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Review: Art at the Arms impresses at Sunny Bank Mills

Art at the Arms made its comeback this summer, with a sold-out debut show at Farsley’s Sunny Bank Mills. Community reporter Noah Roberts attended.

Sunny Bank Mills art gallery opened for a special evening event showcasing exceptional original theatre, stand-up comedy, music and poetry.

Arts at the Arms is a popular performing art event that originated at the Cardigan Arms pub, off Kirkstall Road, before moving to an online podcast series celebrating Yorkshire talent. This popular night made its comeback this summer with its seventh edition to a sell-out debut performance at Sunny Bank Mills on Friday, 21 June. 

The Art at the Arms team with Sunny Bank’s Anna Turzynski. Photo: Sarah Underwood 

The gallery lived up to its name, with almost floor to ceiling windows providing the perfect backdrop for a sunny evening of entertainment. 

Attendees experienced a delightful sunset while listening to the live acoustic music from the talented lyrical storyteller Charlie Limm.

Poetry was delivered by Newdigate Prize winner Antony Dunne, who performed part of his new collection “bugs” which was a nice fit for an early summer’s evening and well received by the audience. 

Poet: Antony Dunne. Photo: Sarah Underwood

A new voice was stand up comedian Luke Madzudzo, who brought a welcome change of pace with his high energy capturing the audience’s imagination by describing his hilarious experiences of being a teenager in Zimbabwe.

Luke Madzudzo. Photo: Sarah Underwood

Emerging Leeds comic Toby Adkins, who lives with alopecia, opened his set by mocking his own lack of hair and eyebrows.

He took advantage of the pre-election climate by making a joke referencing the then prime minister minister Rishi Sunak, which he ended in a witty punchline “and if there are Tory voters in the audience who raised an eyebrow at that joke, don’t worry – you’re still better off than me as I have none.” The quip drew laughter and applause from the audience.  

This was made more humorous for those in the audience who may have recalled Sunak’s visit to Sunny Bank Mills last year and was photographed standing where Toby was performing. As reported by WLD, Rishi Sunak was quoted as saying how impressed he was at the dramatic transformation of what is a near 200-year-old textile mill into a successful business and creative space. 

Eyebrows featured again with actor Janette North performing a hilarious seated solo monologue where she acted that she was talking to a beautician tending to her eyebrows in preparation for a date.

Two more pieces of original theatre “The Photos” and “I Wake” were more evocative and harder-hitting pieces of theatre that spoke to feelings around the pain of loss. Both performances were both poignant and riveting, with the audience poised quietly until their conclusion. 

The audience were able to browse the art gallery during the interval, which meant that they were able to catch a final look at ‘Tangled Up’ exhibition, which finished a couple of weeks ago. ‘Tangled up’ was an exploration of how artists used textiles to express personal and political narratives within activism and protest. Over half the artists featured in the exhibition were from Yorkshire, including three Leeds-based artists. 

It was clear the audience were enjoying the evening mingling with friends while enjoying a bottle of beer, a piece of cake and browsing the gift shop. 

Chris O’Connor, of Art at the Arms, said he was thankful to Sunny Bank Mills Gallery for providing such a great venue, all the acts enjoyed performing in an art gallery. Chris said Art at the Arms is an evening that aims to energise, excite and entertain audiences, while also providing a relaxed setting in which different voices can emerge with a supportive audience.

This certainly happened on Friday where all acts were warmly received and applauded both on and off stage.

Chris is a critically acclaimed writer and podcaster; he hosts a popular podcast called Mantality with Leeds Rhinos’ ex-captain Stevie Ward. Chris was grateful to his team, sunny bank mills and all the performers for the success of the evening. 

New arts director Anna Turzynski, who was appointed by Sunny Mank Mills earlier this year, said she was delighted that the evening had been a sellout success. She welcomed Art at the Arms and was keen to work with them again.

Anna said she is keen to continue to open up the space in the evenings so local community can benefit from diverse range of cultural events. She has been working hard to launch a new exhibition which has just opened called ‘Don’t play with your Food’.

As part of this exciting new exhibition the gallery will be hosting an international pop-up supper club. The ‘edible playground’ supper club is at the mills on July 12 and July 13 and is sure to be an exclusive and rare dining experience. More information can be found on the Sunny Bank website.   

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