“Content follows form in this beautifully created production”
Bee in my Beanie use puppetry, audience participation and multi-layered narrative to explore how relationships are governed by war in a splendid new work of immersive theatre – Aamira and Gad.
Upon entering the site, audience members are co-opted as new recruits to the Society of Archivists. The society leader – a mole-like puppet (embodied by the wonderful movement of Thomas Delacourt) – soon emerges to lay down the law. We are to observe, report on, but not interfere with the ensuing events.
Message understood, we move further into the space and to a second narrative layer. Now observers – we meet Aamira and Gad – two children on opposing sides of a conflict. Aamira (Demi Wilson-Smith) is a third-generation story teller searching for a key. Gad (Emma Zadow) is a young boy from a long line of soldiers who has found a key. As the two tell their own tales and tussle to understand each another we learn that their lives have been tragically intertwined. The question is – will we, as Junior Archivist, dare to ignore the Arch Archivist, interfere with events, and bring the tale to a different ending?
Each time the two children tell a story their words are brought to life by beautiful movement pieces performed by Delacourt, Alexandra Ewing and Lyla Schillinger. As Movement Director, Ewing has brought ample helpings of the spirited, child-like play that is at the heart of the company’s ethos. The production blends audience participation; layered, storytelling and movement pieces into a complex whole. Making direction as much about the finnicky world of event management as it is about artistic delivery. Co-Directors Tess Agus and Katherine Sturt-Scobie overcome each of these hurdles superbly to deliver a smooth production without ever losing the rich fantasy of the performance. Set consultant Charlotte Cross and Music Director Edward Watchman each bring additional layers of depth to the immersive experience.
Content follows form in this beautifully created production. The company worked with social psychologist, Dr. Smadar Cohen-Chen to understand how people relate to one another whilst living through war. What emerged was importance of hope and narrative in overcoming the barrier imposed by conflict. The use of audience participation to deliver this message is terrific. In weaving the audience into the story, the company help us to understand how we are each responsible for the narratives of the world and that we each have the power to change them.
“a sleek, high-value production that prods the audience to ask for their own response to institutionalised problems”
It’s 1974. The UK murder detection rate stands at over 90%; the equal pay act is shortly to come into force and Peter Sutcliffe is about to begin his reign of terror on West Yorkshire women. Olivia Hirst and David Byrne’s new play, The Incident Room, comes down from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to explore the true story of Britain’s largest ever manhunt and highlight the institutional sexism and incompetence that dogged the West Yorkshire force undertaking it.
The events unfold in Millgarth Incident Room in Leeds between 1977 and 1981. Running the room is Megan Winterburn (Charlotte Melia) – a smart, thirty-something sergeant who is continually overlooked for promotion in favour of the affable yet inept Andrew Laptew (Jamie Samuel). All the while the two men calling the shots – Dick Holland (Ben Eagle) and the increasingly frayed George Oldfield (Colin R Campbell) – resort to ever more audacious means to catch the killer.
Co-directors Beth Flintoff and David Byrne orchestrate the cast brilliantly with slick movement and moments of tense conflict while building the freneticism of the hunt. Campbell provides a particularly strong performance as the crumbling man at the helm. The floor to ceiling filing cabinets and faithful recreation of a 1970s office in Patrick Connellan’s set provide the claustrophobic atmosphere of those who toiled there whilst alluding to one of the key narratives that emerged from this case. Zakk Hein’s digital design is equally impressive – using sweeping shadows to show time’s passage; and archival footage of the real hunt to remind us that we are witnessing a re-enactment of real-life events.
The incompetence of the West Yorkshire police in failing to apprehend the Yorkshire Ripper (who was interviewed on nine separate occasions) is well documented. However, what Hirst and Byrne uncovered while exploring this story is the more pressing issue of institutional sexism. Their script subtly reveals how each character is complicit in its maintenance. From the old-boy’s-club thinking of George Oldfield – ‘when you’re doing my job, you’re always looking for men you can trust’, to the shrugging complacency of the men who do nothing and finally the strange mix of weariness and guilt of Megan Winterburn – who wonders whether it is her responsibility to fight for more.
The Incident Room is a lovingly researched play that uncovers the many real-life issues that arose while chasing the most infamous killer in British policing history. It’s verbatim theatre told in a sleek, high-value production that prods the audience to ask for their own response to institutionalised problems. Go and see it for an engrossing two hours.