ishy Din, parental disappointment also looms large. Al’s pursuit of his guitar-playing dreams includes attempting to learn that riff from Smoke on the water, while trying to respect his Pakistani family’s aspirations for him.
Loads of great music is brilliantly timed throughout to evoke emotions, which is exactly what music does best.
This surrealist storytelling involves an actor at a desk reading from a pile of pages, but nothing more is needed. It’s all about the words.
Written and performed by Canadian, London-based theatre maker Christopher Brett Bailey, the monologue ‘This is how we die’ is a high-speed, dark and gruesome rant with moments of calm and offbeat humour. CBB’s use of language provides, literally, a word-based journey through uncomfortable situations and landscapes of X-rated B-movies.
Imagine the beat poets had a less well-adjusted younger brother and he’s on the road-trip of his life. The twisting and twisted narrative hurtles through ideas of paranoia, taboos, love and death, but mostly death, from the small-scale with dead phone batteries preventing communication, through to daydreaming of killing a man for wearing an EDL T-shirt, and wanting to destroy a whole list of ideologies and irritating -isms.
From a car-crash of a dinner with his sort-of girlfriend’s family through to killing a lookalike priest, the nightmarish fantasy accelerates towards what seems like inevitable destruction. But nothing here is inevitable.
Any monologue by a person sitting still needs something to lift text off the page. This performance lifts the text off the page, chews up that page, spits it out and disposes of the evidence in a scary part of town.
Wot? No Fish!! is the true story of Ab Solomon, who drew sketches for his new wife Celie, detailing their lives, on wage packets. Over time, these beautiful sketches show the ups and down of family life and the evolution of time. Told by their great nephew, Danny Braverman, this passage of time touches everyone who sees it.
Danny Braverman doesn’t appear to act at all during this performance, he just uses his passion for the story to speak to the audience. Using a desk and light to create an even more intimate relationship with the audience, the pictures almost come to life on the screen. Donning white gloves to protect the packets, it is clear to see how much care, thought and emotion has been put into this piece. His simple yet effective method of portraying the story, fully immerses you into the piece, and you feel like he is talking just to you.
In my opinion this performance is unmissable, and people of all ages can enjoy it. I loved the very comedic yet emotional tales of family life, and the feeling I got after watching it was something I don’t think I have felt after leaving a theatre before.
– Rebecca Parkinson
Performance: Friday 2 October, 7pm at Liddiard Theatre, Polam Hall School. Running time: 70 minutes.
“Looping the Loop isn’t only a local consortium here in Thanet; it’s also part of a national network of towns and cities (well, theatre producers in those towns) all clustered around the hub of Battersea Arts Centre. This autumn we are all producing our 5th festival. This time we got out on the road to visit our sister festivals.
I went to the Jabberwocky Market festival in Darlington this weekend, 3 & 4 October, just before our festival begins on 9 October. A slightly tense time, when all is to play for and I was worried about losing two days. But it’s great getting out and reinvigorating your thoughts and obsessions…
Caroline Pearce runs Jabberwocky Market and Looping the Loop felt her set up was closest to our own; she has an unfunded organisation, with no network of formal support from local authority, Arts Council (ACE) or others. Jabberwocky sits alone as a festival, it’s not wrapped into a larger existing event.
I saw four events on Saturday and one on Sunday. Here’s the programme if you’re interested. They couldn’t be more varied: a northern beat DJ and 2 actors; a jazz band in the library with a sea of tiny children; This Is How We Die, a loud, biting, demanding piece we had last season at the Tom Thumb; the post-show talk in the nightclub venue and on Sunday, coffee & croissants over a discussion on the nature of ‘world class’, with speakers including the ever-inspiring David Jubb from BAC, Arts Council and local businessman.
I came away happy, not only with Jabberwocky but also with Looping the Loop; it’s easy to compare other work and feel you’re failing yourself but that wasn’t the case. I could see similar issues, new ideas (some of which we will steal!) and just different approaches to the mission. Here’s the specifics I’ve taken away:
The jazz band – we’ve not regularly brought in shows outside of local producers’ or BAC shows. It’s used here as a simple way to increase the amount going on and to have work that you’re not having to organise totally yourselves, you bring in the finished product. Jabberwocky did it several times.
Promoting the next show at the end of the one you’re watching. Obvious. Go and see…. Easy to forget.
Badges. We need badges!
Local businesses and getting them involved. Caroline (rents) a space above BePremiere, a salon in the main shopping area of town. It’s her office and the salon became a town centre home for the festival, and venue for the Sunday discussion. The owner is a successful local businessman and this opens up conversations that it’s hard to get to have otherwise, interesting businesses in a small, growing festival.
What’s On signboard. Just like Edinburgh – post up reviews, info about shows, stick it outside the venues. We need one!
Jabbervan. We loved it when Caroline talked about it, it would be perfect for linking up our three towns and villages of Thanet. Anything interesting on wheels that we can use…?
Separately, there were some great words used and things popping out of discussions. I want to remember: ’You need to be local to be global’ Are you doing what you do for the art or for the place, regeneration, another reason? ‘Oil in the wheels’ – it’s not just the work itself that makes it ‘world class’ it’s what’s around it. ‘I wouldn’t go if I knew I’d like everything…’ Bill from ACE on Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival ‘Scratch [a process] allows us to make mistakes together’ ‘There’s a dark side to world-class, look at Volkswagen…’ ‘Who are the storytellers? We are our own storytellers…’ ‘…the value of art…can it really be about persuading people to go to restaurants?’