Bullfighting in Cornwall

Feature in Issue 6-2 | Summer 1994

Adrian Mealing talks about the new collaboration with Kneehigh Theatre and Inner Sense Percussion.

It is April 1994. It should be spring but the arts are late budding. Everyone’s doing a new dance, the Retrenchment Dance, where you have to make everything small and economic in movement. The music’s from new era thrash combo Foundation Lottery’s latest CD. But it’s hard to get hold of a copy.

So how in heck did The Story of Carmen – Ravenheart ever see the light of day? Tipped as this summer’s most extravagant outdoor theatrical treat, The Story of Carmen – Ravenheart is a physical spectacle designed for amphitheatres, parks, quarries and other outdoor locations. It’s a collaboration featuring master storytellers Kneehigh Theatre, agent provocateurs on the epic scale, for whom Carmen is their fifth summer production. They’re joined by Inner Sense, acknowledged as Britain’s foremost percussion-based band, and samba aficionados. Together, they fuse visual theatre with spirited samba and fierce flamenco rhythms. A seventeen-strong cast cut a dash across outdoor stages with military authority one minute and passionate tango, diabolic bullfighting and lavish feasting the next.

Q: Um, isn’t this a little ambitious, given the current climate?

A: Yes. I see what you mean. The two companies encountered each other’s work at various festivals and so on over the last couple of years and basically liked what they saw. There was a recognition of how important a part both physical and visual presentation played, whether it was Kneehigh creating a storm ship at the cliff-edge Minack Theatre or Inner Sense’s street samba costume and dance routines. This recognition grew and grew into a ‘sod it, we’ve got to work together sometime’ scenario.

Q: Well, why Carmen?

A: Kneehigh had been nursing this ambition to work up a show out of the themes of Carmen. Thanks to Pavarotti, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Harry Enfield, all those guys, there’s a new generation opera in the making and a hungry audience. Theatre on a grand operatic scale is back in from the cold but no longer in the same shape as before. And, of course, the theme of an independent country under foreign military command could hardly have more resonance than it does today

Q: Yes, so, what do you aim to do with it?

A: Ah. In our different ways, we share a culture of popular outdoor theatre. We blew it with the Arts Council’s Joint Collaborations Fund, we weren’t sexy enough. Which is a shame because I think this is mixing two traditions in an innovative way. Kneehigh ancestry lies in popular Western theatre forms, devising physical spectacle but starting always with references to its home in Cornwall. Inner Sense is urban and breathes Latin music styles, particularly Brazilian, but is ever open to the possibilities of Asian African, blimey, Scottish, Irish musical forms and players. Whenever Inner Sense marries a seemingly diametrically different partner – like the Grampian Police Band – it’s wild how common threads and surprising mirrors occur. We’ve no doubt this will happen again.

To answer your question, the focus will be on visual spectacle, a drama driven by chorus techniques, storytelling, flamenco dance patterns, and some specially composed new music as well as a couple of Bizet’s themes.

Q: Where’s the dosh from?

A: Coo, that’s blunt. On a budget a tag over ITC rates, the whole thing is costing £140,000. A whacking 74% is earned fees and merchandise income but it has to be said that the European festivals are being given far greater civic priority and resources than here and we’ve got nearly three weeks on that circuit. South West Arts Board, Arts Council Touring, and Cornwall County Council have invested £41,000 between them. In the north west, Kaboodle and Urban Strawberry Lunch are planning a remarkably similar collaboration for 1995. If we’d clashed this year, we might not have been so well supported. I’d have hated it if we’d ended up competing for the same pot.

Q: And where’s it going? The show, I mean.

A: All over England. Holland, Germany. Maybe Spain in September. That’d be neat, eh? Coals to where? We’re very proud!

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Issue 6-2
p. 7