The Mayor of London’s Liberty Festival is the UK’s largest annual outdoor arts festival showcasing the work of D/deaf and disabled artists.  On 1 September, it will visit Bell Square for a special event.

Liberty Festival
The Liberty Festival first took place in 2003.  More than 300 D/deaf and disabled artists have presented their work at the festival over its 15-year history.  Events have taken place at Trafalgar Square, then moved to the Southbank, and more recently to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

This year, for the first time, the festival has an entirely new format.  Rather than happening in one central location, it will tour over 3 days to 3 different town centres across London.  The showcase will visit Lewisham, Enfield and Hounslow and has a new name – Liberty Unbound!

The programme
The showcase touring to each location includes music, theatre, dance and visual arts from some of the best-known D/deaf and disabled artists working in the UK.  In one afternoon at Bell Square, you will get to experience Graeae theatre company, Candoco Dance Company, Deaf Rave and Jason Wilsher-Mills.

Some of you will remember the visit from Candoco last summer.  You and I Know was a lovely show which was very popular with the Bell Square audience.  Some of the feedback that day was really quite profound and many people said they were moved to tears.  On Saturday, we will see Candoco’s new show, Dedicated To…, which is about long lasting friendships between women.  I saw this show earlier in the summer at the Birmingham International Dance Festival and in my opinion it is another great show.  I’m sure you’ll like this one, too!

We welcome Graeae (pronounced Grey-Eye) to Bell Square for the first time this weekend.  Graeae has been a force for change in the world of theatre, boldly placing D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage and challenging preconceptions.  The company was set up in 1980 and has been one of the trailblazers in the development of arts, and especially theatre, by D/deaf and disabled artists ever since.

Their Artistic Director, Jenny Sealey, has been with them since 1997 and is well-known for directing shows at prestigious theatres such as Birmingham Rep, Nottingham Playhouse and the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.  She also co-directed the London 2012 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony.

At Bell Square, Graeae will perform their remarkable show, The Iron Man.  Inspired by the famous story by Ted Hughes, the giant Iron Man puppet is the size of a double-decker bus and will roam the High Street! 

I recently caught up with Jenny and was talking to her about the show.  I asked her what had captured her imagination about this story and made her want to devise a theatre show based on it.

Jenny:  ‘I loved The Iron Man as a child and reading it again as an adult in the context of working with Graeae, I realised The Iron Man is like disabled people – he is ‘other’ and people vilify him.  But I also wanted the challenge of working with a giant puppet!’

As I imagine The Iron Man clattering along Hounslow High Street, I asked her how audiences react when this towering puppet appears!

Jenny:  ‘Audiences are initially a bit scared but then wowed by our Iron Man because of the size - and because he is driven by a wheelchair user, as it is made from power chair electrics.  In the story, the Iron Man tries to communicate so hard with Hogarth – a young boy who is deaf. Hogarth understands that feeling of ‘other’ too, so they become friends.’

I was also interested in what Jenny thinks the story of The Iron Man tells us as a contemporary society.

Jenny:  ‘The story tells us that we are too quick to judge, and we make instant assumptions and put up barriers.  The Iron Man challenges this and works to earn his stripes to be accepted.  We need to embrace diversity and remove barriers.’

Alongside these great performances, we will have 30 minute DJ sets from Deaf Rave – a collective of D/deaf and hearing-impaired DJs who install staff who can sign at each of their events.  

And you will also be able to meet some amazing interactive sculptures by Jason Wilsher-Mills. Audiences can interact physically with these human figures through a tablet or smartphone, triggering augmented reality aspects of the sculpture.

Come and see Bell Square favourites, Candoco, and an afternoon of theatre, art, dance and music.  The showcase runs from 1-5pm so come along at any time.

And, as always, let us know what you think on social media, using the #BellSquareLDN hash tag!