The Ugly Spirit, a macabre slice of theatre that delves deep into the minds of troubled conjoined twins, is coming to Belfast courtesy of Bounce! Arts Festival.
The backstage, interactive cabaret will take place on August 24 in the gallery and offices of the Arts and Disability Forum (ADF), the group behind Bounce!, Northern Ireland’s first ever disability and deaf arts festival.
It tells the story of Bessie and Jessie and their desire to break free of each other 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.
It is a darkly humorous exploration of the human spirit and personal identity – a delirious mix of music, narrative and improvisation that 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, comedian and film director, whose nightmarish artistic vision has thrilled Belfast audiences during Outburst and Belfast Pride is again bringing his unique brand of surreal humour to these shores.
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.
The piece will be performed at DaDaFest on August 21 and 22 before moving to Belfast. Afterwards it will move 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 from 30 August to 9 September.
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 is must be like to be so different yet always be stuck together and never to be able to have your own birthday cake.
“Fittings work is all about fusion. Working closely with David Hoyle creates a fusion between Crip and Queer cultures which until quite recently have 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.
The Ugly Spirit takes place at 7pm and 9pm at the headquarters of the ADF in the Cathedral Quarter Workspaces at 109-113 Royal Avenue. To book tickets telephone the ADF on 02890239450 or email firstname.lastname@example.org This is an intimate performance so there are only 25 tickets per show.