Theatre roundup by Alice Booth
Well this year’s Latitude festival was a stellar year for theatre. I didn’t have to sit through any total turkeys, and there were a lot of truly excellent offerings both in terms of full length plays and the smaller bits and pieces on the poetry, literature and other stages.
Some top things that I happened across were:
Jonny and the Baptists
This was hilarious and political songs from Jonny (Every Brilliant Thing) and his friend on guitar. Rants against UKIP and Brexit galore, as well as something I have never heard discussed onstage – the fact gay men are forbidden to give blood due to absurd, stigmatising and out of date policies.
She is a fabulous poet who puts a lot of her work on YouTube. I particularly liked her for her poem about the mathematics of bigotry, and hoped for more political offerings from her Latitude set. This was not forthcoming, but instead I very much enjoyed her extremely honest reflections on motherhood and childbirth (despite not being a parent myself.)
The Red Shed
Mark Thomas’ new piece is a homage to an old Labour club in Wakefield. Not the most obvious subject for a piece of theatre perhaps, but his energised storytelling and fascinating tales of the miners strike of 84/85 is fascinating. He is political and motivating, and faced with the darkness that is the current landscape of politics, the tales of resistance and ‘solidarity forever’ are deeply moving, and need to act as a call to arms once again.
The Bucket List – Theatre Ad Infinitum
This was a slightly hysterical but well performed piece about the crimes committed against Mexicans as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has allowed US firms to build polluting factories in Mexico, at the horrific expense of the local population’s health. The company use physical theatre and music to tell the story of a young girl riddled with cancer, working her way through a ‘bucket list’ of death, right the way to the US president.
A very likeable and frank comedian, Sara Pascoe was a delight to watch, with her self-deprecating tales of, as a teenager, allowing her friend to suck off men for drugs which she then shared. She also exposed her lacklustre sex life with her boyfriend for all to see, and thoroughly endeared herself to everyone in the vast comedy tent.
I hope that these high quality theatrical offerings are here to stay, and the horrific rumour that 90% of the arts budget is being redirected to pay for big-name acts on the main stages. It would be a sad Latitude experience indeed if I actually had to watch any music!
Music roundup by Tom Beesley
Overall, I still really like Latitude.
I think this year I felt the presence of the fabled middle-class, middle-aged elements a little more strongly. The solipsism that so often comes with privilege can indeed sour a crowd, and I thought I perceived a sense of frustration from some performers concerning the apparent passivity of the audiences.
That said, I also experienced true highs, and I believe that, despite some admittedly unsavoury types, most people here are fundamentally happy and well-intentioned. And the venue remains truly stunning; a fairytale playground of skill and playfulness.
Superficially the line-up was about as dire as any I’ve seen, but the paucity of what I would think of as interesting headliners only matters if there isn’t strong counter-programming. Aside from scheduling Black Mountain on Sunday night at the same time as New Order, I saw precious little consideration of what a punter is supposed to do if he/she doesn’t want to watch some bland headliner. I was left with little to do during peak times.
That said, there was, as always, real quality here for those willing to seek it out. I don’t know who scheduled the Sunrise Arena, but I want them to be my friend! And the Alcove presented a pretty thoughtful selection.
Some bands, whilst fantastic in and of themselves, just don’t belong here, and struggle to find an audience they can resonate with. Protomartyr were a good example of this for me. Whilst others (Daughter, Steve Mason) fit like a glove.
Overall I feel like Latitude is a little bit schizoid, and could use a more cohesive vision. This needs to come from the headliners who are, after all, the first thing one sees on the advert. Be a bit bolder and braver Latitude!
Anyway, here are the bands I saw who didn’t quite get fleshed out into full reviews, but who were interesting nonetheless:
Flamingods at the Sunrise Arena:
Ok, never heard of them. But I like their name, and they describe themselves as international multi-instrumentalists from Bahrain. Fun!
Most of the six-piece band move around the stage swapping instruments between the songs. Except sometimes. Like the third track, when the saxophonist has a crafty spliff instead. I liked that bit. He’s got smashing hair, but saxophones are ever so eighties. In a bad way.
Secondary-school-level psychedelia swirls on the screen behind them. I can’t say why, though it sort of fits the vibe.
It’s all quite noisy, and sometimes hard to really hear what’s going on. Not all the lyrics seem to be words. I feel like I should really love this, but it all feels a bit unfocused somehow.
“…our set is a bit all over the place today… we like to play a lot of different styles…”
Yeah, that makes sense. Every band member looks like he’s from a different country, and every song sounds like it’s from several eras and genres all at once. How very Latitude!
It sounds like a mess to me, but it’s a nice, fun, well-meaning mess. There’re lots of smiles on-stage and off, they just about got us all dancing, and they look great.
Pumarosa at the Sunrise Arena:
I feel inappropriately paternal towards this band, having raved over their set at The Great Escape, and insisted that they’re headed for the big time.
I still think that, if anything with more certainty. I forget what I wrote before, but this morning I’m going to say: Cocteau Twins mixed with PJ Harvey, but with a splash of something electronic like Orbital [Edit: That’s pretty much exactly what I said before. I must agree with me!].
Each track starts out as simply a great pop song, but then builds to a satisfying crescendo, following the pattern of electronica or dance music. This is all carried by some very technical musicianship. Priestess remains a power-punch of positive pop perfection.
Isabel Munoz-Newsome is a brilliant frontwoman, all confidence, smiles, serpentine dancing and ethereal vocals. Not a bad rhythm guitarist either.
Hands in the air people, and get to bouncing! Pumarosa are a pre-mixed cocktail of success just waiting for the world to spot them. I’m pretty sure it will.
Frightened Rabbit at the 6Music Stage:
Earlier today, I took a wander and found a sizable crowd gathered in an unassuming corner (the DIY Den). Turned out they were there with good reason, transfixed on Scott Hutchison’s confident, jangly acoustic guitar.
So entranced was I that, despite not being very familiar with (or enamoured by) their material, I decided to change my plans and watch Frightened Rabbit this evening.
Well, as someone familiar with my tastes, it’s no surprise to me that I preferred the acoustic set. That’s not to say that there’s nothing to like here, but I think I’ll wait for the unplugged album. Hope that really is a thing!
Holly Macve at the Sunrise Arena:
I’m sitting on the fermenting grass of the Sunrise Arena writing when Holly Macve silently and unassumingly finishes her soundcheck, and the soundtrack to a particularly heartbreaking episode of Deadwood floats across our heads.
Macve does that country yodelling thing that Dolly Parton does so well. Somehow though, while I could tolerate it when Beth Orton did it, I’m not in the mood today. If you think you might be, and you want to support the recently-revitalised Bella Union, check her out.
Cloves at the Sunrise Arena:
A small amount of cloves makes anything taste like Christmas. Too many will make you numb. Clove oil is still used as an anaesthetic, and works jolly well for toothache.
If you could sing, but couldn’t decide who you loved more between Adele and Amy Winehouse, you’d sound like Cloves. If you think that sounds nice, and you’ve always thought that Adele could use some more guitar, you should check out Cloves.
Tired Lion at The Alcove:
I’m 37, and that means two things:
- 5pm is my sleepy-time, but Tired Lion kept me awake and dancing happily, despite my poor aching feet.
- Like a child sick of winter, but who can’t wait for Christmas, I’m nauseously tired of the eighties revival and aware that maths says that the nineties must be coming back soon. This felt like opening the final door on the nineties-are-coming-advent-calendar.
Like Smashing Pumpkins meets Hole (you have absolutely no idea how much pleasure it gives me to write that!), Tired Lion told me that the dark times really will end and a new dawn will soon be here.