During the course of this online reviewing blog, it has always been more or less the case that anyone with an internet connection (and, occasionally, the right app) could access any of the content I have written about. For this latest material, however, anyone wanting to engage will have to take one step further – or actually quite a few steps further – as it will involve being on the move while experiencing a pair of audio plays from Tower Theatre. Even more specifically you will need to be in a small area of north London during the hours of daylight and not have “a thing” about burial grounds.
The location, just across the road from Tower, is Abney Park cemetery in Stoke Newington, final resting place for over 200,000 people just some of whom you will “meet” in the course of walking the grounds. As you move around, subtly guided by the audio content, geo-location tracking is used to bring the two narratives to life in a combination of site specific and promenade theatre which is quite unique. This is done through the Echoes app and there is also a downloadable map should you stray off the path. And that’s all too easy to do in this rewilded spot slap bang in the middle of an urban conurbation. When you remove the necessary earphones there is an eerie calm about the Gothic architecture and towering vegetation especially if you go, as I did, on a rapidly darkening November afternoon.
The first play, Strange Meeting centres round the aftermath of a pandemic. Rather than Covid, this is the Spanish Flu outbreak which came hot on the heels of the First World War. A young widow makes a regular pilgrimage to the cemetery hoping to stay connected to her late husband. As we wander with her we become aware that there is someone – or something – up ahead which exerts a strange fascination over her. Colin Guthrie’s script takes a neatly conventional form with gently lyrical passages which emphasise the solitude and reflective nature of the location; these worked particularly well in the developing autumnal gloom. The dialogue is immaculately delivered and with appropriately character led reticence by Joanna Coulton and David Miller to the accompaniment of hauntingly elegiac cello music from Tamara Douglas-Morris. It’s a haunting play, though not, it has to be said, in quite the same way as its companion piece.
The second play Remembrance by Martin South is rather more wide ranging both in terms of subject matter and the actual ground covered and serves well as a novel way to get an overview of the location’s history and development. It’s also a bit of a treasure hunt as the narrative encourages you to pick up a number of readily available items for a purpose that I can’t reveal here without giving the game away. Suffice to say it’s an eerie experience, at least I found it so as the light was rapidly fading, and the well-trodden pathways began to empty of dog walkers anxious to beat the 4.00pm gate locking. South himself makes for a diabolical guide, and I mean that in the sense of devilish rather than awfully bad – in fact he’s rather good; later he hands over to Emily Carmichael’s gleeful ghost child. Passing the various monuments to past lives, a number of Tower Theatre’s members bring the various inhabitants briefly back to life with potted histories and whispered invocations. Of particular interest is the story of James Braidwood (John McSpadyen) generally considered the instigator of the first municipal fire service. I found myself caught up in a whirl of well researched detail which really brought the place to life – and, yes, I do recognise the irony in that statement.
The technology all worked pretty well although at one point I was obviously picking up the narrative from two locations at once. However, if anything this enhanced the eerie quality of proceedings so certainly didn’t detract. I probably needed to allow myself a little more time than I did as I found myself rushing to beat the dusk time lock up. Eventually I located the gate where I had come in with seconds to spare before the attendant stood down for the night. And It was certainly no place I cared to be after darkness fell, particularly given the themes and content of the plays. Both pieces certainly fire the imagination and are well thought out exemplars of what can be achieved using the latest modern technology in a uniquely historical setting. If you find yourself in the vicinity with a couple of hours to spare, this experience is well worth your time – just make sure you keep one eye on your watch.
Strange Meeting/Remembrance are available on the Tower Theatre website – click here
You will need to download the free Echoes app to access the audio walks – there are links on the relevant Tower webpage
To keep up with the blog and all the latest online theatre reviews please click here and choose a follow option