BREVIEW: Playback @ mac – running until 24.01.18

BREVIEW: Playback @ mac – running until 24.01.18 / Ed KingWords by Ashleigh Goodwin / Pics by Ed King

Stepping into Playback almost feels like the beginning of a Black Mirror episode; the silence is palpable in the dimly-lit space, as people sit before screens, each person plugged into the monitors, staring intently ahead.

The calm and quiet is a welcome distraction from the packed lower floor of mac, where people are continuously swarming around the open space; weirdly enough, even though the double doors to Playback are open, it feels like a safe haven, isolated from the rest of the arts centre.

The set-up is functional, yet quite captivating; minimalist structures are set up throughout the room that encase a screen to select films, a monitor to watch and a couple of pairs of headphones below. This could be quite a passive experience, one where you stumble in, take a quick look and exit to explore the rest of the gallery, yet each person who enters is memorised and instantly takes a seat in one of the stalls to begin.

A real highlight of the exhibition is the complete flexibility it offers. The interface is so simplistic you can easy browse comedy, drama, music, dance, drama or animation with the touch of a button. The idea that Playback brings the films to the audience, as opposed to the other way round, is an interesting format and is a smart way of getting the endevours of budding creatives out there.

Much of the work being displayed covers scenarios so far removed from the viewer that you’re able to gain a sobering, eye-opening insight. For example, Courtney Grigg’s 18, a POV documentary that explores Courtney’s journey through homelessness when she was eighteen. Or Rediat Abayneh’s 25 Days of My Life, which is dedicated to those ‘who lost their lives in search of better’ and charts her brief stay in the infamous refugee camp ‘The Jungle’ prior to her journey to England from Calais. These pieces draw you in immediately by conveying such emotion in a short time frame. I felt myself unintentionally breathing a small sigh of relief and gratitude when I read in the description below that despite the circumstances depicted in their work, they are now studying towards their chosen career, or are exploring another walk of life and have made it out of sombre situations.

BREVIEW: Playback @ mac – running until 24.01.18 / Ed KingI can say with complete honesty, there was not one single short I viewed that I didn’t appreciate in some way. Each work was enlightening and completely unique. In mainstream film I often feel like what I’m watching is just regurgitated with a different cast, location or a slight differentiation of a basic scenario. The sheer individuality of each piece presented at Playback took me by surprise; alongside thought-pieces and documentaries charting real life experiences, the exhibition was brimming with off-the-wall, abstract and bizarre concepts, which was so refreshing and showed the passion of hungry young filmmakers.

I felt this was especially reflected in Battle by Darnell Smart, which relied on mostly a non-verbal performance, mixed with sound effects to create distortion of the main character Deshawn. The minimalist setting and almost sterile visual at the end combined for a really effecting piece. Additionally, Bliss by Billy Floyd stuck in my memory long afterwards. No dialogue was needed, as the piece was carried by minimal sound effects and intense, non-verbal performances that used the same setting for each shot, just varying the content. Battle and Bliss left me genuinely excited for the work that future filmmakers will produce as the execution of these ideas was something I hadn’t witnessed before and really, this is what Playback is all about.

BREVIEW: Playback @ mac – running until 24.01.18 / Ed KingIt would be near impossible to comment on all the content, with over 145 short films, ranging from 90 seconds to three minutes a piece, on show. If you do have the opportunity, give yourself a full day and head down to mac and see, or rather experience, for yourself – Playback is free to enter and in the arts centre’s First Floor Gallery until Wednesday 24 January 2018. I’m sure each individual will discover something different from the next and connect with the pieces in a completely unique way. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards drama, but the flexibility of Playback exposed me to a world of other possibilities; content that I would never have previously considered due to admittedly, my own ignorance or dismissal of genres that don’t seem instantly appealing.

I felt a particular highlight was the animation section and I’m so glad I allowed myself to be led by the exhibition, as there were some excellent pieces in there. Specifically, My Familiar by Leah Morris, an animation that blends live action scenes with animation to explore ‘the comforts of non-verbal communication’ in the face of isolation and loneliness. The piece is set against a minimalist, yet effecting score, and uses no verbal narrative within its series of vignettes, which works to astounding effect. So much so that halfway through I looked down to find myself with little marks imprinted into my palm where I’d be gripping the chord of the headphones, completely engrossed.

BREVIEW: Playback @ mac – running until 24.01.18 / Ed KingOr Meet Cute, another short that splices live action with animation and blurs the line of creation, production, fiction and reality – a fun and interesting piece by Chris Consentino. Adrift was also a highlight, a short sci-fi that ‘blends lo-fi animation, indie folk and quirky live action’ by Will Crerar, an aspiring screenwriter and director from Newcastle. The drama explores decision making through the protagonist, a teenage boy trapped in space, who is at the crossroads of change but hesitant to move forward. The setting and minimal, spoken-narrative deliver a point that is reflective of wider society in an extremely clever way.

After two hours of selecting films I was completely captivated by the exhibition’s documentaries and dramas and found the comedy section to be a welcome break, one that pulled me outside my head for a while. Some highlights were Contactless that deals with a scenario not as far removed from the future as it should be, set against the backdrop of Birmingham with a whacky, upbeat soundtrack that allows the comedic overtone to shine through but also elevates the distress and seriousness of the political message. The variation in styles was a joy to experience throughout all the genres, but in particular, in shorts such as Chops which is a beautifully stylised laugh-out-loud piece by Jac Clinch, and Slice by Hari Ramakrishnan, a dark satire exploring the graduate experience with great visuals and perfectly delivered narrative by Marie Hamilton, paired with an eerily perfect performance by Dorothy Collins.

The final highlight was All That Is by Camille Summers Valli and Wessie Du Toit, a beautifully shot drama-documentary that intimately explores ‘love and its role in the lives of five individuals’, through snapshots in a stunning sepia quality. As the short eloquently states “any experience is good, to talk about it is better” – which I feel encompasses the whole event perfectly.

There were 145 narratives for the audience to explore in Playback and each has taken a personal experience, feeling, emotion or thought and turned it into a work of art. Most of the work can be found through the Random Acts website, but actually attending the exhibition adds so much more to the experience, as you’re able to fully submerge yourself amongst the work in the peaceful atmosphere that the mac has created.

Events such as Playback are vital in the medium of film, creating exposure for young creative, as well as giving them a platform and voice to address current issues and situations. We just need to be ready to listen.

Playback – running at mac until 24.01.18

Playback runs at mac until 24th January, held in the arts centre’s First Floor Gallery. Entry is free with no age restrictions. For more on Playback at mac, visit

To view a list of all the Playback dates across the UK, visit

For more from mac, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit

BPREVIEW: Playback @ mac 07-24.01.18

Playback @ mac 07-24.01.18

Words by Ashleigh Goodwin

It often feels like there is a momentary hush over the city as we pick ourselves up off 2017’s floor and stumble into 2018. We could spend this transitional time recovering from the short-lived break, however mac is offering an alternative – welcoming in the New Year with Playback, ‘an interactive exhibition showcasing over 200 short films made by young artist filmmakers from across the country’.

Playback runs in mac’s First Floor Gallery from 7th to 24th January, open 11am-5pm from Tuesdays to Sundays. Admission to Playback is free. For direct  info, including venue details and the wider facilities available at mac, click here.

Playback is a joint initiative funded by Arts Council England and the exhibition’s creator, Random Acts – a Channel 4 spawned endevour which launched in March 2017 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Playback aims to shine a spotlight on new work by providing support, funding and exhibition opportunities to ‘young artist filmmakers from across the country’. With some of these ‘remarkable and award-winning shorts’ being made within ‘in and around Birmingham’, Playback promises visitors ‘the chance to see the people, places and creativity of your city onscreen.’

The exhibition allows you to explore the bodies of work at your own pace, using interactive touch screens, and features genres including spoken word, comedy and drama. As mac’s website states, the films being exhibited at Playback ‘span a range of art forms and topics – from krumping and parkour dance shorts, to an animated tale of teenage love that unearths our desire to be as cool as the zines we read.’

Birmingham’s prominence continues to grow around the many aspects of film, with the city seeing an influx of location shooting on its streets as well as increasing ties to organisations such as the British Film Institute and Marv Films. Added to this, the number of ways to access film in Birmingham has grown significantly within the past few years, with cinemas such as The Electric, The Mockingbird and Everyman supporting independent, current and cult productions through their programmes. Events such as the Flatpack Film Festival and the Birmingham Film Festival have become annual platforms for filmmakers, often bolstered by a rolling calendar of events to celebrate and support initiative new works, such as those programmed by Flatpack: Assemble.

Playback has the potential to fit nicely between these established city operators, by providing support to independent artists with the ‘festival feel’ offered by the variety and quantity of pieces exhibited. It could be that Playback’s ‘USP’ is that it allows a more open and customer driven experience as you are free to examine whatever you choose, whenever you choose.

As well as its exhibition at mac’s First Floor Gallery this January, Playback is being toured throughout England in ‘major galleries, libraries and multi-arts venues’ – culminating with the Playback Festival 2018, to be held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from 21st to 25th March ‘18.

Additionally, there are multiple Playback events to be held at mac Birmingham throughout January – including animation, film making workshops, and a live spoken word event.

Playback – coming to mac’s First Floor Gallery 04-24.01.18

For more on Playback at mac, visit

To view a list of all the Playback dates across the UK, visit

For more from mac, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit

BREVIEW: 5 Soldiers – The Body is the Frontline @ 48 Signal Squadron Army Reserve Centre 14.10.17

5 Soldiers - The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company - production photo by Tim Cross

Words by Lucy Mounfield / Production pics by Tim Cross

“You’re dead!”– this eerie and flinchingly realistic command comes from the drill sergeant (Reece Causton) during the opening section of Rosie Kay Dance Company’s 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline.

For a minute or two I found these alienating shouts disturbing and disorientating – frequently looking round the room for an enemy attack. What am I watching, a troop of soldiers on drill manoeuvres or five dancers? Combining the haunting atmosphere of the Army Reserve Centre in Sparkbrook with Kay’s athletic choreography, 5 Soldiers fuses the macho world of the army with contemporary dance and blurs the boundaries between reality and spectacle.

5 Soldiers - The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company - production photo by Tim CrossIn most theatrical dance productions, the themes of conflict and war have been portrayed as a series of synchronized movements mapped out as a struggle between good and evil. Traditional three-act ballets such as Kenneth Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet utilise formation set pieces to depict fencing and gang violence, for example, and these tend to follow the clinical pattern of formal choreographic tropes. Traditionally, dance had no place for realism; choreography became a means to tell a story. 5 Soldiers does the opposite, mixing army training techniques with the robotic bold lines of Kay’s choreography to create an immersive experience.

What sets 5 Soldiers apart from traditional productions is the fact that there is no discernible enemy. The dancers react and respond to the invisible. Here, this alienating and intimate setup allows Kay to explore the inner workings of the soldier free from narrative constraints. Using the simple tripartite structure following three basic elements of an army career enables the performance to focus on the brutal physicality of being a soldier, an existence that is unforgiving of gender roles.

5 Soldiers - The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company - production photo by Tim CrossThe second section of the production develops the camaraderie and relationships between soldiers. In training and combat a soldier is a soldier regardless of gender, but during down time this becomes problematic. This is shown in an uncomfortable sequence wherein the only female officer (Harriet Ellis) strips down to her underwear whilst dancing to Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’. She slowly takes away the armour and makeup that dehumanizes her, her camo gear strewn to one side.

Here, she and her male colleagues wrestle with their duty and their desires. What plays out during the song is not so different to the military drills in the first section – high leg kicks and sharp staccato lines – but without the regalia and insignia of the armed forces. Stripped bare, performing the splits in front of her male peers she becomes sexualised and offers her gender more freely than before. In another way, this is another layer of armour to protect herself from the physical differences between her and the others.

This second part also makes clear the awkward tension between soldiers’ public and private selves. The machismo gestures in this scene are clearly driven by their vulnerability. They pursue the female soldier until they realise their actions are inappropriate. 5 Soldiers - The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company - production photo by Tim CrossHowever, from here they turn to her as a mother figure, highlighting their reliance upon gender stereotypes and the emotional outlet that they lack.

The men remorsefully hold Ellis aloft on their shoulders as if she is sitting upon a throne. They march alongside her whilst Causton moves his hands as if to crown her. Fantasy is a key aspect of 5 Soldiers; everyone has projected their fantasy of protection, Britain-as-mother and their duty to her, onto the female soldier. The men want to be everything at once; action man, hero, lover, protector and father but this comes at a cost.

The third and last section of the piece shows one of the soldiers being shot (Duncan Anderson), as a result of which he undergoes a double amputation below the knee. The other dancers bind his legs, and a brief sequence shows him re-learning how to move in his altered body, at first supported by his comrades and then alone. 5 Soldiers - The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company - production photo by Tim CrossFor me this exemplifies where 5 Soldiers is at its best, but also raises questions. One connects with the subjective experience of amputation, of trauma, almost of being born again into a strange new body. The hardships and complexities of existing as a woman in a man’s world are vividly and intelligently rendered.

But this focus also results in the erasure of the outside world. Our soldiers are on patrol in a country that is strangely empty, full of danger but devoid of subjectivity – the mere backdrop of their personal stories. It is confusing that the marketing material makes the claim that 5 Soldiers ‘offers no moral judgment on war’.

I think this obscures the real point that 5 Soldiers isn’t about war as such, it’s about the human and bodily element of combat. But then this tour is supported by the British Army; tonight’s performance was hosted in an Army reserve base. Why? Clearly for the Army this is a public relations exercise, to ‘engage’ people and break down barriers as was made clear in the post-performance discussion. But 5 Soldiers is not reducible to that; it stands on its own as a nuanced depiction of military life.

5 Soldiers – The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company

For more on 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline, visit

For more on Rosie Kay Dance Company, visit

For further details on the Army Reserve Centre (Golden Hillock Road, Sparkbrook, B11 2QG), visit

For more from the Birmingham REP, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit

BPREVIEW: 5 Soldiers – The Body is the Frontline @ 48 Signal Squadron Army Reserve Centre 13-14.10.17

5 Soldiers - The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company - production pics by Tim Cross

Words by Lucy Mounfield / Production pics by Tim Cross

On Friday 13th and Saturday 14th October, Rosie Kay Dance Company will bring their acclaimed 5 Soldiers – The Body is the Frontline back to Birmingham for two performances. 5 Soldiers has been previously performed at the REP – but this time, interestingly, the show will be hosted by the 48 Signal Squadron Army Reserve Centre in Sparkbrook, as part of the REP’s autumn programme.

5 Soldiers is produced and performed by Rosie Kay Dance Company, a West Midlands based organisation headed by the eponymous Rosie Kay. Rosie Kay Dance Company was established in 2004 and has a number of productions in its repertoire, including The Wild Party, Supernova and MK Ultra – the latter recently toured the UK, which Charlotte Heap covered for Birmingham Review in March 2017. To read Helen Knott’s interview with Rosie Kay, ahead of the MK Ultra performance, click here.5 Soldiers - The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company - production pics by Tim Cross

5 Soldiers is production through contemporary dance, that focuses on the everyday life and challenges a soldier faces. The piece is split into three parts and represents the three major evolutionary stages that a person must take to become a soldier: the first depicts training, the second the camaraderie and relationship between the soldiers, and the third explores combat. In the course of preparing for the piece, Kay and her dancers spent time with a rifle battalion and this was an influence on the choreography itself.

5 Soldiers portrays the lives of individual soldiers from both a male and female perspective; four men and one woman depict the varying roles of three riflemen, one sergeant and one officer, alongside the challenges that an army career can incur.5 Soldiers - The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company - production pics by Tim Cross Interestingly Rosie Kay has chosen to focus on the human element of army life, rather than the mechanical and technological advances of urban warfare. This was a deliberate decision, according to Kay, who explained her approach in a 2015 interview with Sophie Neal at Redbrick:

‘It’s divided into three parts. The first demonstrates how repetitive training can be and how it continually pushes the body to the limits. The second shows the soldiers letting off steam and how their training has affected their relationships with each other. The final section is called ‘on the ground’ and this is what it’s like to be on patrol. The most dancing is in this section and it really does look like they are in combat.’

Using a tripartite narrative, the choreographer is able to focus on the importance of the soldier and the physicality and human strength within the armed forces. Whilst having an ensemble cast follow the same three key moments at the same time allows emphasis on the collective aspect of being a soldier.5 Soldiers - The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company - production pics by Tim Cross

Hopefully 5 Soldiers will further re-focus and humanise the depiction of war, perhaps moving away from the more long-held theatrical stereotypes of the army and armed forces. But Rosie Kay Dance Company must tread a fine line with 5 Soldiers – while the show depicts combat, the focus is on the subjective experience of the soldiers and the physicality of their bodies, with the REP’s promotional material stating the production ‘offers no moral judgment on war’.

The difficulty is that with an issue as charged as war, and the protagonists who feature in it from the front line, it’s hard not to at least solicit a viewpoint of some form – be it from the audience, or more subconsciously from the ensemble and company themselves.

Setting the performance at an army base brings this all the closer to home, and it’s hard not to think of all those fallen in battle and those that continue to serve. The further challenge for 5 Soldiers, and for Rosie Kay Dance Company, will be whether the production can focus on the subjective experience of a battalion of soldiers and offer no stance on war without being restrained by its neutrality.

The performances will take place on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th October at the 48 Signal Squadron Army Reserve Centre on Golden Hillock Road in Sparkbrook, within easy access of Small Heath train station and bus routes.

5 Soldiers – The Body is the Frontline / Rosie Kay Dance Company

For more on 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline, visit

For more on Rosie Kay Dance Company, visit

For further details on the 48 Signal Squadron Army Reserve Centre (Golden Hillock Road, Sparkbrook, B11 2QG), visit

For more from the Birmingham REP, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit