Monday, October 04, 2010

A darkness descends on Newbury - Periplum, Arquiem review

What an atmosphere... I love a party with a happy atmosphere...

Arquiem, by Periplum, Newbury town centre, Friday, September 3 and Saturday, September 4

THERE were very strange goings-on afoot in Newbury town centre over the weekend, as a cart trundled its way from the Market Place, through Mansion House Street and Bridge Street and into Northbrook Street, and back again, telling a dark story of love, murder, and execution.

The crowd was shifted constantly by the cart, stiltwalkers and mysterious perambulators, and glowing pyrotechnics, as they were transformed by the performance from curious modern-day locals into a mob from another era, first hunting down and then baying for the blood of a teenage boy who has apparently killed the girl he loved to preserve her perfection.

Presented by Periplum as part of The Corn Exchange’s outdoor arts programme funded by the Greenham Common Trust, Arquiem was a free 45-minute performance based on Blake’s Songs of Innocence & Experience and Browning’s Porphyria's Lover, combining theatre, acrobatics, doom-laden music and stunning imagery into an unsettling and memorable experience. Corpses twitched underneath veils, condemning priest-like figures stalked through the crowd, and a manic-eyed executioner asked who present had not been tempted to commit such a crime, while taunting the boy as if a rag doll.

As a white balloon soared skywards - the killer’s soul, or that of his love? - the boy protested his innocence, but it was to no avail - the crowd had seen the crime committed for themselves, the shadows cast large on the walls of the tall Bridge Street buildings. The revelation of his very young age - just 13 - came too late. The crowd had spoken, and the boy was hung.

It was not always been easy to see and hear the performers owing to the size of the crowd and the layout of Newbury’s darkened streets, and it appeared that an unfortunate fault with the sound on Friday night rather muted the actual moment of the accused’s hanging, leaving some of the crowd more baffled than baying. However, many said they would return the next night, and more prepared, weave their way closer to the action to truly sense the terrifying, yet vibrant atmosphere of this fascinating performance.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News, September 9 2010

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