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Posts Tagged ‘Greenwich & Docklands International Festival’

Well, it may not be theatre as you categorise it, but its one of the most theatrical evenings I’ve ever had. This Flemish company bring a show to the Greenwich & Docklands International Festival which combines music with alchemy, providing a feast for the senses with things you taste and smell as you are mesmerised by the beauty of the music.

As we enter, we’re given a covered petri dish containing what appears to be food items. We’re told to wait until instructed before we consume them. We sit in a pentagonal formation surrounding a sort of laboratory / kitchen. In between each segment there are five musicians and a singer and ‘on stage’ three alchemists with small video screens above so that we can see what they’re concocting.

Over the next seventy-five minutes, we’re treated to sublime music from the 12th Century to the present day, including traditional music from Iceland, Norway, Portugal and Greece, played on a collection of exotic instruments, whilst the alchemists conjure up nine unusual things to taste, with smells occasionally introduced to the space by spray or incense. Some are in our petri dish, but most are served to us individually in a ‘here’s-one-I-made-earlier’ way.

The whole thing was spellbinding. I was drawn in instantly and captivated throughout. I was even given a recipe book as I left. One of the most original shows I’ve ever experienced.

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Four years ago, also as part of the Greenwich & Docklands International Festival, Flemish theatre company de Roovers staged Arthur Miller’s A View From A Bridge in the open air on Greenwich Peninsula with the Docklands skyline as a backdrop, substituting for New York. It was brilliant. Now here they are on Thamesmead Waterfront with Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills.

I last saw this play at the NT 25 years ago. Then the cast of children played by adults included Steve Coogan & Robert Glenister and it was directed by Patrick Marber, midway between his hit NT plays Dealer’s Choice and Closer. It was the stage adaptation of a 1979 BBC Play for Today which itself starred Helen Mirren and Colin Welland. Quite a pedigree.

We had to take a special coach (included) from Abbey Wood station as it’s a secret, secure site, 1.5 miles of Thames waterfront, its history alone making the visit worthwhile. A wartime arsenal, abandoned hazardous land, forbidden playground, temporary adventure park and soon to be new development. A perfect location for a story about children playing and growing up. Two hills behind, one with a small derelict building on it, undergrowth all around and a playing area in front. Flights leaving Heathrow standing in for war planes.

The children play as children do, sometimes kind, sometimes cruel. Boys don’t really like girls, and vice versa, but they’re open to a bit of experimentation. They imagine, invent, lie and do deals. One gets bullied a lot. It ends tragically, playing with fire, but no-one accepts any blame, a bit like today’s adults, though they expect retribution. I wasn’t sure about some of the casting and clothing choices – no clean shaven faces and short trousers for the boys here – and the difficult Gloucester dialect when channelled through English spoken with a Flemish accent was sometimes a bit surreal, but they captured the essence of childhood and the Englishness of it all and it was a captivating ninety minutes.

GDIF are to be congratulated on the logistical feat of pulling off a show like this, and the many others in the festival. Transport, security, stewards, lighting, sound, seating…it’s quite something. Well done!

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This show, on the parade ground of the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, was part of the Greenwich & Docklands Festival, a unique two-week programme of free outdoor shows.

It purported to tell the story of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo from childhood through the accident which disabled her to life as an artist. There were four segments – air, earth, water and fire – but you wouldn’t know that if you hadn’t read the programme (I had, but it wasn’t much help).

Some of the spectacle was superb, notably Hofesh Schechter’s dancers, acrobats on wires interacting with projections and animation on a vertical screen and four ‘Voladores’ (traditional folk characters) on ropes revolving around and lowering from a giant maypole.

The lack of a coherent narrative though was its downfall, and the audience distractions, notably filming and photography, didn’t help. It was free, so you can hardly complain, but it was a two-hour round-trip for a 45 minute show so I will!

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