I like looking up, and thinking about how our cities came to be. Architecture shapes the way we navigate the world so it’s important to give it some time and thought. It can tell us a lot about a particular time or place. This was the impetus behind Cuncrete.
The show is a satire on the powerful Great White Males who control our built environment, and loosely follows the history of housing policy in the UK since the post war period – from utopian new towns, through Right to Buy, to the luxury flats we’re seeing pop up everywhere now. That sounds pretty dry. It’s not dry. It’s really noisy and quite silly and very dark.
I started thinking about it at the beginning of 2015, but it didn’t really get very far until that summer when Anna and Eleanor came in to start the band – aptly named The Great White Males – with me. Since then we’ve been all over with it, with different versions in different places. Adding a bassist here, a cement mixer there. We’ve been doing this full, messy version since summer last year – taking it to Edinburgh, Latitude festival, IBT in Bristol and all over the UK on tour this spring.
I want people to come to Cuncrete and feel empowered. I want them to feel like they can start a band and make a lot of noise and change the world. I also want to give them a space to be angry and a space to laugh, and give them permission to do that, because there’s not enough of that out there. I don’t think many of the people who come to see the show are those that we are satirising completely, because I don’t think those people go to see experimental feminist theatre, but there are certainly people who come to see us who are… riled by what we are doing. The Great White Males are very extreme versions of privilege – there are people who see themselves in the characters, and don’t like that. We’ve had hecklers and walk outs, and some really good disgruntled faces in the front row. We’ve also had some great and challenging conversations after the show, which I think is really important.
Satire is important. Stories are important. Comedy is important, and having an opinion is important, and a bit of irreverence can be pretty powerful. I’m wary of the idea that art should have to affect social change and influence government policy, but I do think that art should challenge its audiences to think and act politically. I mean, the housing crisis is going to get worse before it gets better – we’re fucked unless we can get rent control for private tenants, and social housing that is actually state-run and secure. We all need to work together if anything is going to change, and artists have an important role to play because they are good at exploring narratives and thinking laterally.
I doubt I can totally escape this sort of stuff – so it will come back, but in different ways. I’m currently in the research stages of a big participatory project which will involve a group of kids building a new city and potentially living in it. The questions there are similar: how do we construct our reality? Who gets to make the decisions about how and where we live? How do we subvert power? I’m stuck on these questions.
Our show at Aberystwyth Arts Centre will be the penultimate date of Cuncrete, probably ever. After 50 shows and a bunch of touring we’ve decided it’s time to put that work to bed. These last shows will be wild and celebratory. The Great White Males, however, aren’t going anywhere. We’ll continue to be a band, write music, play gigs, and just generally piss around like the absolute lads we are.
Hosted by award-winning Bristol-based theatre maker, satirist, drag performer and punk singer Rachael Clerke as Archibald Tactful, Cuncrete is a noisy gig-based treatise on masculinity and the built environment. Coming off the back of a successful Summerhall run at Edinburgh Fringe 2016 and a spring tour, this is an unapologetic satire framing the housing crisis, Thatcherism & our current political class through the lens of the alpha-male. Join the Great White Males – a house band comprised of social climbers, cabinet ministers, and righteously perfect male men Little Keith, Uncle Jonty and Johnnie Jove – for sing-a-long classics such as ‘Right To Buy’, ‘Living In Utopia’ and ‘Brutal, Brutal’. Created with help from academics, planners and architects, Cuncrete embraces a world of housing shortages, decaying post-war estates, feminist theory and default man. It is political, spiky and joyfully noisy. Cuncrete has been described by the artist as a gig with talky bits between the songs. The show takes its lead from the current social climate of men in suits, mistrust and skewed gender politics as well as a lifelong love of concrete. The Great White Males are Josephine Joy (Johnnie Jove – bass), Jo Hellier (Jonty, Earl of Twitworth – guitar), Anna Smith (Little Keith – drums) and Rachael Clerke (Archibald Tactful – vocals).
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