As a bit of break from the frantic drama of the fringe I thought I'd finally finish up the picture diary/rambling commentary that I have been putting together to detail our weekend in the country. Photos are by myself or Ben Yeoh...
On Sunday 22nd July, surrounded by the rolling hills and suspiciously picturesque villages of the Darrent Valley, our site-specific extravaganza finally came and went. Meteorological speaking it was the perfect day and our merry troupe of nearly 50 performers (amateurs, professionals who volunteered their time, whingers... the list goes on) did themselves (and us) absolutely proud. So here, for those who might be interested is a sort of photo-journal of the day.
For the audience from London, things started at Victoria station where their tickets had informed them to meet, without any prior knowledge of where they were going or what they would be doing. Here they were collected by a bowler hatted gentleman from the freshly resurrected London Necropolis Company, who put them on a train down towards Shoreham, in Kent. On the train various characters appeared and we began to weave an Agatha Christie style murder mystery. The idea being that a structure as simple and recognisable as the detective story would propel the audience through the unusual form/landscape they were exploring. Almost immediately we began to bombard this story with interuptions, non-sequiteurs and red herrings. A messiness
At the station we had a variety of characters and installations waiting for the audience. Almost as they stepped off the platform the audience found themselves bombarded with interuptions, non-sequiteurs and red herrings, undermining the simplicity and obvious superficiality of the story with a glorious messiness, a rambling, contradictory, multi-layered environment for the audience to chew on. From the station small groups of audience members were led off at ten minute intervals down one of two routes - the country route or the village route - before they were gathered together again, first all the groups on each side seperately and then the whole audience (and anyone who'd been picked up along the way) in the village hall for a grand finale.
We had no one leading these groups through the environment, instead we offered clues and signs and characters dotted along the route, inviting the audience (inspired by their detective story) to lead themselves around. We wanted the audience to feel like more than a tour group, we didn't want them to feel like they were being led between a series of stages or sets. We wanted the joins between our work and the real countryside to be seamless, to force the audience to see everything, to try and make some sense of everything - to not just focus on the parts that were obviously theatre.
Those things that we had placed there we wanted to both harmonise and clash with the environment around them. We wanted the audience to feel at once that they were in a story, a dream, a nostalgic vision of the past, a charming murder mystery that needed solving, and a living place with its own history and its own people (a home). More than this we wanted the village and the country surrounding it to be all these things at once. We wanted these different layers to show through each other and reflect each other, creating an almost carnival environment in which no one (audience, performers and villagers) quite knew who they were or where they were.
Over the course of the show the audience played a variety of roles. They were detectives, visitors on a day trip, audience members at a show, actors in a rehearsal, bohemians in a field, (drinkers in a pub). Sitting down, being quiet, is only one of the roles an audience can play (admittedly they do it very well - they've had a lot of rehearsing).
As for our 'actors' they similarly were performing several roles all at once. This was their village, some were performing in or around their houses. And yet they were also something else - exaggerations of themselves or other characters all together. And they were as much experiencing the show as anyone in the audience. Or indeed anyone who happened to be wandering through the village that day - early in the morning as we were setting up I talked to a couple who had followed our paper trail of wanted posters and Village placards and threatening letters up the country path, wandering what was happening, recounting the memories and histories that they recalled.
For more information on any of this please feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Myself and Polly are now starting work on another (even larger...) project, so I may well be back on the recruiting band wagon very soon. You have been warned.