The second Transform festival, held at the West Yorkshire Playhouse over two weekends, set out to ‘create intimate performances in a temporary pop-up theatre space, take you on an interactive adventure through the labyrinths of the theatre, and allow you into the development for a major new piece of work’. The mood of excitement in the air was infectious, and it felt like a fresh breeze was blowing through the playhouse, ruffling the papers, touching everyone with a gust of excitement and giving the building a good airing.
Associate Producer Amy Letman commented, “Transform is an opportunity to try new things, create new relationships, and create extraordinary experiences as part of a festival atmosphere. AsTransform is a festival, it’s an opportunity to really be playful and adventurous. We’ve been overwhelmed by the feedback this year – people had a really great time and seemed to be constantly coming back each day for more!”
The Transform Symposium, held in the theatre bar, focused on the question of what transformation means and how theatre should reflect this. With speakers from across the arts followed by small group debates, the discussion was refreshingly honest and free-ranging, creating a jolly, buzzing atmosphere. The general consensus was that, in order to survive, theatre must engage with people as human beings, seeking to develop ‘an architecture of engagement’. Leeds-based physical theatre company RashDash stated that, as young artists, they feel forced to compete constantly with their peers – “To get a share of the funding, I have not only to be brilliant. I have to be better than you” –and praised the festival’s refreshing mood of cooperation, support and collaboration.
In the Image of You, a work in progress by Curious Directive, presents refreshing new material, focusing on two female scientists from different eras. This beautiful piece of storytelling incorporates fluid dance moves to echo the beauty and threat posed by our ever-mutating genes, as life passes through bodies as we pass the baton on. The young cast are clear, original and bright, and the film montages and dance-like manipulation of objects enhance the production tremendously. Though in its early stages, there is a rich foundation here for a very thought-provoking piece of drama, ranging from petty office frustrations to world-changing scientific breakthroughs. The final product should be spell-binding, and (I never thought I’d say this) I felt that it could even include a bit more science!
Following the playhouse’s call three months ago for nine people from Yorkshire, with little no previous performance experience, to present a solo self-portrait on stage and, 9, created exclusively for Transform in collaboration with Chris Goode and Company, is the culmination of this. The nine vignettes, ranging from a baby born with a cleft palate, to an angry trombonist, to a much longed-for child, to a supermarket trolley full of shoes, to a song of life, to a frustrated office worker, to a carnival costume maker, to a would-be pianist, to a hatred of making dumplings, each offers an acutely personal, vivid glimpse into each person’s life, and just how much this meant to each person involved is palpable. Amy revealed, “It’s almost impossible to pick out the highlights, but 9 was a really extraordinary process and the culmination of it blew audiences away. That production feels very special to us in terms of the way it engaged with artists and the local community”.
With lots of free entertainment in the bar, the atmosphere was electric and the whole theatre building felt liberated, energized and refreshed, as it paused for a moment to take stock by throwing open its doors to lots of fresh young talent, including new performers, directors, technicians and backstage crew. Amy commented. “The sheer number of brilliant artists who passed through our doors throughout the festival was the main highlight. There was an amazing sense of community, and we got to form so many new friendships. The atmosphere in the bar each night was also not to be missed”.