Lisa Wolfe attends Caravan, a biennial showcase that introduces England’s brightest independent theatre artists to festival organisers from around the world.
In his welcoming address to Caravan 2018, Gavin Stride, director of host organisation Farnham Maltings, described the event not as a showcase, but as a conversation between ‘us’ (Caravan self-describes as ‘new English performance’) and the rest of the world. That conversation is getting harder to navigate as we move towards Brexit, but we will, he believes, be defined by the things we share, as that is how we express who we are.
The programme, held over four days in May, follows the Edinburgh British Council Showcase model of performances, a ‘marketplace’ of stalls hosted by artists, and pitch sessions. Caravan is a partnership with Brighton Festival (within which it is embedded) and supported by the British Council, whose programme managers, along with the Caravan team, liaise between delegates, artists and producers to further these conversations.
Work presented in this year’s showcase (as I’m afraid I am going to continue to call it, because great conversation aside, that is what it really is.) included the Total Theatre Award winning Palmyra, an investigation of the politics of destruction, made by the creators of Eurohouse, Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas; Milk Presents’s acclaimed Joan, performed by drag king champion Lucy Jane Parkinson; and Gobbledegook Theatre’s mesmeric outdoor arts piece Cloudscapes, which Total Theatre Magazine saw at Inside Out Dorset 2016.
Due to time restrictions, I could only experience a small sample of the programme – but that sample included Stopgap Dance Company’s The Enormous Room, a reflection on bereavement reviewed here; Third Angel and SBC Theatre’s durational installation The Journeys, reviewed here; and a smattering of the pitch sessions and presentations.
On Monday, I slipped into the Old Courtroom in time to hear Anna Beechar and Rachel Lincoln present a pitch for their show for babies, Nest, which was a great success at Brighton Festival 2017. In this rather adversarial setting, more suitable for a Ted talk than a ‘conversation’, the attention was firmly on the work and the artists and all the pitches were well received.
Jenny Sealey MBE has been ‘Shouting and Signing from the Sidelines’ (as her provocation on Tuesday afternoon was titled) for nearly three decades as the artistic director of Graeae, who describe themselves as ‘a force for change in world-class theatre, boldly placing D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage and challenging preconceptions.’ She talked passionately about loving difference, the importance of authenticity in casting, how accessibility needs to be artistically imbedded in the work and the lack of training for D/deaf and disabled artists in the UK. What most provoked her was that despite the huge gains achieved through, for example, the Paralympic Opening Ceremony (which she co-directed), and the strides being made by Arts Council England and others, she is still having to do daily battle to make diversity in all its senses understood. Her words all rang true to me from my work with Carousel’s learning disabled artists, who, if anything, have even higher mountain to climb in terms of visibility and viability as artists.
As for the marketplace, it was good to see Brighton artists Seth Kriebel and Rachel Henson in the mix alongside Edinburgh Showcase favourites such as Deborah Pearson, Blind Summit, Dante or Die, and the inevitable Richard DeDomenici.
There were a few shows programmed at Caravan that I’d seen previously, including Ursula Martinez’s Free Admission, about which I wrote: ‘She’s not one to do things by halves, so if there’s going to be a stage metaphor, it’s going to be a bloody great big one.’ Since making this show, she’s been baring her all with Adrienne Trustcott and Zoe Coombs Marr in Wild Bore, which divided critics but, when I saw it, held and entertained audiences. From the social media gossip around the Caravan performance, it seems Free Admission is having a similarly divisive impact amongst some who saw it.
I’ve followed Victoria Melody’s career for about ten years, seeing her change from visual artist to solo performer and now heading up a mid-scale show with a New Orleans style band and her dad in a giant barrel. Ugly Chief, which I saw at BAC last year, is hugely ambitious and risky – her dad, Mike Melody, whilst no stranger to performance (he’s a TV antiques pundit) is a liability on stage. The push and pull between them, and his staged demise, is often hilarious and frequently disarming.
Vic Llewellyn and Kid Carpet’s The Castle Maker is a lively battlecry for art in all its messy glory. I loved this show in Edinburgh Fringe last year, as did Dorothy Max Prior when she reviewed it.
When I asked an Italian delegate if she enjoyed The Castle Maker, she said yes, but it was ‘very English’. I think the same might be said of Ugly Chief, which if anything is more idiosyncratic – but both shows have universal themes: the democracy of art in one, the inevitability of death in the other.
It seemed an odd comment, too, given that Caravan is all about new English performance. Perhaps some national characteristics just can’t translate after all. It will be interesting to see which of this year’s showcase works make waves overseas.
Additional material by Dorothy Max Prior.
Featured image (top): Vic Llewellyn and Kid Carpet: The Castle Builder.
Caravan is delivered by Farnham Maltings with the ambition of increasing the national and international profile of England’s artists. This year’s programme took place 12–15 May 2018 as part of the Brighton Festival.