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PULSE Festival Review: My Heart is Hitchhiking Down Peachtree Street

Posted on 06 June 2013 by Alice Longhurst

my heart is hitchhiking down peachtree streetHave you ever been to the state of Georgia? I certainly hadn’t before I met J. Fergus Evans, but during his intimate performance at the PULSE Festival I could swear I was there, being taken around by a resident, shown all the sights, and given privileged access to the local gossip. We are made to feel welcome in Evans’ homeland, given peaches and a taste of Southern Comfort while Evans instructs us on how to escape from dangerous wildlife (apparently alligators struggle to zigzag thanks to their short legs) and spins compelling yarns which may or may not be true.

We learn about high school mean girls with names like ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ and ‘Homecoming Queen’, the seedy bars of the South, and the nail bombs set off in the 1990s in Georgia’s gay clubs. The effect is heady, intoxicating and disorientatingly convincing; Evans is a charismatic storyteller, drawing us into his Georgia, a place which is both real and imagined, with his vivid imagination and eager, soft voice. He eats pecans from a rustic patchwork tablecloth, savouring the memories associated with the taste of home, and entrusts us with boxes which encapsulate his stories. We’re no longer an audience watching a performer: we’re friends visiting Evans’ American home for the first time, handling his possessions and listening to him share his anecdotes and insights.

This home, set up in a small dark room in the New Wolsey Theatre, is inviting and cosy; there are flickering electric candles on the floor, little paper birds decorating the wall, and an illuminated globe which shows the state of Georgia with its principal towns picked out. A screen beside Evans shows animated scenes of trees and trains which nicely complement and illustrate his stories. Several stacks of old leather suitcases remind us of what it is like to come back to the place you call home, and what it’s like to leave that comfort zone.

Home is at the heart of Evans’ show. Creating a slice of Georgia in a theatre in another country is Evans’ way of asking what home means when we are far away from it — what things we remember and what things we miss. The result is a bittersweet nostalgia in which homesickness and a longing for the familiar is moderated by facts about homophobia in Georgia (homosexuality was illegal in the state until 1998). Evans doesn’t try to romanticise his homeland, but his performance is so strong you feel like you’re actually there, walking down Peachtree Street and wiping sticky fruit juice from your chin in the company of new friends. Almost like a holiday complete with personal tour guide, all for the price of a theatre ticket.

My Heart is Hitchhiking Down Peachtree Street was at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich on June 4 as part of the PULSE Festival. For more information about the festival, please visit the New Wolsey Theatre website. The show continues its tour over the summer in Harrogate, Leeds and Reading, and more information can be found here.

Alice Longhurst

Alice Longhurst

Alice studies Liberal Arts at Kings College London with a focus on literature, history and Spanish. She has notions of entering the vicious world of journalism when her heady university days are over, although she would much rather prefer to find a way to make ends meet as an arts critic and writer of fiction.

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PULSE Festival Review: Mess

Posted on 06 June 2013 by Alice Longhurst

Mess PULSE Festival

Can eating disorders ever be funny? Surely we’ve all been in situations so awful that the only response we can make is to laugh. This is the method Caroline Horton uses in Mess to tackle anorexia, bravely staging a version of her own struggle with the illness. Horton, who was nominated for an Olivier for You’re Not Like The Other Girls Chrissy, also plays her lead character Josephine, an anorexia sufferer navigating the emotional journey to “feeling ok most of the time”, with the help of her loyal friend Boris who is played by Hannah Boyde. They are joined by Seiriol Davies as Sistahl who handles the songs, music and sound effects, as well as providing plenty of meta-theatrical banter.

The fourth character, anorexia, is ever-present in the form of a large bathmat-covered pedestal topped with a fluffy duvet and a parasol, from which Josephine hangs her weight-loss medals. The symbolism is obvious: anorexia is the comforting place Josephine retreats to, a way of being in absolute control of something in an unpredictable world. With input from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, as well as Horton’s personal experiences, Mess is a sensitive, enlightening look at an illness which is rampant in a modern society obsessed with looks, competition and body image. Horton makes us feel Josephine’s battle with self-inflicted suffering through her relapse, after seeing a new, tiny girl brought into the hospital where she’s recovering, and the tenderness and confusion of Boris, trying desperately to persuade her to eat by bringing her a birthday cake.

These are the poignant moments of the production: yet we’re swept through the rest of Josephine’s story through a hilarious mixture of bickering over how the play should run, and Hammer Horror-style musical accompaniment and dodgy sound effects from Sistahl. The overall effect is whimsical; Josephine is dressed in a silky doll’s dress, pink fairy lights illuminate the way to anorexia, and the cast frequently break into song. At some points, though, it does feel that the point is somehow being missed, or even trivialised. Mess is one very funny show, but the subject matter, anorexia, is clearly a very serious, challenging illness. A few more of those poignant moments wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Mess has been touring since April of this year after a run at the Traverse Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe last August, and this performance at the PULSE Festival at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich marks the end of the tour. The focus of PULSE this year has been on offering stage space and the opportunity for audience feedback to works-in-progress, and Horton’s play offers a nice transition, demonstrating how unfinished scratches can develop into confident, inspirational productions. There are still plenty more shows to see at the PULSE Festival, which runs until June 8.

Mess played at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich on June 3 as part of the PULSE Festival. For more information about the festival, please visit the New Wolsey Theatre website.

Alice Longhurst

Alice Longhurst

Alice studies Liberal Arts at Kings College London with a focus on literature, history and Spanish. She has notions of entering the vicious world of journalism when her heady university days are over, although she would much rather prefer to find a way to make ends meet as an arts critic and writer of fiction.

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Review Overview: PULSE Festival

Posted on 04 June 2013 by Alice Longhurst

It may be small in scale and a little obscure, but the ten-day PULSE Festival at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre has a rich, eclectic range of shows which bring its loyal, almost cult-like audiences back every year. This year the focus is on works in progress and scratches from unfinished shows, with the second day of the festival featuring the awarding of the inaugural Suitcase Prize for the best performance which could be carried by public transport. PULSE producer Laura Norman explained, “We were looking for inspiring, bold and adventurous ideas – just ones that you can take with you on the bus.”

This focus on creating work which is both environmentally and economically sustainable produces some innovative and strikingly diverse responses. Out of Chaos borrows a table and chair from the venue for The Flying Roast Goose, and relies on physical theatre and puppetry to tell the story of a Cantonese chef and her goose trying to survive the 1941 Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. The hilarious Figs in Wigs’ Leftovers attempts to break the world record for eating peas with a cocktail stick in three minutes against a backdrop of an unfinished dance routine. The company initially envisioned using a fridge-freezer on stage, but downsized to a more portable blue cool box to transport their vegetable props. Keeping things simple, Hannah Nicklin’s A Conversation with My Father uses the contents of the rucksack she takes on protests to explore modern policing and standing up for what you believe in.

The greatest strength of PULSE is that the old cliché “there’s something for everyone” rings absolutely true. Saturday 1 June featured a series of scratch sessions and works in progress, with audience members strongly encouraged to give feedback on new work: for example, Toot’s interactive Be Here Now which reminisces about Oasis and “music you can hold”, and an extract from Snuff Box Theatre’s compelling The Altitude Brothers, which gives the Russian perspective of the Space Race through vodka, comradeship and courage in the face of the unknown. Angry buzzing hoovers and a bicycle illustrate the struggle between domestic life and feminism in Iran and Europe in the surreal Domestic Labour: A Study in Love, while Francesca Millican-Slater’s warm, engaging personality shone through in her solo show about a beloved 70s flat, The Forensics Of A Flat And Other Stories. Next up was Family Day, packed with imaginative children’s shows such as the dark fairytale of a girl in love with a bear, The Girl With The Iron Claws, Daniel Bye’s The Six O’Clock News which responds to the big news issues of the day, and Talking Birds’s intimate three minute performances experienced inside a giant metal whale.

The line-up for the rest of the festival includes a performance of Victoria Melody’s Major Tom which considers our obsession with fame and looks through beauty pageants and dog shows, and The Forest and the Field, an immersive, intriguing invitation to reflect on the nature of theatre and how it might respond to the social and cultural challenges of the future. The festival closes with Ursula Martinez’s My Stories, Your Emails which promises to combine stand-up comedy, live art and character comedy to explore what happens when your striptease act ends up online and strangers start sending you extraordinary emails. If these don’t appeal there’s still plenty more PULSE performances left to see, with shows running until June 8, and with so much variety I guarantee you’ll find something you like.

The PULSE Festival runs from Thursday 30 May until Saturday 8 June at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich. For more information and to book tickets, visit the New Wolsey Theatre website.

Alice Longhurst

Alice Longhurst

Alice studies Liberal Arts at Kings College London with a focus on literature, history and Spanish. She has notions of entering the vicious world of journalism when her heady university days are over, although she would much rather prefer to find a way to make ends meet as an arts critic and writer of fiction.

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PULSE: What does it take to run a theatre festival?

Posted on 15 May 2012 by A Younger Theatre

Freelance Director Emma Bettridge tells A Younger Theatre what it takes to run a theatre festival when you’re juggling two jobs…

I am knackered! I blame PULSE festival – the one that happens at the New Wolsey, Ipswich at the end of the month with 52 shows ranging from work-in-progress early showings such as Ours Was the Fen Country by Dan Canham, to full blown productions such as Hannah Ringham’s The Free Show. It’s also the one I’m trying to run…

The main thing driving me is arriving at our get-in week on May 21: the week when you’ve essentially run out of time. There’s no room to stress and panic, just time to focus and work as a team to get the show up. I’m not going to harp on about this, but I think it’s important for context: I work as a freelance director for the New Wolsey Theatre and PULSE. I also run the artist development programme, Ferment, at the Bristol Old Vic. That’s right: the West Country. I am well travelled. By ‘well’ I mean I know the M5, the M4, the A303, the M25 and the A13 REALLY WELL.

Sounds greedy eh? Two jobs when there are no jobs. The frustrating thing about being self-employed is that you live pretty much hand-to-mouth and can never quite be sure where the rent money’s coming from. So when the Bristol job-of-amazingness came up and PULSE planning was already under way, I decided I could do both. And it does work, honest. The ethos of experimentation and having fun is shared by both projects. The only sacrifice is my lie-in. But like I said, I’m not harping on about it.

There’s always one show at a festival (one if you’re lucky, all of them if you’re not) that challenges the team in numerous ways. One of our festival commissions this year is The Campsite. It will be situated on a site down the road from the New Wolsey studio that is currently a messy car park (there’s a skip in it and everything). The car park will be cleared, bunting and lights will go in the trees, and a little convoy of VW camper vans will pitch up ready to be four self-contained venues. Perfect. What a lovely mission.

We’re dealing with some really wonderful and talented artists, who are very much artists and not festival managers. They have the dreams and we try to make it happen whilst shimmying around big bad health and safety regulations. You’d think organising a little cook up on the Sunday would be charming, right? Totally, if you were camping at an actual campsite. Our campsite is an event, so brings with it pages and pages of responsibility: food licensing, hygiene certificates and so on. This commission is the one I’m most apprehensive about, as we’re taking a random car park and trying to create a mini-Latitude. Where’s the power for the lights coming from? Will people even come? Will there be beer (the licence declares that there will)!

The other scary thing is making sure companies are fully briefed with what we can technically provide. When I worked for the Pleasance in Edinburgh I had two clangers happen at once. The first being that the company had designed their set for the wrong space; they had it in a 175-seater with a playing space of 10x10m rather than the 50-seater space with a playing space of 4x4m. Whoops. The other great one – that my friends like to remind me of – is when I scheduled a show that finished after the start time of the next show in that space. I thought: it’s fine, we can deal with it. Except if the set is largely gravel based. Ah, turned out the previous show’s set was largely gravel based. No point in panicking though – just find the answer. Chop the set down and explain to audiences that the theatre programmer is not very good with maths. Job done, most people are happy. So, I’m taking the no-panic ethos and running with PULSE. If it all goes terribly wrong, I’ll still be running with it all the way back to the West Country.

PULSE Fringe Festival will take place at the New Wolsey Theatre from 25 May – 9 June. For more information, see their website.

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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