by Alex Bulmer.
St Alfege Church Greenwich SE10 To 27 June 2010.
Review: Carole Woddis 24 June.
The air is full of wondrous things.
Not content with making sure their theatre is accessible to everyone, Graeae, the country’s leading disability company have now taken to the skies. Last year, the company joined forces with the amazing Australian performance group, Strange Fruit, to present a water-themed outdoor spectactular Against the Tide (to be seen again later this month in the South Bank’s Watch This Space summer programme).
As the name implies, this year’s sequel, The Garden, takes Earth as its keynote (eventually all four elements will be covered). Commissioned by Greenwich & Docklands International Festival together with the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, The Garden, staged in the park adjacent to the Greenwich church of St Alfege, sees the public invited to participate in what initially feels like a dirge but ends on a note of peaceful resolution.
Inspired apparently in part by William Blake, in part by the immediate churchyard surroundings, a sombre musical prologue and reading out of names of people recently deceased – including the late playwright, Noel Greig – introduces us to the idea of being in the presence of restless spirits. “Come, come, lay your tired eyes, set your mind at rest,” sings the band.
Three parables follow, spoken with great feeling by Graeae regular, Caroline Parker. But what makes them special is Strange Fruit. Hanging on top of extended poles, they sway, swoop, dive and tumble – strange spectres from another world, at once Guardians and Keepers but also unpredictable.
The aim is clearly an honouring of the dead but also transformational and environmental. A young bride learns to respect herself instead of awaiting the arrival of a young man to make her happy. A boy who steals flowers learns to grow them. “A Keeper you will be eternally,” declares Parker. Finally a third performer tells the story of how a young girl surrounded by water found dry land.
It’s Signed and Audio-described, and so accessible to all. Graeae’s artistic director Jenny Sealey has a fine eye for the dramatic. She has driven the company to new heights. They are already an inspiration; now they just need to concentrate on strengthening their narrative forms.
The Bride: Levinia Fenton.
The Boy: Gibson Grimly.
The Displaced Man: Jose Manuel Fricachee.
With: Nami Hall, Kathryn Jamieson, David Ellington, Caroline Parker, Daryl Beeton, Chisato Minamimura, Milton Lopes
Musicans Lewis Gibson, Katarzyna Kuchnicka, Rachel Musson, Desmond Neysmith
Directors: Jenny Sealey, Grant Mouldey.
Designer/ Artist Sofie Layton.
Sound/Composer: Lewis Gibson.
Set elements and educational making led by Sofie Layton & Asako Hirokawa with the young people from Lister, Oak Lodge, Charlton Park and James Wolfe schools. Additional soundscape created by Linden Lodge School with Rachel Bagshaw and Simon Russell.
The Garden is commissioned as part of Unlimited, the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad programme, from an original idea by GDIF.