As a producer, one of my favourite things is uncovering hidden gems – artists who are working just outside of the mainstream, who haven’t yet had the recognition their work deserves.
One of these is the brilliant Matthew Bellwood. Matthew has spent the last few years telling stories, uncovering unexpected tales and creating unique events in his native Leeds. He has brought together a fantastic body of work that explores the beauty of the everyday, and the endless possibilities that life offers to change our lives, and the lives of those around us.
This strand of his practice culminated in the spectacular 365 Leeds Stories, which explored the multiple versions of the city that exist in the minds of the people who live there. It engaged hundreds of residents in creating a series of imaginative “maps”, through performance, visual art and multi-media.
I’m thrilled that Matthew now has the chance to show his work in London – audiences are in for a treat.
One of the incredible places that Matthew uncovered during his explorations was another hidden gem – the wonderful Leeds Library. Not the usual municipal affair, this is an independent members subscription library, founded in 1768 above a bookseller’s shop in the city centre. It’s now the oldest surviving example of its kind.
It provided the inspiration for his latest piece, a collaboration with A Quiet Word’s Alison Andrews. (The Story is Not) Set in Stone takes place in a mythical library, which the characters seem to remember differently every time. An intimate performance in which the audience is seated round a large table, this is a playful show about the places and ways in which we tell stories.
Matthew and Alison will be performing the piece at The Albany on Thursday 7th and Friday 8th April. It forms part of a residency in London as part of A Nation’s Theatre, a festival celebrating work from around the UK – and in process (you’ve guessed it) uncovering some hidden gems from across the country.
Along with the new show, the pair will be spending time in and around Deptford with their specially constructed model of the Leeds Library, asking members of the public to fill in miniature books telling their stories. The material they gather forms part of the finished show, making it unique to each place it visits.
Matthew will also be performing his solo show, An Icy Man, at Canada Water Culture Space on Wednesday 6th April. This is the first piece we worked with Matthew on, and I knew from the start we were on to a winner. It’s a beautiful storytelling experience, in which the audience is seated round a model, snowbound village. It’s kind of a contemporary ghost story – but the narrative will speak to anyone who has ever loved and lost.
The piece was first performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse as part of their Transform season, but has since travelled the length and breadth of the country, playing in theatres, festivals, church minsters, and even an old railway tunnel.
One of the best parts of my job is watching the faces of audience members as they come out of the show. You know they’ve all experienced something very special – the kind of thing they’ll want to tell someone about.
So – a hidden gem? Definitely. I hope you’ll join me in discovering it.