Vault Festival preview: TALK PROPA

Welcome to the first of a number of features and interviews highlighting my Vault Festival 2020 picks.

First up is Shybairn”s TALK PROPA, which has just finished a short run at Camden People’s Theatre, and which you can see at the Vaults between 11-13 February. It is the company’s debut show. “Each performance is rooted in research, interviews, workshops & the autobiographical experience of the creatives involved … a core female and non-binary led team with different artists unique to each performance”. (Shybairn – About page).

I asked Caitlin Evans, founder of Shybairn and director of the show, to share a bit more about what audiences coming along to TALK PROPA might expect. My thanks to Caitlin for her time and to assistant producer Becky Jones for facilitating this interview.

Caitlin Evans
Caitlin Evans

I’m a northern woman living down south. What does TALK PROPA aim to do for those of us with flat vowels who like to chat to other people?

CE: TALK PROPA explores what it is to be a northern woman on stage. Two women (from Gateshead and Wakefield) explore their relationship to their accent and experiences of prejudice and stereotype they have faced due to the way they speak.

TALK PROPA is a celebration of all things northern – it is a fun, lively show in which northern accents are celebrated and not ridiculed. We would love to see loads of northerners in the audience to join in with us! 

The northern accent is a catch-all from Geordie to Scouse, Manc to Yorks, yet to Southerners its all the same. What’s your response to that?

CE: TALK PROPA shines a light on the ridiculous assumption still seen in the arts that there exists a ‘generic northern accent’.

It highlights the difference in accent from Yorkshire to Geordie as an example, whilst tackling the stereotypes of northern women in particular, as the clown, fool or chav characters that we see all too regularly in British theatre today. 

Tell me about the poster image for the show. Where did the idea come from?

CE: We use experimental video and sound design in TALK PROPA to explore accents by focussing on the mouth.

We explore the mouth and what it symbolises; how the difference in accent can be seen by the different shapes the mouth makes, and we play with the idea of the northern woman being reduced to nothing more than a mouth.

It also explores the anger and frustration, as well as pride that we have experienced and is a means to play with this in performance. Plus we just like the image!

Publicity image for TALK PROPA
Publicity image for TALK PROPA

Is Talk Propa going to be delightfully rude to southerners?

CE: TALK PROPA celebrates northern accents on stage – putting the northern accent centre stage for once. Through comedy we invite the audience to be a part of the show and hope those who speak with an RP voice recognise the prejudice those who don’t can experience.

In particular, we highlight the relationship between class and accent, and invite the southern theatre elite in particular to reflect on how they can stop such prejudices occurring.

We welcome southerners to the show – it’s a fun show for everyone! TALK PROPA is made alongside a campaign to stop the prejudice against northern accents in actor training and on stage.

Is class still a thing, and if so, why do cockneys get a free pass because they are seen as more “charming”?

CE: I would disagree with the implication of this question – in the same way TALK PROPA aims to highlight the problems of coating all ‘northerners’ with one stereotype we cannot do the same with all ‘cockneys’. The point is we need to remove the stereotypes associated with having a non-RP accent to avoid such sweeping prejudices. 

I believe class most certainly does still exist, but in a more complex form to the white and blue collar workers society was more easily split into up until the late 80’s.

Stereotypes of accents exist across the UK and there is an association between working class identity and strong, regional accents which is perpetuated on stage by theatre professionals who use accent as a symbol of lower socio-economic background. Until we change the way accent is perceived and taught on stage and in training, this stereotype will continue to exist.

Talk Propa is playing at Camden People’s Theatre and the Vault Festival – where to after that and what’s next for Shybairn?

We are super excited to have performed at Camden People’s Theatre this week, where we first performed a scratch of the show back in March 2019.

We are then going to Vault Festival for a three night run (11-13 February) which is an amazing opportunity to see loads of fantastic, experimental theatre.

We hope to keep performing the show, potentially going up to Edinburgh in the summer and making more work as a company. We make collaborative, experimental performance in support of social campaigns –  do check out our website to get involved.