City Walk

Back in June, I was involved with a project called City Walk. This was a site-specific performance event, which took place on the streets of Leeds as part of the Ludus Festival . I worked as co-director on the piece with the brilliant Alison Andrews and also ended up performing in it.
The walk ran from the Parkinson Building on the Leeds University Campus and took people down to the Civic Hall, past Millennium Square to Victoria Gardens, along the Headrow and onto Briggate, before finishing in the atmospheric surroundings of Whitelocks, the city’s (second) oldest pub. Along the way people encountered mad professors, lost explorers, watchful owls, displaced flamingos, distressed bureaucrats, elderflower fairies, dancing chuggers and the Queen of Leeds herself, Tilly the owl, whom I was lucky enough to be able to perform with.

City Walk was a collaborative project, with contributions from lots of wonderful Leeds-based performers and theatre makers, including Balbir Singh, Joe Williams, Sarah Spanton, Vanessa Grasse Deborah Sanderson and Jason Hird from the Institute for Crazy Dancing. We also worked with students from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and Leeds University, along with members of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Heydays group and Buns and Roses, the Leeds City Centre Branch of the WI.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to take any photos of the walk, as I was busy holding an owl in Whitelocks, but happily, one of the audience members did, and has very kindly sent me through some images to put on the site. Personally, I think it looks amazing!
Many thanks to Oliver Pritchard for taking the photos. You can find more of his stuff on here on flickr.

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His Legitimate Booty

Whilst I was at Brighton Fringe, I had a really interesting chat with Mathilda from Fringeguru.com about storytelling and folktales in general. We talked about the way that stories change over the years and become subject to the agendas of those telling them. Mathilda shared a really interesting story about a doll that defecated gold pieces and the general bonkersness of the tale brought to mind the offering below, which was sent to me by an old schoolfriend (cheers Alison!). It comes from a collection of translations from the Brother’s Grimm that was published in the 19th Century. As is often the case with Victorian translations – especially those aimed at children – there is within it a slightly disturbing mix of brutality and moral instruction and I guess the underlying theme of this one is that it’s best to know one’s place.

The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage
by The Brothers Grimm

translated by Margaret Taylor (1884)

Once upon a time, a mouse, a bird, and a sausage, entered into partnership and set up house together. For a long time all went well; they lived in great comfort, and prospered so far as to be able to add considerably to their stores. The bird’s duty was to fly daily into the wood and bring in fuel; the mouse fetched the water, and the sausage saw to the cooking.

When people are too well off they always begin to long for something new. And so it came to pass, that the bird, while out one day, met a fellow bird, to whom he boastfully expatiated on the excellence of his household arrangements. But the other bird sneered at him for being a poor simpleton, who did all the hard work, while the other two stayed at home and had a good time of it. For, when the mouse had made the fire and fetched in the water, she could retire into her little room and rest until it was time to set the table. The sausage had only to watch the pot to see that the food was properly cooked, and when it was near dinner-time, he just threw himself into the broth, or rolled in and out among the vegetables three or four times, and there they were, buttered, and salted, and ready to be served. Then, when the bird came home and had laid aside his burden, they sat down to table, and when they had finished their meal, they could sleep their fill till the following morning: and that was really a very delightful life.

Influenced by those remarks, the bird next morning refused to bring in the wood, telling the others that he had been their servant long enough, and had been a fool into the bargain, and that it was now time to make a change, and to try some other way of arranging the work. Beg and pray as the mouse and the sausage might, it was of no use; the bird remained master of the situation, and the venture had to be made. They therefore drew lots, and it fell to the sausage to bring in the wood, to the mouse to cook, and to the bird to fetch the water.

And now what happened? The sausage started in search of wood, the bird made the fire, and the mouse put on the pot, and then these two waited till the sausage returned with the fuel for the following day. But the sausage remained so long away, that they became uneasy, and the bird flew out to meet him. He had not flown far, however, when he came across a dog who, having met the sausage, had regarded him as his legitimate booty, and so seized and swallowed him. The bird complained to the dog of this bare-faced robbery, but nothing he said was of any avail, for the dog answered that he found false credentials on the sausage, and that was the reason his life had been forfeited.

He picked up the wood, and flew sadly home, and told the mouse all he had seen and heard. They were both very unhappy, but agreed to make the best of things and to remain with one another.

So now the bird set the table, and the mouse looked after the food and, wishing to prepare it in the same way as the sausage, by rolling in and out among the vegetables to salt and butter them, she jumped into the pot; but she stopped short long before she reached the bottom, having already parted not only with her skin and hair, but also with life.

Presently the bird came in and wanted to serve up the dinner, but he could nowhere see the cook. In his alarm and flurry, he threw the wood here and there about the floor, called and searched, but no cook was to be found. Then some of the wood that had been carelessly thrown down, caught fire and began to blaze. The bird hastened to fetch some water, but his pail fell into the well, and he after it, and as he was unable to recover himself, he was drowned.

Sleep tight everyone!

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The Unquiet Dead – Brighton Fringe Review

Many thanks to the brilliant fringeguru.com for a fab review of The Unquiet Dead at Brighton Fringe this year. I had a brilliant time at the festival and I’m looking forward to touring the show in the Autumn.

I am becoming a firm fan of storyteller Matthew Bellwood. Last year, I listened to him recount his own tales; but this time, the stories are all by others, each with a spooky, sinister flavour. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another performer quite like Bellwood, who makes the pure act of telling of stories – somewhere between acting and live literature – the centre of what he does. [READ MORE]

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The Unquiet Dead – preview

Many thanks to fringeguru.com for saying lots of lovely things in this preview of The Unquiet Dead.

“Despite the bookish Hendricks Gin programme becoming a fixture, Brighton feels a little light on literary events this year – which is why we were delighted to spot Matthew Bellwood in the Fringe brochure READ MORE

I’ll once again be appearing at Upstairs at Three and Ten and shows are on:

Saturday 5 May at 1pm
Sunday 6 May at 1pm
Monday 7 May at 1pm

Tickets:

07800 983 290 (venue box office)
(01273) 709 709 (Dome ticket office)
(01273) 917 272 (Fringe ticket office)

www.upstairsatthreeandten.co.uk
www.brightonfestivalfringe.co.uk

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Things to listen to

Over the last few months, I’ve contributed to various recordings as part of ELFM’s Word Salad programme. The shows are a lovely mix of sketches, music, readings and interviews and are held together by resident DJ Peter Spafford. The shows are broadcast from ELFM headquarters in Seacroft and are based around a different theme each month. They’re well worth a listen to in their entirety and I’ve included links to the last two I’ve been involved with below. My contributions to the shows below are a Finnish folk tale – Lemminkainen – and a Viking Saga – The Lay of Rig. On the off-chance that anyone wants to listen to the stories in isolation, I’ve included the times at which they appear below the links.

Word Salad – 1st of April 2012 – Wild!
http://www.elfm.co.uk/listen-again/word-salad-1st-april/
Story starts at about 18 minutes in.

Word Salad – 8th of January 2012 – Class
http://www.elfm.co.uk/listen-again/word-salad-class-jan-8th-2012/
Story starts at 42 minutes in.

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Smug Mode

In the interests of showing off, here is a lovely review by Jaye Kearney of my show Be  Prepared. This is based on a performance at The Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds on March 13th.

“Be Prepared”, as titles go it is fairly ambiguous. Be prepared for what? The publicity image shows Matthew Bellwood dressed as a boy-scout so I arrive, half-expecting tales of camping, tying knots and ghost stories around a campfire. Be Prepared could also be perceived as a warning. However as soon as Matthew arrives on stage it is clear that no trepidation is necessary. He is warm, a little impish and casually dressed, not a toggle in sight.

The title actually refers to one of the ten short stories that we were about to be treated to.
Through the medium of these stories we are introduced to, among other things, several boys called Paul, The Tanzanian Boat Lady, a possible paedophile and a dead goldfish. There is no single, over-riding theme though common threads including the search for love, dead animals and the power of imagination are delicately woven throughout. The stories appear to be true though no doubt embellished for the audience but Matthew is keen to authenticate, often bringing artefacts from the tales to the stage with him (though thankfully not the dead goldfish) as proof.

The first half is deliciously laugh out loud funny. We hear of Matthew’s over-active imagination and the attack of the hairy hand, his first teenage encounter with a boy surprisingly set against a back-drop of Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, and a mushroom-inspired declaration of love. The second half, we are warned, is somewhat darker in tone. Matthew proceeds to introduce us to a parade of dead creatures, goldfish included, before reaching a sudden climax that I for one was definitely not prepared for.  It is a heart-stopping moment bringing home the brutal truth of human existence.

Overall it is a simple affair, just storyteller and his audience. Matthew does not hide behind gimmicks. And I am reminded of the distant childhood pleasure of being read to that I do not get to experience anymore. If I have any criticism it is that occasionally Matthew telegraphs his ideas with unnecessary gestures, juvenilising the telling in what is an otherwise an engaging, warm and deeply resonant evening.

Jaye Kearney
@yorkshirebint
http://everythingizinteresting.blogspot.com

 

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Brighton Fringe 2012

I’m going to be telling stories at the wonderful Brighton Fringe again this year. The show this time is The Unquiet Dead – a selection of macabre tales from the golden age of the ghost story. Stories include Lost Hearts – M.R. James’s grisly account of black magic in the Midlands; The Shadow – Edith Nesbitt’s haunting saga of thwarted love; and the anonymously written The New Mother – possibly the world’s most brutal children’s story.

I’ll also be singing a selection of traditional English ghost ballads.

The show is taking place on:

Saturday 5th May at 1pm
Sunday 6th May at 1pm
Monday 7th May at 1pm

As per last year, I’ll be performing at Upstairs at Three and Ten on Steine Street and you can buy tickets from their website at http://www.upstairsatthreeandten.co.uk/

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Be Prepared @ Carriageworks

Hello All,

Just a quick post to let you know that I’ll be performing my show Be Prepared at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds on Tuesday 13th of March.

It’s a mostly autobiographical storytelling show – ten short tales that cover everything from the Nina Simone songbook to the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, taking in such diverse subjects as how to rename your parents and why it is important for a young man to own his own eagle.

I’ve performed the show a few times now, in locations all over the world and people have said some pretty nice things about it:

“A clever, witty show – moving, enlightening and wise.” FRINGEGURU.COM

“A wordsmith whose youthful stories belie an old soul.”  THE ARGUS

“Amusing and casually chatty between tales, he leaves his audience feeling like they’ve just made a new friend.” WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Warm, witty and life-affirming, (well I think so, anyway) this practical guide to life and love will make you laugh, cry and gain a new insight into the arcane powers of Edgar Allan Poe.

The show starts at 7:45pm and tickets are priced at £9 (£7 concessions) and you can get your tickets here: www.carriageworkstheatre.org.uk

I’m really looking forward to performing the show in Leeds and it’d be great if you fancied coming along.

Hope to see you there,

Matthew

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Shadows

Last year, thanks to a grant from Awards for All, my friend Chris Hoy and I were able to embark on a project together called Shadow Stories. Chris is an experienced shadow theatre artist and specialises in works with Early Years and the under 7’s.

We worked together to produce a short storytelling piece, based on an aboriginal folktale from Australia, called Tidalic. Tidalic is a greedy frog, who drinks all the water in Australia. All the other animals are left with nothing to drink and they have to think of a way to make Tidalic laugh, in order to get the water to spill out of his body.

Everyone who saw the show enjoyed it a lot and thanks to the grant, we were able to provide 10 free performances plus accompanying workshops to a variety of schools and community groups.

The venues we worked with were: Inkwell, Oakwood Primary School, Little London Community Primary School, Cookridge Primary School, Garforth Library, Leeds City Museum, Beechwood Primary School, Holy Rosary Primary School, Moor Allerton Library.

During the workshops, we retold the story of Tidalic through drama and movement, made puppets using cardboard and acetates, played with torches and other light sources, made up new shadow stories and built shadow dens.  We were also able to train some volunteers to work with us on the project.

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Songs of Spring and Winter

Long ago when I was but a beardless youth, I used to go to Wales every August and work on an open-air Shakespeare production in the village of Llandudoch (St Dogmaels) on the Pembrokeshire coast. The plays took place in the beautiful setting of St Dogmael’s Abbey and were always an absolute pleasure to be involved with. The cast were a mix of amateur actors and holidaying professionals – some drawn from the local area and others from around the British Isles. Each play would be rehearsed over a manic 10 day period and then performed over four evenings as the midsummer sun set slowly over the Abbey ruins.

2011 was the 25th consecutive year in which a play has been produced in the Abbey grounds and, to commemorate the anniversary, a special CD was produced containing original music written for the plays by the composer Richard Morris. All the pieces were re-recorded by members of the company (both past and present), under the direction of Paul Daniel, who is currently Principal Conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra in Perth. (Flash, I know). There are beautiful vocal contributions from mezzo-soprano Sarah Richmond and Tenor Sipho Fubesi and I’m proud to say that I was asked to provide some spoken passages to run both over and in-between the tracks.

Nocturne – this is a track written to accompany a production of Henry V in 2008. The text describes the English forces waiting to fight on the eve of battle.

There’s some more information about the company and the music here: http://www.abbeyshakespeare.co.uk/ and if you’d like to hear some more, you can buy a copy of the disc for £10 + p&p from

Stretto Records
13 Hollins Road
Harrogate
HG1 2JF

For more info, please contact Richard Morris: music@abbeyshakespeare.co.uk

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