The Suffolk festival that dyed sheep different colours is back with a fantastic line up – and I’m not just talking about Bombay Bicycle Club. I am talking about the variety of theatre on show. Yes, theatre.
I’m not sure about you, but when I think of a festival I think music, mud and a bit too much cheap warm cider… (Maybe that is just my experience of Reading back in 2010). This is not the image that accompanies the word ‘theatre’ in my mind – that’s more akin to wearing a nice dress, holding a glass of wine and wearing smart shoes. Wellies, dungarees, a flower headband and the prospect of a tent? Whatever happened to that ornate building with a dress circle, plush red velvet seats and the ugly beige safety curtain?
Well, the theatre world has moved on. When I glance at the Latitude line up, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sadler’s Wells, the Royal Exchange and Forced Entertainment all glint back at me, and that is only the tip of a huge mountain of theatre that is being performed at this year’s festival. I think it is aptly summed up by Bethany Haynes from Battersea Arts Centre when she describes Latitude for many as a “warm up for Edinburgh… if you go to Latitude just for the music, you’re missing out”.
Speaking about performing at Latitude, Haynes emphasised the importance of companies being “much more playful” with their performances. With one performance taking groups of ten and asking them to form teams in a discussion of identity and masculinity, and another that combines break dance, spoken word and animation, BAC agrees with Haynes and has two fun pieces at this year’s festival.
Will Dickie, BAC’s current Artist-in-Residence, is performing a piece called Man in Helmet in the Landscape, which explores the relationship between parent and child. On his thirtieth birthday, Dickie was presented with an American football helmet by his dad. American football no longer plays a role in Dickie’s life, unlike when he was younger and would throw a ball around with his dad. This interaction with his dad led Dickie to explore identity, relationships and the idea of masculinity in this fun and thought-provoking piece. BBAC’s second performance is “the best spoken word show I have ever seen”, according to fellow spoken word artist Kate Tempest. John Berkavitch continues his tour at Latitude with his collaborative performance, Shame. Berkavitch reminds us that poetry has moved on, too; no longer does it belong in GCSE anthologies, heavily highlighted and annotated, instead it is back to where it’s supposed to be: being read aloud.
From theatre to spoken word, you begin to see the range of work that Latitude attracts. Speaking to Imogen Ashby from Clean Break, shows just how wide range of theatre companies is at this year’s festival. Clean Break, in its thirty-fifth year, is a theatre company with a bit of a difference. It was set up by two female prisoners who saw theatre as a great way of expressing stories of imprisoned women. The main thing that makes this company stand out, is that the stories are performed by ex-prisoners who have been through Clean Break’s education programme and are now on the graduation scheme. Its offering is Meal Ticket, a devised performance that explores something we, as young people, are all used to: limited funds.
The performance is being devised as you read this article. In response to what the final performance will be like, Ashby simply says: “the exciting thing is that I just do not know”. One thing she does know is that she is looking forward to reaching out to a new audience: “We will end up with Brian, or whoever, who thought he was going to see something else”. Figurative Brian might be pleasantly surprised. This is not a performance to miss. After Meal Ticket you’ll find Ashby exploring the Faraway Forest to see what else is on, she said she will probably “just sit and see seven bits of theatre”. Doesn’t sound like a bad way to unwind!
Maybe one of the bits of theatre she will come across is Wishbone Theatre’s Xavier Project, which comes to Latitude for the first time. Karen Glossop and Paul Murray founded Wishbone Theatre back in 2001, and explore devised theatre and the importance of using multi-media to create a “total experience, [rather than] being in a museum and watching a piece of theatre from the thirties”. Their modern performances do not call on a specific theatrical audience, instead, Glossop says, “I know in business language you should have a target audience but we just want an audience that is interested and excited, and we don’t mind if they’re 18 or 80.”
The performance, Xavier Project, was inspired by the life and death of the Tilbury power station in Gravesend and the impact this had on the surrounding community. Glossop describes the performance as an “adaptation of a love story” that explores the “big question of identity”.
When I ask people who they are looking forward to, the answer is often Forced Entertainment. This group took the theatre scene by storm 20 years ago and is still going strong. Speaking to Richard Lowdon, designer and performer, about going to Latitude he says: “I haven’t got my head around the fact that we’re doing it.” The first of the two performances is Void Story, described by Lowdon as a combination of “insane rapid fire dialogue and a daft comic book” that all takes part in a “crazy dark world”. The cut-out and choppy nature of it, combined with dark humour, he says “reminds me a bit of Salad Fingers [a YouTube phenomenon from a few years ago – if you haven’t seen it, look it up and see what you think]”.
The second piece is based on Ágota Kristóf’s novel The Notebook, not to be confused with Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling in the romantic comedy. It instead tells the story of two brothers who are sent to their grandmother’s during the war and how they learn to survive. With a style of writing that Lowdon describes as “very stripped down, simplistic and non-judgemental”, they edited the novel and worked out a way to retell it. Lowdon says that “if you like your humour dark, then it’s bloody good fun!” Being at a festival like Latitude is “quite rare when you’re touring”. For once, Forced Entertainment will be able to see other work, instead of having to run onto the next venue.
The range of theatre and performances at Latitude is something that everyone remarks on. Pippa Hill from the Royal Shakespeare Company is no different and says: “you can go from a really incredible gig to a great piece of theatre to cabaret and on to spoken word”. She is involved in bringing Alice Birch’s new performance, Revolt, She Said, Revolt Again, to this year’s festival, which “felt very right for Latitude’s curious audience”.
Birch’s performance is a modern look at revolution and the minute revolutions we have every day. Hill finds coming to Latitude fun because it’s “exciting trying to win the audience, and to try and compete against an amazing array of work.” Birch says of her piece: “it is an anarchic, show-off of a play, that would really love to be seen.”
A festival that even leaves the RSC uncertain of an audience suggest an abundance of high-quality work. A lot of this work would not normally be seen outside London or another major UK city. A large amount of the UK theatre scene is decamping to Suffolk countryside. I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to join them.
Latitude runs from 17 to 20 July. Look out for more previews on AYT in the run-up to the festival, and for reviews just after. For more information, visit Latitude’s website.