MiddleChild love by an only child

Well Culture Vultures, it’s that time of year when I sit with all my cultural programs, The Crack Mags and decide what, who and where I’m going to go this season – usually over a Gin and tonic. The process reminds me of when I used to sit with a highlighter when I was little and circle all the TV I was going to watch and things Mark Owen from Take That was appearing in….

So here I am highlighter in hand and now over Take That and I’m eagerly looking for exciting and different things to do. Autumn/Winter is my FAVE cultural season – and because it’s getting colder and darker, I love venue specific good times. I want to be in one place, be a part of something cool for a few hours before heading home. None of this bar hopping or outdoorsy things for me…….unless it’s Enchanted Parks or I’ve got my Gin jacket on – then all good and happy to face the elements.

So things that I’m looking forward to so far that I’m going to – Pink Sari Revolution at Northern Stage – based on a fantastic book about empowered and revolutionary women in Indian, Our Time at Great North Museum – party and culture crawl in a museum after hours, Get Lucky at Wylam Brewery –   a fully synthesized electronic soul orchestra performing Daft Punk live and I Hate Alone at The Peacock in Sunderland on 26th October at  7.30pm (tickets avail www.SunderlandStages.co.uk) – a full blown theatre gig, think Thelma and Louise turned up to 11.

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I Hate Alone is what I’m most excited about and it’s from MiddleChild – a theatre company that have absolutely thrived in Hull’s City of Culture this year….and it’s exciting to see a the theatre company thrive so much and is a testament to what the award of City of Culture can do not just to the region, but to the cultural organizations within.

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So who are MiddleChild!?…well they feel like hot property at the moment and are certainly doing amazing things…and the most important thing, culture vultures – they provide a bliddy good night out!

So Culture Vultures, I caught up with Paul Smith from MiddleChild and director of I Hate Alone to find out more and get in the know and the now….

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Hi Paul, Tell me about your show I Hate Alone?

I Hate Alone follows two women – Danielle and Chloe – who believe the world has wronged them. They decide to create a list of the people who have contributed to their dissatisfaction and get their own back one-by-one. It’s a story of injustice, revenge and above all, friendship. Danielle and Chloe are modern day anti-heroes.

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We re-watched Thelma and Louise just for the show – love the vibe of taking revenge against the world – who was your favourite Thelma or Louise?

An impossible question! You can’t have Thelma without Louise or Louise without Thelma. It’s like having Ant or Dec on their own – it’s just not the same. The great thing about that film is the relationship between the pair, the fact that they can simultaneously be good and bad for each other. It’s exactly that feeling that our writer Ellen Brammar has managed to capture with I Hate Alone. It’s impossible to say if the friendship is a good or a bad thing because there are elements of both, and it’s impossible to say who you prefer – be it Thelma/Louise or Danielle/Chloe, because they are yin and yang. One can’t exist in the same way without their partner in crime.

What is a theatre gig?

We like to use the term ‘a gig with a story’. It’s essentially a night out with big ideas in it. The feeling of coming to one of our shows is no different to going to see a stand-up comedian or your favourite band live but with one key difference – there’s a complex, compelling story at the heart of it.

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What can audiences expect?

A dark and funny tale of two women who sing, shout and kick ass.

What music can people expect?

Danielle and Chloe have chosen to tell their story as part of a gig where they showcase music from their band Disabled Barbie. Throughout the night they play their own brand of gothic-electronica influenced by a broad range of artists such as Let’s Eat Grandma, Kate Bush and Daughter. Expect dirty beats, hard-hitting drums and even a recorder solo!

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You guys really wanted your show in the Peacock – why was that? (they do amazing Sunday Lunch roast potatoes – just saying!)

We believe that theatre needs to break out of existing purely in traditional theatre spaces and want to set fire to expectations of what a night watching theatre can be. Taking I Hate Alone to social spaces like The Peacock allows us to do just that. Oh, and the amazing roast potatoes of course.

You guys have released a new EP and video – tell me a bit more about that?

We’re keen to find ways that the music in our shows can be enjoyed beyond the live experience. We think theatre can learn a lot from the idea of fandom in art forms like music and comedy and want to enable people to continue their engagement with gig theatre on their own terms. Being on Spotify, Band camp and places like that are key to ensuring our work reaches beyond the usual theatre crowd.

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Where did Middlechild start? Who/What is MiddleChild?

Middle Child started in Hull 6 years ago, almost to the day! We all met at Hull University and, after going off to various drama schools / jobs, decided that we wanted to make our own work in a city we loved. Since then Hull was awarded the honour of becoming the UK City of Culture, allowing us to grow in both ambition and capacity. The name actually comes from Fight Club, as the characters talk about being the ‘middle children of history’. That term really resonated with us at a time when the Coalition government was just coming into power. We had no great war, no obvious battle, but knew things weren’t right, needed changing and to do so we had to be loud and outspoken. That feeling remains today and runs right through the work we make.

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Favourite Fringe moment/experience?

This entire year up in Edinburgh was incredible. We were at our favourite venue – Paines Plough’s amazing Roundabout – and were selling out shows and receiving great reviews. The Fringe can either feel like the best or the worst place to be and this year we were extremely fortunate. The one moment that stands out is when one of our actors, Marc Graham, was surprised after the show with a Stage Award for Acting Excellence. It was the first time I’d seen him speechless, which was very enjoyable.

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Explain your involvement in City of Culture in Hull?

We were one of 2017’s major theatre commissions with our show All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Luke Barnes. We also benefited hugely from organisational and creative development from the team who have supported what we do from the day they arrived. We’ve been massively fortunate and our impending NPO status is massively due to the permission for thinking big given to us by the Culture Company. The transformative power of culture has been so apparent all year, and Hull is absolutely buzzing. It’s been an amazing time for the city and our job now is to work with the other local organisations to ensure it is the start of something special, rather than the end of it.

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Advice to other cultural organisations in Sunderland and how they could benefit if Sunderland secures the bid?

Keep doing what you’re doing, believe in yourselves, work hard and – when the time comes – the right people will notice that and do what they can to help you achieve as much as you can. Don’t expect the City of Culture label to wave a magic wand – it’s commitment to what you’re making and doing that will make the real difference, City of Culture would simply reinforce and build upon that.

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Holy moly – I’m bliddy excited to meet MiddleChild and BEYOND excited to see them at The Peacock on 26th October at 7.30pm….  see you there!

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Mixtape 90s: The Six Twenty

We all know I love theatre, I love a good old night out, buzz light years over a pub quiz and currently experiencing an intense nostalgic love affair with the 90s….. so Sunderland Stages bringing Mixtape by The Six Twenty to The Peacock in Sunderland is right up my street. Sunderland Stages is all about bringing theatre to unexpected places in Sunderland…..and of course, theatre in an actual pub is pretty unexpected and lush.

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Mixtape is an immersive performance pub quiz….. The Six Twenty have taken it to festivals, Live Theatre and other venues, all with sold out performances. I’ve heard rave reviews so I’m super excited to attend on 30th June…. (tickets are available now – bring a group, bring yourself and in typical 90s Nirvana style – ‘come as you areeee!’)

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It’s also a perfect opportunity to check out the newly opened Peacock venue – a beautiful independent pub within Sunderland’s thriving cultural quarter….. I’ve heard they do a corking Sunday lunch too.

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And, The Six Twenty are a Newcastle based theatre company that is growing and has big plans for the future so this is an opportunity to check them out and their work…..

I caught up with The Six Twenty’s Artistic Director, Creative Producer and all round absolute megababe, Melanie Rashbrooke, to find out more and all about 90s Mixtape….

Hi Melanie, right tell me about The Six Twenty?

The Six Twenty are dedicated to creating playful, entertaining and immersive theatre that’s ambitious and fun. We make new work and also produce re-imaginings of classic and contemporary plays. We tour throughout the UK to theatres, outdoor spaces and unexpected places. We hope to make theatre that inspires, moves and creates conversation and brings people together.

Now tell me about Mixtape?

Mixtape is our infamous comedy music quiz show. It’s a unique concept that was invented at The Six Twenty and is performed and created by a brilliant band of theatre-makers, comedians and musicians who we call Mixtapers. Basically The Mixtapers perform comedy sketches that are created entirely out of song lyrics; the song lyrics can be reordered and repeated but no additional words can be used. Plus the sketch can’t be longer than the running time of the track that inspired it.

The Culture Vulture: I literally feel sick with excitement at the thought of this already….. I know 90s songs inside out…….

The audience plays along in teams and tries to guess the songs, bands and artists that inspire the sketches. The team with the most correct answers at the end of the night wins one of our highly coveted Golden Mixtapes. Each of our shows is themed and the next one is The 90s so expect a mix of pop classics, Summer anthems, dance tracks and Brit Pop!  It’s a really fun relaxed show that’s great for music and pub quiz lovers as well as theatre fans.

The Culture Vulture: New life ambition is to own one of these golden Mixtapes…….

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What’s it been like getting rave reviews and sell out shows!?

It’s been great to see the show grow and build a real following. I’m particularly excited by the feedback we get from audiences – especially people who might not attend the theatre that much and who really enjoy the show.

The Culture Vulture: As someone who works on events and organize my own, feeding off the audience buzz and interaction is what feeds the want to do another event. It’s lush when people enjoy and champion what you’ve put on and of course, had a lush time!

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What was the show’s inspiration?

It was something I dreamed up whilst I was working on a writing project with Write on Tap (a group of writers based in Newcastle). The theme for the project was ‘Who I am with You, Who I Am Without You’. I decided to challenge myself by writing a short script using just the lyrics of the U2’s song…yes that one! And thus Mixtape was born.

Also, I love my music and who doesn’t love a good old pub quiz!

You’re bringing Mixtape to Sunderland 30th June, the Peacock….tell me about the show?

We’re bringing our new 90s show; the show recently premiered at Live Theatre (where we create all of our new shows) to a sell-out crowd. Expect a night crammed full of 90s tunes, comedy, crop-tops, dance routines, mayhem and fun!

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What can attendees expect on 30th June? Why should people come and get their tickets?

Comedy, quiz, fancy-dress, music, fun! A night crammed full of super fly hits. From boy bands to dance anthems, grunge and summer hits; this show’s gonna be off the chain. So dig out your 90s crop tops and Docs, brush off your Discman, and bring a team along and see if you can win the Golden Mixtape.

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90s fancy dress is also highly encouraged with the best dressed 90s team winning a special prize too!

The Culture Vulture: Well I’m going to be prancing around the place dressed as blossom with a side pony tail.

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As someone who is OBSESSED with the 90s….I dig the theme. Why did you go for the 90s music?

We’ve created a variety of Mixtape shows based on different music themes including North East bands, Alternative music, Rock ’n’ Roll 50s, Boy Bands vs. Girl Bands, 80s…the list goes on. So it was about time we tackled the most bangin’ decade. There are some seriously good tunes featured in the show.

The Culture Vulture: Right – I need to see every single show……love the sound of all of these!

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Your favourite 90s song of all time?

Ooooh tricky…there’s so many to choose from. I’m going to go with a curve ball option – I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred. Come and see the show and find out why……

The Culture Vulture: Now that’s a controversial and interesting choice – I need to know more. I’ve rediscovered E-17 recently – ‘House of Love’ plays on repeat currently…..

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Tell me a bit about some other The Six Twenty projects (fans!) and other things coming up?

In 2016 we won the Bridging the Gap award to create a new show called FANS which is part music gig and part theatre show and written by the brilliant Nina Berry and made with an awesome team of theatre-makers, musicians and creatives. It explores what it means to be a music fan. We’ll be redeveloping the show later this year and then re-touring the show in 2018.

We’re also working on a couple of new shows. One is with Mixtaper Lewis Jobson called Redcoat and explores what it means to be happy and what happens when you have an ‘off day’ and you tell Barney the Dinosaur to f***k off (in front of a load of kids)…at Butlins…in Bognor Regis.

The Culture Vulture: What a great concept for a show…..

The other show we’re working on is with Charlie Raine who performed in FANS. It’s called The Playground. For this we’re interviewing children aged between 4-7 years old about their lives and their views of the world. The final show will be performed by adults for adults as adults – using the words of the children we interview and collaborate with.

The Culture Vulture: This is brilliant – kids say hilarious and pure things.

And of course we’ve got loads more Mixtapes coming up!

To find out more about the projects we’ve got coming up and how you can get involved visit our website at www.thesixtwenty.com

Well thanks Melanie, this all sounds lush and brilliant………. I’m so passionate about theatre in and around the North East – love it! Get your tickets for 90s Mixtape everyone…….you’ll be greeted on the door by The Culture Vulture, manically happy, like some 90s super fan.

Big love from The Culture Vulture. xx

Mobile; a class theatre show about class.

I don’t come from an artsy back ground; I come from one in which new experiences and trying different things was encouraged. My first and only experience of the theatre, as a child was either through primary school trips or my yearly panto trip. It wasn’t until I was older, as a shy introverted child, that I decided getting involved in drama was a good idea and one, which pushed me out of my comfort zone. I acted in plays, wrote stories and took countless different drama exams – theatre and performance were important as they not only let me challenge myself but they also let me be myself. I found the confidence to have a voice as opposed to a teen that had a million and one thoughts and things going on in my head, but just never had the courage to say them. This will sound hilarious now as someone who often never stops talking or putting forward her opinion…..

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Now as an adult, I engage and enjoy theatre from the other side – as an audience member. I love theatre and performance for many reasons; firstly – it’s pure escapism and storytelling at its very best. You can lose yourself in another world, whilst having a really lush experience or evening out. Secondly, it’s a shared experience and moment – an absolute one off that you share with the audience around you, the people you’ve come to see the show with and of course, the cast and crew. And finally, and yet mostly importantly, it offers a different perspective of a theme, a story, a thing and triggers reflection and a growing sense of a new understanding.

I love things that make me think – things that challenge my perception of life and theatre can and does, open you up to a whole new world. In some instances, it might be a show of make believe and in others, many of my favourite shows, the story resonates and sits very close to home, exploring societal themes and stories.

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Couple that with my love of something unique; what I like to call a “sneaky hidden cultural adventures” – an arts experience in an unexpected place; well I was thrilled to go and see Mobile, a performance piece by an all-girl collective called The Paper Birds (gan on lasses!). Mobile was brought to Sunderland Winter Gardens on 28th and 29th May by the lush Sunderland Stages. Sunderland Stages take theatre and performance to unexpected places across Sunderland and let’s be honest, there is nothing more unexpected that a theatre show next to Mowbray Park in a caravan……

You can watch the Mobile trailer here!

The dynamic company The Paper Birds comprises Artistic Director Jemma McDonnell, Kylie Walsh and Bonnie Mitchell. After their first show, A Smile Fell in the Grass, featured in the National Student Drama Festival, the company formed in 2003. 14 years on The Paper Birds strive to create and share devised work that is culturally, socially and politically important in day to day life and often tells and prioritisies the stories and voices of women.

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Mobile is the second of a trilogy series about class; the first in the series was a show called ‘Broke’. Many of you may have seen the piece already when it appeared in 2016 at Live Theatre and received smash hit rave reviews. The Guardian has even reviewed it: “Mobile neatly turns the caravan into a magic box where every cupboard and drawer springs a surprise”.

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But for those who haven’t seen it; Mobile is a piece entirely set in a caravan, the audience is invited inside the caravan after playing name games with each other outside. The set-up is one that reminded me of a festival / camping feel so automatically I felt at ease and was enjoying chatting to other audience members.

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Once inside the caravan, the story is told with one narrator and explores the themes of class, home, society and identity through a whole host of appliances, which are used in a really innovative digital means to give voices to other “characters” sharing their story and experience of class boundaries, barriers and labels.

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The show was interactive, thought provoking and exceptionally emotional in parts. For 40mins, so many class-related questions were posed, stories shared and it was a beautiful production. It was interesting to explore how much of our sense of self, is defined by birth right, labels given to us and societies construction of who and what we are, what we could be and who we should be.

I caught up with Jemma McDonnell, the artistic director of Paper Birds to find out more about Mobile and to dig a little deeper about the show…..

Tell me about Paper Birds and the inspiration behind the name and the collective?

The idea was based on taking a piece of paper and creating something new from it and to be honest I think at the time I had meant origami but was not sure of the spelling so wrote ‘paper bird’.  Because we are a devising theatre company and we try to make work that is very current this felt like it would symbolically work for the company and our aims.

Now tell me about Mobile; a play that is set inside a caravan – what’s it all about?

We were utilising the research of a sociologist at the London School of Economics (Dr Sam Friedman) about social mobility and it inspired us. Enshrined within this is the notion of class and social structure in Britain both past and present. We wanted to tap into how we all feel resonance with different classes, and the universality of the issues they include; family, home, ambition.

What was the inspiration behind setting the piece in a caravan?

The caravan symbolised for us, holidays and nostalgic memories of family; we wanted to use the intimacy of such a small space to be able to explore things theatrically that could never work on a stage. It was the proximity of the audience to the performer and the immersive aspect that enticed us.

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We were also really attracted to the idea that the caravan itself has experienced social mobility; 100 years ago the caravan was an affluent symbol, and since then it has both risen and declined in popularity. In particular it now represents a ‘working class’ holiday – and the complexity of this shift seemed to fit perfectly with the subject we were exploring.

It must have been a real challenge creating and playing in such a small location as a caravan, with just eight people sat so close to you?

The challenges certainly include how you can use the space; there’s not a lot of room, especially when the caravan is at capacity! We had to be really inventive with the way we transformed the space with technology and AV design. It also limits the capacity for cast members/actors; we found creative ways of including as many voices and stories as possible despite only using one actor.

But the best thing is that we don’t need to rig and focus all the lights at each new venue we tour to- as they are all in position already!

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Considering the volatile nature of modern politics, are there any timely messages that Mobile has to offer?

The main political strand that evolves throughout the piece relates to the notion of fairness; in how our culture lays out the promise of a fair and just society for all where we are free to prosper and rise. But as is experienced by our character Cindy, those who do not start with financial advantage are very rarely rewarded with the same level of upward mobility as it would seem.

You’re currently touring the show up and down the country, what has the audience response been like so far?

The show is always received with positive reactions – being so close to the audience and sharing the enclosed space means that audience experience is always clearly obvious; most people experience a reflective and emotional engagement with the issues and themes and often this is characterised by shedding a few tears! But it’s not all doom and gloom – there are plenty of laughs along the way!

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What can the audience expect getting into the caravan and what will they take away?

We hope that people come away with a new found appreciation for all that their family and upbringing involved, that they leave the caravan thinking about class and how social structure relates to them. We hope that they identify with if not one, but several of the characters they meet along the way, and above all else – that they are wowed by the technical wizardry installed into the humble interior of a family caravan!

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Well thank you Jemma – what a pleasure and good luck with the rest of the tour. Can’t wait to see what The Paper Birds do next!

Still curious about Mobile? Well you can watch audience feedback here and The Paper Birds are currently touring the show across the Summer, so make sure on your Summer adventures to plan in time to see this amazing show.

Big love to Sunderland Stages for bringing this lush and thought provoking show to the North East….they are shortly announcing their Autumn programme so keep an eye out – but Mobile certainly gives you a flavour of the different type of theatre shows to expect.

Even bigger love to fellow Culture Vultures – see you soon!