Weekend Without Walls 
East Brighton Park 
Brighton Festival 2017

Reviewed by Marianne Lemond

Brighton Festival’s Weekend Without Walls aims to take outdoor arts out of the city centre and into parks in local communities where there is lower engagement with the arts. Now an established and popular feature of the Festival, this year’s Weekend Without Walls took place in Easthill Park in Portslade Village, and East Brighton Park in Whitehawk. At East Brighton Park, performances ranged from aerial dance to miniature theatre. Two shows that stood out for me though were Deaf Men Dancing’s Corazon a Corazon and Wild N Beets’ Bingo Lingo. Both shows explore and challenge stereotypical and restrictive perceptions of disabled people, albeit in very different ways.

Deaf Men Dancing, a company made up of, as the title suggests, male dancers who are deaf, cleverly fuse contemporary dance with sign language. Their unique style seems particularly fitting for their new show, Corazon a Corazon, based as it is on a novel almost entirely written in dialogue – Argentinian writer Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. The novel (later adapted into a play and a film) centres on the growing bond between two male prisoners who share a cell in an Argentinian jail – one, Valentin, is a member of a revolutionary group trying to overthrown the government, and the other, Molina, is a sensitive young man who has been imprisoned for engaging in homosexual acts.

Director Mark Smith’s choreography and staging conveys the extreme emotions experienced by the two male characters. Their anger and frustration at their imprisonment is expressed in one dance where they leap over their beds and fling themselves against their prison bars (cleverly, the latticed bed frames become their prison bars when placed vertically). In another dance, their growing relationship is portrayed through an intimate Argentine tango. The show climaxes with their intimidating prison warden being transformed into the ‘spider woman’ of the novel’s title. The dancer playing the spider woman is strapped into a harness, and dances above us, spinning a web with the long tendrils of her red dress. The two dancers playing the prisoners become trapped in her red web, just as in the novel it emerges that the warden has entrapped Molina into spying on Valentin for the police. The show explores how people resist (or capitulate to) different types of oppression. The fusion of sign language with contemporary dance to explore these issues is particularly powerful as sign language has itself often been a form of resistance for Deaf people against an oralist culture that has at times tried to eliminate sign language and suppress Deaf culture.

Political resistance is also explored in Wild N Beets’ Bingo Lingo, although with a much lighter touch. Daryl Beeton and Nicola Miles-Wilding direct and play bingo comperes Beryl and Cyril in a show they describe as the point ‘where disability politics meets cheeky end of the pier humour’. In specially made mobility scooters with attached bingo ball machine and prizes, Beryl and Cyril preside over a game of bingo with the audience. Divided into four teams, the audience place over-sized bingo cards on numbers with unusual names such as ‘Artificial Legs Eleven’ and ‘Wheelchair Queen Number Eighteen’. The show wears its disability politics lightly at first but it becomes more hard-hitting as it progresses, with reference to ‘Austerity Wars Forty- four’ and Teresa May’s current leadership (‘May we not’ as Cyril says). The show critiques the extreme stereotypes of disabled people, as either ‘Superhuman’ athletes or ‘benefit scroungers’. Like Corazon a Corazon, the show explores how disabled people can resist the dominant narratives about their identities. Whilst Deaf Men Dancing use sign language to expand the dance form and challenge preconceptions about Deaf people, Wild N Beets’ Bingo Lingo uses humour to fight back against a government and tabloid media set on undermining disabled people’s rights.

Weekend Without Walls, part of Brighton Festival 2017, took place at Easthill Park Portslade on 13 May and East Brighton Park Brighton on 14 May 2017. www.brightonfestival.org 


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