Sleep has its House May 1986.jpg

A photo rediscovery; Sleep Has Its House, 2nd year devised project, Dept. of Theatre Studies, University of Lancaster. Directed by Pete Brooks, Nuffield Theatre Studio, Lancaster, May 1986.

From L to R: Holly, Kelsey Michael, Louize Gibson, Alison Wayman, Nicky Johnstone, Dave Cattermole, Graeme Rose (standing, centre), Katherine Anderson, Johnny Brown, Jools Gilson, Sara Giddens, Rosaleen Lee, Claire McLeod and Amanda Rose (unseen); Sound design by Graeme Miller and Rhys Davies; lx design by Pete Brooks and Tam Drury.

As the newly appointed Fellow-in-Theatre, Pete Brooks introduced a new theatre language and a new world of possibility to the Theatre Studies Department at Lancaster. Sleep Has Its House was his first staged project in the Department. Performed barely a week after his company, Impact Theatre Co-operative presented their last ever performance of  The Carrier Frequency, (in Warsaw – on the night of the Chernobyl disaster). The following year, Pete formed a new company, Insomniac Prods. and restaged a developed version of this show – inspired by Oliver Sachs’s ‘Awakenings‘ – entitled The Sleep, and which toured the UK in 1987 featuring Sarah Jane Morris.

Inspired and motivated by this new way of working, several of the faces in the above picture decided to form a company of our own – Kath, Sara, Claire and myself. The company was named Glory What Glory, and Pete continued to mentor us, co-directing the company’s first piece, Falling Into The Light, which toured in the late spring and autumn of 1988; Jocelyn Pook composing a powerful, driving soundtrack.







Earlier this year while working for the Ministry of Truth (Creation Theatre’s 1984 at Oxford Maths Institute), my friend and erstwhile MTO collaborator Dazz Joyce introduced me to “Looking Backward 2000-1887” – Edward Bellamy’s time-travelling Utopian novel set in Boston in an imagined 2000AD. I immediately latched on to it as an ideal subject for a devised project with final year undergraduates at Birmingham University.

It’s now just a couple of days after the final performance in the George Cadbury Hall, Selly Oak. The project was not without its challenges; a huge amount of my energy going into the distillation of a script rather than the open devising that I’d anticipated. But such is the nature of devising; where you are developing a methodology at the same time as  generating material. Looking Backward became something of a literary exercise, with great demands placed on the students to wrestle with syntactically complex texts. All said, I feel blessed to have worked with such a warm-hearted, generous and talented team who created something I feel very proud of. Below is a copy of the Programme Notes, accompanied by stills from the show.





The object of this reading is to assist persons desiring to gain a more definite idea of the social contrasts between the 19th and 20th Centuries. The author has sought to alleviate the instructive quality of the book by casting it in the form of a romantic narrative, not wholly devoid of interest on its own account…

…So writes Edward Bellamy, in his Preface to “Looking Backward 2000-1887”.


Whether Bellamy’s ‘romantic narrative’ fully pulls our attention away from those “instructive” qualities remains questionable, but “Looking Backward” certainly deserves more recognition for the huge impact it made on its first readers when it was published in 1887. Bellamy was then a struggling young writer in a small industrial town in Massachusetts. His book not only inspired a wave of time-travelling literature (including that of H.G Wells), but also spawned a whole political movement. Groups of thinkers and activists would form ‘Bellamy Clubs’ to debate the radical ideas promoted in this Utopian vision for the Industrial Age.



Bellamy’s protagonist in the novel, Julian West, is an insomniac, kept awake by the troubling hubbub of contemporary life. But thanks to the interventions of a mesmerist he slips into a profound sleep in his secret underground chamber, and survives a catastrophic house-fire, only to be re-discovered and awoken in the year 2000. His new hosts then give him a tour of the changed world.


The theme of ‘Waking Up’ is a metaphor for the modern condition which causes Julian such angst. He is a sympathetic witness to the miseries of those less fortunate than him, but also realises his privilege has only been made possible on the backs of others’ labour.



So why choose “Looking Backward” now? Bellamy writes in 1887 but attempts to project a future 2000AD, the supposed culmination of a century’s worth of enlightenment and human progress. (Bellamy himself uses the expression ‘evolution’, which betrays the influence the Darwinians had on his generation.) But it is significant that the ensemble that presenting for you today – all born in the fading light of the 1990’s – are the first generation to have no actual memory of the 20th Century at all! Sometimes referred to as “Generation Z”, this digital-literate and socially-conscious generation start only with the Millennium. Their future lives will help shape a very different – perhaps smaller – world in which ‘Globalisation’ and ‘Climate Change’ loom large.


Theatre offers us an opportunity to model alternative realities and it is in this spirit we present a re-modelling of Bellamy’s Utopian landscape, as imagined from a 1887 perspective. But as we listen to Bellamy’s descriptions of an evolved future society it is easy to become blasé and forget how extraordinary his vision was. So much of what he predicts has actually come true but has become normalised in our everyday modern reality; giant shopping Malls with Amazon-style distribution systems, Credit Cards and cash-less economy. But he also predicts gender equality, the IMF, trade clearance systems, radio for musical and religious sermons; a welfare system; free education and the nationalisation of Industries and rail networks. In Bellamy’s world there are no ‘pay gaps’. Universal basic income has become the norm, and economic efficiency is the result.



“….it seems to me that nowhere can we find more solid ground for daring anticipations of human development during the next thousand years, than by Looking Backward upon the progress of the last one hundred.”


Bellamy’s characters dismiss the “followers of the red flag” as nothing more than an sponsored conspiracy, but we cannot help but listen to his description of Utopia without thinking of how the actual 20th Century was shaped by – long after Bellamy’s death – the rise and fall of Communism, and the spectre of National Socialism. Bellamy’s call, at the end of the novel, for unquestioning patriotism leaves­­ a bitter taste in the light of actual events of the 20th Century – not to mention recent ideological shifts in the USA. We are left wondering whether we do indeed live in times that are ‘looking forward’, or whether we are, infact, still ‘looking backward’…


Graeme Rose, director, October 2017

[pictures courtesy of David Crisp and the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Birmingham]





The Department of Drama & Theatre Arts Presents

 Looking Backward

 by Edward Bellamy. Adapted by Graeme Rose. Devised by Graeme Rose and the Cast.

     After consulting a mesmerist for his insomnia, Julian wakens from a 113 year-long slumber to find himself in the 21st Century. His new hosts guide him through the changed world. Adapted from Edward Bellamy’s time-travelling 1887 novel, this group-devised piece invites us to reconcile Bellamy’s utopian vision – complete with technological advancements, universal income, shopping centres, credit cards and equal rights – with the known realities of the past Century.


Performance Dates:

Thursday 26th October – Saturday 28th October 2017 at 7.30pm

Saturday 28th October 2017 at 2.00pm

Contact Information:

Dept. of Drama and Theatre Arts

George Cadbury Hall,  University of Birmingham

998 Bristol Road,  Selly Oak,  Birmingham,  B29 6LG



Online Shop:

Box Office (Enquiries only – no booking):

0121 414 5676





Frankfurt-based Mamaza have created their project A Single Line in city locations across the world – from Antwerp to Venice. Here is a documentation of their Birmingham rendition, as commissioned by BE festival 2017.

Commissioned for SPON-SPUN Festival, Talking Birds turned a backstage tour of Coventry’s Albany Theatre into a rolling 40-minute performance on 10th September, when the 1930’s building – formerly Coventry Technical College – threw open it’s doors as part of Heritage Open Weekend.

Here is a Trailer for the show, by Jon Randle

Backstage at the Albany Theatre from Talking Birds on Vimeo.

On this day sixty years ago, 19th April 1957, Frederick Jeffs’s life came to a brutal end.


Fred was my grandad’s half-brother. He spent – as my grandad did – much of the second world war holed up in a prisoner-of-war camp. At some point late in the war – probably following the Death-march westwards from Auschwitz-Blechammer (and away from the advancing Ivans) – they were reunited on enemy soil. By all accounts Fred was a loner; reserved, and behaving at odds with the world around him; opting not to share his Red Cross parcels and disappearing alone into the woods during Allied bombing raids.

Back in a ’50’s Brum deemed fit for returning heroes, however, he seems to have prospered. Fred bought a decent Austin and set himself up with a Confectionary shop on the Parade at Stanley Road, Quinton. He married Betty in 1948, with my grandad as best man, but it wasn’t to last. By the end of 1956 Rock ‘n Roll was here to stay, but Betty had gone back to live with her parents.

I’ve been musing over the details of this story since I was at school, and wrote a first treatment for a staged version while I was in my second year at Lancaster Uni. Dennis Potter would have been proud. My interest in the material re-surfaced in the mid-Noughties, when I revisited the site of the sweet-shop in Stanley Road with my dad, who had been 19 at the time of the killing and remembers the police calling in at the family home in Ridgacre Rd. to relay the news of Fred’s death and collect my grandad for interview. My erstwhile collaborator Steve Johnstone was directing Foursight Theatre’s The Corner Shop, and Fred’s story was transposed to one of the narrative threads in that remarkable project which was installed inside empty shop units at the Mander Centre, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich Shopping Centre.

Following the success of Un-Earth, a large-scale, site-specific, music-theatre collaboration between my company The Resurrectionists and mac productions in 2004, we discussed a multi-site theatrical re-rendering of the Jeffs case, but the timing and momentum just didn’t seem right.

Anniversaries bring their own momentum, and I am painfully aware that 60 years on, the number of living witnesses to this event will have diminished considerably. Strange to think that 30 years ago I felt like the late ’50’s were ancient history, and since then the same passage of time has occurred.

By way of opening up the conversation on these events, and importantly passing it on to the latest inheritors of the story, I visited the Library of Birmingham today with my son, Jacob. We trawled through the archive press cuttings of the day, reigniting my fascination for this extraordinary story.

Birmingham_Post_20apr57_0004 [Click on this Link for downloadable pdf]

Birmingham Post_Sat 20th April 1957

Birmingham Post & Gazette, Easter Saturday, 20th April 1957

On The Rails


railroad GR

Friend and longtime collaborator Simon Jones was quipping this weekend that I had spawned an adjective singularly my own. To engage in a “Rosarian” task (as in Sisyphusian, I fear) is “to expend a huge amount of energy to very little avail”. Perhaps those closest to me recognise the painful truth better than I.

After what feels like a furiously productive spell I am back home, skint as ever and without gainful employment in the coming months. A time to garden, to decorate, to read, to refresh this flagging blog*. A time perhaps to wrestle a new project of my own into existence… (watch this space…)

*Any suggestions gratefully received

Here is the Trailer for Creation Theatre’s production of Orwell’s 1984, adapted and directed by Jonathan Holloway, and performed in the Mathematics Institute here in Jericho, Oxford until 5th March.


Photography by Richard Budd

1984 Trailer from Creation Theatre on Vimeo.


Creation Theatre are this year celebrating 20 years of making site-specific work in and around their home City of Oxford. I have joined the company for the current production, a timely adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984”, written and directed by my long-term collaborator Jonathan Holloway. In fact this year marks 20 years of us working together since playing Javert in his adaptation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” (Red Shift Theatre Company, 1997).

“1984” opened this weekend at the impressive Andrew Wiles Mathematics Institute, in the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter at Oxford University. The venue provides an extraordinary, contemporary backdrop to a re-imagined world of the novel in which ‘Alternative Facts’ and ‘Doublethink’ are not such remote concepts.

Here are some stills from the late rehearsals of the show, taken by Richard Budd. Tickets and further information available through this link…


A handful of songs from our Food Crime musical “The Hand That Feeds” were performed recently at Birmingham Food Council’s second AGM, hosted at the Impact Hub in Digbeth. Organised and presented partly by myself and largely by New Optimist all-round superwoman Kate Cooper (self-styled ‘the lippy granny’) the evening prompted talks from enlightened specialists (q.v.) about global food security, it’s impact on health/ the economy / political stability, etc. and the opportunities/challenges that exist for Birmingham and its million-stomach-sized food system. Birmingham City Council CEO Mark Rogers then facilitated a second half discussion which covered concerns about food waste management, the difficulties of implementing mandatory Food Hygiene ratings, insuring against agricultural uncertainties and future price hikes as a result of Brexit, etc.

Kate founded the BFC – as she did the New Optimists – as vehicles for bringing together able minds and able motivators to problem-solve the big issues of our time. By her own admission she says that ‘Global Food Security’ was a non-starter for discussion a few years ago. Today, however, in the wake of the furore over Horsemeat, and the  trickle of scandals of ‘lesser’ interest to the media such as the contaminated ‘cutting’ of Paprika/chilli powders, livestock rustling, fraudulent labelling of Manuka honey, etc. the spectre of Food Crime hangs over the health and wellbeing of us all.


Without intervention, without monitoring, without effective policing and without consequences unscrupulous traders will always find ways of cheapening our food while at the same time making profit at every transaction point in the chain; ultimately making millions for the gangsters at the top. In Kate’s words “If it looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is”. The evening on the 28th Nov was a small gesture towards raising the profile of Food Security and prompting serious discussion about the scale and impact on our food environment.

“The Hand That Feeds” will be revived in the spring of next year and we hope it will continue to bring the idea of Food Crime, (as Prof. Chris Elliot – author of the Elliot Review, who flew over from Belfast for the premiere – suggests) to life for a truly broad audience in ways that academic articles and reports can rarely do.

Here is the complete performance, as captured by Mat Becket’s River Rea productions.

Saturday 14th May 2016. St.Martin-in-the-Bullring, Birmingham. #StopFoodCrime

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