Review:
Rear View

The site specific show was effective but not flawless in Blackpool, 13-15 July

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IOU Theatre’s latest venture Rear View promises to transform your town or city into an unmissable event. With alternating performances by poets Cecilia Knapp and Jemima Foxtrot, audiences are taken on a journey exploring the ways in which a woman’s body, mind and memories can change with age. At some point in life we have all fallen victim to romanticising past events but quite often if the opportunity to revisit events appears we are disappointed to find that we aren’t able to recreate the emotions we so vividly remember. This performance offers that experience in reverse: to take familiar views – in this case the tourist sights of Blackpool – and transform them through someone else’s eyes.

As the audience boarded an open-backed bus a brief instructional demonstration was provided and the crowd donned headsets. Immediately the beautiful soundscape changed the dynamics of the urban space. Rather than the bustle of modern life the audience listened to floating notes and an almost dreamlike state was achievable with little effort. Aside from a few technical hiccups, most notably the wireless connection between the performers’ headset and the audience headphones, the operational aspect of the piece seemed to flow smoothly. At one point the performer faced interruption from the general public – an odd juxtaposition to the ghost-like quality of her performance – but overall the situation was managed well.

As you were moved through the urban space beautiful architecture seemed to float away uncontrollably

There was almost a sense of looking through the landscape with rose-tinted glasses as you travel through this piece of work. The custom-made bus featured seats that face backwards and as you were moved through the urban space beautiful architecture seemed to float away uncontrollably – a possible reflection on life and memory itself. The bus beautifully framed the environment. One stop-off location featured a half-torn down house close to the town centre. The audience could see where the staircase would have been and imagine, almost hear, feet plodding up and down the length of the building.

Without spoiling too many of the surprises this show has to offer, audience members must be prepared to play an active role in the performance and the first few minutes of the experience were filled with nervous laughter from the unknowing crowd. Luckily for some the focus shifted to the performer swiftly. Jemima Foxtrot’s text was warm, humorous and sharp. The poet, who trained as an actor, delivered her writing with great accuracy and the peaks and troughs of emotive language were razor sharp from her diction. Foxtrot said in interviews that she was jaded during her acting years and that it was “boring having to read other people’s lines”. Her career change is the audience’s great gain – her writing throughout this piece was poignant yet elegant.

One criticism is the missed opportunity to really engage with the rich histories of Blackpool. As the performance is a touring piece the text adapts to fit the landscape but the evidence of this is minimal and it felt as if the location was appropriated to meet the demands of the performance content. Understandably this is difficult with a project that is on the move as much as Rear View and perhaps this performance will create a demand for more site-specific spectacles in the future.

Rear View visits Batley, Yorkshire, 9 Sept-9 Oct. See ioutheatre.org for more information. Photo: CJ Griffiths Photography

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