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

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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

BPREVIEW: I Knew You @ Birmingham REP 29.9 – 7.10.17

I Knew You @ Birmingham REP 29.9 - 7.10.17

Words by Lucy Mounfield

Running from Friday 29th September until 7th October, the REP’s smaller stage, The Door, will host I Knew You – a new play from Birmingham-born writer and performer, Steve Camden (aka Polarbear).

Doors open for an evening performance at 8pm each night – apart from Tues 3rd Oct (7pm), Thurs 5th Oct (2:30pm), Sat 7th Oct (2:30pm). Ticket are priced at £10, with group, family, disabled and school rates available through the REP box office. For direct event info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

I Knew You receives its premiere at the Birmingham REP before moving on to a tour of fifteen libraries, community halls and small cafes. This is Camden’s second play, following on from his success at The Door in 2015 with his coming of age tale Back Down.

Prior to debuting Back Down to critical acclaim, Steve Camden was a respected UK based spoken word artist, regularly performing his work under the name Polarbear since 2007. Camden has even written and published three novels – Tape, It’s About Love, and Nobody Real – as well as writing Mouth Open, Story Jump Out which is currently on its third international tour. I Knew You is part of Birmingham REP’s New and Nurtured programme which features six plays by local writers.

With some home-grown talent as the play’s lead actress – Lorna Laidlaw, who previously starred in daytime T.V. soap/drama, Doctors – I Knew You tells the story of nearly-retired single mum, Angela, whose fixed routine of ready-meals and looking after her cats is suddenly interrupted by a chance encounter with ‘her Patrick’, an erstwhile partner who had previously walked out on her and their son, Nathan. Patrick bears news that forces Angela to consider introducing him to Nathan, who up until this point has had no idea who his father is.

Now himself a parent – a stay at home dad struggling to cope with parenthood – with the arrival of Patrick, Nathan comes face to face with his own identity as a father and son. As past and present collide, I Knew You portends to re-examine what it means to be a parent and the importance of having those early role models.

Camden says of his latest play:

‘Everything I write is about family, whether blood or chosen. The dynamics between those people closest to each other are the ones that fascinate me. I am very interested in what the passage of time does to perceptions and opinions. How the lens through which we view what happens changes over time and what that means for us when we are forced to address it.

I Knew You was born out of me thinking about that in relation to parenthood, duty and absence. What happens to the space that remains when a person leaves? What do we make them into in order to function? What do we make ourselves?  And what happens if they come back?’

With this kind of thought-process, I Knew You could be an astute and nuanced refection on the relationship between a parent and their child, and the absence thereof. Birmingham get’s the first chance to find out, at the REP between Friday 29th September until 7th October.

I Knew You – a play by Steven Camden

I Knew You runs at the Birmingham REP from Friday 29th September until 7th October. For direct event info, including venue details and online bookings, visit

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

For more on Steven Camden (aka Polarbear), visit

BREVIEW: Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin @ The Old Joint Stock 31.08-03.09.2017

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin / Patrick Boland

Words by Lucy Mounfield / Pics by Patrick Boland

I can’t think of better way to mourn the end of August than by doing what’s best on a wonderful summer’s eve – drinking, laughing and having a good time. Thankfully, Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin, performed at The Old Joint Stock Theatre, allowed me to do just that.

Indeed, gin is enjoying a renaissance. In recent years gin drinking has spread everywhere from the hipster burger bars to music festivals, becoming synonymous with the joie de vivre outlook on life.

However, this hasn’t always been the case. Tapping into gin’s darker past, co-creators Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood take on the role of two cabaret ‘broads’ exploring the spirits politically charged origins. Here I need to confess, I often shy away from audience interaction. If you suffer from the same disposition, do not be afraid: Marsden and Wood’s infectious thirst for fun is a fantastic tonic.

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin / Patrick BolandFrom the moment I stepped into the small theatre at The Old Joint Stock I was greeted with the two female performers and their accompanist Tom Dickens, already on stage laughing and joking whilst swigging from bottles of the good stuff. Immediately the three had a competition going to sing the most inventive and humorous gin-pun infused songs. Some cracking ones were Madonna’s ‘Like a Vir-gin’ and Christina Aguilera’s ‘Ginny in a Bottle’.

The three performers have obvious chemistry and rapport, which was showcased in their rendition of the musical Cabaret’s ‘Two Ladies’. Here, Dickens became the stage emcee and sang, whilst playing the guitar ‘two ladies and one man’ complete with choreography that aped the original Bob Fosse film.

The set for Mother’s Ruin included a keyboard, silver velvet curtain as a backdrop, and a drinks table with empty glasses, bottles and cocktail shaker: clear signs that these three had been enjoying themselves well before we came along. Holding my free glass of boutique G&T, I felt suitably at home.

Interestingly, the duo opened their set with a revised rendition of the Lord’s Prayer that clearly set out their passion for gin and indoctrinated us into the church of ‘Mother’s Ruin’. Once the bluesy notes of the new ‘gin prayer’ had been sung, we were introduced to the ‘Holy Trinity’: gin, tonic and garnish. At this point, Marsden pulled out a tiny bottle from her bosom and poured the contents into a tumbler, whilst Wood bit off the end of a cucumber and spat it into her glass. Throughout the night both bosoms contained an endless supply of alcohol.

‘Mother’s Ruin’ – the often-quoted epithet for gin – suggests a history steeped in female oppression and women’s mental health; images like Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ from the 1750s, which picture women lying in the gutter drunk from gin, led to this nickname being coined. Gin is steeped in anti-women mythology – something that Mother’s Ruin tries to explore and debunk.

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About GinThrough the medium of story-telling and singing, Mother’s Ruin starts the story with the 1729 gin craze which saw Londoners consume on average a litre of the liquor per week. With a feminist perspective, they challenge the images of ‘mother’s ruin’ by Hogarth and his ilk as propagandist, denouncing the painter and social critic as an advertiser working for a brewery. At this point, the facts come thick and fast; at times the performance felt bogged down by the sheer amount of history, but the musical story-telling helped keep the show moving.

One such moment was the story of Ada Coleman, who in 1903 was the first female barmaid in the ‘American bar’ at the Savoy Hotel. Coleman created the now infamous Hanky Panky cocktail which is still on the menu at the Savoy today. Sharing the recipe with us, Wood sang Amy Winehouse’s ‘You Know I’m No Good’ whilst Marsden concluded that Coleman was fired because the American men who frequented the Savoy during prohibition did not like being served by a woman. This was a poignant moment that caused the audience to sigh and gasp in shock from the evident struggles that women faced.

Mother’s Ruin not only highlights the complicated relationship between female suffrage and gin but also that of racism and British Imperialism. In a fantastically hilarious rendition of Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’, all three performers told the story of how tonic water was invented; Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin / Patrick Bolandturning Lee’s song into ‘Malarial Fever’, Wood performed the song as an inebriated dying woman.

The suffering of white imperialists in the jungles of Peru urged people to find a remedy in the aid of quinine. Years later, the British Raj in India introduced quinine to sugar and added gin to produce the infamous gin and tonic. Of course this was only reserved for the privileged, which the performers quite rightly point out; throughout the witty interplay between the performers onstage banter, story-telling and music, Mother’s Ruin maintains a solid tribute to the adversity and suffering that lay behind the invention of the G&T.

As well as history, the performers have a fantastic mastery of all styles and genres of music from the honky-tonk blues to their a capella version of The Pretenders’ ‘Hymn to Her’. One of the most outrageous moments was the rap about how gin was invented; Tom Dickens spat some bars on the microphone,whilst Marsden and Wood threw themselves into rapping all things gin.

Ending the show with an American hoedown style song, the two women rapidly sang the names of every gin they have ever tasted – ultimately testifying to the Gin God their love and devotion to the drink. Mother’s Ruin have decided to save gin from its dark past and have succeeded.

For more on Mother Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin, visit

For more from The Old Joint Stock, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit

BPREVIEW: Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin @ The Old Joint Stock 31.08-03.09.17

Words by Lucy Mounfield / Pics by Patrick Boland

Running from Thursday 31st August to Sunday 3rd September, Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin will tipsily explore the history of gin through a unique brand of story-telling, song and drinking the good stuff itself (with tonic) at The Old Joint Stock’s intimate theatre. The Old Joint Stock seems the perfect choice for Mother’s Ruin with the theatre above the pub.

Created and performed by Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood, Mother’s Ruin is coming straight from the Edinburgh Festival and London’s Underbelly Festival – pausing their run in Birmingham, before heading back on the festival tour circuit with Cabaret in the Glen on October 19th. Nominated for Best Cabaret (Fringe World Festival ) and Best Writing (Green Room Awards), Mother’s Ruin is a 60min cabaret, loosely blending a historical narrative with the hysterical happenings of two women who love drinking all things gin.

Beginning the story with 18th Century vaudeville London, Mother’s Ruin sings and drinks through the next 200 years of prohibition, New York speakeasies, the Australian bush, the jungles of Peru and a trip to India. Gin has had a rocky history – closely tied to colonization and women’s rights – which makes the renaissance of gin in recent years all the more interesting.

Throughout these stories Marsden and Wood weave in gin recipes, recount the origins to some of the world’s most famous cocktails, and give away tips on how to drink the spirit. With a gin researcher as part of the production team (Elly Baxter aka The Gintress), Mother’s Ruin takes the story of gin drinking quite seriously, mixing feminism and history to re-tell the story of this dubious tipple.

When I think of a cabaret nightclub, I picture a dark cavernous room with jazz music being played by a pianist at the stage; I think of people sitting elegantly, tapping their fingers rhythmically on the small round table they occupy, drinking gin with ice, a twist of orange, and a splash of tonic water. Gin, cabaret and music go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that Mother’s Ruin combines all three. 

And if all this gin musing makes you thirsty, don’t fret as each ticket holder to Mother’s Ruin will be given a free glass of gin and tonic. During the UK tour of the show, the gin of choice has been Four Pillars Gin – an Australian boutique spirit, made with oranges and botanicals native to Australia and served with Fever Tree Tonic.

And if, like me, you couldn’t tell a boutique booze from supermarket schnapps don’t worry because Meave Marsden and Libby Wood do – facts I’m sure they will reveal to us whilst singing and drinking the night away.

‘I’ve Drunk Every Gin’ – from Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin

For more on Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin, visit 

For more from The Old Joint Stock, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit