Recollecting ‘The Record’ with Jake Cooper

Having parted ways with his 45 on-stage comrades, we caught up with The Record‘s Jake Cooper to reminisce about his experience being a part of this boundary-pushing show.

I will do my best to avoid clichés here, but it does become difficult when the experience is so indescribably extraordinary! The process for me began in September 2016 when a friend shared an advert on Facebook: a call out for Bristolians to take part in the show as part of IBT Bristol International Festival 2017. I’m lucky enough to work at Bristol Old Vic in a number of Front of House capacities, so I had heard about the show already, and the premise of such a large cast of strangers was an intriguing hook.

The auditions, and subsequent rehearsals, took place at the Trinity Centre, a lovely converted church in Lawrence Hill. We were invited in groups of 10-15 to work with 600 HIGHWAYMEN (or Abi and Michael, as they were known to us) for an hour, during which we ran through some basic movement exercises, then worked on simplified snippets of the show itself. This briefest of tasters gave us a hint of how uplifting and special the project would be; coming together and performing with strangers, even just in a simple three minute piece, was incredibly powerful.

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After getting the call that I was in (yay!), I was given a page of cues and movements to memorise before rehearsals began in mid-January. For three weeks we worked in individual slots of about 45 minutes with Michael or Abi, never meeting or knowing who our fellow cast members were. This was a fascinating concept, and required a huge amount of trust in our directors. Thankfully, they were both incredibly easy to trust; not once during the process did their faith in us all doing the right thing waver, and having such an extensive focus on how I performed as an individual was so valuable.

Rehearsals flew by in this way, and before I knew it, it was show week. Our tech runs had also taken place individually, so we first met our cast mates on opening night itself, side stage in the holding area. Just as we began to introduce ourselves and try to ascertain who was doing what, we were brought back to focus by Michael and Abi, and were asked to simply concentrate on performing our parts as we had individually rehearsed them. As we had done so proficiently thus far in the process, we trusted them to follow their instructions.

So it was then that the lights went down, and one by one we stepped out on the stage with a strange kind of blind faith in each other. And what an experience! For me, opening night passed by with a sort of joyful surrealism. In a theatrical space that through my work I have an almost unparalleled familiarity with, I was doing something completely alien – performing a series of abstract movements with complete strangers, looking out onto an audience and wondering what on earth they would think. This was not acting or performing as we know it, this was simply seeing and being seen. So many elements came together: as well as seeing how my moves fitted in to the whole, I heard Brandon Wolcott and Emil Abramyan’s beautiful music for the very first time, and felt first-hand how the presence and engagement of an audience completed the art that we were making.


For me, the reception of the audiences was what gave The Record context and meaning, and kept the piece alive beyond that opening night. As the performances passed, my castmates became less like strangers and more like friends. The movements became more natural, and the sensation of stepping out on to stage became less nerve-wracking. But each and every show, as Abi would always remind us, a brand new group of people sat in the theatre and responded to us completely differently. On stage, every time I moved my gaze to a new audience member, the feeling was unique. The tiniest acknowledgement, the subtlest alteration of expression was enhanced a hundredfold. And post-show, through talking with a huge range of people, the experience of the show continued to ferment and develop. Some people had taken upwards of a minute to realise the show had ended; some had left halfway through; some had been moved to tears; all, as far as I could tell, had experienced an emotional response that warranted discussion.

Whether you loved The Record, hated it, or were somewhere in between, it seems that our audience have all been moved to delve into its deeper meaning. The sheer range of topics to discuss post-show blew me away: the nature of humanity; the function of theatrical space; how to condition the response of an audience; death; time; how to form friendships. In choreographing something quite simple and minimalist, Abi and Michael have created an incredibly varied and poignant forum that continues to travel all over the world. Their vision and intellect is inspiring, and the discussion they elicit is always worth having. As a performer, I never watched the show in its entirety, so it’s difficult for me to comment on what I think the meaning of it all is. All I can say with conviction is that coming together with people that I would simply never have known otherwise to create art was immeasurably powerful. I have come away with a deeper awareness of the smallest interactions that we as humans share on a day-to-day basis, and that, no matter how pretentious it may sound, is valuable in a way that is incredibly difficult to articulate.

Sofar Sounds | Our Backstage Bar Event

Earlier this month our Backstage Bar was host to an exclusive secret gig set up by the newly relaunched Sofar Sounds. A night filled with great atmosphere, music and a cracking crowd, here we recap the night with the two responsible for making it happen.

Hello! We are Huw and Joe, co-leads of Sofar Sounds Bristol!

Sofar – Songs From A Room – is a movement that sets up free, intimate gigs with emerging, as well as big name, musicians. Huw had originally been to Sofar gigs in Bristol, London and as far away as Geneva, Switzerland and after the old team disbanded we thought it a crime for a city with Bristol’s culture and musical talent to go without one. We both jumped at the chance to keep the magic going in our own city.


So, what is Sofar? Sofar was conceived in 2010 when, at a Friendly Fires gig, co-founders Rafe and Rocky noticed just how many people were chatting and gazing into their phones. They thought, ‘there must be a better way to do this’ and so the secret society of Sofar Sounds was born.

Although there is a degree of secrecy, the principles of Sofar are relatively simple. Attendees in each city have to sign up (and then receive an invite) to attend. They don’t know where the shows will be held until the day before, nor the artists performing until the night of. Bands that have previously played at Sofar include Bastille, The National, The Staves and Ezra Furman to name but a few. These micro-gigs are intimate events and so attendees must abide by the following rules; you actually have to listen to the music, the phones need to go off and you’ve got to stay the whole night.

Sofar is now set up in over 200 cities around the globe and across all six continents. In July alone, Sofar hosted 3,000 shows worldwide.
Though Sofar is an international brand, the organisation recruit local community members to organise, film, photograph, and record all the performances on a volunteer basis. Following our newfound involvement with Sofar, we were lucky enough to relaunch the event in the Backstage Bar of Bristol Old Vic earlier this month.

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We felt Bristol Old Vic was the perfect place to relaunch Sofar, owing to its history as the foundation for Bristol’s performing arts and, with such an iconic venue in the bag, securing our debut line-up all came down to a couple of phone calls.

The night kicked off with The Inexplicables playing their unique mash-up of reggae and hip hop. Although everyone was sitting on the floor (unusual for an Inexplicables gig) they were the ideal opening act to build up the atmosphere and get everyone excited. This was followed by Ayah Marar (vocals) and Peter Menage (guitar) playing acoustic versions of her popular hits, including the song ‘Thinking About You’ co-written with Calvin Harris.

After a short interlude and a few drinks at the bar, we were joined by our next act, Fenne Lily. Her original song ‘Top to Toe’ was the real highlight of the night, perfectly described by Joe as “invasive, but in a way that you don’t mind”. The track currently has 5 million plays on Spotify – definitely an artist to keep an eye on. The show then closed with Macaco Project, a Neo-Soul/R&B band, who were the perfect pick-me-up following Fenne’s beautifully ‘invasive’ set. Incredible vocals coupled with sax, piano, guitars, drums and keys had everyone, by the end, thinking ‘why isn’t this band more popular?’

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So what’s next for Bristol Sofar? Well… the next show kicks off at our as of yet undisclosed location on 19 September, to be followed by another once each month. In October (15/10/16) we’ll also be collaborating with Oxjam for an exclusive double-bill event!

Just a final thanks to Bristol Old Vic and the awesome team for allowing us to make use of their incredible Backstage Bar. We certainly hope we’ll be back.

To discover more about Sofar Sounds and to find out how you can attend an event, click here.

MAKE THE MOST OF ME | Our Backstage Bar screening

Since opening back in June, our Backstage Bar has been quite a hive of activity. From Press Night for King Lear to a secret gig with Sofar Sounds, our next experiment with the space will see us screen three short films created in the South West on Fri 26 Aug.
Here we talk to Sarah Watts and Alison Hargreaves, directors of MAKE THE MOST OF ME.

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Tell us a little about the film and what inspired you to create it.
Working closely together at Bristol Old Vic we realised we shared creative instincts and ambitions and started talking about making something together.  We recognised that in the media older people are presented with a sympathetic, distancing gaze which focussed upon the disadvantages of old age.   We couldn’t see any genuinely compelling representations of old people as full individuals and participants in the world.  We decided to film them differently, and engage them in casual conversations which would capture the full force of their presence and personalities.  We didn’t focus on their disadvantages, or present them as voices from the past.  Our motto became “shoot them like they’re 30”.

How did you approach the creative process and the challenge of working with the elderly/vulnerable?
We worked it out as we went along! Our process began with the two of us talking a lot, interrogating our ideas and drawing pictures, and speaking with other people we knew would have wisdom for us.  We then had a number of days in the care home where we established the wrong and right way to shoot the space and the wrong and right way to engage with our interviewees on camera. We were incredibly lucky to work with Acer House Care Home where the staff were so accommodating and the residents were such good fun.   The residents are the masters of their own schedules and movements so we had to be ready to wait for them and ready to shoot at very short notice.

Where did you acquire the funding to create this film?
We were very lucky to receive an Arts Council Grant, and we received a lot of support through our relationship with the University of The West of England, as we gave work experience to two graduating film students.  It would have been impossible without that support.

What is the one thing you would most like this film to achieve?
Opportunities to make more work!
The process of making the film has already taught us so much.  We hope the film will serve to introduce us to new creative people and help us generate support for future projects. We also hope this film triggers thinking around the way we treat older people.

Do you have any future plans for the film? Is there another project in the works?
We’re very keen to share it with as broad an audience as possible.  A crucial part of our plan from the beginning was to go on tour to nursing homes around the South West and create inclusive, intergenerational events around the film. We’ll also make it available to view and share online, and we’ll submit it to the appropriate film festivals. We will be working together again and are in the process of deciding what that next project might be…

MAKE THE MOST OF ME will be screened in our Backstage Bar Fri 26 Aug alongside two other short films; Life of Brians by Andy Oxley & Joshua Gaunt, and Light and Dark by Michael Smith and Tom Stubbs.

For more info and to register your interest, email:

Bhangra comes to Bristol | RSVP Bhangra

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Hi, I’m Kris Malarchist, player of fretted instruments with RSVP, the nation’s no.1 festival Bhangra band. I joined them in 2002, having met them at a festival where I was the resident DJ. I enjoyed their raucous, riotous performance, and was delighted to be invited to join them a couple of weeks later. I was initially asked to play guitar, but have since worked electric mandolin and my customised tenor guitar into the format.

Since then the band has taken over all our live, and become a sprawling chaotic hydra, with its heads popping up in all sorts of places, from education workshops to bizarre yet compelling Indo-Anglian fusion, as well as our normal band work. We’ve travelled Europe and the UK bringing the big Bhangra beat to places you wouldn’t normally expect, and in the process we’ve opened the door for lots of other Asian artists to follow, people who are legends to us, but unknown outside the circle of the aficionado.

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The band has its roots in the musical traditions of the Punjab, but inevitably these have become inextricably entwined with European influences, from Romani (with their shared Indian heritage) to English folk. Bhangra music is the celebratory music of Punjabi harvest festivals, and that’s very much a common cultural thread. Celebration is very much the watchword, and we’ll happily fit in wherever a party’s being held. We always teach some traditional dances as part of the show, and everyone always dances. Always!

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Our singer Dildar originally formed the band to play weddings, initially using backing tracks. When WOMAD offered him his third ever gig, these were swiftly upgraded to a live band, with the addition of other family members, some of whom had to learn their instruments from scratch! Since then we’ve played well over a thousand shows at festivals and venues large and small. We’ve played Glastonbury and WOMAD, the Isle of Wight Festival, countless folk festivals, and toured in Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Our global outlook means we’re always on the move, and always looking for something new to do.

The band were delighted to play for the Bristol Old Vic’s 250th birthday, and we are so looking forward to returning with our full live show. Bristol Old Vic is such a special venue, and we plan to give it our all!

RSVP Bhangra return to our stage Fri 22 Jul. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

Photography by Jon Craig and Jack Offord.

An Interview with Daniel Jamieson and Emma Rice

A new production reveals the intimate – and often difficult – relationship between the artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella. Judi Herman speaks to the creators of the show, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, and about the inspiration behind it.

“It feels like the echo of Chagall is there constantly,” says playwright Daniel Jamieson. “The physical language of the piece is very intimate, beautiful, acrobatic.” He is talking about The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, the new production by Kneehigh Theatre company, which promises to be a magical and surreal stage journey following artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella through the years of their love as they negotiate the world-changing events of the first half of the 20th century.

Jamieson is fresh from sitting in two weeks of rehearsals with director Emma Rice, Audrey Brisson, the acrobat and soprano from Cirque du Soleil, who plays Bella, and Marc Antolin, the Welsh actor who plays Marc.

“We’ve brought a physical language [to the piece] which has the energy and freedom of Chagall’s painting, but also the intimacy of the two performers,” says director Rice, who is working on her last production with Kneehigh, the internationally acclaimed, Cornwall-based company, before moving to take on the mantle of artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Jamieson and Rice are reviving a play Jamieson first wrote for Exeter-based Alibi Theatre in the early 1990s that was inspired by Marc Chagall’s paintings as well as autobiographical writings of the artist and his wife. The original play was directed by Nikki Sved, and Jamieson and Rice, who were partners at the time, starred as Marc and Bella.

The play was also inspired by workshops in Poland with the extreme physical theatre company Gardzienice, which Sved, Jamieson and Rice attended in 1990. Jamieson described the experience as ‘Chagallian, [involving] running up the wall and doing somersaults, and a vivid mixture of song, movement and text. It also involved an expedition to tiny villages in the woods in what is now Belarus. It was essentially the world of Chagall paintings, with its wooden buildings – but with the important omission of the Jews, which struck all of us”.

Reading the play, this rich double-biographical story flies off the page like figures in Chagall’s paintings. But Jamieson brings out and egocentric single-mindedness in Chagall: he has the artist work to his own agenda, leaving Bella (née Rosenfeld) in Vitebsk soon after they fall in love, to develop his art in Paris from 1910 to 1914. Chagall returns with a to-do list that includes marrying Bella after a proposal by post. And the play shows Bella’s justifiable reproach at Chagall missing the birth of their daughter, Ida, by five days.

“But the connection between them remains very strong,” says Rice. “Their relationship is tremendously romantic and they both wrote about it and he painted it. I feel it’s a truth that they loved each other from the minute they met, and this was not an easy marriage. She was very bright and clever, from an important family and chose to marry this very poor painter who then messed her about for years!”

“What shines through in Bella’s own brilliant mind and artistic ability as a writer,” adds Jamieson. “She was one of the four most gifted students in Russia.”

“Speaking from an older woman’s perspective,” Rice continues, “it’s interesting to see how hard it must have been to be married to someone so special. I hate to use the word genius but I think he was and she was too, but she wasn’t creating work that would change the world the way he did. As a younger woman I wanted to make them equal [in the original production], and as an older woman I think the interest is in the fact that whatever he had was bubbling up away from her. We watch her negotiate that as a woman and an artist. How do you get out somebody’s shadow without leaving them?”

Jackie Wullshlager’s authoritative 2008 biography of Chagall has informed the rewrites and in a powerful new scene set in post-revolutionary Moscow circa 1920, Bella inspires the artist to paint huge backdrops for the newly formed State Jewish Chamber Theatre. This new section mirrors an earlier part of the play where Chagall paints Bella for the first time and we see him manipulate her “lightly, magically and sexily”, according to Rice. “She turns that on him later when she inspires him to paint again for the Chamber Theatre. It’s a lovely balance watching the power dynamics between these two.”

In this rewrite, Jamieson uses a Yiddish poem by Polish-born writer Rachel Korn (who was born in 1898 and died in 1982). “She wrote very intimate and physical love poems. Ian Ross, the theatre’s musical director, has set it beautifully to music,” says Rice. “Chagall was so inspired by the teachings, magic and mysticism in Hassidic culture. We can see that freely expressed in the paintings and I want the piece to also do that.”

The piece blends new music from Ross with original Yiddish and Russian folk tunes, as well as Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio. Chagall was designing the costumes and other visual elements for the ballet set to this music by Tchaikovsky when Bella died in 1944 in New York from a viral infection.

“Just before they left Russia the Bolsheviks and Communists were already destroying Jewish life there, so there was a sense they had to hold on to it,” says Jamieson.

A feature of the script is the Chagalls in exile and the play explores how much the iconography of Chagall’s paintings and the paintings themselves became their luggage. “We talk about the objects in his paintings – the cow, the fish, the candles, literally being their luggage that they have to carry through the show. An integral feature of the design is that these objects are going to appear in quite a cunning and magical way,” says Jamieson.

Rice agrees: “They carry not just baggage. It is treasures that they carry across the planet. That’s something so resonant, especially in these times when people are forced to move their homes across the world. What do you save and how do you save it, in your bag or in your hearts or mind? Or do you write or paint it? It’s a brilliant metaphor about home and roots and belief.”

“Chagall spent a lot of time looking back to an early time of his life in his paintings and that’s the shape of our own story: this show is something we originally made in our 20s and we’re returning to it in our late 40s,” says Jamieson. “The arc of life we examined in a youthful and imaginative way we’re now come to understand. It’s given the show an added force and poignancy.”

Written by Judi Herman for Jewish Renaissance Magazine.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
 land on our Theatre stage 27 May-11 Jun. Find out more and book tickets here.