MILTON KEYNES INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL
Clunk 24 July 11am, 1.30pm, 3.15pm.
25 July 11am, 1.30pm, 2.45pm.
The Iron Man 24 July 12.45pm, 3.45pm.
25 July 12.15pm, 3.15pm.
The Man Who Planted Trees 24 July 11.30am, 2pm.
TICKETS: 01908 280800.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 July.
Plenty for all ages.
Every two years – close enough to look forward to, far enough apart to maintain a feeling of the non-routine – Milton Keynes hosts its own Festival. Links with The Stables, the music (and occasional theatre) venue at Wavendon established years ago by the Dankworths (the late jazz-player John and his singer-wife Cleo Laine) ensure the musical component, but there’s theatre and a sense of the fair about attractions like Insect Museum, or the Labyrinth of Compañía Itinerània. Many events are open-air, many are free and a lot in the daytime have a family focus.
It’s popular without being populist. Everything – including the pizzas and coffee – is high quality without being exorbitant in price. And in a spell of bright weather, this year’s waterside setting by Willen Lake is near-ideal – only the heat of a bright afternoon sun might seem excessive, but that’s beyond control.
There are events in Central Milton Keynes too; the pattern is largely for short pieces, between 20 minute and an hour, with a lot of repeat performances within a day, and over several days. There’s plenty of chance to try unticketed events, like Clunk, in which Peut-être and Dante or Die give a wrap-around audience of young people the chance to help build a new song.
Three performers start things off, before one decides he wants to try a new song. There’s a comic build-up, with the young audience encouraged to make clear there are already songs about the subjects he chooses. Then they’re encouraged to suggest subjects for him, before helping with components – rhythm, bass-line, melody and associated movements, and joining-in with percussion instruments to form a kind of conga round the space.
If it had started on time and not over-run I might also have seen Graeae’s Ted Hughes adaptation The Iron Man performed in the open-air Mini Bowl. Complete with sign language it looked from what I saw to be a visually strong piece.
Among ticketed events is the near-perennial, The Man Who Planted Trees in that elegant peripatetic arena The Spiegeltent. This hour-long show mixes giggles ad poetry. After a humorous opening conversation, in relaxed manner, between its human performers and a puppet dog, which shows all the propensity of a puppet to disrupt the calm flow of human conversation, matters move to the story of Elzeard Bouffier (the puppet human here).
Bouffier lived in France, though no-one would know were it not for Jean Giono’s book about him. A traveller thirsty in an arid French landscape comes across him and is given water from a well. Bouffier explains he is planting thousands of trees. And, over the years before and after the First World War, he creates a forest that nourishes the once-dry landscape.
Repeated visits show him living into very old-age. His wisdom about the landscape and vegetation is agronomically valuable and is made highly entertaining by having its quiet authority broken by a couple of opportunities to experience the scents of lavender and mint, wafted round the space, and a light drizzle of mist and rain – welcome on a hot day.
And by the dog, who has become an actor, playing Elzeard’s talking accompaniment, asking questions, giving information with condescending comedy, creating humour with his noisy nocturnal ways, or enthusiasm for having a stick thrown for him – though even that becomes touching as age advances.
Though the awkward years between enjoying puppetry as a child and as an adult might not always latch onto such a show, for all other ages this is a skilled, wryly amusing and informative delight.
And there’s plenty more around for, the in-between years and for all, at this lively, colourful International Festival, which continues till Sunday 27 July.