Shoulder to Shoulder: Reflections on ‘A Bit of Bite’

‘No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.’

John Donne, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1624

It’s the final performance of ‘A Bit of Bite’, and in Tramway 4, Laiqa and Cara are stood in the middle of the space staring at each other. The stare has grown in intensity since the beginning of the week, and is now so palpable that the audience are staring too, unflinchingly focused on the young women in the middle of the room. It’s an image of support, of sisterhood, strength, solidarity.

Its power lies partly in what precedes it: Laiqa has just spoken about her first hand experiences of racism on the street as a young Muslim woman. Loaded with emotion, it reinforces the personal as political, and is received as everyone’s problem – that we cannot remain numb to the surge of racially motivated violence in Britain, and this feels particularly urgent when writing post-Brexit. The image of solidarity being performed on stage therefore feels emblematic of everyone in the audience standing next to Laiqa, standing with her against hatred.

I’ve been thinking a lot about solidarity as a major motif throughout the work, and in the power of never directly knowing the struggles of someone else’s fight, but standing by their side nonetheless. I wonder, then, if ensemble is the most powerful form of solidarity. That choruses of theatre-makers, especially young ensembles like Junction, have such a strong sense of community that they are the best placed members of a society to create, protect and develop world communities. They are therefore active in being the change they want to see in the world, using their art to critique central ideals or support marginalised voices – and solidarity seems to me a massive part of that.

‘The theatre is not revolutionary in itself: it is a rehearsal for the revolution.’

Agusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed, page 122

Still, though, I wonder if solidarity in ‘A Bit of Bite’ is bigger than the performers on stage. What about the audience? Are the audience the most powerful form of solidarity? The Traverse staging, with the audience sitting on either side of the stage, gave the performers layers of support, of fellowship. The moments of audience participation seemed of this ilk too: for Eilidh, the participants were comrades; for Sean, they were his facilitators – they widened the scope of his voice. In ‘Question Time’, and in their exchanges with Caitlin, they authored part of the performance. It’s got me thinking about the layered constructions of theatre, and so I think this performance has been co-authored by the performer, the creative team and the audience, and then interpreted through the frame of world events at the time of the performance. Interestingly, though, the performance is still being re-framed for me a month later, and different images start to mean different things when replayed against current issues.

The final performance was on the 23rd June, which was also the date of the EU Referendum. This meant that what was already a piece of urgent theatre became something else, something more live, on its final night. In addition, the act of voting (we asked the audience to write a question they would like to ask a young person and post it in a ballot box before entering the space) felt heightened in its significance. The audience were therefore re-performing an action that most had undertaken earlier in the day, and some even tried to re-create the privacy of a polling booth by finding quiet spaces of Tramway’s café/bar to consider their question, their ballot paper.

I’m interested in what the performance would’ve been like on 24th June, and I’m interested in what it would be like today, a month later. But ‘A Bit of Bite’ exists for more than three nights in June; the images of the performance will always befit the politics that surround it, even if the landscape is completely different.

‘I mean fighting for things you think. Actually fighting for it.

In small and big ways.                                                                                                

Before it is all over.’

– Sean Fullwood, A Bit of Bite, June 2016.