Monday, 23 June 2014

Watch This Space - National Theatre

FREE events in and around London are welcome news to any family on a budget especially during the summer and the school holidays.
So thank goodness then for the National Theatre's Watch This Space festival which is back for its 16th year.
This time though the festival is packing its bags and heading out on tour, taking with it some of the best free outdoor entertainment around South London - and coming to a park or open space near you.
The programme, which runs from June 27 until August 31, will feature something for everyone from theatre to circus, music to magic.
Taking it on the road has been a "pragmatic" decision according to festival producer Angus MacKechnie.
"We have the temporary Shed stage outside the National where the festival has traditionally taken place so we were constrained in terms of space by that," says Angus.
"But as we are also undergoing a redevelopment more generally with NT Futures, which has resulted in some other departments moving out temporarily while the work is being done, it gave us a chance to branch out a bit further with the festival too.
"Also as an organisation we are normally very much about asking people to come and visit us. With this festival we are reversing it and we are taking our shows to people."
The festival hub will be at St John’s Church on Waterloo Roundabout, with dancers, musicians, aerialists, jugglers and acrobats performing in and around the churchyard.
Having it at the church may seem a curious choice but a search on Google for open spaces and a chat with the vicar persuaded Angus of its suitability.
"I was looking on Google for open spaces in the area and saw the gardens around the church," he says.
"I went to visit and met the vicar. We were talking about what we both do and I said I found my work uplifting for the soul and he said very much the same thing applied to him. We both do what we do in the community to make people feel better.
"Strangely it's very quiet in the gardens despite the noise from the roads and the trains that go past so it's going to be a lovely environment to see a show.
"It didn't take much convincing in the end though as I liked the idea that our roguish street artists find their way into the church," he adds.
The programme will include lively lunchtime music on the lawn, quick evening shows before the commute and days of fun for families, as well as special guest appearances during the church’s Sunday Service.
"We have the sword swallowing Miss Behave, manic violin virtuoso Sid Bowfin and Bash Street Theatre's The Strongman which was inspired by Charlie Chaplin's The Circus," says Angus.
"There will also be different church music for people to enjoy including the Brass Volcanoes - it's very eclectic!"
As well as the Church and its environs, the festival will also pop up with shows in unexpected places across Lambeth and Southwark including many existing local festivals - from Brockwell Park and Brixton Market to Peckham Square and the Aylesbury Estate.
"The big bit of the festival is that we are going out across Southwark and Lambeth to 25 different venues in the boroughs throughout the two months of the event," says Angus.
"I am trying to find new places in the community where we can bring our shows to a new audience.
"We straddle the boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth and so it makes sense to go out in to these communities and discover what we can do there.
"Initially I was looking just for one venue but there are loads out there. I also like the idea of guerilla theatre and the fact you can pop up in a place, do a show and then disappear.
"Lots of things are already happening in these areas but there are some where nothing is happening so we are going in!"
Much of the programme is geared towards family friendly events though Angus is keen to stress there will be something for everyone.
"We do have lots for kids but I'm keen the arts are for everyone so there will be dancing, acrobatics, circus and theatre."
Amongst the other highlights include the Mobile Sewing Company which combines a women's sewing bee and an 80s rave on bicycles and Etta Ermini Dance Theatre's Picnic, where a young couple's picnic is disrupted by the quirks and pitfalls of their relationship.
There will also be Micro Shakespeare created by Laitrum Teatre, miniature interactive puppetry where Spanish anarchy meets the Bard and Crazy In Love!, an acrobatic comedy about the highs and lows of falling in and out of love.
"It's about confounding expectations," says Angus. "This year I think we have a very exciting array of different shows on offer - it's going to be very fantastic," he adds.
Most importantly though the festival is free.
"This is a crucial factor for us," says Angus. "But it is also makes the festival inclusive and we hope that we catch people who might not otherwise have been able to see a show and get them hooked on seeing live performance."

Watch This Space Festival on the road takes place between June 27 and August 31. Visit for full listings, times and dates.

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