OMNIBUS THEATRE SUMMER SEASON | Introduced by Artistic Director Marie McCarthy

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Welcome to Omnibus Theatre’s fifth summer season. We open with Whispers From The Walls, a programme of work inspired by the heritage of our old Library building, a former repository of books, a place of shelter and learning. Discover more than 25 separate events celebrating the power of words, theatre and the traditional art of storytelling.

We kick off with Memories of Fiction: The Living Library, a collaboration between Seadog Theatre Company and the University of Roehampton’s findings about people’s memories when they read and how for some, reading simply saved their lives. Do go and immerse yourself in this interactive book world they have created. Find yourself a seat, a space, a corner and get lost in language in all its many wonderful guises.

Later, the brilliant Crick Crack Club bring the tradition of aural storytelling south of the river. This season we also give voice to new writing and work by women with Non Parent Trap, Bicycles and Fish, The Power of the Crone and the quirky and hilarious La Manche: The Sleeve.

Featured on our front cover is an adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper, this short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in 1892, has been contemporised by this timely and relevant dramatisation.

Sunday Music showcases rising stars in both the operatic and jazz world, from Shakespearean Summers and XOGA to the hottest musicians from the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Summer rounds off with an extended programme of Edinburgh Fringe previews. Due to popular demand we present two weeks of sneak peeks here in Clapham. A selection of riotous fringe-worthy shows will be testing their material before heading off to the world’s largest arts festival. And, we might just be hosting a top comedian or two. We’ll keep you posted.


Marie McCarthy



Artistic Director, Omnibus Theatre

BLOG: Sarah Chew on Beyond Borders

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The Beyond Borders mini-season, supported by Arts Council England, is showing from 13-25 March at Omnibus Theatre. Sarah Chew is the writer and director of Lipstick: A Fairytale of Modern Iran.

In 2010, just after the failed Green Uprising (the political movement that arose after the 2009 Iranian presidential election, in which protesters demanded the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office), I went to Iran on a theatre residency. The experience changed my life.

I met some incredible artists, I saw some incredible performances, and I saw at first hand what it looked like to keep making sincere, charged, powerful art, even under the threat of censorship and imprisonment.

At that time, Iran was part of a collection of Middle Eastern territories the US Government still titled “the Axis of Evil”. The title coloured my assumptions of what I would find there – assumptions which were challenged, on a daily basis, throughout my stay.

I would have loved to work more with the artists I met, but the relationship between our two countries makes getting visas and setting up projects almost impossible.

Beyond Borders is a new mini season at the Omnibus Theatre, supported by Arts Council England. It’s presented by a collection of female theatre artists who care about intercultural communication and collaboration, and feel passionately about the need to address the rise in hard borders and cultural and ethnic exclusion – from a political and from a personal perspective. This year, the focus is on Britain and the Middle East.

The season is a series of conversations and provocations, across a British/Middle Eastern axis, around my sadness and anger at this, my desire to counter the fear and Othering that borders can bring, and my commitment to using what I learned in Iran to celebrate community and continuity at home.

Sadly, we don’t have to look too far outside the edges of our own nation to see borders that threaten our capacity to engage with people we see as different to ourselves. What does Brexit do to our perceptions of people we see as Other? What does the threat of a hard border in Ireland do to our already heightened fear of terrorism?

What role does tightened immigration here, and our Government’s tacit acceptance of Trump’s travel bans in the US, play in this? How do we fight to keep our personal, emotional borders open, while all around us, governments build physical and ideological walls?

And what does our Foreign Office’s apparent abandonment of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, currently imprisoned without fair trial in Tehran’s notorious Evin Women’s Prison, say about our national attitudes to those on the wrong side of a difficult border? What power do we have to say: not in my name?These questions can be explored verbally, but it’s sometimes easier to confront such ideas in non-verbal formats. Sometimes, removing language as the primary means of communication can provide a shortcut through anxiety and terminology and towards more instinctive engagement.

Beyond Borders includes: Lipstick, a play I’ve written about my experiences in Iran; dance workshop Private Dancers: Belly to Burlesque; drawing class Drawing A Veil; and a children’s storytelling event, encouraging three- to seven-year-olds and their families to consider these issues through story, puppetry and play.

So, we invite you to join the conversation, on whatever level appeal to you: audience member, conference participant, dancer, artist, or parent. Let’s see what we can do to make our communities, local and global, truly inclusive.

Beyond Borders is a mini-season at Omnibus Theatre, running until March 25. Find out more HERE

BLOG: In Conversation With // Alcyona Mick & Tori Freestone Duo

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We sat down with Alcyona Mick, a musician at the forefront of the UK jazz scene, ahead of her upcoming gig at Omnibus as part of the Alcyona Mick & Tori Freestone Duo.

OMNIBUS THEATRE: How did you meet and when did you start collaborating?

ALCYONA MICK: We have played together in the London Jazz Orchestra for many years and started working as a duo after playing Monk tunes on a project in Tenerife. Manchester Jazz festival gave us our first platform in 2015, where we performed at the beautiful St Ann’s church.

OT: Describe your genre of music in 5 words.

AM: Dynamic, Intriguing, heartfelt, explorative, inviting

OT: Describe a little further your ‘unusual use and fusing of instrumentation’?

AM: This refers to our backgrounds working with many different artists. We’ve both worked with everything from 18 piece big-bands, to chordless trios, to playing solo gigs alongside silent film.

I’ve worked in North Africa, Middle East and Turkey with many musicians, Tori has worked with artists such as Brazilian musician Hermeto Pascoal, Cuban salsa bands and has a background playing English folk music as a child.

OT: Do you ever find it slightly constraining only using 2 instruments to perform jazz ?

AM: Actually I find the opposite. I have more freedom as a pianist to use the whole piano whilst playing and don’t feel the need to ‘fill in’ for bass or drums at any point because it’s a totally different, more open sound. In fact sometimes Tori accompanies me on Sax. It’s more of a conversation between the two of us. Tori has the opportunity to use the natural resonance of her instrument which can sometimes be lost when playing with a full band.

OT: How do you hope audiences will feel leaving your performance at Omnibus Theatre?

AM: I hope they will enjoy whatever elements of the gig speak to them the most. We hope to make it an uplifting experience. We have a large range of influences in our material and playing and hope that there is something for everyone to take away.

Catch Alcyona Mick & Tori Freestone Duo at Omnibus Theatre on Sunday 18th March – get your tickets HERE

BLOG: In Conversation With // Paola Dionisotti

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We sat down with theatre-veteran and star of our upcoming staging of The FeverPaola Dionisotti to talk about her relationship with the theatre, Wallace Shawn‘s staging of The Fever and her part in the HBO monster-hit Game of Thrones… 

Omnibus Theatre: How did your career in acting begin Paola? 

Paola Dionisotti: Okay! Well I was born in Turin in Northern Italy. My family moved to England when I was just two. My parents, determined that we should have the best possible education sent my two sisters and myself to a highly academic school – sadly academia was not my comfort zone. But I did have inspirational teachers of English who introduced me to Shakespeare. I was hooked! By the time I left, I had assayed Titania, Feste, Henry V, Hamlet, Mark Antony, Touchstone, Falstaff and Cleopatra! No gap year for me, I went straight on to train under Yat Malmgren, John Blatchley and Christopher Fettes, at the newly formed Drama Centre London.

OT: What did you do when you left drama school?

PD: My first two jobs were at the Royal Court Theatre for William Gaskill and Jane Howell. Armed with my Equity card I then headed for repertory theatres round the country, a season at the old Phoenix Theatre in Leicester, two seasons at the Liverpool Everyman and a year of amazing parts for the very unique Glasgow Citizens Theatre Run by the magnificent triumvirate Giles Havergal, Philip Prowse and the late Robert David Macdonald. I had always been drawn to what has been called alternative or experimental theatre, so when the opportunity to join the Freehold came up I grabbed it! This was followed by a stint with Steven Berkoff and his London Theatre Group helping to create his production of Kafka’s The Trial.

OT: What prompted your return to main stream theatre?

PD: Well a group of actors from the Actors’ Company came to see a production of The Provok’d Wife that David Hare had directed me in for Watford. Bob Ringwood (ex Citz theatre designer) had created the most exquisite outfit for my French maid. They invited me to join them. They were Main Stream in the sense of all having high profiles in traditional theatre, a magnificent bunch of thesps; Ian McKellen (a well-earned ‘Sir’!), Ted Petherbridge, Caroline Blakiston, Sheila Reid to name but a few, but we ran the company and that was not remotely mainstream! It was exhilarating. I did two season’s on the road with them which included the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a season at Wimbledon and a season at BAM in New York ; plus Knots – a show devised by Edward Petherbridge based on RD Laing’s book of the same name, and then filmed by the late wonderful David Munro. Exhausted, I then returned home and decided to start a family.

OT: Tell us more about your wonderful experience in theatre…

PD: Well at Stratford East, still under Joan’s direction, Max Shaw produced Chris Bond’s Sweeney Todd (that Sondheim came to see – and the rest is history!) I played Sweeney’s abandoned wife, busking outside the theatre every night before the show. This was followed shortly after by my first double season at the RSC, Stratford and the Aldwych. The plays in those seasons were the Taming of the Shrew with Jonathan Pryce, Measure for Measure where I played Isabella and Anthony and Cleopatra where I played Charmian, this time to Glenda Jackson’s Cleopatra for the terrifying Peter Brook.

Since then, I’ve worked all over the country and abroad with fabulous and inspirational directors: Yuri Lyubimov; Yukio Ninegawa; Irina Brown; Howard Davies; Mike Alfreds; Katie Mitchell (twice – at the Gate and the National); John Tiffany; Josie Rourke; Vicky Featherstone (through whom I first encountered David Greig, the man responsible for my obsession with The Fever ) – Vicky now runs the Royal Court and has just been named Gender Equality Champion at the Women in the Creative Industries Awards, congratulations; Roxana Silbert, who has been a big supporter of The Fever; and last but by no means least my wonderful director of The Fever, and dear friend James Robert Carson.

OT: You’re a pretty recognisable face on the silver screen as well…

PD: My first tellies were an episode of a series called Village Hall in 1975 and Crown Court in 1976. It’s a good medium to be working in when one is bringing up a family…short bursts of work and in those days good money. Most recently I’ve been in the weird and wonderful Game of Thrones and had the pleasure of performing alongside Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant among others in the film Florence Foster Jenkins.

OT: Which is your true love?

Theatre. The Live Event. It’s immediacy. The uniqueness of each show. The danger, the instant connection you can make, or indeed fail to make with the audience! I am so excited to share Wallace Shawn’s The Fever with you all. He wrote the play for us – see you at Omnibus Theatre… Only three nights, buy tickets, be there!

The Fever will run at Omnibus Theatre for three nights only, 27th-29th March. Do not miss this landmark theatrical event. Buy tickets now by clicking here→

BLOG: International Women’s Day 2018 // What does IWD mean to you?

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What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

We’re interested to know, so we reached out to Omnibus collaborators and members of the Omnibus team to find out their answer.

Rhian Davies Producer (Creative Learning), Omnibus Theatre

“A chance to celebrate progress and to acknowledge the journey left to navigate.”


Stella Duffy Writer and Theatre-maker, Co-Director Fun Palaces

“IWD to me is about remembering with gratitude those who came before and fought for the freedoms we now have. It is about being aware of the huge amount still to do to achieve genuine equality for all. It is knowing that we do this work not just for ourselves, but for those to come.”



Diana Whitehead PR and Communications Manager, Omnibus Theatre

“Telling those untold stories about women who made a bold contribution in their lives. Giving those fearless groundbreakers a voice.”


Jenifer Toksvig Writer and Theatre-maker

“We women are of course an international tribe, and there is so much diverse and desperate work to be done for us, in so many places in the world. I am continuously horrified by the suffering and humbled by the strength of womankind. We must each of us be aware of the others, and speak up on behalf of the others. Not only for those we see in our own lives, but for all of those who must fight just to keep living their lives.”



Felicity Paterson Senior Producer, Omnibus Theatre

“Support for all my sisters not just my cis-ters!”


Briony O’Callaghan Artistic Director, Created a Monster

“I feel sad that we need an International Women’s Day. Do we only get a day? Can we formally name every day International Women’s Day? We do make up 51% of the population after all. Let us celebrate womanhood whenever we want to. Just like we should celebrate love on occasions other than St. Valentine’s Day. Women deserve more than a day. We are not a niche, nor a minority. We shouldn’t have to remind the world that we exist. We are the world.”


Jeremy Wong Development Officer, Omnibus Theatre

“A reminder of all the work that still needs to be done to achieve equality and equity!”



BLOG: International Women’s Day 2018 // Interview with Marie McCarthy

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We sat down with Marie McCarthy, Artistic Director of the Omnibus Theatre, ahead of International Women’s Day to ask her a few questions.

OMNIBUS THEATRE: Hi Marie, how will you be spending this International Women’s Day?

MARIE MCCARTHY: I’ll be here, working.

OT: Which female theatre makers have influenced or inspired you?

MM: Joan Littlewood – her belief that there’s genius in every person, her fight, her galvanising force as a director. Kathryn Hunter, Lucy Kirkwood, Nina Raine, fantastic. There’s just so many.

OT: What would you say are the main challenges facing women in the theatre industry?

MM: Less opportunities to write, direct, make work. Once more women are writing, then more parts for women, more stories about a range of subjects. It’s improving thanks to Women’s Equality Party, ERA 50:50, SDUK and a recent rise in small and medium venues making call outs for writers but we need more women leading organisations , creating work and being decision makers.

OT: What does Omnibus do to ensure collaborations with talented female artists?

MM: When I’m programming I’m actively looking for female theatre makers and directors, because there’s a wealth of talent out there. I’m in the fortunate position to create opportunities. I’m interested in female voices, in those stories.

OT: What tips would you give to aspiring women in the theatre industry?

MM: Find women who are running buildings, be bold, email them and tell them about your work and why they should read your script, meet you. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, find that belief in yourself. If there is nothing else you can do but work in theatre, then do not give up, persevere.


BLOG: The North! The North! // Christopher Harrison

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The North! The North! is a ‘stunningly immersive’ myth ‘of staggering beauty’, fusing extreme physical storytelling with spellbinding animation to create ‘proper theatrical magic, as dark as it comes’ – Exeunt. 

We sat down with Christopher Harrison to talk about his critically acclaimed play, The North! The North! Heading to Omnibus Theatre Thurs 1 – Sat 3 March.

Omnibus Theatre: Can you tell us how you conceived the idea for The North! The North!

Christopher Harrison: The show is inspired by a whole bunch of things: myths, graphic novels, northern neo-noir (like Get Carter and the Red Riding books by David Peace) and magical realism. It’s an exploration of myth-making as a response to trauma, framed as a revenge thriller. I’d been thinking about making a show to do with ‘the north’ for quite some time (I’m from Yorkshire) and I’m fascinated by myth and the way people construct narratives about themselves – this might be personal, or it might be as part of a larger group- or region, or country- and magical realism is a fantastic way to explore these ideas as it allows me to look at the world from a different angle. All these threads have collected into the show that is The North! The North! I did some initial research and development then had a longer period of refining the show before premiering it at Edinburgh Fringe. It’s been on a long journey (I started sketching ideas for it in 2014) and it’s fascinating to see the distance its travelled to be the show it is now.

OT: As a play focusing on the North, we are curious to know how much of your childhood in Huddersfield has been an influence on this production?

CH: There’s a lot of local references in the show to Yorkshire, some of which are very specific to my memories. I thought this was important because I wanted to keep the reality of the world I know present within the story, even when everything is completely surreal and strange. I’m curious about regional identity. I now live in Bristol, which has a very strong idea of its identity, as does much of the South West. Sometimes I feel ‘northern’ and sometimes I don’t – I think its an identity that exists in opposition to a dominant culture. Northerners are northern in defiance of the perceived cultural, economic and social biases towards London and the south east. How much one fits within these parameters changes frequently. Those feelings are complex and I have been thinking about them in some way for a long time.

OT: You use animation and illustration in your plays a lot. How do you combine these mediums with live performance and what does it add to the production as a whole?

CH: I like writing impossible things. This might be characters that are monstrous or England splitting in two, or a whole host of other things that would be difficult to portray on stage. Animation and illustration offer one way to explore the representation of that (in both a realist and abstract way) as does mime, narration, puppetry and the other staging effects I employ. When integrating projection into the show, we decided that we wanted to avoid traditional ‘screens’ as much as possible. The animations has to exist inside the world so anything can be a projection surface – tables, clothes, bodies, props etc. I view elements external to the performer (design, lighting, sound, projection) as partners, almost like other actors, all working together to tell the story. We’ve only succeeded when the story can’t be told if one of those elements is missing.

OT: Having trained with the acclaimed French mime and acting school Ecole Jacques Lecoq, what particular influences of the technique/acting style do you utilise when performing or devising theatre.

CH: All sorts. Training at the school is described as a journey and its one that doesn’t end once the two years is finished. So sometimes it’s difficult to put a finger on exactly what techniques I’m using. I use some technical skills I learnt (mime and so on) but the real influences of the school feel less tangible to me. The further and further away I get from the school, the less I feel influenced on a literal level, but other influences – about making theatre, the relationship between artist and audience, the grains of humanity within my work – are stronger and show themselves in what I put on stage.

OT: What should audiences expect to experience when they visit Omnibus for The North! The North!

CH: I make story-led work with an immersive, cinematic aesthetic. It’s not for the really squeamish or those under 14, but I’d hate to dissuade anyone from giving it a go. They might like fantasy, magical realist literature or noir, or just enjoy a funny, dark theatrical experience. Fans of graphic novels will enjoy it (I’ve even made a comic to go with the show), so there’s something for lots of people. I’d like audiences when they leave to feel like they’re entering the real world again after an extraordinary adventure.

It’s a show I’m really proud of – I’ve put a huge amount into this show, as have the talented creatives working on it. It’s a piece created with passion; a desire to tell a great story about subjects that mean a lot to me. If you want to see a show about contemporary England and a moving study of personal tragedy, but with terrible creatures, darkness and magic, you’ve come to the right place. Here be monsters.

OT: After you’re done touring with The North! The North! what new projects do you have in the pipeline?

CH: I’m working on a few things. There’s some writing and illustration projects that are ongoing, mostly aimed at younger audiences, that are taking up some of my time already. For adult audiences, I’m starting work on a new show called Collectiv about collective action and working together to imagine a better future. It looks like it’ll be a while in development because it’s quite ambitious, but watch this space. I tend to announce things on my website and Twitter/Facebook, so keep an eye on those.

The North! The North! will be at Omnibus Theatre from Thursday 1 – Saturday 3 March at 7:30pm. Tickets are £12 | £10 concessions. To buy your ticket now click here→

BLOG: #96FESTIVAL // Drag me To Love

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We sat down with Bonnie & The Bonnette’s, stars of 96 Festival highlight Drag Me To Love. Read the interview below where we talk about art, drag and 96 Festival.


Omnibus Theatre: What inspired the concept of Bonnie and The Bonnettes, how did you begin to develop your characters? 

Bonnie & The Bonnettes: The show concept came before the characters, and us as a trio. This has been the great thing about making this show. We knew we wanted to tell Cameron’s story but we had no idea how. A big part of our making was creating the world for the story to sit in, then the characters to live in it. Since it is an autobiographical story, we wanted to create a space that brought the club that Cameron used to work in back to life. It’s dingy. It’s sticky. It’s smells of sweat, cheap cocktails, and hairspray. But it’s beautiful. A glittery beacon of hope, power, and expression for a boy from Doncaster. It’s a space that moves with the story, following Cameron as he throws himself into a pair of 6-inch stilettos. It’s being back at school. It’s being at the club. On a train. In toilets. On stage. In the dressing rooms. At university. Then back to the stage.

It’s the job of our characters to navigate the audience through this and we love doing it! We are very proud mums! The characters are heightened versions of ourselves. We wanted to place ourselves in this world.  This is where the concept of Bonnie and The Bonnettes was born. We each contribute to telling the story but comment on it from different perspectives. There are also other characters that we meet on the way too; a chain-smoking bar owner called Elaine, a fiercely protective drag mum called Darcy, and an older bitter queen called Veronica.

Our characters have evolved, grown up, and found themselves in the two years the show has been in the making for, as well various cabaret gigs that we do. We are constantly finding new things about them, creating new traits, battling new inner turmoil’s, and even finding an obsession with Josh Groban!

OT: What can audiences coming to see Drag Me to Love expect and how would you like audiences to feel when they leave the theatre?

B&TB: At its heart, Drag Me to Love is about identity, perseverance, and self-expression.  It’s not a totally positive story but we like to think it has a cheeky charm. A smile. It’s a story told through drag performance and everything that comes with it; make-up, costumes, flashing lights, power stances, dance numbers, 80’s pop anthems, and glitter! Oh, there is also a spot of BONNIE TYLER! It’s the ultimate night out that speaks to anyone who has ever been the outcast, ever questioned themselves, or ever being unsure of who they are. It’s for those who dance in the kitchen to Tina Turner, those who cannot hold back on eyeliner, and those who find glitter in weird places after a night out! It’s cheesy, but we want people to leave the theatre loving themselves a little bit more and as if they have the tools (and songs) to which they can take on the world outside!

OT: Which artists do you love the most right now?

B&TB: Our reference points come from everywhere. It can be a song, a film, an image, the way someone walks, or a story we tell each other. To pick a few artists we are loving, it would have to start with RASHDASH because they make us want to rebel. In Bed with my Brother because they make us want to make lots of noise and dance. Figs in Wigs because they can pull off the colour green (we can’t). We also loved How to Win Against History by Seiriol Davies as it makes us want to look into our history and find out things, ask questions, and wear more dresses!

We also run a seasonal queer/alternative cabaret night in Newcastle at Alphabetti Theatre called The BonBons Cabaret. It features various incredible artists and they constantly surprise us with what they come up with and how their brains work. As a region of artists we have lots to say and it’s great to be part of providing a platform for their work.

OT: What role do the arts have to play in celebrating and progressing queer culture? 

B&TB: Everything. The arts are a space for us to reveal something about ourselves, tell our stories, and represent our communities. Though, it is down to us to be both celebratory and progressive in the ways in which we do these things. For us, it’s not just about being on stage and being queer but rather to share something, offer something, or reveal something. This is what queerness is to us. We now have control and as such there is a responsibility to represent our communities and culture in a way that is fun, exciting, and honest. This does not mean leaving out the negatives but rather paying attention to the whole experience. How does this personal story represent the wider community?

This is something we were aware of when making Drag Me to Love. Yes, we wanted to offer an insight into a particular story and allow for that to reflect on drag culture. But, the story is much more than this. It is about human experience and this is something that is relatable to all. It is about identity, gender, youth, hope, and self-expression. We wanted to use Cameron’s accounts to allow for a representation of a male LGBTQ+ identity that is raw, honest, and celebratory. Drag culture allows for play, expression, and illusion and this piece comments on Cameron’s journey as he wrestles with who he should be and the creation of an alter ego. Through this we wanted to challenge the preconceived ideas surrounding drag performance, educating audiences, and allowing this story to celebrate wider drag/queer culture.

OT: Tell us a bit about your upcoming project and She

B&TB: It’s our second show and we are very excited! Moving onto our second show we wanted to stay in the in the realms of auto/biography, but in a totally different world – our mums. We want to explore the identities/relationships/communities of a different era as we tell their stories, dance to their music, and share their views on the world. We wanted to ask how can we take our mums stories/views and put them in our world of queer performance and storytelling? We want to talk about their hopes, their regrets, and their views on the world. From women’s liberation, LGBTQ+ rights, having children, and settling down in retirement.

The initial research period for this show was supported by the NEADN scheme with a residency at Gala Theatre (Durham). During this week our mum’s came into the space with us. We recorded interviews, conversations, and discussions which we are now transcribing (there is a lot!). We will be using as the foundations of the piece. It will be their coming-of-age story and it will be the longest cup of tea we have ever had with our mums.

Drag Me To Love is bringing the sparkle to Omnibus Theatre Sat 3 Feb, grab your glitter and buy your ticket by clicking here.


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Omnibus Theatre: Were you already a writer/performer 15 years ago (please give your background) and how soon did you realise you were living in some kind of treasure trove?

Jolie Booth: I’ve been a performer all of my life, since my parents were called into school when I was just six years old because the teacher was concerned that instead of concentrating on my maths lessons I’d instead start getting the kids at the back of the class to join in with me in making a play. My parents pointed out that rather than worrying too much about this that it perhaps showed that theatre was my calling and from that day forth nurtured this skill in me. Although at the time of squatting this flat I had just finished a degree in English and had moved to Brighton to create and be editor of a feminist online magazine called Flow: For Women Who Bleed. Writing and performing are my greatest passions.

I’m from a working class background and was having to live as cheaply as possible in order to forge a career as an artist and therefore squatting became a necessity. Now that squatting is illegal I honestly have no idea how artists from poorer backgrounds are able to get off of the ground. The squat had been suggested to us by the daughter of the woman who had last lived there. She worked at the University of Brighton with a friend of ours and when he’d mentioned his friends were looking for somewhere to squat she had told him her mum’s old flat hadn’t been lived in since her mother had died and told us where we could find it. When we cracked the squat we discovered that all her mum’s things were still in there. We contacted the daughter through our friend and let her know that there was all this stuff still in there, but she didn’t desire it, so we lived in amongst all this old hippie stuff – ornaments, posters, clothes, books – all left over from the life of an alternative sixties Brightonian. I’d always been obsessed with history.

As my parents had little money one thing they did to entertain us was to maintain a National Trust and English Heritage membership and every weekend we’d go on a trip to an old stately home. Each room we walked into my mum would always say “Look up, Look down, look back, back drop (out the window) and sniff” to ensure we got everything we could out of all the rooms we visited. When we got home we’d make a scrap book about the house, sticking in feathers, leaves and postcards we’d collected. I’d always walk around pretending I lived there, normally imagining I was one of the servants rather than the rich ladies of the house. Imagining what it felt like to sneak around the place trying to do the work required whilst also staying invisible. This began a fascination in me for discovering the lives of ordinary people throughout history. All the famous and powerful people get recorded, but it excites me when I find someone’s initials etched into the brick work of an old bakery’s bread oven, or discover an old grave stone where the name has worn away. I’ll spend ages contemplating who the person might have been and what ripples have perhaps been left behind them in their wake. This all led me to becoming a historical re-creator, which I started doing on my own when I was ten years old, getting time off of school and camping with a guardian, living day to day as a Tudor peasant at an award winning recreation in Suffolk called Kentwell Hall.

I’ve been doing it now for twenty-nine years. I learnt to make cheese and butter as a dairy maid first of all, was a washer woman for a while and then for the last twenty-five years I’ve been a travelling player. We have our own cart that we perform plays on top of and then sleep underneath at night. It’s like a second life. When I stepped into the squat in Brighton, and saw that it was filled with the life or a long departed tenant, it was an Aladdin’s cave to me.


OT: Which of Anne’s belongings moved/inspired you the most?

JB: Initially I loved the posters on the walls for old club nights around Brighton, like a poster for the famous Zap Club which had a cartoon on it of Margaret Thatcher with her tits out for a night called “A Something of What you Fancy”. It was £1 to get in and £1 a pint. Then one night we opened the cupboard under the stairs and found it was full of clothes, records and a box full of diaries. We got out the box and began to flick through them, discovering that the woman who’d lived there had been called Anne Clarke. One of my housemates then told me he’d read in one of the diaries that she’d had a hip replacement and on the shelf there was a pelvis bone. We joked that perhaps this was Anne’s hip bone. When we were evicted from the flat, we were in there for about three months, we agreed to put all the possessions in a lock up, as the bailiffs would have just thrown out anything they found left behind in there as they would assume we had just left stuff behind. The contents of the lock up disappeared though, something I’ve never quite gotten over. The only thing I’d kept back for myself was the box of letters and diaries, plus the hip bone. For fifteen years I carried the hip bone from house to house, always keeping it out on my mantelpiece and thinking of it as Anne. I didn’t get around to reading through all the letters and diaries until fifteen years later, when I decided to find out who Anne had actually been and why her stuff had been lift behind like that. This research is what then led to the show HIP.


OT: How much more about her did you find out?

JB: I’ve become a little bit single white female to be honest. I now know many of her friends, much of her family, where came from and where she lived prior to the squat flat, what political movements she was part of, what her hobbies and passions were, who were her lovers and I have also discovered the ripples she has left behind around the city of Brighton. There are some significant ripples very much still influencing the city and some little ones you’d never notice if you didn’t look. I also found out how she had died and why her stuff had been left behind.


OT: Was there a moment when you almost felt like an intruder into Anne’s life?

I’ve never felt like an intruder in Anne’s life for two main reasons. Firstly is because the serendipity surrounding the discoveries and the ways in which they’ve unfolded have been nothing short of magical. If she is somewhere watching down on us and doesn’t want me to be telling her story then she’s doing a really bad job of letting me know this. Secondly she left her mark. She wrote diaries, was an artist and created work. As someone who writes diaries and leaves her mark where ever possible the one thing that would be worse than death for me would be for someone to find my marks in the future and then pay no attention to them. The Mexican day of the dead celebrates the ancestors and remembers them as they believe we have two deaths; the day we physically die and the day the last person who remembers us dies. I’m remembering Anne and celebrating her life, keeping her memory alive. Warts and all.


OT: Has writing and performing HIP been some kind of life lesson to you and do you think it affects audiences in similar ways?

JB: After each show audiences talk to me about legacy and how they’re now considering exactly how they’ll be remembered once they’re gone, often saying they’d like to now start writing a diary. Journal and letter writing is a dying art due to the internet, as is printing photos, and there will be little archival materials hanging around capturing this era in the future. I’ve got my life written down from the age of eight onwards in diaries. I’d like to create a time capsule for these at some point and bury them somewhere. Preferably I’d like to shoot them into space. It has also led me to create a new project called the Museum of Ordinary People, which will open for the first time as a temporary exhibition in May this year as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival.

Audiences who had been part of the sixties and seventies counterculture scenes also get a lot out of this show. I think Anne was getting up to all the things that everyone dreamed of doing during this time. She was a trailblazer… And she also got burnt.


OT: Brighton seems to have become an extra special place over the last 20 or 30 years. Did it become special to you?

JB: I think Brighton has been special since the Regency boom when Doctor Richard Russell wrote his essay ‘Glandular Diseases, or a Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Affections of the Glands’ recommending bathing in Brighton sea waters. Since then it has been a transient town, close enough to London to be part of the bigger picture, but where people can be more themselves. Recently, especially, Brighton has become a safe house for liberalism in an increasingly hostile conservative culture. After creating HIP the theatre show I then created a theatrical walking tour called The HIP Trip of Brighton: A Psychedelic Wander, where I meet a group of people at the Clock Tower and then lead them around Brighton’s counterculture history, pointing out the ‘hip’ places of the sixties, seventies and eighties. For example I discovered there had been a bookshop and printing press called the Unicorn Bookshop, where Anne had worked, and it had played a significant role in getting beat poetry off of the ground in the UK, with several famous beat poets being published for the first time through their press. It had been painted on the outside by a famous local artist with a big colorful mural which has been cited as being the first of its kind in the country. As part of the funding for the tour I paid our current famous Brighton mural artist Sinna One to recreate the mural on the outside of the shop. It has a scroll on the side dedicating the mural to the Unicorn Bookshop’s owner Bill Butler and the original mural artist John Upton, with a link to a webpage that tells you all about who these men were and what they contributed to the history of Brighton. I see layers to the city now, ghosts of forgotten roads, places where people used to hang out and where things once happened. It’s like a fourth dimension view of the city.

Hip is at Omnibus Theatre Fri 16 Feb, 9pm | £12 | £10 concessions. To buy your ticket now click here →


By | News

Omnibus Theatre: What can audiences expect to experience when they come to see Hotter?

Mary: Joy! You know that feeling when a friend confides in you, maybe tells you something that makes them feel insecure, and you’re able to be their comforter, the one who builds them up again? That. Or that feeling when you dance on your own, in your kitchen, or in the rain, or in your pants, that your whole body is fizzing and burning with happiness? That.

Ell: Yeah, there’s a lot of joy in Hotter. But there’s also a sprinkling of sadness, which is sort of inevitable when talking about the complexity of having a body.  Like I’m grateful to my body for existing and letting me do the everyday things I take for granted, but that doesn’t mean I love it all the time.  In fact a lot of the time I don’t love it at all (I sometimes even hate it).  Hotter is not afraid to shy away from that and confront those hangups head-on.

Mary: You can expect to meet two best friends on a crusade against bodily embarrassment.

OT: How did you make the creative decision to explore themes of body image in Hotter?

Mary: Was it a decision? It certainly didn’t feel like a creative one. It was an obvious choice for us.   

Ell: The concept for the show actually came about because we realised our surnames ‘Higgins’ and ‘Potter’ conveniently combined to make the word ‘hotter’.  Then we realised that notions of ‘hotness’ can mean totally different things to different people; it turned out to be a great springboard to work from.  So I suppose the idea for the show was born from the complete narcissism of wanting to have a show named after ourselves.  At least ‘Hotter’ is better than ‘Piggins’.

Mary: Odd as it sounds, we weren’t friends before we decided to do a show together. We made fierce friends so quickly because we held nothing back. Not even the ugly stuff. We talked to each other while the other one was having a poo, shared wanking techniques, our darkest lows and giddiest highs, felt able to boast when we felt great and cry when we felt shit. There was and is nothing we won’t talk about. And we found that for us at least, sharing our bodily insecurities made them feel smaller and made us feel less lonely in dealing with them. So then we went out and interviewed other women and transfolk, grannies, mums, drag artists, teens,  on what makes them blush and their answers are the stuff of HOTTER.

Ell: Our dream aim, our impossible hope, the one we chant to ourselves when we’re unsure of what it is we’re making, is that no one who leaves HOTTER is ever embarrassed of their body again.

OT: Where does the culture of negative body image start? And when will it end?

Ell: Where do we begin?  In December I saw a Christmas card which read, ‘Dear Santa, I want to lose weight lying on the sofa eating mince pies, okay?’ and it filled me with a hot wrath for our capitalist overlords. Fatphobic messages like that are endlessly regurgitated.  They are everywhere, they are ubiquitous, and they are toxic. I can’t go a day without hearing at least one girl mention her weight or how ‘naughty’ the act of eating is, and that’s heartbreaking. Food isn’t immoral and this gal has weight she doesn’t wanna lose. Someone find me a sofa and some mince pies.

Mary: Yeah. It starts with the patriarchy, with capitalism, when a select few of rich and powerful men are allowed to decide what sexy looks like and plaster that image everywhere. And it thrives on ideas of perfect, on heteronormativity, on white privilege, on gender binaries, on porn, on anxiety, on Coca Cola adverts. It feeds on our desire to be loved and teaches us that our right to be loved is determined by what we look like. It dies when we realise that we are loveable as we are, powerful as we are, and gorgeous as we are.

OT: Tell us about a moment where your bodies gave you away…

Ell: The obvious one for me is farting.  I fart pretty much constantly.  Farting is definitely your body giving you away.  It’s your stomach going ‘YO! I’m DIGESTING. DEAL with it.’  I suppose I should try to be more profound for this question but farting is a BIG part of my life.

Mary: Honestly? How honest can I be here? Brace yourselves cos I have no shame: When I get wet – I often think myself into headspaces where I doubt everything I think I know about myself, including who I desire (and ergo who I am?), but occasionally my vagina rescues me from the void by letting me know that she, at least, knows what she wants.

Ell: Can I change my answer about farting? — Actually no.  Hotter is about banishing embarrassment.  We must embrace the fart.

OT: If you could give women and indeed men one piece of advice about learning to love their body what would it be?

Ell: A lot of the time, I don’t feel like I have a leg to stand on when it comes to preaching about how to love one’s own body.  I’m not there yet.  The road to self-acceptance is long and hard, and it often doesn’t feel like I’m even on that proverbial road, more like I’m lying in a ditch next to the road and hating my belly, my bingo-wings, my eating habits — even hating my brain for letting me think so badly of myself.  But one thing has really helped me, and that’s talking to other people about my bodily insecurities.  We’ve interviewed so many people for Hotter, and every single person we’ve spoken to has some kind of hangup about their body, whether they’re 13 years old or 97 years old.  That in itself is a little tragic — that we all have this inexorable capacity for self-loathing.  But I have to remind myself that the things I am self-conscious about are the things that make me me, and make me loveable.  Sounds cheesy but hey, I bloody love cheese.

Mary: Oof. Erm… come see HOTTER?!

Hotter is at Omnibus for one night only on Saturday 24th Feb – to buy your ticket now click here


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