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Blog - Sophie Partridge

Unlimited Festival at Southbank, 2016… a Pixie’s Perspective!

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book covering featuring the image of an actress in swilring dress

Book cover for Kaite O’Reilly’s ‘Atypical Plays for Atypical Actors’

Ah Unlimited; that biannual time of mixed emotions. I was in `reflective mode’ as I arrived Tuesday afternoon, having been at Liberty (Things Ain’t What They Used to be) on Saturday and performed pop-up theatre outside the gates of Downing Street on Monday, as part of the week of Action for Rights Not Games. Reflective and with mixed emotions because having applied myself for this latest round of Arts Council funding and got as far as being short-listed – which I was really chuffed about – alas I was to remain limited ;-).

Much water has passed under my bridge however, since that initial disappointment and when I trundled along this Tuesday, I was fairly light of heart, if a little sweaty. I was already late for Kaite O’Reilly’s book launch of Atypical Plays For Atypical Actors and I had to find my way by excessive amounts of lifts, from the Blue Side of the Royal Festival Hall, to the Green. Or was it vice-versa? A bit like dark to light, or… At one point I actually thought I’d entered a para’ world (!) as having reached level 5 on the OTHER side, I realised I had never ever been there before!

Eventually I found Kaite doing her thing, to a very attentive audience of primarily, young, non-disabled women mixed with a few of us Older Bendies who were also listening attentively and hoping that the Non’s were taking note of Kaite’s knowledge. Especially when she told how some producers wanted to use non-disabled actors in disability-specific roles and how she then, therefore, had to turn them down…

photo of two dancers against a brick wall background

Candoco Dance Company present You And I Know

After I trundled back-down to the familiar level of 2, just in time to see Candoco’s duet You & I Know, choreographed by (X Strictly judge!) Arlene Phillips, in the Clore Ballroom. For performances I’ve attended lately I’ve been in wheelie spaces at the back and it was good to be right in the Clore, up close ‘n personal with the dancers. This was a well executed, very accessible piece for the audience and went down well with the punters.

The building had felt quite quiet when I first arrived but now the atmosphere was starting to wake up a bit and the performance gave a boost. I trundled back up the ramp in search of a latte and, in true Unlimited style, bumped into friends; those I expected to see and others completely not, which is always the best bit. Conversation turned to “What are you seeing / eating / doing?!” Before I knew it, was time to head back over to the dark / light side and up to the Festival Hall itself, for Claire Cunningham & Jess Curtiss’s piece The Way You Look (at me) Tonight…

two dancers pose on the floor against the wall, one wears a teddy bear mask

Claire Cunningham and Jess Curtis. Image © Sven Hagolani

My expectations were high here, not least because I’d paid £20 for the ticket. The previous weekend I’d paid just £15 to see Jamie Beddard amongst others wobble on stage at the National Theatre! It’s not that I don’t think disabled artists are worth paying high fees for; I was more irked that Southbank seem to think that as long as they do a `freebie Carer’ ticket for wheelies, rather than offer a discount rate regardless, it’s okay. £20 is £20 and it’s a lot of money.

I have faith in Claire and Jess though – having spent a week in Findhorn with them some moons ago… and they didn’t let me down. I will leave the DAO review of their performance, to Nina but on thing I really feel, is that Ms. Cunningham is a true artist and one of the very few who identifies as the big D, that speaks to Crips as well as well as Norm’s.

In the spoken text of the show, Jess said (something like) “you think this is for you but really it’s for me… but actually it is for you.” Somehow Claire’s work encapsulates that; she beguiles the mainstream and appeals to the `non-disabled gaze’ (Jess `plays’ with crutches) which if I’m honest, feels to me the intention of the Unlimited festival – or perhaps not the intention but the outcome?

Yet as a small Bendy Woman, I decode that work and sit in the audience, secretly smug because I know really, that work is for Me. Within the piece Claire and Jess ask philosophical questions; they don’t get stuck in their own impairment / stories; as I write this I’m half way through watching last night’s Paralympic Opening Cereomony – Jeez there are a LOT of stories!!

I’ve also just started reading a very big book, called The Mad Woman in the Attic (as you do) which looks at the authentic female voice in writing and how 19th century women found their own voice; how they wrote for each other and to be blunt, not the men. Claire makes work that is true for and to herself – and in that process, she in turn makes work for me. That surely, is truly Unlimited.

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2 Comments on "Unlimited Festival at Southbank, 2016… a Pixie’s Perspective!"

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Deborah Caulfield
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I really enjoyed this blogpost, the more so because this time I won’t be going to Unlimited, chiefly for the reason you allude to. Money wise and time/energy wise, it’s too much to shell out from my own meagre resources. Which leads me to wonder: If they (eg Kaite, Claire, Jess and Jamie B) are doing their stuff for us (me and most of the rest who all live outside London), how the hell are we ever going to see it? And if we never get to see it, what’s the point? Not that I begrudge you going; I’m glad… Read more »
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