As Latitude comes to an end, it is perhaps an appropriate time to pay tribute to the performers who helped make it a success. Musicians are used to the inevitable inconveniences of playing in the great outdoors to a festival crowd, who raucously stumble into performances by bands they’ve never heard of, talk the entire time then disappear mid-song. Actors are less so. Yet that is what they find themselves battling with, not to mention the torrential rain, intermittent microphone problems and inflexible staging, and so frankly it’s a wonder they do it at all!
The audience for 1927’s The Animals and Children Took to the Streets were on the politer end of the scale, what with it being before noon and full of children. But 1927’s particular challenge was with the staging – the projection screens upon which the piece comes to life shoved far upstage so that only about a third of the audience could see, and the thrust creating a gulf between audience and performers. Not that you really noticed after five minutes of this intoxicating show, where mime, cabaret and film combine to create the seedy world of Bayou Mansions, a tenement slum overflowing with cockroaches, racists and perverts, and terrorised by child gangs straight out of the Beano. When the only ray of light in this grim picture, Agnes Eaves, loses her child to a sinister plot to control the unruly children, an unlikely hero emerges in the form of the love-struck, lonely caretaker. Yet anyone expecting a fairytale ending is resolutely disappointed in this dark, sublimely crafted, masterpiece.
If 1927 invited you into their world with a sinister song and quiet menace, The Company of Angels’ staging of I, Peaseblossom – part of Tim Crouch’s fairymonsterghost project – is an altogether frothier affair, as the events of Shakespeare’s Dream are re-told from the fairy’s perspective. I found the performance relentlessly shrieky (possibly just a side-effect of the actress failing to modulate her voice when using a microphone), as if based on the assumption that children will only respond to high-octane looniness; however, the writing was charming and the little voices that shouted out Oberon and Titania’s lines were clearly delighted. The weather even played it’s part and right on cue the heavens opened, disturbed by their brawl, with full marks to a Peaseblossom who kept losing the adults she had cast in the play to the unpredictable elements.
You wonder if all companies knew what they were letting themselves in for when they signed up to Latitude. When Bad Physics staged Louis de Berniere’s Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World at the Southwark Playhouse all they had to compete with was the occasional overhead rumble of a commuter train. Yet in the crammed Literature tent, their task was to bring this multi-sensory radio play to life for hundreds of people. Most of the audience simply had to make do with the narration by the playwright himself, yet for the lucky few close to the action the company’s aim was clear, and being blindfolded vastly enhanced the experience. Robbed of sight, the other senses kick into overdrive, picking out sound effects and voices with enhanced clarity and creating a vivid world complete with smells and touch so evocative that you lose all sense of your real time and location. A cheeky peek at the action confirmed my suspicions – this is a piece to be experienced, not watched, and Bad Physics’ staging serves to highlight how limited the typical theatrical experience can be.
After a weekend of pretty much every major art form imaginable it was left to Renaissance Man Johnny Flynn to bring things to a close. Flynn had given three young film makers a phrase from W. B. Yeats’ poem ‘Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’, with the resulting films played to a soundtrack from his band The Sussex Wit. There was a sneaking suspicion that it had been borne out of an idea for the sake of having an idea, yet there were occasional moments of symbolic synchronisation, notably during ‘The Water’, and the sun-drenched honey hues of the second film ‘And Light’ complemented the folk vibe perfectly.
Latitude offers audiences much more than the typical festival experience, and provides artists with the opportunity to perform work in a highly unusual and creative environment. Yet doing so is not without its challenges, and in future years artists may benefit from thinking hard about the type of work they take to the festival. It is a place where the wrong piece can find itself overwhelmed and ultimately disappointing; however, where the right work combines with such a remarkable setting and atmosphere it can play host to moments of magic.