The QT

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Review: Departure, Ladycross Quarry, Northumberland

More by luck than design, David Whetstone caught the opening event of the Seeds of Hope project by artists from Tynedale and Ukraine
One of the closing moments of Departure

Sunday afternoon found me on a heathery knoll above a seething pond.

“Frogs,” hissed the only other human occupant under her breath (we’d been told to be quiet, an order clearly unheeded in the water).


Amorously alive, the turbulent pond groaned and quacked above the birdsong.

First rule of theatrical presentations in the open air, as any seasoned summer thespian will tell you, is that nature will strive to upstage you.

The second rule, possibly applicable only to me, is that your audience might not arrive.

Some of the scene-stealing frogs

When I say Sunday ‘found me’, I mean I found this spot in Ladycross Quarry (it’s out there in Northumberland somewhere) only after winding up in someone’s drive.

“Oh,” said the man washing his car, puzzled. “Most people who end up here are looking for Slaley Hall.”

My journey along disorientating country lanes was completed successfully only by acting contrary to every direction offered by Google maps; where the man had stipulated left, the voice of Google (the tease) urged right.

I got there in the end, my destination marked by parked cars and a man at a trestle table in a sea of mud.

Having missed the “mini guided tour of the nature reserve” promised by the Ukraine/Tynedale artists’ collective, I was shown the direct route to the knoll beside frog pond, there to await the audience and, presumably, the performers.

The audience arrives

This was to be the last of three Sunday performances of Departure, a piece devised by dance/movement specialists Yaryna Kvitka and Tim Rubidge and a cast assembled by Hexham-based Théâtre sans Frontières whose very name is a promise of adventure.

I’ve admired their work for years, from early productions of Candide, Le Moulin Magique and Pig Boy to the epic Lipsynch and the more recent Les Olympiques des Animaux.

The pond occupants might have enjoyed A Frog Called Woanda/Woânda, the title indicating that this particular children’s show was available in English or French.

As self-proclaimed proponents of ‘world theatre’, how wonderfully typical of Sarah Kemp and John Cobb, founders of Théâtre sans Frontières (let’s call it TsF), to pull together like-minded artists from their neighbourhood and some of those forced from their homeland by war.

Through art and performance, cultural and linguistic barriers melt away. TsF has demonstrated this many times.

But wait… the audience has arrived, snaking towards us in myriad waterproof hues.

Once alongside us, a young lady who has waited patiently on yonder knoll emits a plaintive cry and begins fiddling with a length of blue rope.

The performers in Departure, Ladycross Quarry

A man with a red suitcase trudges wearily along the path between us and then a woman emerges from the woods, stage left. Clearly distressed, she is thrashing another bundle of the blue rope.

Another woman appears to quieten and comfort her, to be followed by others, and all are briefly enmeshed in the rope before it’s passed between them and strung out. There is singing… North East favourites like The Keel Row and what I take to be the equivalent in Ukrainian.

A man painstakingly rolls a tyre along the track.

The performers pass the red suitcase along the line before making their way slowly up to a ring of standing stones beside the pond.

Ritualistically, they encircle a fire and the young woman starts wailing again, exultantly this time and holding aloft an image of the sun with a central green eye.

The performers amid the standing stones

Eventually the performers fall silent, assemble in ranks and bow. We applaud and they wander back into the trees.

What did it all mean? Hard to tell exactly but it was possible to take away a message of hope, of comradeship, of unity in the face of despair.

And even if I did get lost, it made for a nice afternoon out with some sights you don’t often see… and the sun (the real sun) deigned to put in an appearance.

Before filing back to our cars, most of us stood a while beside the pond to marvel at the fecund frogs.

Departure was the first in a series of events in Tynedale as part of Seeds of Hope, a project exploring new pathways to peace.

You will find full details on the Théâtre sans Frontières website.


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