*Disclaimer: I attended this show for free in exchange for blogging about the event.
The below opinions are still my own and not influenced by this in any way.
Haunting sights and sounds will seduce you down a path punctuated by unexpected encounters as you weave through the space between life and death in this East End cemetery…
I’ve seen some wonderful promenade theatre performances since living in London, Romeo and Juliet and Nightwatchers at the Tower of London spring to mind in particular. So when the TheatreBloggers.co.uk team were looking for people to attend and review a promenade circus performance in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park I was intrigued and registered my interest. Which is how at 8:30pm on a Friday evening I found myself entering a graveyard – where there is said to be more bodies buried than people currently alive in the Borough – eagerly anticipating what was to come.
My immediate thought upon entering the clearing was that there were an awful lot of people. Immersive theatre is definitely gaining traction and this was only the second ever performance of the show so word of mouth had not yet had time to travel. We were given different coloured bands upon entering which split the audience into three groups which would weave their way through the production in a different order for maximum exposure.
The meaning behind Depart is left very much up to the audiences imagination as we were ushered from one set of performers to another. Acrobats dangling from trees, traversing high poles and spinning around in a giant hula hoop enthralled us with physical acts no human body should be capable of. The use of technology and lighting throughout was very clever and visually stunning as was the background noise of the hauntingly ethereal choir occasionally dressed up in haunting veils to add to the ambience.
However, it quickly became clear that there were far too many people in our group as we were rushed from one performance to the next sometimes passing and even merging with other groups. The earlier rainfall had ensured that it was muddy and slippery which didn’t help speed things along but I was most disappointed to be manhandled by one of the guides as they deemed I wasn’t moving quickly enough. The worst part of this was the fact that some of the performers were most definitely shortchanged on the time that they had with the audience.
This was criminal as the performances themselves were absolutely incredible as was proven at the very end with an exceptional finale sequence which had me stood open-mouthed for the most part and gasping out loud at the things these gymnasts could do. I appreciate that nightfall adds to the atmosphere of the show but perhaps starting the show a little earlier would allow people to move through the space much more freely and give ample time for each act to be enjoyed and savoured by all.
Depart is running at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park until 26th June before touring Brighton, Hull and Blackpool in 2017. Some practical tips if you’re planning on attending; there are toilets available on site at the start if required and I’d recommend that you wear sensible boots or trainers that you don’t mind getting muddy and make sure that both your arms and legs are fully covered.