Experiencing theatre without walls

I’ve found the last couple of weeks in Harrogate both incredibly uplifting and very upsetting. The events in Valley Gardens on the afternoon of Saturday, April 13 were quite horrific. For those of us with teenagers, the rumours have filtered through and they make for grim listening. Thankfully those involved appear to be recovering. I have also seen the boundless brilliance of young people in both our own work, namely the Youth Theatre’s production of Odyssey and at the weekend there was the huge celebration that is Harrogate International Youth Festival and Performing Arts.

Compere and coordinator was Michael Newby, a theatre board member and ex-mayor, who has been involved with the Festival since an appearance with the Granby High School Concert Band back in 1976.

A popular feature of the Festival is always the Easter Sunday Big Band and Jazz Night. Not only do we experience the high quality of overseas groups visiting, but it also showcases the depth of local talent that we have in the district.

Performing this year were The Katrina Hughes Dancers, St Aidan’s Swing Band, Harrogate Youth Jazz Orchestra and lastly, making a welcome return to the Festival, was Switzerland’s The Crazy Hoppers with some big numbers.

Looking ahead to our theatre programme, I am a big admirer of Gemma Swallow, Technical Director at The National Theatre of Scotland (NTS). The organisation’s ethos is to establish a ‘theatre without walls’ for a company without a space.

Their next work could be anywhere in Scotland - a traditional theatre or somewhere that has never had a performance. “That’s also the best thing about the job,” Swallow said in a recent interview, “I get bored doing the same stuff on the same stage over and over.”

Their next project is a case in point. The building is a high-rise office block in Glasgow filled with corporate clients, but the empty floor that the NTS has commandeered has been turned into a dark and sterile laboratory for a project called Interference , a site-specific trio of plays about the effects of technology upon women in the future, directed by the award-winning Cora Bissett. The company truly live up to their name, infiltrating communities whilst considering and embracing the whole country.

I’d just like to draw a slight parallel with the work of our own Associate Producer Porl Cooper, who sources similar experiences to those of NTS for our 2’s Company project. The concept of the work is to find alternative theatre experiences or spaces or both. In the past I have found myself sat on a trapeze, kidnapped in a car or locked in a hotel room at The Crown! It is theatre subverting convention, which can liberate the imagination, allowing us to experience rather than observe.

This year we have a handful of crackers. Down The Pub presented by Nunkie at Hales bar, which is four shows for three people at a time. There is also The Other City, a podcast walk around Harrogate narrated from Rio but with a narrative that works in any major town or city!

Another one of Porl’s, if you’re looking for a different kind of night out, is The Great Gatsby, showing between July 11-20.

Why not give them all a try?

First published in the Harrogate Advertiser Thursday 25th April