Martin Gooding || July 5th
So it's 11pm and I've just got back from Official Culture's "Speak Out" a night of scratch performances, music and poetry to coincide with todays General Strike and anti-austerity action hosted in B Art's Bread in Common Bakery. I'm stuffing my face, while chain smoking and drinking endless brews trying to maintain my composure as I process everything that I've seen tonight. When the evening starts with a Boris Johnson mask hanging on a ladder and a member of Exit Pupils walking around in his pants you know you're in for an interesting and challenging night.
The evening began with the ever impressive, although a little poorly, Average Joe treating us to a trio of anthemic and uplifting political folk songs, one about inter-cultural relationships, a song that "definitely wasn't about eugenics" and an acapella finale that left not a single dry eye in the house as Joe beautifully reminded us what happens when the oppressed become the oppressors. This set the tone wonderfully for the rest of the evening and It was pretty much non stop from there on in.
Next we had a piece written by Official Culture and performed by Natalie Bangs and Jim Mycock called "7 steps on how to be a good politician" a hilarious insight into the world of a young Etonian facing his prospective future as a politician and learning the tricks of the trade, biting in it's hilarity and an exceptionally funny performance from Jim, confident and composed and seemingly nerveless. This was followed by "Our mother could've been a politician" by Laura Stacey and performed by Leanne Ashworth, a cynical look at the emotional labour cast upon many women in todays society and the glass-ceiling that is imposed. One of tonight's many highlights was "Dear Nicky Morgan" written by and performed by Charlotte Thorn a scathing attack on the secretary of state for education and the entire British education, highlighting the pressures on teachers, pupils and parents, the failing employment system in which these kids end up.
Another of the stand out performances follows "The Mentor" by Official Culture is a perfect fly on the wall experience that invites you in to one of those most dreaded of places, the office of a careers advisor encouraging social mobility. As the working class youngster, played by Nathalie Bangs, is condescended and belittled by her elder you truly fall in love with the character. It is painfully honest but charming in it's accuracy and filled with plenty of absurd laughs.
The evening is packed full with exceptional performances, ""Points" by Dan Weatherer highlights the ridiculous nature of NHS Cuts and the cruelty inherent in the DWP, with a sneaky cameo by Toby White as a corpse. "Clowns" by Kat Boon, a heart-breaking reading of a script depicting the tragic story of a young man who was failed by the government after a long fight with mental illness. Powerful poetry by GKA Gay, some old favourites from Alan Barrett that are sadly still as relevant as when they were written all those years ago. "Biting the hand that feeds you" also written by the multi-talented Mr Barrett features Toby White, Chris Ruston and Leanne Ashworth features upsettingly desperate but proud people forced into terrible corners. Iain Duncan Smith, David Cameron and Boris Johnson were all quite deservedly ridiculed for recent events in another of Laura and Nathalie's pieces as was to be expected this was followed by a pub quiz.
Another of my favourites was "A brew for two" by Dominic O'Rourke a cyclical tale highlighting the irony of the Clean for the Queen campaign and the axing of council workers jobs. With Toby White and Jim Mycock making up a stellar comedic partnership. Martin Alcock's hilarious turn as Nigel Farage in "Citizen Nige" brought a welcome period of much needed fun poking and then Lotika Singha's "20 years on" brought the ending to a poignant and personal close.
It's important to remember at an evening as rammed full of beautiful, powerful and original works that in an ideal world we wouldn't need events like Speak Out but for the time being there's a lot to think about and change has to come one way or another. Natalie Bangs and Laura Stacey, and the whole team involved in running tonight's evening, reminded us once again that Official Culture's brand of thoughtful, intelligent and antagonistic theatre is exactly what Stoke on Trent needs right now.