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Interview: SoreSlap Theatre on MORE BLACKS, MORE DOGS, MORE IRISH at Alphabetti Theatre

SoreSlap Theatre on MORE BLACKS, MORE DOGS, MORE IRISH at Alphabetti Theatre

Interview: SoreSlap Theatre on MORE BLACKS, MORE DOGS, MORE IRISH at Alphabetti Theatre

More Blacks, More Dogs, More Irish, at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle, is a testament to the power of the spoken word.

The narrative follows Ailish and Marcus, both incarcerated and reflecting on what brought them to their current situation. As you encounter their reality, there's a poetic quality to the script that adds an element of ethereal escapism. Moments of the play take your breath away.

It's gentility, love, friendship, good, old-fashioned storytelling, and physical theatre that carry you through their tales. Rosie Bowden's direction expertly contains the multi-faceted staging, which is simple in terms of the set, yet complicated in physical movement and the staging of the intricacies of the script. Physical theatre elevates the already gorgeous writing within the show.

Papi Jeovani and Rhian Jade are Northeast-based artists and founders of SoreSlap theatre. BroadwayWorld grabs a moment with them after one of their performances to ask them about staging complex narratives, making theatre more inclusive, and the ethos behind their company.

How did your company - SoreSlap - come about?

Rhian: [Papi and I] met at university. We put on a show called Poetry Slap, which was spoken word and physical theatre, and was very much about female identity and male identity, race, and sexuality. People seemed to really connect with that because they hadn't seen that story being told yet - not just "man-meets-woman-and-falls-in-love". So, that was a new thing for a lot of the young, queer artists that we knew at the time.

How did you develop More Blacks, More Dogs, More Irish?

Rhian: After the COVID-19 [lockdowns], we hadn't spoken in about a year, and I had this dream about Papi and I being locked in a prison. I texted him and said, "I had this really weird dream last night that you and I were in prison and we were fighting with each other about why we were locked up and who was guilty...".

We liked this idea, thinking about whether we are really guilty, or if the world makes people do things to make them guilty. Or, are we our behaviour? Are we our actions?

Papi, how was it when Rhian came to you and said that they'd had a dream about you being in prison?

I thought "oh, finally someone had a dream about me!".

I hadn't seen them in a year. [To Rhian] I was going to text you to see what's up! To see if we could do some more stuff.

When Rhian spoke about the prison and what the dream was about, one of the questions we asked was "if I was arrested what do you think I would have done?". We did a lot of work from that [question]. We went for a drink... lots of drinks... and then we thought the idea could work. I hadn't written in a while, so it felt like the kick up the bum I needed!

Rhian: I took the saying "More Blacks, More Dogs, More Irish" from back in Ireland - poking fun at the 'no blacks, no dogs, no Irish' signs that would have been up at the ports. They were up there until the 1960s, even. Papi has the same sort of dark humour [as me]. The show really hits these home truths, but it also has a light-heartedness about it. We can come together to find something beautiful. And that is reflected in the form of the play.

The play takes two totally different experiences of the world and investigates how the characters see and experience it without pitting them against each other. It's an exciting seed to plant for the ethos of the company.

Papi: We've been doing that since we met. When doing spoken word poetry, Rhian spoke about sexuality and being a woman, and I about race, so we intertwined them with each other. I don't like it when people compare oppressions - it doesn't work like that.

Rhian: That was something that we did consciously examine; how to merge the stories together without there being "sides". We wrote this into the script, thinking about what would happen if they [Ailish and Marcus] did start to reflect on the "severity" of their story. But the more we worked on the characters, the more love we found between them. It was a nice throughline that they have this growing fondness for each other. That platonic relationship. That bond.

Rhian, you spoke to me the other day about not having to give the audience a sense of a conclusion or happy ending. I read the positivity, instead, throughout, in that connection between the characters. That will always be imperfect where human beings are involved. In the show, this was beautifully underpinned by physical theatre.

Rhian: I'm really passionate about telling stories through the body. Through being non-binary and not feeling confident in my body, maybe up until a year ago. Now, it's nice to want to be more confident in that and tell the story with the body. So, when we first came into rehearsal, we spent the whole day going through the first scene, and it was really naturalistic. At the end of the day, I thought "this needs to be flipped". The first scene needed to be physical. So together, Papi and I choreographed that. [Director] Rosie Bowden was in the audience checking the sightlines and making sure it said what we wanted it to say - asking brilliant questions that helped us to clarify this. She is a great outside eye. She has this amazing skill to be an audience member from all sides and then uses this in her direction - which helped with the subjectivity that is so beautiful in the show.

Papi: Marshal [choreographer Marshal Siziba] came in to choreograph the more "dance-y" parts of the show. He was a great help and he came in with his own ideas. Together, we worked to make it more physical.

How have you both found practicing your art in Newcastle? Especially Papi, as a Global Majority artist? Have you found you have both had to make space for yourself through SoreSlap?

Papi: I'm originally from Angola, Africa. I came to England when I was two and then moved to Newcastle at three or four years old - so I've been here for twenty-odd years. My younger sisters were into musical theatre, and I saw my first piece of spoken word in year 12. When I got to university, I got more into that. And met Rhian and their creative ideas.

Even though I was into drama so young, I didn't step foot into a theatre until I was sixteen. That was Live's Youth Theatre [in Newcastle]. It was a whole different world. I never felt like... I could go to the theatre? With the Theatre Royal, too. I only went there recently, even though I walked past it every single day. It didn't feel for people like me. The theatre world is still so white. I saw Ankles at the Northern Stage and there were only nine non-white people in the audience. Having over a hundred chairs in there, and having nine non-white people in the audience is good. Alphabetti is staging a lot more work by non-white people. We want people to take up space [through SoreSlap].

And the Global Majority artists are there too - there are artists to champion and to stage. What has SoreSlap offered you, Rhian?

Rhian: I left Northern Ireland as a queer person with mental health issues. I came to the UK, and it felt really safe. People seemed more confident about talking about things, where Ireland [had] felt repressed. Here, people took me seriously. I've always been into poetry and spoken word... since I was three. As I came to terms with my sexuality, I became more comfortable and I realised what happened to me in my past wasn't normal. Being put into hospital when you're seventeen is not normal.

When I came here I thought all of this [experience] would make a good show. Papi was really interested in that. SoreSlap came from this ethos; that we can share that space with other people.

Why would you like people to see the show?

Papi: Because they won't have seen anything like it before. In some shape or form, it might change their lives.

Rhian: We are setting the precedent that theatre is for everyone. That is already out there, but we want to bring those who aren't sure into the theatre and have fun, giggle a bit, and relate to something. To have something to talk about at Christmas when the family are being a bit "non-PC". It will change some people's perceptions.

More Blacks, More Dogs, More Irish at Alphabetti Theatre until 3 December.

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