Despite a rainy forecast, Latitude 2010 promises to be bigger than ever before, particularly for theatre-lovers. With that in mind, Whatsonstage.com's Jo Caird, Nancy Groves and Theo Bosanquet are donning their wellies to bring you the latest from the festival frontline, come rain or shine!

This blog will be regularly updated as the Festival progresses, so check back for updates...



Friday

And so it begins. First a little on the set-up. Last year's open-sided theatre venue has been replaced by a proper circus-type tent and the whole shebang has been moved into the woods, making for a much more atmospheric environment. There were various problems with sound bleed from other stages last year, so the fact that the Theatre Arena has walls and doors this time around can only be a good thing.

I haven't actually seen inside yet, but it all seems terribly atmospheric from outside. The reason that I haven't been inside yet was that the show I was intending to see last night, the RSC's The 13 Midnight Challenges of Angelus Diablo, was full to capacity. In fact, it was over capacity, squeezing 1,000 punters into space for 700 and turning away 1,500 people. This situation probably had something to do with the fact that there actually wasn't all that much else on last night, what with it being the first night of the festival; that said however, I don't imagine they're going to have any trouble filling the tent for the Saturday night performance. I'll hopefully be seeing it then, so will report back on Sunday.

I'm about to rush off to see The Lyric's The Dream, an adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, co-produced with Filter Theatre. I bumped into Jonathan Broadbent, the actor playing Oberon, earlier on. He admitted that they hadn't actually run the show yet, but seemed pretty confident that it was all going to go off well. His Oberon, he said, is going to be "Oberon as you've never seen him before". Sounds like just the thing for a sunny Friday afternoon in Suffolk. Here we go.

-  by Jo Caird



5pm

Lucky lucky Jo. Arriving on site at lunchtime today, I too headed straight to the theatre arena for The Dream but the queue was so long (stretching out beyond the Theatre Arch) that I soon realised it was not to be. Both bad and good news of course. I'm chuffed to bits that so many people have theatre at the top of their Latitude to-do list, especially with all the musical and literary distractions on offer elsewhere. At the same time, it's worrying that only those in the know may ever make it into the tent. Not much opportunity for walk-up trade when you need to be in your seat for the previous show to stand a gnat's chance of seeing your target piece.

Nevermind. There's always fun to be had elsewhere. I found mine this afternoon in the Make Your Own Comic Tent, where Tom Humberstone and the friendly people from Words and Pictures encouraged us to tell our own tales - in storyboard or speech bubble form - to be pinned up on the wall or texted to our friends back at home. And nearby, I spotted the rakish blonde frame of Andy Field - he of Forest Fringe fame - whose Motor Vehicle Sundown and Travelling Sounds Library will be entertainting punters in the Faraway Forest. Something to see if you don't make it into nabokov's It's About Time this evening.

- by Nancy Groves



11pm

Is it fair to review Florence and the Machine on a theatre blog? Arguably, Ms Welch is our most theatrical female pop performer since, ooh, Kate Bush. And she's up there with her contemporaries Lady Gaga and Rihanna for outre costuming and self-conscious dramatics. So, yes, I say fair game. Hard to believe that tonight's set on the Obelisk stage is her first headlining a festival. An occasion for nerves perhaps, though critics have been commenting how much more relaxed she seems on stage these days. 

Following a long set-up, the weighty black curtain drops to reveal the lady of the night, aetherial in a magnificent ivory winged basque. Part Miss Haversham, part little girl let loose on the dressing up box, Florence proceeds to twirl her way through the next hour and a half like a beautiful, broken ballerina in a jewellery box. 

Musically you can't fault her as she dips and dives between whispered asides, soaring choruses and the odd truly terrifying screech. Her voice sounds even more commanding than it did on the Other Stage at Glastonbury just a few weeks ago. But theatrically? Well for me - and many around me, it seems - the fourth wall remains resolutely intact. We can see how much the occasion means to her, how much she is putting into these songs, but somehow the energy fizzles out beyond the soundstage and we're unable to "raise it up".

The setlist could be to blame. Top heavy with new material, it leaves the crowds impatient for the hits and had she peppered them throughout, we would have stayed with her for the lesser known songs. Banter is also lacking, her first interaction coming an hour in when she drags her siblings onto stage. "It's a special day for me," says Flo. "My little sister's birthday! Well, her birthday's tomorrow actually. But I'm here tonight."

Mostly, Florence. "We've got the love", shout some fans near me, more in blind faith than enthusiasm. And by the time her ubiquitous Candi Staton cover comes around, we really need to hear it.

- by Nancy Groves



Saturday 1pm

 

I’ll begin with a shameful admission: before yesterday, I’d never seen a show by Filter. I know, it’s bad. What kind of a theatre journalist am I, eh? On the upside though, I came to yesterday’s production of The Dream with barely any preconceptions and sometimes it’s nice to experience theatre like that.

 

The Dream took place yesterday in the Theatre Arena and I managed to nab a seat after Laura the very kind stage manager sneaked me in past the snaking queue (memo to Nancy for next time). As anticipated, the show was rough and ready from the off: we’re not bothering with the Greeks, we were told, no one’s interested in them anyway. The players have been introduced and the show is just about to start when a ukulele-brandishing Keith Allen, poised to play Bottom, storms off, disgruntled at having been described as a TV comedian. A brief moment of awkwardness before Mark “from the Nationwide ads” Benton is plucked from his seat in the crowd to take over the part and all is going swimmingly again.

 

The whirlwind production that follows is funny, clever and irreverent, just what is required from Shakespeare performed in a hot tent. Benton is brilliant as Bottom, combining supposed confusion at his sudden inclusion in the show with the well assured comic timing for which he is known.

 

Strong performances too from the rest of the cast, as they jump from scene to scene, presenting the funniest moments from the lovers’ encounters and the bickering of Oberon and Titania. I can’t mention any names (not organised enough to have the necessary information with me I’m afraid), apart from that of the aforementioned Jonathan Broadbent, whose Oberon was indeed different from any I’d seen before. In a bright blue super hero costume, complete with flapping silver cape, he stomped around the stage, consumed with self-importance and blissfully unaware of the ridiculous figure he was cutting.

 

The only moment in the production that jarred was the jump between the charming conclusion to the lovers’ stories and the tie up to the Mechanicals’, which shattered the mood somewhat. The final 10 minutes or so of the show had a chaos to them that I’m not sure was intended, but given the general atmosphere of Filter’s offering, I can’t say that any real harm was done. A great introduction to Filter and a charming route into A Midsummer Night's Dream.

 

- by Jo Caird




 



Saturday 8pm 


Not particularly theatre related but I saw a fascinating Q&A in the film arena this afternoon with director Paul Greengrass. He was chatting to Simon Mayo about his career, from the film club at school which sparked his passion for the medium to his controversial recent Green Zone.

Greengrass cited Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers as one of his earliest inspirations (which Mayo cannily pointed out has a contemporary resonance in that it was watched by the Algerian football team before their recent world cup match with England).

"It showed perfectly how a passive image can spark an active thought" he said, before citing the film's influence on his own Bloody Sunday, in that both examine the fall-out of colonialism. "I wanted to show that a modern conflict can be resolved by power-sharing and mutual agreement, as opposed to out-and-out victory for one side ... in that way I suppose I was challenging the ideology of Pontecorvo".

He then humbly said he felt directors were overrated in the film world - "in truth directing involves watching other people do brilliant work ... we're merely jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none" - and ruled out the possibility of another Bourne film (even though he had previously promised Mayo that if Tottenham got into the Champions League he would...)


Getting back to more theatrical fare with the RSC's show later tonight. Gorgeous evening here in Southwold.

- by Theo Bosanquet 


Sunday 11am

The most memorable thing about last night's RSC show The Thirteen Midnight Challenges of Angelus Diablo was the size of the queue to get in. As Jo reported on Friday, 1,500 people missed out on their first performance, and by the looks of it a similar number were left disappointed yesterday.

But in all honesty they didn’t miss that much - the show is essentially an actor in-joke strung out for almost an hour. The joke is that failed actor Angelus Diablo (a platform-booted Sandy Grierson) has been unable to get any work largely thanks to his spitting problem. So he sets about reeking revenge on six ‘innocent members of the public’, their only escape from punishment being to pass a series of increasingly obscure challenges (ideas for which were found via a Twitter campaign).

Like many companies at Latitude, the RSC have gone for a big, bawdy, accessible show in order to fit the festival atmosphere. But there isn’t really a need to do this, not least because the fantastic new theatre tent is suitably quiet to allow for ‘proper’ theatre, as opposed to just out-and-out comedy (which is catered for elsewhere).

It’s great to see the RSC engaging with Latitude, and the ensemble certainly isn’t second-rate. But despite the goodwill atmosphere of last night’s capacity crowd, my feeling is that they should stick to what they’re best at to really warrant the queues.

- by Theo Bosanquet



Sunday 3pm

I'd echo what Theo said about Angelus Diablo. There were some nice moments, and the device of using a mixture of actor plants and actual audience members as "innocent members of the public" worked well. But the concept felt lazy and cynical so ultimately it wasn't a very satisfying hour's entertainment.

I've been enjoying the small theatrical happenings taking place in the Faraway Forest, an area of the festival site that's new this year. The Dialogue Project's Intimate Conversations, where punters are given an MP3 player loaded with half a dozen conversations between creator Karl James and various ordinary people, was entrancing. Each year the topic of the conversations changes and this year it's sex. One might expect lewdness from such a subject - either that or sentimentality - but in fact, the tone of these interviews was so gentle and honest that I was almost moved to tears. You can listen to this year's conversations, as well as those from previous years, at www.thedialogueproject.com - I recommend finding a quiet place to do so. You're unlikely to find anywhere as charming as beneath the canopy in the Faraway Forest, but don't let that put you off.

- by Jo Caird



A few months ago, I had the chance to interview Tania Harrison, arts programmer/curator of all things non-musical at Latitude. Tania was just a little bit excited to announce that she'd persuaded cult stand-up/storyteller Daniel Kitson to perform at this year's festival. Both solo in the theatre tent and alongside his singer/songwriter pal Gavin Osborn on the waterfront, reviving their Regent's Park open air show, Stories for a Starlit Sky. As Harrison simply put it: "Daniel Kitson is Latitude."

Judging by the crowd at Friday's nights waterfront performance she was right. By the time Kitson and Osborn settled into their armchairs at midnight, both banks of the lake were already full to capacity. And what followed was as magical as we have come to expect from this genuinely cult figure. Testament to Kitson's storytelling abilities that in simply reading from a book - no gimmicks, no set, no costumes - he had the no-doubt cider-addled festival crowd engrossed for a full hour.

Friday's story was the tale of Eric and Jenny, night workers in The Department of Romantic Love responsible for recording and filing every last flurry and flutter of the human heart. Classic Kitson territory and wonderfully counterbalanced by Osborn's whimsical tales of love at the checkout in Sainsbury's and suchlike. Many people started the hour standing. By the end, everyone was seated, Kitson's storytelling spell well and truly cast.

There might not have been a happy ending to the tale but this bedtime story could not be beaten.

- by Nancy Groves 



7pm

Despite a couple of underwhelming experiences in the Theatre Arena yesterday, I'm feeling good about festival drama again, thanks to Theatre 503's PLAYlist. Director Derek Bond presented us with six (I think) playlets, each inspired by a song by a Latitude headliner and each lasting no longer than 15 minutes. Some succeeded better than others - some cliched dialogue let down one about a couple's break-up, and I found the continued focus on young people's experiences a little narrow - but as a whole, the piece was engaging and offered some jewels of funny new writing. This was festival theatre done right: plays short enough to allow punters to come and go as they pleased, at a quality high enough that in the end, everyone was kept happy for the duration. Well done Theatre 503. 

- by Jo Caird



Signing Off

Back in London, mentioning that I've been to Latitude inevitably evokes comments about the shocking story that has overshadowed this year's festival - the rape of two teenage girls on the festival site.

I don't agree with the comment that Latitude is "not the sort of festival" where this happens, because I don't think any festival could be branded as one where it does. But I suppose what people mean is that Latitude has a more family-orientated demographic (or, as one band member put it on Saturday, "f***ing tea drinkers"), than the likes of Glastonbury or Reading.

It's been sad to hear of girls being asked not to walk alone in the woods at night, because the woods are the one place you should be heading as the darkness falls at Latitude. I fear 2010 will be remembered as the year that Latitude lost its innocence.

The theatre tent appears to have become a victim of its own success, and I think I speak for most theatre-lovers in attendance when I say that it was frustrating to miss out on so much due to lack of capacity. Audiences have shown their appetite for theatre at the festival, and now the organisers need to consider allowing it a wider airing.

But the quality continues to rise year on year, and the calibre of companies taking part is beginning to rival the likes of Edinburgh and Manchester. Credit for this goes not least to arts programmer Tania Harrison, who has managed to create a cultural bazaar with a head-spinning range of options, from agit-prop by the Liverpool Everyman to a waterfront performance of Hair.

"Let the Sunshine" indeed. Roll on 2011.

- by Theo Bosanquet