The Ugly Spirit, a macabre slice of theatre that delves deep into the minds of troubled conjoined twins, will be performed at the Bluecoat as part of DaDaFest next week (August 21 & 22).
A new piece by Liverpool-based Fittings Multimedia Arts, The Ugly Spirit tells the story of Bessie and Jessie and their desire to break free and live individual lives. It is loosely based on the original Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who became famous as stars of PT Barnum’s famous travelling circus at the turn of the 20th century.
Described as “a darkly humorous exploration of the human spirit and personal identity – a delirious mix of music, narrative and improvisation”, it uses the talents of cult performance artist David Hoyle as the ringmaster and the vocal skills of acclaimed soprano Denise Leigh.
Hoyle, the avant garde cabaret singer, actor and comedian, whose nightmarish artistic vision has thrilled Liverpool audiences during Homotopia is again bringing his unique brand of surreal humour to the city. He came to prominence in the 1990s as the Divine David, a kind of anti-drag queen whose lacerating social commentary was offset by breathtaking instances of self-recrimination and even self-harm.
The piece references Nazi atrocities, Jake and Dino Chapman’s art, and the history of the freak show, amongst other threads. The disturbing, claustrophobic atmosphere pays homage to Todd Browning’s controversial 1932 movie Freaks which vividly told of the complicated and tragic lives of sideshow performers.
The new show, an Unlimited Commission for the Cultural Olympiad, was written by actor and playwright Russell Barr and directed by Garry Robson, artistic director of Fittings Multimedia Arts and DaDaFest, the annual festival of disability and deaf arts based in Liverpool.
“Russell Barr has come up with a wonderful play that’s rooted in the story of Siamese Twins. To do justice to the subject matter we wanted to give people a taste of the Carny world, so the piece is set backstage in a theatre with Mr Hoyle as your charming and sometimes waspish host,” explained Garry Robson.
After DaDaFest the piece will be performed at the Bounce Festival in Belfast before moving to the Southbank Centre, London, where it will be presented alongside the other 28 Unlimited commissions at Unlimited: the Revelation starts here, an unprecedented 11 day celebration of the talent and imagination of deaf and disabled artists.
During the performance, the audience is invited to wander through and explore the mysterious, hidden places that lurk behind the scenes in theatres and travelling shows before being taken for a private audience with the famous ‘twins’, played by Gareth Kieran Jones and Rachel Drazek.
Director Garry Robson says the show was inspired by the experience of Chang and Eng, who had very different personalities: “Chang was a womaniser, a drinker and smoker while Eng was a Baptist minister and teetotaller. The Ugly Spirit explores what it must be like to be so different yet always be stuck together.
“Fittings work is all about fusion. Working closely with David Hoyle creates a fusion between crip and queer cultures which until quite recently have both largely operated on the margins of society. Whilst often viewed negatively by the host culture, these communities provide a positive model of co-operation and support which wider society with its rampant individualism could do well to take heed of,” he added.