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Latitude 2009

Corinne Salisbury previews this year's Latitude Festival in Suffolk

Dateline: 26th May, 2009

Latitude Festival, held at Henham Park in Suffolk, is now in its fourth year. It may not be best known as a theatre festival, but it is just this knack of incorporating theatre events within the wider mix of dance, literature, comedy and music that makes it such an exciting prospect year after year. Latitude's genius is to have taken a conventional outdoor festival setting and opened it up to almost every art form under the sun - and so convinced festival-goers that no art form is too stuffy to fit with the general air of al fresco revelry. It's part of the wider trend gradually changing perceptions of professional theatre - taking it out of premium-priced West End houses and into forests, fields, warehouses, cathedrals - and outdoor festival stages.

With Latitude, to be exact, there are two performance spaces for theatre - a custom-built indoor Theatre Arena, and the outdoor Waterfront Stage by the lake - and any number of open spaces being commandeered by visiting companies for their shows.

That's not to say you can expect a sort of rock and roll theatre, with established names rolling out their crowd-pleasing hits and lighters-in-the-air numbers. Latitude has in fact been known for showcasing a large amount of bold new work. Last year for instance saw the premiere of the Bush Theatre's 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, their hit show formed from inviting audience members to offer up their own experiences as the raw material. This year the Bush returns with Sudden Loss Of Dignity: five new plays will be created re-enacting audience members' most embarrassing moments. They are not the only ones taking up the audience-participation baton: the Uninvited Guests production Love Letters Straight From Your Heart invites the audience to contribute their own ideas and soundtrack requests; and OSIP Theatre's A Stab In The Dark is based on people's recollections of losing their virginity.

On the must-see list is the National Theatre giving a rare regional showcasing to a new work: Lucinda Coxon's The Eternal Not, a comedy about a young married couple awaiting the arrival of their first child to grant them their longed-for wedded bliss. Paines Plough meanwhile offer their new production Traces - a collaborative piece with six hot young playwrights working with choreographer Georgina Lamb and director Tessa Walker. And nabokov theatre company present Is Everyone Okay, a brutally honest new play from Fringe First winner Joel Horwood, about a group of people trying to work out basically if they're doing ok or not, and how they tell.

The Young Vic and English Touring Theatre combine forces to stage Latitude's first musical: Been So Long is a new work by playwright Ché Walker, set in the seedy backstreet bars of London and exploring the perils and joys of bleary-eyed love, all to a heady funk/soul soundtrack. Also on a musical track, Ben Moor's new one-man show Coelacanth tells the surreal story of a couple trying to stay together amid imaginary flatmates, underground Compliment Clubs, Satanic jazz bands and competitive tree-climbing - accompanied by live music from members of Suns of the Tundra.

Sticking with the more "entertainment" end of things, the Pleasance presents three "Picks" of some of their most highly recommended shows and past Edinburgh hits - these will include the latest comedy from innovative company Hoipolloi. The Lyric will have a new multi-form show to offer; the Tristan Bates Theatre will be conducting crazy experiments during their Midnight Matinee; and 1927 will perform their acclaimed Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, a collection of macabre, music hall-style sketches with video projection interwoven throughout.

Among the wandering performers will be a band of strolling players from the RSC, creating a living portrait of Shakespeare from flowers with help from passers-by, and reciting sonnets all the while. It's hard to summarise the range of other outdoor performance work that may spring from the undergrowth, but suffice to say it will include one-man operatic thrillers, puppetry from Faulty Optic, verbatim recollections of flood devastation in Look Left Look Right's The Caravan, and a new family show from Cambridge Touring Theatre.

While the emphasis may sometimes seem to swing towards the comedy, cabaret and general entertainment end of the spectrum, Latitude's commitment to showcasing new dramatic writing still shines through. The new writing collective DryWrite again have a residency, to showcase six new works by exciting new writers all examining concepts of violence. And Theatre503 will bring to the festival a selection of the 53 new plays they are bringing into existence this year, each inspired by a different stop on the Piccadilly Line.

And all that's not even to mention the new work being shown by Sadler's Wells and the Royal Opera House on the Waterfront Stage, which will also be showing Helen Chadwick's new piece of powerful urban music theatre, Dalston Songs. I take it back - it is all in fact very rock and roll.

Latitude Festival is at Henham Park in Suffolk, 16th - 19th July
www.latitudefestival.co.uk (register for regular news updates at www.latitudefestival.co.uk/register/index.aspx)

Also see www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2009/mar/25/what-to-see-at-latitude

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©Peter Lathan 2009