Suitcase open for brass band tribute

The Suitcase Ensemble's new show Look At Us Now will be performed in Sheffield at the Lantern Theatre 1st October, 2011
The Suitcase Ensemble's new show Look At Us Now will be performed in Sheffield at the Lantern Theatre 1st October, 2011

LIVERPOOL theatre collective The Suitcase Ensemble are bringing their tribute to brass band music to Sheffield this weekend, with a show combining live music, theatre, comedy and dance.

At the Lantern Theatre on Saturday, Look At Us Now trumpets the unsung history of the once famous but now defunct Edge Hill British Rail brass band. Suitcase are artists in residence at Metal @ Edge Hill Station where the championship section brass band used to be based.

None of the ensemble actually plays a brass instrument themselves but get the message across with a blend of folk, punk, theatre, dance and comedy , quirky theatricality, and absurd humour,

Look at Us Now is an original piece of devised theatre that not only explores brass bands but the whole history of industry and working class music, along with the notion of childhood music lessons and thwarted ambition.

Performing in the show is dance artist Lauren Taylor, who is originally from Sheffield and naturally thrilled to be performing in her home city.

“I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with the Lantern and it was my sister (ceramic artist Emilie Taylor) who mentioned it,” she says.

“We perform in a wonderfully unique miniature theatre at Edge Hill railway station and the Lantern Theatre is perfect because we are used to intimate, quirky venues with a sense of history and nostalgia.”

And how significant were brass bands to her? “I always remember the Salvation Army coming round at Christmas and my dad bringing out his jar of pennies and we would go out and put money in the hat. It’s a strong memory and we all have our own connections. That’s how the show got made.

“When British Rail ended, the band went into decline and eventually folded. Some of the members still play for the Formby Brass Band and we went over to talk to them about their memories. Edge Hill was a significant band. They were one of the first to have women in it.”

Like most children Lauren, who grew up in Crosspool, attempted to learn an instrument with little success, and dance was always her thing.

She honed her skills at the June Gill School of Dancing, Tapton School and Sheffield College before going off to train at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. She then combined performing and teaching (including a year as a ballet instructor in South Africa) before deciding to explore contemporary and dance theatre. That is how she fetched up in Liverpool to do a Masters at the Liverpool Institute For Performing Arts (founded by Paul McCartney).

Through that she became one of the five core members of the Suitcase Ensemble who create original, unconventional performances that emerge from a collaboration of different artforms and reflect the social and political concerns of their performers and the communities they work in.

The cornerstone of their work is the monthly EDGY Cabaret where people come and try out new ideas. “We perform in the converted waiting room of the station and it’s a very atmospheric place, hearing the trains go past.”

Look At Us Now is at the Lantern Theatre, Kenwood Park Road, Nether Edge, on Saturday and tours until November 5.