I got an email last week from Banner Theatre about their current production, Strangers in Paradise Circus, which is currently playing in schools across the city.
A bit of digging revealed the fascinating history of the Banner Theatre. Formed in 1973 at the inspiration of broadcaster and musician Charles Parker the theatre is avowedly political as Artistic Director and founder member Dave Rogers explains in this 1997 article.
We see ourselves as part of that tradition of theatre which has its roots in the Agit prop theatre of the Russian Revolution, the Blue Blouse troupes of Germany in the 1930s, the work of Ewan MacColl and Joan Littlewood in the early days of Theatre Workshop and the explosion of radical theatre companies in the 1960s and 70s.
As part of this tradition, Banner uses the characters and plot in its productions to expose and illuminate the political forces that overshadow and control so many aspects of our existences. […] Our prime focus is to expose hidden political and social forces. We are, of course, interested in issues of power between individuals whether based on class, gender, race, sexuality or disability and we seek to make the connection between these relationships and the wider political, historical and economic environment in which these relationships are shaped.
The Banner Theatre Archive is held at the Central Library and forms part of the new Connecting Histories resource project which will be going live online late May early June.
On their approach to theatre Dave Rogers writes:
Banner is a theatre of actuality. Actuality for us is people’s experience, captured by the tape recorder. Used either verbatim or as a source, it is at the heart of Banner’s work. We use people’s voices because vernacular speech is powerful and dramatic, and people present at a deep level their beliefs and values in the jokes, stories and anecdotes they tell about themselves. Our use of actuality literally gives people a ‘voice’ in our productions.
Banner Theatre uses actuality as source material for script writers to develop characters and scenes, for song writers to develop rhythmic, melodic and thematic ideas and as a live theatre resource, played through our P.A. system, to complement, contradict and counterpoint action on the stage.
Strangers in Paradise Circus is going to be reworked as “They get free mobiles… donâ€™t they?” for a national tour.
This live multimedia show, combining music, song, video, film and theatre, speaks for Britainâ€™s newest arrivals as they dodge borders, bullets and bureaucracy in their quest for safety and security from war-torn lands in Africa and the Middle East. It tells the human stories of people in the wrong place at the wrong time, and cuts through the myths, lies and prejudice surrounding the search for sanctuary in Englandâ€™s green but sometimes not so pleasant land.
But “They get free mobiles . . . donâ€™t they?” also shows how our lives here in the UK are integrally connected to those of refugees from impoverished third world countries and exposes the big business interests that profit from the exploitation of children and slave labourers, particularly in the mining and production of tantalum â€“ a key element in our mobile phones.
All very interesting and it’s nice to see an active community arts outfit with this kind of history.