Thanks to Arts Council funding we have been able to commission four Bursary Artists to develop their own creative work in response to the ‘Where’s Our Spake Gone?’ project.
Yamlet Shakespeare shaken up
We’re on a crusade to break down a deep-rooted Black Country suspicion that theatre is made by and for people “somewhere else”, with no relevance or connection to local people or the local area. For this project, Lye native Stuart Ash performs sections of Hamlet which we’ve translated into Black Country dialect in fourteen little films broadcast on our website, Facebook and Twitter, and of course, InstaYam and YowTube.
When Hamlet talks about how quickly his Mom married his uncle after his Dad died, he uses pies to make his point (a perfect Black Country image): “The funeral bak’d meats / Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.” We got Yamlet to say: “We ate ‘alf the pies ‘ot when th’ode mon was jed; We ‘ad the rest code when th’ode wench got re-wed.” In the most famous section of all, Hamlet contemplates suicide in a 33-line speech which begins: “To be, or not to be, that is the question…” Yamlet decides what to do with a single line of common sense: “Stop ‘ivverin’ and ‘ovverin’ an’ get on with it!”
Late in the play, Hamlet discovers the skull of the jester who entertained him when he was little: “Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest…” Yamlet puts it like this: “Cow me, poor Yorick! Ar node him, ‘Oratio, saft as a biled ternip, a right daft clarnet, always gammitin’. (…) Yo ay pullin’ maygrums nah, am ya? Nor gambollin’ abaht, nor singin’ your saft sungs an tellin’ them dairty jokes as used to ‘ave the ‘ole plairce up? Yow ay loffin’ nah, am ya? Yer cairk-‘ole shut for good?” Instead of listening to Shakespeare and feeling like you have no idea what’s being said, we’re hoping you listen to Yamlet and know exactly what he’s saying – but that you, your friends and your neighbours would say it in a different way. It’s those local language variations within a relatively small corner of England which make the Black Country so special. That’s what Yamlet has been created to celebrate.
Philip Holyman and Gareth Nicholls
Little Earthquake www.little-earthquake.com/yamlet
Spakin’ In Tungs
The words found within everyday speech or ‘spake’ lie at the heart of Ian Richards’ project ‘Spakin’ In Tungs’. Aiming to playfully disrupt our expectations of language and communication, Richards’ works incorporate familiar, often disposable objects that he has branded with text-based phrases specific to the Black Country region.
Richards has produced a number of new works that will be distributed to members of the project’s nearby community. ‘BAG OF SUCK’, for instance, are a series of hand-printed paper bags for sweets that will be filled with lemon sherbets and distributed from a local café; likewise, ‘COME AN EAT YOWER PIECE’ are a series of hand-printed paper sandwich bags. These interventions recognise, make visible and share fragments of the idiosyncratic dialect native to this part of the West Midlands region.
The artist has also worked with children from Red Hall Primary School in Gornal and with independent poet and performer Emma Purshouse to develop poems and record songs that further investigate this unique regional language system. Manifest as three films and as a book titled ‘BIBBLES & BOBOWLERS’ that will be given to Gornal Library and local schools, Richards’ approach introduces traditional Black Country dialect to a younger generation of the region’s residents in order to keep its language alive.
Richards’ work is commissioned by ‘Where’s Our Spake Gone?’, a Heritage Lottery funded project that aims to record and celebrate the distinctive dialect and language of the Black Country. It focuses specifically on the Black Country towns of Tipton, Gornal, Oldbury and Cradley Heath. Much of the language selected by Richards comes directly from interviews with Gornal residents Keith and Mick. ‘Spakin’ in Tungs’ utilises ideas, anecdotes, words and phrases from spoken conversation, re-framing these in a variety of ways in order to create new encounters with language.
Text by Anneka French, May 2016
Growing up in the Black Country, this is where I first started taking photographs, initially exploring its landscapes but this led to working with people and communities. I worked on a major project looking at how people engage with dance, which led to employment in that field with DanceXchange, developing my project management and coordinator skills.
When I first started out in photography I thought it was because I wanted to work for myself, and alone. However, working in the Black Country I discovered its people and its sense of place, I realised my photography was a medium for communicating and collaborating with individuals and communities. The area has always held a special place in my heart, so I always find myself revisiting with my camera. My long term plans within my work are to continue to document the Black Country; to me it is a place like nowhere else, and I want to be able to create a body of work around our heritage, present day and future, working on my own projects and as part of others.
Oldbury Tattles Inspired by the dialect and people of Oldbury
What I really enjoy about working in the Black Country is the discovery of the plethora of tiny tales that make up everyday life – tales that are often rich with words from the local dialect that stretch back to the origins of English and beyond. The garrulous nature of the people I encountered –from shopkeepers to elderly gents looking up their family history, and many more besides – were always enthusiastic in their discussion of anything. And everything. These ‘canting sessions’ (traditionally hosted by matriarchs) generally began “How bist?” and continue as a combination of catch up, counselling service and news bulletin. Out of this research I developed a performative piece called ‘The Cantess’ – a fictional character who encourages all to engage with her to exchange chat, gossip and advice. I have also been exploring medieval elements through embroidered work to celebrate the local dialect and its relation to Old English. This work-in-progress explores Oldbury’s cultural and industrial history. The first in the series is ‘The Town of Four Moons’. It echoes the style of traditional Union Banners and is based on a nickname given to Oldbury whose blast furnaces lit up the streets at night.