Since beginning my placement at New Perspectives, I have been privileged to engage with the company and its work in a variety of ways; I have sat in on a play’s read through, devised and edited a teaser trailer for Him with His Foot in His Mouth, and even been let loose on their website. Throughout, I have been astounded by the company’s multi-faceted programme – not only do they seem to constantly be churning out high quality, innovative work of their own, they also devote a commendable amount of time and effort to the investment in, and development of, new writers and performers from the East Midlands. It’s for this reason that I jumped at the chance to sit in on a rehearsal of The Gramophones touring show, Playful Acts of Rebellion, in order to see, first-hand, how members of the company’s alumni have developed and prospered, since engaging with the Mentored Company programme in 2011-12.
Although I had not yet met the company, who still frequent rehearsal space at NP from time to time, I had written some copy for the website about their work, and knew them to be sharp, playful, and interactive theatre makers. The Gramophones’ founders are three women from captivating professional backgrounds, ranging from classical to circus training, who came together through a like-minded ‘quirkiness’, and a desire to make theatre. This show deals with the exhilaration and fear of standing up for what you believe in, and the effects that these actions have, not just in the world but, also, in the self.
What I loved about the piece was its youthful, courageous approach to huge issues – capitalism; the inherent sexualisation of women; the human neglect and abuse of the planet and its resources – which can, at times, seem so institutionalised and inevitable, that it is very easy to feel powerless. I felt – and I challenge anyone else not to feel – deeply moved by the characters’ personal stories of grappling with a yearning to effect change, and the ambiguities, complications, and moments of sheer, rhapsodical empowerment that accompany this. This show is not didactic, nor is it a guilt-trip (here, I am reminded of a handful of educational performances I saw at Primary school, an age where I didn’t feel particularly empowered to change my mum’s supermarket preferences!), but, instead, involves the audience in a lively conversation, providing a safe, friendly environment to unpack these ethically stimulating issues – this is bold, brave and sensitive stuff!
How do the Gramophones manipulate these unwieldy topics on stage? Simple, colourful props – painted step ladders, white sheets, and fold-out stools – become barricades, hide-out trees, conference rostrums, and provide the sense that both performers and audience members are work-shopping these grand issues, exploring their weight and depth, together. One of the most commendable successes of this piece is the effortlessness of mixed media play. The use of a portable projection device brings each moment to life in a way that is both playful and poignant, setting stories in time and space – there’s a also a super cute cat slideshow, if you like that sort of thing (which I do!) – allowing enormous flexibility for the show’s ‘visual storytelling’; intelligent stage architecture frames these visuals cleanly and imaginatively. These playful elements combine to create a space that effortlessly necessitates audience involvement; by the end, I was so on board that I actually wanted to chat about my own thoughts and feelings!
Playful Acts of Rebellion is gloriously human, and wonderfully balanced. If you’re interested in the answers to these questions – ‘What makes something worth standing up for? Can I change the world from my living room? What if I’m protesting, my costume rips and a picture of me naked goes viral?’ and are looking for a lively, entertaining platform to unpack the things that are close to your heart, go and see this show.
Playful Acts of Rebellion is touring now to theatres – visit http://gramophonestheatre.wordpress.com/ for tour dates and to book.