Tania Harrison is the Programmer for the Arts Arenas at Latitude Festival, the seventh edition of which takes place at Henham Park in Suffolk next week (12-15 July 2012).

Here she explores how today’s turbulent times are inspiring writers, artists and theatre companies to create works imbued with a new spirit of protest.


For me, it all really began with watching Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem for the first time at the Royal Court. I’d been interested in how artists were exploring ways to present the British identity in ways that weren’t sentimental, twee or jingoistic for a few years, but seeing Mark Rylance’s Johnny Byron crystallised how closely Britishness is really bound up with rambunctiousness and rebellion.

It starts with the beginnings of our recorded history, when Boudicca swept out of Suffolk with the Iceni in an effort to throw out the Romans. And it progresses through the Wat Tyler and Jack Cade’s peasants’ revolts in the Middle Ages, the Diggers, the Chartists, the student-led protests of 1968 right up to today’s Occupy movement.

We have a long history of popular social dissent that’s at odds with the Victorian idea of Britain as a land of stiff-lipped cricket players. Add to this the succession of physical and cultural invasions through which modern-day Britain was assembled, and it made me think how fascinating it would be to put together a programme of live art, theatre and cultural events which reflected that. Something that held a mirror up to a culture that’s been formed by people of different tribes, origins and ideologies finding a way to live side by side one another for thousands of years.

As Henham Park in Suffolk, where Latitude happens every year, is right on an ancient ley line, and our first full night is Friday 13th it made sense to explore the folk traditions and customs of the local area. So HighTide, a Suffolk-based festival company is doing exactly that with Eisteddfod, a new play by emerging playwright Luke Barnes, and Blake Morrison will be reading his witchcraft poetry.

Playing with the theme of tradition, we’ll also be subverting a few clichés of country life with alternative versions of the village fête, a ceilidh and two Hoe Downs. Meanwhile Theatre Delicatessen’s new outdoor production of Henry V will bring a new interpretation to what’s usually considered as Shakespeare’s quintessentially English play.

The fact that Bastille Day falls on 14 July, our second night, also makes exploring the art, literature and theatre of protest particularly current. To reflect the long history of dissent and alternative lifestyles in England, Pentabus Theatre will present a brand new commission, The Diggers’ Band, which portrays the Leveller movement of the 17th century Commonwealth, while their modern namesakes The Levellers will perform an acoustic set of protest songs.

Away from the theatre stages, cabaret, which has given a forum to biting satire and social comment since long before Brecht, Weill and the Weimar Republic will be represented by, among others, Dusty Limits’ Winter of Our Discontent. We’ll be continuing the tradition of popular political debate into performances through appearances from Instigate Debate, who use guerrilla tactics to interview politicians. And Newsnight’s Paul Mason, whose acute analysis of dissent kicking off everywhere from the city of London to Libya have transformed him from BBC journalist to public figure, the former Canon of St Paul’s Rev. Giles Fraser and Generation Vexed will all bring their own take on the riots, protest and political foment that have made the past year so exhilarating and alarming in equal measures.

But of course there are many less pertinent and more fun things to do at Latitude, not least the chance to lose yourself in the sizzling heat of Havana Rumba! and Sancho Panza’s Cuban carnival on Friday night.

Let the games begin.