Following the development of the play and inclusion of design elements in South Africa and then rehearsals at Action Transport Theatre‘s base at Whitby Hall, GOGO played nationally, premiering at the Unicorn Theatre, London – the UK’s national theatre for children.
The designer for GOGO was London based Caroline Thaw. Set build was by Mike Francis and Caroline. Lighting design was also by Mike Francis. Music by composer Mark Melville.
Two continents, two theatre companies and the story of GOGO is complete.
GOGO was dedicated to Gogo Ma Mngomezulu and the late Gogo Sue Welshman with love and respect.
On previous visits to Soweto, ATT’s artistic director Joe Sumsion had been drawn to the power of the extended family and, in particular, the role of the gogo – grandmother. Joe and Kevin spent time in Soweto with VULAVULANI’S artistic director/actor Fikekahle ‘Ntinti’ Dlalisa and Kevin was commissioned to write a play. Ntinti, together with actor Sizwe Vilakazi, came to the UK to develop the script. Joe’s idea was to give the script authenticity by developing it further in South Africa and so returned to Soweto.
The premise of the play is the story of two young children living in the city being sent to the country to stay with their gogo following family problems. The gogo is a fearsome character. A widow, living alone deep in the country away from the comforts of the city, she is determined that the children should understand that life is not to be handed to them on a plate and sets about teaching the life skills they will need to survive in their new home.
Rehearsals started straight away on arrival in Soweto. Ntinti and Sizwe were joined by actor Evelyn (Evha) Nteso from Johannesburg and London based actor Naomi Cortes. Ntinti and Evah were to play the children, Sizwe the dog/cow/gorilla and Naomi, Gogo.
A number of local musicians and a teacher of traditional dance added another dimension to the production. They were choreographer Thabang Mpooa, musician Fannie Chauke, drummer Thapelo Kutoane ‘Moss’ and PR Kgotso Moleko
Joe was keen to pursue authenticity for this production and, after discussion with Ntinti, decided that a visit to a country location would be valuable. Ntinti arranged for the company to stay with relatives in Kwazulu-Natal for two days. His aunt, with whom he had stayed as a boy, was to be our hostess. Five hours drive from the city and we were in a spectacular and quite different landscape. With no electricity or running water we were to experience, for a few days, a life that was both simple and challenging.
Soon after arriving, we were met by a group of local women, traditional dancers including many gogos, who seemed to appear out of nowhere. At night, we shared our lamplit supper with the family. There followed what can only be described as a spiritual experience in the Ancestors’ House across the yard. We saw the Ancestors’ resting place the next morning – next to the house.
During our weekend stay, we were introduced to traditional methods of farming – including Ntinti’s milking lesson. We had a spirit meeting with a sangoma (a traditional healer), met a formidable gogo – who instructed Naomi and Evah in the making of a dung floor – and her grandchildren. We met wedding guests enjoying their meal at the side of the road and a ninety-three year old gogo out on her daily walk.
Rehearsals, held in the yard, were afforded a fantastic backdrop and natural sound effects. Our visit ended with a long walk to visit a neighbour’s new calves – and another milking lesson!
Back in Soweto and rehearsals begin with renewed enthusiasm – and insight!
The next, and final step was for the company to rehearse in the UK and tour the completed GOGO nationally.
Gail Young is a writer living in Guilden Sutton, a Cheshire village, where amateur theatre plays an important role in the community.
Gail’s first full-length play, CHESHIRE CATS, is a comedy drama about a group of women who set out to raise funds for a breast cancer charity. Following publication by Samuel French, CHESHIRE CATS received great acclaim having been performed by groups not only in the UK and at the Edinburgh Fringe but internationally – and has become a major fundraiser for charity.
Gail’s second full-length play, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED, deals with the problems of dementia. Gail’s father-in-law, Walter Young, had been afflicted with Alzheimers some years previously and the experience of watching his deterioration had stayed with her and prompted her to write the play. Two former colleagues, Lesley and Elizabeth, shared their recent experiences of dealing with their mother’s battle with Alzheimers and eventual move to a care home. Their contribution provided the material to make this truthful and poignant account of living with dementia.
Gail describes the play as:
a comedy drama about life, love and loss. As the audience watch Irene and her family struggle with Alzheimers, Irene’s past passion for romantic fiction blurs with reality and she discusses with Barbara Cartland, Irene’s favourite romantic novelist, how best to write her ‘memory book.’
Guilden Sutton Village Hall, the hub of the community and home to Guilden Sutton Village Players, was the first testing ground for BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED before an invited audience including those whose families had been affected by dementia and who been part of the writer’s research and fundraisers from The Countess of Chester Hospital Trust.
Following rehearsals at the village hall, books down and rehearsals at the Forum Theatre.
Time for the dress rehearsal prior to five performances at The Forum Theatre, Chester.
Irene Julia Bona
Louise Alison Pritchard
Beth Eileen Reisen
Barabara Cartland Tiz Corcoran
Young Irene Leah Paris Bell
Shelly Leah Paris Bell
Jim Ally Goodman
James Ally Goodman
NHS Consultant Catherine Bryant
Community Policeman Neil Mason
Voice of local GP Mark Shenton
Director Gail Young
Producer Brian Fray
Sound Abbie Taylor
Lighting Mark Shenton
Props Annette Clemence
Wardrobe Sally Dillon
Choreography Pam Evans Hughes and Nick Leeson
Set design & artwork Pippa Redmayne
At the end of the performances of BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED, more than £6,000 had been raised towards supporting the well-being of patients with dementia at The Countess of Chester and Ellesmere Port Hospitals.
BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED is to be published in 2015 by Samuel French and is previewed on their website where a pre-publication manuscript is posted.
‘NIGHT TRAIN comes from the true stories of young people who run away… from home, foster parents, residential units, the coppers, everything…’
Night Train was written in 2007 by four professional actors – Roy Barber, Curtis Cole, Sarah McDonald Hughes, Dee Shepherd – supported by Kevin Dyer, Associate Writer, Action Transport Theatre. They interviewed many young people in care and the professionals responsible for that care. They were inspired to tell the stories of the young people they met – untold stories reflecting voices which often go unheard – and to turn those facts into a powerful and moving fiction. Four young people in particular who had spent much of their childhood in care – ‘looked after children’ – played a major role, as care leavers, in the making of this play. They were Jeff, Emma, Sarah and Liam. Hannah Rayfield, Children’s Rights and Participation Officer, Cheshire County Council, enthusiastically supported the work and gave much informed advice to aid authenticity and the truthfulness of the piece. It was she who strongly argued for the inclusion of a theme that her department was currently addressing – that of under age girls being targeted by older men and developing inappropriate relationships.
In 2006 a conference was being planned for professionals working with children and young people. The subject was ‘Running Away’ as it was a subject of concern in the county. I was asked to work with some young people with experience of being in care and of running away to bring their perspective to the conference.
I recruited 4 young people who had recently left care and then joined with a writer, Kevin Dyer from Action Transport Theatre, to find out their stories. Together we worked on a workshop for the conference that invited professionals into the young people’s world so they could gain an insight into what might be going on for young people who run away.
From that beginning a joint project was born to write a whole play, spread awareness of young people’s experience more widely and to produce a training DVD for professionals. Night Train was the result.
The development of the play was an intense and creative period which, following hundreds of hours of groundwork, gradually shaped the story. There was much discussion, note taking, improvisation, collaborative writing and sharing, monologues to deepen character and the process repeated many times until a script began to emerge. While this process was taking place, informal viewings were held to test the piece – other young writers like Faye Christiansen, members of ATT youth group, a foster mother, Handstand video recording more interviews, composer Mark Melville starting work on music to heighten the dramatic tension of the piece, Mike Francis experimenting with lighting effects to enhance the effect of designer Alison Heffernan’s abstract blue set and director, Joe Sumsion, watching the play grow. It was all go!
After further weeks of intensive writing – more drafts and refining of the script – Night Train was ready. My photographs of the development of the play up to the dress rehearsal can only hint at the amount of work and commitment to get to that stage…
‘Night Train is a gripping play about a world most of us know nothing about. It follows the lives of Deano, Tanya and Lainey; three volatile, sharp humoured and resilient young people, all fighting to be heard, placed under the same roof of a residential care centre. For the care worker, Roy, it’s like trying to put a tornado in a tin can. This new, exhilarating play takes the lid off what can happen when young people live together in care and what happens when they take flight.’
ANOTHER PLACE, Antony Gormley’s sometime controversial installation is a collection of one hundred cast iron figures of his own body facing out to sea. Spread over a two mile stretch of Crosby Beach, it was positioned in 2005 having previously been displayed in Germany, Norway and Belgium. Due to be moved to New York in November, 2006, Sefton Council had the foresight to raise funds to buy this great piece of art for present and future generations to enjoy.
Antony Gormley has said that the installation is a poetic response to the individual and universal sentiments associated with emigration – sadness at leaving, but the hope of a new future in Another Place and that ‘the seaside is a good place to do this. Here time is tested by tide, architecture by the elements and the prevalence of sky seems to question the earth’s substance. In this work human life is tested against planetary time. This sculpture exposes to light and time the nakedness of a particular and peculiar body. It is no hero, no ideal, just the industrially reproduced body of a middle-aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe, facing a horizon busy with ships, moving materials and manufactured things around the planet.’
He also said that ‘I think there’s that thing in Another Place of looking out. It’s what we all do: that’s why people go to the seaside, to see the edge of the world, because most of us spend most of our time in rooms.’
He observed that opposition to the installation’s remaining on the beach ‘illustrated that no landscape is innocent, no landscape is uncontrolled. Every landscape has a hidden social dimension to do with both its natural usage and the politics of territory. I like the idea that attempting to ask questions about the place of art in our lives reveals these complex human and social matrices.’
The first set of photos, taken in the summer of 2006, record Gormley’s vision. In addition, as with so much of his work, the figures become part of the landscape and individuals make their own responses.
The second set of photos, taken on Boxing Day 2009, shows the work literally in a different light. The sun sets on a winter afternoon and becomes a bleak, cold night. Long exposures capture the magical quality of the landscape at low tide and night walkers become part of ANOTHER PLACE.
John Moorhouse, a writer from Ellesmere Port, was commissioned by Action Transport Theatre (which is based in the town) to write a play for young people and it marked his debut as a professional writer.
It was also the first production at ATT to be directed by Nina Hajiyianni as the new Associate Director.
Here John reflects on the origin of the play and the process of writing it:
Quite a few years ago now when my son, David, was six or seven years old, he came running into the house holding a stunned wood pigeon. It had flown into his bedroom window – which was shut – and knocked itself out. Tearfully, he demanded that I take it to ‘the pigeon man’ who lived at the back of our house, who would ‘fix it’. Problem: the pigeon man and I did not get on – which is putting it very mildly. We had many rows over the back fence, usually about his bloody birds.
Anyway, off we went to see him with our injured wood pigeon. I gritted my teeth, knocked on the door and waited. The door was flung open and Tom, as I now know him, was completely disarmed by the sight of my tearful son holding a bird up at him and saying, ‘It’s hurt!’
He took the bird in, ‘fixed it’, and a few days later we released it and watched it fly to the top boughs of an oak tree near our house. And I learned the difference between a racing pigeon and a wood pigeon and that people aren’t necessarily what they seem at first.
When I first started to write ‘Fly Away Peter’ I knew that this would be a play about an unlikely friendship between a boy and a man who raced pigeons. The only image I had was of a burning loft. John Steinbeck said he had a good friend who, when he had a problem, always ‘muled it over’. So, after a lot of muling, writing, re-writing, more muling, excellent advice from Kevin Dyer and Joe Sumsion at Action Transport Theatre it turned out something like this…
The process begins:
Associate director Nina Hajiyianni, Associate Writer Kevin Dyer, four actors and number of other invited interested parties work with John Moorhouse on the first draft.
Also present on the development day is designer Alison Heffernan. Visits to Tom’s pigeon loft provide a key to designing a set that is both elegant and atmospheric. Abstract qualities allow freedom for the director to layer the action of the play so that interior happenings within the ‘loft’ area can take place at the same time as action outside the loft. The eye of the audience picks up, for instance, the baseball court markings. Mike Francis, ATT’s then Production Manager, also provided lighting which changed with the mood of the play dramatically and with subtlety.
John outlines the story as follows:
When fifteen year old Peter finds an injured bird and starts to spend time with the local ‘pigeon man’ – Bill – his friendship with his old friend Craig is threatened. Feeling rejected and let down, Craig enlists the help of Peter’s mum and enacts a terrible revenge.
FLY AWAY PETER was first performed in 2007 at ATT’s Whitby Hall and subsequently toured nationally. The play was shortlisted for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain ‘Best Play for Children and Young People’ Award.
John Moorhouse’s most recent work includes:
THE BELINDA TREE 2014
Performed at the Trinity College Drama Festival, having been runner-up and highly commended in the College’s International Playwriting Competition.
FEAR UP 2011
Performed at The Dukes, Lancaster.
HAMMERMAN 2010/ 2012
The play, a musical collaboration with John Cullimore, performed at STEAM, Swindon.
TIKA – Zulu for ‘the one who liked to indulge’ – is the creation of South African professional actor Sizwe Vilakazi. It is a one man show inspired by his own life growing up in Soweto.
Sizwe Vilakazi first worked with Action Transport Theatre (ATT) as a performer in ‘Tselane’s Song’, a co-production with Vulavulani Theatre Company, Soweto, South Africa touring the UK in 2004. He subsequently toured the UK with ATT and Vulavulani co-productions of ‘Tselane’s Song’ in 2005 and 2006 and ‘Gogo’ in 2006. His South African work includes a Vulavulani Theatre Company Johannesburg tour of ‘Dumisani’s Drum’ (originally an ATT production),innumerable story telling and drama workshops in Soweto and at The National School of the Arts in Johannesburg, directing ‘Renaissance’, a youth theatre group in Soweto, and an appearance in the popular SABC soapie, ‘Zone 14′.
TIKA is a contemporary township play that is designed to give hope to the youth about their future and also to create a theatre piece that reflects a changing society in the fairly new democracy of post-apartheid South Africa.
Sizwe describes the story as follows: ‘A young boy who lives in a shack in a township alone. He has no source of income. That creates a struggle for him through school until he finishes matric. The challenge begins when he is out of school because all the support systems fall off and survival becomes a daily struggle for him. All this turns him into a criminal. The play is about him, the challenges he goes through and the choices he makes’.
THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
2007Sizwe worked with ATT and Vulavulani Theatre Company to work on the ideas and story of the play. The process focussed on trying new ways of using material and adding to and physicalising stories to create a fiction based on fact. Development time took place in Ellesmere Port, UK, and Soweto, South Africa and was led by Guy Christiansen and Louie Ingham (then ATT’s Associate Director and Projects Manager respectively), supported by Joe Sumsion (then ATT’s Artistic Director/Chief Executive). Work was put on hold partly due to a management change at ATT and partly because Vulavulani Theatre Company ceased to be a functioning company.
2009Further development took place in Soweto in April with ATT’s then Executive Director, Sarah Clover, then Chair, David Selzer, and myself, as the company’s resident photographer, working with Sizwe to re-establish the process for developing the play. It was agreed that ATT would support Sizwe in developing his play as a writer first and foremost, with a view to working with him on the production of the play in the future for young audiences in the UK. (As part the support John Clover provided Sizwe with a laptop). ATT would also support Sizwe in finding ways to test and produce the play in South Africa. During the rest of the year and into early 2010, ATT provided dramaturgical support by email and phone. As part of this process, the company arranged for Sizwe to meet Yvette Hardie– who has supported much of Sizwe’s work in South Africa since.
2010Nina Hajiyianni, then ATT’s Associate Director, David Selzer and I spent a week in South Africa in April/May 2010.
Directed by Sowetan writer/director Welile Buyeye, Sizwe rehearsed his work in progress in Piri Community Hall. He had, by now, decided to return to his former authentic and traditional form of presenting the piece – township theatre style where the performer carries a bag of basic props from venue to venue and relies on a simple form of storytelling.
The news soon spread that there was something going on in Piri Hall!
Sizwe performed at two venues in Soweto. First, the Sekano Ntoane Secondary School where most of the students had never seen any sort of live theatre so there was much excitement and anticipation.
Photography was prohibited at the Walter Sisulu Centre (a young offenders’ institution). However, three of the guards who had rigorously searched our transport on the way in were keen to pose for a photograph on the way out!
The piece was enthusiastically received by the young people at both venues. Its portrayal of township life and its key themes of poverty and of moral choices resonated with the audiences.
Sizwe also went on to perform at the National School of the Arts in Johannesburg and continued developing the work as a township play prior to coming to the UK in Autumn 2010.
SIZWE VILAKAZI AND ACTION TRANSPORT THEATRE
Sizwe saw his work with ATT in October/November 2010 as a very important part of his development as a writer.
At this time, there were also writers’ discussion groups– part of the Shell Chester Literature Festival.
TIKA was performed before an invited audience at Whitby Hall, home of ATT. This was followed by a lively Q and A at which a 20 Stories High participant from the youth workshop movingly read her poem, her response to TIKA.
In an interview with Nina in Soweto, Sizwe said, “I’ve grown as a person, I’ve started to be brave about my work…especially because of the support of ATT, because if I had no one to keep on talking about it and checking the progress, I think I would have left it.”
TIKA PERFORMANCES POST 2010
Since 2010 ‘Tika’ has been performed in a number of very different venues in South Africa either as part of a festival and or as part of an educational programme.
The MP Sir Anthony Berry was killed in the Brighton Bombing of 1984 during the Tory Party Conference. A timed bomb had been planted in his room at the Grand Hotel three weeks previously by IRA activist Pat Magee.
Magee was given multiple life sentences. He was released under the Good Friday Agreement of 1999 and has, since that time, been actively involved in work for peace.
Jo Berry, Anthony Berry’s daughter, spent many years trying to understand the reasons for the conflict, visiting Northern Ireland many times and working with victims and combatants.
Nearly twenty years after the bombing, Jo Berry and Pat Magee met. The meeting and reconciliation of these two people is a hugely powerful story about the meaning of forgiveness. The story about their meeting, their feelings at that time and since, and their subsequent friendship is to be found in a moving account on the website of The Forgiveness Project.
Kevin Dyer, the writer of THE BOMB, listened to an interview with Jo Berry on Woman’s Hour while driving to work.‘That morning, when I heard her talk about wanting to meet the man who killed her dad, I was listening to something profound, personal, political. She was talking about something intensely moving that connected to my own life.’
Arriving at Action Transport Theatre, Kevin Dyer retold what he had just heard on the radio to Joe Sumsion, Artistic Director, who immediately commissioned the writing of the play.
Still with no real idea of how or what he was going to write, he never the less knew that he must meet the two main protagonists, Jo Berry and Pat Magee.
In THE SKELETON KEY (published by, and available from, Action Transport Theatre), Kevin Dyer gives a very full account of the various meetings, conversations and locations that informed the outline of the play and aided its authenticity. It also tells how he used factual information together with facets of his own family background wrapped in a sort of cloak of imagination; bending time and space, mixing everyday language with poetry. The result is ‘a fiction based on fact; a story based on truth that has its own truth.’
The characters of the play and some of the ‘might have’ events are fictionalised.
ELIZABETH Late thirties, mother of a seventeen -year-old daughter, MARNIE. While packing to spend a weekend in Blackpool, Elizabeth receives a phone call to meet with NED, the bomber who killed her father twenty years before. A young man at the time of the bombing, he is forty-four when they meet.
LIZZIE Twenty years ago. Has just left school and about to travel to India with friends.
WILLIAM TOWNSEND MP Elizabeth’s father. At a high point in his career. A loving and adored father but on this day, the day of the bombing, is only able to spend a short time with Lizzie.
THE WOMANA psychic. Seen on the ferry carrying Elizabeth to meet Ned in Belfast.
The action of the play takes place on a Friday and during the previous twenty years. It is layered so that events are seen being acted out against other happenings and at other times. For instance, we see Elizabeth preparing to meet with the bomber against a backdrop of Ned in the hotel bedroom twenty years before. Another image shows a ‘what if’ scene – what if Elizabeth attacks Ned or if he tries to attack her?
The script of THE BOMB is published by, and available from, Action Transport Theatre and contains illuminating interviews by Sarah Clover with Jo Berry, Kevin Dyer and Director Joe Sumsion.
Jo Berry’s answer to the question, Is there ‘anything specific you would like audiencesto take away from the play besides your story?’ gets to the heart of what the play conveys so well: ‘No one needs to stay a victim, everyone can go on a journey of healing however difficult the situation. There are always alternatives to blaming which can heal the pain without continuing the cycle of violence and revenge.’
A message that is still relevant for young audiences in a world of suicide bombers, terrorists, civil war.
The images in this story are from the second of three productions of THE BOMB.
Following a performance at THE LOCKPICKERS’ BALL – a three day festival that took place in Liverpool in October, 2006 – there was a Q and A session which gave the audience of writers and theatre makers the opportunity to question Jo Berry, Pat Magee, Kevin Dyer, Joe Sumsion, Paul Dodds and Janet Bamford.
The Carlton Centre is a skyscraper and shopping centre in the heart of downtown Johannesburg. With its fifty floors – nearly half of which are below ground level – it is the tallest building in Africa. It houses offices and the largest shopping mall in South Africa. The observation deck on the fiftieth floor – known as Top of Africa – gives a panoramic view of the city and beyond.
From here, too, can be seen the traffic congestion that blights many cities. There is very little public transport from the outskirts of Johannesburg and the taxis wage a daily war to dominate the scene. Within minutes, a comparatively thin stream of vehicles is turned into traffic chaos by the torrent of taxis fighting to get their place heading into Jozi or back out to the townships.
This collection of photographs charts the making of a play for young people. It shows the bringing together of four actors and their journey to write a play collaboratively with an award-winning playwright, Kevin Dyer.
Their brief is to write a piece of theatre reflecting the life and aspirations of young people living in rural areas in Cheshire. A number of youth groups are given the opportunity to meet with the writers both on their own ground and, later, in ATT’s studio space to share their ideas and experiences of growing up in a rural environment – ‘in the sticks.’
Through the following months, as the play takes shape, readings are held with other invited groups to test out ideas. The play was originally set in America’s Midwest and, strangely, seemed to have a resonance with the young people consulted. Two of the writers felt that the piece was going in a different direction from the original. There was much debate and the setting is now pulled back to a remote part of England.
At the end of the year, a script in hand presentation of the piece is held at ATT before an invited audience. Directed by Kevin Dyer, the play is finally ‘on its feet!’Produced on the traverse with audience arranged on either side, the writers have woven a story that is based on ‘true life’ experiences and their own imagined scenarios, making a powerful piece of theatre.
An ‘end on’ production of the play is produced at the Forum Theatre, Chester, with audiences on three sides.Atmospheric guitar music is played by one of the ATT’s young writers. (There are no photographs for this production.)
TWELVE MILES FROM NOWHERE completes its brief and tours rural venues in Cheshire.
Set in a remote farm in the North of England, teenagers Michael and Emily’s lives have stood still since their mother left. Their father, James, has given up the struggle to keep the farm going but the arrival of a stranger, Craig, promises to give the opportunity for James’ luck to change. Michael and Emily soon realise that Craig has ambitions of his own– for the farm and for Emily. When Craig is forced off the farm, Michael and Emily look forward to the future – and so does James.
Production Manager Mike Francis
TWELVE MILES FROM NOWHERE is re-toured nationally with a new cast, director, and production team and produced by Karen Simpson Productions in association with ATT and Cheshire’s Rural Touring Arts. Writer Sarah Calver writes additional scenes.
‘I don’t think I have programmed a piece of theatre for a long time that has had the impact of TWELVE MILES FROM NOWHERE. The craft of the writing is apparent from the start and the script keeps you on the edge of your seat. … It’s a window into the lives of a farming family struggling to make ends meet – it’s gripping drama, funny, moving and shocking.’ Claire Smith – Cheshire Rural Touring Arts.