By Doppelgangster
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Incitement + Research

Along with Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, Sheffield is one of the most polluted places in the UK outside of London. Burning diesel, wood, petrol, gas and coal produces fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), which seriously impact upon the city’s air quality and mean that pollution in Sheffield exceeds legal levels. Pollution contributes to 500 deaths a year in Sheffield alone. That’s well above the 325 deaths and serious injuries caused by road traffic accidents in the city in 2018.

“You can look left and right and move out of the way of a speeding car. But pollution is mostly invisible. You can’t dodge it easily, and if you’re travelling along the same polluted roads everyday, it’s likely causing you serious harm.”

–  Dr Tom Payne (Co-Director, Doppelgangster).

Commissioning Festival

Off the Shelf is one of the largest and most accessible literary festivals in the UK. Every year it brings the biggest names in literature and the arts to Sheffield. Previous festivals have included appearances by Sandi Toksvig, Nick Hornby, Tony Robinson, Kate Adie, John Pilger – to name just a few. Since 1991, OTF have established itself as one of the highlights of the cultural calendar in Sheffield. Its core mission is to bring literature and the arts to all parts of the community. Choke Me was a special commission for the festivals Environment Strand which was curated by the Department of Humanities at Sheffield Hallam University.

Development + Exploration

Academic, textual, and design development began in earnest three months prior to the staging of the work. An intensive rehearsal period encompassed four weeks leading up to the 2019 production.

The Performance Company

This extra curricular project featured an ensemble of students from across the BA Honours Degree in Acting and Performance at Sheffield Hallam University. The intensive four week process provided students from all years of the degree the opportunity to work on a professional production with an established international performance company and to develop high-level theatre and performance employment skills.

Mechanics of Performance

Doppelgangster worked closely with professional collaborators and the student ensemble in order to make a fun and development driven show that explored the theme of Pollution in the city of Sheffield.
The students developed new performance skills and a high level understanding of the ‘mechanics’ of Doppelgangster's making process. The students were facilitated by a dynamic team of three Doppelgangster artists who acted as directors, acting and vocal coaches, choreographers and sometimes designers. Within the work, the students took the role of live artists and collaborators. They were asked to perform, to act, and to be. Full direction was given in the preparation and rehearsal, including the shows online development; the creative process, and technical + dress rehearsals. Some were asked to learn text. Others to dance. Some were invited to sing. Some of them did all three. Throughout the performances they received pre-recorded audio instructions via in-ear technology. Costumes were generously provided by Sheffield Theatres and were tailored to the students' comfort in collaboration with Doppelgangster. The work was highly-structured, and while no previous experience of collaborative practice was required from the cast it was welcomed in the early rehearsal phase. Doppelgangster often play themselves and others in their works. The students were invited to do the same.


This initial production of the work took place in October 2019, as part of the 'Environment' stream of Sheffield's Off The Shelf Festival of Words. The collaboration was recognised as being: ``considered`` and ``profound``, ``political`` and ``thrilling``, and also ``riotous`` and ``entertaining``.