Parks can be fantastic. David Whetstone reviews Enchanted Parks, part of the NewcastleGateshead Winter Festival.
WHEN Alderman Sir Charles Hamond succeeded in creating Leazes Park in 1872, he observed: “Everyone who sees it ought to be proud that Newcastle has such a park.
“I hope it will long prove a joy not only to the present generation, but to all future generations.”
A bust of Sir Charles enjoys a prominent position in the park to this day and it would be nice to think it is casting an approving eye over the weekend’s activities.
Enchanted Parks is the second of three elements of the NewcastleGateshead Winter Festival.
The first, Glow 07, involving subtle artist-created lighting effects in Newcastle and Gateshead, was switched on earlier in the week.
Artistic director Geraldine Pilgrim was commissioned to create Enchanted Parks, bringing to life a pair of municipal amenities – Gateshead’s Saltwell Park gets the treatment next weekend – to entertain locals and visitors.
Last night’s cold but dry weather was perfect for a first venture into a land of enchantment. I took the children, kitted up with scarves and gloves.
We gathered with our fellow travellers in a marquee where a vegetable show appeared to be taking place. Leeks and cabbages were on display as programmes were issued.
At the other end of the marquee was a display about the history of the park, recording such memorable events as a fireworks display in 1887 which climaxed “with an exciting delineation of the bombardment of Alexandria, in which the British Fleet was depicted blowing down the forts”.
They knew how to have fun, the Victorians, in the days when Britons ruled the waves.
The general principle of what we were about to witness was outlined to us.
We had to imagine the nurses from the nearby RVI had left the hospital and were instead caring for the landscape.
We were then gently guided past a series of illuminated tableaux.
There were nurses tending little trees in Florence Nightingale-style hospital beds, trees being transported around the lake by energetic oarsmen and ice skaters in period dress elegantly gliding around the prettily lit bandstand (originally erected: 1875).
Starched ladies briskly pushed old fashioned prams.
And as the skaters skated, a few ticketless denizens of the night – which is to say teenagers with baseball caps and certain beverages – were heard to egg each other on to join the skaters: “Gan on, I dare you.”
“Is it art?” one of them challenged. Told it probably was, he muttered his thanks and melted into the small crowd.
There were other surprises before our brisk trip was completed at the welcome refreshment kiosk, including some talking statues. The swans – and a white cat which may or may not have been part of the show – played their unscripted parts.
Enchanted Parks is a nice excuse to venture where many of us wouldn’t after dark.
There are performances today and tomorrow at 7pm, 7.15pm, 7.30pm, 7.45pm and 8pm. It’s free but you need a ticket. Tel: (0191) 230-5151.