Can this theatre maker help us to feel less 'hopeless'?
PUBLISHED: 13:44 02 May 2019 | UPDATED: 15:35 02 May 2019
© Brian Roberts
Can one man's optimistic storytelling make us less apathetic about the endlessly overwhelming news cycle? Stevie Smith speaks to theatre maker Shôn Dale-Jones to find out…
It's all too easy to feel overwhelmed in the face of the international news cycle. But rather than becoming immune to it, theatre maker Shôn Dale-Jones - who is performing three shows at this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival - is energised by it.
Deeply moved by the refugee crisis, high profile terrorist attacks and divisions within British politics, the Cambridge-based artist weaves these issues into his performances in a bid to help audiences feel perhaps less hopeless.
“I've found myself in a position of feeling kind of powerless,” he explains, citing how our everyday concerns – like simply paying rent or a mortgage, or caring for our families – take priority over global issues that we can feel unable to change. But to counteract any dejection, his shows help to break the bigger picture down into more manageable bite size pieces.
In The Duke, parallels are drawn between Shôn's desire to look after his elderly mother, and his desire to help those being excluded from society – whether as refugees or those who are particularly vulnerable.
He explains: “I think The Duke opens up the possibility that these desires amount to the same thing.” It's his response to the dehumanising coverage of migrants in the national press.
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It's important to Shôn that people leave his shows feeling able and inspired to make a difference; as part of a previous collaboration with homelessness charity Shelter, he shared 'action cards' for audiences members to take home – they listed meaningful ways to create change after leaving the building, for those wanting to help but unsure how best to channel their energy.
One of the three shows being performed is The Ladder, which gets its world premiere at the festival; the fantastical play explores the bond between a son and his father, who died 18 years ago in a tragic accident.
“When I fell from the ladder, I saw my whole life flash in front of me,” the father explains in a moving blend of reality and fiction. The story of “his whole life opens up,” Shôn explains, “as he starts to tell his son what he saw when he fell.”
An ever-relevant folk tale is explored in ME & ROBIN HOOD, to help us find a way of empathising with 'the other side'. “The story of Robin Hood is so simple, and in today's world it makes a valid point because the gap between the rich and poor is absolutely enormous.”
Meanwhile, The Duke, mixes fantasy and reality with a side of humour, to take audiences on an imaginative journey, all the while considering what and how we should prioritise in a world “full of crises”. The show will be performed in the novel setting of Oxfam on Magdalen Street.
Previous shows have proved as a powerful tool for fundraising; yet another way for audiences to make a collective impact. According to Shôn, almost £75,000 has been raised to date by audiences at The Duke and ME & ROBIN HOOD.
What can we expect from the trio of shows? Shôn hopes they'll have an intimate power that'll leave audiences feeling warmed and inspired. After all, he says, enthused: “Everybody loves a good story.”
The Ladder, The Duke and ME & ROBIN HOOD will be performed at Norfolk and Norwich Festival, which runs 10 – 26 May 2019. Ticket prices start at £10. For more information about dates and booking, visit: www.nnfestival.org.uk