What the **** is Normal? // Francesca Martinez

Although this was the second time I’d seen Francesca Martinez, her show was still my highlight of Normal? 2018. Francesca’s experiences of school and life beyond mirrors my own. She describes how school ground the confidence out of her and how bullying, by both pupils and teachers, affected her mental and physical health, and then describes how she found a way out of the course that had seemingly been set for her.

Her description of her life draws empathy rather than sympathy. 

She doesn’t want to be patted on the head and told 'Poor little thing'. She totally rejects the description of herself as ‘disabled’, preferring instead to call herself 'wobbly'. The stories she tells are laugh-out-loud funny, but she is also a campaigner and educator, addressing school children to give them the confidence that she was robbed of. Martinez points out that society deliberately makes us feel inferior, or, as she puts it: 'Society breeds self-loathing'. Many of us can remember being told, during our teenage years, that ‘how we look is not important’. But, of course, at that stage of our lives, how we look can seem to be the most important thing in the world.

Martinez’s show emphasizes :

‘Don’t fear difference’

‘Being different is important’

‘Only care what you think of yourself’

‘Life is too short to be spent doing something that you hate’

- Keven Blake


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Francesca Martinez - Russell Howard's Good News (YouTube)

A Wobbly Girl's Battle Against the Last Taboo - The Independent

Martinez and the WOW Welfare Bill - Disability News Service

Francesca Martinez on Woman's Hour - BBC Radio 4

Pint of Science

Two-thirds of the way through Pint of Science: Beautiful Mind, talk turns to Socrates and the pursuit of happiness. Familiar conversational territory for a regular night out. 

Jim Lockey invites us to join him on a journey of creation and loss. He recently built, then captained and sank a paper boat in local shallow waters. We are asked whether grief is merely a by-product of human evolution, whilst considering themes explored in Ode to A Nightingale by Keats.

Thou we’re not born for death immortal bird

No immortal generations tread thee down

Tim Rittman condenses years of his work analysing footage of task-free brains and the rigidity that develops in those with neurological degeneration into ten minutes. He likens the brightly lit areas on the scans to conversations at a cocktail party and introduces us to the experiments of William Lennox, a scientist who stuck pins into the jugular veins and carotid arteries of his volunteers.

Within her Weight installation, Aiste Janciute encourages participants to use all five senses as they explore words or concepts that weigh them down or lift them up.

Without gravity, the cosmos is everywhere


Dr. Shabhana Khan returns us to the laboratory and to work being undertaken there to increase efficacy in the treatment of anxiety disorders by balancing three key -amines. She works in the field of optigenetics. Endeavours include the use of light to control cells and tickling mice.

Charlie Murphy, resident artist with the Created Out of Mind project, firstly outlines the complex science behind attempts by the team to grow brains from the skin cells of anonymous volunteers then explains how she transformed this process into a series of dance moves and created her Neuronal Disco.

Work it harder

Make it better

Do it faster

Makes us stronger

Two pints of science and three shots of art. I’m left with thoughts around the poetry of the former and the rigor of the latter and how the two push and pull the other into new spaces. The next morning, I feel a slight sense of disorientation as I work to recall, unpack and re-order conversations from the night before. Perhaps only fitting when themes of life, death and the transition between these states are explored, whether this is done through the medium of science or art or over a drink with friends in the pub.

- Melissa Jacob


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Pint of Science

Pint of Science on The One Show - 18 April 2018

Byron Vincent - Live Before You Die

The Love Affair Between Poetry and Science – New Statesman

The Neuronal Disco

What is the Common Ground between Art and Science?Guardian

Sponge // Big Imaginations and Turned On Its Head

Sponge is a feel-good soft-play disco for ages 0-4. It’s full of the silliness and mischief that kids love and targeted at an age range that forms experiences that open up theatre to them in the future. Kids are dazzled by the lights and props, the possibilities for play and the opportunities for participation. They run around without being told to sit down, throw things and shout out without being told off, and dance with the performers rather than sit still. It’s not strictly dance, theatre or comedy, but it is happy, bright and open.

The show is a slow escalation of size and texture. Buckets are used as drums and boats and sponges as building blocks, trampolines and rain. It makes a mess of textures, coarse, soft, honeycomb and stretchy. The sponges also prove oddly versatile as costume – here a crawling mushroom that looks like it’s from a 50s sci-fi film, there used to gently reference Charlie Chaplin’s potato fork dance from The Gold Rush or dance moves from Saturday Night Fever. These subtle allusions exist more for the adults in the room than the kid themselves, but they offer another level to the show, little Easter eggs to keep parents entertained alongside the kids

As theatre and performance for young people continues to innovate and expand across the country with new companies and artists, performances like Sponge are a soft and squishy entry into that world. Its allows all kids to feel the freedom of new performance and encourages its audiences to engage and have fun. It introduces from the first (perhaps the very first time for many of the children there) the idea that there is more to theatre than sitting in the dark whilst someone speaks. It can be anarchic, rough and ready, silly and bizarre, with no story to speak of but built on of a series of interactions between performer and audience. And that’s a good lesson to share. 

- Lewis Church


Links Relevant to this Diagnosis:

Sponge – Turned on Its Head

Purni Morrell on Children's Theatre - The Stage

Half of Teenagers 'Never Been In a Theatre' - BBC News

The Blob (1958)

Charlie Chaplin's Table Dance - The Gold Rush (1925)

Rap Guide to Consciousness // Baba Brinkman

Have you ever wondered if a zombie is conscious? Do you love hip-hop? This a show that addresses the former through the latter. Baba Brinkman tackles ‘the hard problem’: how are we conscious? Consciousness is the awareness of your own existence, sensations and thoughts. So how then do the 90 billion or so neurons in our brain create a conscious being? This is a question science does not yet have the answer to, but though a series of ‘peer-reviewed raps’ Brinkman explores what we know about the brain and what this can tell us about the nature of consciousness.

Brinkman takes us from Bayesian probability theory to panpsychism (the theory that the universe is conscious). He breaks down these complex ideas using his son, acid trips and Google’s DeepDream generator, to create a funny and enjoyable hour long discussion about some hardcore scientific ideas. This makes Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Consciousness a fantastic example of how to communicate complex scientific ideas. Every day we are bombarded with news stories about the latest scientific discoveries and asked to change our behaviours and lifestyles, and yet more often than not we are expected to just believe in the experts as the science is too hard to explain. With global phenomenon like climate change and obesity having the ability to affect us all, it has never been more relevant that we demystify science and remove the lab coat and safety goggles. 

- Kate Porcheret


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Baba Brinkman - Rap Guide to Consciousness

Consciousness Round-Up - New Scientist

Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality - Anil Seth (TED)

Rapping Evolution: An Interview with Baba Brinkman - Committee for Sceptical Inquiry

DeepDream Generator

Interdependence: We Need to Talk

‘In the last year, it’s sometimes seemed that we can only shout at each other these days’ writes John McGrath, Artistic Director of the MIF. In response, comes ‘Interdependence: We Need to Talk’ a series of talks discussing huge topics such as power, truth, technology and change, with the ultimate aim being to foster conversation and dialogue. The irreverent graphics advertising the talk, featuring a neon tongue unnaturally extended from bright blue lips, suggest provocation.

On 8th July, ‘Community’ was the theme to be discussed, a kind of meta topic for the whole event. Perhaps the answer to the seemingly chasmic rifts in society are better healed at the micro not macro level; perhaps the different communities created and enlivened by festivals such as MIF are a good place to start.

In this spirit, the first speaker was Rem Koolhaus (an example of nominative determinism if ever there was one), of OMA - a world leading architecture practice. He is in the process of designing The Factory – a £110m theatre and arts venue in Manchester that will become the home of the MIF. This first talk laid down many of the recurring themes for the afternoon: how do we get rid of cultural gatekeepers and allow in nonprofessional voices? How do we democratise art and get rid of the wrong kind of expertise? How can we involve local communities and have a dialogue with the dispossessed? Koolhaus tells that his OMA office (with workers of 48 different nationalities) aims to ‘unlearn professionalism and increase ambition with an indifference to status.’

Host Jude Kelly neatly summarised a unifying and urgent message underlying a lot of the discussion: ‘We need to do more naming of invisible realities.’ Enter a panel discussion on Manchester Street Poem, an installation that can be found in a reappropriated shoe shop on Oldham Street.  It was a welcome change to see someone who has lived one of these ‘invisible realities’ actually on stage to tell her own story. Joanne Wilson was formerly homeless and worked with Karl Hyde of Underworld and others to create the poem.

And this is how discussion and community starts – by being able to see the words of people who have been homeless and being able to speak to Wilson in person at the site of the poem. ‘Access to art is a human right’ adds Jez Green from the homeless charity, Mustard Tree.

Talking is all well and good of course, but accessibility is crucial. BSL was used but the afternoon was long (2.5 hours) and could’ve done with a break. A sign of an inclusive discussion is one where the audience feel confident to interact and at one point Kelly asked if more women would like to ask a question, illustrating neatly the difference between people talking about creating dialogue, and about dialogue actually being created. One way of getting more women to ask questions is by having more women speakers (there was only one at this event). A reminder that gender is often most salient when it is not explicitly being discussed.

- Nathalie Wright


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

The Factory Manchester - £110m arts venue to open in 2020

What is Social Sculpture?

Manchester Street Poem

Partisan Collective



Nils Bergstrand was the first disabled person to graduate from the musical theatre course at London's Royal Academy of Music. He auditioned after a passion for singing revealed itself through therapeutic exercises in acknowledging positive responses to the world, undertaken to cope with the post-traumatic stress of losing his leg.