ANY passers-by could be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled across another world.
While it’s highly unlikely you would really get anyone wandering down Davy Bank in Wallsend – leading as it does to a business park – another world is what’s being carefully created by Wildworks theatre company.
At the bottom of the winding road to the banks of the Tyne, it is transforming Oceana Business Park into an outdoor stage where, from next Tuesday, The Beautiful Journey promises audiences exactly that.
Set in the near future, when humanity is on the move, it’s a mystical journey into the unknown. From the moment we’re enticed into the world of Queen Kalypso, we’ll be part of a walkabout adventure on her ‘island’.
Yesterday, given a tour, during rehearsals, of the specially constructed shanty town – the Queen is there in her red frock while her estranged sister Kassandra, in white, is waiting to be hoisted into the air in what looks like a giant bird cage – I am sure it’s going to be magical.
Sue Hill, playing Kassandra, invites me into the ‘lab’ where audiences – in the “really crazy” kind of carnival interval – will be invited to try out a memory projector, have their fortune told and enjoy a drink from the bar, even a dance.
Back outside, a shanty band strikes up. When I look up again, moments later, they’ve suddenly appeared on the roof of one of the buildings.
Every space and level of the outdoor area has been used and you can only imagine the challenges faced by Bill Mitchell, director of Cornwall-based Wildworks, which has been working on this Culture10 commission for the past two years.
“We work with what we find,” he tells me.
“If you don’t work in a theatre, there’s a whole lot of issues – not problems, necessarily, because we expect them, but issues like health and safety.
“But we’re very experienced at this and know what we can and can’t do.” Initially they’d thought of using a shipyard but, given the ambitious nature of the type of theatre they do, it’s not unusual that first ideas don’t always come off. This is location number four.
It’s proved very different to previous locations, performance director Nicola Rosewarne tells me, but a good decision. “It’s a much more forgiving set, for one thing,” she says, “particularly with voices. They bounce off all these buildings, rather than being lost in an empty space or snatched away by wind.”
As one of those who’s been travelling up and down the country for the past two years, she’s loved the experience of meeting and working with the local community.
Tailoring the show specifically to the North East – by enlisting local performers in the cast and holding workshops with all age groups, including school children and former shipyard workers – is a vital ingredient in the telling of the story.
And it’s is all there, adding colour to the narrative itself or in the marquee set up for the audience’s arrival, where, for instance, we can learn about the memories of Swan Hunter workers, their feelings of pride then a sense of loss following the launch of every ship.
What comes across is what a nice bunch of people Wildworks is made up from and how genuinely interested they are in what they’ve learned about the area.
The result for us will be a unique theatrical experience which brings new life to the riverbank, ending in a spectacular image as the night sky darkens.
“A ship will launch every night – the likes of which the Tyne has never seen before!” promises communications and development manager Emma Gibson.
Hopefully the next two weeks will remain fine, but audiences should come prepared in case of a change in the weather. They’ll be on their feet for about two hours, but my reckoning is that the time will fly over.
The Beautiful Journey runs from Tuesday until August 8 (except August 3). Tickets are available from The Customs House in South Shields, which is supporting the event. Visit www.customshouse.co.uk or call (0191) 454-1234.
For more on the show, visit www.thebeautifuljourneynortheast.com