Brighton Year-Round 2023
Tanglehead and Tríada Productions with Band of Brothers co-creators of MindARTNet
Venue: Lantern Theatre, Brighton
Festival: Brighton Year-Round
Tanglehead/Tríada now return with Men Talking. The partnership is creating MindARTNet, a new venture, which produces work around mental health and aims to foster new connections in our community. This production is in support of A Band of Brothers, who mentor young men at risk of being involved in the criminal justice system, helping them to grow & develop and improve the communities they live in.
The end, as it inevitably must be, is a way of recollecting emotion with emotion. An inspiring act of witness, before others, and beyond ourselves.
Co-produced by Fenia Gianni (Tríada Productions), Sarah Barfoot and Mark Culmer (Tanglehead Productions), and Michael Parker (Band of Brothers) under the umbrella MindARTNet.
Set and Tech Brunstein (David Richards), Lighting and Cues Chris Williams, Lighting Advice Strat Mastoris
November 11th single event
In May the innovative Tanglehead and Tríada Productions team produced Womxn Talking. Affirming shared experience of love, trauma, mental distress above all, it was a powerfully integrated witness. And so again.
Tanglehead/Tríada now return with Men Talking. The partnership is creating MindARTNet.
“It’s a new venture, which produces work around mental health and aims to foster new connections in our community. This production is in support of A Band of Brothers, who mentor young men at risk of being involved in the criminal justice system, helping them to grow and develop and improve the communities they live in.”
It’s co-produced by Fenia Gianni (Tríada), Sarah Barfoot and Mark Culmer (Tanglehead), and Michael James Parker (A Band of Brothers) at the Lantern Theatre Brighton. Gianni and Barfoot co-direct, dividing the individuals pieces and dovetailing the whole. The production in their hands was seamless, and in performance yielded a timeless, almost hypnotic quality.
There’s an evocative dark-grunged soundtrack by Tech synth composer Brunstein (David Richards), lighting and cues from Chris Williams, lighting advice from regular NVT lighting designer Strat Mastoris who’s also one of the participants.
I must declare and interest and say I was also recruited into the ranks. As was fellow-reviewer Strat Mastoris. On balance, we agree the importance of the work’s nature is worth recording, and transcends a conflict of brief participation. Particularly in view of the poem from Gaza, less than a month old.
It is, as Ken Tynan points out, the job of a reviewer to chronicle the theatre, as well as judge it. And though I do that too, the witness remains: to record such an event and the aesthetic of both Tríada and Tanglehead, to give a sense of the evening. It might seem oblique, but the past haunts the present.
Tríada is a new female-led political theatre company that started post-covid (in 2021) and so far has had two productions: in 2021/2022 memorably, Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden (reviewed twice on FringeReview); and with greater ambition and aplomb, Dario Fo’s. Can’t Pay Won’t Pay this June, also at the Lantern. Though political their mission statement adds:
‘Tríada is also a Greco-British theatre company tackling big social issues in small, intimate, diverse spaces. We create immersive performances that provoke thought and incite conversation by dealing with the truths of the human condition.’
Tanglehead is a company whose searingly memorable Marlowe Faust directed by Rikki Tarascas I saw at the Imaginarium at Happy Cell, Davigdor Road, in late May 2012, long before I began reviewing. Split into two levels upstairs and down, with red immersive light memorably suffusing the latter, it featured a young and an older Faust, both on the edge of self-oblivion. The effect is like nothing I’ve seen since: not Kit Harrington’s slick West End Faust, the RSC that same year (2016) or the Wanamaker’s candlelit 2019. They literally couldn’t hold a candle to its occult edges and almost Lovecraft-like disturbance. That sonance, that lighting, though far more softly and generously, pitches the way to interrogate trauma here: again gently.
Tanglehead have done much since, but what they seem to explore consistently – in for instance such adaptations as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – is state of mind: mental distress, psychic alienation, alien abuse. There’s an altered state about their work that runs through over 11 years. They’re inspired by the work of Stephen Jenkinson and Orphan Wisdom, who believe:
‘That what modern Western people suffer from most is culture failure, amnesia of ancestry and deep family story, phantom or sham rites of passage, no instruction on how to live with each other or with the world around us or with our dead or with our history.’
This production features 12 men talking, and a 13th ensemble performance. Not 12 angry men, but those disappointed, hurt, sometimes raging but mostly able to articulate levels of experience from male body-pumping ideation through the loss of a child, though racist-imposed identity to bi-polar and schizo-affective states. And then there’s a few quiet states of mind, elegiac, simply expressed.
Red, green and white lighting sculpt and alternate through the studio space. Men walk slowly on and off, embrace or touch their predecessor in a simple act of affirmation; and cede the place. There’s a chair some sit on, though about eight stood. The audience of around 50 closely knit round in a horseshoe.
Edward Garcia Where are you from?
Written and performed by Garcia, this monologue unpacks an unusual experience: someone from the Philippines is not easily pigeon-hold and experiences levels of casual and more interrogative racism with the over-familiar trope seeded then flourishing like a horrible litany.
What Garcia holds uniquely is his heritage others try slotting into being simply Asian, and at the other extreme he’s assured: “you’re one of us” which carries not only the oblivious othering and owning of the majority white population, but a kind of further alienating: a denial of difference of a ‘mate’ whilst tacitly pursuing it. Garcia registers all of this.
The litanic “I didn’t react” “I kept my head down” is in itself a blow self-administered, and Garcia inhabits his own experience with authority and grace.
Edwin Brock Five ways to kill a man – performed by Daniel Finlay
The Lantern’s co-director Daniel Finlay selected and performed this well-known poem by Edwin Brock, long a TIE standard, but frankly one of those classics that ought to be on every syllabus. The final lines:
These are, as I began, cumbersome ways to kill a man.
Simpler, direct, and much more neat is to see
that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.
do furnish perhaps the most striking of the evening. Finlay a consummate actor brings this off with just the right heft and witness, the sad aplomb that’s like a Bomb Culture shrug.
Fenia Gianni Fear performed by Javier Rasero
Written by Fenia Gianni and performed by Javier Rasero this work cusps states of distress that Rasero renders almost aphasic, mute, those worlds difficult of access and furiously internalised. It’s a remarkable still-point in the turning world of witness.
Jake Parker A man talking – performed by Michael James Parker and Jake Parker
Here the only real prop was deployed: a male mannequin ventriloquised behind the front-facing audience by Parker as the lighting flashed on and off to synchronise with speech and silence.
The notion of alienated man, the quality of being a hallucinated automata, is brought out performatively. The two-voice call and refrain was haunting, though I’m not entirely absorbed in the dramaturgy. I was at the back and parallel with the voices, so perhaps was in the wrong position. Jake Parker performed the hallucinated man, and Michael James Parker the narrator.
Again, the dehumanising was cslearly delineated, the flashing on and off of light round the puppet as words are shuttered off render something ultimately disturbed, disturbing and remarkably like animating a golem, and putting him to sleep with a bludgeon of light.
Steven Chusak Healthy body, healthy mind
One of the strongest pieces, written and performed by Steven Chusak, this addresses the fissures of male ideation, in the form of trainer Max, and the aspiring young man feeling “weedy” and pumping iron. The very impact of the exhortative verbs and protein fillers the press-ups and vitamin intake, are in themselves the calory and protein of the piece.
Chusak delivers with a relentless pumping vocality straight out of a training manual pitched not as high as surreality, but beyond sanity. Chusak also delves down into ingredients as he runs a different voice at rapid-fire signing-off on the day’s particular toxins. And plays a voice that quite deliberately nags against its toxic self – the patter-song of those “proteins” and intakes that round like clogging footnotes through the arteries.
The body’s screaming but of course what’s really howling is the inner man burnt against his own iron rules; a man divorced from his emotions. Max proclaims on this or that weakness: he performs vocal sucker-punches on the nameless protagonist like some operatic devil.
Chusak ostensibly records a rippling body– is he himself almost too strong for the man he portrays? – and rippled-apart mind as the sheer abusiveness of the relationship is brought out. It’s memorable, authentic, literally chiselled out of testosterone and flung in its entire crazed world by Chusak.
Strat Mastoris, Constantin Cavafy Ithaka
Theatre reviewer as well as professional photographer and theatre lighting designer (partly for this show) Strat Mastoris builds a monologue, quietly delivered from the chair. Ever generous, he even mentions this writer as a co-reviewer. Mastoris continually pitches himself as a wondering interloper. But slips in amused, that he’s on a course here to write a play about Helen of Troy. How Cavafy would have loved that.
‘Ithaka’s one of the great 20th century poems, from its greatest Greek poet Constantin Cavafy Greek Alexandrian (1863-1933) who’s also the finest gay poet of that century. Mastoris, half-Greek though straight finds in Cavafy an analogue of joyous of furtive witness, and quotes several poems like ‘At the Tobacconist’s’ before moving into Ithaka entire.
This indeed is a climax, yet he moves beyond it too.“… Ithaka gave you the beautiful journey./Ithaka was the reason you set out./Poor as she is, Ithaka has nothing to give you now./Rich in the wisdom of your journey,/you’ll have understood by now, what these Ithakas mean.” Quietly, authoritatively spoken in a rapt attention, it was the cool breeze and turning point.
Trefor Levins split
Written and performed by Levins with a haunted authority, this is a remarkable witness (fictive and other) of breakdown, of the fissures that assail both bi-polarity and in a way we don’t fully understand, schizo-affective disorders. There’s many reasons for distress, even psychosis. Shrouding his head for part of the performance, baring it in a gaunt stab of personal witness, Levins conjure a memorable shadow against the deep red/green gloom.
What Levins manages though is not to normalise this and give it a human dimension so much as to show himself as a normative man cusping conditions that edge about and form scollops around the edges of a mind. What Levins manages is to set up a kind of other, a sense of the damaged brother he might walk from or embrace but is brother to us all.
Simon Jenner Blue, Yellow
The one comic moment of the evening was provided by myself in that no-one had actually told me I was performing this monologue till I arrived. Another poem of personal witness (of me at 10) had been accepted and as I put it, they’d better bloody have a copy of this – or I’d have to rush back and print one off. Happily there was one, and a brief re-acquaintance with one of four monologues I wrote in mid-late August followed. I was infinitely happier to perform this, and am grateful it was plucked out of samples sent some while back.
Blue, Yellow is in fact an act of denial. Imagine a future Ukraine where generally victorious against a sanction-sucked Russia (a lessening prospect as I write, sadly), various abducted Ukraine children, fully Russianised and 15 years on, are brought to their original parents.
Lighting was often white to aid the text, which I referred to surreptitiously; rather grateful I’d had the wit to send it in 16 point. I gestured to the light as buttery (white light, thanks Strat and Chris) and the overarching imagined blue of the ceiling.
This is a piece where the relentless silence and interrogative stare of the father is suggested, with a few key prompts. The psychic disturbance can be imagined.
Even poets and critics have their moments, and I’m used to delivering poems of a psychotic nature.
In truth the overwhelming moment of the evening lies in the adjacent worlds coming before and behind me, the brief affirmative touch, and the measured walk, the kind you time a line with, as you move out (my walk was one of the longest) and return.
Mark Culmer Psychosis performed by Steven Chusak
Mark Culmer’s another writer/performer, and co-producer of this show. His work was modestly brief, compacted into a witness of suffering, lyrically taut, strangely muted with power in reserve.
Chusak’s a very still performer, at least on this occasion, and the presence he evokes, in light that’s muted one more, is of the fury channelled into normative actions and the actions of the day that are anything but, but taking on a presence and a sense of standing beside the person you are. I wish I could quote some of it, as the effect was spectral and evanescent, difficult to grasp and net in words
Paul Teej Panic & Bliss
The next two works are related. This, written and performed by Paul Teej, is that enormous yes, that moment of total affirmation as a man waits beside his partner as she goes through the final stages of labour and gives birth. “staring into the face of the woman you love” as she goes through agonies. Teej conjures the mans’ helpless love, unable to do more than offer love, support and hope the pain can be lessened.
The build-up, the panic of possible premature birth, and the range of panics that afflict and affect most of us is vividly inhabited and bodied in such simple, active verbs and descriptive aftershocks that you’re in the moment, and joyous with Teej as he delivers himself, his child with his partner, again in the spotlit hospital confines the world he invokes gives onto. It’s an essential high-point.
Duncan Passmore Grief’s Sister performed by Jack Kristiansen
This, performed by the consummate and superbly-taut Jack Kristiansen is something of a departure for this actor. It’s certainly one of the very finest texts of the evening. It deals, as Kristiansen delivers on a Kindle set, with the death foretold of a son, nearing 12. His death indeed had been foretold 11 years earlier, and though this happens in January, it’s not predicted and could come at any time. The strange harrowing, with Kristiansen hunched delicately over his reader, is mesmerising.
Kristiansen invokes the exquisitely wrought, terrible beauty of this script. What Passmore defiantly evokes is how beauty is next to grief, that the latter at least never exists without the former.
Alongside this piece is printed (on the reverse of the performance sheet) a poem of Rilke’s a poem ‘The Man Watching’ (translated from The Book of Images 1906, by Robert Bly, famed for Iron John latterly, of which more anon) that seems in essence a first essay into those regions where he writes in the first Duino Elegy of 1911-12:
For beauty is nothing but the first apprehension
of the terrible that we’re still just able to bear,
in its calm refusal to annihilate us
We’re referred directly to Rilke’s ‘The Man Watching’ which is quoted in its entirety on the reverse of the programme, setting this up as a culmination of the evening. Its beauty is more that of letting the storm overmaster you, and Bly, whose translation is quite creative (compare to the exquisite, exact Edward Snow) has kneaded this poem into more than a portent of later Rilke:
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.
In Passmore’s text, more than the Rilke is broached and to be honest, however miraculous Rilke is, he never suffered the death of a child. In fairness Rilke would have been insufferably philosophical. He declined to attend his daughter’s wedding because it might interfere with a coming poem.
Passmore though finds something more visceral, more absolutely harrowed, a penumbra almost a lighting around the darkness like a double, or a sister, even brother, of beauty beside the flattening grief. This spectral feeling matches the most intense of the evening, as we’re brought by Passmore through a thread of personal grief to a place where we’re asked to contemplate beauty side by side with an almost eschatological mourning. The text, as Kristiansen later said, owns something miraculous; and in performance has an importunity, a hovering, which can be quite overwhelming.
Nadine Murtaja Untitled performed by Derek Horsham
As an addenda there was an exquisitely performed piece by Derek Horsham, written by an 18-year-old about the current conflict in Gaza:
“we walk on the shattered glass of our broken windows,
we walk on stones that once were a house, carrying stories and secrets,
we walk with the screams of children, and the groans of mothers pulsating over and over in our ears.”
After the Passmore came almost as a terrible benediction on just surviving. Little more could be added. Save that though written by a young woman, it’s voiced by a man; and is, in an ungendered experience, a universal woe.
After the overarching of the previous work it seemed like a draining of the perilous into fragile affirmation. A quiet yes.
Michael James Parker and Adam Bloomberg 100%
This work performed by the two authors: Michael James Parker has led the event as Community Conductor from the poetry development. Together with mentee Adam Bloomberg this emerges as an enduring set of affirmative steps, from crash to recovery. There’s much in this of the nature of Parker’s work and indeed Bloomberg’s witness.
There’s something infinitely tender in the mutual regard of two men who’ve helped each other in very different ways to reach an emotional nakedness: to clear away some truly poisoned conditioning.
To focus too much on the restorative relationship would be intrusive, but it was and remains unique in that it reaches a mutual lifting from the shadows, a work in collaboration and not solitude, a work of brotherhood and healing in its mutual reach.
The 100% poem is a chant, spoken aloud. Exuberant, heartwarming, it harks back to 17th century Ranter anaphoras (like so many post-1950s/Beat works from that tradition). Incorporating twists on Henry V it launches:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers and sisters,
We riskers of life and limb, or, at the very least, of our pockets,
Our wallets or our popular social standing, for all that we believe in,
We stand together.
Parker knows how to subvert. The first line below quotes poet Alfred O’Shaugnessy (1844-81) remembered because Elgar’s 1912 choral work set his words; and its last line explicitly the 17th century in this freewheeling litany:
We, the music makers and we, the dreamers of dreams,
We, the Hopers, Komedians and Jubilee Librarians,
We, free-rangers, forest rangers, lone rangers, power rangers,
We mentors, mentees, men trying and meant-to-bes,
We sun-kissed, clench-fist, anarchist activists,
We cyclers, recyclers, freecyclers, menstrual cyclers, post-menstrual cyclers,
We tree-huggers, ear-muggers, levellers and diggers
Whilst the penultimate line might sit uneasily, there’s absolutely no doubt the power and release of this work overall gives a wild permission and authentic locale; its execution is thrilling. Brighton’s particularity opens to the universal.
Ensemble and Finale
Finally the whole group is borne on stage to a piece of which the first lines are redolent of poet and translator Robert Bly and his 1990 Iron John. This is a study and indeed manual of male vulnerability and strength, curiously thewed and occasionally dotty (hollering in a supermarket hemmed in by trolleys), but also laying down much of the territory explored by others.
By Joolz Denby
Our mothers’ mothers, our grandfathers’ grandfathers,
they were the link they spoke in the voice of the storm,
their power was the everlasting breaking of the waves,
the bright days’ repetition and the seasons’ rolling wheel.
Oh, of all the wicked things you did to us,
listen Christian, close to me,
of all the violence done on your messiah’s name,
the worst and the most subtle was you robbed us of our ancestors,
you cut the path behind us and you took away our names.
This was one piece. Another touched on the emblematic north and west; words and indeed texts flowed seamlessly. It continued a while and because it stitched together the feel was a little more amorphous than the obvious clarity inherent in the sequenced performances.
The end, as it inevitably must be, is a way of recollecting emotion with emotion. An inspiring act of witness, before others, and beyond ourselves.