A cabaret bar with a story to tell

Art & Culture

A cabaret bar with a story to tell

Join one of Dash Arts’ workshops at this year’s Royal Docks Originals festival, and you’ll become part of a much larger venture. The east London-based international arts organisation is working on a long-term project about migration and what it means to be European, which will culminate in an exciting new production in the Royal Docks next year.

“This project initially grew out of the referendum result in 2016 but became so much more than about Brexit,” explains Dash Arts CEO and Artistic Director Josephine Burton. “In 2017, I was in Finland as part of the research, where I met an extraordinary musician – Kurdish Iranian refugee, Marouf Majidi. He described this feeling of being ‘out of tune’ with Finnish musicians. And that inspired this idea that maybe it’s the people who settle in Europe who can really understand what it is to be European because they've had to go through that transition. And that’s how Dido’s Bar was born.”

I’m so excited to be creating and making this production in the Royal Docks

Josephine Burton, Dash Arts CEO and Artistic Director

Burton and Majidi are working with playwright Hattie Naylor on this new immersive theatre work, which premieres in the Royal Docks in 2022. Based around a contemporary retelling of 1st century Latin epic poem the Aeneid by Virgil, it’s set in a cabaret bar “on the edge of town, on the borders of Europe, frequented by outcasts and migrants, artists and bohemians, gods and mortals”. The audience will sit at cabaret tables, waiting for Juno and Venus to introduce their star performer. From this atmosphere of anticipation a story emerges.

“I’m so excited to be creating and making this production in the Royal Docks,” says Burton. “The area, as a point of entry to the UK, is perfect for this piece. The landscape, the water, the communities, the people, the diversity are so redolent for the telling of this story.”

Dash Arts’ workshops and concert for Royal Docks Originals this month will feed into next year’s major production. A now sold-out creative writing workshop with Naylor will act as an exchange. The playwright will share tips and skills for writing, while local people will anonymously tell their stories, enabling her to root the production in the Royal Docks. Also on 23 October, Majidi is running a workshop inviting fellow musicians to bring their instruments to learn and share songs from the Middle East and North Africa. Afterwards, there’ll be a performance led by Majidi. It’s all a part of ensuring Dido’s Bar is a part of the Royal Docks community, explains Burton.

“We’re not a traditional theatre company. We don't come across a bit of text that we like, rehearse it for five weeks and put it on a stage. Instead, our work is about long periods of research and development, exploration and conversation, and coming to an attempt to understand something about the world. Then we make work in response to what we encountered along the way, with the communities.”

Find out how to get involved here.