When Oldham Coliseum began working with AmbITion 2 and a half years ago, alongside all their hopes to improve their ICT infrastructure, their website, and their staff skills, they always had a clear idea of what digital might do for them artistically.
In particular, they saw an opportunity to bring together the skills of their staff in the main theatre, with the vibrant energies of their well-regarded education work. Last night, with the first performance of “Heaven Spot”, all those ambitions were realised.
Written by Mandy Precious and Benjamin Guifoyle, Heaven Spot tells the story of a four Serbian siblings in Oldham, coming to terms with their displacement. 14-year old Tomasso can’t remember the horrors that haunt his older brother; his elder sister Anya struggles to keep the family from open warfare, whilst trying to get a boyfriend; and youngest of them all, Est, just taps quietly on her keyboard – no harm to anyone, but the most vulnerable of them all. The “Heaven Spot” of the title refers both to the highest part of a building where the graffitti, once painted, stays longest, and the place in the sky that young Anya looks at when trying to remember the past without pain.
A play that was developed with the input of its young cast, the star of the show was the stage set, developed by innovative AV designer Amim Friess. The whole stage became like a backdrop from the Matrix. The graffitti that Tomasso loves painting comes alive as him and his crew scale the derelict buildings, and a Greek chorus of “voices” from the war echo through the gauze. Best of all, when Est begins to be groomed by a sinister older man, the backdrop is used to show their conversation.
Yet, the design – though stunning – isn’t gratuitous or overwhelming. The play itself is grounded in issues of family, responsibility, and memory – whilst addressing some of the issues of our contemporary information society, communicating via internet and mobile phone even when technically “grounded”.
A truly collaborative piece, with the students of the Coliseum’s DigiLAB working with Oldham Theatre Workshop, local schools, the theatre’s staff and the guest director and AV designers, it felt like a fantastic way to celebrate the journey that Oldham have taken over the last three years. “Heaven Spot” continues for tonight and tomorrow. If you have a chance, pop along and see it.
There’s a case study and video about Oldham Coliseum’s work on AmbITion.