Sombre sell-out spectacular at Stanley Park

A scene from Depart by Circa @ Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. (Opening-16-06-16) ©Tristram Kenton 06/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Last night, DEPART arrived in Stanley Park, Blackpool; Australian circus artists, Circa’s final destination of a sell-out tour. The piece, inspired by the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, uses a mix of circus, dance and singing and guides audiences on a 90-minute walk-about performance full of high drama and breath-taking tableaux.

Meeting at the main gates to the park, the initial atmosphere is slightly odd; as the 300-strong audience stand in line, we are handed cards saying “Don’t Look Back” in reference to the Orpheus legend apparently, and presumably the theme-park ride synonymity is designed to heighten our anticipation. However, then Yaron Lifschitz, Creative Director, takes to the mic and tells us not to stray from the pathway of the performance, to only follow the lamp guides, to absolutely not use mobile phones or take pictures and to stay in complete silence throughout the whole experience. A bold, if slightly disorientating move on the part of the organisers.

The gates swing open theatrically and we are invited into the underworld by the afore-mentioned lamp guides who remain in perfect poise all night. They don’t talk, they aren’t even remotely officious, yet they manage to move us around the 250-acre site with the fluidity of the ferryman of Hades himself.

We are guided through corridors of community chorus singing in perfect harmony, underneath starkly lit aerial acrobatics, above vast geometric shapes of bodies and around distressing repetitions of beautifully choreographed movement where greek-statuesque performers share desperation, torture and wretchedness. The vastness of the piece is overwhelming, the production values and execution are perfect and the displays in iconic features and intimate wooded areas of the park are truly awesome.

Yaron says of the piece “Depart is a meditation…” and that is as good a description as any; audiences are encouraged to admire and to ponder, but not necessarily to engage, to understand or even to enjoy. In trying to find a narrative thread, I was left lost and slightly frustrated throughout. Despite some tantalising costume choice symbols, there were no clear reference points to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, no characterisation or definition of place at all, and I was waiting for the big “Don’t Look Back” moment that they had promoted earlier on; it never arrives.

Usually enacted in church yards, our beautiful green space is perfect for the after-dark transformation into funereal arena. A unique performative experience that will haunt the collective memory for a significant period and therefore, although there are limited tickets left, it is definitely worth trying to get hold of one before it leaves town on Sunday 4 June 2017.

Depart has been co-commissioned by LeftCoast, London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), the National Centre for Circus Arts, Spitalfields Music, Hull UK City of Culture 2017, and Brighton Festival.  Supported by Arts Council England.

Performances start at 9.15pm and the show is suitable for ages 11+ (children must be accompanied by adults). Tickets are extremely limited and cost £10-12.50 (including booking fees) and are available to buy online or from The Blackpool Grand Theatre’s box office or by calling SHOWSEATS on 01253 74 33 44.

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    Melanie Whitehead is the Creative Director of The Old Electric, Blackpool's newest theatre. She previously worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

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