Greenwich and Docklands International Festival 2016

One thing London is full of during the summer is suprises. You feel like every street corner you turn around has a street performance waiting on the other side of it, an amazing piece of street art or a free festival. One such surprise happening at the moment that I can imagine would be a joy for any tourist wandering around the capital is the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, taking place across Greenwich and East London from 24th June to the 2nd July.

As I live in Greenwich, I was aware that this free festival had taken over the area but I can imagine as a tourist coming south of the river and only expecting to find the Cutty Sark and lots of naval history, walking into the Old Royal Naval College and being confronted by a giant squid was probably the last thing they expected!

This was Citizen Squid, my friend and I’s first encounter of the GDIF as we headed into Greenwich on Sunday, independent puppet tentacles that moved above our heads as we walked through the gates of the ORNC. This was a taster of what a strange universe the GDIF had turned Greenwich into and it was exciting to wander around this World Heritage Site and see what surprises we would find.

As we were being wanderers, we kept stumbling into performances while they were half way through such as Citizen Squid and also the freaky Perigrinus by Polish theatre company, Teatr KTO.

We saw a large crowd gathering on one of the lawns of the naval college and in the middle of the circle they had created were what looked like office workers with large identical, almost bobble heads. As we followed them around, it was like we were following them through their work day as they got ready in suits, confronted their ‘boss’, interacted with ‘colleagues’ and had a kind of board meeting in the open air. What made this particularly special, and what was probably unique to the GDIF was the very apt corporate landscape of Canary Wharf’s skyscrapers in the background.

As we had yet to catch a piece in its entirety, we decided to pick two shows to go and see, the first, a juggling performance by Circus Geeks which was incredibly impressive, and the second was Highly Sprung’s Urban Astronaut.

The latter I mentioned really grabbed my attention and absorbed me into a dystopian world of pollution and decay. From what I interpreted, the story followed a girl who lived in a post-apocalyptic landscape, desperate for clean air and water, and living alone, cultivating plants and devising ways to find clean water where possible in order to survive. In her own world with her plants she is content and keeps faith that things can get better but her world gets shaken when a foreboding astronaut figure and his men find her hideaway and try to ruin it.

SPOILER ALERT! Eventually, good overcomes evil and the astronaut comes around to the girl’s optimistic way of viewing the planet. It’s a simple story, but one that has a fantastic message and can be easily followed by all ages. The impressive technology that makes the astronaut float is amazing and makes for truly unique physical theatre as he is suspended above the crowd, tumbling and turning as if not effected by gravity. The female lead performed some impressive acrobatic feats too as she floated between her plants and inventions on a futuristic structure. What makes all of this all the more impressive is that the set in its entirety is completely portable and Highly Sprung’s team have toured Urban Astronaut up and down the country. Each performer has incredibly impressive physical stamina and all contribute to making a seamless and effective piece that carries a message about climate change and our planet that really hits home.

As our astronaut noted at the end when thanking the audience, ‘there is a lot going on in the world at the moment, but lets not forget the big issues too’.


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