The Beautiful Journey

WILDWORKS
WILDWORKS in association with Theatre Royal Plymouth & culture10 supported by The Customs House & Find Your Talent
Oceana Business Park, Wallsend
(2009)

The Beautiful Journey is a site-specific promenade piece, originally devised for performance at the Devonport Dockyard, Plymouth, and, with the involvement of local people over a two year period, re-imagined for the north bank of the Tyne. It involves a cast of eight professional actors and five musicians, fifteen collaborating artists and performers from the region, a choir drawn from all over the North East and a huge number of members of the community, including young people from Theatre Tantaraa and the Customs House Youth Theatre. It features a realistically ricketty-looking shanty town, a boat, a massive crane, tarot-reading hairdressing and so much more.

It is set on an island ruled over by the Queen Kalypso in a future when drinkable water is rare and bees have vanished from the earth. Guided by Hermes, the messenger of the gods (who happens to be French and actually got us to respond to him in French!), the audience is introduced to the characters one by one and led from place to place to watch the development of the story.

I saw it under conditions of some difficulty: I injured my leg a few weeks ago and standing - as one has to do here for over two hours - can be a quite painful, but even then I found myself gripped and my companion admitted to being totally immersed.

As so often in open-air theatre, it is often the unexpected which makes a huge impact, and so it was here. As the story unfolded, suddenly the sky was filled with seagulls calling to each other and the moon began to show in the darkening sky. A magical moment!

And there is something magical, even mystical, even in the dystopian future this production portrays. Partially this is because of its mythical roots. There is much of The Odyssey here, not just in the characters (the queen Kalypso, her sister Kassandra and, of course, Hermes), but in the story of a long, dangerous sea journey, and one of the characters, The Sailor, is reminscent of Odysseus who was held captive on Kalypso's island for many years, eventually freed to set sail back to Ithaca and his wife.

But this isn't a re-telling of The Odyssey: it's a new myth, created around our fears for the future, a future of climate change. But even this description could be misleading, for it suggests a future of misery and deprivation - there are echoes of Mad Max in the windmills which decorate every part of the set - but the message which comes across is one of hope. As, by the light of flickering torches, The Sailor and Rosa sail off down the darkening River Tyne, the feeling is one of optimism, of the possibility of a new beginning.

Like all myths, it tells a simple story, the pieces of which gradually come together during the course of the evening, of being prepared to face whatever the future might hold, of letting go of the baggage which ties us to the past and prevents us from moving on. Just as over-protective father Godfrey (Steve Jacobs) must allow his daughter Rosa (Mae Voogd) her freedom, so Kalypso (Agnielska Blonska) must let The Sailor (Roger Delves-Broughton) return to the sea and she and Kassandra (Sue Hill) must let go of the hope of the return of her son. So we must face the future rather than the past.

Simple the story may be, but it has many resonances and great depth.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan