Sacred Festival 2008

Review in Issue 20-3 | Autumn 2008

This year's Sacred festival was a unique exploration of what live art-within-theatre can be. Most of the artists in this season put the audience at the heart of performance; rather than just sitting watching, we were directly participating and to varying extents, shaping the shows.

My day started with Gustavo Ciríaco & Andrea Sonnberger's Here Whilst We Walk, which took nine people, contained and silent within a large white band of thick 'knicker elastic' out onto the surrounding streets of World's End, Chelsea. As a kind of morphing human sculpture, we became an event. In this highlighted way, I also began to notice more things: gardens blooming, tea bags thrown out at the back of cafe kitchens, birds singing from tree tops. I felt like an infant in safe hands, all-eyes as we wordlessly perambulated along streets and through parks, past shop fronts and houses, halting traffic and crossing roads and bridges. We are finally released from the elastic binding down by the Thames, then given colourful paper kites to fly freely in the riverside breeze, bright against the nearby grey towerblocks.

Hurrying back across the river to the foyer of Chelsea Theatre I happily sat down to a cup of tea at Rajni Shah's Small Gifts: tea. Here Rajni sat in silent meditation for one hour whilst in her presence whoever wished to sit with her had a cup of tea. A handwritten letter was passed around explaining her thoughts on the notion of ‘gifting'. At a given time, Rajni opened her eyes and engaged with those around her table. We spoke about the idea of the gift and how we usually think of a gift as an object that is given, yet it can be a smile, or an action or some thoughts; a gift is an act of sharing, a means of communication, and somehow a gift helps us feel less lonely. I had thoughts of the idea of a 'present’, relating to 'being present’ and giving 'presence'. Rajni's work induced in me a welcome quiet contemplation.

I was next off onto Dr Roberts' Magic Bus (set on a London routemaster bus parked outside) and Miss High Leg Kick's Fashion Bus. With the central area of the bus as a close-up catwalk, the captive audience were taken on a whirlwind tour of London fashion from the streets – bright, fast moving, and completely engaging.

The hit of the day for me was Chris Dobrowolski's Landscape Seascape Skyscape Escape (also on the Magic Bus). Chris gave us a performance-presentation about his early artistic career making fantastical inventions. The vivid description of what was made when, why and how was then illustrated by seeing it in action on super-8 film. There was the hovercraft made from salvaged plastic bottles and polythene drums, the tank made from Chris' dad's lawnmowers, and finally an aeroplane made to plan from a Flying Flea manual – all of these rickety creations actually worked! When I saw the flickering footage of Chris's Flying Flea actually take off from a grassy runway, it brought tears to my eyes. Fantastic – what a dreamer, what an inventor, what an artist!

Last on my day's schedule was Lois Weaver's What Tammy Needs To Know...About Getting Old and Having Sex. This was the first time I had set foot in the actual theatre space all day. Using a TV chat-show format, Lois's country singer alter-ego Tammy Whynot invites a dialogue on sexual fantasies and sexual health in the older woman. I was moved by the participation of an East London older women's group who spoke honestly about what sex (or lack of) meant to them: one, a widow of 36 years, said she sang when she felt the loneliness, giving us a heartfelt rendition of Ebony and Ivory. Another lady who'd lived eight decades told how she enjoyed tea dances for the companionship, ably demonstrating a raunchy jive.

All-in-all, I had an exhilarating and uplifting day. Sacred was a box of delights for the eyes, mind and heart.

Presenting Festival
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. May 2008

This article in the magazine

Issue 20-3
p. 33