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Deptford: How Taca Tacos mixes flavours of Mexico and California in Deptford

Restaurant owner Thorne Addyman talks juggling looking after a newborn with opening his first site

Thorne Addyman, owner of Taca Tacos in Deptford – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

When we chat, Thorne Addyman is rumpled, tired and a little distracted.

Pretty standard for someone who has launched their first restaurant – Taca Tacos – during an economic crisis.

But his disarray is also due to the Deptford resident recently becoming a father.

If you think it sounds bonkers to bring new life into the world at the same time as launching a Mexican restaurant, I agree.

But Thorne said opening in Deptford Market Yard a few weeks before his daughter was born felt just right.

“I’ve been interested in the arches for a while but it’s a big commitment,” said Thorne, who has spent years cooking at pop-ups and markets. 

“A year ago, I did go and view one, but didn’t feel ready.

“Then, it was still available in June, so I asked to have another look and it felt like the right decision to go for it.

“Deptford feels more alive this year and it seems like people who don’t live here are taking it more seriously and saying it is really coming up. 

“I only live four minutes away and was having a baby, so that made it all very manageable.”

Reality is hitting a bit differently now he has to get up in the night for nappy changes and feeds.

But Thorne does seem to be managing the juggle admirably, roping in family to help with babysitting while he preps ingredients.

The restaurant serves up six varieties of tacos, inspired by Thorne’s trips round the food truck scenes in California and Mexico – where he had his eyes opened to the amazing variations of the dish.

Food at Taca Tacos in Deptford Market Yard – image Matt Grayson

His menu includes the bestselling beef birria, which takes six-hours to slow-cook in a broth flavoured with four different chillies that’s then served on the side for dipping.

There is also the green chile pork served with avocado, pink onions, jalapeno salsa and coriander; the chicken pibil, baja fish, pulled ‘shrooms quesataco and a black bean taco.

“There are no rules for tacos,” said Thorne. “There are combinations of flavours that work better, but it is just about carrying food to your mouth.

“Going on those trips really helped me understand how amazing Mexican food can be and how that’s missing in this country.

“It’s mind-boggling that everywhere you go they have their own styles.

“In Mexico City I had an Argentinian fusion taco with smoked cheese and rib-eye steak.

“I’m interpreting different areas and bringing a different collection of flavours and styles to London.

“The Mexican wave is very early on and I’m hopefully catching it at the right time.”

Formerly an east Londoner, Thorne and his wife moved to Deptford in 2018 attracted by its “cool vibe”.

“It felt like there was a strong community here and such an array of food and drinks and shops as well,” he said.

“Walking down the high street, it almost felt like you could be in a different country with the smells, colours and fabrics.”

As we talk I can sense Thorne is in that new baby haze, where parents are prone to streams of consciousness.

“It is still in the phase where it’s all very new and we’re like: ‘What is this thing? How do we keep it alive?’,” he said.

The restaurant blends Mexican and Californian flavours – image Matt Grayson

My request for some career background is met with a 20-minute rundown of his life from age 14, when he started as a pot washer in his home town of Hay On Wye in Wales.

He talks about learning the importance of little things such as caramelizing onions for flavour, his move to London to work at Jamie Oliver’s steak restaurant Barbecoa in St Paul’s, and his two-year hiatus at a food and drink PR agency in Shoreditch.

The pull between kitchen and office continued, with a stint doing savoury waffle pop-ups in east London followed by a job for St Austell brewery in sales. 

“I didn’t love it or hate it,” said Thorne. “But fast forward two-and-a-half years and I got that itch again to do something with food. 

“My mum’s family are American and we were very lucky as kids that we were able to go to California near enough every year, where there’s lots of Mexican food.

“So my wife and I went on a road trip there and spent a lot of time eating tacos to really soak up some of the Mexican food that was about.

“When we came back, I started recipe testing and finding authentic suppliers in London.”

In June 2019 Thorne started with a four-week taco pop-up at The Greenhouse in New Cross Road (since closed), which sold out every night.

A three-month stint at a tequila bar in Dalston was juggled around his job, but just as momentum was building, Covid hit.

Furloughed from work, Thorne sold taco meal kits and a partnership with Plateaway saw his numbers jump from batches of  20 that he hand-delivered in south-east London to selling 200 a week nationwide.

“We got lots of good reviews, lots of bloggers wanted to try them but, as lockdown began to ease, we had to stop,” he said.

“All the way back in 2018, I’d put in a proposal for Brockley market, which is notoriously difficult to get into, but then the guy who runs it contacted me the day before we got married last August, and asked if I could do tacos there.

“It was a big moment as it’s established – some of the traders have been there for 10 years and it was a gateway to something a bit more serious.

“I could buy some equipment and it wouldn’t just be a pop-up.

Thorne cooks beef for six hours for his beef birria tacos – image Matt Grayson

“We did that every Saturday and built up a customer base and got lots of good feedback.  

“It was the first time I was able to interact with customers and having them come up and tell you they’ve enjoyed it makes it all worthwhile.”

Events with Kerb and wedding catering followed and then Thorne decided to up his game with a trip to Mexico.

“I hadn’t ever been before, which I didn’t feel was great given I was selling tacos,” he said.

“I went to Mexico, southern California and Austin, Texas – I read lots of books and blogs and ate tacos and burritos all day.

“The food trucks of LA  became a big inspiration for our business.

“It’s a pretty good way of bringing it over to London because they are Mexican families but they cater for western buyers.

“Going there, seeing it, eating it, tasting it was so important. Knowing my food was up to scratch compared to those who have cooked it from recipes that have been in families for generations.

“When I came back, I felt fully inspired.”

He had taken on Deptford local Tung Van Phan as head chef in November who encouraged him to go for it, when the Market Yard space came back on the table.

“Tung has completely thrown himself in and I could not have done this without his help,” said Thorne. “He is such a big part of the story and the journey. “

The duo spent time building the menu and the venue, with handmade tables, authentic Mexican ingredients and finishing touches Thorne said made all the difference.

“We spend three hours making a salsa because the ones you buy aren’t fresh,” he said. 

“They don’t really give you that hit of deliciousness and umami, where you taste all of the different levels.

“We spend a lot of time recipe testing and speaking to butchers and suppliers about what they’ve got. 

“I think the tortillas I use are the best in the UK because they are made fresh by two Mexican guys and delivered the next day.”

So how is he managing to juggle childrearing and restaurant running?

“It’s been a crazy couple of months really,” he said.

“We’ve got family based in Deptford so yesterday my auntie picked our daughter up and one of her cousins was playing with her all day.

“I was able to do prep and my wife was able to sleep.

“Being a parent is a completely new area of life that you never knew existed until you’re in it. It’s definitely been interesting doing both.”

Thorne visited California and Mexico for inspiration – image Matt Grayson

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Woolwich: How Pouya Ehsaei is set to bring his Parasang project to Woolwich Works

The British Iranian musician will be performing on the same bill as Addictive TV at Arsenal Of Sounds

Pouya Ehsaei, centre, is set to perform at Woolwich Works – image Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

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Musician, sound designer, producer, curator and promoter Pouya Ehsaei wants his audience to join him on a journey and it’s called Parasang.

Talk to him about the project and it quickly becomes apparent that the British Iranian creative is more or less constantly in a state of flux himself – sands shift, ideas evolve and develop.

Parasang is a Farsi word for an ancient unit of measurement – specifically the distance it is possible to travel from one location to another in a single day.

“If you were to go from London to Reading, for example, that would be two parasangs,” said Pouya. “If you go today, then you’d get there tomorrow night.”

Parasang isn’t, however, about traversing great distances.

“It’s a live collaboration between Pouya and a series of other musicians, fusing his electronic music with their free improvisation.

Created initially as a club night, it ran for 30 performances between 2018 and 2020.

“The idea was to invite musicians from around the world with different backgrounds who would not normally play with electronic music to join me on stage in a club so we could improvise and play together,” said Pouya.

 The project then went virtual during the pandemic and has now changed again.

“That was using streaming platforms and we were jamming online,” said Pouya. 

“There was me in my room and musicians from all over the world – from Detroit, Berlin, South Korea and Brazil – we played together remotely, which was very complicated to set up, but we managed it.

Pouya’s system allows him to jam on stage with musicians – image Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

“Now we changed Parasang to be a bit more like a trio or duo that plays electronic dance music mixed with world music in a concert set-up.

“I developed a hardware system so I could improvise with the musicians on stage.

“I have a modular synthesizer, a sampler, a drum machine and a few effects pedals – I signal process all of the sound from the musicians I’m working with as well.

“Everything goes through my system. I mostly make the structure with simple beats, atmospheric sounds and modular generated patterns and then the musicians will freely improvise over the top of that. 

“Each of our concerts is one of a kind – the music is made there on stage and it will never be the same again.”

Parasang is set to be one half of the double-bill event Arsenal Of Sounds, which is set to take over Woolwich Works’ Beanfeast venue at Royal Arsenal Riverside on October 7, 2022.

Also on the bill will be Addictive TV’s Orchestra Of Samples, which sees soundscapes created from a vast library of recordings from musicians all around the world.

For this iteration of Parasang, Pouya will be joined on stage by Kadialy Kouyate, a kora player and griot (storyteller and musician) from Senegal.

“Every time I’ve played with him – three times so far with Parasang – it’s magic,” said Pouya. “His sound, his voice and his kora go very well with the stuff that I do.

“I’m really looking forward to the performance at Woolwich.

“The main idea is the sense of journey in our music. We start with something very pure and we take that purity to many places and we like our audience to come with us.

“Our music is hypnotic, immersive and atmospheric.”

Addictive TV's Orchestra Of Samples is also on the bill
Addictive TV’s Orchestra Of Samples is also on the bill

Pouya has been on a journey himself, both physical and musical, to get to where he is.

“Originally I’m from Iran and I started as a musician when I was a teenager – I took flamenco guitar lessons before moving on to classical guitar,” he said.

“In my early 20s I was teaching classical guitar in a school in Iran and then I found out about the electric guitar and I got into metal, nu-metal and rock music.

“It was a big thing back then.

“This was all underground though, in people’s houses or very small venues because that kind of music was banned.

“It was very hard to have a band and to do concerts – really to keep everyone motivated – so I gravitated to electronic music because you could just do that on your own.

“I could sit in my bedroom and send it out into the world, just to have a voice. There was no need to find rehearsal space for a band. 

“It’s hard to be committed as a group if you can’t play concerts or really get any kind of feedback on what you’re doing.

“So then I stopped playing guitar and applied to study music technology at York and then I did a PhD before moving to London 10 years ago.

“I’ve been playing music here for a decade now.”

In many ways, Pouya created Parasang in an effort to recapture the feeling he’d had playing music as part of a group, rather than creating it on his own.

“When I came to the UK, I was working on electronic music and that aspect of being in a band with others was missing,” he said.

“That’s why I thought I’d get rid of the laptop and arrange my instruments so I could just play with others intuitively and do that live if I wanted.

“I really like it, the state of flow you get into – the connection I feel with the musicians is completely different than if you just play alone.

Pouya will be joined by kora player Kadialy Kouyate for Parasang in Woolwich
Pouya will be joined by kora player and singer Kadialy Kouyate for Parasang in Woolwich – image Monika S Jakubowska/Kings Place

“Especially when you’re improvising, you have to be present in the moment – all your senses are at work – and with my setup there are so many cables, knobs and buttons, they demand a state of complete focus. That’s something I really enjoy.

“When you come to a city like London it’s so vast and so big that you’re a little bit confused in the beginning. 

“Finding people you want to work with and feeling part of a community can take a long time.

“But I have that now and I really feel that this is just the beginning for me. I’m now in the process of turning Parasang into more of a band situation.

“We don’t want to be a club night any more.

“The plan is to have an album a year with, say, with two musicians I want to work with, and then to go on tour with that before changing the line-up.”

It’s also through collaboration that Pouya came to be aware of the work of Addictive TV, the group he’s now sharing a bill with for the second time.

“I have a band called Ariwo, which is me playing with three musicians from Cuba – mixing Cuban and electronic music,” said Pouya, who has performed at venues such as King’s Place, the Barbican, the Royal Albert Hall, the Southbank Centre and the Royal Academy of Arts.

“We were playing at the Womad festival and I saw Addictive TV’s Orchestra Of Samples there – I was totally blown away by what they’d done.

“They saw one of the Parasang club nights in London and we got in touch. I think it was in May that we did a similar thing to what we’re doing in Woolwich – getting together for a concert. That turned out really well – we’re a good combination.”

Arsenal Of Sounds – Orchestra Of Samples And Parasang takes place at 8pm on October 7, 2022. Standard tickets cost £10.50.

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Deptford: How The Yeast Brothers blend youth and experience in their business

Pizza restaurant at Artworks Creekside uses secret blend of flour and time to create signature dough

Rafael Pinto and Ale De Menezes are The Yeast Brothers
Rafael Pinto and Ale De Menezes are The Yeast Brothers – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

They say you are what you eat. Well, layers of Deptford life are folded into the pizza at The Yeast Brothers.

Firstly, the sourdough base is made by catching the wild yeast in the air around the Artworks Creekside and fermenting each ball of dough for 48 hours.

“The dough is the main thing,” said co-founder Rafael Pinto, 25. “We don’t like to talk about what goes into ours – it’s secret – but we mix different types of flour so it is very light and crispy at the same time.

“It’s all about the fermentation. If you leave it to over-ferment it’s not going to be nice and we have to control the temperature and hydration overnight. It’s a science.”

The next layer is their background. Bermondsey resident Rafael and co-founder Ale De Menezes, 43, both hail from São Paulo in Brazil, but left their homeland’s traditions behind to mix Italian style with their own modern take, which includes vegetables from Deptford and chorizo from Spain.

“Pizza is a very big thing in Brazil,” said Rafael. “They say it’s the best in the world. The Italians would disagree with that, I’m sure.

“It’s a different style because they don’t use a long fermentation like the Italians. They make the dough in the morning for that night. 

“Here, the long dough is very important to us. We like to be patient and let it grow by itself and don’t try to push it.

“It makes it easier to digest because you use less yeast but, of course, without the yeast we would be nothing.”

Hence The Yeast Brothers. Except they’re not actually related. Not by blood anyway.

Ale has been friends with Rafael’s father since they were teenagers in Brazil and it was he who introduced the youngster to pizza making in Deptford.

Ale creates a base
Ale creates a base – image Matt Grayson

“When my dad knew I was coming to London, he contacted Ale to help me,” said Rafael.

“Ale used to work in TV production in Brazil and made pizzas but it wasn’t his main job. 

“A few years back he went to live in Australia and started working in a kitchen making pizza. When he came to London, he kept doing it.”

When Rafael arrived in London, fresh from culinary school in Brazil, Ale helped him settle in and get a job at Wandercrust at The Duke pub in Deptford.

It was here that the ingredients of The Yeast Brothers began slowly fermenting.

“Ale was the master who taught me everything I know about pizza and we sort of became brothers for life,” said Rafael.

The duo worked at Wandercrust until April 2021 when the business moved to Greenwich, building on their shared love of pizza and dreaming of their own operation.

The Brazilian duo offer a range of flavours
The Brazilian duo offer a range of flavours – image Matt Grayson

It was lockdown that gave them the push to roll out their own dough.

“During the pandemic, it was just us in the kitchen not talking to anyone but the drivers, so it gave us time to talk and come up with the concept and choose our identity,” said Rafael.

“Ale’s the most hard-working guy I know, so I knew he would be the best partner for me.

“I feel like the pandemic helped because otherwise, it would have taken a lot longer.”

Money to make the dream a reality was tight, but then the team from Deptford Bus approached them with “the perfect opportunity” – a space and some equipment to get them started.

They traded there until December last year but once again were left stranded when the business closed.

Again, Deptford came to the rescue when the team from Artworks approached them with a space.

Hopefully now settled for a while, they are concentrating on developing their menu which offers up classic pizza flavours and some surprises.

Ready for the oven
Ready for the oven – image Matt Grayson

“We used to do Neapolitan pizza, which is popular in London, but we thought we could do something different,” said Rafael.

“People who make it tend to follow the traditional techniques but we use a different flour and folding method and try to expand our ingredients – charcuterie from Spain, cheeses from France and not just Italian products.

“For us to actually have an impact we had to have the classics, because that’s what people look for.

“So we use tomato and mozzarella from Italy, but we try to mix it up as well. We do a pizza with Montgomery Cheddar from England and chorizo from Spain.”

His favourite is the burrata and nduja pizza and they also offer four vegan options – a truffle pizza  and a weekly special.

“I feel like eventually we’re gonna get rid of some of the classics and try to have more unique flavours,” said Rafael.

It’s a very competitive market and there are so many different styles as well. You have the cheap pizzas, the Domino’s, and the more artisanal ones.

Served up, the finished pizza
Served up, the finished pizza – image Matt Grayson

“I feel like we are in the high end of pizzas now in terms of quality and prices.”

They are also adding another layer to the business with a van featuring a wood-fired oven.

The duo have just used it for a stint at West India Quay as part of the Kerb Incubator programme and will now be heading to the street market at the Gherkin in the City.

Rafael said he couldn’t see the business leaving Deptford though – they love the neighbourhood so much and are enjoying experimenting with how they do things there.

Their wives take turns to help out in the restaurant at weekends and they have been adapting their hours and menu as they go along based on what customers want.

“We’re still figuring out when is best to be here but enjoying it all,” said Rafael.

“I don’t remember once having an argument with Ale – we are pretty chill.

“We know how to respect one another, that everyone has their moments and how to give one another space.”

So how does this bubbling, almost-finished business compare to their Deptford pizza past?

“It’s just us in the kitchen like it was before, but it’s great, because here the customers can see the pizzas being made and we get to see them eating it,” said Rafael.

“That’s what we’re here for – to see their faces when they enjoy the food.”

Pizzas at The Yeast Brothers – image Matt Grayson

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Greenwich: How GDIF is set to fill east and south-east London with performances

The 2022 edition of the Greenwich And Docklands International Festival runs from Aug 26-Sept 11

GDIF will feature Charon, a zoetrope-like installation

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“We’re opening this year with a truly amazing event – Spark – the creation of a Dutch artist called Daan Roosegaarde, it’s a complete reimagining of what an environmentally sustainable public celebration might look like,” said Bradley Hemmings, artistic director and founder of the Greenwich And Docklands International Festival (GDIF).

“He’s taken inspiration from fireflies to create this wondrous moment, that audiences will see lying on their backs on the grass in front of the Queen’s House.

“They will be surrounded by myriad moving sparks in the sky – something very beautiful and very much echoing the magic of the natural world.

Sat in Festival.org’s offices at the Old Royal Naval College, Bradley’s obvious enthusiasm for GDIF is undimmed as he looks ahead to overseeing its 27th iteration. 

Taking place across an ever-evolving spread of locations in east and south-east London from August 26 to September 11, 2022, it promises 18 days of free arts performances selected to astonish, amaze, delight, amuse and challenge those attending.

“As always, this year’s GDIF is going to be characterised by a whole range of extraordinary and spectacular events, as well as performances taking place at a more local level,” said Bradley.

“The last two years have been difficult for everyone – certainly in mapping out, understanding and planning how things might transpire.

“We were incredibly fortunate to be able to deliver two festivals with a strong sense of confidence, so we’re incredibly proud of that.

“This year we’re in different territory, with new challenges and new contexts. We’ve always been a free festival and that’s something people can make the most of as we’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis.

“It does put into sharp relief the power of a festival like GDIF – it is there for everyone, accessible, and we try to go the extra mile to make sure we attract people who might otherwise not attend the arts.

“For 2022, we’re going out to new sites, like Rathbone Market in Canning Town, Avery Hill Park in Greenwich as well as Thamesmead near Abbey Wood and Deptford, to bring performances to different areas.

“That’s one of the challenges of going outdoors, because for each site we have to create the theatre as there’s nothing on the ground.

“Of course there are venues we work at every year – Greenwich town centre for Greenwich Fair on August 27, for example, but actually discovering new sites and venues, as well as returning to places after a period away, is what keeps GDIF fresh and audiences awake and excited by what we’re doing.

GDIF founder and artistic director Bradley Hemmings

“For example, it’s great to be working with Tower Hamlets again  – we have a wonderful audio piece at Island Gardens called Final Farewell, that takes people on a journey through the streets and parks of the Isle Of Dogs.

“Then we also have a new production from Air Giants called Unfurl over in Bethnal Green Gardens, which features ingenious, soft robotic technology – people will walk in a garden of giant inflatables that come in a whole range of different colours and react to the public passing by.”

The problem when writing a preview piece about GDIF is the sheer depth and number of the performances it offers. 

With limited space, it’s hard to convey the often surprising blend of art, acrobatics, dance, circus, theatre and spectacle the festival offers – soaking the locations it touches in the unexpected to create memories that still echo many years after. 

In previous years I’ve watched an acrobat tussle with a huge robotic arm, seen a whole band swing on a giant chandelier suspended from a crane high above dancers in an imaginary ballroom and been charmed by two performers being silly with a stack of buckets.

Bradley is, understandably, at pains to select highlights given the embarrassment of riches on offer – a reflection perhaps of the fact that all the performances have the potential to be affecting in their different ways.

“We care deeply about all the events, although one of the things we’ve done is continue to work very closely with Flanders House in London and this year we’re focusing on Flemish circus,” he said. 

“There’s an amazing performance as part of GDIF 2022 called Follow Me, by a company called Be Flat, which will take people on a completely wondrous tour of a part of Thamesmead using acrobatics, Parkour and ingenious staging to draw the audience in. 

“They are incredibly skilled performers who will leave amazing images in people’s minds after it’s gone.”

The best thing to do, of course, is just see as many performances as possible and decide for yourself.

DIARY DATES

While there are far too many performances to list over the 18 days GDIF runs in east and south-east London, here are a few highlights that demand a place in the diary

Island Of Foam is set for Greenwich Peninsula
Island Of Foam is set for Greenwich Peninsula

Sept 3-4, 6pm, freeGreenwich Peninsula

Artist Stephanie Lüning will use mountains of rainbow-coloured foam to transform Greenwich Peninsula.

Bradley said: “This is a UK premiere, a very exciting, unpredictable event with a huge outpouring of foam as Stephanie controls the palette and how the colours behave.”

Charon will be at Limmo Peninsula

Sept 1-10, 8pm, freeLimmo Peninsula, Royal Docks

Originally created for the Burning Man festival, Peter Hudson’s kinetic installation is a 32ft-high zoetrope powered by volunteers.

Bradley said: “Audiences arrive at the artwork having gone on an immersive sound journey. This is an extraordinary piece sited right beside the River Lea with the figures appearing to move.”

Peaceophobia will take place in Stratford
Peaceophobia will take place in Stratford

Sept 7-10, times vary, £10 Here East, QEOP Multi-storey car park

This unapologetic response to rising Islamophobia uses verbatim speech from members of modified car clubs.

Bradley said: “This play by Zia Ahmed casts real people using their own words as they tell their stories, all while stripping down a car and putting it back together again.”

Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed will be at the Old Royal Naval College
Discover Ukraine: Bits Destroyed will be at the Old Royal Naval College

Aug 26-29, times vary, freeOld Royal Naval College

This work sees mosaics destroyed in the Russian invasion of Ukraine projected onto the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College.

Bradley said: “This is a project that really speaks to the destruction of the country’s cultural heritage since the February invasion, and shares with us this remarkable tradition of mosaic-making.”

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Deptford: How The Shipwright houses theatre, creativity and performance

Founder Joseph Winters explains how his company, live, eat and develop work together in London

Founder of The Shipwright, Joseph Winters

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

After only a few years navigating the London theatre world, Joseph Winters felt he was going in circles.

“The magic of going to the theatre and sharing a space and imaginative act with lots of other people had been lost,” said the 27-year-old.

“It had become quite similar wherever we were

“You could go to the Almeida, Donmar, Young Vic or the National, walk into a foyer and box office that looked the same, a bar that probably sold relatively similar beer and a room often painted black where actors went in and out of a separate door. 

“Being an audience member was increasingly a retail experience rather than communion around a piece of art.”

Working as resident director at the Almeida sparked the desire to run his own theatre and being manager of Fortismere Music Centre gave him the skills to do it. 

But, as a freelancer, his discontent grew as he realised he was being forced to battle for work with his fellow creatives and then torn away from them just as they found their rhythm.

“I had this desire to build something where I would have ongoing relationships and wouldn’t feel the sharp severance of opening night,” said Joseph.

“I wanted to find a new way of relating to my own generation.”

Residents of the house include Olivier Award-winning actor Hiran Abeysekera
Residents of the house include Olivier Award-winning actor Hiran Abeysekera

So, in 2020, he founded The Shipwright, a communal theatre based in a 500-year-old house in Deptford, where the team, live, eat, create and perform together. But it’s not just any old building.

The Master Shipwright’s House, built in 1513, is one of the few remaining parts of the Royal Dockyard.

He landed there after directing Rupert Everett in play Rush written by Willi Richards, co-owner of the historic building.

“They invited me over,” said Joseph. “We were rehearsing in a dingy room down the road and, when I saw it, I thought: ‘Why aren’t we rehearsing here?’

“There was this amazing day, when we stopped a rehearsal, and had dinner together and didn’t talk about the play at all. The next day, it was so much better.

“That’s when I realised my idea of a communal theatre wouldn’t just be a nice thing, but that the work would get better.”

Willi invited him to move in and take the leap but, just as he did, the first lockdown arrived.

“It felt like a disaster and then immediately we realised we had to build a 200-seat auditorium in the garden,” said Joseph.

“We did it with immense imagination and goodwill from a lot of people.

“Everybody we knew needed something to do during that small window in October – it was all hands on deck and it was done for not a lot of money.”

They opened with opera Dido And Aeneas and sold out. The production was lit with desk lamps, costumes were made out of whatever the company could find.

“It looked ravishing and it captivated everyone’s attention,” said Joseph.

“Audiences came, and that was the most exciting moment – when we knew we’d built something that was going to continue to work, something that relied less on physical production and more on audience imagination.”

The Shipwright’s production of Dido And Aeneas

The company followed it with a festival of punk cabaret, stand-up, classical music, new and old plays, arthouse film and children’s storytimes led by a drag queen.

Joseph said he realised Deptford audiences were up for risks.

He said: “As an artistic director you are basically saying: ‘I think this is interesting – do you?’. 

“Theatre in itself is just a machine for encouraging conversations.

“First, between us and other artists, then between artists in the rehearsal room and ultimately between artists and the audience.”

Since that first flush, Emma Halstead has come in as executive director to help create a more formal structure, but still with the aim of finding the most exciting people to work with.

This summer The Shipwright welcomed a queer cinema collective from Nairobi and, on August 30, will host a world premiere of Bertie Baigent’s new opera based on Paradise Lost.

Joseph said: “Everybody joined in and, if they hadn’t, it wouldn’t have worked.

“The thing that is so magical about the space is that, when people come to join us, they are part of the life of the house. 

“Willi and Chris and everyone who lives and works here is at dinner every night talking and working things out. 

“The one thing you need to do for young artists is encourage them and the owners have been the most supportive people.

“Willi is absolutely with us – always – and I talk to him all the time about the logistics and why we make work.”

So far everything has been done on a shoestring. This “fraught” move has been made a success through collective effort.

“You start a company and you think it’s going to be lounging around, staring into the eyes of beautiful actors,” said Joseph.

“In fact you spend a lot of time fundraising, begging people to work with you, thinking about toilets. 

“There’s often moments when I realise I haven’t had a day off for months. It’s exhausting but also incredibly nourishing.

“That said, when I step out of my bedroom in my pyjamas and someone says: ‘I’ve got a new sketch for the costumes,’ I do think: ‘What have I done?’.

“It’s an experiment to see whether this makes the work and our lives better. We’ve delivered a much more varied, diverse programme and more performances than I was expecting.”

The garden structure was made from leftovers from the house restoration
The garden structure was made from leftovers from the house restoration

These waves of change have been noticed. The John Hodgson Theatre Research Trust recently gave the company £1,000 to start developing work.

In September it premieres ​​The Gretchen Question by Melly Still and Max Barton, which dissects the climate emergency and is a headline commission for We Are Lewisham

Joseph said The Shipwright would always remain a place for the people. It runs a pay-what-you-can system, the bar is stocked with locally brewed beers and all staff get at least the London living wage.

“We don’t spend our money on lavish sets, but we pay the bar staff properly,” he said.

“We are in a hostile environment because of the pandemic and global financial situation and I think it will be vital for us to keep asking how the creative community will look in the future.

“Collective living is the way to go. Ages nine to 60 live here in lots of different ways. Once you have lived like this the benefits are overwhelming.”

The performance area in the house’s garden

MEET THE OWNER

For Willi Richards and Chris Mažeika, allowing a theatre company to run in their home wasn’t a big step.

They took their giant leap in 1998 after glimpsing the Master Shipwright’s House over a wall.

“It really is one of the most remarkable houses in London,” said Willi.

“But it was in a very sorry state with floors missing, barely any windows – the garden was a car park. It felt very vulnerable but I could see it was magnificent and wanted to repair and restore it.”

They had only just moved into a modern, minimalist home they’d spent two years building in Deptford. But they gave it up and spent another two years negotiating to buy the former home of master shipwright Joseph Allin.

“It was an incredibly long process, but when you fall in love with something it holds you quite tight,” said Willi.

He and Chris were already heavily involved in the theatre.

Originally from Wales, Willi has worked at RADA since 1992, now teaching there part-time in between his voice training work, writing and directing.

They began filling the house with events straight away and Willi sees The Shipwright as the latest incarnation of the “creative commune”.

 “It’s wonderful having your own entertainment on site – you walk out of the kitchen door and there’s a performance going on,” he said.

“I love it, because it feels like living inside a theatre.

“The rhythm of eating, meeting and creating together is very potent.

“I try not to stick my oar in or interfere too much because I am an old hand and this is a new generation thing.”

The couple keep some rooms private and Willi said it was a delight seeing the mix of people who visited their home.

“It’s a real privilege to welcome people into this extraordinary space,” he said.

Read more: How Just Vibez is set to take over Greenwich Peninsula

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- Laura Enfield is a regular contributor to Wharf Life, writing about a wide range of subjects across Docklands and east London 
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Greenwich: How Just Vibez is ‘a everybody ting’ for the people of Greenwich Peninsula

Two-day festival is a celebration of soca music and the work of the late Brixton hip hop pioneer TY

Just Vibez takes place on Greenwich Peninsula
Just Vibez takes place on Greenwich Peninsula

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There’s a fair bit going on at Greenwich Peninsula over the warmer months with events and pop-ups scheduled by developer Knight Dragon, all with the aim of bringing life and entertainment to the area.

There’s mini golf from artist Yinka Illori, table tennis from artist Camille Walala and JeeYong Lee’s new installation at Now Gallery – Maiden Voyage – all running into September.

Also on the horizon is Just Vibez – a sonic rather than specifically visual attraction – set to take over a slice of land beneath the columns of raised public park The Tide.

Running over two days – August 13-14, 2022, from 1pm to 8pm, this free musical festival marries a line-up of DJs and MCs with dancercise and street food in a celebration of soca, hip-hop, afrobeats and reggae.

“Just Vibez is a collective of DJs, musicians, artists, different types of creative people, and we have crew in the UK but also in Singapore, Australia, Brazil and Toronto – our main goal is trying to put on events which will entertain or ‘edutain’ people,” said Mark Chan Poon, one of the movement’s coordinators.

“We run authentic Caribbean and African-American pop events, but it’s not just for that community, it’s to open up and be welcoming for all communities to enjoy.  

“For us, ‘edutaining’ means entertainment where people also get to learn something, such as facts about the countries where the music comes from, or about their culture.

“For example, with the kids, we don’t just have a colouring corner, we have Caribbean heroes they can colour-in, so they learn a little bit while being entertained by the music. They party, but with a bit of education as well.”

Mark Chan Poon of Just Vibez
Mark Chan Poon of Just Vibez

Mark, originally from Trinidad And Tobago, came to the UK via New York and Costa Rica.

He said: “Music’s always been a big part of what I do and through that music I’ve had lots of collaborations in urban music, Latin music and hip hop.

“We’re stronger together, so we wanted to pull this together as a crew rather than all of us doing our own things individually.

“Out of that desire came Just Vibez for the UK, but I’m not the only person organising it.

“It’s been going loosely for more than 20 years, but probably a little bit more formally over the last seven or eight.

“I guess there are really three kinds of events that we put on. The most straightforward is the club nights with various DJs playing.

“That’s adults only and probably takes place three times a month in London but also in Australia, Singapore and other places.

“We also do special events such as one for the F1 racing in Singapore – any excuse for a party. 

“People may not know us or the music, but some people have even travelled to the Caribbean for the first time after hearing it.

“Finally there are the family-friendly days like the ones we’re doing on Greenwich Peninsula.

“We encourage people to bring kids, nieces, nephews, as well as their older relations so that we have babies of maybe a few months up to people in their 90s.

“We try to programme the day so that it runs a bit more kid-focused at the start, with entertainment for them, such as bouncy castles, face-painting and colouring – even making a carnival costume – then later it will be the full-on carnival vibe, and similarly we do this for hip hop as well.”

Just Vibez features soca and hip hop
Just Vibez features soca and hip hop

Just Vibez at Greenwich Peninsula will have two different themes on the Saturday and Sunday.

The event will open with Caribbean Vibez – The Soca Summit featuring UK soca artists such as Trini Boi, Joocie, Scrappy, Sun Divas, Miss Desire, Batch, Pahjo and One The Band.

“This will be up-tempo calypso from Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada and so on,” said Mark. “Of course, there’ll be dancehall and reggae too.”

This will be followed by CelebrateTY on the Sunday – an event to mark what

 would have been the 50th birthday of Brixton-born rapper, TY. 

The line-up will include long-time collaborators Shortee Blitz, Billy Biznezz, DJ Croc and DJ Mr Thing as well as a live stream from Maseo of De La Soul and a set from DJ Sarah Love.

“Ty was a UK hip hop legend who passed from Covid in 2020,” said Mark.

“We thought it would be a nice opportunity to have a good outdoor event, where a lot of his peers and collaborators could come out and perform – or just be there to celebrate. He was a great pillar of the hip hop community in London.

“On the Sunday we’re doing special T-shirts for TY, a limited edition of about 200 – get one there and then never again. His mum and sister will be coming as well.”

Mark said one of the core principles of Just Vibez was its mission to attract and entertain as many different people as possible.

“One of our lines is that Just Vibez is a ‘everybody ting’,” he said. “That means everyone is welcome to be there and that’s really the main thing about it.

“Some events may be quite closed to their own communities, because, if you don’t know the culture or the language, you would feel quite out of place – but that’s not the way we do things.

“We also encourage people from our community to invite their neighbours, who may feel it’s not their culture, so that they can have a taste of that.

“We’ve done a lot of events in Brixton over the last 10 years, but some people were very sceptical at the start. Now they come often.

“For example, there was an English gentleman I spoke to a little while ago who discovered soca music at our event in Greenwich in 2019.

“He’s in his late 60s and joined Instagram just to follow us and now he comes to so many events and brings many of his family and friends who have never heard this type of music before.

“That’s really satisfying to me – he even came to our special event to mark the arrival of the Windrush and also drove out to one of our events at Lingfield racetrack. That’s really nice to see.

“With Greenwich Peninsula, people might know The O2 but some don’t know about other things that happen there, so, by us doing these events, our followers will find other things too.

Everyone is welcome at Just Vibez
Everyone is welcome at Just Vibez

“We’d done events at places like the Royal Festival Hall and the National Portrait Gallery – cultural icons around London. 

“So we were very flattered to be asked to do one on Greenwich Peninsula and now to come back again.

“We hope people will come for us, but also that they will check out all the other things on offer during the summer too.”

In addition to a few surprise guests over the course of the two days, visitors to Just Vibez can expect a selection of street food to keep audiences fuelled for the dancing.

Those visiting the event can also find refreshment at Design District Canteen – a nearby food court or at the wide selection of restaurants on offer within The O2.

Read more: Sadler’s Wells East set to run summer dance workshops

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Deptford: How Drag Syndrome are changing perceptions at Liberty Festival

Lewisham-based three-day celebration features performances by disabled and neurodiverse artists

Drag Syndrome are set to perform at The Albany
Drag Syndrome are set to perform at The Albany

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

An hour before we speak, performance group Drag Syndrome is named an Icon In The Making by TikTok.

Founder and creative director Daniel Vais is bubbling over with pride and is very clear that its aim is world domination.

The group, whose members all have Down Syndrome, is booked two years in advance and he said: “Society and culture have to know we’re here to stay. We’re not a fad.

“What these artists are providing is really extraordinary to culture. It’s valuable.

“We have been blowing up for the last four years, but it’s now reaching stardom where we have partnered with brands like Milk Makeup, Instagram, O2 Music – real movers and shakers.

“People with learning disabilities are leading campaigns now. “It’s about damn time.”

It quickly becomes clear he is the drag group’s biggest fan. In fact, he sees its members as examples of how we should all be living.

“People with learning disabilities make the world a better place,” said the 50–year-old. 

“They are magnificent people – much kinder. They go through so much and they have more compassion. I see them as gurus. 

“They are a leading example of the amazing human being and we have to learn from them. It’s very humbling to work with them.”

The group was born in 2018 from his company Culture Device Dance Project, which works with elite artists with Down Syndrome. 

They were invited to perform at LimeWharf in Hackney so he and dancer Sara Gordy went to check it out.

A drag artist was performing and Sara was bowled over and immediately wanted to try it. Drag Syndrome was born in that moment.

The group is made up of six drag queens and one drag king and had its first show at Vogue Fabrics Dalston (now VFD) a small, avant-garde queer space.

Drag Syndrome founder and creative director Daniel Vais
Drag Syndrome founder and creative director Daniel Vais

“It was magical, amazing, powerful, fresh, new,” said Daniel. “They loved it and they wanted another show. It was the best night ever because we understood we had created something amazing. 

“The second show sold out in minutes and then we were on ITV and since then we have been as busy as Rihanna and Beyonce.”

In four years the group has gone from performing to crowds of just 50 in east London, to 15,000 at Montreal Pride, where they were introduced to Canadian president Justin Trudeau.

They’ve appeared at Ru Paul’s DragCon, and featured in a video for Vogue alongside Lady GaGa and Billy Eilish.

During June they completed a European tour and, on July 23, will perform at The Albany in Deptford as part of Liberty Festival.

“Lewisham is the first place I came to when I arrived in London – so, personally, this is a very emotional gig,” said Daniel, who moved to the UK from Isreal.

“It is a top notch festival. The whole programme is super so we’re very grateful to be part of it.”

Every show is different, with lots of improvisation. Daniel said: “I work with the best artists. They blow minds. You see it in people before and after the show.”

They knew from the start the group would be a huge success and have intentionally done it all on their own to stay in control of the narrative.

“Everyone who understands art and culture and sees the show understands they are masters,” said Daniel.

“They are oozing star energy. They know they’re big stars but they are also very professional and some of them are adamant that they would like to achieve things in art and culture. They are ambitious. 

“They have very clear ideas about where to perform, where to appear and how to grow.”

There has been controversy. In 2019, a Republican congressional candidate in America declined to host the performers, questioning whether they could give their “full and informed consent.”

Daniel said they have to deal with constant negative comments, but know what they’re doing is opening gates for others.

“The negativity is a reflection of what people with learning disabilities go through every day,” he said. 

“I talk to the artists about it and they say: ‘This is how we grew up. People say whatever they think to our faces and that we’re not good enough, we are pathetic, stupid’. Unfortunately, they are used to it. 

“But we are coming, taking space and changing that.

“A lot of people with learning disabilities are learning from these artists to have boundaries and to understand it is not right to accept that somebody will think you’re stupid or you can’t do this or decide for yourself.”

Members of Drag Syndrome
Members of Drag Syndrome

Daniel said they answer their critics by being “capable as fuck”. 

He added: “Whatever the misconception is, we don’t fight it. We don’t have to answer to anyone. 

“They’re independent artists. They have international careers and the support around them from parents and siblings is amazing – that’s why it’s working.

“We take our space and don’t ask permission, we just do our thing. That’s what I wanted from this project and the artists did it. 

“They went from stage-to-stage, studio-to-studio and worked their arses off to achieve this success with no charity or support – no nothing. They have success because of their talent.”

Drag Syndrome are set to perform at The Albany on July 23 at 6pm. The performance is free but booking is required. 

Joel Brown and Eve Musto in 111
Joel Brown and Eve Musto in 111

WHAT’S ON AT LIBERTY FESTIVAL – JULY 22-24, 2022

The free event is a celebration of deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists.

Some events are drop-in and some need booking, but all allow audiences to leave, re-enter and move around.

There will be British Sign Language interpreted shows, audio-described installations and chill-out areas.

The festival is set to kick off with the unveiling of Freedom by artist Yinka Shonibare CBE in Deptford.

Across the three days, visitors will be able to book one-hour sensory walks with Mapping in Lewisham, exploring how the local environment is shaped by sound, smell and terrain.

Captioning Lewisham will be a trail of sound captions along Deptford High Street and 

Mixed Reality Hub (Deptford Lounge, various times) is a collection of digital art and virtual reality work by renowned disabled and neurodivergent artists.

  • Friday will see speakers at the Liberty Symposium (The Albany, 10.15am-6pm) explore topics such as how the media represents people with a disability. In the evening there will be an outdoor performance by Deptford’s Heart N Soul (Griffin Square, 6pm-8pm) and stand-up from Jess Thom Touretteshero (The Albany, 8.15pm)
  • Saturday will include the launch of Manifesto for 2.8million Minds (Lewisham Shopping Centre, 2pm-5pm), a project looking at how we can better support young people’s mental health.
  • Sunday will feature 111 (The Albany, 2.30pm) a physically integrated performance from paraplegic dancer Joel Brown and former principal dancer Eve Musto. Kat Hawkins will perform Object Permanence (The Albany, 4pm) exploring her relationship with assistive devices. 

Leave The Light On For Me (Griffin Square, 3pm and 5pm) will be a joyous outdoor look at climate change and justice and Who Plays Who (The Albany, 6.30pm) is a powerful satire by Stephen Bailey, exploring disabled actors navigating Hollywood casting.

Read more: Sun And Sea takes over The Albany with 10 tonnes of sand

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Deptford: How Sun And Sea is set to transform The Albany into a beach

We sit down with the composer, librettist and director of the sandy opera to find out more

The Albany will be transformed into a beach for the show
The Albany will be transformed into a beach for the show

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

A crowded beach, the burning sun, bright bathing suits and sweaty brows.

Sunbathers begin to sing languid songs of early morning flights, half-eaten sandwiches and plastic bags floating silently below the waterline. 

Sun & Sea is an afternoon at the seaside, witnessed from above.

Audiences watch from the balcony as the mundane evolves into an urgent exploration of our relationship with the planet and the threat of climate change.

The show stunned audiences at the 2019 Venice Biennale and makes its UK debut at The Albany from June 23-July 10, 2022, co-presented with LIFT and Serpentine. 

Ten tons of sand will be used to transform the stage for the “durational performance”, which unfolds on a loop over several hours.

The performers will include local singers and 13 vocalists taking on the role of beach-goers enjoying the sunshine. 

We sat down with composer Lina Lapelytė, librettist Vaiva Grainytė and director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė to find out more.

why a beach?

Rugilė: The image of a singing beach came while touring with our first opera Have a Good Day!

We were actively waiting for another idea. I was shooting my documentary film essay Acid Forest, which involved a birds-eye view. People were looked at from above as if they were animal species coming to one “cage” in a strange forest. 

This inspired an angle from above on another “zoo”. A beach is the place where the fragility of bodies is exposed. It made us think about the parallel with cosmic bodies, the fragility of the planet Earth. 

The visual, textual and musical layers of Sun & Sea are inseparable and make this work complex. However, in this complexity, we seek simplicity.

Lina: The idea to perform on the beach came gradually. We were looking for a situation that would allow for different individuals to coexist, a place to reflect society. 

The beach is the place where everyone becomes kind of equal under the sun. Swimsuits unify people – they get exposed to the planetary body that heals and is dangerous at the same time. 

At the beach, people mix up – you can meet a university professor, a banker and a hairdresser. It’s a place where their thoughts can meet too. 

We wanted to have a collective voice – a choir, that is driven by different attitudes, different thoughts – however, united by the time and place.

why climate change?

Lina: The work is labelled as climate change opera, but we wouldn’t rule out this being the second episode of Have a Good Day! that we sometimes, ironically, call an ode to capitalism. 

While Sun & Sea puts the joy of consumption on the sandy beach, my personal approach is through body politics: the parallel between the body of a human and the body of Earth.

Rugilė: Passive lying around, the lazy burning away of time and the body – this is the surface of the work. People are only resting, but the axis that holds the whole mosaic of the opera together is a sun which is getting hotter and the exhausted Earth. 

The message about the inevitability of consumption, which we developed in our previous collaborative work, is now delicately incarnated in ecological themes.

Vaiva: The opera consists of smaller sub-topics that can be found as fragments in the libretto of Sun & Sea. These themes are related to the pleasures of consumption, time, climate change, boredom in everyday life, pollution, tourism, the interconnection of hedonism and the apocalypse, skin care, depression, nutrition and technology.

why an opera?

Lina: Opera reflects the Gesamtkunswerk – a total work of art. However, we feel the term can be off-putting sometimes as people expect a traditional treatment of voices and stage. 

We try to challenge the term – to use the potential the genre can offer.

From left, Lina Lapelytė, Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė and Vaiva Grainytė
From left, Lina Lapelytė, Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė and Vaiva Grainytė

how long have you been friends?

Vaiva:  Since teenage times. We all grew up in Kaunas in Lithuania, so share a very similar collective memory of certain topography. 

Lina and I used to hitchhike and hang around in underground concerts, while me and Rugile studied in the same photography school. This is the core of our collaborative practice. 

Rugilė: Another level of friendship started when we realised how closely our ideas resonated while thinking about our first piece. 

Lina: It is also an intellectual friendship – we share some viewpoints and have similar feelings towards many things.

how long did it take to create?

Rugilė: The piece was developed during a residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2016, then presented as a micro-opera at the gallery Palermo in Stuttgart with a premiere in full the following year. 

In 2018 the artists presented the German version in Dresden and the work was selected to represent Lithuania at the Venice Biennale – where the English and durational version was developed.

what impact has Covid had?

Vaiva: As the piece was touring during the pandemic, sanitation breaks, masked audience members, peeping from above, observing unmasked holiday goers, made the beach look like an idyllic postcard from the past. 

The lyrics from the libretto, originally referring to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökulls, which has brought all travelling into paralysis, suddenly sounded like a reflection of the current situation. The connotations of the piece change and closely coexist with current events.

Singers perform lying on their backs
Singers perform lying on their backs

has the show changed for the UK?

Rugilė: Sun & Sea is a mix of fiction and documentary, so the show is always shifting. The musical and textual layers are fixed, the colour palette is fixed but the local beachgoers and choir members bring their natural habits to the beach. 

We ask them to avoid acting, but to do whatever they like and feel comfortable doing on a real beach.

is the local choir new for London? 

Lina: Integrating the local choir has always been important. It does not happen everywhere, but we try. 

Integration of local people started in Venice with not only the choir but also solo singers, some of whom continue to tour.

does lying down affect the singers?

Lina: It is a challenging position to sing in, no-one gets to learn this in music schools, but the people we  work with are embracing these kinds of challenges. 

It’s not just lying down – it’s also occasionally sand landing in your throat while you sing, or a naughty dog taking over your aria, or children freestyling when you need to focus. The piece is life more than a performance.

The durational performance runs on a loop
The durational performance runs on a loop

talk to me about the viewpoint

Rugilė: The audience is looking down to the beach from above, focusing on peculiar species, living on the sand down below. 

Usually, we tend to use this perspective to observe bugs or other smaller animals than us – this creates some sort of hierarchy. 

Balconies frame the beach from all directions and it helps to close the potentially superficial perspective of the sea and the sky. 

Lastly, the angle from above allows the audience to see the singers lying and singing in a frontal position.

what should audiences take away?

Vaiva: The piece has lots of sub-messages and different overtones. It’s both light, bright, joyful, deeply sad, and sorrowful.

It’s up to each audience member to pick up on certain aspects. Therefore Sun & Sea is based on a dissonance – the feeling of catastrophe lurking in the air is wrapped in a contrasting sunny surface. Darker and ironic lyrics are interwoven with pop melodies. Micro stories of the characters told from the “I” perspective allow viewers to connect to the beachgoers emotionally, rather than intellectually. 

Even though the opera-performance is climate crisis-themed, it doesn’t suggest any solutions, but rather allows audience members to enter the realm of pure melancholy, and embrace the feeling of the end.

Read more: Discover Samskara at The Yard theatre in Hackney Wick

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Deptford: Why Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard wants to make a name for itself

Bar and restaurant run by brothers Ari and Landi Mucaj is keeping its focus on quality drinks

Landi, left, and Ari Mucaj of Bluethroat
Landi, left, and Ari Mucaj of Bluethroat – image James Perrin

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Deptford Market Yard’s arches are typically filled with magic. It might be the ramshackle ephemera of Little Nan’s, the slick seafood of Sharkbait ‘N’ Swim or the wholesome cafe cuisine of Dirty Apron.

All of theses businesses pulse and buzz with the passions of the people behind them. It’s why the area draws ever increasing numbers of people seeking independent places to hang out.

It’s also why Bluethroat’s owners thought their idea could work.

Brothers Landi and Ari Mucaj had been talking about starting a business together since 2013.

“I’ve lived in Deptford since 1997 and I’ve worked in many central London bars,” said Ari.

“I started working as a kitchen porter and then got a job as a chef, which I did for about three years.

“I’d finish work about 10.30pm and then go behind the bar and wash glasses for fun. I fell in love with being behind the bar and that’s what I’ve done ever since.

“I’ve worked mostly in central London in places like the Cuckoo Club and Chinawhite and I ran the bar at Maddox for about six years.

“Every time Landi would come to see me in central London he would always say: ‘We should do this ourselves’.

“That was really my plan all along, at least for the last 10 years, trying to save up and do it.”

In 2018 Ari quit his job and teamed up with Landi, who had been in Deptford himself since 2001, to look for premises.

Guests at Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard
Guests at Bluethroat in Deptford Market Yard

“We were searching and then we thought, what better place than Deptford?” said Landi.

“We’d seen a lot of changes in the area over the years, so when we saw an opportunity here, we thought it would be the best place to build something.”

The brothers took one of the larger brick arches at Deptford Market Yard, more or less next to the train station itself, and set about doing just that.

“Instead of doing it somewhere else, we thought it’s just around the corner, we can walk home and it’s the perfect place,” said Ari.

“We found this fantastic space here – it was a shell when we got it and we’ve built it from scratch.

“It took about a year to build it – we didn’t know anything about doing that so the fact we have this location and that we’ve created it from scratch is crazy, but it feels amazing.”

Landi added: “I fell in love with it really – the whole experience of setting up a business. It’s had its ups and downs and it probably took us longer to open than most other places, but we learned a lot in the process.”

Landi Mucaj pours a drink
Landi Mucaj pours a drink – image James Perrin

Unfortunately things didn’t go quite to plan. Just days after Bluethroat opened its doors, the first national lockdown came into force and they slammed shut.

Like many hospitality businesses, the brothers have since been riding a rollercoaster of uncertainty, most recently closing at Christmas as the responsible thing to do, despite the lack of official government direction to do so.

With restrictions lifted, however, both Ari and Landi can’t wait to run their cocktail-focused establishment unfettered. 

“This is the first chance we’ve had to run in a normal market, there’s been a lot of opening and closing,” said Landi.

“Our plan remains very much the same and it’s about refining our formula.

“Firstly, we’re really passionate about our drinks, delivered with great service. We’re also a very good restaurant.

“We are a place where people can come and chill out and have some really good cocktails.”

Bluethroat also serves food
Bluethroat also serves food

Walk into Bluethroat  and that focus is unmistakeable. The bar’s shelves are laden with spirits, ready to be whipped into a multitude of alcoholic concoctions.

“This is where my brother’s experience comes in,” said Landi. “We have about 11 drinks on our menu, all of which we’ve created for Bluethroat.

“There are boozy ones and lighter drinks, some that are bitter, fruity, bitter, sweet and sour – something for every taste.

“We are constantly working on the list and evolving it, but we really enjoy asking customers what they like and then building something for them.”

Bluethroat – named for a small member of the thrush family with a distinctive blue collar and a powerful song – also develops seasonal drinks, with two of its four spring specials already in hand.

“Customers will always find something new,” said Landi. “We’re getting ready to launch one made with Haku Vodka from Japan. 

“We just love the taste of this spirit, made completely from rice, and we mix that with a bergamot liqueur and blackcurrant to make a sweet drink with a hint of spiciness. We think people are really going to like it.

“The second cocktail we’ve created for our spring menu is based on whisky with a fig liqueur and mulberry syrup. 

“We make pretty much all our own syrups in the bar using a range of techniques such as sous vide and hot and cold infusion.

“The drink has a creamy taste and we also infuse the whisky with violet leaf to give it a beautiful aroma when you’re drinking it.”

Ari added: “When we opened, I gave Landi a crash course and now he’s a genius behind the bar. One of our challenges since opening has been finding bartenders with experience.

“But I think local bars are taking over in terms of quality – you can find cocktails that are as good here or in places like Hackney, as you will get in Mayfair.

“I worked in central London for 20 years and the quality here is no different. 

“You are seeing people who are going out locally to get this, instead of making the journey in.”

Bluethroat is locate in Deptford Market Yard
Bluethroat is locate in Deptford Market Yard

While its extensive collection of bottles, rich brown hues and speakeasy vibe mark Bluethroat out as a haven for drinkers, the brothers hope that its food offering will be a welcome surprise for those ordering.

“We change the dishes all the time, but we serve Mediterranean and modern European food,” said Landi.

“There’s always something new, but we love seafood. There are a lot of Italian influences because our chefs are from Italy.”

Ari added: “We serve a lot of fish – black cod, king prawns and salmon – and we do specials every week.

“I think people are a bit shocked that the food is as good as it is because of the way the bar looks.

“We started off serving smaller plates, but we’ve extended the menu because people wanted more food.” 

The primary focus remains the liquid though, and, having worked widely on the city’s bar scene, Ari is keen to build the bar’s reputation in the capital.

He said: “Ultimately we want to be known as one of the best cocktail bars in London. That’s our ambition. 

“We’re taking things slowly and we haven’t really promoted ourselves yet. We wanted to grow organically and for people to find out about us that way.”

Bluethroat is open Weds-Sun. Cocktails typically cost between £10 and £11. Small plates are £6-£11 and bigger dishes around £14. 

Read more: New team at The Pearson Room deliver fresh flavours

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Deptford: How Dirty Apron went from student dinners to supper clubs and a cafe

Deptford Market Yard venue puts community at the heart of its menu

Suzie Pennington of Dirty Apron
Suzie Pennington of Dirty Apron – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Croissant crumbs surround Suzie Pennington. But, when you run a cafe called Dirty Apron, a bit of mess and chaos is part of the fun.

“There was a show on at The Albany, so we’ve had loads of kids descending on us,” she said as we sit down to chat about her operation.

The 18-seater venue has been part of the Deptford Market Yard community since November 2016 – more or less when the arches first started opening up – and Its customers are very much at the heart of what the business does.

“A lot of the other vendors that opened with us were from food trucks, so were one-dish orientated,” said Suzie.

“But we’re more like a classic cafe with specials, a soup of the day and a brunch that changes as tastes change.”

Dishes draw inspiration from the season, feedback from regulars and what the local greengrocer has on offer.

“We like classics with a twist, “ said the 38-year-old.

“Not just British but European and Asian and we try to keep all our mains under £10 to make sure the cafe is affordable for the length and breadth of Deptford folk.

“We’re not faddy but, if there is a trend that looks interesting, and our customers ask for it, we will make it because we like to have a two-way relationship.

“We plan the menu around what our customers’ favourites are and speak to the regulars and see if they want anything revisited.”

The Anglo-Indian said her love of cooking started during her childhood in Essex.

“My mum cooked loads of Indian food growing up and I learned how to make lots of dishes quite young,” said Suzie.

“I was about eight when she first told me to make what I wanted from the fridge.

“She also ran a nursing home and I would hang out in the kitchen and learn how to do a lasagne or a roast.

“So I have always been around food and professional kitchens and got the interest and love from there.

“She’s really proud of me. One of the good things about having a cafe is everyone knows I run one so all my friend’s parents talk to me about it.

“Everyone is always interested and I love talking about food and Deptford and I really think everyone secretly wants to open a cafe.”

Dirty Apron is located in Deptford Market Yard
Dirty Apron is located in Deptford Market Yard – image Matt Grayson

The seeds of her own venture were planted when Suzie met co-founder Holly Williams at Bournemouth University.

“I studied sports science and Holly was doing animation. We met on the ladies football team. I think I tackled her and that’s how we became friends. 

“We both just had a love of food and, when we weren’t in lectures, we would go to the local supermarket and try and do student dishes on a budget for the team and make them as exciting as possible.

“We would do big extravagant roasts and lasagne. It was a chance to cater for numbers and was really fun and this working relationship kicked off naturally.”

After graduating they both moved to London and, when the supper club wave hit, they decided to jump on board.

“We would meet up at the pub and organise these themed events over a bottle of wine,” said Suzie. 

“It picked up some traction and it was when we did an Orange Is The New Black-themed event and 200 people came to this church hall in Limehouse that we knew we were on to something.”

The cafe's interior
The cafe’s interior – image Matt Grayson

Next came a six-week stint at Brick Lane Market where they cooked “way too much food” and it was a “bit of a slog”.

But rather than taking a breather, they Googled small festivals and booked every available pitch at events in the south under £100. 

“Every weekend for one summer we were somewhere different, “ said Suzie. “It was exhausting but by the end, we decided we were up for the challenge.”

That meant getting proper kitchen experience, so Suzie ditched her job in public health and spent two years at Riley Rocket on the Kingston Road, working her way up to become manager.

When Holly saw the arches in Deptford were being developed and rented, the duo decided it was time to take the plunge.

Suzie said the name Dirty Apron summed up their humour and was a nod to classic greasy spoon cafes. 

Over the years they have built up a family of loyal regulars, one of whom has even written a poem in tribute to the £5 coffee and bap deal.

Holly, who now lives in Brighton, manages the business side of things and New Cross resident Suzie takes charge of the cooking and supplies, which come from Tony’s Daily on the High Street, Bread Bread Bakery in Brixton, Ruby’s Of London in Greenwich and Alchemy Coffee Roastery in Wimbledon.

Food at Dirty Apron
Food at Dirty Apron – image Matt Grayson

Suzie said: “Our main food is hearty brunches and we always have a vegan special, meat special and a soup of the day.

“We do a curried cauliflower, spinach and sauteed halloumi wrap served with fresh mint yoghurt and a really good tofu scramble with heavily spiced peppers and onions and lovely sourdough and salad and homemade relish.”

In winter, they serve up meat and vegan pies but, now the warmer weather is finally appearing, warm salads with ingredients such as quinoa, roasted broccoli, salsa verde and beetroot will be appearing on the menu.

“I love going out for food and cafe culture to get inspiration,” said Suzie. 

“I go to all of the places around here and we are all really good friends, that’s one of the nice things about Deptford.”

The area’s social calendar is also a pivotal part of her planning.

“When the London Marathon goes past we know that we’ll need six people a day to cope with the demand and when Amal the doll came through recently I have never seen anything like it,” she said. 

“There were tens of thousands of people. So you have to look at the schedule for what’s going on in Deptford and tailor the rota for the occasion.”

Dishes are developed with customers in mind
Dishes are developed with customers in mind – image Matt Grayson

Suzie loves to bring people together and has collaborated with Villages Brewery, creating a 150cm sausage roll for their harvest festival, with plans to hold events for the New Cross and Deptford Free Film Festival and for Lewisham London Borough of Culture 2022.

“When summer hits, capacity at the cafe will double because of the outdoor seating. 

“We are very lucky because it’s very rare in London to get such a large off-road space,” said Suzie. 

“It means we don’t have to hurry people. Food can take a while because sometimes we can be a 40-seater restaurant, but people can sit in the sun, have a coffee and enjoy themselves.

“Because it is one room and an open kitchen I’m good at spotting if someone needs someone and everyone does the same – there is lots of communication and chat and customers can basically talk to us from their table. There’s that real dynamic vibe.

“A lot of our customers are regulars so they get to know each other. 

“I’ll often be having a conversation with someone on table six and someone from table five will chime in and then they end up talking to each other and then someone else will come and join in.

“Before you know it the whole place is involved in the same conversation, which I think is just the best thing about working here.”

Dirty Apron is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9.30am-4pm.

Read more: How The Rattle is investing in crazy at Tobacco Dock

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