Ferment Fortnight Preview | An Uneventful Day At The Beach

5 Jul 2018

Ahead of Ferment Fortnight's riotous return, we caught up with Vanessa Kisuule to find out all her upcoming show, An Uneventful Day At The Beach. Catch it at Arnolfini Wed 11 July.

An Uneventful Day At The Beach is a story first and foremost about a mother and daughter. It explores the shape and texture of this unique bond - how unbearably fraught it can be and also how delicate and tender. It is an examination of how, if at all, we can bridge the gap between generations and cultures, especially within the same family line. It is a show that also explores: food ethics, ecology, the beauty that lies right before our eyes that we often neglect for the draw of ‘exotic travel’ and the continued and aggressive dominance of Western culture and ideals. It also heavily involves my new favourite animal: an octopus. Whether it works as an extended metaphor in this show or is just a desperate attempt by me to shoehorn it where it doesn’t belong will all remain to be seen!

I have been lucky enough to find myself in some gorgeous parts of the UK this year. I’ve wandered through the woodland of the Cotswolds, the countryside near the Pentabus HQ in Shropshire, the grounds at Lumb Bank centre in West Yorkshire and many towns and beaches in Cornwall through working with Knee High. Spending this much time in quiet, rural and scenic landscapes made me think deeply about what it is to inhabit these spaces of quiet and tranquil - how a second generation immigrant like myself fits in. Certainly the demographic of these places is far less multi-cultural than the cities of the UK, but this is about more than just population statistics. For a long time I could not shake the feeling that these environments were not only dull but somehow at odds with my personhood. We joke about this a lot as a community - black people don’t go camping, we don’t go on country walks, animals serve the purpose of food and not friendship, we don’t go on seaside holidays and we certainly don’t have time to bird watch, look at the stars or grow our own organic vegetables on an allotment. These are things that posh white people do! 

But what about these activities and interests are so inherently to do with whiteness, or indeed middle/upper class-ness? We are talking about the natural world - something that, in theory, anyone and everyone should have access to. The idea that having time to take stock of a lovely tree or sleep under the stars is the preserve of the moneyed is profoundly ironic when arguably these experiences should be the one thing that is still free in a world where everything has a price. Whilst contemporary culture offers us a dearth of examples of brown people immersed in the culture and cultivation of nature and ecology, history tells a different story.

We have our own tradition of stargazers and astronomers detailed in many West African folk takes. My grandmother in Uganda keeps chickens and has her own fruit trees in her front garden. Our ancestors had a deep knowledge and understanding of the animals they lived alongside, yes, often as trading tools or necessary sustenance, but we certainly did not have any marked detachment from them. As Testament’s recent break out play Black Men Walking asserts - we also belong in these rural spaces. It is the barriers of class and race and the assumptions that come with them that make these spaces exclusionary and it is the limitations we put on our own imaginations that make us corroborate with this fallacy. The terms black and urban are often put together as if they were synonymous - but at the end of the day, many of us second-gen kids come from parents who grew up in their own idyllic natural landscapes. Our narrative is not intrinsically linked with cities, poverty or cultural deprivation. Every time we succumb to this idea, we will only ever be partially free and our story, to paraphrase the wonderful Hannah Gadsby, is not told properly. 

This my first attempt to write a narrative play that has breadth, movement and a coherent shape. Because I have spent the past nine years as a performer of mostly poetry and spoken word, I am used to an episodic story telling. Small, bitesize glimpses into worlds that are often sharp and distilled. It is one of my favourite ways of telling a story for many reasons, but I will acknowledge that perhaps one of those reasons is not so noble. There is less pressure to sustain interest or flow in a four or five minute poem. It is relatively easy to tell an exciting story in this way, for we give a tantalising glimpse of an inevitably much broader idea. The thought of trusting a story  and its characters to breathe over an hour is a daunting one - not least because I don’t trust any story I tell to be robust enough to withstand such a considerable duration of time. But I tentatively believe that this story and the ideas within it deserve this time to fully unfurl itself. It may be a while before it has been whipped into enough shape to earn an hour of a patron’s time and the hard earned coin in their purse, but this why programmes like Ferment are such a blessing for us as makers. It is a soft, sweet haven in which we can flail around in manic helplesslness, wired on instant coffee and potent imposter complex, all whilst supported by a team of sympathetic producers and a gentle, open minded audience.

In three words, expect something silly, speculative and experimental. I hope you can make it!

Ferment Fortnight kicks off at Arnolfini 9-11 July before returning to Bristol Old Vic for four more nights of scratch theatre 13-21 July. For more info and to book tickets, click here.