It’s been quite a few days.
On Wednesday I saw Matthew Herbert’s utterly bonkers ONE PIG complete with live cooking and an extraordinary sonic pig pen. One Pig is the story of a single farm animal from birth to death and beyond – told using a soundscape recorded over the animal in questions life (interestingly Molly Davies new play for Eastern Angles does something similar in play format with the focus being a chicken). The album is released on Accidental Records but it really came to life in live performance with the physicality of the sonic pig pen (played by a jaunty scientist), the performers in lab coats and the smells of live cooking. Not always entirely successful as an evening – at times it wandered into dangerous nurdling territory and my attention waned – but a fascinating and enthralling one none the less. You can listen to a sample here:-
and watch a video about how the work was created here:-
Then on Thursday it was off to Islington for Babel London boldly described as the theatrical event of 2012 – but I’m afraid it left me hollow. Caught inbetween spectacle and drama it managed neither (though on the night I saw it some of the aerial theatre was cancelled due to high winds). The narrative was weak and despite some stunning projections and a patchwork of lovely moments (the plastercine London, male Kathak dancing, the mad professor) it lacked the real wow factor.
So with that disappointment behind me I headed off to the Norwich and Norfolk festival for The Invaders. A huge expectant crowd had gathered in Gentlemens Walk – you could sense and hear the anticipation (by contrast the audience at Babel felt very ‘knowing’). Crammed in like sardines we watched as a brood of staring eye balls, screeching bats and a towering female figure (described amusingly by @tonyramsay as a collection of ‘angle poise lamps, 3 dragonflies and a witch’) passed. The crowd waited. Was there more? No one seemed to know. We retired for a hot chocolate.
Emerging from Starbucks the crowd has thinned but in the distance a somewhat muffled drumbeat can still be heard. We follow the sound – my companion (who also happened to be my mum!) convinced that the show was indeed over. We head into the market where the eyeballs are resting by a wall -playfully sitting on willing teenagers shoulders (though not everyone wants to play). It has the feeling of after show about it – did we miss something?
As we reach the forum a spotlight swings round, the drum beat is replaced by a soundtrack and a blanket of smoke fills the air. Suddenly this was a night that wasn’t going to end up any time soon. Caught in the thick of things (at one point a dragon practically nibbled my cap) I couldn’t help but be swept away by these extraordinary creatures who would not have been out of place in a CS Lewis novel. For some it was just too much – a small child to my right sobbed away clinging to his mother – but for me being part of the communal excitement of the night was simply thrilling.
Two weeks ago the streets of Liverpool had been transformed by Royal de Luxe’s Sea Odyssey (I was in Liverpool last weekend and the politicians and papers were still talking about it). The scope and scale of the Invasion were different – (Invasion did not last 3 days and was all about spectacle with only a cursory glance to narrative) but like Odyssey it had an audience of thousands rapt and clamouring for more. Lyn Gardner’s words (here) about Odyssey could apply equally to the Invasion…
The show was entirely free and it went to the people and didn’t just expect people to come to them. And they came in their thousands: families, kids in buggies, granddads with zimmer frames and dogs of every size and shape who responded nosily to the appearance of the playful 9ft tall steel and papier-mache canine called Xolo. Theatre probably needs to remember that when it moans about the difficulty of attracting audiences.
We’re going to be seeing cities doing more and more of this kind of work (see here) and with news stories like this (support drops for public funding of the arts) these kind of projects are crucial. Hopefully the thousands who saw The Invasion will find much in the festival to their liking.
What the last three days have shown (thank god) is that crazyness is alive and well (big in ideas and ambition). Long may it continue – especially if more work like the invasion and sea odyssey starts being created by UK based companies.
(on a personal note it was frustrating to have to miss the visit of the National Theatre Scotland to the festival – scheduling meant it was impossible to see both shows. But that I guess is a sign of a good festival – forcing you to make difficult choices!)