Latitude Festival 2008: The Theatre and Comedy Stuff

Latitude Festival is more than just a music festival.

We know thisbecause, mantra like, it is repeated on posters, flyers and 8 (?!)hardback programmes, just above the ‘sponsored by Pimms’ logo.

Yes,Suffolk’s premium arts festival masquerades as ’boutique’. But, with music, film and arts spread overthree days, this is a little like Glastonbury with a sixth of thepeople, no three-mile walks to find the herbal healing teepee, andmore theatre and comedy than you can shake a (Pimms sponsored) stickat.
Spread across 10 stages, Latitude have taken the fringe arts veryseriously here. Punters bored of music need only shuffle a few yardsto see something really interesting, whether it’s a beat poet, famousauthor or a woman dangling from a tree from meathooks (more of thatlater).

The most continually entertaining, and certainly longest-running,is comedian Robin Ince‘s no-sleep-till-Monday Book Club.Known for shows that can go on for as long as man continues to drawbreath, Ince clearly relishes his three-day near-residency as themainstay of the Literary Arena. As ever the Club features Ince’sbitingly sardonic recitals of excerpts from terrible fiction(“Crabs!”), interspersed with the usual cavalcade of charminglyoffbeat variety acts.

Early highlights include Philip Jeays‘Brel-tinged melodramic chansons; Waen Shepherd‘s hilariouslydark portrayal of an acid-fried Brian Wilson clone (“I DigDiggers!”); and Martin White‘s witty and whimsicalaccordion-led Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra.

More established figuresof comedy and writing pop in and out – Guardian scribe JonRonson brings his slightly unnerving accent to bear on a 70smanual on how to seduce underage girls, and more worryingly, allowshis 10-year old son to headline the tent three nights on the trotplaying abortive Nirvana covers.

Other highlights – there are many – include bitingly sardoniccomedian Stewart Lee describing the festival as “Mean Fiddler’sanswer to Stoke Newington. Diligently constructed to make middle classpeople feel countercultural” and remarkably filthy West Country girlBridget Christie comparing Jesus to a dog. As you do. We couldgo on, but our editors will kill us. Needless to say, backstage at theLiterary tent was the best party we couldn’t get into, even with presswristbands.

Meanwhile, over at the Theatre Tent (a meticulously constructed,er, tent with some benches in) backlash theatre company Nabokovcaptures the passionately independent feel of the festival as a wholewith John Donnelly’s Corporate Rock, a caustic take on an adagency’s ruthless manipulation and destruction of a young rock star.This is raw, bleeding satire: the ad men rapaciously unearthing andgobbling up coolness to sell a mysteriously unnamed product.

Unsurprisingly for a play set in an ad agency boardroom, it’s possiblythe sweariest piece of theatre ever performed. Little light relieffollowed from uber-trendy theatre the Royal Court’s performances ofMark Ravenhill’s epic cycle Shoot /Get Treasure/Repeat. “Washyour vagina!” one actor cries. “You’re a cunt!” shouts another.Stewards look worried. Middle-class parents cover their children’sears and march them out in their droves, muttering apologies fortreading on toes “but it’s just not suitable, you know.” Excellentfamily entertainment.

One of the festival’s most enduring problems is that, after a rapiddoubling of tickets after the first year’s successes, it becomesimpossible to get anywhere near an act in a smaller tent unless you’vecamped out for three hours before. This isn’t helped by fans’insistence on sitting down at any given moment, meaning that while 400people get to see Bill Bailey in the Comedy Tent in completecomfort, the 2,000 outside the tent have to make do with half heardwords carried on the breeze.

From what we can hear, Bailey is good butnot near his own sky-high standards – relying on Wurzels gags which,despite being better than 90% of comedians working today, seem alittle tame. Tame can’t be used to describe acerbic American RichHall, whose drunken ramblings are punctuated with actual bodilythreats against hecklers and a man who has the temerity to leavehalfway through. It’s hilarious, and just as he is about to be draggedoffstage, his closing gambit “As an American, I’d just like to say howsorry I am for everything” provokes an ovation – of sorts.

Simon Evans is the comedian that Jimmy Carr should be. What,buried up to his head in concrete, I hear you ask? No, it’s more thathe adopts a similarly cold, cruel Middle England persona (taking a popat the working class, the homeless, the unemployed, teenagers) but -crucially – is funny with it. It’s probably because his persona -squinty eyes, Reggie Perrin voice, schoolmasterly bearing – is soludicrously anachronistic that he gets away with it.


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