Monday, 20 June 2016

Chapter 147: Ssshhh! - The Countdown...

With less than a month to go to the circus cabaret Ssshhh! we are on countdown. Here's what Jacksons Lane theatre has to say:

Doffing our cap to the traditions of vaudeville and the origins of circus and cabaret, acclaimed circus blogger Lu Cyrcus curates this very special night, let by Cirque du Soleil's lead clown Sean Kempton. New and old combine in this evening of contemporary varieté, featuring everything from pole dancing to aerial rope and trapeze, where burlesque meets juggling kettle bells, with a dash of musical saw thrown in for good measure. 

A night to tease, whisper and gasp - Ssshhh! 

The line-up of the evening include:

Physical comedy by Danny Ash
High energy, playful trapeze by Michaela O'Connor
1920s inspired musical saw by Molly Orange
Enticing neo-burlesque by Brett Rosengreen
Blindfolded fire act by Red Sarah
Beautifully haunting aerial pole by Cheryl Teagann
Aerial rope and kettelebell juggling by Hamish Tjeong
Mesmerising club juggling by Onni Toivonen

Click on the performer name to visit their site. 

Ssshhh! is part of the Postcards Festival 2016, which runs from 12 - 23 July and is the one festival that is weather proof, good to know on a day like today! The festival has an amazing and eclectic line up of shows as mentioned in previous post (click here) and on the theatre website: And to keep you in the festival spirits the bar is open afterwards every night. 

Jacksons Lane has introduced a Pay What You Decide policy for Postcards Festival 2016 shows. 

You can attend the shows without paying for a ticket beforehand, but tickets can be reserved in advance (max 4 per booking). When the show finishes, you will have the opportunity to make a donation - either by cash on the door or card at the Box Office. 

Tickets are selling like hot cakes, book here for Ssshhh! on 16 July:

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Chaper 146: Blink Dance Theatre's Four Corners

The Four Corners of Blink Dance Theatre: Kat, Francis, Vicki and Delson
All photos courtesy of Travis

The doorbell rang the other day while I was in the middle of writing a letter of condolence, desperately missing a friend. I answered, bleary eyed, expecting just to sign for a parcel, for some lightbulbs or a piece of DIY perhaps, my husband is always tinkering. Instead I found Alex Glassbrook, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Tooting by-election (today!) on my doorstep. Alex is a friend, and one of the most decent, reliable and honourable people I know, which is why, what with all his volunteering in politics, and my circus shenanigans, we haven't caught up for a while. Alex told me about his commitment to the local community and access for all, taught me to sign "Positive Liberal Future", which is even more beautiful than it sounds when expressed in physical language, and his visit lifted my day no end. 

The Four Corners in isolation
With thoughts of community and accessibility fresh in my mind, I went to the Lyric Hammersmith the next day to see Blink Dance Theatre's "Four Corners". I was last there in summer to see 35 Amici Drivea show that was all about a local community working together, battling eviction proposed by a  local "regeneration" project headed up by the sinister local MP Mrs Hatcher. It was a vibrant, moving, terrific evening and to read the blog post click here. Four performers from Amici have set up Blink Dance Theatre, providing opportunities for people with and without disabilities to create shows together, and I was looking forward to seeing their debut. Four Corners is so called because the show begins with four individuals in four separate corners, each distinguished by a signature colour. But no man is an island, and as the action progresses we see how their lives interconnect, and oh, what a web they weave as a comedy of errors, of inadvertent bag swaps and mistaken identities, leads them into a right tangle. Like all good farces, though, all's well that ends well, and the show finishes in a celebration of connections and community that extends to include the entire audience.

In the green corner: Delrose
First to take the floor was Francis, the mischievous Mr Loki last time round, and once again carrying off that twinkle and insouciant grin as he blithely ignored the all-too-polite-through-gritted-teeth reminders from Sarah in the office that really he should be coming into work. Dapper in his blue suit jacket and dark glasses, he dragged his heels, while his toes just wanted to tap. He was a superb street dancer, and had all the moves, some of which he would be trying out on Kat later in the evening, his peachy date. Kat was a clothes-mad fitness freak and there was plenty of mileage to be had from her training sessions with her trainer Delson, the ridiculous positions she endured for "overall toning". There was also fun to be had in the shopping excursion where she was engulfed in a confusion of apricot outfits, desperately trying to find something to wear for the big night with Francis later. Meanwhile Delson took refuge from his finger-wagging Mum by putting on his headphones and escaping into the park, where he could make an easy buck from training the likes of Kat. Also in the park was Vicki, clad in a spiritual purple, taking us on her own path to enlightenment via flashbacks from the diary she was reading,  later discovered by Delrose.

Vicki in purple, enlightening
Francis & Kat and a case of mistake identities
But that is just an overview of the plot. The real beauty was in the choreography, this was dance theatre after all, framed by Bulbet's superb live music and soundscape, and awash with colour, and attention to detail, in Ruta Irbite's design. What I loved was the way that the performers enabled each other's creativity, working with each other's physicality and their potential. The forms that they made were as beautiful as the relations described between them, sometimes playful, at other points moving, always touching. In a society where the word diversity is bandied around so frequently, to the point it has almost lost any meaningful value, here was a performance that embodied the concept originally. Each performer was on an equal footing in terms of how much the show depended on their unique talent, without glossing over the fact that sometimes there were limits, which we all have, and this was woven into the very fabric of the performance. Ultimately Four Corners was a show of communion, where four corners became one circle, and, as the audience were invited to join in the dance on stage at the end, we became a real community and my heart soared.

Blink Dance Theatre's Four Corners will be at the Hackney Empire, Studio 2, this Saturday, 18 June at 2pm and 7pm (7pm is BSL interpreted).

Performers: Delson Weekes, Vicki Hawkins, Kat Gill & Francis Majekodunmi
Designer: Ruta Irbite
Dramaturge Mentor: Mojisola Adebayo 
Producing Mentor: Tracey Gentles
Artistic Enabler: Rachel Gilda
Photographer: Travis

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Chapter 145: The Magpie

The Magpie
Drawing: Helen Averley

My husband gave us a his and hers DNA sampling set for Christmas ( How romantic, I hear you say. Well, actually, it was. I love the fact that 16 years on, 13 of which married (our anniversary is today, actually), there is still more to learn about who we are, where we come from and what we share with our children. The results came back recently. From our saliva the labs could tell, for instance, what percentage of Neanderthal we are, confirming that despite being further up the evolutionary chain, I still went for the caveman. With a Scottish mother and Anglo-Irish father, having 88% British genes was no great surprise either. But I was fascinated to learn that the remaining part of me is part Scandinavian, part Ashkenazi Jew. I am a cultural magpie as well, picking up ideas and influences through mixing with others. Social media facilitates this now in a mind-boggling way. A quick look at my blog stats, for instance, reveals that right at this very minute I am being read, in India, Indonesia, Germany, France, Italy, Ukraine, Netherlands, US as well as the UK. Meanwhile over on Instagram I see snapshots from circus cultures all over the world, from Cambodia to Canada, from cutting edge contemporary circus experiments to life in the most old school of travelling big tops. 

So it was both funny and fitting to find myself recently on a quintessentially English village green, under the awnings of a monochrome beauty of a circus tent called The Magpie, swapping notes about the album "England Take My Bones" with fellow Frank Turner (see previous post) fan, Cal. He and Tom are from the superb Head First Acrobats. They are currently touring with their show Elixir (click here), which I guess you could describe as an Australian Bromance with zombies. It received rave reviews at the Brighton Fringe and will be up at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. I was also chatting to Gonzo, from Argentina, about life, the universe and the circus scene in France, and the world seemed very small. The Magpie is now a year old, the brainchild of Helen Averley and Steve Cousins of Let's Circus (click here). I fell for it the moment I saw Helen's magical sketches when the funding campaign was first set up. It sang to me of Barnum - "the future's rosy living black and white" - fun and adventure. I had been excited to hear that The Magpie was coming south for the Barnes Children's Literature Festival, and then disappointed to find we were away that weekend. So I half-jokingly volunteered my services as a roustabout, and they took me up on the offer.
Teaching a complete novice what to do takes time, but they were very kind about it, even when I sidetracked the guys by asking how to crack the whip I found lying on the floor. After splicing my back in two initially, I learned how to hold it away from the body and unfurl the cord in a wave. Maybe it didn't make so much of a crack as a squeak, but still, it was very satisfying. We packed away bespoke benches of varying sizes first, slotting them into each other. Then we broke up the flooring, edges first, like a jigsaw puzzle, and piled up the slats in a trailer. That was the heavy part for me, and the reason I ached all over for several days afterwards. Deflagging the tops of the poles under Helen's instruction was easily done, as was dismantling the outer poles, while the central poles were winched down and the world gently deflated. The mechanics of it all was quite a sight. My favourite part though, was unlacing the sheets. There was something gratifyingly zen about the repetitive nature of the action. It was a little sad to see it all packed away. I wanted to go travelling too! The great thing is I will have the chance to see The Magpie again this summer, heading up to Northumberland with the family for Circus. In a Field! The week long event at the end of August offers circus enthusiasts the chance to do some serious training by day, camping under the stars by night. Obviously not everyone in my family is a circus enthusiast (!), but with beautiful beaches and kite-surfing opportunities round the corner we have a Plan B lined up for them. For more information see

That day with The Magpie reminded me that nationhood and nationality are as much a state of mind as circus. While my genes may tell me I'm 88% British, my loyalties lie 100% with Europe. I was surprised therefore, taking a test recently that asked Are You In or Out? (click here), to discover that while I am staunchly in the Remain camp in terms of identity, society and the economy, I am not so convinced in terms of politics. But that merely reflected my ambivalence towards the powers that be in Brussels, and the quiz never asked what I thought about a Brexit alternative. For I am clear on this: a vote for Brexit is fundamentally a vote for Nigel Farage. A vote for racism, xenophobia, and a living hell. So I am staggered to see today the front page news that Brexit is in the lead. My heart breaks. And I think of Soho. That quarter of London that for centuries has been a refuge for foreigners and minorities, a vibrant and vital site of cultural interchanges and crossing boundaries. The place that, in the wake of heart-breaking atrocity, last night hosted the vigil in memory of those who died in Orlando, and chorussed together #lovewins. I still live in hope. We have a week left to change the world.

Photo: Katharine Kavanagh

Friday, 3 June 2016

Chapter 144: The Electric Pole Star and Frank Turner

 "Queen of Hearts" at The Electric, Brixton
Photo: Cheryl Teagan
There are days when I act my age. Luckily Friday night at the Electric Brixton recently was not one of them. My magical friend Anne had somehow conjured up a pair of tickets to a sell-out Frank Turner gig, and we were there to dance, crush and sing out at the top of our lungs - a time-honoured ritual for rolling back the years B.C. (Before Children - we have seven between us). We arrived at The Electric in good spirits, after a bartender earlier tipped a cocktail over me, and then mopped it up with a round of mojitos on the house. 

Finding that we had missed the small print on the ticket and that Frank wouldn't be on until well past midnight sobered us up (well, maybe a smidgen!), but then Anne nudged me and pointed upwards, as through a haze a vision appeared wrapped around a pole suspended from the ceiling. There you go! A bit of circus for you Lucy! Isn't that an aerial pole performer, like the one who'll be in your show? There are so few aerial pole performers around and I'd know that ponytail anywhere - it was indeed the Cheryl Teagann! I felt a warm glow of something akin to maternal pride (oh god, I am probably old enough to be her mother!) mixed with intoxicating delight. I had met Cheryl through my pole instructor Anna Milosevic, who runs Polefit London (, seen footage and knew she was fabulous, but I'd never seen Cheryl perform live before. The atmosphere was electric as her caterpillar crawls segued into splits, inverts slipped into hangs, and line after beautiful line was sculpted through sheer strength, grace and flexibility. 

"No-one gets remembered/For the things they didn't do"
The Queen of Hearts performance made my evening, so much so I almost forgot there was a concert to follow. But there was, and Frank Turner rocked. Basically this guy is a passionate and pumped punk-folk singer who gets out there and fucking tries. His music is moshable, liquid poetry and creates the type of energy that keeps us all going, quite frankly. Last time Anne and I saw him in concert was at the hugely majestic Alexandra Palace - read why it made such an impression here on Anne's superb blog (click here). This time round Frank was up for a more intimate affair, still 1700 people, but somehow Anne and I had slipped into the front row with plenty of eye contact. When he professed his love of vaudeville in the ghostly "Balthazar, Impresario", I smiled, and thought, Of course! He is a kindred circus spirit too! And when he smiled and pointed to the pair of us, singing "So darling, sweet lover, won't you help me to recover", it was a magical moment, the unlikeliness of it all making it even sweeter.

As for the mesmerising and exciting performer Cheryl Teagann, she has her own haunting piece of aerial pole devised for a certain vaudeville-inspired evening coming to a theatre near you on 16th July... Ssshhh!