So the traditional British Summer plays it usual card and, as thousands of festival goers head to Suffolk, the skies darkened and the Heavens opened. So began the sixth Latitude Festival in Henham Park.
The ‘Aussie Earl’ described it as light British rain but, whatever the terminology, it was clear that the de rigour footwear of choice this year was going to be the wellie-boot.
But, despite early arrivals facing a bit of mud, the rain soon eased, then stopped and tents could be erected in the dry.
It’s always fascinating to watch the variety of camping styles, the extremes of engineering marvels of canvas against the basic pop up one-man tents.
There was a brisk trade in airbeds, waterproofs and the ubiquitous wellie on the trade stands but, as soon as the arena gates opened, the fans stopped worrying about the state of the weather and began to explore site.
One of the appeals of Latitude is that it is, as the advertising proudly proclaims, more than just a music festival. True to its aims, the main events staged on opening night looked at a variety of art forms before the main music events start on Friday.
Opening proceedings in the Theatre Tent, Theatre 503 staged their specially-commissioned show for the festival, Playlist. It’s an intriguing concept: a series of playwrights have been commissioned to write a series of short plays based on songs performed by artists appearing on the musical stages over the weekend. It is always a challenge to create a self contained piece that runs around five minutes and some of the offerings work better than others. There is a touching short about a teenager desperate to loose his virginity – but with a twist and a well-conceived piece about a charity ‘chugger’ who finds the tables turned. It would be good to see some of the pieces developed into a longer format but, as it stands, Playlist turns out to be a great sample for the multitude of music festival goers can expect over the weekend.
One striking addition to Henham Park this year is the four storey, concrete-clad Electric Hotel. Many festival-goers wondered if this was a permanent structure but it is in fact a triumph of design, erected especially for the festival. Audience members don headphones to listen to a specially created soundscape as they voyeuristically watch a dance drama unfold through the hotel windows. Behind the hotel rooms there’s a secret world of intrigue and desire, guests come and go and there’s dark passions behind the closed doors. After a couple of technical hitches with the sound system, it turns out to be well worth the wait. Dancers perform split-second timing to the evocative score, and the impressive set slowly reveals its secrets.
Rounding off the day’s theatre line up, The Lyric Hammersmith, in association with Spymonkey and Peepolykus join forces to stage Joel Horwood’s Jekyll and Hyde(ish). Starting at 12.45am it’s a perfect late night end to the first day of festival frolics. Surreal, fast-paced and with tongue firmly in cheek, the team has great fun with the classic tale. This is unlike any production of Jekyll and Hyde you’ve ever seen before, however. Lusty heroines, thwarted police inspectors and a maniac on a scooter make for a fast paced and energetic production. Written especially for Latitude, there are still a few rough edges that need polishing and, at times, it is unclear how much of the frenetic comedy is improvised and how much scripted. With some more development time however this promises to be a first class production.
As the evening progressed, the sky cleared and a beautiful Suffolk sunset bathed the arenas in a reddish glow.
As the saying goes, red sky at night, shepherds delight so let’s hope that day two of Latitude sees glorious sunshine.
— Glen Pearce — Follow Glen’s Latitude Tweets on Twitter @glenpearce1
Glen’s website blog: www.glenstheatreblog.com
Glen Pearce is based in Suffolk and his reviews focus on the vibrant arts scene in East Anglia but also cover frequent trips to London and beyond. On average he sees around 150 shows per year, from small scale fringe shows to major West End productions.
Glen trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and has worked as a stage manager, lighting designer, box office, front of house, in theatre management and arts marketing. He has reviewed for the regional newspapers in East Anglia.
In addition to his own blog he also contributes to OneSuffolk, blogs for Arts Professional Magazine, contribute to UpTheWestEnd.com and is also the resident theatre critic for BBC Radio Suffolk’s Drive Time show.