Motivational bananas included

“This is all about getting stuff out there, isn’t it?” I suggest to creative producer Vicky as we drive along Halifax Road to the Westgate 23 pub in Heckmondwike.

“It’s about challenging people’s perceptions of art,” she says, “making it relevant to everyone.”

“And surprising people about where you might find it?” I’m thinking about Creative Scene’s new strap line: making art a part of everyday life.

We’re off to see Best in the World, a touring performance which has already played two local pubs in the last week. It’s the latest in Creative Scene’s pub series which kicked off last July with Early Doors, an eight-cast musical that apparently went down quite well.

“That was more of a theatrical show that told the story of a brother and sister struggling to run a pub,” Vicky says as we park up.

“And this is one guy banging on about how we can all be champions at darts?” I say, summarising the flyer blurb.

“It’s pretty much the polar opposite,” says Vicky. I can’t wait. I used to be quite good at darts.

Best in the World begins with a pre-recorded announcement: “You have passed the first and, some would say, the greatest test by just being here. Thank you. Remember, if your energy levels flag at any time during the performance, please feel free to peel your emergency banana.”

CS_250516_051-EditRather than the drunken exuberance typical of the televised darts tournaments, tonight’s audience in the back room is, so far, a little more sedate, expectant, curious.

CS_250516_059-Edit“Good evening everyone. My name is Alex Elliott and my current three dart average is 42.33. Tonight I’ll be throwing with 27 grams.”

It’s not easy to categorise the next 60 minutes or so. Alex’s performance is part lecture, part motivational speech and part life story.

We hear about why the oche is called the oche; how Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor had to thrown over nine million darts before he won a world title; and how Alex attempted to reconcile the death of his own father. It’s a roller coaster of a performance.

But mostly it’s about what we can learn from the darting greats like Jocky Wilson and Eric ‘The Crafty Cockney’ Bristow. “It’s amazing, isn’t it, what you have to do to achieve greatness?” ponders Alex.

The punters are given our own opportunity to achieve greatness as three volunteers are chosen to establish an audience average score. I’m gutted Alex ignores my upright arm.

Kimberley steps up to the oche. Apparently she has form. “I was at archery last night,” she declares, aiming her first dart. It misses the board.

CS_250516_076-Edit“Relax,” encourages Alex, “be the dart.” The remaining darts barely stay in between the sisal fibres. When all nine darts are thrown Alex declares, “That’s an audience average of 10, which is by no means the lowest we’ve had. My own reply to that is to go absolutely bananas…”

And he does. What follows is best described as a ‘dad dance’ with inflatable fruit.

CS_250516_106-EditWhen it’s all over and Kimberley is ordering a well-deserved refill I ask for her verdict.

“Very different from last year,” she says. “It took me a while to get into it, but once I understood where he was going with it, yes, I enjoyed it. It was quite emotional when he was talking about his dad.”

“And why did you volunteer for the darts?”

“I’ll volunteer for anything. I was doing archery last night with the Brighouse Ladies Circle and I was rubbish at that…”

“…so you thought you couldn’t be any worse?”

“It’s all good fun, isn’t it?”

Kimberley’s friend Janet is filling out a feedback form. “What did you think?” I ask.

She laughs. “I don’t know. It was different, wasn’t it?”

I read aloud the words she’s circled on her form: “Different, unusual, engaging. Are you glad you came?”

“I am. You don’t know till you try, do you?”

“By the time they realised how good it was, it’d gone.”

“I liked it that much I went to see it at every venue they played in.”

Sitting in Batley Art Gallery artist Gary Makin is telling me about Early Doors, an eight-cast musical by theatre company Not Too Tame that he’d seen last year at The Taproom down the road.

cs_101116_001-edit“Batley’s short on culture and that was a bit of a culture shock. They didn’t know what to expect and by the time they realised how good it was, it was too late, it’d gone.”

The immersive performance, with actors popping up amongst the pub regulars, kicked off Creative Scene’s The Local series where pubs serve as one-off performance venues.

“They were still talking about it for weeks afterwards,” he says.

“What did you like about it?”

“It was about life, about the heart and the soul. You could relate to it and that’s important. If it’s hard-hitting – if it makes you laugh or makes you cry – then people can feel that.

“To be totally honest, I didn’t think it was going to work, not for Batley. But the production was so good… it could have been on for three nights in that one pub.”

“Did you see the show about the darts and the bananas?” I ask, referring to a follow-up series earlier this year.

Gary screws up his face. “That didn’t work in Batley. They didn’t get it. I thought it was brilliant, but you had to listen to it. People in the pub don’t listen.”

cs_101116_013-editGary’s enthusiastic embrace of The Local series has seen him – and others from the pub audience – become important critics for Creative Scene’s creative producer, Vicky Holliday.

“Vicky invited us to go and see a new production they were thinking of bringing to the area,” explains Gary. “It was still very raw, we were watching a mock-up really. And then they asked for our honest opinions.”

“What did you say?”

“I wasn’t going to beat around the bush. I said if that comes to Batley, they’d get their heads ripped off.”

That production got dropped. Since then Gary and his fellow reviewers have been helping to shape The Local programme. They’ve met with performance artist Scottee, a Time Out Performer of the Year who describes himself as a ‘troublemaker, loudmouth, showoff and attention seeker’. Creative Scene are planning to bring him on tour soon to North Kirklees.

“He keeps coming up to show us his material,” says Gary. “It’s been lovely to have a say in it. I think he’s brilliant.”

“So he’s using you as a sounding board?”

“Me and others. Absolutely.”

“And have you been telling everyone that Not Too Tame are coming back at the end of the month?”

“Of course I have.”

Throughout our conversation about pubs and theatre Gary’s stark monochrome paintings have surrounded us. I know little about the work apart from the signs leading upstairs that warn of disturbing imagery.

“How much of this are you happy for me to write about?” I ask, feeling my way.

“I suffer with DID – Dissociative Identity Disorder – and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” he says, frankly. “And it’s through my art that I can now talk about the traumatic child abuse I’ve suffered. If people want to understand what I’ve been through they should come here and see it.”

For the next 15 minutes Gary explains each painting in turn, reading aloud his accompanying poems. It’s painful and emotional for him and shocking for me. “If I can just get one person to realise that this sort of thing is still going on…” he says as we come to the end.

“I feel honoured that you’ve talked me through all this,” I say, genuinely. “It will stay with me for a long time, so I do appreciate that.”

“Thank you,” says Gary. “Thank you.”

Tuckshop by Not Too Tame tours local pubs from Saturday, 26th November, 2016
Weird and Wonderful by Gary Makin continues at Batley Art Gallery until 17th December, 2016. Check opening times.

Nothing sickly sweet about TuckShop

I’ve arrived early to chat to Jimmy Fairhurst, the artistic director. He’s on the stage, guitar in hand, rehearsing an Elvis number with the rest of the cast.

The Not Too Tame theatre collective are back on Creative Scene’s The Local pub circuit after last year’s acclaimed debut with Early Doors. The regulars at Batley’s Taproom are about to be some of the first to see TuckShop, their latest production.

I’ve read on the website that Jimmy set up Not Too Tame while still at drama school. He was keen to make theatre for people turned off by mainstream productions or big venues.

“So performing in pubs is right up your street?” I ask as he joins me.

“Absolutely,” he says, “Did you know 31 pubs are closing each week? The drinking aside, these are really important community hubs we’re losing.”

The son of a hairdresser and miner, Jimmy feels a responsibility to produce shows that resonate. “Our writers tell stories that people can see themselves in. That’s a big thing for me. The audience feel empowered if they can see it’s about their lives. Their own stories become worth something.”

“I didn’t see it myself but Early Doors was a great success, wasn’t it?” I say. “Does TuckShop follow a similar theme?”

“Early Doors has been our signature piece,” says Jimmy, “we’ve toured it all over and had near sellout audiences at the Edinburgh Festival. We’re hugely proud of that. TuckShop stands on its own, it’s a bit different. It’s a series of stories with some common threads. I suppose it’s a stopover, a service station if you like, on the way to the next show.”

Tonight’s audience starts to arrive. As expected, pub regular and self-declared Not Too Tame fan, Gary leads a small group into the bar. He was bowled over by Early Doors last year and has since become a critical friend to Creative Scene, previewing proposed productions and providing frank feedback.

“What are expecting tonight?” I ask, as he orders his drinks.

“I don’t know,” he says, “some laughs and some surprises I hope.”

With every table taken, Jimmy and the cast give out packets of sweets to the expectant audience. “Maybe you’ll get something special in there,” he says cryptically, dropping a striped paper bag onto my table. It is an adult show, after all.

cs_281116_005-editcs_281116_007-editWithout giving too much away the show kicks off and ends with Jimmy as Elvis. “I’ve got a thing about you baby / Ain’t nothing I can do / I’ve got a thing about you baby / A thing about lovin’ you.”

cs_281116_015-editIn between we’re treated to a fast-flowing series of sketches that keep us all glued to our seats. There’s the story about a middle-aged woman debating whether she should donate one of her kidneys to her 72-year-old grumpy mother. “Just coz it stinks and goes in pies, I can’t give it away lightly,” she says.

cs_281116_017-editThen an unemployed ex-soldier lets off steam at the JobCentre; an East Coast train conductor considers how he might answer some interview questions and the whole ensemble celebrate ‘full-of-life’ grandmas. My favourite is the insecure lifeguard who finds love where she’s least expecting it.

cs_281116_020-edit cs_281116_025-edit“What did you make of that?” I ask Gary after the finale.

“Yet another brilliant production. It was really good, I really enjoyed it.”

“And what were the best bits?”

“I liked the one about the kidney,” says Gary’s girlfriend, Rachel.

“The grandma piece was superb and the Elvis thing was brilliant,” says Gary. “They were all good in their own way but there was a lot of heavy stuff. Maybe it needed something softer in the middle.”

“Something softer in the middle? You mean a soft centre?”


“I’m a Southerner, from South Yorkshire.”

“We did The Navigation Tavern in Mirfield last night and they were lovely… all on board from the off,” says Becca as she plasters on yellow make-up in the back room. “I’ve forgotten my brush so I’m having to use my finger.”

The second leg of It’s Your Round – where Becca Morden plays quiz mistress-cum-pub landlady – kicks off in half an hour at The Leggers Inn on the banks of the Calder and Hebble Navigation Canal in Dewsbury.

“It’s basically a theatrical pub quiz with big daft characters,” she says, now doing her lashes.

As artistic director of Scary Little Girls, Becca has been splashing on the yellow make-up for a little while now. “We’ve done a pub tour of the show down south,” she tells me, “and adapted it for a library tour. Each time we tweak it to fit the venue. There’ll be some tricky questions about Dewsbury tonight.”

Creative Scene’s ‘The Local’ has been running for a couple of years now, touring pubs in West Yorkshire and building audiences along the way. The Leggers is one of two new venues on the circuit but the performances are well known to pub manager Joel.

“I used to work at the Old Turk in town,” he says, from behind the bar, “and we had Early Doors play there which the locals still talk about. Anything that brings new people into the pub has got to be a good thing.”

“Are you playing tonight?” I ask as the bar begins to fill.

“Yeah,” he says, “I’ve got my team all sorted.”

Becca is now in character and introducing herself to a table of three older woman and one older bloke, all unsure of what to expect but up for a fun evening.

“What have you chosen as your team name?” she asks as she steadies her beehive.

“‘Stuart’s Harem’,” splutters one of the women to a chorus of laughter.

“Oh, he wishes, does he?” retorts Becca, in her ‘Bet Lynch’ persona, “Let him dream, eh?”

“That’s all I do nowadays,” jokes Stuart to even more hysterics.

The room is now bulging and late entries huddle around the covered pool table. “Hello Dewsbury,” declares Becca. “My name is Pat Pinch and I come from a lovely pub called The Rhubarb and Ferret. I’m a Southerner, from South Yorkshire.”

‘Pat’ introduces the format of the quiz and sets out a few ground rules. “I’m going to be really strict,” she says, tongue firmly in cheek. “I don’t what to see any smart phones – although I think there are a few teams here who haven’t quite caught up with smart phones.

“But there’s no point in cheating because the prizes are shit. It’s simply not worth it.”

There are questions on general knowledge, films and a surprise music round. The local questions get heads scratching, and there’s even a round that, as Pat puts it, requires the keenest of taste buds.

After hoots of laughter and plenty of banter back and forth, there’s a break as the scores are totted up.

“How did you find it?” I ask Stuart and his ‘harem’.

“We did all right with the music ones,” they say, still chuckling.

“And are you pleased you came along?”

“Oh yes,” they say in unison, “it’s been good fun.”

Pat is on the microphone again. “Okay, the scores are in, are you ready? Oh, blimey, it’s very close…”

It’s Your Round continues for the rest of the week at:
Mill Valley Brewery Tap, Cleckheaton on Thursday, 13 July at 7.30pm.
Roberttown Community Centre, Liversedge on Saturday, 15th July at 7.30pm.