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

BREVIEW: Daphne @ mac 13-19.10.17

Daphne @ mac 13-19.10.17

Words by Heather Kincaid / Production shots by Agatha A. Nitecka

Daphne was screened in Birmingham as part of the Flatpack: Assemble project, bringing industry showcases to the city. Daphne will be further screened to the general public at mac from Friday 13th to Thursday 19th October – for direct information, including showtimes, venue details and online ticket sales, click here. 

The amorphous structure of Peter Mackie Burns’ feature-length directorial debut perhaps owes something to its origins in a 2013 11-minute short, Happy Birthday to Me. But there’s something oddly compelling about Daphne’s resistance to following cinematic convention, as though, much like its title character, it refuses to be pinned down and made to stick to a single, clearly defined course.

Cinematography by Adam Scarth feels as restless and detached as its subject, both moving passively from one scene to the next, apparently without much sense of where they’re going. And though some inevitably will, viewers aren’t asked to sit in judgement on the character or her story but merely to observe it.

Self-obsessed, single and spiraling steadily out of control, the misanthropic Daphne is almost as unlikely a ‘hero’ as you could imagine. Though she makes a show of independence, her spikiness is little more than a mask for her unwillingness or inability to take control of the life through which she drifts, instinctively ducking out of any encounter where she detects a whiff of change or serious commitment. Because she hasn’t thought of anything better to do yet, Daphne continues to meet up with old school friends she doesn’t really like, stumbles around in a drunken, drug-fueled haze, lives off takeaways she’s forgottDaphne / Production shots by Agatha A. Niteckaen that she ordered and occasionally hooks up with strange men in whom she has no interest.

But when she witnesses a stabbing in a corner shop and stays to save the victim’s life, well… not much changes, actually. After the event, she takes up the offer of counselling, but not because she’s feeling particularly traumatised by what she’s witnessed. In fact, it’s the complete lack of an impact the incident has on her that makes her acknowledge that perhaps there’s something up. As she says to the therapist in a moment of uncharacteristic honesty, “I haven’t felt alive in a long time.”

In conversations around the film, there’s been a lot of emphasis on Daphne’s gender, whether in the form of comparisons with BBC Three’s Fleabag or in accusations of misogyny levelled at critics passing comment on her ‘likeability’. But while Daphne might be part of a new wave of women in film depicted with more unflinching honesty than we’re accustomed to, she’s certainly not the sort of character who’d see herself as any sort of feminist trailblazer. In fact, she largely fails to see herself as anything very much at all.

Arguably it’s this that makes her seem so resonantly real, but perhaps also is at the root of her sometimes being such uneasy company. Though Daphne’s dialogue is often cutting and she is someone who manifestly refuses to give a shit what anyone else things of her, it’s not so much anything she actively says or does that makes her difficult as it is her total inertia. It’s hard to decide what to make of someone who so clearly doesn’t know what to make of herself. This fragmented sense of self is visually indicated from the off, with a striking image of her descending an escalator beside a wall of mirrored strips that dramatically shatter her shifting reflection. That said, Daphne is so far from being unloveable that a bouncer who kicks her out of a club where she’s been misbehaving is enamoured enough to chase her down, ask her out and then decline her knee-jerk offer of casual sex in favour of pursuing something more meaningful. We see, too, that her friends and family are willing – determined even – to put up with her and remain in her life despite her self-destructive attempts to push them all away.

But quite apart from how her fellow characters respond to her, if you’re intellectually smug enough to laugh at her declaring Slavoj Žižek a “doughnut” as she chucks aside a book that she’s been reading just for fun; or at her revelation that she always thinks of Freud when doing coke, (and let’s face it, if you’re watching this film, you probably are) it’s almost difficult not to find her rather charming, spikiness et al. Then there are her magnificent, enviably spontaneous put-downs. “You, sir, are a fabulous cunt,” she says to bouncer David as she staggers away from him.Daphne / Production shots by Agatha A. Nitecka

Daphne also breaks the mould of the gritty, social realist style of cinema it adopts. Rather than focusing on the disenfranchised working class such films are usually designed to champion, Mackie Burns singles out a member of the expanding modern-day precariat as his protagonist. As a well-educated and possibly once fairly well-off 31-year-old (when she remembers), she could serve as a sort of cipher for the instability and disillusionment of the millennial generation, promised a seat at the feast but fast discovering she’s been left with only table scraps.

At the same time, there are hints that she’s merely treading water above a darker underbelly of urban life, which threatens to flood into her world at any moment. For one thing, there’s the homeless man on the corner she knows by name, and for whom she makes up sandwiches at work. Then of course, there’s the lad who panics and stabs the owner of the shop he’s trying to rob in front of her. He tries to rob Daphne too, but tellingly she’s got nothing on her person he deems worth stealing.

Daphne doesn’t give us any easy answers, but the clues to the residual sense of self the title character still possesses are there to hunt for, littered through the story like a trail of breadcrumbs or scrapped leftovers from whatever concoction she’s been devising in the kitchen. On one level, the film might be considered a dark romantic comedy that comes in too late to fully flesh out one affair, and finishes too early to allow the next to blossom. But perhaps surprisingly, Daphne isn’t entirely without ambition: at the restaurant where she works, she asks chef Joe to make her his sous, only to be dismissed completely out of hand (“It’ll ruin your life”) and not for the first time, it seems. She’s clearly interested enough in the idea to spend her free-time testing recipes at home, admittedly only to wrinkle her nose and bin the lot, but the drive is still there. That she doesn’t press the matter further is mostly due to her complicated relationship with the chef himself, a married man with whom she’s clearly mutually in love.

Unsure how to deal with those feelings, she seeks solace in meaningless sex, while holding potential boyfriend David at arms length. Her view of love, as a deluded human attempt to impose meaning on a random universe, is reiterated often enough to sound as though she’s trying to convince herself, and when David calls her bluff on it he unexpectedly exposes real vulnerability – Daphne suddenly flees the scene like a frightened rabbit. Blink and you might miss it, but it’s also her serious decision to quit the job after Joe ‘fesses up his feelings that heralds the beginning of possible change on the horizon.Daphne / Production shots by Agatha A. Nitecka

Meanwhile, she’s also determined to alienate herself from the one reliable figure in her life; having refused chemotherapy for an aggressive cancer, her mum has instead discovered faith and mindfulness, something which naturally frustrates her daughter. Then there’s the fear and self-doubt Daphne is contending with – in particular, her anxiety over not feeling enough about the man she saved to go and visit him. It takes her therapist to suggest that perhaps just doing something is sufficient, and enough of a feeling might well follow after.

Emily Beecham’s skill is in being able to subtly convey all this, without really saying a great deal that’s to the point. Scriptwriter Nico Mensinga’s razor sharp, bone dry dialogue is hilarious but also constantly evasive – it’s down to Beecham to present the character’s pain without ever soliciting our pity. The performance is at once distant and intimate, cold and moving, laugh-out-loud funny and rather tragic. Daphne lives and breathes through Beecham, lingering on in the mind long after the credits finish rolling, so much that you almost expect to meet up with her in your local pub, or maybe on the train back home.

Emily Beecham is backed up by a strong supporting cast as well, with Geraldine James as her surprisingly vivacious, terminally ill mum, Nathaniel Martello-White as a cheerily optimistic David, and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Daphne’s jaded boss and soulmate Joe, who similarly can’t quite work out how his life has ended up like this.

The unsung fifth main character in the film is London itself – a suitably messy and complex companion for Daphne, one vividly captured by Scarth. At times, the camera hones in on the squalor of poverty in England’s capital; at others, it hovers in a sky filled with gleaming clouds and glistening skyscrapers reaching out for something more. The film showcases the rich diversity of London with all its teeming masses, as well as the profound loneliness and anonymity of living there. One particularly striking, slightly hazy birdseye view has the cold, unsympathetic eye of CCTV surveillance, with Daphne staggering past faceless crowds and traffic blurs to create a dizzying, disorienting effect.

Refreshingly then, Daphne is a film that actively resists the conventional cinematic trope of turning points and inciting incidents that change a character’s life for good, instead preferring to just let stuff happen. In real life, epiphanies are generally a long time coming, even if we tend to remember them otherwise after the fact.

Like Daphne herself, the audience is required to sift through the mundane paraphernalia of everyday existence to find the meaning underneath, if indeed there is any. It might not fall in line with standard storytelling techniques, but Daphne is a skillfully drawn character study that provides plenty enough meat to chew on for its full 90 minutes, and long thereafter.

Daphne – a film by Peter Mackie Burns

Daphne will be screened at mac on from Friday 13th to Thursday 19th October. For direct information, including showtimes, venue details and online ticket sales, click here

For more on Daphne, visit

For more from Flatpack, visit

For more from mac, 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