I've been in the unusual and privileged position of having the time to explore not only the landscape of my beloved Devon this summer but also the theatre being performed there.
So, what have I learned about outdoor, landscape-specific performance?
Well to start with, I wasn't wrong about my gut-feeling. Tis very powerful. At its very best, and I would rate the performance of Tinside Lido by Listed right up there, the drama of the unpredictable elements sends chills right through the spine. At one point there was a rainbow dancing across the distant headland and they timed the performance to make the most of an extraordinary sky palette of sunset colours. Add the sparkling, glittery effect of glancing sunlight on a brightly painted pool and you have a natural feast for the eye and for the soul. Couple all that with a quality performance from a young (and brave – that water was cold!) cast and you have what location-specific theatre is all about. Beautiful. The images and the delicious spine tingles stayed with me for at least a week. So, powerful is the word. The physicality of being there, of breathing fresh air, it heightens the experience, hard-wiring it straight to the heart and soul. I'm just going to say it all right, when you are out-of-doors, the chi – it feeds you. Just as good performance is meant to. When you blend chi and excellent performance, like at Tinside, then the result is nothing less than magical.
Less “location-specific” but just as outdoors was the Moretonhampstead Variety Group's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Fascinatingly imaginative design truly enhanced this piece. A kind of Gothic Monty Python. Steven Hulme's directorial vision shone. One or two moments in particular, in the church's graveyard where the audience was treated to a wide vista image of players searching their way through gravestones and smoke. Amazing use of the kind of landscape and space potential that you just don't have when confined to a theatre. So, that was the other learning point. Movement, physicality and space – the potentials are all unleashed when you are out-of-doors.
And there's good ole family entertainment and fun. With stunning fishing town Brixham as a backdrop its hard to go wrong, particularly for family holiday-makers. The South Devon Players perform historical pieces amongst ice-cream, fish and chips, replica galleons in the harbour, right there in the historic quay-side fish market. Totally open access (to the point where some passers-by become temporary bit-part players) was its strength. As I stood, I heard holiday-making dads explain to youngsters in Yorkshire, Mancunian and Liverpool accents, “it's a play, look”, “A what, dad?”. “Listen, they're telling you a story”. So there's another one, a really good reason to get theatre out there. The beautiful serendipity of just happening across of piece of story-telling, a seed of a notion in a child's mind that performance is fun and perhaps important. Even the temporary appreciation of a harried dad who is just glad of something to distract the kids. Accessibility and new audiences are really good reasons to go out-of-doors.
Last but not least I enjoyed the Common Player's Smuggler's Gold at A la Ronde, Exmouth. With stunning views out over the estuary, I sat with the happy kids, the sun on my back and gave myself up to the story-telling. Good story-telling it was too, with message and pertinence and relevance. The performance is neatly tied into other activities and learning in partnership with East Devon Museums. Relevance and learning then, good reasons to get outside but I particularly loved that the cast didn't compromise on performance.
All right, so there are moments, when the cold seeps through and distracts you, or you feel you're being asked to move on one too many times or somebody just aimlessly wanders right in front of you. Oh, a whole host of little things that make it harder to suspend the disbelief. Yes, of course, there are more of these in an outdoor piece. But the payback for the effort, the planning and design to minimise these things. The payback is as limitless as the open sky.
And I do know this. I live in one beautiful, beautiful part of the world!
The Heavitree Squilometre project and Interwoven Productions CIC now have two separate websites but JoJo has left this Fore St blog discussion here on the landing page because it continues to receive attention ... so please do feel free to comment.