Double immersion

Feb 19 2019 | By More

No bystanders in immersive show

Edinburgh’s innovative Civil Disobedience marks LGBT History month with a three night run at Assembly Roxy – to Saturday 23 Feb – of its part drag, part interactive cabaret, part provocation: Jock Tamson’s Bairns.

Written and produced by Civil Disobedience directors Barry and Josef Church-Woods, the show is an immersive theatrical experience exploring themes around growing up gay in Scotland and the bystander effect


Set in an after-hours gay bar, Jock Tamson’s Bairns is staged as a night out that gets off track for the venue staff and entertainers says Barry Church-Woods, who wrote the original version of the script as a love letter to the 105 MSPs who voted in favour of equal marriage in 2014.

He says: “It has since evolved into a multi-discipline performance art piece that examines my experience of discrimination and homophobia, as well as universal motifs like equality, bullying and finding your tribe.”

Having opened at the Big Burns Supper Festival in Dumfries, the show has toured to Paisley and Glasgow with its February dates, including the three nights this week forming part of LGBT History Month.

Unlike a piece of proscenium or studio theatre, the staging of the show depends on the venue, with the after-hours bar being a theatrical device to show that what happens on the surface isn’t always what’s happening in the background.

bystander effect

“The audience are treated as punters and experience banter from some of the cast,” explains Barry. “We’re drawing influence for the staging from our early experiences of the basement in CC Blooms, though stylistically we reference NYC’s Harlem Ballroom scene and there are hints of the Mattachine Society meetings in there too.”

The major theme of the show is to explore the “bystander effect” – the psychological phenomenon where the more people who witness a crime, a horrific event or an individual being picked on, the less likely it is to be reported or any one witness will confront what is going on.

“It came into the common vernacular as Genovese Syndrome in the mid Sixties,” says Church-Woods. “Kitty Genovese, a lesbian from Queen’s in NYC, was murdered in plain sight of her neighbours and only one person reported the incident a while after the fact.

“We cover her story in the show and explore how the bystander effect impacts us all in everyday life… from being called a faggot on the street to behaviours not being checked in the classroom.”

The immersive element of the production seems quite straight forward, with the cast of drag queens and bar staff on full banter alert. And of course, that means plenty of performance, with original music by the Duchess, with homage to the icons of the creator’s youth – Jimmy Sommerville, Madonna, Annie Lennox, Bette Midler and Peter Gabriel.


But like the whole construct of theatre, from full drag to straight performance, there is more going on underneath than is obvious from the surface.

“There are flash points throughout the performance where we use open space discussion techniques to involve the punters in conversations,” says Church-Woods. “This has been influenced by the work I did with Joes NYC Bar a couple of years ago.”

The aim is not just to entertain or confront, but also to leave the audience with the provocation to resist bystander behaviour in the future. And as such, Civil Disobedience plan to develop the show to tour schools in Scotland, helping facilitate the Scottish Government’s new LGBTI-inclusive curriculum.

For now, however, it’s all down to the Roxy for an after-hours lock-in…


Jock Tamson’s Bairns
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU. Phone booking: 0131 623 3030
Thursday 21 – Saturday 23 February 2019
Evenings: 8pm (Central)
Tickets and details: Book here.

Civil Disobedience website
Civil Disobedience on Twitter: @weareohsocivil.


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