Latitude. The festival we’d all like to be when we grow up. Relaxed, stylishly decked out, and a line up that sees you darting between the theatre tent, the main stage and a million tucked away woodland glades playing host to DJs, theatre and dance companies, big names, small names and names you’ve never heard of, but come away feeling like they’re your new best friend.
Friday saw a typically madcap scamper around the (luckily) rather bijou site – one of the best things about Latitude is that nothing’s too far away from anywhere else.
There was something timely about Graeae’s high-octane Reasons to be Cheerful, a concert revival of their 2010 show, celebrating the music and razor-sharp lyrics of Ian Dury and the Blockheads. With a new Tory cabinet, and a country deeply divided by the EU referendum, there was added poignancy to the angrily articulated, two-fingers up anarchy of Dury’s lyrics, railing against Thatcherism and class inequality. With the narrative removed, it was tricky to follow any particular storyline, but the large group of actors/musicians imbued the big, noisy hits with an infectious energy. A diverse cast including performers with various disabilities, and seamlessly incorporating sign language, added layers of meaning, coming to the fore in the furiously defiant, BBC-banned Spasticus Autisticus, which had the packed theatre tent roaring its approval. Part-tribute gig, part-history piece, there were a few rough edges – the lyrics dancing across stylised slides at the back of the stage were hard to see over the band. But the furious, seething energy of the cast saw it through. And it was a timely reminder that in times of political turbulence in the UK, deep inequality and disenfranchisement, perhaps we’re missing the angry, cleverly articulated protests and messages of droll defiance that Dury gave his contemporaries.
Mobile, by The Paper Birds, also riffs on the theme of class and identity, but it couldn’t have provided a more different angle. Taking place in the cosiest of surroundings, inside a tiny caravan, we meet Catherine, its temporary resident, who’s doing some soul searching following a life crisis. A blend of verbatim accounts and Catherine’s own story, we’re led out of the caravan park and down the winding paths of Catherine’s memories. We learn about her humble roots, which don’t quite fit with her more recent university and job success. Imaginative and slightly surreal visuals cleverly thread in streams of other stories, each tentatively exploring themes of personal social identity and the resulting clash of emotions. Ultimately, Mobile asks what it is that defines us. Is it our family and upbringing, our education or our individual aspiration? And should it matter anyway? Who are we to judge? Feelings of guilt and vague embarrassment muddle with pride, and the need to escape your roots fights against the strong tug of nostalgia. For the tiny audience of just eight, there was no looking away from the raw vulnerability of Catherine as she gently leads us through her life, placing before us the question; can you ever really escape where you come from? Deeply moving, profoundly stirring, Mobile manages to take its little audiences on an intimate, dreamy-like journey that also forces us to consider powerful questions around class, social mobility and personal identity.
And so to Svalbard’s all genius all idiot. If Mobile invites you in, takes you by the hand and leads you through someone else’s memories, all genius all Idiot throws you off a cliff and into a maniacally surreal world where its four performers tease and cajole, baffle, rut and struggle, deploying charm, humour, twisted imaginings and an ability to manipulate the human body into gravity defying feats of strength and grace. Blending circus skills with theatre, contemporary dance and unnervingly haunting music, which is performed with thrumming urgency live onstage, the debut full-length piece from the young, all-male group, who met at Stockholm’s University of Dance and Circus is like nothing else. Considering the human experience, where the line between the sublime and the ridiculous is a fine one, the company creates a world where gender is fluid and mercurial relationships flicker from affection, concern and support to nakedly, futile aggression and violent power struggles. Verging on hallucinatory – no more so than via the cunning manipulation of costume and form to create monstrously dis-formed, and decidedly creepy, mask-wearing characters that looked straight out of Picasso’s Guernica – the show is sometimes a little messy and lacking in focus. It was at its best when the performers skilfully mined the strong relationship they forged with the audience, sometimes shamelessly, and often to devastatingly humorous effect; clever relief from the heart-stopping acrobatics and the intensity of some of the darker moments of the show. Bold, imaginative and raw, it’s a piece that leaves you spinning.
Latitude Festival is at Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk from July 14-17.
Image: Kennerdeigh Scott