Latitude 2009

<strong>Gareth K Vile</strong> shows his age once again: rather than going to a festival for drugs and relentless partying, he can't wait to see the opera.

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 26 Jun 2009

Most festivals are for music. Great bands, all night dancing and terrible toilet facilities: could anything be further from the gentle world of theatre? Admittedly, there is crossover between the sort of performance that thrives in Glasgow and more experimental musicians, but even Glastonbury is more likely to showcase hard house than ballet and opera.

Latitude rectifies this tragic oversight. “I'm interested in the fusion of a theatre festival with a music event. Latitude is the only festival I can think of where the two forms are given equal weight,” clarifies Rebel Cell, performing in the Theatre Arena. “I think there is a huge appetite for a festival that isn't simply about getting off your face and sitting in a field. The theatre presence at Latitude makes the whole festival feel more front-footed.”

Rebel Cell is a political satire: half hip-hop poetry and half old school agit-prop theatre. For writer-performers Dizraeli and Baba Brinkman, Latitude is an obvious venue: they are situated between rap and drama, borrowing from script and slam to take on a future totalitarian state. Yet Latitude offers space to more ‘traditional’ pleasures.

There are three stages for performance fans: the Cabaret and Theatre Arenas and the On The Waterfront Space. Major players – the RSC, The Bush Theatre – rub shoulders with familiar names from burlesque and comedy, many of whom have a connection with a certain event north of the border.

Emma Bettridge, the programme Coordinator of the Pleasance is offering anyone who can’t make it to Edinburgh this August a special preview. “We have four spanking picks from the Edinburgh Fringe under the heading Pick of the Pleasance. It really is the cream of the crop – from a middle aged lady playing you a concert from her living room, to an ice dance performed on the only stage left; a wooden one.” And On the Waterfront, Sadler’s Wells, one of the few English venues that can compete with our Scottish dance programming, offers, amongst a sparkling triple-bill, a new work from Hofest Schechter.

Schechter has enlivened Scottish Dance Theatre’s repetoire and has a reputation for choreographing modern dance that refuses to sell soul for style. On the same stage, the Royal Opera House presents ROH2 – contemporary opera that parallels Scottish Opera’s Five:Fifteen series by attempting to develop new voices and new ideas in this most traditional of western arts.

As producer Emma Gladstone observes, Sadler's Wells was a surprise success at last year's Latitude. "We had over two thousand people watching ballet at one point. It's good to get out of the theatre, and reach audiences that we wouldn't usually reach, catch people walking by and show the range of work we present." This year, they are offering Schechter alongside b-boys and the pas de deux from Swan Lake – set against the backdrop of the festival's own real lake.

In the gap between comedy and contemporary dance, arrive The New Art Club Art. “We're going to bring our particular brand of intelligent, philosophical, physical, silly comedy and dancing.” New Art Club have kicked up a storm at The Arches’ Behaviour Festival and The Fringe in the past year, affectionally mocking the excesses of experimental dance. “Our new show will be fairly new and raw so people can expect some moments of revelation and some improvising,” they admit. “We have planned to do our show for the people gathered. We think that's pretty special.”

The Bush, a London theatre renowned for supporting new writers, brings the appropriate Sudden Loss of Dignity. Inspired by stories from audience members, the play sets the company's authors to work on secret tales of shame and disaster. Promising to redeem shocking stories of failure and shit-faced phonecalls, it follows up audience-based success Fifty Ways to Leave your Lover.

Pippa Evans, who offers "a good old knees up and old fashioned entertainment" in the Cabaret Arena admits,  "I liked the quote last year: if Radio 4 were to do a festival, this would be it." This conjures up a polite image, a festival for families who find Glastonbury a bit rough. It might capture the diversity and intelligence of the programming, but  ignores the intensity and adventure of the performance stages. Latitude draws the connection between rock'n'roll and theatre.

16 – 19 Jul, Henham Park Estate, Southwold, Suffolk