Edinburgh Excitements- (mostly) 80s film trailers.

Dear All

We're off to Edinburgh for OUR CARNAL HEARTS from the 15th - 26th August at 11am at Summerhall.

Here are a few things I'm excited to see, in the form of the 80s films.

WILD BORE - Various Times and dates, Traverse
SEE:  SAVAGE STREETS -  'Too bad you're not double-jointed. Because if you were, you'd be able to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye'

DOLLYWOULD - Sh!t Theatre - Summerhall
SEE: RHINESTONE - 'All right, we'll go to your place and you can show me your organ.'

NO SHOW - Ellie Dubois - Summerhall
SEE: ALIEN - 'I'm going to go out there after them'

SEE: BRAZIL - 'And you can't tell me what the proper channels are, because that's classified information?'


NANETTE - Hannah Gadsby - Assembly
SEE: A QUESTION OF SILENCE / De Stilte Rond Christine M - 'The women laugh and laugh, there is silence'

I AM A TREE - Jamie Wood - Assembly
SEE: LABYRINTH -  'Canst thou summon up the very rocks?'

SEE: THE MONEY PIT - 'It was no picnic but those guys are work animals'

PALMYRA - Bert and Nasi - Summerhall
SEE: ROLLERBALL - 'The game was created to demonstrate the futility of individual effort. And the game must do its work.'

WORKSHY - Katy Baird - Summerhall
SEE: BUGSY MALONE -' I was born to be a dancer.'

THE CLASS PROJECT - Rebecca Atkinson-Lord - Summerhall
SEE: EDUCATING RITA - 'As Trish says there is not a lot of point in discussing beautiful literature in an ugly voice.”

Singing, Women and Resistance: a conversation with Roberta Mock

This was originally posted on THE LARK THEATRE BLOG.

This piece is part of a blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called "Stages of Resistance." The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. 

Roberta Mock: I saw your show, Our Carnal Hearts, on International Woman’s Day, which seemed really significant to me in this particularly horrific political moment. I was taken by what you said during the talk back afterwards about it being a deliberate choice to make a production with a company of women. I always love seeing women technicians, perhaps since I trained as a lighting technician myself and it was my way into directing theater.

For me, the all-woman company now paradoxically feels both remarkably resistant and slightly old-fashioned. I’m thinking of the 1970s: righteous companies with wonderful names like Cunning Stunts and Hormone Imbalance and Monstrous Regiment. On the other hand, there’s been subsequent critique of so-called 2nd wave feminism for supposedly excluding men.

Rachel Mars: When I conceived the show, it never occurred to me to have a male singing voice in it. If I unpacked that, it’s probably something to do with making a dedicated space for the female voice. I’m not exclusionary – I do work with men when I want to work with men. This time I wanted to work with women. I applied for a wodge of funding and I got it. I had this tiny amount of power to do what I wanted with the money, so why not employ women off stage too?

Roberta: Would you describe your choice to work only with women on this production as political?

Rachel: I think it’s proven to be. When you enter a theater space as an all-female company, you are sometimes approached by a technician or programmer or front of house person, and they often don’t know what to do, who to ask their questions to. They address a question to the group, and the group decides who is best equipped to answer it.

Roberta: That confusion rings very true. When I started making company work, with Lusty Juventus Physical Theatre, it was a mixed company but led and driven by women. The first three shows in the mid to late 1990s always had men in them, but our final show in 2002, M(other), had an all-woman cast and crew. We started working deliberately outside of traditional theatrical role descriptions, so we wouldn’t say “This person is the writer, this person is the director, this person is the choreographer…” When we showed up at a theater, they asked which of us is the director. I would say, “We all are”, and they’d say “Well, we’re going to talk to you because you’re the one who told us that there wasn’t a director.”

Rachel: It’s a way of troubling systems and structures that people assume, or have internalized. One of the other performers in Our Carnal Hearts, who is in a lot of bands where she’s the only woman, has told me she’s rarely asked questions about technical set ups, or sometimes barely addressed at all at venues. Our production manager just told me a similar story. So I suppose it has become a small political act, retrospectively. It’s hard to know how conscious that was.

Roberta: Do you have any thoughts about what the term resistance might mean in relation to your theater work?

Rachel: I think we’re resisting an assumption of the power structures that we accept as neutral. I try to travel through life ignoring gender, until somebody reminds me of it. Perhaps this is a privilege. Somehow this all-female company, and all-female rehearsal space, meant we weren’t doing the work “as women” because we weren’t being reminded by anyone else.

Roberta: And you weren’t reminding yourselves all the time either, unlike for us creating a show about motherhood from our lived experience. Even though it was about trying to separate the maternal from an essentialist understanding of what it means to be a woman, gender was always in the rehearsal space.

But your subject matter in this piece is not specifically about women or being a woman. I think Maddy Costa sums it up well when she suggests the show is asking how envy might “be held within the panoply of human emotion, in a manner that isn’t injurious, as the basis of collaboration rather than competition.”

Many of the all-women or women-centered companies of the 1970s and 80s were collectives, which is a lineage we were definitely drawing on as Lusty Juventus. When you made Our Carnal Hearts, did you do this, for example, in a non-hierarchical way?

Rachel: No, it wouldn’t be right to say it was non-hierarchical because I was leading the process; I conceived it. I’m the one who wrote the first big funding bid and then employed the others. But it was a collaborative process in the rehearsal room. The collectivism now is more about being aware of people’s time and money. As we do the show more and more, the singers are better equipped to just show up and do it. So we have discussions about the call time since they’re going to be paid a certain amount no matter what. I’m aware they’re all freelancers so being there from 3:00pm, as opposed to 5:30, makes a big difference to them.

Roberta: Of course. How much does that add up to, all of those two hour periods?

Rachel: Exactly. I will talk most of the financial decisions through with the company; they are transparent. There are new questions arising as we are touring more. We talk about how it feels being a part of a company with new people coming in who are replacements. There’s emotional stuff. We don’t pretend that we’re not people.

Roberta: I think this is all important. The discussion of the labor of making theater is a resistant act in itself. It acknowledges time is money and your body is money, even when you love what you’re doing. And the issues that arise with replacing people in a cast is the same for a lot of devised work. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of devised work has come through woman-centred or feminist companies. You start to have to confront the ethics of different bodies doing the work created from somebody else’s experiences and to ask who owns those experiences.

Rachel:  There’s also something resistant about insisting on the show having a long-ish shelf-life. So many shows happen and then they’re done. But this show has cost so much money and took so long to develop, a year and a half to two years, that I wasn’t prepared for it to be in that kind of economy of ‘now what?’ It hasn’t found all its audiences yet so we have to keep doing it. A friend of mine – Paula Varjack – says, “You’ve made this baby and venues ask what are you doing next and it’s like ‘wait a minute, you haven’t even held this baby yet.’” The things we’re encountering about ownership are mainly to do with doing something that is more long term. I’m trying to draw from established systems for advice and deciding what’s right for this work.

Roberta: You say established systems, but there aren’t that many established systems for devised theater – you’re out there in uncharted territory in many ways.

Rachel: I’m just trying to navigate what feels fair, which of course is subjective. I’m trying to get to somewhere where people feel represented and happy. Touring this production – the pre-shows, the conversations over tea – has definitely become a space for talking about our patriarchal fury. And we all appreciate that supported space, where we can decide how we’re going to respond to the world. It becomes, at times, a group of really angry women who are using the support of each other and the differences we come with, to decide how to behave when we feel fucked off, how to carve out space, how to be heard, when it’s time to shut up and get out of the way. I’m trying to build up a tool kit by constantly reporting experience. I’ve been more furious since the US elections in November than ever. I mean day to day.

Roberta: There have been massive changes since you finished making the piece a year ago. Have you noticed any differences with audiences since the Brexit referendum and the US election last year?

Rachel: I think since then there’s been a slightly better expressed need for assembly. I think there’s more capacity and desire for coming together and talking.

Roberta: Do you usually do talk backs after the performances?

Rachel: We try to. We just did one with two economics professors from the University of Essex. That was very much an economic discussion around the theme of competition in the show: good and bad types of competition, envy that comes from inequality. Even without talk backs, I’m finding people want to talk more.

Roberta: To resist competition is to resist what makes a neoliberal society tick – and you’re doing that both by working in a company in a particular way and by exploring it nakedly as subject matter in performance.

Rachel: We’re trying desperately to hold on to being colleagues when everything is telling us we’re in competition with one another.  It’s a hard thing to do, I think. Having a space to talk about our grubbier feelings of comparison, putting them on the outside and being aware of what this is doing to us, feels important to me right now.

'33 Shades of Shit Date' for Worst.Date.Ever - Varjack and Simpson for And What Festival

Paula Varjack and Dan Simpson run a night called Worst.Date.Ever, which invites people to share their stories of terrible dating mishaps. I conducted a poll of friends and family and performed this. All true. Thank you to all contributors.


1.     The first date where we had to sit in the shade in a pub garden on a lovely summer’s day as he told me he was on medication for chlamydia

2.     The date where he said ‘is that all I’m getting’ as we parted on a street corner with a snog

3.     The date where she got asked to take part in a threesome by a couple sitting next to us. Not a foursome. A threesome. And she spent ages chatting to them

4.     The date when I had food poisoning and I went back to hers just before it kicked in, and then it kicked in and I threw up violently in her loo and then her dog threw up violently on the carpet in front of us and she gave me a dry cracker, led me to the door and micro flinched when she hugged me goodbye

5.     The date where she brought her boyfriend along

6.     The date where we had nothing in common except crisps so we had to talk about crisps until a socially acceptable amount of time had passed and I could leave

7.     The date who had already had 2 bottles of wine before I got there and mumbled through the first half hour then I went to get her some water and when I got back she had passed out

8.     The not first date where I realised he was a deeply cynical person as he kept mocking everything I enjoyed and I called him out on it and we sat in silence until a socially acceptable amount of time had passed and I could leave

9.     The date who I didn’t fancy but fucking them in an alley was easier than talking any more

10.  The date where I flippantly said I didn’t know how people got accidentally pregnant so easily and she told me about the first time she’d had sex with her ex and accidentally got pregnant and had to have an abortion

11.  The date who ordered food but didn’t eat and it was the first date so I didn’t feel I could eat their dinner as well as mine and I never got over their wastage

12.  The date where I was thrown out of girl’s house for laughing at her poster of 50 Seminal Danish Chairs

13.  The date where he kicked a homeless man and ripped a hole up the arse of his own white jeans in the process

14.  The date who turned up pushing a double buggy but didn’t have kids

15.  The date where the guy was 45 mins late and I said I wasn’t drinking and he said ‘are you doing that to punish me’ and then told me everyone who has a pet should be forced to have children because pets are immoral

16.  The date that was so boring I pretended to be having a diabetes induced hypo

17.  The date who didn’t know how to use a bus because he’d never left Kilburn

18.  The second date who I immediately remembered I hadn’t even fancied on the first date but I’d been wasted so I’d forgotten

19.  The third date who I immediately remembered I hadn’t even fancied on the first or second date but had been wasted both times and forgotten.

20.  The date who was furious and became abusive when I wanted a pint and chat and not to go home and fuck and shouted I wasn’t all that anyway

21.  The internet date who turned out to be my mate’s dad who wasn’t out as gay

22.  The date who showed me hundreds of pictures of the vegetables she carved ornately for  dinners on her own

23.  The date who didn’t ask me a single question

24.  The date who talked about her ex all the way through the evening but I went home with her anyway and then she started talking about her ex when we were fucking and I finally realised I’d been out with her too

25.  The date who looked so much like my mum a bit of sick came up when they walked in

26.   The date who walked in carrying a plastic bag as his main bag bag and you just know

27.  The only date I’ve ever been on that has turned into an 11 year relationship and I’m still not sure it’s right     

28.  The date where I didn’t fancy them at all so I said I was having an early night and walked them back to their bike and I got on a bus and then got off at the next stop and walked back to the bar and snogged the person I’d actually had my eye on all night

29.  The date who suddenly disappeared after 3 weeks as he went to prison

30.  The date who was an actor on Coronation Street who would spend every meal saying ‘are they looking at me? are they staring at me?’ when we were eating. They never were.

31.  The date who was German and spent the whole time banging on about how in Germany they had had double glazing since the 1960s and we were really backward in only having it recently

32.  The date I didn’t realise was a date and took my partner to

33.  The date who took me to the same restaurant where his parents were eating out that night and we sat next to them and said hullo and then politely ignored each other until we were looking at the menu and my date asked me if I thought the chicken sounded like a good choice and his mum said darling that’s what I’m having it’s lovely and leant over and fed him with her own fork

A Pause for Thought that never was (Radio 2 doesn't do bodily functions, alas)

Last year I was being very grown up and I booked one of those hire-by-the-hour cars that you can pick up on a local street. We were going to the garden centre, a sure sign of maturity. Loading up the car boot with plants and pots and I thought proudly – here I am, finally arriving in adulthood.

Driving back home, we got stuck in a long traffic jam and I realised I really should have used the bathroom at the garden centre. Not to worry! I thought. Adults use their wits! There, a shortcut, and I turned down a small road on the left. A very small road. A road that got narrower and narrower until it became obvious it wasn’t a road, just a passageway to someone’s garage, until it was clear that there would be no way of turning the car around. I panicked – how was I going to reverse the car out without scratching it, it wasn’t even my car and it had to be back in 20 minutes. The panic suddenly made me laugh, and the laughing and the panic combined to make me need a wee more than ever. I realised I was going to have to get out and pee in the passageway. I tried to open the car door and found that the walls of the passage were only a fraction wider than the car. I couldn’t get out.

There’s a prayer in Judaism that you say after going to the bathroom. It thanks god for keeping our passages open and working because a blocked passageway would make it impossible to survive.  Trapped in my hire car, the perils of a blocked passage had become horribly apparent.

So, this is a story about pride coming before a fall. Or about wetting yourself in a hire-by-the-hour-car, aged 35. You can go to the garden centre, you can buy all the spider plants you like, childhood is never that far away.

On Women, Comedy and Older Jewish Audiences

For two years now I've co-produced the UK Jewish Comedy Festival in London. It's an inclusive beast- we programme acts that are Jewish, Jew-ish and not at all Jewish for any one who wants to come. There have been events which felt vital - the cross- communal joy of 'A Rabbi, A Vicar and An Imam Walk Into A Comedy Club'; nights which were thinly veiled scratches to personal itches - 'When Harry Met Sally: The Live Read Through' and a moment where a naked man danced around in an Jeremy Clarkson mask (thank you Arthur Smith).

Audiences at the festival for traditional stand-up are tricky to figure out.  On the whole the average audience age is higher than you might predict at a standard comedy night and blue material is hard to get past them. There's an initial suspicion, a 'come on then, entertain me' challenge. There's not a lot of drinking ( but interval queues for coffee and cake, absolutely ) so comics don't get that kind of rolling laughter that comes from a crowd being being slightly...softened.. But, mostly, they'll slowly defrost and acts have a good time.

Except, that is, if you are a Jewish female comic. Now, I'd thought that being an out-Jew in front of a predominantly Jewish crowd would be an advantage. Like playing at home. The slightly in-jokes, the mirror-reflecting your experience back at you from the stage can be reassuring, especially if you don't feel represented a lot of the time.  And yes, if you are in a male body, this seems to be true. But everytime a confident, edgy Jewish woman is on, something bizarre and worrying happens to the atmosphere in the room.  There's a sudden feeling of hostility, an air of disapproval. Whilst noone heckles or says anything outright at the time, it's a loaded and complex silence which is harder to challenge.

The audience reception is notably unequal.  You can drop some mild homophobia down the mic if you have a circumcised penis, but good luck to you if you swear whilst being Jewish in possession of breasts. Two older women walked out of a gig after a female comic said 'cunt', complained about that, but not about the fact that an older male comic had previously joked that they were a 'couple of hookers'.

I've seen the same women performers rock non-Jewish comedy nights time after time -it's not a question of talent or quality- it's our (supposedly celebratory) Jewish spaces that are the problem.

It sends a pretty clear message. We are fine with non-Jewish women taking the stage.  We will laugh along with Jewish men. We will not support a Jewish woman owning her voice. We do not want the world filtered to us through a female Jewish perspective, and we are absolutely not OK with her expressing challenging opinions. Back again to Yose ben Yochanan and his 'do not converse much with women' (Pirkei Avot 1:5)

If I am being generous, I might attribute a kind of strange parental concern to the behaviour. There is enough of an age gap that the comic could be the audience's daughter, and a sense of familial ownership and the potential shame of a subsersive child kicks in. We are entitled to criticise, to disparage. You belong to us and we haven't raised you to speak like this.

There are exceptions. if you are an outspoken Jewish woman who is lauded by the non-Jewish world first - Ruby Wax for example, then the community want to welcome you back. You've got the 'real-world' stamp of approval. We can get over our discomfort if them-others tell us it's ok to appreciate our people, to get with modernity.  A friend reminded me of Naomi Alderman's brilliant and depressing article [you can only read a bit of it there, alas] about her treatment by the British Jewish press and community before she was lauded by non-Jewish institutions, which so frighteningly echoed that of late Nineteenth Century novellist Amy Levy who was reviled for her novel Reuben Sachs. Both women were berated for speaking too loudly about the weaknesses of the Jewish community to a potentially non-Jewish readership, (I realise I risk that here. Fuck it.)   It's the kind of 'head below the parapet', entrenched auto-anti-semitism which we are loathed to admit, but, when coupled with the acting-out of internalised patriarchal repression , finds an acceptable target - the public Jewish female voice.

I know that we're emerging out of a hugely unequal tradition, but I really thought we'd travelled further than this. We claim to be a welcoming, liberal community with valued female Rabbis and thinkers. We say we want to be louder, prouder in our Jewishness. This comedic space seems to be an area where old-fashioned British Jewish misogyny and entrenched patriarchal shame can silently simmer on- or make itself known in disapproving complaints after the fact- as yet unchallenged.  It's not gone unnoticed. It's time to call it out. Enough.


Pause for Thought on 'Surprising Encounters' - BBC Radio 2, Jan 2016

If you’d pulled up alongside a particular London minicab at a particular red light last Sunday evening, you may have seen the driver and the passenger engaged in what might have looked like an argument, arms flailing, mouths animated. But if you rolled down your window and listened, you would have heard that they were in fact singing, dueting passionately.

I was taking a cab home from the community centre where I sometimes work. The driver who picked me up asked what this place was. ‘It’s a Jewish cultural centre’ I said. ‘Well, Jew-ish. It’s for everyone really’. ‘Oh’ he said. And then went very quiet. After a considerable pause he suddenly broke out in song ‘Sunrise! Sunset! Sunrise! Sunset!’ He told me he’d left his home in Kabul ten years ago, escaping war and uncertainty. He had moved into a room in London where the previous occupant had left behind one DVD -‘Fiddler on The Roof’. He had used it to learn English and now could recite the whole thing off by heart, and sing all of the parts in all of the songs. We talked about the music and culture in Afghanistan, the Afghan sense of humour and then we got down to the nitty-gritty – what was the best number in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’.

It is encounters like this that give me hope for human connection, and blow myassumptions about difference getting in the way of our relationships well and truly out of the water. A small Jewish woman and an Afghan man crossing a city, singing songs about a family escaping conflict, both he and I brought to this moment by our own acts of fleeing (his journey to the UK, my grandparents’ journeys generations before.) As the lights changed and we belted out ‘Tradition’, the sadness at the cycles of war that displace us were eclipsed by the joy of this surprising affinity.




Hullo. An Article on Jewish Humour (and the Moose joke) for The JC, Dec 2015


Dissecting humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.
E.B White


This year’s inaugural UK Jewish Comedy Festival at JW3 has prompted a lot of people asking ‘what is Jewish comedy? Not least, me. As a co-producer of the festival I’ve killed a lot of frogs, trying to work out what would be different about this festival to any other comedy week. Did we operate via the Virgil Thomson model? Thomson, a US composer, remarked: “ The way to write American music is simple. All you have to do is be an American and then write any kind of music you wish.”

So we could just programme Jews, whose material – no matter the style or content – would be inherently Jewish. Or does Jewish comedy have to be identified by something more than who your (standard-joke-character) mother is?  Is there a tone, a rhythm, subject matters that mark comedy out as Jewish comedy, no matter who is saying it? Arguably (and argued-albeit jokingly - by David Schneider on this week’s BBC ‘Front Row’) all comedians are outsiders, observers, and therefore, Jews. I’m not convinced that this revelation is going to go down well with everyone.

The most well celebrated Jewish Comedians’ material is marked by a seductive mix of intelligence and coarseness; it’s there in Larry David, Lenny Bruce, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers.  This makes sense. We’re the people of the book, but also the people of the book that contains a prayer for the successful working of our bumholes. So yes, it’s got to be sharply argued, and yes they’ll likely be references to oral sex/ erectile problems/ hemorrhoids. But if I had to nail my colours to the mast (to use a particularly non-Jewish phrase – what Jews do you know going boating?) I think it’s the rhythms that, above all, make comedy Jewish. Rhythms rooted in a language lovechild of Yiddish and English with a no-nonsense New York tawwking step-mother. This doesn’t mean Jewish comedy has to have an American accent; you can use these cadences whether you’re Brooklyn or Bromley.

I would argue that Woody Allen’s Moose routine is one of the finest examples of Jewish comedy going.  A mix of the potentially believable and wildly fanciful, with a lyrical linguistic phrasing and a killer pay-off, all told in a way that’s both neurotic and nonchalant - like he could be talking about his day in the office.

‘I shot a moose, once’ he starts. Not ‘once I shot a moose’.  The latter is both too smooth rhythmically and also builds the event into a big deal. The way Woody tells it makes it sounds casual, allowing the audience time to figure out the actual surprise and surrealism of the statement before disrupting the rhythm with ‘once’. Subtly echoing the word order of Yiddish phrasing like ‘smart, he isn’t’, it is also funny out of Allen’s mouth: a tiny, twitching, urban man who we wouldn’t believe had ever had access to a gun, or a moose.

Allen ties the animal to his car, but ends up having only wounded it. On the road he has an idea, so drives the moose back into town, trying to ditch him at a costume party.  Here we are out of the woods, back in a familiar suburban world and the classic terrain of unlikely juxtaposition providing humour. As the host of the party opens the door, Allen introduces the moose: ‘You know the Solomons’. Not the Jones’, not the Smiths , not even the Cohens. Three syllables - a classic comedy choice- and a name that immediately makes the audience understand what kind of party this is. Plus, the idea of passing a moose off as a Jewish couple is such an outrage, so meshugge and chutzpahdik , that we recognise it as effortlessly Jewish (almost Rabbinic) in logic .  Sure enough, at midnight when the best costume is announced: ‘The first prize goes to the Berkowitz’s, [beat] a married couple [beat] dressed in a moose suit.  The moose comes in second’.   

The end of the routine sees Allen mistakenly transport the Berkowitz’s –not the moose- back to the woods, where Mr Berkowitz is: ‘shot, stuffed….and mounted….at the New York City Golf Club’.  Massive pause. And then, here comes the kicker: ‘And the joke’s on them, because they don’t allow Jews.’ Noone sees this coming, this fantastic story that has paid no care to reality suddenly slamming back into local, political territory; ending with two-fingers up at Anti-Semitism and a massive victory for the Jews (although, not so much for Mr Berkovitz). Again, the Yiddish-inspired word order - not: ‘And because they don’t allow Jews, the joke’s on them’ – means the final idea comes like an actual punch, withholding the piece of information that makes sense of the phrase until the last word.

Woody Allen was not at the UK Jewish Comedy Festival in person (although we did screen ‘Sleeper’). But the quality of the entrants to the UK Jewish Comedian of the Year Competition highlights the riches we have as a British Jewish community.  Although the acts were wildly differing in content and Jewishness - (look, we didn’t ask, some of them might have been Mormons, anyone even considering holding the title ‘Jewish Comedian of the Year’ is Jewish enough) – there was still a unifying factor. Close your eyes, don’t listen to the words so much as the cadence, and there was the essence of Jewishness, a melody even, that had travelled time and continents to be there. And after consultation with our lawyers we’ve decided the prize for the competition is £1000. The plan to stuff and mount the winner in the JW3 entrance as an extravagant call-back to the best Jewish comedy routine of all time has been scrapped.