Credit and The Five

It’s become a pretty regular occurrence in the past few days for my friends and I to swap pop culture recommendations. Everyone is looking for something new to read, watch and listen to that will get them through a lockdown at home. I’m going to give you a recommendation of my own, but it’s one that has a lot of parallels to our next scheduled production.

‘Credit’, about Universal Credit and the effects it’s having on people in the North East of England, was going to be performed at the end of April. We’ve had to postpone it due to recent events but we’re committed to having people see it at some point in the future.

In the meantime, the book I’d like to recommend is ‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold which tells the story of the five women killed by ‘Jack the Ripper’. Rubenhold has undertaken pain-staking research into the lives of these women to paint an incredibly detailed and very sad portrait of who they were as people with only small mention how they each came to be in Whitechapel in the late 1880s.

Although set in Victorian times, there are so many connections to be made with today and how people are being treated by the DWP under Universal Credit. One of the main takeaways from ‘The Five’ is that in 19th Century Britain it was a challenging life (to say the least) to be a member of the working poor. And we’re confident that the researchers we have been working with on the show would argue that not a great deal has changed.

There’s one particular section in the book that really struck me. In the early 1860s an American financier named George Peabody resolved to make a gift to his adopted city of London to ‘promote the comfort and happiness’ of the ‘poor and needy’. He ended up giving away the equivalent of £45 million in today’s money for a social housing project that lifted thousands of Londoners out of the slums. It’s something to be applauded but what was interesting was that families had to apply to get a flat in these ‘Peabody Buildings’, it was not something decided by need or even through a lottery:

“The Peabody Trustees took pains to ensure that only the ‘most deserving of the working poor’ who displayed an appropriate moral character and means to meet their rent were admitted as residents”.

The idea of the ‘deserving poor’ is something that has come up repeatedly in our conversations around Universal Credit, especially in relation to the government’s attitude to welfare. It’s one of the big questions we’re trying to ask in the show: what do we want the welfare system to be? Who should be ‘entitled’ to welfare?

As I said earlier, we’re hopeful that you’ll be able to see us asking that and many other questions in ‘Credit’ sometime soon. In the meantime, ‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold is available in hardback and paperback now and is a fantastic read.

And on a related note, Cap-a-Pie have started a book club and any recommendations would be much appreciated. Any genre accepted, 400 page limit.

Cap-a-Pie has made ‘Credit’ in collaboration with Newcastle University, Teesside University, Gateshead Council, Newcastle Council, Citizens Advice Gateshead, Your Voice Counts, Oasis Community Housing, Women’s Health in South Tyneside, Changing Lives, Larkspur House and Fuse.

This show has been funded by Newcastle University via the Population and Health Sciences Institute, Institute for Social Science and Catherine Cookson Foundation; Using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England; and Gateshead Council. 

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Dr Matt Davies on his experience of Rio and his research

Dr Matt Davies worked with Cap-a-Pie to create a new audio show The Other City.


Rio has famously, though misleadingly, been described as two cities, as asfalto and favela: pavement and slum. This description is misleading. While you might have the feeling of being in an entirely different world depending on where you find yourself in Rio, these two cities are closely tied together and part of each other. In fact, Rio is multiple cities but also one city.

Further, its many sides cannot be reduced to these terms. There are over one thousand favelas in Rio, each different to all of the others. Rio’s multiple cities express themselves in all kinds of ways: music and traffic; improvised houses next to airy modernist architecture next to weighty colonial buildings; armoured personnel carriers on the streets and tiny swimming costumes on the beach. Rio is also a city where delicate dreams of the future are inscribed on sometimes vibrant and sometimes decaying constructions of the present, from under which emerge scars of the past.

My research is about people’s everyday lives and international political economy. I’m interested in finding out how these topics, which at seem at first glance to be very different, are related. We tend to think about our everyday life as “in here”, as we go about our daily business. In contrast our usual perception of international things is that they are remote and distant, “out there”.

It’s clear that decisions or processes that take place in the international political economy have effects on people’s daily lives. However, for me it has been difficult to say how the everyday and the international affect each other.

In 2015 I was working at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and the city was preparing to host the Olympics. It was plainly clear that this international mega-event was having very concrete consequences for people’s everyday lives – for better and for worse. Walking around the city of Rio I saw how encounters and confrontations between the local and the international were all around me. I realised that I could put aside the question of how the international and the local relate, and instead ask where they meet.

In preparation for the Olympics, the city undertook to renovate the port area. They built the noted “Museum of Tomorrow” designed by Santiago Calatrava. They forcefully removed residents of one of Rio’s oldest favelas. And during construction in the port area, they dug up human remains – Rio’s port was the point of entry for more African slaves than had been taken to all of the United States during the slave trade and many of the pretos novos– “new blacks” – who had died in the transit were simply dumped in unmarked mass graves. The old port facilities where slave ships had been offloaded, Valongo Wharf, was also excavated by archaeologists and is now preserved and recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Rio taught me this: when the plans or designs or fantasies of international investors or planners or bureaucrats come into contact with people in their daily lives, these many cities play themselves out in the streets, in houses, in kitchens and restaurants, in taxis and offices. And there’s no reason to think that these don’t play out in any other city: research is a matter of walking around attentively.

Dr Matt Davies on his experience of Rio and his research Read More »

Why we’re not built to live in cities

Gwilym Lawrence, Director of The Other City

“Human beings have not significantly evolved, biologically, in the last 30,000 years. We are prehistoric hardware trying to run the software of 21st century life. No wonder we crash now and again.”

— Matt Haig (@matthaig1) February 8, 2019

We’ve just launched The Other City, a new piece of audio theatre that audience members can listen to via headphones at any time they choose, in any city in the world.

We worked on the show on and off for around two years, and during the testing stages many audience members said they found the experience to be very mindful. This response really pleased us. The Other City, we hope,opens up an invitation to explore urban spaces in unfamiliar ways, to stop and notice things you wouldn’t normally and to think about the global forces that shape our immediate surroundings.

One recurring idea in the show is that we aren’t, as human beings, meant to live in cities. As Matt Haig sums up in the tweet above, our bodies and brains aren’t kitted out to cope with the enormous amount of stimuli we subject them to every day, just by walking down a busy high street. Without even noticing we’re doing it, we develop techniques to shut out a lot of what’s going on around us. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of noticing a substantial change near where we live – a building gets demolished or changes colour – and we seem to have no recollection of what was there before. Where I live in Sheffield, there have been huge architectural changes recently; the city’s silhouette feels like it’s constantly shifting, with new flats and tower-blocks appearing like mushrooms overnight. Just recently, the iconic Grosvenor House Hotel was demolished, leaving the sky looking starkly naked.

One thing I’m particularly excited about with this show is the way it plays with scale, inviting you to notice the minutiae of your city as well as the big, sweeping changes: a small fissure in a stretch of tarmac, the way the light catches a particular tree, the reflection of the sky in a tower-block window. One audience member said that whilst experiencing the show, they had the pleasurable sensation of being a tourist on their own doorstep, seeing it in strange new ways. Through this kind of interaction with our lived environments, we can come to see and understand them differently. More broadly, the show is being released as the Brexit drama appears to be reaching its endgame; a time at which we’re all thinking out loud about the movement of people and ideas, and ultimately about our place in the world. In the midst of all this, I hope audience members for The Other City in Newcastle, Sheffield and beyond enjoy this opportunity to experience their city afresh, and to consider the ways in which it might be an arena in which both local and global forces play out.

Check out Matt Haig’s excellent book Notes on a Nervous Planet

Why we’re not built to live in cities Read More »

FAQs for The Other City

What is ‘The Other City?
The Other City is a piece of audio theatre in the form of a podcast. You listen to it through headphones while moving around a city.

Can I listen to it at home, in the car or on the bus/train/ferry?
Technically, yes. But ideally you should listen to it outside in an urban environment.

So not in a rural or suburban area?
Members of the creative team have experienced the show while walking in quiet streets and it still works, but somewhere busier is better. We made the show in collaboration with a researcher who looks at how global and local things come together specifically in cities, so it’s designed to be experienced in a city.

Any particular city you had in mind?
Not at all. You can experience the show anywhere in the world. And we’d love to know where The Other City has been listened to, so please get in touch afterwards and tell us where you are using #TheOtherCity on social media.

Where do I have to go?
The show can be started absolutely anywhere you like. During the podcast itself, where you go is totally up to you.

What sort of experience is The Other City?
The show is quite relaxed and asks you to think and reflect. You won’t need to run anywhere! Some people have said they found it mindful.

How long will it take me?
From start to finish it should take you between 45 and 60 minutes.

Do I have to do it by myself?
Again, that’s up to you but we’d recommend it as in individual experience. That said, we have held events where groups of people start in the same place and then come back together again at the end to share their experience, which worked very well.

Where can I download ‘The Other City’?
‘The Other City’ is available on our website.

FAQs for The Other City Read More »

Why we created a piece of audio theatre – Brad McCormick


On 2nd April we launched our brand new show The Other City. Rather than being live theatre the show is a podcast that you can listen to while walking around any city.

Photos by:

Cap-a-Pie has never done a show that’s purely audio before. However, something that was solely listened to rather than watched really fit the themes of what we, and our collaborator Dr Matt Davies were exploring.

Matt works at Newcastle University and looks at how the global and the local come together in urban environments. Primarily Matt is researching Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the effects that world events like the Football World Cup and the Olympics have on local communities. In Rio the effects are quite stark, eg. an entire favela is bulldozed to make way for an Olympic village.

The aim of our project was for people to think about their own city and how the world outside influences and shapes it. We decided that if we wanted to provoke people to think about that, it would be best for them to experience the show while being outside in the city.

One of the brilliant things about this piece is that is available for download, for free, anywhere by anyone at anytime.

We also love the intimacy that the show has. In The Other City you’ll be walking around by yourself, headphones on, and being spoken to directly by our main character. It’s a show that asks you to think (but in a fun way) and the intimate experience really helps this along.

So while The Other City is a slight departure from what you might expect from us, it’s one we’re really excited about having people listen to all over the world.

Find out more about The Other City.

Sign up to be one of the first the visit The Other City.

Why we created a piece of audio theatre – Brad McCormick Read More »

Blog from Brad – Climate Change Catastrophe!

This could be an accurate descriptor for what is happening in the world right now. But it will also be the working title for the new show that we’ll be making in early 2019 (more on where that title came from later on).

For some time now, we’ve been wanting to do a project around climate change.  It’s one of the biggest issues of our time and feels particularly relevant at the moment when experts are telling us that the clock is ticking to do something about it.

In the past year or so we’ve also been forging relationships with climate scientists and engineers at Newcastle University and this year an opportunity arose with the Royal Academy of Engineering to create a brand new engagement project.

Our pitch was to make the beginnings of a piece of theatre about climate change, that was inspired and created by primary school children, with help from climate scientists and performed by professional actors for an audience of all ages.

Climate change will affect us all, but it’s the younger generation who will bear the brunt and we felt that it would be interesting and useful to get their perspectives and to broaden their understanding of climate science and the engineering solutions from people with real expertise.

After our successful funding application to the Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious scheme, we got the ball rolling on the project by facilitating a couple of short sessions with two classes at Hotspur Primary School in Heaton.  We wanted to gauge their knowledge about climate change as well as setting them a couple of creative tasks.  One of those tasks was to come up the title for the piece mentioned at the very top. ‘Climate Change Catastrophe!’ won the day but it was a close run thing with other contenders including ‘The Sunbeam Situation’ and ‘Don’t Do Climate Change’.

The project really kicks off in January 2019 when we get the students, the scientists and engineers, the actors and Cap-a-Pie all in a room to start creating.

Can’t wait.

Blog from Brad – Climate Change Catastrophe! Read More »

Interview with Professor Owen Davies, University of Hertfordshire on creating The Important Man

What do you research and why did you want to create a piece of theatre from it?
I work broadly on the history of witchcraft, magic, ghosts, popular medicine, and the supernatural over the last few hundred years. This has included exploring urban and rural fortune-tellers and their clients, particularly in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I began to refocus my attention on the popularity of fortune-tellers during the First World War due to be being involved in running the University’s Everyday Lives in War Engagement Centre. I was interested in the opportunity to create a piece of theatre out of this research for two reasons. First, I had already worked with the theatre company Out of Joint to inform the creation of a play about Jane Wenham, of Hertfordshire, who, in 1712, was the last person to be found guilty of witchcraft in England. I had much enjoyed working with the actors, playwright, and director, so I thought working with Cap-a-Pie would be an equally stimulating and enjoyable creative opportunity. And it has been.

What excited you most about The Important Man and what were the challenges?
The world of fortune-tellers and prophets during the First World War is full of potential for drama and comedy, and I hoped that the depiction of this unusual facet of everyday life on the Home Front in the form of a play, would better bring home to people the complex relationship between anxiety and faith in a time of war. The play also explores interesting ideas around the boundaries between science and the supernatural, at a time when spiritualism was popular, and electricity was still a novel force for many people. As the historical advisor, I guess the main challenge was to identify the sort of source materials and objects that might give Cap-a-Pie a real feel for the period and the diverse characters who operated as fortune tellers and prophets. Just giving a load of academic books and articles to a creative team whose time is limited, who need to work fast and intensively to generate narrative and dialogue that give a genuine feel for time and place, is not particularly helpful.

Has creating the show made you think any differently about your research?
Yes, in several ways. I consider writing history as a creative exercise in blending narrative, analysis, and illustrative examples. Working with Cap-a-Pie made me think about how the process of writing for a different medium, a play, can inform the way I approach writing history for a general reader. Every time I was working with Cap-a-Pie we were thinking about the audience and how you can tell a complex story as simply as possible. That is a really valuable exercise. The questions the Cap-a-Pie team asked about the personality and motive of the characters in the play also made me reflect on how I understand the real people that inspired the fictional creations. I am always learning from other disciplines and people with different approaches to presenting history.

Interview with Professor Owen Davies, University of Hertfordshire on creating The Important Man Read More »

Brad McCormick on creating The Important Man

We created The Important Man over several stages. The first was an initial research and development period. We created a lot of material, stories and characters and figured out the world of the play. Out of that period came a 15 minute piece of theatre.

The second stage was a more concentrated period of time and was where we really fleshed out the story. We used lots of improvisation and then shaped the story and the script as we went along.

The third stage was about making tweaks and changes to the show, strengthening the story, shaping the play into a final draft.

We were incredibly lucky to work with Professor Owen Davies from the University of Hertfordshire, who is an expert in magic and fortune-telling. Owen was present throughout this process, from initial conversations about the kind of material we were interested in, to him watching sections of the show and giving feedback, advice and ideas related to the historical content. He was also incredibly helpful for simply checking facts to maintain the accuracy and authenticity of the piece. And having someone so knowledgeable in the rehearsal room means it’s a very efficient way of working.

Myself and Katy at Cap-a-Pie were very pleased to be joined by a brilliant creative team to create The Important Man. Director Laura Lindow is a very experienced director, deviser, writer and performer. She has a fantastic sense of what makes a strong story and what audiences want from characters. Designer Imogen Cloët created a visually striking set that was easy to tour with. She works in a very detailed way which really suited the piece.

I’ll be performing The Important Man this autumn. Find out more here.

Brad McCormick on creating The Important Man Read More »

Professor Chris Gerrard, Department of Archaeology, and Richard Annis, Archaeological Services, Durham University on Woven Bones and the Scottish Soldiers

This year Durham University’s Department of Archaeology is working with a local theatre company Cap-a-Pie to create a new show – Woven Bones. The show is based on the story of Scottish soldiers who were taken prisoner after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650.

The Scottish soldiers project grew from a discovery of human remains during construction work on Durham’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. The remains of 28 young men were found in two mass graves at Durham University’s Palace Green Library. Painstaking excavation and analysis revealed that they were some of more than 1600 men who died in captivity after the Civil War Battle of Dunbar in September 1650.

These were ordinary people who had been caught up in extraordinary events. Many would have been recent recruits to the Scottish army, young men taken from day-to-day life to fight invading Parliamentary forces. Their first experience of battle was a disastrous defeat. Lasting under an hour, the Battle of Dunbar was one of the most brutal, bloody and short battles of the 17th Century civil wars.

Photo: North News and Pictures

Reports from the time suggest that anything between 300-5,000 soldiers died at the battle with a further 6,000 captured. It is thought that 1,000 sick and wounded soldiers were released, while approximately 4,000 endured an eight-day forced march to Durham, where they were imprisoned in the then-disused Cathedral church. Many died of malnutrition, disease and cold whilst in Durham. Their bodies were buried, hastily and without ceremony, in an obscure corner nearby.

This was the story of those men whose remains we found in November 2013. But the Scottish Soldiers Archaeology Project Team has found out much more about the people who had died at Durham and about their fellow prisoners who survived. Some of those men were sent far from home; 150 Scots went to New England as indentured servants. After seven years of working in the woods and ironworks of Massachusetts and Maine, they were free to make new lives in a new world.

One chaotic and terrifying hour of battle changed the lives of thousands. The road from Dunbar led some to unmarked graves in Durham and others to lives on the edge of the known world.

Talks, news reports and interviews undertaken by the Durham University research team have drawn strong reactions to this extraordinary story. The chance to tell it in a different way, to put a very direct and very human interpretation on the research results, is why the team were keen to work with Cap-a-Pie. Thousands of prisoners, five archaeologists, three actors; one fascinating story.

Cap-a-Pie will present Laura Lindow’s play Woven Bones at venues between Dunbar and Durham in June and July. After each performance members of the archaeology team will be taking part in a post-show discussion and Q&A. We hope to meet you at one of the performances.

Professor Chris Gerrard, Department of Archaeology, and Richard Annis, Archaeological Services, Durham University on Woven Bones and the Scottish Soldiers Read More »

Anna Reid’s Woven Bones Blog

On a drizzly Tuesday afternoon the Cap-a-Pie team took the train to Durham. Welcomed into Durham University’s Department of Archaeology we were given an incredible opportunity: a full tour of the human bioarchaeology laboratory and the chance to lay out a skeleton of our own in the pattern of the identification process of the Scottish Soldiers. These weren’t the skeletons of the Scottish Soldiers but others who are part of other research projects being conducted at Durham University. The visit was so we could better understand the archaeology and the science behind the story of the Scottish Soldiers.

We entered the room to find the dry yellow bones/bone fragments laid out with care across the benches. The room was warm and bright, busy but neat. I was reminded of the much loved plastic skeleton in the Biology department at school (Bob) who used to disappear and reappear in ever more unlikely places (the locker room / the roof / the garden) but that complete and anatomically precise cast didn’t come close to the weathered shards on the cushioned table top.

Dr Anwen Caffell of Durham University with some of the remains of the Scottish Soldiers. Photo: Durham University / North News and Pictures.

I’m not a squeamish person, I’m reasonably robust about the ins and outs of the body, and there was nothing gory in what we were looking at. But it was somewhere after the cast of the newborn baby skeleton and just before the detailed discussion of the way abscesses burrow through the jaw bone that my vision began to dim and a gradual, persistent wave of nausea started to build in my body. I realised I was on the verge of passing out and had to sit down with my head between my legs.

For me this was the most surprising thing of the afternoon: the instinctual connection I felt with the bodies (because that’s how I realised I was thinking of them, as bodies not skeletons specifically) and my own sudden awareness of the very real writing of injury, disease and poverty on the human body. Lives so hard and so brief that the pain is written into the skeleton itself.

And that’s what we need to capture in the design: an appropriate and respectful language which can speak not just about the short painful lives of the soldiers themselves, but also about the emotional impact of the dig; reading the story of these men and boys from their final remains. The archaeologists at Durham University are deeply respectful in their work, extending to a firmly worded sign on the door reminding students of the respect due to human remains. It is incredibly moving to see the curved leg bone of a child with rickets, the deep painful cavity a young man had to live with, or the spongey bone texture of a weak and malnourished body: there is so much story in the skeleton alone.

Anna Reid’s Woven Bones Blog Read More »

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