DAO pick their Unlimited highlights

Photography by Gareth Phillips. Cosy.

Need a good read? In a special guest blog our media partner, Disability Arts Online shine a spotlight on our current commissions and pick just some of the highlights…

As media partner for Unlimited, Disability Arts Online is tasked with the enviable job of covering each of the nine main commissions, as well as the R&Ds where appropriate, with interviews and reviews throughout the creative cycle of each work. This is really exciting, as we get to see the work as it progresses and blossoms with insights offered by the artists and often by seeing preliminary showings.

With the Unlimited Festivals at both Southbank Centre and Glasgow’s Tramway tantalisingly on the horizon, now is a great time to look back at some of the coverage we have produced so far, to whet the appetite for the main event. What follows is some of our favourite articles that we have either published on Disability Arts Online, or had syndicated elsewhere.

Liz Carr’s Assisted Suicide the Musical has the enormous privilege of being the headline event at the Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre. Disability Arts Online has been following this ‘polemic with show-tunes’ keenly over the 4+ years of its development. From what we’ve seen and heard about it so far, there’s no doubt it will be worth the wait.

Back in September 2015 Trish Wheatley went along to Pleasance Theatre to see a work-in-progress showing, finding it “infectiously memorable,” concluding “with humour, catchy songs and great storytelling in abundance, this work-in-progress shows the potential for great things to come”. The next month, Joe Turnbull delved into Carr’s process and how the work has developed since its inception with a ‘behind the scenes’ interview. Carr offered this fascinating nugget on the choice of musical theatre as a medium for discussing such a heavy topic:

“Musical theatre has become a metaphor in the piece…in musicals you go along and you clap along and sing along and you almost don’t know what you’re singing along to. I feel that’s a lot about what the debate about assisted suicide is – people think it’s about choice, and that it’s a good thing – and they clap along and sing along but they don’t really realise what they’re singing and they haven’t really thought about the lyrics, they’ve just been swept along by it.”

Naomi Lakmaier’s Cherophobia will be another highlight of the Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre. With the artist being suspended from 20,000 helium balloons in a live-streamed 48-hour marathon, it’s sure to be one of the biggest talking points too. Elinor Rowlands met up with Lakmaier to discuss the role of control in the work and the juxtaposition of happiness and heaviness, in an interview published by Culture24. “Is the audience in control of me or am I in control of the audience? Are they objectifying me or am I objectifying them? I’m hoping people question that when they’re looking at my work.”

Another piece that we have been following over the course of its development is Bekki Perriman’s The Doorway’s Project which was an R&D in the last round of Unlimited commissioning as a photography exhibition. It has since evolved into a site-specific sound art piece which is appearing in doorways and other places you might expect to find a homeless person from Bristol to Liverpool, and of course London and Glasgow for the Unlimited Festivals. Perriman spoke to Joe Turnbull in Apollo Magazine, just before the piece appeared at Brighton Festival in May:

“By telling stories of everyday street life, I want to humanise the experience of homelessness. The stories are about friendship, or loss, a sense of belonging, or of being invisible, fear or anger − emotions that we can all identify with, even if our circumstances are different.”

March saw the premiere of Kaite O’Reilly’s Cosy at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre. Chloe Clarke (Phillips) attended for Disability Arts Online, surmising “it’s not a play you come away from saying ‘I really enjoyed that’ – such a simple declaration wouldn’t do it justice. It’s a play that you carry with you; it’s poignancy and linguistic beauty and it’s clever, irreverent and oddly (considering the subject matter) life-affirming message.”

O’Reilly also spoke to Joe Turnbull on not one, but two occasions, for a pair of very different interviews. For The Stage, O’Reilly described how she was challenging the notion of normalcy and railed against the lack of diversity in theatre: “Theatre is the site where we gather collectively to explore what it is to be human. We have to have the breadth, depth and diversity of experience, rather than a monoculture or just a segment of society talking to itself.”

Then on the pages of Exeunt she shared her dissident sensibilities and her view on the impact of Unlimited: “I wonder if that’s a shift that has come from Unlimited and their legacy, that [disabled people] are now becoming more and more in the position of the powerbase [in productions].”

At the tail end of 2015, Aaron Williamson and producer Edd Hobbs caught up with Disability Arts Online’s Editor, Colin Hambrook to discuss their performance art piece Demonstrating the World. Williamson said of the work: “The work explores the ‘alien’ or ‘other’ through an absurdly elaborate, live reinvention of a group of bespoke, designed furniture. We were looking for ways of being inventive; creating absurd twists on everyday life.” The piece then went to Experimentica15 in Cardiff, Chloe Clarke reviewed it, finding it “oddly familiar and brilliantly odd”.

Cameron Morgan’s technicolour ode to his favourite programmes from across the decades, TV Classics Part 1 was plastered across the subway in his native Glasgow in April. Fellow Glasgow resident Paul F. Cockburn quizzed Morgan about his love of classic television: “I like watching old films and old TV shows from the 1950s and ‘60s and later. They made programmes a lot different then; I think they made them more enjoyable to watch.”

Sheila Hill’s film featuring actor Tim Barlow ruminating on life, Him II certainly left an impression on Colin Hambrook when he saw it at Southbank Centre’s Being a Man Festival in December. It embraces the taboos of ageing of death “combining the warmth and engagement of theatre with the fineness and subtlety of the visual arts.” Perhaps more importantly, it finally made him realise what he wanted to be when he ‘grows up’.

Last but by no means least, Jack Dean’s ‘steampunk fairytale for grownups’ got an early outing at the Camden People’s Theatre in October of last year. Grandad and the Machine is the tale of a giant mechanical leviathan hell bent on destruction, set in a dystopian parallel universe. Joe Turnbull described it as “an epic you can fit in a shabby suitcase”. His conclusion could surely be applied to this round of Unlimited as a whole: “Once it gathers steam, it will be as unstoppable as a 100-foot robot”!

The Unlimited commissions all seem to be clicking into gear nicely, just in time. We can’t wait for September.

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