Uster TV live review of Crossings
The South Bank Show Diversity Award, presented by Radio 1 DJ Jo Whiley to Julie McNamara.
Liverpool was built on slavery. Of this there is no doubt. This is largely the reason why the only International Museum of Slavery in the world is housed in the Maritime Museum on Liverpool’s Albert Dock.
So in 2008 when Julie McNamara was offered a commission to make new work for DaDa (Deaf and Disability Arts) Festival during its’ Capital of Culture year, She wrote and produced ‘Crossings’; a work in progress bringing together three extraordinary voices of women who had been trafficked to become breed mares or slaves for the benefit of their buyers.
Julie McNamara recalls: ‘Crossings began with the search for my father’s boat – the Dajam – which had been moored next to Morpeth dock on the river Mersey. My father died and the boat was lost out there somewhere. I went in search of its’ registration at the Maritime Museum on Albert Dock to see what had become of it. But the reams and reams of paperwork overwhelmed me. I gave up the job and went for a wander in the International Museum of Slavery housed in the same building. What I found there so disturbed me I felt I needed to retell the story. I read about the slaughter of innocent people and a dodgy insurance claim based on murderous lies by Liverpool merchants. I let go of my search for the Dajam once I found the story of the Zong!‘
Nzingah was the voice of conscience, drawn from the story of an enslaved African woman who had witnessed the cold blooded murder of 132 people thrown overboard for a fraudulent insurance claim on the Zong – known as Liverpool’s Ship of Shame.
Heggarty’s story was based on the life and times of Katherine Heggarty, a female pirate who took the passage from Ireland to the new world, to begin life anew in New Zealand, only to find she was destined to become the ship’s whore when her brother died on board.
Shelley was a 15 year old, pregnant young woman, tied to a Liverpool gang running drugs out of Canning dock and desperate to get out of the gang to save the life of her unborn child.
“Through beautiful acting and direction… it makes connections between the many hideous forms of slavery which blight the hopes and dreams of society, past and present.” Julie Bindel, The Guardian
The story at the heart of the production was an exploration of slavery in its’ many forms; three continents, three time zones and the three protagonists.They were all composite characters gleaned from museum walls.
An extraordinary team of creatives brought the work to life directed by Karena Johnson with a unique and innovative set designed by Chris de Wilde with Margo Cargill in mind, a blind actor playing a lead role in the play. Strong narratives with a bold visual aesthetic are key features of Vital Xposure’s work and very often the visual elements are created by Caglar Kimyoncu with lighting design by Crin Claxton.
Early in 2009 our Director, Karena Johnson was offered the Artistic Directorship at The Broadway in Barking, at this stage we were fortunate enough to attract Paulette Randall who took over at the helm and the show was back on the road with a vengeance.The production returned to Treasure House Theatre and Bird Theatre in Liverpool, receiving four star reviews on its’ next outing in 2009-10.
The cast had changed by then but the access aesthetic remained in tact with integrated sign language throughout created by Hetty May Bailey, interpreter and BSL consultant and Audio Description provided by Pauline Brandt.
Crossings was to become one of the hottest theatre tickets at the Decibel showcase in Manchester and landed Julie McNamara a South Bank Show Award [see video], voted for by Arts Council England Diversity team.
Although the production met with enormous success for this very small company, at that stage unestablished on the UK theatre circuit, it was difficult to follow up as the landscape of touring theatre was rapidly changing. Venues were became increasingly cautious about work they hadn’t seeded themselves, inside the protected walls of their own spaces.
Thanks go to the original cast: Margo Cargill, Hetty May Bailey, Nadine Wild Palmer, Julie McNamara and to the second wave cast including Naomi Cortes and Sophie Benjamin.