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Flesh Season at Nottingham Playhouse

20 October 14 words: Hazel Ward

Flesh Season is coming to Nottingham Playhouse this month, but don’t be fooled by the title: the flesh is more symbolic than salacious. We talked to its curator, Bea Udeh, about diversity on the stage.

Theatre has a reputation for being mired in tradition: any change is met with resistance. That’s why projects like Nottingham Playhouse’s upcoming Flesh season, helmed by Bea Udeh, play an important part in bringing in different artistic points of view to the world of theatre. As Creative Director of Diversity, Bea has commissioned a series of three plays by three different women that are designed to explore women’s voices, particularly those that are often marginalised. Although early press described the season as a look at the relationships between the sexes, Bea explains that the themes are much more complex than that, “Flesh season is about meatiness, dissecting what we as a female sex are about and laying it open, to bare for us to have a real good look at, have a laugh at, have a cry at, and have a moan about. But it’s not a season that’s just about women coming to have a good moan. It is about everybody saying, ‘Oh, I see women in a different light’.”

The unusual title was chosen to signal to audiences that this season won’t be, as Bea succinctly put it, “a Carry On kind of season,” in the usual tradition of comedies of the sexes, but a deeper look. It delves in to what’s underneath the skin and, in a way, the title refers not only to the physicality of womens’ bodies, but also the ‘fleshing’ out of women’s places and roles in current culture. Of the three plays, Holy & Horny and Pretty/Ugly combine humour with grittiness, while Bird is a more poignant and frank piece. “The season will raise questions and conversation,” Bea promises, and she herself is eager to hear audience reaction, “I’d love to be in the bar afterwards to see what people are saying!”

Bea has worked at Nottingham Playhouse for around eleven years. Of her role, she says, “I’m responding to the Artistic Director’s need to make sure that we have different ways of supporting the artists and different ways of responding to the work that we make here.” With a self-aware laugh, she continues, “In English, it means that I enjoy finding the new voices – not even the new voices, I’m looking for voices that wouldn’t necessarily come into this building by performing artists.“

Asked if there are ongoing issues with diversity in theatre, Bea answers with a resounding “Yes, there is and there always will be. It’s one of the last bastions of the arts where people seem to find it difficult to demonstrate that the arts is for everyone in a way that crosses words, that crosses performance, that crosses the art form.” It contrasts with music and visual arts, where Bea has found a better representation of diverse voices.

“When you go out in to big cities, there’s a big onus on us to be able to make sure that we are reflective of society, and of the voices who are talking about what’s going on politically, socially, through gender, through race,” Bea says.

At the Playhouse, the aim is to create dialogue between cultures so that the theatre fully reflects Nottingham’s culture, including its myriad races, nationalities, sexes and sexualities. Too often, the gatekeepers of traditional theatre try to keep the status quo going. “Sometimes theatres get caught up in themselves and people who are running those buildings believe that they own it, it is their property, and that’s a mistake,” explains Bea. “It’s only by listening to people who come from outside the traditional theatre structure, and bringing them in, that the medium can grow and evolve beyond its limitations.”

The big question is whether the Nottingham Playhouse will be building on Flesh Season to bring more diverse voices to Nottingham. Bea’s answer is a definitive, “Yes!” She notes that in the past they’ve tried to bring a wide range of perspectives to the city, but rarely as a themed season. She’s hopeful that by bringing these three plays together that there’ll be more focus, which will encourage audiences intrigued by the name and concept to investigate. “Here at Nottingham Playhouse there’s still work to be done,” Bea notes, before adding that she and the rest of the team are always striving to break down the stiff, old ways of theatre. “Some people are holding on. And it’s fine, you can hold on as long as you like but change will happen. Just like water falling into the nooks and crannies.”

Bea Udeh gives us the lowdown on the three Flesh Season plays...

Holy and Horny
A one-woman show performed and written by Tonya Joy Bolton. Initially developed with Eclipse theatre in Nottingham, the play looks at race, religion and sex from the point of view of a Christian woman.

“I think there is this dichotomy for a lot of woman to say, ‘Do I have a sexuality? Where is my G-spot?’ What goes on in the bedroom stays in the bedroom, as opposed to sharing it in conversation with other women. And also, when you come to the church, you’re thinking what do you share with your fellow church-goers? And how Christian are you? And is that a barrier? Is that a barrier to being open about your body, your sexuality, your needs and desires?”

Bird
Laura Loma, a Derby-based writer, brings an introspective piece about a young girl reflecting on life as she awaits her boyfriend.

“For her work to come here is really exciting. Bird itself is a one-woman play looking at child exploitation and looking at this fourteen-year-old, and the control that her boyfriend has. I’m really intrigued to hear this piece. When it was originally devised it was a site-specific piece so it went to a visual space, Nottingham Contemporary. I’m hoping that different types of people will come and enjoy or learn about the themes of the piece and understand it.”

Pretty/ Ugly
Louise Orwin asked people a simple question: is she ugly, or is she pretty? The results inform this experimental performance that includes interactive YouTube elements:

“It’s like a live art piece. It’s a piece of research that’s been dramatised and turned into a performance for us. It’s looking at how weird and wonderful the internet is, and how we as women, young girls especially, are using the internet and social media networking, and new media, to find out whether the world loves us. I don’t know where the world is going or how bad it’s going to get, but it’s like OMG. Pretty/Ugly, for that piece, I’ll say OMG!”

Flesh Season takes place at Nottingham Playhouse on Wednesday 22 - Saturday 25 October, tickets are priced between £8 and £11

Nottingham Playhouse website

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