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> > > Review: Graeae Theatre Company present Against the Tide

Kate Larsen was washed away by Graeae Theatre Company and Strange Fruits' performance at the Greenwich + Docklands International Festival in June 2009

image of graeae performer during against the tide Judith Kilvington

Photo of Graeae and Strange Fruit performing Against the Tide at the Greenwich and Docklands Festival

Image: Judith Kilvington

At the end of June, I ran away to the sea. Well, at least as far as Greenwich, to check out Against the Tide, part of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival (GDIF) 2009. By the time I arrived at the artificial beach in Cutty Sark Gardens, it was standing-room only. For those of us not on our summer holidays, it was nice for a moment to pretend that we were near the sea. But there is no sea in this story.

Against the Tide builds on the collaboration begun last year between Graeae Theatre Company and Australia’s Strange Fruit, who came together to create the Medal Ceremony for GDIF and Liberty in 2008. This is the first of four festivals inspired by one of the elements, starting with water (or in this case, the absence of water).

This is a parched community; an island separated from the world, not by the ocean but by a vast desert. A future too-easily imagined; a perennial beach without a wave in sight.

The storytelling is simple and compelling, the set strewn with watery reminiscences: a haphazard boardwalk, a stranded wooden boat, teapot, hot water bottle, buckets, baskets and nets. The characters speak of when the air they breathed “scraped across our mouths and bones”, but we meet them in a happier time and watch as they share memories of before the drying came through joyous (almost hallucinogenic) re-imaginings.

Water is their sole pre-occupation: we laugh at Daryl Beeton galumphing arse-upwards in his lifebuoy. Water is also their passion: we feel for Flo (Caroline Parker) as she tells of life, love and loss by the sea. We are drawn in by the characters’ sandy routines, their care of one another, their collective memories and their hope for of a new way of living.

In the Medal Ceremony, it was only Strange Fruit’s non-disabled actors who ascended the poles. This year, what began with a challenging training programme has developed into a new vocabulary of movement on top of the poles and a new ensemble of diverse performers. There is real joy on the actors’ faces as they swim through the air on the four-metre high sway poles for which Strange Fruit is known.

This is such fantastic, quality work that it’s impossible to believe they pulled it together in only six days of rehearsal. Clever people doing clever things without compromises and with access completely and perfectly integrated into the performance. Each of the actors takes their turn to describe or sign, facilitating each others' access and creating a seamless performance.

A redesign of the sway pole harness made it accessible for Beeton, who sits atop it as if perched in a crow’s nest, looking out onto an imaginary sea.

I don’t know if it was the intention of Graeae and Strange Fruit to make a post-climate-change future seem like so much fun – playful, loving, hopeful – but that’s what this is. A bleak possibility made somehow joyful and life affirming. A remarkable experience.

Directors: Jenny Sealey (Graeae) and Sue Broadway (Strange Fruit) Music: Lewis Gibson with Jazztronics from Heart ‘n Soul Design: Sofie Layton Dramaturg: Alex Bulmer
Graeae performers: Chisato Minamimura, Caroline Parker, Daryl Beeton, Daryl Jackson, David Ellington and Milton Lopes
Strange Fruit performers: Ben Rogan, Kathryn Jamieson and Maria de Braganca