action hero news

The life of a crash helmet
July 12, 2011, 3:50 pm
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I wrote this in pen on the back of a contract whilst I was bored on a flight from Bilbao to Brussels on 1st July 2011. I thought I’d write it up online.

Last night I made an unsuccessful attempt to jump a fountain of diet coke on a child’s bicycle for the 33rd time. The ramp was positioned too close to a pillar, I went over the handlebars and collided head first with the corner of the pillar. The sound of the collision provoked a gasp from the crowd followed by silence. I was unhurt though because I was wearing a crash helmet. I’m making one more jump with this helmet in Manchester before buying a new one., and the decision to replace it has made me look at it closely and I realise I’ve fallen in love with it as an object. It carries the marks from all the 33 performances its been part of. Big gouges and sweeping scratches scar most of one side. The traces left from Gemma’s high heels. The top is scalded and burnt from being set alight over and over. Its started to blister and flake and the number one that used to be emblazoned in the colours of the U.S flag on the front is almost all gone. A victim of the white spirit used to clean away the remnants of the flame gel. A new scratch marks the place where my head met the pillar last night. Like the show it reveals a dirty reality behind the spectacle. It looks worn, tired and faded. But there’s a glimmer of something heroic about it that makes me want to keep it or show it off. There’s something romantic about its unglamorous scuffs and burns. We’ve carried it with us on exciting journeys to New York, Paris and Barcelona but Its also been with us to Colchester, Chichester, Leeds and Crewe. Its been in the boot of a broken down car on the side of the A1 in January and unable to start in the fog and drizzle of the Pyrenees. Its been soaked in coca cola and gone moldy in the basement of an old police station in Bristol. Its life replicating the pathetic desperation of Evel Knievel’s broken bones in dead end mid-Western U.S towns. The subject of thousands of photographs taken by audience members it sometimes is the only thing you can see on the developed film, reflecting the light from a theatre rig in Aberystwyth, a tunnel in London, a club in Glasgow, a gallery in St Etienne. Like the surface level glamour of big jumps in Las Vegas and Wembley stadium you can’t see its burn marks and shoddy stickers peeling off.

We have to replace the helmet because its started to fail. For so long it has stoically deflected the kicks from Gemma’s left and right feet while I’ve felt nothing except a disconcerting shove. No pain, no headaches. But recently it hasn’t felt quite so tough. I can feel the heel when it strikes and it sends a gasp of air from my lungs. I can hear the crackling of the fire as it burns above my head. Once it can’t take a beating anymore its useless. So we’re looking for a shiny new one to take to Edinburgh in August and because the old one no longer has a role to play in our home made stunt show its made its last fly. But I feel like I can’t throw it away. I feel attached to it. I want to exhibit it on a plinth and celebrate its life spent protecting my head from self-inflicted idiocy. Its such a wonderful document of our show but also of our life in the last few years. The absurdity of jumping over mentoes fountains off a wooden ramp for a living. Standing in front of a room full of strangers, getting my head kicked in over and over again while people take photos and grin. I’ve poured 64 litres of coca cola into my partners mouth. I’ve been put out by a fire extinguisher, I’ve run around naked from the waist up and bleeding trying to pick up ping pong balls from under the feet of clubbers on a dancefloor in Glasgow. I’ve watched Gemma break her arm in Newcastle, sat on the side of a Spanish motorway in +30 degree heat watching smoke stream from the bonnet. I’ve washed cola out of my jeans in the laundromats of New York, France and Wales. I’ve had beer bottles thrown at my head, I’ve been stood on by a drunk, I’ve loaded a ramp and a child’s bicycle into my car and unloaded it and loaded it and unloaded it and loaded it and unloaded it and carried it on a subway and loaded it again and unloaded it over and over again. The helmet has been with me all the way and when I look at it now it looks completely ridiculous, completely stupid, completely brilliant.

Watch Me Fall Edinburgh 2011

We’re going to be showing Watch Me Fall as part of the British Council Showcase in Edinburgh this year from 22nd-27th Aug at 11:45pm. Once again we’re collaborating with the brilliant Forest Fringe and also with Summerhall (a great new project in an ex veterinary school). We’ll also be showing (at forest fringe) a collection of the images taken by audience members on cameras we’ve given them when we’ve performed watch me fall.

You can reserve tickets for Watch Me Fall here or pick them up in person at Forest Fringe or Summerhall anytime.

Flare Festival Manchester

After New York, Paris and Spain we come back to the UK to show Watch Me Fall at the brilliant Flare Festival. Flare grew out of a festival we worked with a few years ago in Manchester called MIST which was an international student festival where we saw some of the most extraordinary work we’ve ever seen (made by university students) including a show called “Live tonight” by some German students under the name “Monster Truck” which I’ll never forget, and a beautiful piece by some Leeds students directed by Swen Steinhouser

We’ll be showing Watch Me Fall at Contact theatre for the launch party

Monday 4th July 7pm

I’d recommend coming and seeing as much as you can through the week (it coincides with the Manchester International Festival so we’re also going to catch the Robert Wilson piece) but make sure you’re there for the opening!

gigs in May and June

A Western – May 3rd at Seven Arts in Leeds

Watch Me Fall – June 1st – June 2nd at PS122 New York

Watch Me Fall – June 14th – 16th at Theatre de la Ville Paris

Watch Me Fall – June 30th at Intacto festival, Spain

upcoming performances

A Western

11th and 12th AugustKilkenny Festival, Kytelers Inn, Ireland at 6:30pm, doors open 6pm

13th, 14th and 15th SeptemberTobacco Factory bar, Bristol

18th, 19th and 20th OctoberOxford Playhouse, Angel and Greyhound pub, St Clements Street 19:30pm

Watch Me Fall

16th NovemberJunction, Cambridge

11th DecemberMade in Britain, St Etienne

Tim X Atack on ‘Watch Me Fall’
February 16, 2010, 2:02 pm
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Tim X Atack wrote this nice piece about ‘Watch Me Fall’ at the Inbetween Time Launch in Bristol on the 5th Feb 2010.

Nobody touch him

Action Hero show Watch Me Fall, their brilliant paean to daredevil stunts. Whacked out on testosterone and diet coke, they chop up dialogue from mediocre b-movies about Evil Knievel and make poetry of the battered non-sequiturs he would mumble into the stadium microphone after a bad fall. They shout at the audience for doubting their integrity. They play loud music and slap each other about, Gemma Paintin kicking her cohort James Stenhouse in the head repeatedly. They set fire to stuff. It’s one great big over-hyped jumped-up lead-up to a spectacularly understated stunt, the principle components of which are a pushbike and a fountain of bubbling soft drink. It’s a portrait of a man’s world, where women are objects, and men are objects on bikes. It’s a cavalcade of stereotypes paraded up and down a strip that runs the length of the room, with the audience either side, snapping away on disposable cameras, becoming stereotypes themselves, whooping and clapping like seals. “MY NAME IS DICK CHENEY” shouts Stenhouse, “AND I WILL WALK THAT TIGHTROPE, ON THE MOON, IN A SACK, ON FIRE.” As the ‘Maiden Of The Mist’, Paintin lies on her back and is doused in a whole bottle of sugary carbonated gloop (which is horrible, on all sorts of levels.) “Why don’t they do that to the man?” asks someone next to me. And I think: because that would be part of a different show.

Watch Me Fall guardian review
October 30, 2009, 12:15 pm
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click here to see Lyn Gardner’s four star review of ‘Watch Me Fall’ in The Guardian.

Come and see it at the Shunt Vaults in London Bridge on wed 4th and Thurs 5th Nov.

or scroll down to see all our UK dates.

Tour dates Aug – Dec


We just had a brilliant time doing A Western at the British Council Edinburgh Showcase, and now we’re getting sorted for a mega-busy Autumn.

here’s what we’re up to before Christmas, hope you can catch us soon!

there’s a few more dates to follow so keep an eye on our website, join our facebook group for regular updates, photos and links to reviews and articles, or follow us on twitter

A Western

  • 3rd October: FIX 09 Catalyst Arts, Belfast

@ The menagarie bar, University Street, 8pm

  • 1st November: Chelsea Theatre, London

8:45pm, tickets £10/£8, Box Office: 08709908454.

Watch Me Fall

  • 20th – 21st October: Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry

7:45pm, tickets £8.50/£7.50, Box office: 02476524524.

  • 4th – 5th November: The Shunt Vaults, London Bridge, London

T: 02073787776.

  • 7th November: The Star and Shadow @ Wunderbar festival, Newcastle

7:30pm, tickets £6/£4, box office: 01912610505.

  • 17th November: Exeter Phoenix, Exeter

8:00pm, tickets £9/£7, box office: 01392667080.

  • 27th – 28th November: Stoke Newington International Airport, London

tickets £5 on the door.

  • 2nd December: The Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool

8:00pm, tickets £5, book online

  • 3th December: Leeds Met Studio Theatre, Leeds

7:30pm, tickets £10/£7, box office: 01138125998.

  • 4th December: Greenroom, Manchester

8:00pm, tickets £9/£6, box office: 01616150500.


  • 23rd – 24th October : Chester roman Gardens @ Up The Wall, Chester

See you soon xx

Shunt Fun

So now I know the true meaning of ‘the baying mob’.

Before we performed ‘Watch Me Fall’ at Shunt we were warned that on a Friday night at 10pm it was a bit of a bear pit. We thought we’d take it on as a challenge and thought it would be a good exercise for the development of the show. The idea being that the risk and energy of the space would teach us lessons about the material.

Well we definitely learned a few lessons.

The audience were a chaotic mix of aggressive interventionists, apathetic bystanders, flailing drunks and anguished sympathisers watching the tragedy unfold before them. As soon as we started it was clear we were in for a rough ride, and the intricate subtleties we had been working on were immediatley thrown out the window. It was only going to be broad strokes that could carry us through and when even setting yourself on fire is not quite enough of a broad stroke, you know its going to be a long night.

To give you an accurate picture of the audience we were facing, the bicycle we use to make the jump was stolen halfway through the show and had to be retrieved by a bouncer. As were the safety elbow and knee pads I need to wear. The bouncers managed to retrieve the elbow pads, but not the knee pads (which accounts for the large bruise and cut I’m now nursing on my knee). We were shouted at, abused, pushed, ignored, yet still, in amongst the chaos, there were moments of glory that carried us through.

The theme of futility was pushed beautifully to the forefront of the piece as we persistently tried our best to win the audience over to little or no avail. With rowsing speeches that became desperate pleas the folly in the act was exaggerated to new heights,  helping to emphasise the content we’re currently exploring. The arrogant young clubbers who postured and paraded themselves throughout the show served as perfect exemplars for the obnoxious, aggressive, masculine ideal we were attempting to crash land.

When you set out to use audiences as collaborators you have to except that you are going to come across audiences who want it all on their terms. Friday nights audience wanted flame and spectacle and when they didn’t get it they felt cheated and weren’t prepared to take the embarrasingly cheap subsitute we were offering. So they bayed and drunkenly staggered across our work, stamping their own authority of mass upon it and they’ve left an indelible mark on the piece that we are indebted to them for.

Both us as performers and a faction of the audience who were willing to collaborate got a truly unique experience from the event. A rock and roll car crash with two tragic heroes at its heart, whimpering and straining to be heard, moving from one hilariously futile attempt to the next. At various moments I looked into the eyes of audience members who looked back with deep, deep pity in the eyes and a worn out grin that said, “I’m not sure you’re going to make it”. For that fleeting moment, I loved them and I think they loved me.

Thank you Shunt.

Bring on the next work-in-progress.