Feature in Issue 22-3 | Autumn 2010

Donna Close sees what’s on offer at the bijou festival with a reputation for its arts programming.

This year’s Latitude was its fifth and my first. Set in glorious Suffolk countryside and populated by psychedelically coloured sheep and Guardianistas in search of cultural kicks, the highbrow arts line-up looked promising.

The Theatre and Spoken Word programmes were particularly strong with some big hitters on the bill, some making the most of the opportunity to confound expectations and reach a new audience. The RSC in particular proved they were still the Daddy, with a dark and knockabout late-night comedy, The 13 Midnight Challenges of Angelus Diablo. Sandy Grierson revelled in the demonic titular role, pushing both cast and audience to the edge of farce. You were never sure if the show would lose its way or descend into anarchy, but in the capable hands of this talented group of clowns and ac-toors, the play remained the thing. If the Latitude organisers needed a demonstration of how to be edgy and keep your core audience on board – this was it.

And hurrah to Latitude for providing such a feast for Daniel Kitson fans – with midnight storytelling every night on the Waterfront stage (in collaboration with Gavin Osborn), and a pre-Edinburgh work-in-progress of It’s Always Right Now Until It’s Later. The former were the perfect setting and timing to send you up the stairs to Bedfordshire with a warm glow, even with the occasionally clunky rhyme-smithing. The latter was Kitson at his best, with the work-in-progress context seemingly giving him freedom to relax into the curious mixture of openness, confrontation and self-deprecation familiar to his stand-up audiences. This made the already potent pragmatic romanticism of the coming story more profound. The story uses a simple but brilliantly effective construction of zooming in on individual moments of the two protagonists’ lives, retold in that moment, with the same level of hindsight, foresight and self-awareness that we have in these moments (none). It’s an incredibly immersive and engaging device: the revealing of two unconnected people’s stories and the seemingly random order of the reminiscences – hurtling towards an incidental shared moment in time – makes you do the work in finding causal connections between past, present and future; working out what is important and what is not. And of course it’s funny, and sad, and profound, and prosaic – and sometimes the most seemingly innocuous moments end up being the most vital.

I imagine Daniel Kitson divides opinion. Much of his work is on the same riff which you either get or you don’t. But oh what a riff: a painstakingly detailed observation of the heroism of the everyday romantic and the hugeness of small things. This audience division was summed up by the reaction of an elderly couple sitting next to me. The man looked at me and, smiling a smile of complicity, slowly took off his glasses and wiped the tears from his eyes. His wife turned to him and said, ‘Typical, you’ve made me late for David Soul now.’

Elsewhere, over at the Waterfront stage, the Dance programme included Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun, and Ballet Boyz (all presented by Sadler’s Wells), and a piece by Russian physical theatre supremos Derevo, Wolves’ Tango, which is a collaborative work between the core company and guest dancers from the locality.

In the Cabaret tent and area, Duckie presented a mask-making workshop (yes really, queens on sewing machines and all) run by the irrepressible Scottee, all in preparation for a wonderful late night Masked Ball with a cabaret that featured star performers Christopher Green (as Ida Barr) and Ursula Martinez (of Hanky Panky fame).

What unfortunately disappointed was the outdoor performance programme of Pandora’s Playground, and the installation/ live art pieces of the Faraway Forest were neither edgy nor of particularly high quality (with the exception of a few key works such as Gavin Turk’s The House of Fairytales and Les Enfants Terribles’s Vaudevillians). Frustratingly, events (throughout the festival) often did not start on time, and up-to-date information was hard to obtain, and the stewards – sorry, Customer Support Officers – although smiley and friendly weren’t able to advise. In this aspect, Latitude has a lot to learn from Glastonbury. As it does on its outdoor arts programming… Cie Quidams were enchanting but where were the big names and the young Turks of UK outdoor performance and site-specific theatre, digital art, and temporal public art? Latitude, you are their natural festival home and an opportunity to bring the exciting world of fresh new cerebral spectacle to a new audience. Go get ’em.

Additional reporting by Dorothy Max Prior. Latitude 2010 took place 15-18 July, Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk.