Vertical stage, 3D projection & airborne actors, now THAT’S theatre

aerial theatre

I’m not a big fan of theatre. Unless it’s immersive, of course (All Hail Kings of Immersive Theatre, Punchdrunk!). Or musical theatre (you just can’t beat Les Miserables, Jesus Christ Superstar or Phantom for escapist drama). I just find traditional theatre all a little, well… dull. But when my friend invited me along to watch some aerial theatre at the opening night of the Greenwich & Docklands International Festival on Saturday evening, I reckoned it was worth a shot.

And boy, was I right! Designed around the concept of global warming and the bureaucracy and red tape that puts up continual barriers to reducing its damaging effects, the plot had the potential to get a little, I’ll say it again… dull. But I needn’t have worried, as the clever people at Wired Aerial had sufficient big ideas to keep the subject matter not only engaging but jaw dropping.

The story begins in an office. 5 office workers appear on stage and one of them is roll calling a long list of animals that have fallen or are soon to fall prey to our negative impact on the environment. The scene becomes more and more chaotic as reams and reams of papers are replaced with boxes upon boxes of documentation and office workers run around the stage frantically compiling forms, facts and figures. Eventually, the stage begins to tip. Our office workers are attempting to cling on as filing cabinets and furniture hurtle past them to the ground. Soon the stage is vertical and begins to lift up into the air with our (now, obviously) wired actors attached.

It’s at this point that the show really starts. Whether it was rear projection or an LED screen, I couldn’t quite tell, but an amalgamation of 3D animation, real footage and expert choreography, brings the story to life in front of us. We see our performers running along lines and lines of text, the legislative and corporate barriers to change, sprinting headlong into the sky, and one by one we see them dropped into relevant scenarios, experiencing the horror of a tsunami first hand, the uninhabitable dust of a dried out planet, or the loss of someone to a natural disaster.

Add to all this the smart moves of the performers’ living counterweights, clambering up and down the sides of the stage like spiders, expertly rehearsed and choreographed to coincide with where and at what point in the video reel the performers need to be. It’s certainly not your average West End show.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about all of this was that it was entirely free. In fact, the whole of the GDIF is free and includes a week long programme of awesome creative and unusual events such as this one. Perhaps the saddest thing about all of this (other than the global warming, of course) is that if the generous donations from corporate and private funds don’t continue, the festival will become an endangered species itself. Find out more here.

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