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Review: Prometheus Awakes

Posted on 24 June 2012 by Jake Orr

As crowds gather on a blustery Friday night in front of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, there is a certain electric excitement in the air. Word on the ground is that we’re about the witness something spectacular featuring a giant puppet, video projection and a lot of aerial work. The crowds are gathered, the darkness descends and as part of the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival, Prometheus Awakes begins. Enthralled, excited and dispelling any myth that our public funding shouldn’t go on the arts, disabled-led theatre company Graeae in partnership with Catalan street theatre company La Fura Dels Baus present the Greek myth of Prometheus, the man who defies Zeus by tricking him and bringing fire to mankind. Prometheus Awakes in its epic glory was spectacular, performing to a crowd of four thousand strong audience set against the darkness of Greenwich, this is street theatre at its best: epic, emotive and full of surprises.

Prometheus emerged from the grounds of the National Maritime Museum, a gigantic eight-metre-high illuminated puppet, a shining beacon in the darkness. Striding in front of the Queen’s House, there was a remarkable flexibility within his walking; this clearly rippled through the crowd as the audience grasped their camera phones and gazed in awe. Well, it’s not often you see such a thing casually going for a walk in Greenwich. Set against the composition of Jules Maxwell, there is no denying the epic scale of the work that made up Prometheus Awakes, using a combination of large-scale puppets, aerial performers, dancers and pyrotechnics. Directors Amit Sharma and Pera Tantiñá used the mythical story to bring life to the Maritime gardens, with stunning projections against the facade of the Queen’s House by Simon McKeown.

Full of surprises, including a woman emerging from a fabric bag suspended above the audience, and some 50 performers harnessed to a crane and creating synchronised patterns in the sky. It’s no easy feat to attempt to portray a sense of narrative in such a large scale project, but with the help of McKeown’s projections (which saw fire take over the Queen’s House or make it appear shattered into a thousand pieces), the emotive qualities of the Greek myth came to full force. Certainly a bold and amibtious production, and well worth braving the slight chill of the Greenwich night to see.  Large-scale performance such as this have been slowly gaining momentum here in the UK, but its great to see it embraced and visualised with such creativity. The thousands of audience members gathered in the Maritime’s grounds certainly weren’t disappointed judging by their reactions to the work. With a cracking finale of fireworks, aerial movements and a woman climbing up the giant Prometheus puppet to sit on his shoulder, this will surely be a production to remember for some time.

When all eyes are on London for the Olympic Games, it’s great to see that the arts are rising to the challenging of producing work that speaks boldly and creatively to both UK-based audiences but those in our city from elsewhere. Prometheus Awakes became not only a symbol for the spirit of the current moment, but for the arts as a whole, a defiant message to all: we do the arts bloody brilliantly, and here is proof.

Prometheus Awakes was part of the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival. You can find out more about the shows and events taking part in the festival by checking out the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival website. You can also catch Prometheus Awakes at Stockton International River Festival on 2 August at 10pm.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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Thinking outside the black box: Greenwich and Docklands Festival

Posted on 07 June 2012 by Ellen Carr

From 21 to 30 June, the Greenwich and Docklands area will become a theatrical playground. Expect crows, alien invasions, large-scale puppetry, new writing and much more.

Describing the programme in one word, Artistic Director Bradley Hemmings chooses “extraordinary”. It is certainly a festival that celebrates the transformative nature of theatre without boundaries, an event to which Peter Brook’s famous words have never seemed more applicable: “A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged”. The outdoor festivities of the Greenwich and Docklands Festival are the perfect medium through which to consider issues of engagement with theatre, the nature of the arts festival and the space it creates, and the pros and cons of outdoor performance. Hemmings is very aware of these issues, and exhibits a desire to present theatre that transcends boundaries and alters opinions.

He calls the programme “surprising, visceral and perception shifting” with the diverse range of companies involved sharing a “desire to awaken senses and awareness and to develop the way you look at the world”. In particular, Hemmings notes the festival’s use of everyday spaces that may forever be transformed in the eyes of those who witness events there. It’s a statement that speaks of the perception-shifting power present in all theatre but especially in outdoor work. It’s hard to think of audiences at the award-winning Motor Show from Requardt and Rosenberg ever seeing West Parkside at Greenwhich Peninsula in the same way again.

Outdoor work has to hold the audience at its heart and work towards audience engagement, be that in a very direct participatory way or in the way the content of the work is designed to affect its audience. Perhaps this may be viewed by some as a brutal environment in which to work, with audiences unconstrained by social rules of attending building-based work, able to leave or more actively express unfavourable opinions. But this atmosphere and this type of work demonstrates the ability of theatre to generate a sense of community, or create a stronger one in pre-existing communities. The Greenwich Fair event is a perfect example of this. Happening over the weekend of the 23 and 24 June it takes its influence from the original “uproarious” nineteenth century fair in the area and is “an outpouring of street performance”.

This year also sees Hemmings and Associate Director Nathan Curry (Co-Artistic Director of Tangled Feet) moving the festival in a number of exciting new directions, whilst maintaining previous structures that have endured over the years. One new development initiated by Curry is a new writing section, Word on the Street, which brings new writing out of its safe black box arena and into the public domain. New writing, of course, isn’t normally associated with outdoor theatre, but when one considers the innovation, imaginative scope and boundary-shifting excitement exhibited by both, you begin to wonder why not. Events to look forward to in this part of the programme include Bryony Lavery’s audio theatre experience taking place on a train from Charing Cross, Mean Between Times; Nabokov’s Symphony; and Rash Dash’s Set Fire to Everything. Other participants here include Les Enfants Terribles, Fuel-produced Inua Ellams, Curious Directive and Tangled Feet. If you’re thinking this is starting to read like a list of up and coming theatre companies then you’d be right; Hemmings mentions the festival’s move this year to connect with other areas of the theatre world, namely companies who are usually building-based but make work that “confounds normal expectations of what happens in a theatre”.

Confounding normal expectations is exactly what the festival itself is doing this year; for the first time it is taking the spirit of open-air theatre indoors with Handspring Puppet Company’s adaptation of Crow by Ted Hughes (the artistic team behind the Warhorse puppets). It’s a poem that Hemmings reminds us is “profoundly about the outdoors” and upholds the viscera aesthetic of the festival itself. What will be interesting is to see how this production fits with the rest of the programme. Is moving into a building giving in to the more conventional types of theatre space eschewed by the rest of the festival? It is a move, Hemmings admits, done with the intention of putting the festival’s events more on the national cultural map. It is particularly hard, he observes, to generate critical theory about the world of outdoor theatre, primarily due to its intensified ephemeral nature. It is much more “of the moment” than more traditional theatre: theatre that can run for extended periods of time and perhaps be documented in a more concrete way. The space, at least, within which conventional theatre exists remains the same after a performance finishes rather than returning to a normal everyday space where, for a brief moment, a portal to a theatrical world existed.

But the memory of these extraordinary outdoor events can’t be forgotten, and it is precisely this transformation of everyday space that makes outdoor theatre so special. Hemmings notes that Greenwich has some “remarkable public spaces”. He is particularly keen on the Woolwich area, with its history as an industrial centre for numerous trades and its subsequent legacy of socio-economic disadvantage . The famous festival finale Le Voyage des Aquareves  by Compagnie Malabar where “everybody has a wonderful time with pyrotechnics” will be taking place in Woolwich and this is an area into which Hemmings would like to expand future festivals. Alive with diverse attractions and a whole host of free events, there are unsurprisingly many strands in putting the festival together, but Hemmings states the programmers are always in touch with the “particular ideas and stories we want to tell” as well as being aware of “reasons why people may not be able to go to a free and accessible event”. Such thinking has led to the inclusion this year of the spectacular Prometheus Awakes by La Fura dels Baus in collaboration with Graeae the disabled-led theatre company.

From regular feature Dancing City profiling an exciting array of new dance to Crow, Word on the Street or the plethora of street performances taking place everyday, there surely must be something for everyone and this is precisely the festival’s intention; Hemmings refers to that constant need to “think outside the box”. A phrase oft cited perhaps but not always heeded, Greenwich and Docklands Festival is a rare delight, genuinely pushing boundaries of space, accessibility and convention. Thinking outside the black box of theatre space and pushing into the wider world, this is a festival for anyone and everyone who likes to play, question and explore the future of theatre.

Events run from 21 to 30 June. Full details including ticket prices and box offices can be found on the festival’s website here or follow this link to view an online version of the festival programme.

Image credit: Handspring Puppet Company’s Crow

Ellen Carr

Ellen Carr

Ellen is Artistic Director of Witness Theatre, a company she established after graduating from the University of Sussex in 2011. Ellen writes, directs and produces for Witness Theatre and spends the rest of her time doing more writing. She is currently writing her own blog witnesstoexperience daily, contributes regular features to One Stop Arts and can also be found writing the occasional screenplay.

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