Offside: the shocking moment female footballers were banned for 50 years

Originally written for the Guardian.

In 1921, the Football Association ruled the sport “quite unsuitable for females and … not to be encouraged”. For the next 50 years, women were banned from playing on FA pitches. A new theatre show, Offside, brings this hidden history to light. “So many people were unaware that there had been a ban,” says the show’s co-writer Sabrina Mahfouz, “even people who are playing football now”.

The play emerged from Caroline Bryant’s passion and frustration. A lifelong football fan, she was never able to play for a team when she was growing up. Decades later, as artistic director of the company Futures Theatre, which is committed to promoting equality for women, it seemed to her an injustice that was ripe for dramatisation. “Football is so much a part of British and world culture,” says Bryant. “Why are women excluded from it?”

Poet Hollie McNish, who wrote the play with Mahfouz, describes the women’s game as an “amazing little microcosm of the history of women’s rights”. Over the years, it’s been caught up with the fight for equality in a variety of areas. The rational dress movement of the late 19th century was partly driven by women fighting to wear clothes that were suitable for playing sport, while women’s football in Scotland was closely linked to the campaign for female suffrage. These were the stories that Mahfouz and McNish sought out.

Based on current and historical research, the show intertwines three narratives: one contemporary, two historical. In the present, fictional characters Mickey and Keeley are pursuing their dream of playing for England. Spurring them on from the history books are Carrie Boustead, a black female footballer who was playing in the 1880s and 90s, and the National Football Museum hall of fame star Lily Parr.

As Mahfouz explains, Boustead and Parr’s stories “act as heroic, retrospective examples that the two contemporary football players use to motivate themselves”. These interwoven stories are performed by a cast of three against the backdrop of a handmade patchwork that includes various nods to the game’s history, from suffragette protest banners to more recent feminist iconography.

The little-known story of Boustead, who played as a goalkeeper, counters what Mahfouz calls the “whitewashing” of British history. Parr, meanwhile, was a winger for Dick, Kerr Ladies, the team that on Boxing Day 1920 drew a crowd of 53,000 to Goodison Park. Dick, Kerr Ladies and other teams of female factory workers had steadily gained popularity during and after the first world war, but in 1921 the FA banned the women’s game from its grounds, citing medical concerns over its effects on women’s health. The ban crippled the burgeoning sport, forcing Parr and her peers to play on village greens.

The ban persisted until 1971, two years after the formation of the Women’s Football Association, when the FA bowed to pressure from Uefa to once again allow women to play on its grounds. Today, 46 years on from the lifting of the ban, the women’s game is stronger than ever, but the gap between women’s and men’s football remains.

“There was just such palpable frustration,” says Mahfouz, reflecting on her conversations with players. Leanne Cowan, Millwall Lionesses defender and one of the women interviewed for Offside, tells me that she works three or four jobs alongside training and matches in order to do what she loves. Such a situation is not uncommon for female footballers, while their male counterparts earn often astronomical sums.

“It was astounding, really, that this love of this game could keep them going,” says Mahfouz. McNish, despite being a football lover, was amazed that female players of the past loved the sport so much that they fought “for the right to kick a ball”.

Bryant believes that “we are at the cusp of changing all this now”. A key turning point was the 2014 match against Germany at Wembley, which attracted 55,000 spectators. Meanwhile, more clubs are paying their female players on a full-time basis and attitudes are beginning to change. As Cowan says: “The game is getting bigger every year.”

“I think it’s important to recognise that things have been created this way and it’s not just how it is,” says Mahfouz. Bryant, too, insists that it’s vital to remind people of the setbacks that female footballers have faced. “When people say the game’s not as fast or as entertaining as the men’s game, I want them to know that for 50 years women weren’t allowed to play.”

The hope is that Offside will shift attitudes. “I want the audience to be a bit pissed off at the way female sportspeople are still portrayed,” says McNish. For Bryant, the ultimate aim is to reach the point where the men’s and women’s games are on a level in people’s minds. “The greatest thing for me will be when they interview a manager at the end of the game, it’s a woman, and no one says anything about it – it’s just normal.”

Photo: Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images.

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Sick! Festival, Manchester

Originally written for Exeunt.

I’m lying on the ground. Above me, a delicate mesh of bare branches, and beyond that the muted grey sky. A gentle gust of wind grazes my cheek. I can feel my muscles relaxing into the earth beneath me, my body moulding itself to the uneven, grassy surface. I can hear birdsong and the distant hum of conversation. And in my ear, a voice whispers to me of my death and decomposition.

This is Woodland, one quarter of French & Mottershead’s sound installation series Afterlife. It’s visiting the Whitworth Gallery as part of SICK! Festival, a series of events and art works across Manchester linked by the themes of life, death and survival. I start the festival programme at the end: with death and what comes after.

Think the word ‘afterlife’ and you think religion, spirituality, the promise of something more than just the heart’s final beat. But French & Mottershead’s series of artworks focuses on a strictly physical process: bodily decay. Woodland is accompanied at the Whitworth by Grey Granular Fist, another in the series. The first narrates a body’s – my body’s – slow disappearance into the earth. In the second, a body – my body – is imagined as an exhibit in the gallery, its decomposition stalled by the air conditioning and the careful attention of conservators.

Both pieces are delivered through headphones in soothing tones. The voices may talk of bacteria, putrefaction and maggots (this is definitely not an experience for the squeamish), but they have an oddly calming tenor, lulling me into a tranquil state. There’s also strange, surprising beauty in the artworks’ detailed and unsparing descriptions of what happens to the body after death: the imprint of patterns where blood pools under dead skin, or bluebells bursting through a ribcage.

Afterlife is strikingly matter-of-fact and unsentimental about death, confronting it as a physical process that every body will eventually go through. Its surroundings, though, can’t help but remind me of life. Lying beneath the trees in Whitworth Park during Woodland, my eyes are drawn to the birds above and to the moss growing on the tree trunk beside me. I feel oddly vulnerable in this position, and as a result intensely aware of my body – warm and pulsing in contrast with the corpse that French & Mottershead plant in my imagination.

Sat on a chair in the gallery listening to Grey Granular Fist, meanwhile, I feel like I’m on display alongside the paintings and prints. I glance up awkwardly at other visitors and feel blood colouring my cheeks. Halfway through listening to the piece, a group of schoolchildren gather nearby, their lively chatter buzzing underneath French & Mottershead’s descriptions. This is the productive tension in the work: between the sensations of life and the calm, quiet knowledge of death.

On the way to and from the Whitworth, my walk takes me past another artwork that’s contemplating our inevitable demise. Candy Chang’s Before I die is a giant blackboard, luring in passers-by with the provocation “before I die I want to…”. It’s scrawled all over with multi-coloured chalk responses, creating a messy palimpsest of ambitions and desires, from the outrageous to the banal. As soon as you think about death – really think about it – life’s possibilities and impossibilities seem overwhelming. Before I die is that mind-boggling thought process writ large.

Later, an afternoon at the Rethink Rebuild Society brings life, in all its mess and complication. Contact has programmed three shows offsite here, under the collective title Hiraeth – the Welsh word meaning homesickness tinged with grief or sadness. It’s a word that applies as much to the venue, which offers support and advocacy for Syrians in the UK, as to the trio of shows tucked away in various parts of the building.

All three shows have family at their heart. Toni-Dee Paul’s My Father’s Kitchen reflects on her complicated relationships with her dad, a man who is “from here, but not of here”, and with the Jamaica that her grandparents call home. Paul is Leeds born-and-bred, a Yorkshire pud and gravy sort of girl, but in her father’s kitchen she’s surrounded by the scents of another, inherited home: paprika, plantain, rum punch.

Those aromas and flavours also suffuse the small space in which Paul speaks to us like friends or confidantes. Together, we munch on snacks and raise a glass (or plastic cup) of ginger beer to Paul’s Jamaican ancestors. The communal sharing of food nourishes intimacy, as does Paul’s infectious warmth. Like the fried plantain that she passes round the audience, though, Paul’s show is more of a tasty morsel than a full meal. Her tantalising fragments of poetry, history and autobiography never quite cohere.

Food is also a vital ingredient in Afreena Islam’s Daughters of the Curry Revolution, which is again grounded in a complex father-daughter relationship. Today, Islam cares for her ageing father, but he remains something of a mystery to her. In this show, she attempts to piece together his life, melding myth and anecdote and the clues provided by his passport. None of it, she warns, can be entirely trusted. The piece is also threaded through with her own memories: filching a sip of wine from her father’s Indian restaurant as a child; stumbling around wearing his shoes and blazer.

It’s all set against the menacing background hum of anti-immigration rhetoric and increasingly emboldened racism. Islam’s father was born in Bangladesh, but he is the most English person she knows. They share a love of roast lamb with all the trimmings. On the table around which Islam’s performance takes place, meanwhile, visual reminders of India and Bangladesh knock up against jars of Golden Shred marmalade and squares of white bread. These markers of hybrid identity are placed down with little to no comment, as are the references to racism, leaving us to make of them what we will. Very deliberately, little is left resolved.

“What do you think happens to us after we die?” asks Jamil E-R Keating, sitting cross-legged in front of us. The afterlife again. Keating invites us to think of things bigger than ourselves – life after death, life on other planets – and to think of something we walk past every day on the streets of Manchester. Through a story about his uncle, Keating collides asteroids orbiting in space with homeless men orbiting the streets. Like the countless objects hurtling through the universe, we tend to think of homeless people as a mass, all much the same as one another, but Keating seeks to remind us that both asteroids and human beings are all wonderfully, messily unique.

The connection is intriguing, even if it sometimes feels a little strained. And Keating is a gently captivating storyteller, leaning forwards in the orange glow of a little side room as models of asteroids dangle and sway from the ceiling above him. As in the other two thirds of Hiraeth, the performance has a slightly fragmentary feel. But then there’s something apt about that, as if form is reflecting the jagged shards of different identities, or the uneasy fit of one home inside another.

At Contact, where I conclude my day at the festival, life, death and survival all converge. Research suggests that one in two of us born after 1960 will be affected by cancer at some point in our lives. It’s something that will kill some of us, but that many more of us will have to live with in one way or another. Taking this on board, There is a Light is a sort of cancer cabaret, loosely linking together a series of sketches based on research into cancer treatment and support for young people.

The Contact Young Company bring wit and exuberance to the heavy subject matter, along with a wealth of ideas. Possibly too many ideas. The piece is inspired by BRIGHTLIGHT, the first major study into young patients’ experiences of specialist cancer care in England, and it grapples throughout with the impossibility of telling the many stories emerging from this research. How can these experiences be conveyed on a stage? How much should be told? Who is it OK to speak for? And how?

The very fact that Contact Young Company are engaged with these questions, working them through for us in performance, makes There is a Light compelling. And it’s funnier than its subject might suggest, trying out everything from tap-dancing to stand-up in its attempt to speak awkward and uncomfortable truths. The piece is deeply political, too, taking aim at uneven NHS funding and the consequences this has for young people seeking cancer treatment. There are even some brilliantly angry sideways swipes at Brexit and the Tory government, though these feel like tangents rather than integral points. It’s scattershot, then, but its dance with the impossible is never dull to watch.

Death. Illness. Identity. None of these are easy things to confront head on. SICK! Festival invites us to look at them in different ways, from different angles. Other events in the festival (which continues until 25 March) look at themes including race, mental health, belonging, disability and the experience of refugees. Like my gaze up through the branches – a view I rarely allow myself – they might just offer an altered perspective.

Anti-pantos: the plays getting to the grim reality of Christmas

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Originally written for the Guardian.

Christmas is ripe for disappointment,” acknowledges writer and performer Jonny Donahoe with a chuckle. “And yet we’re so excited about it.” Donahoe’s new play, 30 Christmases, celebrates both the joy and letdown of the festive period, from family traditions to family arguments. It’s one of a number of shows bucking the pantomime trend this year and offering a more ambivalent take on the holiday.

Playwright Matthew Bulgo acknowledges that Christmas Day is “a real crucible”. As such, it’s a gift for a dramatist. Bulgo’s play Last Christmas, about a man who returns home to confront his demons, wasn’t originally set at this time of year, but “the tinsel and the baubles and the pudding just snuck in somewhere along the way”. For Bulgo, Christmas was “the perfect context to address those issues of family, friendship and home because it seems like the time when you almost can’t avoid them”. Donahoe makes a similar point, observing that “Christmas is something that punctuates everyone’s year, whether they like it or not”.

Both Donahoe and Bulgo are exploring how the past erupts into the present at this time of year. In Donahoe’s show, he and comedian Rachel Parris play siblings telling the story of the Christmases – both happy and sad – that they’ve shared. Bulgo’s protagonist, Tom, is travelling back to see his family in Swansea for the first time since his father died. Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Tom is “absolutely riddled with flaws” and is “tied up in knots about regrets from the past”.

At the National Theatre in London, another kind of family drama is at the heart of Love, the new show from writer and director Alexander Zeldin. The play follows three families who have been placed in temporary accommodation, exposing a side to Christmas that is rarely made visible. Zeldin was inspired to make the show after a friend at the housing and homelessness charity Shelter sent him their annual report on families spending Christmas in B&Bs. “For me, the starting point is never a political idea,” Zeldin says. “It’s always a human moment or encounter.” Reading Shelter’s report, he was struck by the voices of “women with young children speaking very simply about what it’s like to live in terrible conditions in a tiny room, with all the kids piled up together and strangers around them”.

While researching the play, Zeldin stayed in hostels himself and met many families in temporary accommodation. This year Shelter estimates that more than 120,000 British children will be homeless at Christmas. This is something that Donahoe has been thinking about. 30 Christmases has been made in partnership with the Old Fire Station in Oxford, which doubles up as a Crisis centre for homeless people. “It’s the perfect place to put on a show about Christmas,” he says, “because we don’t exactly have a perfect society.” He recalls meeting the head of the biggest homeless shelter in Oxford during the making of the show. “She said, ‘We get lots of people trying to volunteer for Christmas Day and we don’t need that, we need things all year round.’ So I wanted to address that as well, and look at the way we think about what Christmas is and what it represents to us.”

The question of what Christmas means is there in all three shows. Zeldin is interested in Christmas “as a metaphor of someone sacrificing themselves for something broader, or of hope being invested in a child”. He also suggests that, as a time of year when people come together, Christmas “provides good conditions” for theatre that aims to create a collective experience among strangers.

These three plays might eschew the glitter and glee of pantomime, but they are nonetheless optimistic. Donahoe stresses that 30 Christmases is “incredibly upbeat”. Throughout the show, which features festive songs from Donahoe’s band Jonny and the Baptists, he and Parris come up with new Christmas games, foods and drinks, inventing their own traditions. “It’s about two people trying to discover new rituals,” he explains. “Having gone through a Christmas trauma, they decide to make it their own thing.”

Bulgo says that audiences for Last Christmas (which has had several outings since its premiere at the Sherman Cymru, Cardiff in December 2012) describe it as “the kind of show that makes you want to leave the theatre and call your loved ones and tell them how much you love them”. Zeldin, meanwhile, wants to show “the strength that comes from parental love and the love people have for each other inside the family”.

More than anything, the shows challenge the image of Christmas perfection. Christmas comes in many guises, but perhaps that’s no bad thing. “It’s usually a day marked with over- and under-cooked food and too much alcohol and shouting across the table, but also there’s something incredibly joyful about that,” Donahoe insists. “Those rituals are just as important as mistletoe and ringing bells and singing carols.”

Two Man Show

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Originally written for Exeunt.

On the evening I see RashDash’s new show, the internet is still ablaze with Donald Trump’s “grab her by the pussy” comments. And let’s be clear about those comments: the man who might (oh please, please no) become the next leader of the most powerful nation in the world thinks of women as passive trophies and of consent as something trifling and optional. In his words, “you can do anything.”

But wait. It’s just locker room talk. It’s just what men say. It’s just a bit of banter. Isn’t it?

Two Man Show is “about” the contemporary crisis in masculinity. But, like most RashDash shows, its stated subject is only part of the story. Two Man Show is a takedown of the patriarchy; it’s a fearsome howl of anger; it’s a punk-rock feminist anthem; it’s a dance with the impossible; it’s spiky and beautiful and wounded and joyous.The show falls, roughly speaking, into three acts (a warped mirroring of the well-made play that is, I suspect, no accident). Warning: spoilers lie ahead. In the first act, Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland come on stage with musician Becky Wilkie and proceed to correct everything we think we know about historic gender relations. First there was equality, then women were the goddesses, then the men – threatened and afraid – learned the tricks of dominance. Squeaky voiced and decked in silver and gold, Helen and Abbi are exaggerated portraits of both femininity and power – and playful with it.

The second act, which accounts for the greatest portion of the show, switches between two distinct performance modes. In one, Helen and Abbi shrug on remarkably convincing male personas, in a deliberately familiar (yet brilliantly written) soap-opera-esque narrative of two estranged brothers. Unschooled in the language of emotion, the two men enter an awkward, strained intimacy in the final days of their father’s life. Between these sort-of-naturalistic scenes are dance sequences typical of RashDash’s aesthetic, in which the two performers fling one another around the stage, often naked or partially clothed.

And then, in the final act, the pattern we think we’ve mastered is suddenly torn apart at the seams. Every doubt or question or criticism that might have flickered through our minds throughout the show is voiced by “John”, Abbi’s male character, who firmly asserts his presence on the stage, abruptly cutting short the next “dance bit”. What’s with the dance anyway? he demands. And when did being a man become synonymous with being a cunt?

It’s hard, if not impossible, to pin Two Man Show down. RashDash occupy and appropriate. They deconstruct and smash apart. Traditionally “masculine” forms – history, with all its reassuring certainty, and the sturdy male dialogue of the social realist play – are turned inside out. Dramaturgically, the piece moves from a place of unshakeable confidence (“we know everything,” Abbi and Helen grin at us, dressed as prehistoric goddesses) to one of radical uncertainty. “I can’t pretend to be certain,” Helen tells us in her final speech, after “John” and Abbi have had their say. I’ve always struggled with that too. But maybe certainty is politically dangerous. Maybe uncertainty is underrated.

If Two Man Show is rife with uncertainty, it also has plenty of space for confidence and assertion, not least in the ways RashDash present themselves on stage. Watching Abbi and Helen move through the space, oscillating in the movement sequences between traditionally “masculine” and “feminine” physicalities, what strikes me most of all is the strength of their bodies. Strength, like so many other things, has been socially and culturally constructed as masculine, but these women are so so strong. And in the space they hold open, nudity becomes power. Yes, they’re playing with the dynamics of the male gaze, particularly during a sequence in which Abbi moulds Helen’s pliable body into a series of familiar poses. But the way in which these two women display their bodies also feels controlled and empowering and really fucking badass. At certain points, I almost wanted to throw off my clothes and leap on stage with them, beating my chest and howling with righteous rage. (And as anyone who knows me can attest, I’m far from an exhibitionist)

But this isn’t only about what it is to be a woman in a patriarchal society. Men are also oppressed by patriarchy, also hemmed in and squashed down. RashDash’s two brothers are slack-shouldered and somehow shrunken, inches suddenly slashed off the magnificent height that Abbi and Helen had just moments earlier as they paced the stage. Without erasing the privilege their gender lends them, these characters’ complaints are given real weight. There’s an implicit criticism of mansplaining, but also an acknowledgement that it’s hard for men to know how to be in a world that both encourages and punishes the traditional markers of masculinity.

I’m saying all this like RashDash’s show is an essay on contemporary gender relations, when really it defies simple analyses and easy explanations. Two Man Show performs its own deconstruction, as if to turn around and say “you didn’t think it would really be that straightforward, did you?” Like in We Want You to Watch (though more powerfully here), RashDash point to and pick away at their own failures, which they’re acutely aware of, while simultaneously unsettling the very standards of success and failure.

Andrew Haydon read the piece as a critique of British theatre’s drive towards communication and “well-balanced arguments”. But I think the attack on meaning and reason and legibility goes further than that. It came across, to me, as a scathing commentary on the ways in which – in so many different public arenas – men pick apart the statements of women, deride them if they don’t meet some imagined standard of “reasonableness”, laugh that they must be “on their period” in the same way female anger was once diagnosed as hysteria (but hey, it’s just a joke, right lads?).

By the end, Two Man Show is gloriously, brilliantly messy. In their final monologues, Helen and Abbi throw everything at us: all the different ways of being a woman or a man or of rejecting gender entirely. There are no answers, only questions and frustrations. But for all the fury, that concluding mess – the tangle of unresolved and perhaps irreconcilable contradictions – feels to me like a sigh of relief. Yes, this is complicated and knotty, and no it can’t be unravelled by a polite, reasonable, well-made play. Just being able to say that, being able to put that mess on the stage, is one of the most liberating acts of the whole piece. We can know what we’re against – “locker room talk”, mansplaining, the laughter that casually envelops an endemic rape culture – without necessarily being able to articulate what we’re for.

Emergency Festival

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Originally written for Exeunt.

It’s hard to imagine a better festival venue than Z-arts. A labyrinth of corridors and rooms, it seems to twist off in every direction, promising still more stairs and spaces. Just inside the entrance, a walkway curves around a wide atrium – an open auditorium, flooded with light. This is a place for play, too: usually a theatre for children and families, the corners are stuffed with toys and games and small humans in search of adventure.

Emergency, a free day of non-stop performance, occupies the building with an apt sense of playfulness. The shows and installations might not be for kids, but still there are stories, games, a spirit of exploration. As I walk in, the atrium is temporarily home to a group of men moving in ever-tightening patterns, stuck in a repeating loop of constriction and collision. Peter Jacobs’ performance installation No Man Is An Island is suggestive of the restrictions of patriarchal society, which hems in men as much as it does women. But it also looks a lot like a game – one whose rules, perhaps, we can change.

There’s another twist on a familiar form in Maelstrom Theatre’s Land of the Giants, the first of the afternoon’s sit-down shows. The short piece, created and performed by Anthony Briggs, is littered with juggling balls. Dozens of the things, scattered across the floor and flying through the air. Briggs himself, in clown-face, shirt and boxer shorts, looks like something out of a bad dream – one of those dreams where you find yourself, half dressed, required to give a speech you haven’t prepared for. Or a performance you haven’t rehearsed.

There’s a familiar – perhaps too familiar – vocabulary of failure to Briggs’ performance. Balls are juggled, dropped, gathered up, dropped again. Briggs shoots embarrassed, apologetic glances at us, while a pre-recorded voiceover haltingly relates his everyday struggles. Yet the show’s potent evocation of awkwardness and unease lifts it out of a well-worn performance idiom. Briggs looks genuinely uncomfortable in his own skin, his squirming movements suggesting an effort to shrug it right off. And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such an affecting representation of social anxiety as Briggs’ frozen form, sweating under the harsh stage lights, juggling balls clutched precariously in his arms as a buzz of voices rises louder and louder and louder.

The movement and visual storytelling of Land of the Giants is immediately contrasted with the table-bound simplicity of Transfigurations. Company Ding & sich takes its name from Kantian philosophy: ding an sich refers to the impossibility of knowing a thing-in-itself. One of the preoccupations of Transfigurations is thingness, including the thingness (or otherwise) of human beings. The show – delivered by Annie Lord and Simon Bowes from behind a table, lit by angled lamps – is many things at once, even in its short twenty minutes. It’s a story of a couple; it’s a meditation on what it means to be human; it’s an exploration of language and metaphor; it’s a composition of rhythm, syllables, sounds and silence.

Implicit in Ding & sich’s delicate, precise bit of storytelling are the questions – about who we are, what we are, what happens to us – that hover somewhere between two people with different views of life and death. Similarly searching questions are asked in much more direct and playful form in Paper People Theatre’s brilliantly titled Do Geese See God? Posing the conundrum of how we really distinguish fact from fiction in a world where facts are always being changed or replaced (the cannily selected example offered by the company is the downgrading of Pluto from planet to not-quite-planet), it’s a scattershot but consistently engaging exploration of what we know – or don’t know – and how we explain the world to ourselves. And while the tone is light and teasing, the show’s interrogation of our attitude towards facts has a dark undertow in the wake of the EU referendum and the “facts” thrown about during the campaign.

Language is again under investigation in Sync., Ryan O’Shea’s strange mix of lip-sync, pop music and verbal acrobatics. Teasing at the edges of words, O’Shea – looking like an intergalactic backing dancer in his foil hotpants, metallic make-up and conspicuous headset – somehow moves throughout the course of the twenty-minute performance from Teletubbies and phonics to sex and violence. It’s often baffling but always oddly fascinating. I’m also reminded, as a young member of the audience giggles unselfconsciously at O’Shea’s deliberate struggles to form his mouth around syllables, of how strange and funny our attempts to communicate can be.

Dotted throughout the building, away from the more formal and separated spaces of the theatre and the studio, are various more intimate encounters. Audiences can get in bed with one performer and interview another; they can talk about how they feel or join in with a vocal installation. I spend some time in the music room, feeling a little like an intruder among the silent, black-clad women recreating the lost hand gestures once performed by the workers in Lancashire cotton mills in I have never been anywhere so long. It’s history as muscle memory; ghosts intriguingly and perhaps problematically embodied by present day performers.

There’s plenty more designed to be dipped in and out of, hiding in various nooks and crannies of Z-arts’ sprawling complex. While initially overwhelming, the bursting-at-the-seams programme offers audiences a variety of routes through the day. It is, if you like, a Choose Your Own Adventure storybook of performance.

My own, self-curated festival ends in a tiny, cupboard-like space with Jamil E-R Keating’s Asteroid RK1. Intimate and informal, it’s a gentle piece of storytelling that crashes together rough sleeping and interplanetary objects. Looking up at the night sky and down at the city streets, Keating shares a narrative that’s both deeply personal and deeply political – especially at a time when homelessness is on the rise. Like the day as a whole, it asks us to look and listen with just that bit more care.

Photo: David Forrest.