BN1 magazine reviews The Washing Up

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Overjoyed to have another review in BN1 magazine. Here it is or click here

What is art? Is it the issue of the garlanded genius, exhibited in the temples of high culture? Or is it the collective issue of communities, performed in makeshift spaces and dealing with ‘ordinary’ life that, very often, conceals devastating conditions, struggles and sorrows?

It is both, of course, but it is all too easy to place a higher value on the first, dismissing the second as ephemeral and unsophisticated. The Washing Up is a community theatre piece that works, not merely because it is funny, irreverent, restless and inventive, but also because it is driven by ideas and techniques that are richer and subtler than you might at first think.

Twelve non-professional actors offered their ‘research’ on that universal bane ‘the washing up’ via skits, songs and sketches that had kids and adults shouting back in agreement, dissent and common sympathy.

One sketch parodied political tribalism, ending in an audience vote for either ‘the bowl’ or ‘the sink’ technique using pink or yellow gloves. Weaving the show together, the ‘god of washing up’ – dressed in glam-punk top hat and tails – declaimed, ‘I am the alpha and the omega . . . the draining board to your desperation.’

This ‘god’ is reminiscent of the medieval morality play or ancient pagan ceremony. Though written collaboratively, it shows a sophisticated guiding hand at work, just as the striking transition from self-contained skit to individual actor’s testimony does. Suddenly, real voices break through the onstage personas, speaking of family and childhood. We feel, for a few moments, the deep experience and emotional burdens of those onstage, and we realise that this folk art is showing us how we connect, share, witness and heal as we create art in the presence of – and for – one another.

And what could be more valuable than that?

Saturday 26th May, 1.30pm

Manor Gym, East Brighton

Review by Simon Murnau

“ego-free ensemble performance, and the best of people’s theatre” The Washing Up


Today we can delight you with a review of our performance at #Your Place @Brighton Festival, by Guardian writer Colin Grant.

The great African American playwright, August Wilson designed dramas with the governing principle that they would be “for the people, by the people and near the people”. Wilson aimed to resurrect the standards of the “chitlin circuit” which stretched, not patronised, its working-class audiences, oh and entertained them as well. Something of that spirit and doctrine has infected the creators of The Washing Up, one of my highlights of this year’s Brighton Festival at the Hangleton Community Centre.

This is a joyous and celebratory riff on what on the surface would appear to be a mundane chore, but which is revealed – in the course of a dazzling hour of song, some dance, the beginnings of Alan Bennett-like monologues, and comic/absurdist transformations (for example of people into the unfancied utensils at the back of the drawer never selected for washing) – to be a reflection on the place of washing up in the human psyche. What has been lost in social interactions through the rise of the dreaded dish-washing machine?

With humble input from the director Kate McCoy and writer and lyricist, Nou Ra this is a generous, ego-free ensemble performance, and the best of people’s theatre fit for the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow or Theatre Royal Stratford East, or any venue that wants to see how plays can connect with local people in ways that are challenging, poignant and refreshing. The witty banter is probing and the songs sing. More songs please!

The Washing Up and its long term impact on my mental health – Nou Ra Guest Blog

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The Washing Up  started with a conversation between Nou Ra and Kate McCoy and Nou has written the songs, lots of the written bits and is also performing. She is massively talented and the show would not exist without her. Here is her take on it all.

I have always been a “creative” person. I started writing poems about ‘crystal caverns’ and ‘faeries’ when I was about 7 or 8, and singing little ditties with suitably childish titles like “We’re the Banana People” and “Unicorns are Rainbows”. I continued writing poems that I never read to anybody and I was a closeted singer, I would sing along to sad songs all throughout my youth. I came out the closet and began to sing in a band in my mid 20’s. I say all that to establish that I am not new to creative projects but Theatre is the latest medium I have worked with and my limited experience of theatre has been very “Serious”. Of the two projects I have been involved in, one discussed addiction and recovery and the other, austerity and its effects on the marginalised members of society.  “The Washing Up” project, however, is something I have NO experience of : A Devised Comedy.

Much like social pedagogy, I am still not entirely sure what A Devised Comedy is. (Sorry Robin).  It’s a process of creation by collaboration, well at least that’s what I think it is. I am sure that a real theatre person would have a more in depth explanation for you, But ultimately, it was a group of us coming together and really exploring what the washing up means to us and believe me, it goes deep. Everyone has their own opinion, memories and emotions connected to the simple act of washing dishes. We have had real life arguments about how to wash up. what kind of implement to use, and the age old debate of ‘to rinse….or not to rinse’ has left the room divided, no acting required! But it’s those moments that actually make us closer as a company, because the next thing you know we are joking and laughing about the absurdity of it all. 
One main thing I have learned during this process is about the physicality of comedy and acting. I wouldn’t call my self an actor (yet) but we have learnt an amazing amount of little tricks that actors use, one of my favourites is a warm up where you pretend your on a motorcycle and end up in fits of hysterical laughter. I can laugh on cue! The other thing that I have only finally begun to understand is why its called a ‘Play’ and why the actors are called ‘Players’, Theatre really is about having fun and acting lessons are really just playtime for adults. Over the last few months we have been blessed to have been taught and guided by guest directors, Tanushka Marah , Alex Cooke, Simon Magnuse and , Becca Manley . Each of them have their own unique styles but the constant is that we will be laughing and having fun within the first 10 minutes. A warm up exercise that is a game, will have us all playing along with carefree abandon like children. It’s a great release, and whatever stress or anxieties you may have in life, you get to forget about them for the time you are in class/workshops/rehearsal. I am actually out of my own head, not ruminating over the worry of the day, for those couple of hours. I really wish I had done this years ago. If you are reading this and have ever thought about joining a local drama group, Do It! Seriously, you can thank me later. You too will learn why I can’t look at The Rock, or Tom Hardy, or any big scary looking actor without imagining them playing like children during warm up games or rolling around on the ground pretending to be a garbage truck or a potato, all actors have done that at some point or another, 
However, the main joy I have gotten out of this experience is being able to vent my spleen on how much I hate the washing up and in one scene in particular called “A dirty reminder of the power of the patriarchy” I tackle the arcane and downright disgusting social expectations of ‘the woman should do the dishes’, as I grew up with that as a given in my house, and my bitterness has only grown with me. I hate washing up and by working on a play about it, I have noticed that my partner is finally doing his share. So it’s a win! 
The real take away from this experience is that the only limits to art and creativity are the ones we put on ourselves. Under Kate’s supreme tutelage and wise vision we have created a play about the washing up, which is something I never would have thought possible because………well, it sounds ridiculous! But in the world of theatre it seems, anything is possible, and nothing is ridiculous. 

My Creative Recovery – Julie Orchard

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Today we have a guest blog from Julie Orchard, pictured in gold. Its all about her experience of creativity and recovery. Its great. Enjoy

My experience of ‘’ creative recovery ‘’.

I know it might sound over the top but creative recovery has given me reason to live. Not just exist.

It began when I had to get sober – alcohol had brought me to my knees as they say.  My life was on self-destruct. I needed help and I got it from the services provided by an organisation called Pavilions, and the AA and other fellowship meetings. These gave me a kick start and I continue to use them and their support. Through the people I met I was introduced to The Cascade Cafe. Fair priced food and the company of people who were there for varying and similar reasons. I went to their open mic nights and New Year’s Eve party and had seen a show put on by United Rocks Recovery at the One Church, which was so entertaining. It was full of all sorts of talent. I remember thinking wow this is amazing – and secretly (even a secret to myself) I wished I could be a part of that. A year and a bit later I had joined Cascades’ writing group, the choir and drama group. The people were all so welcoming and silently understood where I was coming from.

Today I am filled with excitement and inspiration about the days ahead, looking forward to the choir and drama. To be looking forward with a sense of belonging in the now and to the future is a massive change from where I was. Drinking and not drinking, I was in the depth of depression. I was lost, had lost myself, lost interest in things I enjoy. Each day when I woke I just wanted it to be over. I was not motivated and would put one foot in front of the other and get myself to a CBT workshop and/or a meeting. I filled my time, hours, days, weeks, months with these and Netflix, on my quest to giving up alcohol. Time was vast, too much of it. Now, there isn’t enough time in the day for all the things I want to do. After 2 detoxes and more relapses than I ever imagined, I have put together what I call my Recipe of Recovery. The added ingredient of CREATIVITY is totally crucial to my recipe.

First, I want to say how important it was and still is that these people I have joined are in recovery too. Its a given when you attend workshops and meetings. To be able to do something that is not just about working through addiction, but to join an activity where I feel comfortable and ‘’out’’ that I am a recovering addict is essential to me. We don’t always talk about it, it’s just a known amongst us. But always can talk about it, if want to. And the jokes that come out of our mouths are freeing. I really wanted to stress this point and was struggling how to until I was scrolling through Cascade Recovery Cafe Facebook page yesterday and came across this quote that hit this home.

‘’You can’t break the stigma of addiction, until you break the stigma of recovery. By Amy Dresner’’ Being creative is one thing and its brilliant but to be able to do it with others in recovery feels safe; I don’t have to hide this part of me; there is no shame.

And one more quote from that Cascade FB page is

’’ What a beautiful thing it is, to be able to stand tall and say ‘’I fell apart, and I survived’’. ‘’ I stand so tall after a rehearsal and/or a performance. I have gained such a lot of confidence and self-esteem.

My experience of joining the drama group is being encouraged to have ideas, playing with ideas and creating a drama piece out of them. I love the everyday epic theme. At present it is ‘’The Washing Up’’. In the group workshops I/we are acting out stories and emotions, but I/we are acting. The first time I had to act like I was in an argument I couldn’t do it. I was shaking after, as if I had had an actual argument. Drama helps me observe my feelings and work through them. It helps me process emotions that come from everyday life- interacting and working with others, listening, self-expression, mutual expression, conflicting expressions, being committed to something, feeling vulnerable, shy, mouthy, opinionated, self-conscience, letting go, playing, being in control, loosening control, feeling introverted/too invisible, extroverted/too visible. Different from mindfulness and meditation, which I use to calm my mind, the drama group has opened a channel for my imagination and often obsessive mind.

To do anything like writing or singing or drama before I was on my recovery journey, using this new recipe for my life, I would have had a drink before doing anything for Dutch courage to handle the nerves and loosen the inhibitions, a drink after to handle the come down off the adrenaline high of excitement and a drink in the middle to keep me going.

AA meetings and CBT workshops have given me so many tools and coping strategies for what reasons and triggers to drink are always. Celebrate, Commiserate, whatever… my problem was/is I can’t stop! I have found something in creative recovery that is not just about stopping. It’s about starting. Which is the very essence of Creation.

With all this in my life I basically don’t want to drink. Well that’s not true. I have wanted a drink while I’ve been writing this. Sad but true. To not want to, would require some sort of neurological or spiritual miracle. I can better describe it as; I do still have the urge to drink, just not as often. I don’t believe that voice any more, telling me its a good idea. I pull out every ingredient I have, to not act on it. Being a part of this creative recovery community brought me out of my isolation by giving me a safe space to be me, make connections with people and start living life again. I think of them when I get the urge to drink and think if they can do this, so can I. Being creative makes me feel alive, and helps me stay on this recovery path. I am so thankful that there are groups, projects, people, who give their time and belief towards making this available to me.

Big Thankx to Cascade Creative Recovery and those who fund it !!

The Art of Ambivalence #recovery #performance

I wrote something about The Art and Social Change European programme that I have been working on, about training health workers and Recoverists in creative picture

At the end of the three day training event with recovery workers in Brighton, I was surprised when we asked the participants to feedback on which moments of the training had had the most impact on them, that nearly all the group spoke about the very first exercise that we did together that seemed to have set the tone and indeed the values of the training. I say first, but I mean after we had had coffee, discussed how much snow might impact our time together, signed the European paper work, established where the toilets were and what time we were to have lunch.

So, what did we do?  I didn’t ask them to share their job role, their experience of recovery, their expertise in the arts. I asked them to accept that there is ambivalence in almost every situation and to answer the question

“what percentage of you wants to be here and what percentage of you doesn’t?”

What happened then is that people felt safe to share both their fears and their enthusiasm for the coming three days in a boundaried way. People reflected that it was useful to hear that they were not the only ones feeling anxious about the training and worried about falling behind with work tasks. It was also heartening to hear that despite the

issues facing people in their personal and professional lives, they were enthusiastic, happy to be in the room and ready to learn.

Asking people to introduce themselves with their job role and experience, a customary practice in training, immediately sets up a hierarchical atmosphere where we consciously and unconsciously compare ourselves to others. For me working through the arts is a way of groups coming together and connecting equally as human beings outside of the world of status, hierarchy and shame. This exercise creates feelings of safety and equality where everyone feels valued as they are, and we begin to create a space where we can see each other as allies and create together without fear of judgement.

Secondly it is helpful for “professionals” to reflect on their own experience of being in a new group situation and help build empathy for the people that they work with who will bring their own ambivalences to any situation. By reflecting on their own experience, they may gain a deeper understanding of the experience of those in addiction recovery.

Thirdly and most importantly, ambivalence is crucial to artistic expression and allows space for us to work with and acknowledge our ambivalent and sometimes contradictory impulses. For example, “I want to know other people and be known” and “I fear being judged by others”. If we work through theatre and improvisation we can create characters that can contain this contradiction. If I am playing a character, it is not me. The audience, fellow trainees, cannot know how much of myself is in this role, so I can explore feelings and relationships safely without revealing too much. This lessens my fear of judgement so that paradoxically I may feel safe to give more of myself to the group. This is of course, not limited to theatre, a photograph, a drawing, a dance or any other art form has this ability.

In our current society, I don’t see much ambivalence. I see polarised opinions and definite stances. Through using the arts in recovery contexts, I believe we can learn from and create through the ambivalence in all of us. I will leave you with F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“– the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted onto my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true. “


Kate McCoy – April 2018