Latitude 2014: An Open Secret

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Originally written for Exeunt

“A hedonistic adventure playground.”

“An amazing place for conversations… random meetings, inspirational encounters.”

“A carnivalesque atmosphere.”

Just hearing artists speak about Latitude is enough to suffuse the most living-in-a-tent-possibly-in-the-rain-for-four-days averse heart with a frisson of excitement. With the mud of Glastonbury barely washed off and the train tickets for Edinburgh just booked, Latitude sits at somewhat of a crossroads in the festival calendar and seems to embrace that; being somewhat of a crossroads of a festival itself.

With music and comedy still forming its backbone, the arts programme has found its way further and further into the heart of the festival in recent years, expanding from 6 stages to 13; one of which, the Faraway Forest, forms a sort of magical wonderland on the fringes of the festival site, into which festivalgoers can wander in the hopes of falling into a bit of art.

Designed this year by The Wrong Crowd, the forest embodies the sense of play that pervades the festival – offering adults and children alike the opportunity to lose themselves in its deep sea design (soaring trees form makeshift masts) and stumble across one of the many hidden grottos of performance curated by Tania Harrison, the force behind Latitude’s wide ranging arts programme. In breaking up what was the festival’s outdoor theatre into lots of smaller spaces in which audiences can encounter performances like Clean Break’s Meal Ticket – looking at the secrets around money and trading, and the shame around debt through the autobiographical stories of its performers – Harrison has further embedded this year’s theme of Secrets and Lies in a sense of intimacy that artists such as Brian Lobel are using to its fullest potential. Should you wish to rest up on Sunday, you can climb into a double bed with Lobel and watch an episode of Sex and the City that has been chosen just for you; provided of course that you are up for the 97 question long survey about your love life and relationship with the often divisive HBO series that he uses to guide the selection process.

If Latitude has any one focus, Lobel’s piece seems to be the epitome; art without boundaries. Playing home to a Live Art House that will see Made in China try out their current work in progress Tonight, I’m Gonna Be the New Me, tapping (literally) into the question of identity; The Shed of Stories which will host Flipping the Bird’s The Box , tackling gender in the form of an old-fashioned peep show booth; and the Little (Big) House that will be filled with stories by Gavin Osborn, the festival’s aim seems to be one of encounters – both personal and surprising. Saturday night will see a procession of drummers from the close of Damon Albarn’s set to a New Orleans-themed party in the forest at which, Harrison is hoping, anyone may at any point find themselves in the midst of a performance, convinced that what is happening to them is real.

This sense of adventure permeates the arts programme and Latitude has grown in recent years to become an event for which work is commissioned in its own right; something which Forest Fringe’s Andy Field feels is deeply important. “It’s a really unique and exciting environment… [and] a place to be making work for, rather than taking work to.” Latitude has banded together with the Lyric, Watford Palace and Greenwich + Docklands International Festival again to commission specifically for both festivals and this year sees Forest Fringe bring up new work created for the festival from They Are Here and also a hidden one-to-one from a secret artist that Field emphasises will be very special. Elsewhere, the Almeida, Kate Tempest, and Look Left Look Right are all bringing up new or early work, something which Clean Break’s Imogen Ashby feels is key to the playful, risk taking spirit of the festival – with its temporary nature allowing artists to embrace a less traditionally theatrical space and audiences to be more spontaneous and playful.

Not without serious fare, Harrison explains that this year’s theme stems from a desire for theatre to be provocative and the relevance and strength of the idea of privacy, particularly as Westminster push through a bill sanctioning the government’s access to personal phone records – dealt with surprisingly head on by Mark Thomas’ new piece about a corporation’s state sanctioned spying on the public. Secrets and Lies extends from the most intimately personal one on ones to the confronting of government-level espionage.

So with such a large and varied programme, what’s the key to getting Latitude right? How can you possibly avoid missing something? The advice across the board seems to be – don’t worry about it. What artists themselves, seasoned denizens of the festival world, are looking forward to the most is the unexpected. Not all those who wander are lost at Latitude and curiosity and a lack of inhibition are likely to take you to work you wouldn’t experience elsewhere – whether you end up in an occult cabin, a double bed, a party in the forest or simply sitting by the lake in the sun (there will be sun, there WILL be sun). Just don’t panic. And definitely don’t forget your towel.

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