Maiden Speech festival was established in 2017 and is now in its third season. The festival is named in memory of Jo Cox’s Maiden Speech in Parliament in June 2016 and the spirit of the festival honours her famous words “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”.
Supported by Mountview, and running at the Tristan Bates, Maiden Speech brings together more than 50 emerging creatives and features an impressive array of multi-disciplinary artists from around the globe. In the words of the festival producer, Lexi Clare “Maiden Speech was established in 2017 to offer a support platform to early-career artists who are creating exciting and innovative work that challenges expectations of gender, sexuality and identity.”
This was my first year experiencing the festival and I dove straight in at the deep end, seeing all 4 of the opening night shows. The first thing that I’m struck by is the diversity, as these are 4 very different shows, covering a wide range of themes. The second, is the quality. If all of the shows in Maiden Speech are this good, our festival goers are in for a treat.
My first show of the evening is ‘The Kola Does Not Speak English’ by British Nigerian creator and performer Tania Nwachukwu. Created as a contribution to the resistance of the erasure of the Igbo language, Tania Nwachukwu’s piece succeeds in being both a battle cry and a celebration. There is a warmth and humour to her performance, that makes you feel welcome in the space and I soon found myself happily joining in with the call and response elements of the show.
Mixing dance, song, storytelling and poetry, ‘The Kola Does not Speak English’ fuses folklore with contemporary experience, to show us Tania Nwachukwu’s awakening to the importance of her Nigerian heritage, and her desire to not just embrace but celebrate her ancestors and her cultural background. Family is a vibrant thread throughout the piece, grounding the heart of the piece, as Nwachukwu unpicks and explores the importance of language and identity. The urgency of the piece comes from the very real threat of extinction Igbo faces, the optimism comes from Nwachukwu’s powerful response and determination in the face of that threat. It is exciting to see such a talented and multi-skilled performer using her voice in such creative and evocative ways, and it is all the more exciting to realise she is only just getting started.
There are 3 more performances of this wonderful show: 4.45pm on Sun 10th Nov, 7.15pm on Thurs 14th Nov and 8.30pm on Sat 16th Nov
My second show is ‘I…’ by Asa Haynes. Billed as a show “about loneliness and the complexity of connection” ‘I…’ explodes with humour. Directed by Denzel Westley-Sanderson, and written and performed by Asa Haynes, this show disarms with its comedy making the heartbreak all the sharper. With his writing Asa Hayne’s has created absorbing and vivid characters and situations that held my attention throughout. While I don’t know if the piece is autobiographical or not, it brims with truth and honesty, painting an all too relatable picture of anxiety, loneliness and the struggle to find love from the perspective of a young, gay man.
Asa Haynes has a wonderful range as a performer. His face shifting from goofy humour to vulnerability with a touching fluidity and ease. Director Denzel Westley-Sanderson ensures that Haynes’ skills as an actor take centre-stage, even as he sorts socks and folds t-shirts, our attention is fully focused on him, and his response to the experiences he is sharing with us. Given the subject matter you’d be forgiven for thinking this might make for a grueling piece of theatre, but the humanity and humour of the show makes for an enjoyable and poignant 45 minutes with plenty of laugh out loud moments.
There are 3 more chances to see this moving solo show: 7.15pm Sat 9th Nov, 1pm Wed 13th Nov and 7.15pm Sun 16th Nov
I was particularly excited about my 3rd show of the evening ‘Please, Feel Free To Share’ as it is written by Rachel Causer and I loved her Off-Fest Award Nominated Camden Fringe Show ‘When it Happens’. Once again she shows just how skillfully she creates and writes original female characters. Performed with great relish by Róisín Bevan, ‘Please, Feel Free to Share’ tells the story of Alex, a social media manager who develops an addiction to support groups. This addiction feels like a natural, mildly sociopathic, extension of the social media quest for likes. As with the social media space, Alex has the chance to be whoever she wants to be in these groups and she embraces it.
Rachel Causer’s writing is packed with a dark humour that Róisín Bevan brings to life with an at times unnerving verve. Under Liam Blain’s direction the support group setting, a semi-circle of chairs, is used with great impact, as Alex shares her own story, but peppers it with hearty doses of mockery for the people she encounters. Convinced hers is a victim-less crime, Bevan’s Alex becomes so caught up in enjoying the high of creating these new personas for herself, she fails to realise that she is the ultimate victim of this strange addiction.
The 45 minutes flew by as I was completely absorbed by Alex’s distorted world view, she is not a likable character but the combination of great writing and a powerful performance certainly makes her a compelling one.
There are only 2 more chances to catch the absorbing and original ‘Please, Feel Free To Share’, 7.45pm Wed 6th Nov and 6.15pm Fri 8th Nov.
My final show of the evening was ‘Boses’ created and performed by Melisa Camba. This is a bilingual (English and Filipino) piece of political theatre about the problem of modern day slavery in the domestic work industry. Using a combination of AV, testimonials, song, reportage and performance, Melisa Camba’s piece is an unflinching but beautiful piece about the more than 17,000 domestic workers who are brought to Britain every year. 69% are Filipino, 94% are women.
The fusion of facts and personal stories is deeply affecting, while music is used to create an even strong bond and resonance between the audience and the harsh reality of what these domestic workers face. The current Home Office policy (put in place in 2012 by then Home Secretary Theresa May, queen of the Xenophobes) is brutally inhumane and Camba is unafraid to focus a glaring light on the impact this has on Filipinas. From international trafficking, to be being brutalised and locked away in private homes, it is horrifying to realise that Camba is only sharing the tip of the iceberg.
‘Boses’ is a powerful wake-up call to British audiences to realise the complicity their government and laws have in enabling modern day slavery. The power of the piece comes not only from raising awareness of the facts and true stories, but through the music Camba has created to soundtrack the piece. Her voice is strong, pure and beautiful, and the music haunts and resonates, creating a deeper connection between the audience and the experiences of the women that Camba shares. This is a moving and powerful work of political theatre that certainly deserves wide audiences.
There are 2 more opportunities to experience the power of ‘Boses’ for yourselves, 6.15pm on Sat 9th Nov and 6.15pm on Wed 13th Nov
All in all I was moved by the diversity, honesty and quality of these opening night shows. Maiden Festival runs at the Tristan Bates until 16th November, and it is well worth checking out. You can find a copy of the full festival schedule here: https://www.lexiclareproductions.com/copy-of-2019-line-up