Home Truths: Summer Festivals

Feature in Issue 23-2 | Summer 2011

The Canny Granny Takes a Trip – to the Summer Festivals!

Pulling aside the edge of my beige velvet drapes I spy several bottoms wiggling down the road in the kind of shorts people only wear at festivals. Like the first swallow of summer, the cut-off jeans mark a new season of outdoor fun. Though my legs still look smashing in shorts they are not, alas, so steady for standing on any more, so I’m off to Latitude this year with my fold-out chair slung over my shoulder. The main disadvantage of sitting down in the crowd (which is quite the thing at Latitude, everyone does it) is that I won’t be able to see Suede – which some might say is a blessing. I shall need sedentary entertainment. I’m talking about theatre.

Luckily, curtain-twitching features at Latitude this year, as 1927 will perform The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, which combines animation, live music and a woman after my own heart peering from her window. Richard DeDomenici is making a piece called Dogging for Gold, which makes me relieved I shall be staying in a bed and breakfast rather than camped near the car park.

If you want to peer in on something utterly mysterious, this year’s Secret Garden Party has Tax Deductible curating their performance area. They promise ‘Ruckus’, which they have trademarked, leading me to suspect that it’s some kind of self-improvement scheme like Scientology. If you find out what it is, let me know, providing the elders don’t drag you to a desert prison for revealing it. Talking of prisons, Tax Deductible’s last gig was to create a tequila-tasting penitentiary at Fluid State Festival, a food-centred festival in East London. They dressed punters in prison jumpsuits, photographed them, plied them with fine tequilas and sent them out to the yard to lift weights and get washable tattoos. Well, that’s certainly one way to stop an audience leaving.

The other way to stop people leaving is to make the festival so vast you lose the will to get back to your tent, let alone your home. I’m talking about Glastonbury of course – not that I’ve been there, I’ve never quite plucked up the courage, but my dear friend Dorothy tells me that it boasts a plethora of theatre, circus and cabaret fields. They know the theatre that does well at a giant music festival: things that are brash and visually spectacular. NoFit State are headlining, along with acts like firework-fizzling waterdrizzling (as if Glastonbury needs more water!) Avanti Display and acrobatic Mimbre.

But if it’s you who feels twitchy and not your curtains, not all festival theatre has to be overwhelming. Pieces which fit with a mindaltered state also go down well. Who could fail to be delighted by The Two Wrongies’ naked synchronised swimming, or Phil Kay smoking belly-button fluff, or Natural Theatre Company’s League of Pessimists while you wait for the peyote milkshake to take effect?

There are also those shows that make zonked-out parents/grandparents and children feel cultured and comforted – these principally involve projections, which tents (though torture to sleep in) are very well suited for. The wordless drift of The Paper Cinema, the vivid re-scored silent films of Minima music or the Cabinet of Living Cinema, or the dazzling illustrative beauty of Matthew Robins with his distinctive dark silhouettes of Flyboy and Mothboy, come to mind.

A few festivals are slow to pick up on the theatrical input: All Tomorrow’s Parties (known to us cognoscenti as ATP), with its Butlins and Pontins settings seems aching for some theatre – I think some live art would go perfectly with Autechre or God Speed You Black Emperor! And you can sleep in a chalet! Bliss. Green Man festival has a comedy tent, but nothing of the visual variety if you exclude the Morris Dancers (weirdos) and the spectacular (and silent!) firework display and giant green-man-burning on the last night, which is not quite theatre, but certainly dramatic. But the toilets are a work of art in themselves.

And if you are truly prepared to leave your home comforts behind in favour of fire, then go to Nowhere, Spain’s answer to Burning Man, out in the Zaragoza desert. People take all their food, drink, arts construction materials and wind turbines with them to create such structures as a spiral staircase into the sky, a giant head, or a network of fake phone booths. The festival even gives grants for arts projects to be brought to them. I’ve seen the pictures of people naked in the dust, reader. It did not tempt me. But then I looked at my cut-off jeans, and said to myself: what you really need, dear, is a camper van.

Get thee to a festival this summer!

Latitude 14–17 July 2011: www.latitudefestival.co.uk
Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts 22–26 June 2011 (sold out): www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk
Secret Garden Party 21–24 July 2011: www.secretgardenparty.com
All Tomorrow’s Parties, various weekenders throughout 2011: www.atpfestival.com
Nowhere festival, Spain, 5–10 July 2011: www.goingnowhere.org www.greenman.net

Artists and theatre companies mentioned:
www.sadlucy.com (Matthew Robins)