Category Archives: David Smith

Are you going… to the ‘Burnley Buggers’ Ball? You are invited!

About three years ago we had a visit to Mid Pennine Arts from a researcher who was working with the LGBT communities in Manchester and Liverpool.  One of the issues he raised was how important Burnley was in the history of the LGBT movement nationally – a surprise to us all!

But what emerged from his visit was not the just the importance of the occasion to gay rights but for the civil rights of each member of our community.

He told the story of an attempt led by the late Alan Horsfall, in the early 70’s to establish a club, a meeting place for young gay members of the local community.

buggars-ball-image2As you might expect the search for a place to house the club for young people was met with hostility and many refusals until a room in the old Co-operative Society Building on Hammerton Street was found. The offer was to be withdrawn later.

The desire to set up a club was met with fierce opposition in the town from local churches, local people and councillors – it was one of our councillors, I believe, who said that “we’ll have no buggers’ ball in Burnley’!  To explain the need for the ‘club’ and what it would offer, a public meeting was called at Burnley Central Library.  Despite support at a packed meeting the bid to set up a club failed.

buggars-ball-image3Later in the 70’s another story of defiance surfaces.  A local bus driver, Mary Winter, was sacked for wearing a Lesbian Liberation badge at her workplace.   Her union refused to support her – just think of the power of the unions in the 70’s!  Mary, with support from women’s groups around the country staged a demonstration close to Burnley’s Bus Station.  Her bid to get her job back failed.

So… what is the relevance of these two stories which ended in failure?  Well, we are very familiar of a world now where ordinary people feel that they can stand up and protest against ‘the establishment’. This is exactly what Alan Horsfall and Mary Winter did when they placed a marker for the advancement of minority civil rights in Burnley more than 40 years ago.

Two playwrights, Stephen Hornby and Abi Hynes, have drawn these threads together to write two new plays which will be presented at Burnley’s Central Library.  Later they will go on to be performed in Manchester and Liverpool.

The Burnley Buggers’ Ball and Burnley’s Lesbian Liberator in Burnley’s Central Library on:

  • Saturday 18 February – 12noon
  • Saturday 18 February – 2pm
  • Saturday 25 February – 12noon
  • Saturday 25 February – 2pm

Each performance last approximately one hour and 15 minutes.   Tickets are free but you need to book via Eventbrite.

Read more about the productions on Inkbrew Productions’ Facebook page and in The Guardian.

You are all invited!

David Smith

 

(Images courtesy of Inkbrew Productions.)

Are you a bit ‘sniffy’ about musicals?

Another blog in the series from our roving arts & culture reporter David Smith

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Well I am… or at least I was…  Over a family meal when the subject of musicals came up I dismissed them all with:  “I don’t like musicals!”  And then, of course, I had to start trying to justify my arrogant posture.  “Come on Dad, explain yourself; that’s a bit of a scattergun approach…”

“Well, most of the audience are ‘of a certain age’.”

“Like you?”

“Well  yes; you don’t see the theatre full of young people.  The narrative is always weak, characterisation thin and often you are lucky to find one memorable song.”

Have you ever felt like you are walking on ice and you can feel the ice cracking underneath you with each step you take?  That is exactly how I felt and waited for the broadsides to come.

“Wait a minute; you took us to see Joseph, Blood Brothers, West Side Story, Cats… I suppose Billy Elliot doesn’t appeal to young people either!”,  and the list went on.  “They may not have the characterisation of King Lear but those theatres were full of young people.”

Basics in Burnley produces a musical each year with a cast wholly of young people, and you encouraged me to audition for Burnley Youth Theatre‘s West Side Story, came another voice across the table.

“Then you won’t want to have one of the tickets I’ve bought for Sweet Charity at the Royal Exchange”, chipped in my wife Kay enjoying my discomfort.

“I give in…”

And so at the  weekend we went to see Sweet Charity.  What a show!

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Charity Hope Valentine is a ‘hostess’ dancer in a New York gents’ club.  She falls in love with clients – always the wrong one – believing everything they say, longing for the marriage proposal which her friend know will never come.

Kaisa Hammalund is terrific as Charity.  She fills the stage with a an energy and vibrancy which left me exhausted.  She engages so perfectly with her audience that we are all wanting her love quest to succeed… the underlying irony in the show is that there is no charity on offer.  It highlights attitudes to women, makes fun of the excesses of 60’s hippies… and more.

The whole cast is excellent I can hardly say that there are no memorable songs when I am still singing them in the car: Rhythm of Life, Hey Big Spender, If My Friends could See Me Now, There’s  Gotta Be Something Better Than This.

The direction from Derek Bond is brilliant.  There is a disco sequence which took me back to my 60’s disco days with all the moves I attempted exaggerated and presented like a Matthew Bourne piece of choreography.  The scene where Charity finds herself in the bedroom of a film star when his partner returns, hiding under the bed and under a covered tea-trolley is hilarious.  The stage craft making use of a minimalist set allows each individual member of the audience to be engaged throughout yet showing smooth transitions between scenes with clever lighting.

…and the music from a band visible on stage throughout is magical.  It is a show that had me laughing out loud, miming the songs and tapping the lady’s foot next to mine.

Go and see it, if you can (on at the Royal Exchange, Manchester until 28 January).

I love musicals;  I can’t understand anyone who says they don’t… I’m off the see Strictly Ballroom at the West Yorkshire Playhouse next week… watch this space.!

 

 

Three days in Paris

Another blog in the series from our roving arts & culture reporter David Smith

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Day 1

Ten  years ago I was in Paris with Nick (MPA Creative Director) for the opening of the new Mac Val Gallery of contemporary French art in Vitry-sur-Seine.  Nick had been invited to make a presentation on the Panopticons project with a special focus on the Singing Ringing Tree.  I had volunteered to carry his bags.

With a couple of hours to spare, whilst Nick was honing his presentation, I visited the Picasso Museum in the Marais Quarter of Paris.  What a disappointment it was.  Many pieces were on loan, the museum was dull and the organisation of the collection left me uninspired.

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Last month I returned.  What a transformation.  Having been closed for a considerable time for refurbishment the Museum reopened 18 months ago with a new curator.  Picasso’s works are displayed in chronological order with sketches, paintings and sculptural works side by side.  It allows you to make a journey through the museum which follows Picasso’s creative process: carvings, engravings, sketches, photographs, ceramics, paintings and sculptures. The collection is huge; in fact, most of the works were given to France to settle his unpaid tax bills!

The Museum includes a roof top garden used to display some larger sculptures in a quiet, peaceful setting; perfect to sit, muse, rest your feet and take it all in…and I love this quotation from Picasso:

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Day 2 morning

A visit to the Opera Garnier began my second day.  From the outside the building is stunning.  If you have never been you will know it as the setting for the Phantom of the Opera.paris - 2

Much of the lighting depended on candlelight which, of course led to blackened walls and ceilings.  In the 1960’s when the time came to restore the ceiling of the auditorium above the great chandelier – and yes it did actually fall down on one occasion in 1896 and killed a member of the audience! – they couldn’t afford the cost of restoration.  A French artist who was working on set and costume design for opera offered his services for which, I believe he was never paid…his name, Marc Chagall.  The ceiling is magnificent:

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 Day 2 afternoon

Have you ever shopped in Leeds and visited those lovely Victorian glass covered arcades?

Well; from the Opèra Garnier, I was led around ‘Les Passages Couverts‘ – 19th. century, glass roofed shopping galleries. They provide hidden corners of superb architecture full of cafes, antiquarian bookshops, shops for stamps, coins and art – a fascinating experience.

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Day 3

My final day took me back in the direction of the airport to Auvers-sur-Oise , the village where Van Gogh spent his last 70 days before his premature death.  During this  period he painted 70 pieces yet during his whole short life he sold only one painting – to his brother!  He died as he lived, in poverty.  In the village you can follow a trail: ‘In the steps  of Van Gogh’ which take you from the café where he rented a room, through the village to the church and finally to his grave where he and his brother lie side by side beside a field of sunflowers.  It is a very moving story and a moving journey.

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‘My Brothers and Sisters’

Another in the series from our roving arts reporter, David Smith.

“Is it easier this way? Is it? Blame someone else because you didn’t have a clue what was happening…does it make you feel better to blame someone else?”

brothers and sisters 1

I was in London earlier this month and saw a piece of Theatre in Education written for 16-19 year-olds in Further Education presented by a professional company: Mad ‘Ed Theatre.

The play opens on a bare stage with six chairs as props. You now have no option but to focus on the actors and their words without distraction. The 55 minute production is emotionally charged, moving, and totally engaging. It focuses on a single Muslim family over a period of 48 hours.

Two strong female characters emerge: a teenager, Shamilla and her mother played brilliantly by the same actor, Alexandra D’Sa. Rupinder Nagra as the father, provides a mature strong acting presence deeply troubled by what he learns, by what he should have known. Rishi Nair, Shamilla’s confident boyfriend, slowly learns truths about himself he has failed to recognise. Hayley Powell as a solicitor and the troubled teenager Aisha successfully captures two hugely contrasting characters.

It opens with two police officers visiting the household. The parents think that the visit is in response to their earlier report that their 15 year-old daughter Shamilla is missing. The police have, in fact, come about another matter. Their son, believed by his parents to be on a package holiday, has posted an on-line message from Syria. The parents, hard-working, long-standing members of the community have no understanding about what is happening around them within their own family. Their daughter Shamilla, has spent the last 24 hours with an older boyfriend who, when he realises what has happened to her brother, takes her home.

Mother:           Our children are not our children. Not anymore.

                          We do not know our own children. Nobody does.    

The play is multi-layered. The characters: Shamilla, her parents, her boyfriend, police officers, a solicitor and a troubled teenager, act out a range of views on radicalisation, racism, attitudes to young people, sexism, immigration and the value of our education system. But the large question which dominates is the issue of responsibility. Each character is forced to ask: ‘What has been my contribution to what has transpired?’‘Could I have done more to prevent it?’

The emotionally charged scenes between mother and father show a couple learning not only about what has been happening around them but also about their own relationship. But it is also true that the interaction between all the characters shows each one gradually coming to a deeper, and at times a painful understanding of themselves.

brothers and sisters 2

The final scenes show the daughter Shamilla made a Ward of Court and removed from the family home to ‘a place of safety’ – a hostel – where she shares a room with a deeply troubled girl, Aisha. After a strong exchange between the two girls as they talk about why they are in this place, the play ends with:

Aisha:              Your brother…did you tell someone?

                          A moment of silence..then…

Shamilla:         I do know about this. I do know about this.

                           The girls hold each other’s hand.

Shamilla:         So. Will we? Tell?

 

As an excellent piece of theatre in education the play does not offer any answers but offers enough for an audience to debate the issues involved.

The play, My Brothers and Sisters, was not paid for by the ‘Prevent’ programme. It was  commissioned and paid for by City of Westminster College in London as a part of its response to the ‘Prevent’ Strategy. I congratulate the College on the way that the play has been compulsory viewing for all full-time students and not been limited to drama groups. It has been seen by all 5,000 of their students over two weeks and has included two evening performances for other interested theatre goers.

After each performance, a series of resources has enabled tutors to lead discussions of the issues raised, issues identified by their students, in their tutor groups. This is no “love ’em and leave ’em” approach; it is the way theatre in education should work – best practice.

(The play is available to tour by contacting Mad ‘Ed directly.)

Shamilla:         Bad people get good people to do bad things.     

An Unexpected Find…

Another blog in the series from our roving arts reporter David Smith

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I love country churches and churchyards: stumbling across the textile banners created by the local community in St. Mary’s Church, Conistone in Wharfedale or discovering the memorial to J. B. Priestly in St. Michael & All Angels, Hubberholme, with its mystery of a disappearing altar table which reappeared in the local pub, The George!

Well, I’ve been on a walking holiday in the Alps. The problem with walking in the Alps is that every walk involves going up!  “Have a look at the village of Plateau d’Assy; the village is unremarkable but the church is worth looking at …” a guide told me.  Tired of walking up, I took the bus down… and what a find!

Église Notre Dame de Toute Grâce, Plateau d’Assy is high on the Chamonix valley-side with unobstructed views across to Mont Blanc. That in itself is special. But as soon as the church comes in view you can see that it too, is going to be special.

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A small village, a small church built in the style of an alpine chalet but once inside its rich wooded, warm interior it is full of delights and surprises: from Matisse to Chagall!

It is a staggering display of paintings, sculptures, stained glass, ceramics and mosaics from artists who were thought to be at the top of their field at the time.

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Consecrated in 1950, the decision to commission secular artists to provide pieces for the church created a storm, resulting in some pieces being removed before being eventually returned. The crucifix below was removed for over 20 years before being restored.

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As you can see, the crucifix, created by Germaine Richier, presents a tortured figure on the cross which challenged the established sentimental portrayals of Christ on the cross. It was criticised as ‘an insult to the majesty of God’. It does, however, present a moving image of suffering.

The ceramic mural by Marc Chagall was his first work specifically designed for a church and the forerunner of many more from the great cathedral in Rheims to the tiny All Saints in Tudely, Kent.

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So, if you happen to visit the Chamonix Valley, take a walk up the north side of the valley to Plateau d’Assy…or better still take the bus!

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Further information on Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce du Plateau d’Assy can be found on:

Sanctuary for Sacred Arts

Wikipedia

Burnley at the Heart of Europe

It may not be very fashionable to be a ‘good European’ at the moment but Burnley is certainly playing its part in Europe.

The Council of Europe, a body of 47 nation states (not to be confused with the European Union), has awarded Burnley ‘le Diplôme européen’. The award has been made for its work in improving relationships between the people of Burnley and other European countries, in particular the people of its twin town, Vitry-sur-Seine, close to Paris. Indeed it was the only town in the UK to receive the award. Only 12 were offered to towns from 47 countries across Europe.

It was great too, to see that a part of the application was arts based, and related to Mid Pennine Arts!   It was possible to go back and highlight Nick Hunt’s well received presentation on the Singing Ringing Tree and the Panopticons to a huge cross-section of arts organisations from across Europe, South America and the United States at the opening of a new gallery for contemporary art from the whole of France, the Mac Val, in the Val de Marne department of northern France.

Included too was the award from the European Greenways Association (EGA) in Nancy, northern France, received at the award ceremony by Helen Yates. If you remember, the award was for MPA’s work supporting the transformation of a disused railway line into a greenway for local people in Padiham: walkers and cyclists. Mercedes Munoz, Director of EGA said: “…by removing barriers to everyday walking and cycling, greenways bring communities closer together.”

Mention was made of a visit by arts workers in Spain to Burnley’s Youth Theatre. The visit, organised by Arts Council England, offered presentations (from Nick for MPA and from Curious Minds) on Burnley’s commitment to public art, arts in the community and arts education in schools.

Of course the bid covered the work of Burnley’s Twinning Association: organising ramblers visits to and from France, 20 weeks of French lessons for its members, and welcoming 31 guests from Vitry into the homes of local people in April this year.

The Council too, has also contributed in hosting study visits over the last five years from groups of social workers, voluntary associations and students from Germany, France, and Norway. At the same time officers from the Council have actively participated in conferences and award ceremonies in Berlin, Slovenia, Gerona, Bilbao and Vilnius in Lithuania..

…and there is a huge amount going on in our schools!

Well; the European Diploma was collected on behalf of Burnley Council at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg by an honorary MPA staff member… David Smith!

Burnley (Lancashire) - Axel E. FISCHER Germany, Jean-Claude Frécon,  President of the Congress of the Council of Europe Burnley (Lancashire) - Axel E. FISCHER, Allemagne, Jean-Claude Frécon,  Président du Congrès du Conseil de l’Europe

Our Maxine…at the Royal Exchange

Maxine Peake as Hamlet

The good will for Maxine Peake amongst a northern audience at Manchester’s Royal Exchange this autumn was palpable. We love her as one of our own.

Hamlet at the Royal Exchange was a rare treat. Despite the advance hype about Hamlet being played by a woman, within moments I found myself gender blind. Maxine’s first appearance is visually stunning: her short, beautifully cut blond hair, her blue North Korean styled trouser suit. She stands out as she should, as being different from the rest of the Court; set apart.

What is different about this production is the deliberate choice to play it as a domestic tragedy. Something is lost in cutting the menacing outside presence of the threat of war, invasion and the contrast with another Prince who has lost his father. But let’s judge this production on what is presented…

John Shranel playing Claudius the King, Hamlet’s step-father, is great. He is totally convincing in his authority, menacing and strong enough to take drastic action when he realises the degree of threat that Hamlet presents to send him to his death in England…or so he thinks. Gertrude is an elegant queen, out of her depth in understanding what is going on around her.

We are gender blind too, to the roles of other ‘male’ characters being played by women. Claire Benedict’s Player King is as good as I have seen (this is my fifth Hamlet) and Michelle Butterly’s gravedigger brings an immediate freshness to the role with her scouse wit.

The stagecraft at the Royal Exchange is always interesting because of the demands it places on director and cast in engaging the whole of the audience – in the round and on three levels. Sarah Francom deals with it brilliantly. I loved the bareness of the set simply because it makes you concentrate on the language. It makes us all in the audience work hard so that we feel a part of the production.

Maxine Peake provides us with a slow-burning opening Hamlet, gathering power and convincing authority especially on her return to Denmark from England. Although at times her voice lacked power, Hamlet’s intelligence, the strength of her emotional commitment, her disgust at the reach of corruption to the highest levels is never questioned. A Hamlet to be remembered.

A film version of this production will be available in cinemas in March 2015.  Find out more here.

David Smith