Latitude Review 2018: Political theatre scheduling addresses gender and sexuality

Features / Festivals / Words

19 Jul 18

Latitude theatre review, Culture Or Trash


Latitude has powerful ties with theatre. Its scheduling is the bravest and most comprehensive on the ‘music festival’ circuit. This year curator Tania Harrison drew heavily on gender and sexuality, a recurring theme across the muscular line-up.

Under the treetop canopies of Henham Park, where the theatre is staged, hour-long queues often form for headline shows. Those in on the secret of the theatre at Latitude rarely migrate to the festival’s music stages.

Following last year’s volcanic ‘Come the Revolution’ theme, which explored the fallout from Brexit and Trump, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this year would be a touch lighter on political commentary.

But performances were typically urgent, satirical, and provocative: Latitude’s explosive tongue fuelled conversation and stimulated debate.

Friday offered the strongest performance of the weekend from physical theatre specialists The Pappy Show. They presented their latest show Boys: A Celebration of Manhood, which featured a tremendous ensemble cast.

Choreographed dance routines explored masculinity through the lenses of love and violence, comedic banter and personal monologues.

The play highlighted the pressures men face daily to be masculine. Topics spanned from gym culture, to the fear of loving another man as the performance skewed from romance to violence, Boys opened the audiences’ eyes to the struggle of modern day manhood.

Before its standing ovation, Boys ended with the characters embracing each other and stating that “brotherhood” is the most important thing of all, regardless of societal labels and their apparent individual ‘manliness’.

Similar themes of gender and sexuality were explored throughout the weekend in No Kids and Suffrageddon.

Soundtracked by Madonna’s greatest hits, No Kids looked at a gay couple’s decision over whether to adopt a child or not.

The play, which was written directed and performed by a real couple, explored the environmental impacts of having a child, as well as societal views on same-sex parents.

Meanwhile Suffrageddon, the crowd-funded musical, retold the story of the suffragette movement which often forgets to mention women of colour.

Performed by a cast built up of entirely women of colour, the play covered the battle for suffrage before the 1918 act through the use hip-hop, with Hamilton’s influence detectable throughout.

The final line of the production asks “in 100 years, where will we be?” Given recent political setbacks the likes of Trump, the question carried extra weight.

Latitude has always catered for both music and theatre fans, however this year the festival made a strong push to bring these two crowds together through gig-theatre.

Nele Needs a Holiday told the story of a Belgium woman moving to London to pursue her dream of becoming a famous musician. The part actors, part three-piece band, performed hilarious songs which critiqued young artists being funded by their rich parents, as well as the post-Brexit racism the protagonist faced.

Similarly, the energetically bonkers Pop Music used live music to play on nostalgia as two thirty-something year olds danced and sang their troubles away with hits from The Spice Girls, Oasis and Beyoncé.

Pop Music won another standing ovation for the Theatre Arena, leaving the audience laughing, if feeling a little melancholy about growing up.

Unfortunately we missed the performance of Pecho Mama’s gig-theatre retelling of the Greek tragedy Medea, however a Virtual Reality theatre experience was on site to give us a preview of the electronic musical spectacle.

London’s Oval Theatre and technology company LIVR collaborated on the immersive experience, which allows users to put on a headset and appear in the front row of a theatre performance.

The theatre told Culture Or Trash: “Nothing can replace the live thing, but this brings people who can’t make it to a show much closer than a film can. You’re in control of where you look and what you see”.

Throughout the weekend the theatre space at Latitude also included musicals, including Lyric Hammersmith’s tenth performance at the festival, as well as the headlining spectacle of the daring circus show Paris De Nuit.

Where to eat and drink

The biggest change to Latitude this year was the food. Street Feast, the organisers of some of London’s largest and most exciting street food markets, curated the festival’s food line-up for the first time. Over 80 vendors were on site, selling cuisines from all across the world.

Street Feast told Culture or Trash: “Latitude is known for its variety of art, and food should be treated as an art form too. Other festivals such as Wilderness have shown how important having lots of good food is, and that’s what we’re also offering here”.

Words by James Page. Latitude returns in July 2019