Friday, 11 September 2015

Chapter 103: 35 Amici Drive and Friends

"Hi, would you like to come to our meeting tonight to save 35 Amici Drive?" asked a friendly face, handing me a leaflet. I looked blank. A meeting? Afterwards? I thought I'd come to a show at the Lyric, a short one at that. Had I walked into a fundraising evening to save a local community? Another cause to support. I was exhausted, emotionally spent, nothing left to give. Compassion fatigue you call it, right? I raised a barrier and retreated, too tired to engage, too concerned that I should be putting the kids to bed, not leaving it to my husband, again. It took me a moment to register this was the welcome committee in character, all part of the show "35 Amici Drive" at the Lyric, in Hammersmith.

I didn't know much about the show, you see, or the company. I had only heard about it that morning, when Facebook alerted me to the fact that a couple of friends where going - Joli Vyann's Jan Patzke and Olivia Quayle (Click here for Joli Vyann's show Stateless). I didn't have time to email them, or check which night they were going, so it was a real surprise to find that actually they were in it - circus everywhere - I should have known! I knew that Turtle Key Arts were the producers, and had heard about them through Ockham's Razor. Another familiar face was Jenny Sealey (click here for post on Extraordinary Bodies' "Weighting"). We had never met, but I recognised Jenny from the discussion panel at the press event for Weighting, and very much admire the work of Graeae's theatre company. We ended up sitting together, and it felt like the wheel had come full circle. Weighting had been on my mind recently as the BBC released a reportage about it last week, which I then sent on to the Circus Debere Berhan, an Ethiopian circus company, the first one in Africa to integrate disabled performers. We had just met on Twitter and I wondered if they knew their sister company Extraordinary Bodies, the partnership between Diverse City and Cirque Bijou. Circus Debere's director Teklu Ashagir in turn sent me the following video and told me more about Cargo, their collaboration with a Swedish theatre tracking the story of 14 illegal Ethiopian immigrants, and showing it from an EU perspective. Talk about zeitgeist.

"35 Amici Drive" is the knock-out production celebrating 35 years of the Amici theatre dance company. The company was founded by Wolfgang Stange, integrating disabled and able-bodied performers and the show is a celebration of the empowerment and embodiment of diversity and community spirit. It is energetic, joyful, moving and life-affirming, with a fantastic musical score - and musicians! - to boot.  If my words fail to do it justice here it is simply that I am in a hurry to get the word out and give you a chance to go and see it as well.  

The story centres round the inhabitants of 35 Amici Drive on the Candy Estate, where life is not so sweet. A so-called "regeneration" project by Eastlawn Incorporated, approved by the fictitious  Streathlee Green Borough Council, headed up by the divinely insouciant local MP Mrs Hatcher, is about to evict the residents, and their individual histories and herstories are interwoven into the battle to stay. 

The mischievous Mr Loki, living up to his name, introduces us to both residents on one side and councillors and developers on the other, and leads all a merry dance. It took me a while (until I heard the voice) to cotton onto the fact that the star of the fabulous cabaret-style set Ebony Rose was actually a man and there was a touching duet with Ebony's friend that when interrupted segues into a dramatic stick dance fight, staving off the developers. What struck me about that scene was the way every single member of the cast was drawn into the performance, and that it flowed with such ease, belying the complexity of logistics that must have been taken into consideration.  

There was a tender duet between a mother and son, with the twist that her love is overpowering rather than empowering, and it had me in floods of tears. There was a spectacular violence in the acrobatics representing the tale of domestic abuse, with such ease and dexterity in balletic movement in the way Suzi is ripped from her wheelchair and flung around, that it is hard to believe her legs don't work properly. This is thanks again to the ingenuity of the choreography and strength of her partnership with circus duo Joli Vyann (see below). Four sisters danced with colourful scarves with a grace and joy reminiscent of dancers at a Holi festival, and the masquerade of homophobia that battered Ebony Rose was incredibly powerful. The final tango to Ich Bin ein Berliner, an anthem that celebrates democracy and self-governance was just genius, and the dispatch of Mrs Hatcher gratifyingly dramatic. 

There were other moments I loved too - the Matilda of a girl with her single mother, a regular Mrs Wormwood, the tea lady swigging the cups back, the twilight twinkly elderly Scottish couple, Rosie the painter, gliding and creating works of art, the Amici Arms pub landlord whose wheelchair became a novel set, the Spanish-speaking political refugee, whose family has been disappeared, so topical. 

As you can see residents of 35 Amici Drive have all suffered from discrimination because, in some shape or form they do not "fit the mould", but the support they give each other is movingly beautiful to behold. Fiction and reality blurs, because the love the company has for each other on stage is tangible. Of course "Amici" is a word rooted in friendship.  The thing is, as an able-bodied person who lived as a student in Spain in a L'Arche community with disabled people, I find an emotional honesty and directness there that cuts the crap. Through the frustrations and the laughter, you become as one, with one, and that's what true com-union means. Family. So I was delighted later to meet, among others,  Mr Loki, who is in fact called Francis, like my son. He told me very directly there can only be one Francis and a lively debate ensued.  It all felt very familiar. I'd love them to meet one day. In an after-word later, Wolfgang Stange talked about how the idea came to him when the Lyric, that is home to them, went under refurbishment, and that Amici theatre company is telling its own story through the show, after a fashion, is clear. Congratulations Amici on your 35 years of success, and here's to the future building on solid foundations.

35 Amici Drive has two shows left, tonight 11 and 12 September. 7.30pm at the Lyric. Catch it will you can. 

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