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Join the acting cast who recreated these remarkable voices depicted on film, talking with director Julie Mc, who describes the extraordinary seven-year journey of this documentary, exposing shocking stories that uncover unpalatable truths about the long-care system.

 

Julie McNamara, Vital Xposure’s Artistic Director, created The Knitting Circle in 2011, a theatre production based on the testimonies of people who survived the long care asylums closed in the 1980s. Each of the actors were matched with people who lived or worked inside long stay hospitals.

Voices from the Knitting Circle was created a few years later, a documentary film that follows the voices of some of the amazing people who entrusted us with their life stories. What reverberates is the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit, and the art of laughter amongst the tears.

Following a successful run at cinemas and film festivals, the documentary premiered online in autumn 2020 and is available to watch for free until Sunday 15 November via our YouTube channel

The discussion and live Q&A will be hosted on Zoom, on Thursday 12 November, at 5.30pm.

 

HOW TO JOIN

Please sign up via Eventbrite.

If you already registered on Eventbrite for the online premiere earlier this autumn, you do not need to do anything further. You will receive the event’s link directly to your inbox closer to the date.

The event will include British Sign Language interpretation and live captions.

 

 

DISCUSSION PANEL

Photo collage of the 3 actors and the director's portraits from the film. Each black and white portrait is in a circle, their positions alternate from top to bottom of the image, against a black background.

Photo collage of the 3 actors and the director’s portraits from the film. From left to right: Mandy Colleran, Deni Francis, Penelope Freeman and Julie McNamara

Julie McNamara, Director

Julie McNamara is Artistic Director of Vital Xposure, one of UK’s leading disability led touring theatre companies within Arts Council England’s national portfolio. She is a Miegunyah Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Victorian College of the Arts and an Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne.

As both an artist and activist, she is a leading voice in Disability Arts on international stages. Her work is driven by social justice with a life long preoccupation with creating platforms for excluded voices from the political periphery. Her particular interests are in discourses of madness and voices from locked-in spaces.

Penelope Freeman, Actor (playing Nan Sweeney)

Since graduating as an actor from LAMDA with their Spotlight Award for most promising actress, Penelope has pursued a lifelong and varied career across all genres.

Her stage work includes two seasons at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon and The Barbican, appearances in London’s West End including “The Mousetrap” and “Werewolves” and seasons with many repertory companies including Birmingham Rep, Stoke-on-Trent, Harrogate and The Globe Theatre Company in Warsaw in Poland.

Since the demise of the repertory system, she has committed to working for and supporting vibrant companies such as Vital Xposure with whom she has a long association.

 

Deni Francis, Actor 

Deni Francis is an actor, improviser, creative facilitator, writer, and activist.

Recent work before lockdown includes recording audio books, ‘Our House’ by Louise Candlish (ID Audio), and ‘The Aunt Who Wouldn’t Die’ by Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay (Heavy Entertainment), playing King James and Roger Casement in ‘Queer Lives at the Tower’, at the Tower of London, and smashing a double glazed window with an iron, for ‘Helen’, for Idle Women.

She is a contributing writer to ‘Building Children’s Resilience In The Face Of Parental Mental Illness’, to be published by Routledge, 2021.

Her chapter, Storytelling & drama : telling our stories, building resilience – Drama processes and techniques for empowerment.’ documents her experience over 20 years of working with drama in community mental health work with families.

Most recently she played Detective Shade for Vital Xposure and Dervish on the second stage R&D of White Pariahs: Quiet Rebels. Filmed on zoom in lockdown this Spring 2020.

She is proud to be a part of The Knitting Circle journey in it’s various iterations. From the intensive research and development stages, to the Soho theatre and on national tour, to conferences, sharing monologues, in Liverpool and Galway, and to the amazing documentary Voices from the Knitting Circle.

 

Penelope Freeman, Actor

Since graduating as an actor from LAMDA with their Spotlight Award for most promising actress, Penelope has pursued a lifelong and varied career across all genres.

Her stage work includes two seasons at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon and The Barbican, appearances in London’s West End including “The Mousetrap” and “Werewolves” and seasons with many repertory companies including Birmingham Rep, Stoke-on-Trent, Harrogate and The Globe Theatre Company in Warsaw in Poland.

As a television actor she has worked for most of the major TV companies and her appearances for BBC and ITV include “Red Dwarf”, “Wire In The Blood”, “Daziel and Pascoe” , “Doctors”, “Wild Things” and 2 seasons of the Carla Lane series “LUV”.

Since the demise of the repertory system, she has committed to working for and supporting vibrant companies such as Vital Xposure with whom she has a long association. In recent years she has collaborated and performed in their productions of The Knitting CircleThe Disappearance of Dorothy Lawrence, the award winning films Blue Pen and Voices From The Knitting Circle.

 

Mandy Colleran, Actor

Short biography coming soon.

 

Following a successful run at cinemas and film festivals, we are delighted to announce that Voices from the Knitting Circle will be screened online this autumn, launching on Monday 5 October at 7pm.

It will remain available to watch for free until Sunday 15 November. Captions and audio description are included in the film

 

The documentary offers a chilling glimpse into the secret worlds and stolen years inside the long care asylums that closed in 1980s.

Betty, Mary, Miriam, Rosie, and many other former residents and survivors, talk about their experiences of life inside the Longcare system. Through wit, camaraderie and ultimate defiance they describe a bleak life pitted against the inhumane disabling world of institutionalisation.

 

Best Documentary over 30 minutes and Best of Festival, 17th Picture this…film festival, Canada 2018

In summer 2019 we collaborated with poet, playwright and performer, Tanaka Mhishi on the development of his extraordinary new work, a visceral excavation of the impact of sexual assault on young men, entitled This is How it Happens.

The work aims to shine a light on the hidden everyday of the many different men living in the wake of sexual violence, as they navigate love, health, sex, work and fatherhood.

The creative development days at Chats Palace in late August culminated in an intimate sharing of four stories inspired by lived experiences, charting a journey from deep in the forests of trauma out to the clean air of hope, visibility and recovery. Tanaka presents the process below in his own words:

“I had the great pleasure this summer of partnering with Vital Xposure on a short R&D of This Is How it Happens, a semi-autobiographical show exploring men’s experiences of surviving sexual violence.

I began the first drafts of This Is How it Happens in late 2014, ten months after being sexually assaulted. Since then it has been waiting, quietly and patiently, for the right team; for a community which could support me as both an artist and a survivor. So many discussions around abuse and harm are happening in the light of #MeToo, but I knew that if I were going to pursue this project I would have to do it in the safest, most nourishing way- for both me and the audience.

Vital Xposure have been there every step of the way and I found myself constantly astounded by their patience and support. Putting together this stage of the project taught me a lot about my own capabilities and limits and I don’t mind admitting that I both over- and underestimated myself in certain roles. Julie McNamara and the rest of the Vital Xposure team handled all this with aplomb, whether it was coaching me through a pre-show mental health dip or helping out when I was quivering over spreadsheets.

We finished the three day development process with a small showing. It’s difficult to believe how uplifting it was to share difficult material like this with an audience, to find them willing to process and parse it, to hear the increasingly enthusiastic engagement in our Q&A afterwards. And I marvelled at how emotionally supported the performance itself was. It set a benchmark for the next steps.

I am so privileged to be have worked with a group capable of weaving passion and compassion together so seamlessly.

And as for the next steps? Watch this space.

Tanaka Mhishi”

 

 

We were thrilled to be involved in this process and it has been a privilege to work alongside Tanaka on this piece of work.

The intimate sharing event offered some touching responses from attendees which have positively fuelled us for the project’s future steps. We are sharing some of these responses below:

“Very powerful, intense piece! Well done!”

“It provided the insight of the inner world also how the trauma was played externally.”

“Becoming aware of the silence of this issue, the lack of narrative in media on this.”

“It was important to tell the impact beyond the assaults.”


R&D Creative Team

Writer / Performer / Lead Artist: Tanaka Mhishi

Director: Julie McNamara

Movement Consultant:  Imogen Butler-Cole

Photography: Copy to the Writer Photography

 

The Research and Development stage of the project was supported by Arts Council England and City Bridge Trust.