Features Published 5 May 2015

Transform: Talking to Ghosts

James Varney on new work by Akeim Buck and Heather Christian at West Yorkshire Playhouse's Transform weekend.
James Varney

By now you ought to know what it is I love about this year’s Transform. It’s open, it’s honest, and all the normal pressures and punctuation marks of presenting a finished piece have been stripped away. With that in mind, Akeim Buck is honest, open, and bloody charming just straight up telling us he’s trying to make a piece and showing us what he’s trying to make it out of.

Yes. I can get right behind this.

As soon as I’m done writing about this year’s Transform, I’m running out and tellin all my mates why we need more theatres programming weekends that are Full Of Scratch And Nowt Else.

Buck is a graduate of NSCD in Leeds, and he’s got a song he wants to dance to, and a family history he wants to explore. So he’s Puttin HimSelf Into His work, inasmuch as he’s a dancer, which makes it inevitable, and inasmuch as Of Course the song isn’t just a song. He wins us over immediately. Buck talks to us about immigration, about moving from Jamaica to England, about passports, about The Motherland and has us sing with him a song he learned at school.

What stands out is that despite this not being the show – this is just Akeim here, talking to us – Buck seems totally aware of what he’s got on his hands. The session ends with a dance, not finished. The idea is for the end product to develop into a combination storytelling-dance piece. Buck’s got the ingredients for it to work. There’s an easy richness to the links he’s pointing towards, and this feels like the first stirrings of a well-conceived and thought provoking work.

***

o ou elieve n ghosts?

if i tell you the Derrida has nothing to do with the piece presented by Heather Christian & the Arbornauts then youll either watch it or not

‘Musical Séance’ has a good ring to it, so that’s what I’ll call the intermittently bursting piece we saw. We were not invited to all hold hands but that didn’t matter because we were in a theatre space together. Heather talks to ghosts, ghosts talk to her, and we are invited to meet a handful, through the mediums of song, group monologue, getting the audience to dance, sing and clap, and other such tomfoolery (read: Theater).

For a piece which takes upon itself to leap into death, eternity, haunting, dementia and trauma, I had a whale of a time. There was this scepticism which hung in the air about the piece, acting like a sort of Brechtian separation of the spectral from the suspension of disbelief, which is partly the reason I’ve (only gone and bloody) linked Derrida. The act of the theater of the piece created an excuse for the spiritual – with the result I don’t think it mattered whether the audience was taken in by the idea of talking to ghosts. There was enough material response to the idea that that was what was foregrounded. It would be pointless to wrangle with whatever’s behind it.

Does that make sense? I’m not deliberately implying a piece about ghosts was ‘transcendent’, I swear. Gorgeous sounds, beautiful human performers, and an investment in the community that is the theater audience. Talking to ghosts can be a lonely business, and this piece is shuttling in the gaps between individual and community, isolation and connection. Maybe that’s all still a little buried in it but the important thing (to me) is that it was playful and gave me and the rest of the audience a good ol’ fun time in the theater, whilst making us think, whilst making us connect. And the rest seeps down from that.

hether i elieve n ghosts r ot

i ay: “ong ive he ghosts”

***

And that concludes What I Saw At Transform This Year. I’ve still an interview with Amy Letman, and a brief account of the closing party(All Theatres Need More Parties) to come.

Summation of the work seen, though, is that I’ve had a fantastic time. conversation,dialogue,openness,sharing, all top things

Nice one, Transform.

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