Talk­ing fes­ti­val with Bradley Hem­mings

There’s plenty to en­ter­tain all ages at this year’s Green­wich And Dock­lands In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val, with ex­cit­ing, im­mer­sive theatre at its core, says artis­tic di­rec­tor Bradley Hem­mings

The Wharf - - Canary Wharf - Jon Massey Go to fes­ti­val.org for full list­ings and more in­for­ma­tion or fol­low @GDIFes­ti­val on Twit­ter

Apho­to­lu­mi­nes­cent cel­e­bra­tion of Win­drush, danc­ing ta­ble tennis, an un­fold­ing ship­ping con­tainer, 1,500 spe­cially trained pi­geons and 100 years of fe­male suf­frage.

These are some of the di­verse ingredients Bradley Hem­mings has drawn to­gether for his 23rd Green­wich And Dock­lands In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val (GDIF).

Con­stantly driven to im­prove and de­velop the an­nual clus­ter of per­for­mances, he’s been artis­tic di­rec­tor since its in­cep­tion and it’s a role he clearly rel­ishes.

“I think the au­di­ence is hun­gry for the sort of im­mer­sive out­door theatre our fes­ti­val pro­vides in Lon­don,” he said.

“In 1996, I had been work­ing in Green­wich and saw the op­por­tu­nity of cre­at­ing a cross-river fes­ti­val.

“At that time, we didn’t have the DLR links, the Ju­bilee line or the Emi­rates Air Line – the only way you could go back and forth was a through the Green­wich foot tun­nel or via the Black­wall Tun­nel.

“It was the last year of the Lon­don Dock­lands De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion and they par­tic­i­pated – that’s how the fes­ti­val was born.

“Peo­ple on the two sides of the Thames did not con­nect with each other be­fore – it’s a very dif­fer­ent world now.

“The fes­ti­val is al­ways rein­vent­ing it­self, do­ing new things, find­ing new lo­ca­tions as well as some of the tried and tested and fa­mil­iar spa­ces that are used. It keeps it­self young.

“Ev­ery year we get more am­bi­tious and more peo­ple at­tend.”

Open­ing and clos­ing

“We have two ma­jor pro­duc­tions in an area that we have worked in be­fore but not so ex­ten­sively – that is Thames­mead,” said Bradley.

“It is right on the edge of the south east cor­ner of Lon­don and is cel­e­brat­ing its 50th an­niver­sary in 2018.

“Mem­o­rably, it was used as a lo­ca­tion for the film adap­ta­tion of

A Clock­work Or­ange, but it was also the in­spi­ra­tion for Jonathan Har­vey’s play Beau­ti­ful Thing, which was writ­ten 25 years ago and will be per­formed there to close the fes­ti­val (9.45pm, July 3-7). I am very ex­cited about that.”

Equally thrilling for the 57-year-old is the events’ other book­end, also in Thames­mead and a UK pre­miere.

At 9.15pm, daily from June 21-23, Amer­i­can artist Duke Ri­ley will per­form Fly By Night.

“He has been work­ing for the last month to train 1,500 pi­geons,” said Bradley. “They are each fit­ted with an LED light that goes onto their foot – it is a project re­flect­ing on the First World War and the way in which birds were used as part of the whole re­con­nais­sance and com­mu­ni­ca­tion ef­fort.

“At night, the pi­geons will fly and the LED colours will come on and that should make for an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence – new and very un­usual. It’s a first. “It re­ally will be quite some­thing. “We re­ally try to make our fes­ti­val con­nect with the peo­ple and places that make this area so unique.

“Thames­mead has been a place that is try­ing to find it­self for a while and there is a real breath of fresh air there.

“There is a real feel­ing of trans­for­ma­tion and these events are all part of cel­e­brat­ing that.

“We see the fes­ti­val as some­thing that could work hand-in-hand with lo­cal peo­ple, the pri­vate sec­tor and lo­cal author­i­ties to cre­ate and build places that peo­ple care about.

“When Cross­rail comes to Abbey Wood, that’s go­ing to change ev­ery­thing.”

Mak­ing places

Key for Bradley is that GDIF should make its venues more “con­vivial” places, help­ing to fos­ter a sense of com­mu­nity.

“There are al­ways lovely, smallscale dance per­for­mances,” he said. “Since 2002 we have run the UK’s main out­door dance per­for­mance – for one day each year – all the pub­lic spa­ces and pi­az­zas of Ca­nary Wharf are taken over for Danc­ing City (June 30).

“We have an amaz­ing pro­duc­tion called Origami, which will take place at Ca­nary River­side (June 28-29, var­i­ous times and lo­ca­tions), which will see a large ship­ping con­tainer un­pack.

“It is cre­ated like a piece of origami and will un­fold in sec­tions. The dancer ap­pears from within it.

“An­other, Dou­bles, (June 30, Wren Land­ing, Ca­nary Wharf, from 1.45pm) has been cre­ated with a young chore­og­ra­pher called Joe Gar­bett.

“It is a piece of con­tem­po­rary dance, very play­ful and all played around a ta­ble tennis ta­ble – that’s one I’m par­tic­u­larly look­ing for­ward to see­ing.”

Full marks

In ad­di­tion to the friv­o­lous and play­ful, many of the per­for­mances seek a deeper res­o­nance.

Bradley said: “Here in Green­wich we have a high-wire walk at the Old Royal Naval Col­lege on free­stand­ing tow­ers be­tween the two cupo­las.

“Un­daunted (June 22, 7.30pm) marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion Of The Peo­ple Act, which gave some women the vote in Bri­tain for the first time.

“That’s with Phoebe Bul­lzini, who is the only woman in the coun­try who does high-wire walk­ing and it re­ally will be a dra­matic sight.

“Af­ter that (8pm, Cutty Sark Gar­dens), we will be re­flect­ing on the 70th an­niver­sary to the day of the Em­pire Win­drush land­ing at Tilbury, which has been a great deal in the news lately.

“We have been work­ing with play­wright Roy Wil­liams, who has been in­ter­view­ing peo­ple of Caribbean heritage and hear­ing their sto­ries.

“He will be cre­at­ing a sound­scape for Win­drush: 492, which will be play­ing as the names of the 492 pas­sen­gers on the ship are writ­ten in pho­to­lu­mi­nes­cent pow­der on the ground.

‘‘ Peo­ple on the two sides of the Thames didn’t con­nect with each other be­fore Bradley Hem­mings, GDIF

“It will be an ephemeral mon­u­ment to that mo­ment when post-war Bri­tain changed.”

Quick stop

With such a range of per­for­mances sched­uled, Bradley was keen to stress prospec­tive spec­ta­tors need not worry too much about a lengthy in­vest­ment in be­com­ing au­di­ence mem­bers. He urged peo­ple to spend what time they could.

“I think one of the great things about the fes­ti­val is that it is very in­for­mal – it’s all about the things we like to see as the sun comes out, the con­vivi­al­ity of pub­lic spa­ces,” he said.

“Peo­ple can grab some­thing for lunch and see a per­for­mance in that kind of mode. You don’t have to make a mas­sive com­mit­ment – you could come all the way to Thames­mead to see the pi­geons and you won’t be dis­ap­pointed, but you can equally pop down and see some­thing for 15 min­utes and that’s just as good.

“It’s some­thing you will never see at any other time of the year.

“It’s all in­cred­i­bly sur­pris­ing, very In­sta­grammable and some­thing that you will want to share with your friends.”

GDIF runs from June 21 un­til July 7 across Dock­lands and is free to at­tend.

Bradley Hem­mings

Origami and Dou­bles (in­set) are just two of the shows tak­ing place dur­ing the fes­ti­val

Fly By Night will be per­formed in Thames­mead and fea­tures 1,500 pi­geons

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