Thursday, 12 June 2014

Ignite Festival of Theatre 2014

The Ignite Festival
in Exeter is an explosion of theatre and performance which takes place across the centre of the city. Exeter’s main theatre has long since been pushed to the borderlands, stranded on the slopes of the university campus. The festival makes a virtue of using of a wide range of venues in the city proper (most, indeed, within the old Roman walls), from smaller theatres (the Bike Shed and The Cygnet) to basements and backrooms in pubs (The Hour Glass, The Rusty Bike and the City Gate). All are within easy reach of each other. The timings included within the programme encourage you to pack in as much as you can, dashing from one place to another.

The festival began on Monday with Coffee With Vera, which was served in the kitchen above the synagogue. Ruth Mitchell took on the persona of Vera, a composite of the women she’d talked to at the Plymouth synagogue, often at the coffee mornings they organised to raise funds. A jacket and hat, kept on a dresser’s dummy, were put on along with the Vera character, affecting an instant transformation from Ruth, who also explored her own history. She had discovered her Jewish roots, which had been unknown to her when she started out as an actress. She talked about her first major role having left acting school, playing a part in the 1987 film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit. Miriam Margolyes, taking in her name and her proudly prominent schnozz, had asked her if she were Jewish. She shyly responded that she was not. From then on, Margolyes cheerfully referred to her as Ruth Who Should Be Jewish. Both as Ruth and Vera, she unpacked an old suitcase and laid mementoes out on the table, building up an array which told the stories of her ancestors and of the Jews in Plymouth and Devon as a whole. The personal and the historical, as ever, intertwined, each aspect illuminating the other. It was a funny and touching performance, the cramped setting and the coffee meeting context lending it a real sense of intimacy. You really felt you were being addressed personally, and felt the sense of belonging which such small, isolated communities must offer. The cakes, some from recipes in a cook book written by Mandy Patinkin’s mother, were excellent, too. Afterwards, we were invited to look around the synagogue. Built in 1763, it is one of the hidden treasures of Exeter, only the unobtrusive road sign of the back alley it where it is tucked away hinting at its presence – Synagogue Place. We were given a wonderfully warm welcome and privileged to be shown the Torah Scrolls in the Ark, with their beautiful velvet wrappings and Georgian silverwork.

Rooted in the word - the tree of learning
A group of student actors from the University of St Mark and St John in Plymouth, The Actor’s Wheel, put on a bold version of Shakespeare’s magical play The Tempest at the Cygnet Theatre. It was staged with immense energy and imagination. The island set, with its tree growing from a strata of books, its promontories for commanding speeches and caves to crawl out from, was simple yet effective, and bathed in a suitably aquamarine light. The actors were coiled in sleep around the rocky outcrops as we filed in. They woke up as the play commenced, or as their cues came in, and retreated to their recumbent places when they withdrew. With smears of mud on their faces (Caliban’s whole face being covered with dirt), the impression was given that these were creatures which were extensions of the island itself, or (in the case of the shipwrecked sailors) intruders who were drawn into its enchanted topography. There was one isolated boulder towards the front of the stage space. When the lights dimmed down and the ambient music faded up, the boulder moved, stretched and stood up, and Prospero began his speech. Or rather her speech. This was a Tempest with a female Prospero, or Prospera, a commanding and convincing reinterpretation of the character. This was particularly so as regarded her relationship with Miranda, who became her daughter in this version. Other innovative touches included a triple Caliban, three people roped together, sharing the moaning dialogue of the pitiful beast, constantly circling, crawling and leaping atop one another; and a six-aspected Ariel, speech hocketed between the spaced out actors as if the spirit were flickering from place to place with inhuman instantaneity. The comic actors playing the drunken sailors intoxicated with dreams of regal power were very funny, and worked off each other well. This was a production which took a familiar work and really tried to produce something original from it. I was reminded of Derek Jarman’s film version, which was similarly respected the spirit of the play whilst setting out to make of it something rich and strange. The Actor’s Wheel affected a similar sea-change. This was their first performance as a company, and promises much for the future.

Dashing off to the Bike Shed, I then saw Threnody For the Sky Children, written and performed by Jack Dean. The title made it sound like a long lost prog rock concept album (not necessarily a bad thing), and the opening seemed to affirm this impression. A beak-masked figure advanced through dazzling light with bird-like movements, for all the world like Peter Gabriel in his Genesis pomp. But this initial guise was swiftly discarded, the lights dimmed to a less blinding radiance, and the mask cast aside with a shrug. A professed love of hip-hop soon put paid to any lingering prog notions. Dean apologised for his initial indulgence, bringing this dramatic entrance to a bathetic conclusion. He (or rather his character) turned to wistful personal reminiscence from the headspace of his parents’ attic – the storeroom of his childhood past, both literally (this is where he finds his action man) and metaphorically in terms of memories nesting beneath its shadowed eaves.

The abrupt shift in tone and performance style, from the stylised and fantastic to the naturalistic and confessional, was indicative of the fragmentary nature of Threnody. We were presented with a kaleidoscopic progression of tangentially connected scenes between which we had to weave the associative thread. The tenor swung from the personal to the mythic, with allusions to the animalistic shape-shifting of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Icarus’ dreams of flight and hubristic fall to earth predominant. Ovid’s collection also includes the tale of Narcissus, who ends up turning into a flower – Peter Gabriel era Genesis again! Dean told his poetic tale of yearning, loss and violent transformation across differing levels of scale and via constantly changing modes of performance, morphing through his own parade of personae. There were projected animations and a Pollock’s toy theatre, behind whose cardboard proscenium a plastic figure’s balletic Icarus-flight ended in a rain of tiny feathers. A lecturer with a pronounced tendency towards bursts of radio-static sibilance stood in front of screen slides delivering post-modern, post-structuralist, post-WTF screeds on the psycho-mythological meanings of pop-cultural icons. He began his own bird transformation during his second lecture. The soft Hispanic ‘chs’ and ‘shs’ turned into spasmic sounds which presaged the breakdown of language and analytical thought. A hawklike warning cry built up like the animalistic hissing sound made by the bride of Frankenstein at the end James Whales’ 1933 film. It reminded me of Robert Altman’s 1970 film Brewster McCloud, which is also similar to Threnody in that it concerns a young man’s Icarus dreams of flight. The narrative of the film is punctuated by the commentaries of a lecturer (played by Rene Auberjonois) who grows more birdlike and less human every time we see him, feathers sprouting through holes in his jumper.

A model town like a miniature film set was used to enact a localised drama within a national crisis, the country having been overrun by the ‘transformed’ – people changed into hungry, mindlessly destructive beasts. It was like a Michael Bentine’s Potty Time monster movie. Unfortunately, I wasn’t best-placed to see it; you really needed to be in the front two rows to get a good view. Urgent reports were delivered in the form of breathless breaking news bulletins, charting the progressive descent of the country into chaos and social breakdown in the face of the spreading wave of metamorphoses. These bulletins were pegged out on the descending slope of a clothesline, along with relics of the attic dreamer’s youth. The personal blended with the political and the universal in a steady record of decline.

More SF futures were imagined in the form of a Britain absorbed into a greater USA, with only West Yorkshire stubbornly seceding, now classified as a demilitarised zone. We had a fireside chat with our new president, the fire one of those comforting log blazes found on Youtube. He was Big Brother with a gleaming smile and first-name terms, ‘I’m your pal’ manner. Finally, the childhood action man, who had once engaged in daring dogfights in the enemy skies of the imagination, drifted gracefully off, feather-winged arms silhouetted against last sunset backlighting. Threnody for the Sky Children was a poetic and ambitious piece of writing and performance, elegiac, angry, touching and often funny (the latter not a quality oft-associated with prog epics). Dean compacted a huge amount into its concise 45 minutes. Intense and daring, it danced on the edge of pretentiousness, but remained always sufficiently nimble and self-aware to avoid losing its step and tumbling over.

Franz and Felicia
Küsse (German for kisses) was a two person play from Red Room Productions drawing on the epistolary love affair between Franz Kafka and Felice Bauer. It was a relationship which lasted five years, only occasionally disrupted by awkward meetings. For Franz, the distance between his home in Prague and Felice’s in Berlin provided a convenient protective barrier. It was easy to make up excuses about missed or cancelled trains. Felice was a blank wall upon which he could write, articulating his ideas about his self, his creative urges, the nature of love and the ills of society and the world at large. His correspondence at times resembles suicide notes more than love letters, with detailed analyses of his crippling mental anxieties and physical shortcomings. He seemed to do his utmost to hold her at arms length, giving her plentiful reasons to reject him. The title Küsse, as the program note informs us, refers to Kafka’s remark that ‘written kisses never reach their destination’. This statement is given more nuanced meaning by the context in which it was made. Kafka wrote that ‘letter writing is an intercourse with ghosts, not only with the ghost of the receiver, but with one’s own, which emerges between the lines of the letter being written’. The written kisses ‘are drunk en route by these ghosts’. Küsse makes those ghosts manifest.

The unbalanced nature of the dialogue is symbolically magnified by the absence of Felice’s letters. We only hear her voice through Kafka’s writing, given form through his distinctive language. Küsse attempted in part to redress that balance. The small windowless space of the Black Box in The Phoenix, named with oppressive honesty, was filled with a provisionally constructed wooden frame, walled on three sides with a skin of semi-transparent waxed paper. It was a windowless room within a windowless room. As we filed in, an immaculately dressed and made-up woman sat stock still in a chair by the back wall. This was Felice as the idealised china-doll woman Franz created in his mind. As the play began, Felice began to move, stretching sensuously across the chair, which was used throughout as an essential prop. Kafka, meanwhile, fidgeted nervously in the narrow aisle left beyond the wooden frame of the room. His first entrance was surrealist slapstick. His leg kicked a rift through the paper wall. It then froze for a few moments, as if trying to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had happened (pay no attention to that leg sticking out of the wall!) Kafka would self-deprecatingly recall in one of his early letters that during their first meeting he had trod on her foot as they pushed their way through a revolving door.

Kafka made tearing entrances into Felice’s room at regular intervals throughout the play, bursting in upon her with nervy intensity. These irruptions were ever-more disruptive and always awkward and blundering. He stuttered out statements about himself and his dedication to his writing, quoted from his letters. Blankly informing her that his literary calling took precedence over her and all else, he told her (as he wrote) ‘my life consists, and basically always has consisted, of attempts at writing, mostly unsuccessful’. Such declarations were a means of maintaining distance. This was a dance of avoidance, two unsuited partners essaying entirely different steps. Felice drew on the walls, a pictorial language of love, connection and the desire for domestic contentment and stability. If Franz viewed her as a blank wall upon which he could pin his letters, then she gets her chance here to make her own mark. But her symbolic language goes unremarked. For Franz, this postal romance was an opportunity to formulate his own ideas and to elucidate his worldview. The letters are sketches and notes for the stories. He used her as a sounding board to construct a sense of self and of artistic purpose. Her replies served to assure him that she was listening, or reading. The dolls house furniture which she laid out was swept away by Franz’s packing case. Even when he did eventually turn up, he never intended to stay.

Dialogue was sparse, surprisingly so given the voluminous nature of the correspondence on Kafka’s side. His words were used as agonized aphorisms and stilted attempts at expressing love and desire. These were ghosts brushing lightly against each other. The play was really more of a dance piece, constantly in motion. The movements were full of tension and angsty energy, occasional contact leading to reflexive repulsion. At times, Franz’s whole body shook as if he were overcome by a nervous fit. His was a jittery St Vitus dance as opposed to Felice’s slower, more measured moves. The room was steadily torn apart as the dance progressed and the couple circled closer towards each other. The barriers came down and the spindly frame was shaken until it seemed that it too would splinter apart. When it became clear that Franz was going to leave, Felice tore all the paper down, drawings and all, and wrapped herself in it on the floor, as if it were a comfort blanket. It was a cathartic outburst, leaving her completely exposed, her inner sanctum open to the world.

In its ruinous aftermath, Felice was finally able to speak. Her first utterance was actually a paraphrase of the words of Milena Jesenska, a passionate friend from Franz’s later life: ‘I knew his fear before I knew him’. Milena was a strong and self-assured woman, and an accomplished writer. She was able to share and respond to Franz’s literary ideas and enthusiasms in a way that Felice had not. Felice draws on some of her strength in order to define her own feelings and her own sense of herself. We discover a little of what lay behind that blank wall, which Franz filled up so completely with his ceaseless words. The actress playing Felice spoke with a lilting westcountry accent, which lent the impression of a straightforward soul wishing for simple clarity and direct communication from her relationship; something which she was never going to receive from a complex, restless and self-interrogating soul like Franz. It was a quietly moving end to an absorbing and emotionally involving dance duet – Franz and Felice as an expressionist Fred and Ginger, never quite coming together and matching steps to create that magic connection. The music for the dance was interesting and varied in tone. From the delicately suspended mystery of one of Satie’s Gnossiennes to a Schubert song (I think); a minimalist instrumental from Sufjan Stevens’ BQE soundtrack and his explosive hymn Vesuvio from the recent Age of Adz LP to the sad resignation of Arvo Pärt’s slowly drifting and spiralling peace piece for violin and piano Spiegel im Spiegel. A perfect choice.

Four of Swords Theatre’s Gawain and the Green Knight was first performed last Christmas in the Black Box, scrubby backyard and auditorium of The Phoenix. For Ignite, it had graduated to the altogether more imposing and majestic setting of Exeter Cathedral. With its overarching forest of columns stretching down the nave, its copious green man bosses, and its general atmosphere of absorbed and encompassed ages, it was a dream backdrop for this ancient and most arcane of English tales. Four of Swords make a habit of seeking out atmospheric and unusual locations for their productions. They staged an adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde in the dilapidated shell of Poltimore House, and retreated to the shadowed recesses of Beer Quarry Caves for their recent Macbeth. They make maximum use of these unorthodox spaces, leading the audience from one spot to another, where different scenes take place.

For Gawain, we gathered in the Chapter House before being led into the main mass of the cathedral, ushered along tea-lighted aisles and invited to take our places in the Lady Chapel. Here, King Arthur’s court was gathered, dressed in black and puffed out with leather armour-padding. With distorted electric guitar riffing reverberating round the vaulted stone spaces, it appeared we might be in for a Spinal Tap interpretation of the legend. Arthur’s long blonde locks (it was he who was crunching the power chords) and the slurred Keith Richard stumbling of one of the musician knights furthered the impression of metal medievalism, the troubadours turning it up to 11 and getting heavy. The tone of the opening scene was indeed light and frivolous, with the bathetic approach of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, undermining any pretensions to high romance. The king was a sullen, overgrown child, his knights dim-witted buffoons not conspicuously blessed with bravery or chivalric fire, but evidently filled to bloating with beef and wine.

An opening amalgam of chant and rap barked out by a cloaked and face-painted wild-woman made rhythmic if incomprehensible use of the old dialect in which Gawain was written. This turned out to be Morgana. She affected disdain at our lack of comprehension, seeing it as sign of modern decline and lack of learning. She remained our commenting chorus, narrator and haranguing guide throughout. Her character stood apart from the rest, out of time and far from home; a creature of the old ways, the pagan past. She was both distanced observer and active, sorcerous agent, a merry and somewhat deranged trickster. At the end of the court scene, before ushering out into the aisles, she pointed to the stained glass figure of Mary and noted, with calculated blasphemy, that of course, she was really just another incarnation of the eternal Goddess.

Leafy thrones
The appearance of the green knight was achieved with great, portentous dramatic effect. Entering slowly from the rear of the chapel, it was a towering giant, its sackcloth head wound about by ivy. Blazing red eyes glowed fiercely within a blackened bone-mask of a face, draped around with white flowing white down like traveller’s joy or old man’s beard. This was a fearsome, Gilliamesque creation, a fusion of oversized puppet and the recognisably human. The actor within made the most of the effect it created, looking from side to side as it made its way to the stunned knights and catching members of the audience in its hellish gaze. The challenge was issued, the blow given, and the inhuman knight’s severed head picked up and held up to issue its demands. Gawain, who had answered to the challenge where others had shrunk away, was now obliged to receive a reciprocal blow in a year and a day at the mysterious green chapel. We followed him around the north aisle and into the nave on his quest to find this enchanted place. Here, we were waylaid at a court which was the mirror of Arthur’s. Two thrones were set up by the organ screen at the front of the nave, bowered with branches which echoed the stone-carved greenery on the columns to either side. Flickering shadow branches were thrown from the light of candles burning on iron stands to the side. The king and queen of this court invited Gawain to stay whilst he awaited his appointed hour.

Enter if you dare - the way through
Good use was made of filmed interludes, which are a feature of Four of Swords productions. They were projected onto a curtain hung beneath the organ, the soundtrack provided by our strolling minstrels, standing discretely in the aisle next to the northern Norman tower. Acrobatic hunt scenes were shot on the ramparts of Woodbury hill fort, whilst Gawain’s seduction by the queen (the ‘other Guinnevere’) took place in cobbled courtyards and bare attic rooms of appropriate antiquity. Finally, three days and nights having passed, we were invited by Morgana, still on hand to guide us (and offer us Christmas cake!), to follow Gawain through the gateway revealed by the raised screen beneath the organ to the green chapel beyond. ‘Look after each other’, she whispered, suddenly solicitous. We parted the ivy which hung down, tangling our path, and proceeded solemnly onward.

Green pulpit - playing us out
The choir, screened off from the main body of the cathedral, and with its wooden stalls, tree stump pulpit and towering bole of an archbishop’s throne, was the perfect choice for a sacred woodland glade. All was bathed in emerald light, and when the green knight made his entrance, his eyes shone even more balefully blood redthrough the pervasive leaf-refracted haze. A wonderfully magical atmosphere was conjured, the Cathedral transformed into an otherworldly realm. The sorcery underpinning the whole allegorical quest was revealed. I won’t tell you that revelation, however, since there are further performances scheduled for Poltimore House this summer. It will be interesting to see how Four of Swords adapt their story to that environment. The gardens certainly offer plenty of scope for dramatic scene setting, as does the house itself, of course. It is surely the cathedral, however, which offered the perfect stage for their Gawain, and they made superb use of it.

The Hall at the bottom of Stepcote Hill is a new venue, still in the process of being cleared and renovated. Its slightly rough and ready state at this point in time proved entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Don Quijote show performed there over three nights by Tom Frankland and Keir Cooper in association with Ultimo Comboio. It could scarcely be called an adaptation; rather it was an exploration of the spirit of the novel, and an attempt to discover how that spirit might be made manifest in our heavily mediated and controlled world. The book plays with ideas of illusion and fakery, qualities embedded into its very form and history. As we were informed in a brief, breathless lecture, delivered in full bullfighter drag, Don Quixote was in fact a book of two parts. The bipartite nature of the book was made gleefully literal by two of the actors taking a power saw to a paperback copy clamped to a work frame. The effortful shearing off of the spine also demonstrated what a thick volume the two halves created. It was like a variation on the old strong man act of tearing the phone book in two.

The first section was published in 1605. Its success prompted another writer to produce a forged sequel. Cervantes responded to this hijacking of his creation by writing an ‘authentic’ continuation of his novel, published in 1615. Needless to say, numerous imitations ensued, the copies which trail in the wake of all popular works of art. In 1939, Jorge Luis Borges published Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, a short story in the form of an imaginary literary critique of an imaginary writer’s ‘translation’ of Don Quixote. Although every line is exactly the same as the original, he considers it to be a completely new version, given a completely new context by the contemporary age in which it is rewritten. Quixote has become an ur-text which resonates down the ages.

The novel’s play with illusion was reflected from the beginning of this ‘Quijote’. The variant spelling itself suggested another version, a further generation of the original. We began with shadowplays projected onto the bricks of the wall. Knights, palaces, windmills, inns and cities on the hill drifted across like dream phantoms just on the periphery of perception. Slides of the book’s descriptive chapter headings suggested scenarios which these restless shapes might form the setting for or play their part in, if only they could settle. The shadows were created by the actors panning lights behind a tabletop landscape. An inspection of this miniature La Mancha afterwards revealed trees, buildings and cities made form scraps of cardboard, plastic tubes, blu-tac boulders and food packaging towers. Any old crap which was roughly the right shape served. And yet the shadows they produced were highly evocative, firing the imagination. We were seeing through the transformative vision of Don Quixote from the outset.

Following on from the prefatory shadow-show, our attention was redirected to another part of the hall. This required us to shuffle around on the cushions we had been handed as we came in. The evening’s diverse happenings would take place at all ends and in all corners, and sometimes in our midst. Now we saw a young woman happily absorbed in reading a book. An illuminated showbiz sign above her comfortably, familiarly shabby armchair announced her as Rosie Biggin, Tonight’s Guest Don Quijote. As the show travels around the country, new Quijotes are discovered and invited to take the starring role. Rosie read Quijote silently for a good few moments, challenging us to enjoy the passive spectacle of someone else enjoying reading. Just as this was on the verge of provoking uncomfortable shifting of bums, she put the book down and started to poke at a fan with a stick, her playful version of tilting at windmills. The power of the story had taken hold of her, and she’d begun to carry its ideas, actions and ideals out into the world.

This was one of the themes of the show (and it was more variety show than play). The translation of the battered chivalric code found in the pages of Don Quixote into deeds carried out in the world. Deeds which are invariably foolhardy, amateurishly enacted and doomed to failure, but also noble in intent, brave and full of passion, and generous of spirit. We heard a story told by a man purportedly from Barcelona who had recently been helping out in a primary school. When he left, he had wanted to present a parting gift, as is the Spanish custom. He hit upon the idea of gathering petals and throwing them outwards from the school roof onto the pupils in the playground below. Each petal, he said, represented one of the children. This act was reproduced in a small way as he threw petals torn from a bunch of flowers in the grill of a revolving fan (an essential prop this evening) which blew them out over the heads of the first few rows. A shredded stick of broccoli proved less aerodynamic, and somehow lacked the same poetic resonance.

After the Quixote paperback had been de-spined, the remains were handed around the audience, and we were invited to take a page and hand it on. These were our petals. In the climactic act of the evening, the remaining pages were pushed through the teeth of a shredder by Rosie Quijote. She then tossed handfuls of Quixote confetti into the airstream of the fan. Paper flakes fluttered down like soft snow or cherry blossom, settling in drifts on the floor. The spirit of Quixote had been disseminated out into the world. The physical artefacts which had contained and conveyed that spirit, the pages and words which activated it, were no longer necessary.

The show sought to discover the spirit of Cervantes’ ragged hero in the modern world, to find the new Quixotes and define the qualities which went into making them. Spanish stereotypes (the flamenco dancer, the bullfighter) were indulged, only to be ridiculed and dismissed. Don Quixote was declared a universal figure, not one limited to a particular time, place or culture. Cervantes was painted as a victim of oppressive and controlling forces, having spent five years in an Algerian prison after he was captured by pirates; This in an age when piracy was a politically sanctioned activity (just think of Raleigh and Drake). Deriving inspiration from his incarceration, he wrote his story for the unjustly downtrodden, for the thwarted dreamers and those who remain true to their noble vision even as it leads to their inevitable fall – the persecuted outsiders and misfits. He created a plausibly human character who could represent them and offer a model of resistance – absurd and foolhardy, hopeless and glorious.

A parade of modern Quixotes, ranging from the ridiculous to the tragic (and often a mixture of both) was presented to us, their faces flickering across an old black and white TV screen which had, until this moment, been filled with illuminated static. Backyard dreamers, stubborn naysayers, the defiantly different and the eccentrically creative, all inventing themselves in a ramshackle and instinctively amateur fashion which defies externally imposed rules and dictates (and thereby tends to get them in trouble). All ultimately destined to fail, but persisting anyway, even when they are fully aware of the doomed nature of their ventures (and ultimately of all human endeavour). To borrow (steal) Samuel Beckett’s phrase, they have determined to ‘live better fail better’. Terry Gilliam might have been added to this gallery, although he is probably too well known for the company’s purposes. Don Quixote is a novel close to his heart, and his fated attempts to film it have become legendary. The documentary which records his serial mishaps and misfortunes, and his determination to carry on in spite of escalating setbacks and the seeming antagonism of the gods themselves, casts him wholly in the mould of Cervantes’ hero. Perhaps he will never make a better version of the novel than this record of his epic failure to make it.

The spirit of heroic amateurism, of noble and sincere absurdity pervaded the show. Chaos and chance (with its potential correlative, disaster) were positively courted. Rosie’s Quijote walked out into the audience as she donned the first pieces of her cardboard armour, and some of the audience were handed tape further junk appurtenances and encouraged to help her complete her knightly ensemble. When she emerged from the resultant industrious scrum, which had been noisy with the sounds of tearing cardboard, and the pulling out, ripping off and adhering of tape, she was resplendent in a carapace of cardboard and appended utensils. Another audience member was chosen as her Sancho Panze, and the retired to the nearest pub (presumably the Fat Pig) to plot their adventures, their grand Quixote gestures. These were revealed to us near the end, when they made a grandly heralded return.

Various glitches occurred, including a power failure. Again, the question of illusion and fakery arose. Were these genuine, or were they calculated to give the impression of amateurism, of busking it, thus lending the resultant extemporisations the air of instinctive spontaneity. You’d have to go to more than one performance to find out. Certainly, as our attention was drawn from one end of the hall to the other, and from one escapade to the next, we never knew quite what to expect. There was a deliberate air of the jerrybuilt and cobbled together to the whole affair, of sets and props hastily concocted from raids on charity shops and rubbish dumps, held together by string, blu-tac and dreams. But for all that, it was a remarkably coherent show, thought through and written with a great amount of care. In the end, all its disparate parts came together beautifully. It was a heady assemblage, leaving the head spinning but the spirit uplifted and exhilarated. And I haven’t even mentioned banana castration, drum frenzies or the soothsaying monkey. With indoor fireworks fizzing above the tabletop La Mancha towards the end, this was an appropriately incendiary and celebratory way to the bring the Ignite Festival to a close.

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