Last year my Latitude journey started with a rush across South London (halfway through which I realised I’d forgotten my oyster card), complete with bags, tent and over-sized Cath Kidston roll mat in order to deliver the major component of not mine, but someone else’s, MA. After that, this year was going to be blissful and stress-free and, crucially, devoid of me swearing at a Goldsmiths College printer.
Or that was the plan.
Now it is raining in Suffolk, the trees are beginning to bend from the wind and I have been sat on a non-moving train somewhere in Essex for almost one hour. And it’s not that I’m stressed – I’m sitting down and not hitting a printer – but more that I’m stuck here whilst the teenage girls on the seats in front of me have begun hitting each other with their roll mats. Then – at the point when I’m considering mild physical violence – we’re unceremoniously dumped off of the train at Colchester station. Overhead line failure! Chaos! Teenagers bound for Latitude!
It continues in this manner for twenty minutes or so, but with added incomprehensible tannoy announcements that go something along the lines of “Baaaaaah…shufffle…rustle…THERE ARE NO TRAINS…rustle…shuffle”, before I’m back on a train with someone else’s luggage in my ear. Thankfully for both you and me (really, do you want another paragraph of my travel woe and increasing need to use exclamation marks?) pretty much the next thing I know I’m on a shuttle bus to the site (luggage taken out of ear), the sun is shining and all that is left is for myself and @cat_elliott to voice our not inconsiderable opinions on the changes that (from the online map) have been made to the Latitude site. For, yes, attendance at three out of five possible Latitudes has filled me with many opinions and views, of which I am not reluctant to share. Because – did anyone else notice that they’ve moved the comedy tent?
Flash forward to arrival and, being a two mallett campsite (smug, us? Well, yes), our neighbours have borrowed my mallett and we’re sat on the grass drinking Pim’s. Which is how any Latitude should begin. Albeit next year I’m going to make sure I check exactly how many of my tent pegs I’ve destroyed before arrival at a windswept campsite.
After the preliminary wander around the site – did I mention that someone moved the comedy tent?, the annual don’t look down toilet trip and a trip to the hog roast van (other than maybe Early Edition and blue splashback jokes, nothing says Latitude to me more than a hog roast. Which probably proves I should spend my time at Latitude eating less pig) it was time, in true WBN form, to check out the theatre tent. Which also has been moved! And only has one entrance! And a queue being marshalled by stewards as opposed to a random free-for-all survival of the fittest. If I could use the word without sounding like a numpty (and believe, I have tried) I’d say awesome.
We’re just in time for Les Enfants Terribles‘s The Vaudevillians which combines song, a murder mystery and pyschopathic puppet. Now before you read on here you should note two things: i)I spent the first half of this show standing at the top of the raked seating (more uncomfortable than it sounds) and ii)it is only partly in jest that a WBN catchphrase for new writing is “cut the first 15 pages!”. As @cat_elliott rather asutely noted the opening monologue of this show sounds like one of those vaguely poetic McDonalds adverts and though it is all very competently done I can’t help but feel that The Vaudevillians spends a lot of time circling before it gets to its point. If I were being flippant I’d say something like SHOW ME THE MONEY here. There are some lovely touches – the mime artist has the kind of pay off that must have made the company squeal with delight when it was realised (and if they didn’t squeal with delight then they should have, it’s good) – but touches can’t disguise a show which is a good twenty minutes longer than it should have been (I’m being a little bit polite here, at one point I thought it might go on forever and I’d have to spend all my Latitude watching it). Plus, and again this is a particular rant of mine, the show was being played on a thrust stage but had clearly been directed for an end-on audience. Not good.
Post The Vaudevillians there was a mass exodus (undoubtedly in a bid to not-quite-see Tom Jones play in the woods) whilst I staked my claim to a prime spot for the RSC’s The Thirteen Midnight Challenges of Angelus Diabolo.
[Interupting this broadcast for some backstory – I know, if I was dramturging this blog post I’d CUT it all: the RSC and I have some Latitude history of the not entirely pleasant kind. I came along to their 2008 show, ostensibly written by Anthony Neilson, fresh off the back of thinking that Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia was one of the most original, brilliant pieces of theatre I’d ever seen. It was midnight, my first Latitude and the RSC. I was expecting magic. And what I got instead were two actors wearing ill-fitting black leggings and reciting lines from Eastenders. By the time the zombies came out of the woods – the one moment when I thought theatrical magic might explode upon us – it was too late. I was filled with contempt that the RSC thought they could treat an audience in this manner just because we were at a festival. I raged at the most basic of misunderstandings. Cut to 2009 and the RSC did manage to pull it round slightly with a solid if not exactly spectacular midnight performance of witchcraft and witchburning that at least gave a nod to its Suffolk setting. Plus this was at least spooky enough that when I saw the lead actor in the foyer of the Globe a few weeks later I was sufficiently spooked by his presence to step backwards and hope he’d stopped the witch burning and all that]
Back to 2010, Angelus Diabolo is a reworking of the Faust story, with an under-talented but over-egotistical actor making a pact with the devil. And, you know what, I’m actually laughing. Proper, this aches slightly laughter. Whilst also cringing slightly for the poor audience member who is unexpectedly dragged on stage to have his bottom fondled. Plus as the play goes on I actually start to feel some of the huge emotional pull that the final minutes of the Faust story bring with it. But – and, oh I hate to have a but given how much more I enjoyed this than 2008’s effort – it still feels under-developed and, well, like the RSC aren’t taking their Latitude effort entirely seriously. Because this one could have been actually good (as opposed to ‘good for the RSC at Latitude’ which isn’t the tag they should be striving for) if they’d shaved off some of the audience indulgence and oh-we’re-the-RSC-we’re-going-to-lampoon-ourselves-for-being-serious-and-Shakespearean. Me, I’d have taken a real-time Angelus vs the Devil final confrontation (because the actor playing Diabolo was more than good enough for it) and had them thrill me to my core. Some times you really shouldn’t be scared of dropping the gimmicks and just being excellent.
And with that it was time to crawl back to the campsite to dream of actors having their fingers cut off…