‘High Times and Dirty Monsters,’ is the new hip-hop show by Liverpool-based 20 Stories High.
In collaboration with national partners, the production features Deaf, disabled, and neurodivergent artists, providing a glimpse into the experiences of being young and disabled in 2023. From heavy beats and stunning visuals to integrated British Sign Language (BSL), creative captioning, and audio description, High Times and Dirty Monsters aims to offer a diverse and inclusive experience.
We spoke to some of the cast and crew involved in bringing this groundbreaking production to life …
Please introduce yourself …
My name is Joséphine-Fransilja Brookman. I’m a Ghanaian and Finnish actor, singer, songwriter, poet and writer currently based in South London. I’m especially interested in the blending of Ghanaian and Finnish culture to tell story through different mediums. I graduated from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School last year and have since worked on Film4’s MO <3 KYRA and my own theatre show A Pigment of Your Imagination which featured at The Pleasance Theatre in Islington. I’m currently playing Sasha in High Time And Dirty Monsters, written and directed by Keith Saha.
Why High Times and Dirty Monsters?
I knew very little about High Times And Dirty Monsters going into the audition. I had been told it was a “new piece of gig theatre exploring the good times, heartbreaks, and systemic oppressions of Deaf, Disabled, and Neurodivergent young adults in the UK” but I knew nothing else about my character Sasha. Because of this, I went in to the audition with nothing but curiosity, my lip gloss, my pink Moomin water bottle, one of my favourite monologues (Kristian’s Monologue to Julie in Polly Stenham’s adaptation of Miss Julie) and a song; Yebba’s, My Mind.
From the minute I met the director Keith Saha, Assistant Director Sonny Nwachukwu and our producer Leanne Jones I knew I needed to work with this team. They were so kind, vibrant, excited, honest and interesting I knew that would translate to what the project would be like. Later when I met the character Sasha, I felt such an affinity for her. As a neurodivergent person, who has recently returned home after three years of university, to realise the landscape of my life, my home and my relationships had changed completely, I felt like I understood her and that a part of her story existed in me. This ignited a burning desire in me to help her story come to life.
I knew other people would understand and connect with her and I believe that’s why I was so drawn to this in the first place. Not only am I representing myself and being given a voice to weave my history into the beautiful tapestry that is this show – I’ve also been bestowed with the privilege of hopefully empowering others to come forward and share their experiences too. I steadfastly believe that’s what art is for.
Tell us about Sasha and what her goal is in this project …
Sasha is a bubbly unwavering self-proclaimed optimist who is currently crashing at her childhood friend’s home after being kicked out of her aunty’s place. I think her goal in the show is to remain positive and evade the pain and grief she holds, as well as finding a home. I believe her definition of home, like many of us, is kind of nebulous. At some points home is her friend’s pink fluffy sofa, at others it’s an embrace and also literally a place that she has ownership of and feels safe in.
Tell us about working with your fellow cast …
This team is a dream. So many emotions are involved in making theatre, there’s so much joy and breakthroughs but it can also be challenging when you are so passionate and have your own emotional stakes in the piece. As a collective we’re all trying our hardest to capture and artistically define the human condition and that’s not possible alone. Whether it be Miriam Nabarro’s beautiful use of colour to explore emotions and characters aura or Tony Gayle and Grace Savage’s beautiful soundscapes to create the inner and outer world of not only our characters but everyone on this team. Everyone is working at such a virtuoso level of creativity and has such a genuine love and vested interest in the work but also each other. It’s been so special to be involved. I have to give a special shout out to our access worker Donna Coleman, she is an angel. I really feel that the reason I can be vulnerable in the room and get to the places I need to go emotionally is because of how much we are all looked after and out for. Whether it be sports tape, a shoulder to lean on or a good luck beatbox in the wings – she’s there.
What does the story of High Times and Dirty Monsters mean to you personally?
In terms of Sasha’s story I think I connect with her real sense of dependency on technology as a means of connection. With social media you can scroll yourself into oblivion trying to quiet the discordant hum of loneliness, but you have moments where you have no other choice but silence and solitude and the longer you go without it the more frightening the concept of being left with your thoughts seems. Like Sasha I love the buzz of people’s lives whizzing into each other’s but I also love solitude. I need respite and sometimes I need to lie down and recharge in a quiet room but I often find myself, like Sasha, denying myself that right. For fear of staying alone, scared of not having people to return to, scared of where my mind could go when there’s no one else and nothing else to occupy it with but myself. It’s definitely a collective, societal experience especially for my generation, as some of us have been using phones since the age of 5.
There’s something especially challenging about living with neurodivergence and mental health conditions. You feel othered in your life experiences and the fact you live in a neurotypical world and experience complex emotional situations that you often feel too ashamed or frightened to share for fear of being too much to handle. I feel inordinately blessed that I have close friends and family in my life who I know support me but I know a lot of people aren’t in that position.
Tell us about a challenging moment during this project that you had to dig deep to get through it?
As an actor and an artist you’re constantly putting yourself forward, baring yourself and it can become quite easy to bleed from self-awareness into self-criticism. I had this wonderful acting teacher called Jack Price and he taught me the mantra “I’m working right now, I’ll speak to you later” to say to myself whenever doubt gets in the way and it definitely works. I think in the beginning I really struggled with this, as a Black, queer girl I don’t exist in a vacuum, you meet a lot of people that want you to be smaller and to be quiet and to be an actor often means to do the opposite of that! I wouldn’t want to pause or hold a moment for fear of taking up people’s time. Keith, our amazing director was so affirming in that all of us are here for a reason and we can’t deny people of a story we’ve promised to tell them. Feeling free enough to take space and be seen was an amazing breakthrough (especially, as you’ll see with such a jubilant high-octane character like Sasha).
Tell us a memorable moment on set?
A memorable moment for me was the first meet and greet before our table read. I’d geared myself up to talk to about twenty people but ended up face to face without about 70. Shock of a lifetime. But definitely a pleasant one.
What best defines what you love about this project?
Ooh, this is a tough one without doing a Tom Holland and giving spoilers. I think our little scene transitions, us setting up the stage for each character’s individual stories. It just represents the show and us well, it’s fun and has a real teamwork makes the dreamwork vibe.
High Times and Dirty Monsters tours throughout October and November being in so many different places in such a short time, do you have any rituals that you do to maintain a sense of self or a sense of home that you take with you?
I take my pink bonnet and my pink silk pillowcase with me to every show (I’m a Leo I need to protect the mane). Just before every show I play We’re Blessed by Fred Hammond (you can usually hear me belting the breakdown in the corridors of the dressing room) and Pray Our Father and The Hail Mary. Post show, I fall asleep to Hozier’s Wasteland Baby album every night – need to hear that mellifluous voice to have a good night’s sleep.
Considering your career evolution, where does this project sit on your checklist?
Honestly this is a big goal and a big dream for me. Working in a job I love is a blessing to me. I’ve always wanted to tour, traveling with a show, feeling the audience reactions change depending on where you go, and moving around the country with people I have grown to love is a big bucket list item for me. I do have my own Pinterest board of goals and I love a mood board but in terms of checklists there’s the adage we plan and God laughs. I try not to hold on to anything with too tight a grip, but I love theatre, it’s what at this point in time, I want to do for the rest of my life and this show is a beautiful and cacophonous beginning.
God provides. Life is next – might be naive but I’m too excited and thankful for the here and now to think about what comes next.
How do we keep up to date with you and your work?
My Instagram is JozyFransilja. I mostly document what I’m up to, what I’m listening to and occasionally a cheeky preview of one of my own songs.
High Times and Dirty Monsters tours until November 25th. Find out more here.