Postcards festival short works are snappy and colourful

Oh My God! It's The Church

Oh My God! It's The Church - Credit: Archant

Bridget Galton talks to Jackson’s Lane’s artistic director Adrian Berry about his annual Postcards Festival of contemporary circus and cabaret where audiences need only pay what they can afford

The Penguin and I

The Penguin and I - Credit: Archant

Offering punters the option to ‘pay what you decide’ would seem a risky strategy in these times of austerity.

But last year’s experiment paid off when Jackson’s Lane’s annual Postcards festival managed to break even.

The Archway venue’s artistic director Adrian Berry wanted to make his three week “feast of live art, contemporary circus, cabaret and comedy” accessible to all.

“There’s a lot of circus and cabaret going on in London over the summer we are competing for people’s leisure pounds and I thought ‘how do I get new people in?’”

First Lady

First Lady - Credit: Archant

He admits the strategy is “risky” but says as an arts charity, “we’re not here to make money.”

“You could not make a single penny, but it’s surprising, it evens out overall,” he says. “Given the choice, not everyone gives 10p. Last year some gave £50. It’s democratic for people who can’t afford to access the arts, people can reserve their tickets in advance for nothing, they can then choose their price by making the donation at the end as little or as much as they can afford. We get repeat visits from people. They check the programme, make a decision about what’s on, rock up and get a ticket.”

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The festival began seven years ago as a snapshot of the venue’s year-round programme of emerging contemporary circus acts.

“I needed a place for a lot of short works in development. We called it Postcards because they are short, snappy, colourful and international. It means people can see something bespoke and unique.”

AT Jackson's Lane

AT Jackson's Lane - Credit: Archant

Running from July 11-29, this years’ festival includes the Cocoa Butter Club, a Camden Town drag and burlesque night featuring an evolving rosta of 70 ‘queer performers of colour’ who will turn the venue into a Twenties style Speakeasy blending cabaret, torch songs, drag and fire eating.

Legs Akimbo’s raucous Deep South Pentecostal party Oh My God! It’s The Church fuses soul, motown, gospel and disco tunes with an edge of blasphemy in the shape of a singing Jesus.

“They are more used to playing festivals like Glastonbury but we used to be a church so it’s an apt parody of a big gospel church creating an American night of really great soul music.”

Morgan & West’s Parlour Tricks see the time travelling magicians performing feats of conjuring, while Vixen features Scandinavian troupe Tanter using comedy, contortion and trapeze to tackle female stereotypes.

“It’s looking at womanhood sex and pregnancy from a female perspective using circus,” says Berry.

George Orange’s solo circus cabaret show First Lady is based on the true story of ‘Joan Jett Blakk’ who ran for President against George Bush Snr on a ticket to “Lick Bush in ’92”. As HIV was ravaging the gay community and Republican politicians were failing to act, Terence, aka Joan, donned a dress to effect change.

“It’s a funny solo confessional that links politically to the current situation in America,” says Berry.

Guilty Party offers another Prohibition era cabaret taking over the whole building including a peep show in the dressing rooms, a live band on stage and a Speakeasy in the bar.

“They’re creating a whole ambience, It’s exciting and immersive and a bit saucy with the chance to go backstage and explore.”

Circus Abyssinia sees Bibi and Bichu perform juggling acrobatics and contortion to an Ethiopian soundtrack.

“It’s unashamed big scale entertainment. African circus straddles the contemporary and traditional and doesn’t apologise for it.”

Berry’s nine-year long mission to establish Jackson’s Lane as both a brand and centre for contemporary circus came to fruition four years ago when they were named the UK’s leading circus producer with shows including Throwback’s latest playing at The South Bank’s Underbelly before heading out on tour.

Over the years Berry has seen circus increasingly integrated into the mainstream, as well as artists trying new disciplines and cross pollinating other art forms.

“A lot of artists are trying to tell stories – not just showing off skills - they’re using it as a theatrical medium. By its nature circus is based on trust and connection with other human beings. I see it as just another theatrical medium which can offer a modern day take on the world - when it works, it can be extraordinarily effective and compelling.”

Postcards runs July 11-29 at Jackson’s Lane, Archway Road.