Tag Archives: Tobacco Factory Theatre

‘The Last Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor’ by Travelling Light at Tobacco Factory Theatres


Originally written for Theatre Bristol Writers.

The mythical story of Sinbad and his adventures on the high seas is one that sits in the collective consciousness of many across continents, shaped not just by folklore and childhood fairytales but also perhaps, a trilogy of somewhat sexist fantastical stop-motion 1970s action films that are often repeated on  the telly.  It’s fair to say that my curiosities were peaked and my expectations high for this years flagship festive Tobacco Factory Theatres offering which is produced in partnership with the renowned Travelling Light Theatre Company (whose previous Tobacco Factory productions include Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and the Olivier Award-nominated Cinderella: A Fairytale) and features a stellar ensemble cast including Lucy Tuck, The Boy Who Cried Wolf! (Bristol Old Vic), Cinderella: A Fairytale (TFTs) and Saiket Ahamed Cinderella: A Fairytale (TFTs),  Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (TFTs). 

Travelling Light’s production aims to to provide a different telling of Sinbad. We are presented with the chequered story of a character who is both a hero and a villain, simultaneously the luckiest and unluckiest sailor alive and just as importantly, a story of the ships seafaring crew led by the plucky ‘Little Fish’. We journey with them on seven voyages encountering the monstrous Old Man of the Sea, turbulent tides, sandy shores and hot air balloon rescues.

The tale is not short of the anticipated adventure, peril, salvation and marriage and the show provides plenty of laughter, music and song along the way. The minimal design of the production made me question how I formed my own preconceptions of the story (think slightly shabby yet preppy Oregon seaside village rather than an ancient and crustily barnacled underworld) with the initial opening hammock scene a joy to watch as the team of salty sea dogs each slowly emerge from the pupae-like white canvas ready to face their journey together with their tools to hand.  The show’s highlights are often found through movement – with some memorable dance routines and clownish physical comedy as well as the occasional inclusion of the onstage musicians.

It’s theatre that certainly has magic although the current production on occasions (particularly in the first half) lacks atmosphere and in some moments is carried by an experienced and energetic ensemble cast rather than the writing or lyrics.

Overall though the production has much to offer and has repositioned my own thinking and assumptions around the story of Sinbad and how legends are created. It is a energising and entertaining show for all ages – an uplifting and revitalising production which will certainly put a bright smile on many faces across Bristol this Christmas.

The Last Voyage of Sinbad The Sailor until Sunday the 12th of January at Tobacco Factory Theatres   Bristol.

‘Monkey Bars’ by Chris Goode and Company at The Tobacco Factory Theatre.


ecsImgMonkey-Bars-3-4446021Originally written for TheatreBristolWriters.net

‘Monkey Bars’ is the insightful, funny and often unexpected result of what happened when Chris Goode asked 70 children to talk about their lives. A verbatim piece spoken by adults ‘Monkey Bars’ offers a touching glimpse into young hearts and minds, and asks, how seriously do we listen to the words of children?

Cubes of white light create the stage and the scenarios we visit are familiar ones – a wine bar, a job interview, a political debate. The conversation touches on many a grown up theme – economics, religion, nationalism, identity and the future of how to make the world a better place is debated. It’s not all existential musings though and equally delightful are the joys of a jelly being serenaded and a job interview where the candidate is tested vigorously on their knowledge of sweets.

The work provides a powerful comment on time with the children often eagerly contemplating their future lives as ‘grown ups’. In contrast, the performers in business suits remind us how easy it is to forget the important art of being childlike as adults. It’s the simplicity of the children’s reasoning and more so their honesty that leave us with a sense of both the immediacy and fragility of childhood that is so fleeting.

The work doesn’t shy away from the darker side of the children’s truth. The original interviews (conducted by Karl James) were carried out in various socioeconomic groups in London and as well as revealing the reality of living in a multicultural society also demonstrate the role that the media and family can have in shaping our views and feelings about the world. Perhaps most poignantly is also how the children choose to cope and deal with them.

Whilst the challenge of adult life has yet to be encountered, the children are often quick to identify the cause and solution of potential problems:

Karl: Do you ever get a chance to talk to each other? When do you get to talk?

Hassan: No but we never get the chance.  That’s the thing. I never get to know Woody and Woody never gets to know me. And like.. And I want you to hear this loud, world! That is why we are not friends, because we never get a chance to know people. And I think.. And if you.. And if you can hear this, President, I want you to change the school time so that we can have play time even more so we can know people even more. OK?

‘Monkey Bars’ is a production where despite their absence, the children remain at the heart of the piece.  It provides a platform for them to voice their views consistently revealing the insight and wisdom that children have. It leaves the audience to ask the question: how often as adults, do we give children an opportunity to really take the stage and to value them in this way?

Culmination – a Mayfest journey from audience to stage and how to fall off a precipice

‘you have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own and you know what you know, and you are the person who’ll decide where to go’ – Dr Suess.  

If things don't change flyer Mayfest amended.JPEG

Two years ago I experienced ‘Mayfest’ Bristol’s annual festival of contemporary performance for the first time. I’ve previously written about my experience of the participatory theatrical intervention called ‘Fortnight’ brought to Bristol by Proto-type Theatre which prompted me to think about both my life and the city of Bristol in a different way. As a result I set up this blog and continued my journey after the two-week ‘intervention’ was over.  At the time I was at a bit of a crossroads. I felt I had attained quite a lot over the years career wise but I still felt unsatisfied. Like there was something else I should be doing. Something more meaningful than I was currently doing. I felt like there was a hole somewhere. I hole that I liked to fill with food, mostly.  I felt disconnected from my local community, disenchanted with my job and was left wondering what my contribution to the world but also to myself, actually was.

To begin with I thought that at 33 I was too old to ever seriously consider being an artist. I figured it would be impossible to develop knowledge and experience without returning to formal and expensive study. I had read about the cuts to the arts and in the context of a declining economy I worried about the financially reality of making changes to the career path I had been treading for so long.  Few people I knew valued the arts themselves, at best tolerating my tales of the things I had seen, thought about or experienced. I also wanted to understand how something so subjective as performance/art (which could be as academic intangible or impenetrable as it could be accessible) could make an impact on communities and individuals and what difference this could make. Why did I feel, inside, it was so important? I doubted my own convictions in my ideas and ideals. I doubted if it was just too late to stop everything and start again.

These were the barriers to change that I had decided on.

However it seems overall the ‘why you should’ argument outweighed the ‘why you shouldn’t. I did my best to resist the little thought seeds that had been planted. The ones that were growing into ideas about what sort if things I could write about, what sort of theatre I could make, what could I do with the photos I take, what sort of community I really lived in, how I could contribute to that community, how could I be healthier and happier, but most importantly how I could I live my life and career in line with my true values and do something that I was passionate about?

I realised the barriers were not all as I presumed. So, just in case you do have a passing interest or fleeting thought…. here is (on a very broad brush basis) – is what I have discovered so far:

Overcoming barriers, seeking opportunities and building communities.

I was pretty convinced that my age would be prevent me from changing fields or finding opportunities in an area I had little experience in. Its probably more common to access to opportunities if you are under 25, however many artists, theatres, and community groups are Opening Doors and working on a range of projects many of which encourage participation from anyone. Over the past two years I’ve been involved with both community and ‘professional’ projects, which are also designed to be accessible to anyone who wants to be involved, with some specifically targeted at non-professionals. No experience necessary. Likewise I’d convinced myself that I would need to return to formal study but this again wasn’t the case. Whilst most performance graduates I have spoken to enjoyed their degrees and built valuable networks, many have also told me that in most cases their courses did not prepare them for their launch into the ‘real world’ of theatre or art and that in most cases you just have to start from where you are with the life experiences that you already have. Bristol offers a wealth of arts opportunities from traditional choral groups, to circus, to African drumming and a wide variety of places to do it in. I’ve been a clown at Windmill Hill City Farm, Bristol Folk House, and Co -Exist, performed at The Trinity Centre and documented at the Station Arts Space.  I’ve seen work at most of the key theatres and arts venues across Bristol including Bristol Old Vic, The Tobacco Factory and the Arnolfini, however often the most memorable and perspective changing experiences are those that are conducted outside of the theatre or gallery. Some of the most special happenings and performances  around the city include those at Parlour Showrooms, St Johns Crypt, St Paul’s Crypt, Bristol Bierkeller, The Milk Bar and a captivating old Victorian public toilet. I’ve run around on several occasions, broken out of jail at the college project, been chased by hounds  around Old Market and fought to catch up with small people hanging precariously off of bus shelters and window ledges or wedged behind bins.

I’ve done my best to SAY YES to new experiences. It’s hard to pinpoint within this seemingly holistic city approach to arts and performance when the light switched on, or each time I saw things from a different perspective. Sometimes its not an overnight change but often a more subtle accumulation of experiences over a period of time.

Once I started to explore my local surroundings, rather than feeling alienated by my own starting point, I was actually overwhelmed with the possibilities. Whilst in the first instance opening a door, picking up a pen, walking on a stage, dancing to a beat, finding your voice or trying a musical instrument can seem daunting, there is always someone else around to share the experience, give advice or laugh at your comedy routine. The advantage of one of my preferred pursuits CLOWN – is that you can find joy in doing things badly, messing up and being real so as long as you are truthful in your work it will always be interesting and gain a response.  It’s a different philosophy but very enabling if you can learn to step outside yourself and start where you are. This also means that anyone can be a clown as you already have everything you need to begin your journey.

A key thing that has come from my experiences and exploring’s so far is the impact that the arts can have in building and strengthening communities and benefiting individuals.  This has been revealed in every group, performance or project I have been involved with.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a project working with older people, children, or your average office worker, it may be work which explores self identity, biography, community, encourage health and fitness, explore life, death, politics or religion, either way – I believe the arts play a fundamental role in creating meaning, connection and in sustaining communities.  For the economists among you, stand by for my highly sophisticated and complex equation: People who are supported or connected to their communities through activities which create a sense of meaning and identity, ritual, connection, a sense of a ‘bigger’ picture, which celebrate and recognise life, death, equality, and the natural world – will – in most cases, ultimately cost less to social support systems as they progress through life than those who do not have such opportunities. Rather than thinking about the cost of arts funding and grants, how about thinking about the savings that can be made elsewhere and the benefits to society overall?

You can’t stop the passion

Cuts to arts funding and economic recession is the reality in which the arts operates today. There is always a wealth of debate around this and many philosophical and pragmatic discussions to be had about the constraints and opportunities of the current economic climate.  I started my journey modestly, without expectations and my perspective as a ‘newbie’ is likely to differ to those who have been plugging faithfully away for years, living with a good measure of uncertainity  in dedication to the work they love. At this stage I do know this – that Bristol is a unique place where, in spite of difficult funding circumstances, the dialogue, passion, creativity and impetus for social change, critique, protest and celebration will always exist. On a personal note, if your measure of success is to ‘love what you do’ this often enables other aspects of your life to work in different ways to how you may first expect. Solutions can be found, resources can be shared, communities will open up, problems will be solved.

Changing direction and starting again

There have been many changes for me since Mayfest 2011 including lots of theatre-going as well as performing and training, and two years later I am preparing for a showing of my first solo piece ‘If thing’s don’t change’ as part of  ‘Mayfest at the Wardrobe’  new writing collaboration. Whilst I don’t know where the work is heading, and I still feel like there is a long journey ahead, it’s an exciting opportunity to be given the chance to perform work that I’ve written myself as part of the festival I participated in as an audience member two years ago.  Whilst to some it seemed like a risky decision to change direction, I realised I have nothing to lose, and when looking around at the world and seeing it in a different way – much to appreciate.

Sometimes ‘modern’ or ‘avant garde’ art and performance is hard to explain. Sometimes it will have no obvious story or make any immediate sense. It will often challenge you to think in a different way explore themes which you may not be comfortable with or couldn’t see before, beneath it all I’ve learnt that if you look hard enough to see it, there is a story and it’s yours.

The show

The show is biographical, and started out as a volunteer community storytelling piece developed with the support of Windmill Hill City Farm. Through drawing on my own memories of my grandmother, growing up and growing older I first developed the original story for performance at two community farm events. I was also influenced by the older people I had met who talked to me about their lives and the process of ageing, something which none of us really can fully appreciate until we experience it ourselves. It was this and losing my nan last year which prompted me to develop the work which as well as being personal to me, I felt could also resonate with many people.   Ultimately it aims to draw attention to the fragility and possibility of life and the extraordinariness of the seemingly everyday experience, which we can so easily take for granted in an often busy, frequently consumerist and sometimes spiritless world.

I hope you can come to see it.


‘If thing’s don’t change’ is being performed as part of a double bill with Chris Dugrenier’s   ‘Wealth’s last caprice’ a sensitive and funny reflection on what we value. Showing at the Wardrobe Theatre on Thursday May 23rd 6pm/£5 email tickets@thewardrobetheatre.com to reserve your seats.

The Wardrobe Theatre is ‘a place where anything can happen. Where fresh nutritious performance is premier, where arts cuts don’t stop the passion, and where the people of Bristol can experience the thrill of live performance’ and is located above The White Bear Pub, St Michael’s Hill, Bristol. You’ll have a nice time.

Devoted and Disgruntled Roadshow – What does amateur mean? Widening participation in theatre

Today I attended the ‘Devoted and Disgruntled road show – an open space event at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, part of a national roadshow which asked the question ‘what are we going to do about theatre’.


I was pretty nervous, but even so, somehow ended up facilitating a session along with the nice Mr Spurgeon from Bristol Old Vic. I loved loved loved the ‘Open Space’ philosophy and will talk about that further… we are all contributing to a collaborative report available here: http://www.devotedanddisgruntled.com/reports/ so read away on our discussions!! I could probably do more thinking around this but as I was writing my notes up – thought I would copy them here too! here are my notes from today.. off to bed now more to follow after tomorrows session! inspiring and exciting!!



I got first involved in theatre via participatory projects/interventions which means I’m now really interested in theatre projects which encourage similar participation or engagement from those in the community who may not have had experienced this kind of performance before. I believe this can be really beneficial in a number of ways and I suggested this topic as I hoped to have a broad discussion around some key opportunities/challenges which I think is what emerged. Joe and I decided on a joint session as there was some crossover in our questions.   Joe’s report is also available – I’m working from an audio recording (cheating a bit) which is why mine is quite detailed. Here are some of the big questions/discussions we captured today. Thank you to our lovely group for all their contributions

Perceptions of amateur Vs perceptions of ‘professional’ what’s the meaning, significance and is the distinction necessary?  

The group started off with consideration of what these two labels mean.

Typical perceptions/assumptions of ‘Amateur’ (companies, groups, individuals)

  • Does it for love
  • Lower standard
  • Part time/hobbyist
  • More control over their own productions
  • Pay less for script rights
  • Less need to evidence impact/spend
  • Not commercial
  • Not formally trained
  • A status
  • An attitude
  • A perception

Typical perceptions/assumptions of ‘Professional’

  • Does it for money (earning a living)
  • Formally trained in accordance with industry and other expectations
  • High standard of production, greater expectation
  • Funded/commercial /need to make profit
  • Full time
  • A status
  • An attitude
  • A perception

Conflicts and considerations:

As we know there are many grey areas, crossovers, contradictions and exceptions to the above, and that reality may not always reflect assumptions.  Key points which were made were in response to his were:

There are blurred boundaries around notions/definitions of: amateur, community, non-professional, professional, participation, participatory theatre.

Everyone starts off as an amateur. Nobody talks about ‘amateur’ painters. Yet most commonly viewed as professional once you are being paid.

Participatory performance or those using volunteers – what are the issues around this ‘taking work’ from ‘professional’ performers – work is scarce and inequality issues around pay across the arts abound.  Challenges of delivering mixed economy shows. Value and equality systems tough.

What do we mean by ‘participation’? Some artists want control over their work, and it is defined by the artist – participation can blur the boundaries. There is a clear need to communicate ‘Why’ volunteers or community members are used in a professional production, and what is expected – Should not be just a box ticking exercise in order to demonstrate benefits – a need to evidence and research properly that benefits are really happening.  Again, depends on meaning of participation itself. Evidencing impact can be challenging and expensive – how to measure – bums on seats? What happens if there are no seats?

Politics can often see art as a liberal past time – a hobby not a profession, there is often a need to demonstrate that a project is professional and worthy of financing.

Money is often the key factor in determining a ‘professional’ production – a need to examine how art and theatre are valued more widely in society. Culturally taught to value art financially – need to reassess this. Is it sometimes easier not to have money in terms of freedom of creativity? Theatres want bums on seats, arts orgs want grants… where is the audience in this? Amateur sector more closely connected to audience wants? Charles Handy – understanding voluntary organisations book.. Anyone who works for free is getting paid but just not in money. A need to work out a different exchange.

Should we move beyond ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ and let projects be defined by who is paying to see them? If the audience is paying does it matter? What about students/graduates – they make work – why are they only ‘professional’ on graduation?  What’s the difference between an ‘emerging artist’ and an ‘artist’? Qualified or non-qualified – what is the role of ‘the expert’ no always related to qualifications.

Reaching out and connecting

The internet recognises that you don’t need a certificate and that internet as audience knows that something of huge quality can punch through the glass ceiling of control and patronage. Now you can use the internet to platform things and reach wider audiences directly. You can make things happen with technology as you can hear other voices which think similarly. Set free a ‘whisper’ which snowballs – strong links between internet and democracy – flash mob as performance art.

Is there an economic benefit in cross-pollinating professionals/non-professionals?

Need to ‘bill’ yourself as an artist to others. Social media has changed the ways in which his is possible – now a need to be self-defining – more empowering for artists.

Need to always engage with ‘the amateur or non-professional’ as this could be a voice that needs airing. Few opportunities for adults in relation to opportunities provided for younger people. The benefits or art and drama are often cited for children – why does this stop as they grow? Need to examine audiences/opportunities for engagement across the life course.

The need to give opportunities to build and develop audiences – this can be done through participatory projects – Do we need more in the South West? How do we give people these opportunities? How do we give people who want to connect connection opportunities? More important to find people who had never even considered theatre/art ? How do we find those people?

Need to re-think not ‘participation’ but ‘theatre’ taking performance out of the building, re-imaging it to make it more attractive to a wider audience. Need to acknowledge how art is perceived by many (negatively) and finding something which is ‘big’ enough but also powerful enough and relevant enough to appeal..or at least hard to ignore.. i.e royal deluxe puppet. Is about how you go about interrupting people’s realities in a joyful careful way. Theatre is an art form and a building. Need to find something capable of striking awe into everyday individuals. Interrupting realities in a joyful way – France is very good at this.

Pop up performance across the city. Refurbishment of old Vic was a great opportunity to push theatre out to other places. Forced different patterns of movement in the city by artists and audiences.  Not much money involved – even so it was done by professionals.

There is a need to increase participation in theatre by audiences but also a need to integrate different disciplines into the art world. Use art and theatre to communicate the ‘key messages’ or challenges of our time. Also a need to make the ‘language’ more accessible and conversation less introspective. Break down barriers and increase understanding. Example – relationship between art and science.

Its all about values and aims.. ‘know your ‘WHY’

Art gives a different perspective on life – it encourages meaning making, and can reveal the true creative potential of individuals. There is also an economic argument for this. If the purpose of art is to reflect life then need to attract performers/creative’s from a wider remit. As artists it’s our role to be constantly looking about how you make the story engaging. Its about re-knowing – when art tells you something that you already sort of knew. It turns your head sideways.. it was always there but the work has managed to explain it to you or relocated it for you.

Its necessary to embrace future-facing work –peak oil etc – a need to communicate key messages to wide audiences..   how to turn people around to face these big challenges through art in a way that doesn’t make It seem impossible… when really its easier to be down the pub.

It’s about communicating the elephant in the room but also knowing why as an individual and as an artist, you do what it is you do.

A Corner of the Ocean @ the tobacco factory theatre

A corner of the ocean.

As a diver – and having been in a few situations when perhaps I could have been left at the bottom of the ocean (literal or metaphorical) I was attracted to the themes within this production immediately. Presented by Jammy Voo and performed at The Tobacco Factory Theatre in June, this was to be my first taste of seeing contemporary physical theatre in a while. But it was a lot more than that. Combining music, physical theatre, puppetry, comedy and visual imagery, it was a brilliant demonstration of the opportunities theatre can bring when you start to think outside of the box. Suddenly, I realised, the performance possibilities are endless. Things I learnt from this production:

Puppet power. My most recent experience of puppetry was er.. a performance of Avenue Q. This was in a different league. Using four different varieties of puppet it was first time I had seen this kind of storytelling in a way which was interweaved with other types of contemporary theatre.  Outside of comedy, I don’t remember ever having had an emotional response to puppetry before this performance. The bed scene was touching, the closing scene was extremely powerful, if a little scary and I’ve gone off minks in a big way.

I enjoyed the use of space, the staging was quite intricate but didn’t seem overwhelming and the characters moved within their own complex corners and sometimes within each others. It seemed evident the company had a close rapport which s added to the slickness of the performance. The incorporation of live music and singing served to intensify the experience as emotion and mood changed from scene to scene as we got to know the different characters and experience the highs and lows of dealing with loss.  Things I particularly remember: the story of a girl crying on a bus, a Christmas spent alone, how it’s inevitable your head will explode if you always do and say the right thing, dancing to (born slippy?) the application of make-up (perhaps also a reference to Jimmy Voo’s clowning origins?) and how in the culmination of the work, the characters discovery that even in the darkest times of love and loss, there may be a positive moment, in the realisation that perhaps much of your identity and your life can easily be eclipsed by your relationship and the man you love.

I stayed for the question session at the end which was really informative and a great way to understand how the piece was together (thank you). I’d been thinking about clowning a bit (as you do) and whilst this was not a clowning piece the voo’s have inspired me to give it a go.

This was a highly creative, invigorating and original piece of work which demonstrated the multi-skilled and accomplished talents of the company whilst revealing exactly what it is to be a woman experiencing love, grief and loss.

Oh crap. Realise the last sentence made it sound a bit like a school report.

The performance was empowering and brilliant.

‘nuff said.