Tag Archives: Battersea Arts Centre

“The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes” at the Battersea Arts Centre

Sarah, Scott, and Simon are here to save the world. Or at least have a serious word with it. Travelling from Australia to present a speech, in the guise of a community meeting, this show is smart, important, and impressive.

The trio describe themselves as “intellectually disabled” – or neurodiverse – debate about the term is acknowledged. What they reveal about how they are treated by society begins by highlighting how difficult public speaking is for them. Here is the first move to get a lot of the audience onside.

Surtitles are a sign that it might be difficult to understand what is being said (it’s not really that hard). But the captioning has comedy touches and becomes a character in the play. The show is funny and, for much of the time, wears its issues lightly. The humour is, again, a persuasive move.

Comedy is joined by anger and honesty as we get to know the those on stage. A few jokes, some eye-opening history, and some frank admissions add appeal. The performers – Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring and Scott Price – create a dynamic between their characters that intrigues and enforces individuality.

Plenty of topics are discussed – some too fleetingly. The show has a lot of authors: Mark Deans, Michael Chan, Bruce Gladwin, and Sonia Teuben as well as the cast members. Gladwin also directs and keeps the action focused. But the material here could easily be expanded and sometimes that is frustrating.


Back to that text, the team appreciates it is hard to draw your eye away from a screen. The audience is being aided by artificial intelligence. Here’s where the show is superb. Siri is sinister isn’t she (rather, it)? The technology is used to argue that, one day, everyone might share that disabled label. After all, our neurones all work differently to a computer.

Getting people interested in a cause by bringing it close to them is a neat move in an argument that also adds theatrical tension. I can’t imagine many disagreeing with what they hear – but the piece is enjoyably persuasive. And if theatre can save the world, it might very well be like this show.

Until 22 October 2022 and then on tour in Brighton (26-28 October) and Leeds (2-5 November)


Photos by Kira Kynd

“From Me to Us” from the Battersea Arts Centre

The ‘Me’ in this sensitive, genre-defying show, is writer and performer Wayne Steven Jackson. And the ‘Us’ is him and his, so far, unborn child. What makes the address unusual is that Jackson is gay and a bachelor and only a very recent change in the law has allowed for single father surrogacy.

Jackson presents the show as a documentary – there’s plenty about the procedure of planning to have a child. But the “fragments and experiences” that make up the show are original and poetic. From Me To Us is an “unfolding mystery” – immersed in the idea that it is a story very much ongoing and, until recently, impossible.

The storytelling is good. For my taste, Chris Benstead’s music adds unnecessary sentimentality (too many swelling ‘cellos). But Jackson’s clarity about the use of his imagination – and the way he references the theatricality of what we are watching – creates a strong sense of openness. And, as a love story, the tenderness towards the future child is moving and powerful. A particular highlight of great sincerity comes when Jackson reads a letter from his own parents live on stage.

From Me To Us by Wayne Steven Jackson

It is by broadening out from his subject matter that Jackson renders From Me To Us magical. Just as fatherhood makes him “more than just me”, the show grows in appeal. There are big questions of mortality and time. Glimpses of the past and future, aided by speed, split screens and trickery from videographer Ben Horrigan, raise issues of selfhood. A claim could be made that the show is as much about memory as paternity: “echoes, remnants, and reminders” flow through the action, enforcing the fact that the big event, the birth, is yet to happen.

Most impressively, Jackson makes us consider potential afresh. Note all the “maybes” in his script – all the chances and possibilities. Not just the potential of a new life but a new relationship and the changes that parenthood brings. Thinking about such a different path in life becomes, possibly needs to be, a question of breaking the rules. And that rebellion is inspiring. In bravely embracing possibilities, Jackson should win respect and best wishes from all of us.

Until 16 May 2021


“The Motherhood Project” from the Battersea Arts Centre

This online festival of 15 films tackles a huge topic with appropriate variety. Contributors include well-known writers and strong performers. Expertly curated by Katherine Kotz, here diversity is the key and the range of ideas, opinions and styles is impressive.

Highlights include Inside Me a short monologue from Morgan Lloyd Malcolm of Emiliafame. Frank and funny, a multi-tasking mother (is there any other kind?) talks about her changing relationship to her body. Tackling pelvic floor exercises, aided by “gentle understanding” from her doctor, the sketch is wonderfully performed by Jenni Maitland. 

Jenni Maitland in Inside Me part of The Motherhood Project
Jenni Maitland in “Inside Me”

Poetic evocations of pregnancy and motherhood are provided by Hannah Khalil (accompanied by two strong films) that address a child about to be born and an adult. The epistolary A Letter to My Baby from Anya Reiss also addresses a child in a riveting dense text whose writer freely admits her fantasies and deceitfulness.

There are plenty of other perspectives, too. Suhayla El Bushra’s Baby Yoga has young Shireen (Tsion Gabte) dealing with how her friend’s life has changed now she has a baby. There’s a keen eye on class here that has lots of potential to be expanded. And EV Crowe’s contribution, Number 1, shows the opinions of a young man (Landry Adelard) in trouble at school that’s ultimately rather sweet. Perfectly contained, it is another piece that could easily grow.

Tsion Habte in Baby Yoga part of The Motherhood Project
Tsion Habte in “Baby Yoga”

Short talks from Athena Stevens, Juno Dawson, Lemn Sissay and Siggi Mwasote vary the pace and provide plenty more to think about. But it’s Katherine Kotz’s own show that I enjoyed most – The Queen’s Head is full of wicked humour and challenging thinking. Performed exquisitely by Kotz herself, this Zoom meeting rant is from a character who is not maternal (after all, Michael Gove was a baby once). The humour and intelligence in the piece confirms that there’s something for everyone in this project.


Until 2 May 2021

Photos from Drift Studio

“Ring” at the Battersea Arts Centre

“The most important thing is the darkness”, our host for the evening tells us, as the audience files into the atmospheric Battersea Arts Centre for theatre with a difference. Ring, conceived and directed by David Rosenberg and produced by Fuel, is performed in total darkness, using headphones to create a sound piece that’s unnerving and unmissable.

The darkness is unnatural, a pitch black not normally experienced, set-up theatrically by Simon Kane, playing Michael, who leads an unusual therapy session with the flair of a magician. Kane’s showmanship establishes the scene marvellously. When the lights go down expectations are up and we are in the midst of the drama: part of a group using the dark as cover to explore issues of blame and frightening events. What our role is, and how we work out what’s going on, is the investigation at the centre of the show and it creates an engaging experience that leaves you exhausted despite its brief 50-minute duration.

Make no mistake; this is not just a variation on a radio play. The idea of the group, people coming together to share an experience, is at the heart of the show and exploring this makes it work as theatre. In these remarkable conditions, the story Ring tries to shape struggles to hold its own, even though writer Glen Neath raises a number of questions and issues, tries to inject some humour, and manages to toy with expectations intelligently.

The science behind the headsets we all wear is fascinating – binaural recording is apparently the key to the uncanny effects – and the technical achievements of Ben and Max Ringham, who designed the sound and music, tremendous. But the show really works because it uses our imaginations. So limitless are the possibilities, the story behind Ring doesn’t quite satisfy: composed of fragmentary scenes and conversations the scenarios are a little too predictable, but the technique is so novel and exciting it has to be heard to be believed.

Until 28 March 2013


Photo by Susanne Dietz

Written 14 March 2013 for The London Magazine

The Paper Cinema&’s “Odyssey” at the Battersea Arts Centre

Performance has always played a role in the story of Odysseus. The tale of Homer’s wandering hero was recited long before it was recorded on paper and the telling has never stopped. The Paper Cinema introduces its own special brand of theatricality by producing a live animation in the form of a film, with pen and ink wash drawings and cut-out paper puppets projected on to a screen.

Apart from an onomatopoeic ‘splash’, words are stubbornly excluded from this retelling, and this focuses our attention all the more on the artistry of both Nic Beard’s wonderful drawings and Ed Dowie’s fantastic accompanying music.

Images and sounds play on a sense of wit and invention that delights, particularly as the puppeteers and musicians sit in front of the screen so that we can watch them making it all happen. It’s fascinating and inculcates a growing sense of respect for their controlled teamwork.

With a seemingly lo-fi approach, one appreciates their care, attention and humour all the more: the overlapping images are perfect for conveying the memories of the characters, and there’s a playful sense of scale and a good few visual jokes (the Cyclops’ dad-and-trident tattoo is a lovely touch).

This journey is hypnotic and heart-warming. It is possible to see a drawback to its charms – it turns The Odyssey into something of a fairy tale. But you’d have to be a real purist to object. The Paper Cinema has such skill in tapping into the magical thrill behind all good puppetry that seeing the strings doesn’t break, but extends, the spell.

Until 25 February 2012


Photo by Perrine Desproges

Written 7 February 2012 for The London Magazine