Brixton-based ASYLUM Arts concludes first touring season with three Off West End Award nominations

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Brixton-based ASYLUM Arts ASYLUM Arts concludes its first touring season with three Off West End Award nominations for Papatango Prize winner Tom Powell’s Surfacing, and Sammy Trotman’s That’s Not My Name selling out the Millenium Centre Cardiff.

ASYLUM Arts is a neurodiverse-led theatre company founded and led by Stephen Bailey, winner of the RTST Sir Peter Hall Prize and Artistic Lead of ACE NPO Vital Xposure. Bailey was director and dramaturg for Surfacing.

Neurodiverse work has been increasingly in the spotlight, as shortly before calling the general election, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak proposed an ‘overhaul’ of benefits, such as cutting the Personal Independence Payment, which was roundly condemned by various stakeholders including Mind, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and the British Medical Association, for persecuting neurodivergent people or those who have acute needs.

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Following a sold-out, award-nominated preview run at Vault festival last year, Surfacing 2024 was revised and toured to Blackpool Grand, Nottingham Playhouse, and the Mercury, Colchester, before finishing with a three-week run at the Clapham Omnibus.

Sarah Livingstone and Jerome Yates in Surfacing.Sarah Livingstone and Jerome Yates in Surfacing.
Sarah Livingstone and Jerome Yates in Surfacing.

Surfacing shared a slate with That’s Not My Name, created and performed by Sammy Trotman, which enjoyed sold out dates at Camden People’s Theatre, Alma Theatre Bristol, 41 Monkgate in York, the Rotunda in Brighton as part of the Brighton Fringe, and at the Millenium Centre Cardiff.

That’s Not My Name, Sammy Trotman’s five-star “not a normal show” Broadway Baby, explores and deconstructs diagnoses and normalcy.

That’s Not My Name hosts in person spaces after the show for those who have had experience of the mental health system or of mental distress. That’s Not My Name has additional dates at Salford Arts Theatre, Manchester on July 11 and 12 as part of Manchester Fringe before heading to ZOO Southside in Edinburgh for the Fringe, where it has a full run from August 2.

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Surfacing, written by Off West End Award and BFFI Best Film winner Tom Powell, tells the story of Luc, played by Sarah Livingstone, an NHS Therapist, whose encounter with a new service user Owen, played by Jerome Yates, sends her reality spiralling out of control…

It received praise on tour, with Cathy Symes of Left Lion reviewing its Nottingham stop as an “extraordinary production… one that easily held its own against the strong competition [James Graham’s Punch]… heartbreaking and beautifully insightful.”

In London, Surfacing received six four-star reviews and one five star review, being described as a “a magical odyssey of despair: one which is absorbing, heart-breaking, with a vulnerability and such brutal honesty and insight, that it feels as if it were written by someone with a true and deep understanding of trauma and therapy,” by Graham Hadibi-Williams of The Reviews Hub in his four star review.

Surfacing used motion sensors worn by the cast to create sound that responded to the actors’ movements. It is one of the first shows in the UK to use motion sensors to create responsive composition and video design, making movement sequences more accessible to visually impaired audiences.

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Surfacing was nominated for three Off West End Awards – for Ben Glover’s Video Design, for composer David Denyer and associate Joe Dines’ work on Sound Design, and for Access. Abi Turner was the access consultant on the team, though all departments contributed.

Surfacing’s engagement programme included talks with creatives, individuals with lived experience of services and/or mental distress, neurodivergent individuals, and psychiatrists and clinical psychologists.

These included Dr Benji Waterhouse, NHS psychiatrist an author of You Don’t Have To Be Mad to Work Here, Dr Jasmine Martinez, Clinical Psychologist and Surfacing’s NHS Talking Therapies Consultant, and Sammy Trotman, creator of That’s Not My Name. Further engagement work was also delivered in partnership with Blackpool Crisis team, and Surfacing was supported by Brent and Wandsworth Mind and Wellbeing in the Arts.

That's Not My Name received five stars from A Younger Perspective who described it as 'an irreverent and unique piece of art which keeps you laughing whilst your consciousness opens to different understandings of humanity'. This adds to the continuing critical acclaim from the production which included five star reviews from Broadway Baby, North West End and Lost in Theatreland.

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ASYLUM's previous work includes several engagement programmes for early career disabled and neurodivergent artists and the New Diorama/Underbelly Untapped Winning, Fringe Five selected It's a Motherf**king Pleasure by FlawBored, described as a 'stunningly inventive satire' in Clive Davis's five star review for the Times. The show has subsequently toured to New York, Europe and across the UK. It is next playing as part of the Southbank's Unlimited Festival on September 7th and 8th.

ASYLUM's next projects include developing Autistic as Fuck which was shortlisted for New Diorama/Underbelly Untapped Award with Oxford Playhouse's EVOLVE scheme before presenting as part of CRIPtic's The Acts at the Barbican Centre November 8th and 9th. They will also be pursuing further development of the satire of cripping up Who Plays Who which was previously developed with the Barbican and Lewisham Borough of Culture.

Stephen Bailey, Artistic Director of Asylum Arts, commented: “ASYLUM productions have played to over 3,000 people this year demonstrating the appetite for ambitious, confrontational disabled-led work. We've also demonstrated the possibility for creative access at the lowest level and are grateful for the recognition we have received.

"I'm incredibly proud to have worked with a range of D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent creatives who have consistently smashed expectations in an industry which has felt increasingly hostile to disabled-led work in recent months.”