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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Madeline Shann

Polly, the Heartbreak Opera

Madeline Shann is a theatre maker, choreographer and writer whose work meets anxiety and absurdity with a mixture of laughter and fury.

Past projects have seen Madeline address the failures of sex ed through a series of vignettes combining comedy, physical theatre and some much-needed honesty (Sex in Real Life). She's bravely danced through her own fears in a show on human vulnerability (Little Terrors). And she's taken to the streets of Leeds to play the lead in a show about violence against women (The Darkest Corners by the fantastic RashDash theatre company). Now, Madeline is turning her attention to Brexit Britain, with Here's Looking at UKIP. What better way to face the eve of our departure from the EU and our very uncertain future than with a show about our shared identity crisis, featuring lip-synching, dance numbers and all?

We spoke to Madeline as she prepares to bring Here's Looking at UKIP to Theatre Deli on 27th-28th March.

How would you describe your work?
I'm a dance/theatre maker, so I take things which I care about and I think other people will care about too – often things which don't get spoken about enough – and I create performances. These can range from plays with a bit of movement to dance pieces with a bit of talking, and often work at the sweet spot in the middle where there's confessions, horror, dance numbers, opera, comedy, performance art, Aerosmith serenades, you name it, anything goes.

What inspires you?
I'm inspired by our human potential to feel genuine, electrifying connection to one another, and to be radically compassionate. We're all intelligent, emotional, sensitive creatures and we're taught to put a lot of work into burying and undermining that part of ourselves, so anything that manages to draw it out again is speaking my language. When I'm actually making shows, I find things that make me angry inspire me. If I'm really worked up about something, I'll think about it obsessively and by the end of a catatonic fury-trance I've got a song, a sketch and a bloody puppet show. Which is great because I'm useless at drinking and fighting.

What are you currently working on?
It's a busy year! I'm working on three brand new shows; looking at despair under neoliberalism with The Gravity (commissioned by the Naseem Khan award), gaslighting with Edit (commissioned by Northern Connections), and racism in the UK with Here's Looking At UKIP, so there's really no shortage of rage-inspiration there. Here's Looking At UKIP is a one-woman show exploring patriotism and nationalism and it's right on the cusp of scheduled Brexit so I think we'll all need it. It's part cabaret, part call-to-arms, part exorcism, featuring a fantasy rap battle, a plot-twist anti-striptease and an Indiana Jones cameo.

What is your workspace like?
For a few glorious weeks a year, my workspace will be a dance studio or theatre rehearsal space, but the rest of the time my workspace is my bedroom, which is an absolute tip with hot glue, notes, instruments and bits of costume everywhere. I'm easily distracted so I need to cloister myself away to get anything done. It's not very civilised, but the wifi's good, the commute's a dream and the rooibos refills are free, so...

What do you love about Sheffield?
Theatre Deli, DINA, the Peak District, Magic Magid, the vegan mile – it's a bit of a gem of a place isn't it? I'm biased because I'm a native and I've lived here most of my life but I think it's rare to find a city which is so brilliant but steadfastly unpretentious and friendly. I'm barely off the train in other cities before I feel like I'm failing their dress-code and some unspoken coolness decorum, whereas in Sheffield you can be who you are, wear what you like, dance how you want and no one gives a hoot. That reminds me – I LOVE Nightowls.

What would you do to improve the city?
I've always felt Sheffield to be a progressive and politically energised city but I feel like some of our movements are a bit fragmented now, so I'd like to see more opportunities for people to get together and create a more cohesive presence for organising around people and the environment. We need to be making much bolder commitments around climate justice as a city and the recent school students strike is giving me a lot of hope.

Little Terrors. Photo by Stefania Zanetti

The Darkest Corners. Photo by Tom Joy

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