Colin Hambrook attended the palpably intense, hugely inventive DYSPLA Festival at Camden Peoples' Theatre, London on 13 November.
The DYSPLA Festival is a testament to the determination and vision of its founder Lennie Varvarides. She's been producing the festival on an annual basis as a platform for celebrating the storytelling of dyslexic creatives since 2007. Her vision is for the event is to develop its producing role for film and theatre-makers. This year the main theatre event was devised and developed using the DSYPLA's accessible 'whitebox' process in 8 workshops, taking key images as a starting point for building dialogue.
The first event of the evening's events was a series of short films - giving the audience a taste of the intensity to come. DYSPLAMENTARY, by Kazimir Bielecki begins with an angry cry, from actor and playwright Matthew Scurfield. "Why should I bother" he says in his address on the school system. "You will not even remember my name, despite the numbers of us that you have failed and turned away." The film unfolds with several cleverly edited cut-away bits of interviews with 'out' dyslexics such as Sally Gardner and Jon Adams. As they talk about failure - about having been handed the identity of a failure - so they are intercut with footage of police and demonstrators - alluding to the conflict raging about 'education'.
The film left me feeling completely distressed about the impact Gove's meddling with the education system is having, and which is set to get a whole lot worse very soon, passionately determined as the Education Minister is, to take schooling back to the dark ages of Janet and John. Alerted, I looked up author Sally Gardner and found a Guardian blog in which she talks about her desperation as a child, indoctrinated with the Janet and John english learning system that presided throughout the 1950s and 1960s: "Today I see that Janet and John have grown up – John advises Michael Gove on his education policy, while Janet works for Ofsted, enjoying the terror her department can bring to schools and teachers alike."
Where is the creative approach to learning you might ask - the one that Ken Robinson advises on so eloquently in his TED Talks. Well perhaps the future lies with DYSPLA with all the anger, determination and lateral approaches that the members of the collective bring to it.
The Whispering Theatre that followed was perhaps part-influenced by Antonin Artaud's 'Theatre of Cruelty', which advocated for giving actors a direct path to addressing an audience to allow them to tell truths that they do not wish to see. This series of promenade performances continued the avenue set up by DYSPLAMENTARY to take the audience by the eyeball and deliver a series of impassioned narratives, face-to-face.
Beautifully staged as a series of encounters whilst walking through a maze of veiled screens the audience is met in turns with an offer of marriage and domesticity - if only the thoughts stolen from the character could be returned to her; an encounter in a nightclub with a gay man disturbed by police brutality; and a story about rejection ending with a song 'Cry me a river'.
There were four monologues in total, each unnerving in a way that theatre rarely does, by bringing the audience into the narrative; involving and engaging them. I found myself wondering how other audience members coped; and what responses the actors had garnered from their prey.
The main theatre event of the evening told the story of Yvonne Ridley - one-time journalist with the Sunday Express who sent her to Afghanistan to report on 'local culture' in the wake of 9/11. The play is loosely based on the remarkable account of her capture in 2001, as based on her book In The Hands of the Taliban. The play opens with accusations. She is believed to be a spy, which carries the punishment of execution for her, the guides who brought her across the border, illegally, and their families. Ridley's personality - through her relationship with her guard, 'P' - is presented as monster, maverick and mother (giving the festival it's title) - a complex character by any stretch of the imagination. Guilt and redemption are explored in a terrifying combatitive situation in which both characters are desperately struggling to find their humanity.
I am still trying to work out how I felt about the play. It certainly raised some uncomfortable questions about 'culture' and 'victimisation'. It made a powerful attempt to educate about complex human emotions in extreme circumstances - as indeed do all the various components of what make DYSPLA.
Monsters, Mavericks and Mother's continues at Camden Peoples' Theatre until Sunday 17 November. Take along a strong constitution and you'll experience some truly cutting-edge performance.