Festival Preview: Latitude 2008

The festival season is now in full swing.

There’s barely a summer weekend these days that isn’t home to at least one gathering of folks in a field.

One of the newest additions to the scene is the Latitude Festival, which takes place in Henham Park, Southwold from 17th – 20th July.
While most festivals now acknowledge that punters may, at times, want a break from the bands; that, at some point over the course of the weekend, they may want to scratch a different cultural itch, the emphasis that Latitude places on theatre, comedy and literature is unique.

From a theatregoer’s perspective, Latitude is particularly appealing. The festival, working in partnership with east London’s Arcola, has its own dedicated Theatre Arena (with a similarly eco-friendly ethos). A number of major companies and venues will be represented this year including the National, RSC, Royal Court and the Bush and an eclectic programme of shows and events is planned, featuring a number of specially commissioned pieces.

The Royal Court’s offering is not among these but it is no less exciting, giving festival goers another chance to see Mark Ravenhill’s ambitious cycle of short plays Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat. This series of 20 minute plays has already been seen at 2007’s Edinburgh Festival, under the banner of Ravenhill For Breakfast, before being staged again at various locations around London in April this year. One of the year’s major theatrical events, they will certainly be worth catching.

The Bush Theatre are presenting 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, a show created especially for this year’s Latitude Festival. Inspired by true break up stories contributed by its audience, it is the work of five of the Bush’s best young writers: Leah Chillery, Ben Ellis, Stacey Gregg, Lucy Kirkwood (whose Tinderbox has just finished its run at the Bush) and Ben Schiffer.

The National Theatre will be bringing a play chosen from their New Connections project. Fugee is the work of the award winning playwright Abi Morgan; it tells the story of a group of young refugees struggling to adjust to life in the UK.

The Royal Shakespeare Company will be staging a selection of specially commissioned mini epics. This series of five minute works, each written by a different writer including Antony Neilson, the man behind The Wonderful World Of Dissocia will grapple with all the essential Shakespearean themes: love, war, heartbreak, mistaken identities, ghosts and shipwrecks.

In the past two years theatre company Nabokov has commissioned several new plays for Latitude from writers including Mike Bartlett, Joel Horwood, Duncan Macmillan and Jack Thorne. This year, in conjunction with Paines Plough, they will be presenting Che Walker’s Crazy Love is a 50 minute play set at a wedding reception and will star Phoebe Whyte as a posh Notting Hill bride. Battersea’s Theatre503 will also be staging work at the festival, including Up The Gary, the poignant story of a Gary Glitter impersonator, an exercise in ‘karaoke theatre.’

The Lyric Hammersmith will also be represented at this year’s Latitude. They will be staging Cartoon de Salvo’s exciting exercise in ‘long form’ improvisation, Hard Hearted Hannah And Other Stories as well as a series of Latitude Lyric Firsts, designed to showcase the work of new writers and artists. The Pleasance will also have a presence at the festival staging a number of shows including the work of the Factory, whose improvised take on Hamlet has been performed at various unusual London venues. These weekly performances have gained a considerable reputation, via word-of-mouth mainly, as inventive, exhilarating theatre; and, as is the case with their London performances, festival audiences will be invited to bring their own props – which the actors will then incorporate into the show.

The festival will also play host to Durang, Durang, seven darkly amusing short plays by the American playwright Christopher Durang, including 1-900-Desperate and Naomi in the Living Room, all of which have rarely been performed outside of the US. Durang’s previous work includes the Tony-nominated A History of the American Film. Ken Campbell will be bringing his School Of Night to Latitude. Inspired by Walter Raleigh’s School Of Night, a ‘clandestine sect of artists, thinkers, writers, scientists and spies’, the performances will mix Campbell’s surreal monologues with improvised scenes performed by a highly skilled team.

Other work on the bill includes the dubiously titled I’m A Minger, a journey through the mind of a 15-year old girl written and performed by Alex Jones; Out Of Your Knowledge, a piece about the poet John Claire staged by new writing troupe Menagerie in a secluded woodland setting and a sketch show by comedy group Fat Tongue.

There is more: work from companies including, Birds Of Britain (a show called We Are Joni Mitchell), Dirty Protest and new writing collective DryWrite, not to mention the Arcola’s own Minituarists, their regular writer-led event dedicated to bringing new writing talent to larger audiences via short plays, each piece no longer than fifteen minutes.

All this and I’ve not included the numerous comedy and dance events (Sadler’s Wells will be staging work on Henham Park lake) that pepper the festival. Latitude is now more Edinburgh than Reading in its leaning with a dash of Hay thrown in for good measure: there is so much more to it than music. You can check out Death Cab For Cutie on the main stage before attending a reading by Ian Banks in the Literary Arena and investigating Luke Wright in the poetry tent (something musicOMH recommends you do). This is only the festival’s third year but it has already carved out a reputation for itself for its admirable eclecticism and this year looks set to push things even further than before.

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