Five fantastic theatre shows – Kevin Jamieson’s HOME birthday picks

HOME’s Head of Programme, Kevin Jamieson, chooses his favourite theatre moments from the last five years to mark HOME’s fifth birthday

Bourgeois & Maurice’s Insane Animals

In 2017 we had the idea at HOME to offer an opportunity to an artist or company who had been consistently making theatre shows at a smaller studio level but, for whatever reason, hadn’t had the chance to make work on a main stage theatre space. So the ‘T1 Commission’ was born and awarded to cabaret duo Bourgeois and Maurice aka Liv Maurice and George Heyworth.

Telling the story of ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ – thought to be the first ever written text – via two hyper glam aliens dressed head to toe in sequins, may not be your typical starting point to make a musical. This was the jumping off point for Insane Animals. Developed over three years, the show took us from the dawn of civilisation to the distant future by way of some of the most catchy tunes to ever grace a stage.

People loved Insane Animals, and Bourgeois & Maurice, so much many audiences came back to watch it 3, 4 and even 5 times across its run. It was one of my most favourite moments as Head of Programme at HOME – Liv & George, director Phillip McMahon and the whole cast and creative team, really delivered an amazing show and experience for the audiences of Manchester.

Oh and I also think Insane Animals will go down in HOME’s history as the shiniest theatre show to ever grace its stages! There was a lot of tinfoil and sequins….

The Manchester Project

Monkeywood Theatre Company are one of the leading lights of the Manchester theatre scene so when the chance to collaborate with them came up it’s fair to say we took it and ran. Their initial idea was a show exploring what it meant to people to be from Manchester. After they spent a week in our rehearsal room working this idea up further, the very special ‘Manchester Project’ was born.

21 Manchester-based writers were invited to create an bitesize short play about their specific area of Manchester. When all these plays combined, it formed the most incredible patchwork of Manchester life. Performed by a company of 6 Manchester-based actors this was a show jampacked with pride, honesty, humour and compassion for the people and places that make up the city, as well as showcasing the region’s amazing writing and performing talent.

We presented them as part of our Push Festival, HOME’s annual celebration of North West talent, in two formats – individually as curtain raisers before another show and then altogether at set times. Following the huge success we then took The Manchester Project to London’s South Bank as part of our curated weekend at the National Theatre’s ‘River Stage’. It then returned at Christmas 2019 for a new festive edition featuring 15 brand new plays.

Hot Brown Honey. Image credit Dylan Evans

Hot Brown Honey

December 2017 saw the hive descend on Manchester: Hot Brown Honey flew in into the city with so many bee connections. With energy to burn, the Honeys arrived from Australia with a potent punch of hip hop politics, equal parts theatrical masterpiece and social activism. This stellar posse of phenomenal women smashed stereotypes in an unapologetic celebration of our similarities and differences and audiences loved it – like bees to a honey pot…

Since HOME opened it has had a continuing ethos to showcase work from all over the world in Manchester sharing unique viewpoints and theatrical styles. We’ve welcomed shows from companies and artists from as far afield as Argentina, Cuba, Russia, Berlin, Barcelona and Australia, to name a few… It’s always a thrill to show these artists the many delights the buzzing city of Manchester has to offer as well as sharing their productions with UK audiences.

Hot Brown Honey was a show I never tired of – I happily watched it every night. Such an inspiring explosion of colour, culture and controversy and it was always a joy seeing the audience rise as one for their big finale – to use their phrase – ‘fighting the power never tasted so sweet!’

Future Bodies 1. Photo credit Jonathan Keenan

Future Bodies

When I look back on Future Bodies it was definitely one of the most ambitious projects we have ever produced in a theatre space at HOME. The brainchild of Jon Spooner and Clare Duffy from Unlimited Theatre and Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen from RashDash, the show delved into the world of human enhancement technology from brain implants, smart drugs and artificial intelligence. The end result definitely gave credence to the statement ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ with cutting edge science explored through a series of vignettes stretching from the here and now to the not-too-distant future.

Complete with an amazing soundtrack courtesy of Becky Wilkie, integrated creative captioning and British sign language this was a production that took over all corners of our Theatre 2 space with a gigantic moving set. This unique collaboration definitely paid off with a sell out run full of audiences stunned to hear that everything covered in the show is based on actual advances made in the fields of science and technology and that maybe the future is nearer than we thought.

Future Bodies was subsequently nominated in the ‘Inspiring Innovation’ category at the inaugural Manchester Culture Awards 2019.

The Beanfield

The Beanfield

Breach Theatre are one of the companies who have performed the most at HOME, starting in 2016 with The Beanfield, and then 3 productions since. I first saw this production at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015 and was instantly blown away by the company’s energy, spirit, politics and mix of presentation styles and knew that they were a perfect fit for HOME. Their scintillating look at the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985 -the brutal crackdown on the free Stonehenge Free Festival – had journalistic precision. But far from being an historical re-enactment, it simmered with a contemporary resonance and marked Breach out as a strong voice emerging onto the theatre scene.

There are so many productions that I loved from the past five years but The Beanfield has a very special place in my heart as it was one of the very first productions to play in our Theatre 2 space and set the tone for the work we would present and produce in that space. We aim to support and showcase artists and companies who continually challenge the boundaries of what theatre can be, as well as with something important to say about the world we live in. We have been so lucky to have so many amazing companies perform in Theatre 2; too many to name here but most recently: Scottee, Sh!t Theatre, Figs in Wigs, Jamal Harewood, Cheryl Martin, Plaster Cast Theatre, Greg Wohead, Bert & Nasi and so many more.