See thought-provoking dance show about lockdown as it launches city's new arts and culture venue

It’s befitting that a dance show taking place in a former lecture hall once frequented by lightbulb inventor Joseph Swan should portray the art of performance in a whole new light.

Friday, 27th August 2021, 4:56 pm

Southpaw Dance Company have taken over the Athenaeum Building for the Bank Holiday weekend to host performances of their show, Acedia, under the site’s glass roof.

It’s an innovative performance to launch the new chapter for the site as Breeze Creative redevelop part of the building on Fawcett Street into a new gallery and studio space.

Part live performance and part digital, Acedia is the third in a series of shows commissioned by Sunderland Culture to respond to, and try to make sense of, the pandemic.

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Acedia is the first performance to take place in The Athenaeum Building as the first floor is turned into a gallery and arts space

Ticket holders are invited to watch the show partly through an iPad, sanitised and provided by the dance company, which has been programmed to show a digital element of the show.

So although a lone dancer occupies the real life space in front us, when you hold the iPad in front of you he’s joined by digital versions of himself.

In an age where we consume so much through a screen, it’s an interesting concept to split our gaze between real life and the digital world which unfold before us in synchronicity.

For the 30-minute show we enter the flat of Andrew, played by James Southward, as he navigates his way through the Lockdowns, from initially throwing himself into exercising and enjoying the slower pace of life to the encroaching loneliness many of us started to feel as the months dragged on.

James Southward performing in Acedia, which is part digital and part live

As his drinking increases, we see him sluggishly slope around his flat trying to while away the hours, while four digital Andrews perform on screen and echo his mood.

It’s a script by Lee Mattinson which captures the zeitgeist of 2021, with thought-provoking direction from Robby Graham, which takes you through the gamut of emotions we all felt collectively through the pandemic, whilst simultaneously being alone, from the numbing repetition of groundhog days to the optimism of reconnecting with the world.

As well as watching the dance performance, people can use the iPad to unlock moving images of photos on the wall from previous Southpaw shows in an experience which is a strikingly interesting way of interpreting performance after a year when we lost the once very simple pleasure of live dance and theatre.

Acedia is the first of many cultural activities which will happen upstairs at the historic building in rooms which were previously empty.

The Athenaeum building in Fawcett Street, opposite Wilkinson's, is to be turned into an art venue.

It will house the Breeze Creative’s main gallery, after it recently moved out of Bamburgh House in Newcastle city centre. It will also be home to 40 artists’ studios, available to those in the creative sectors, such as visual arts, writing, game design and video arts.

Originally opened in 1843, The Athenaeum building was an important cultural hub for Sunderland, playing a vital role in the development of culture, design, engineering and photography in the region and hosted lectures by the Literary and Philosophical Society.

It’s one in a number of historic city centre buildings being given new life.

The Acedia performances will be over the August Bank Holiday weekend - Friday, August 27 to Sunday, August 29. Tickets costing £8 are available from Sunderland Culture’s website ( but are limited to 15 per show.

The real life dancer is joined by four digital versions of himself

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Acedia is running across the Bank Holiday weekend
The Athenaeum building dates back to the 1840s