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BABEL, Caledonian Park

A collaboration between World Stages London, WildWorks and Battersea Arts Centre.

Pros: An intriguing idea and parts of it work very well. It’s nice to see that ambitious, large scale projects do still get made. Definitely makes for a unique evening, even if it’s not completely you’re thing.

Cons: Mud, lots of mud. And despite tremendous effort it didn’t quite come together
Our Verdict: A bold idea full of good intent, but didn’t quite hit the right note
Courtesy of Donald Cooper for the Daily Telegraph
Look harder, see more…
Those are the words imparted to us as we step into Caledonian Park and I made a conscious effort to carry them with me throughout the evening, though it has to be said, I didn’t always understand what I was looking for…
The promenade through the park is an enchanting start. Putting a bed beneath a tree and having someone doing their ironing up another is always going to be novel and cool. Awkwardly, as we had been told to ‘look harder’, there seemed to be confusion amongst us ‘audience’ as to just how close we’re supposed to get to the ‘actors’. I have to put quotation marks around these words as BABEL leaves behind traditional boundaries between ‘audience’ and ‘actor’ and is immersive in the truest sense of the word. 
The story of the Tower of Babel is one of unity, of people coming together and creating something in that spirit of oneness. Before there were tribes, before there were different languages and nations, we as humans, were one. This is very much the message that BABEL, literally, gives out, and in a world where different cultures can find themselves clashing increasingly, it strikes a chord. With 300 cast and almost as many crew, it’s a project of epic proportion.

BABEL is a collaborative effort, with many of London’s heavyweight theatres getting involved. The Lyric Hammersmith, Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Young Vic as well as the World Stages London project have all pitched in. The driving artistic force has come from WildWorks, a company renowned for its ambitious use of outdoor spaces. Combining superpowers has definitely paid off in terms of production. From my limited experience with tech for outdoor performances, I have some understanding of what a complete pain it can be to have everything working perfectly on the night. This production however, pulls off a large scale and ambitious design remarkably well, complete with searchlights and spot on projection.

However, the fact that I stood there admiring the tech and not immersed in the narrative worried me. This is where the show lacks a little, or a lot depending on who you ask. It’s lovely to spend some time knitting and making plasticine squirrels but if, like me, you need a substantial plot line to follow then you’ll probably come away feeling disappointed that this was not delivered. If however, you don’t mind not having a stringent narrative, then you can just ‘sit back’, which here translates into ‘stand in the mud’, and enjoy the immersive experience of a large piece of performance art. In fact, being the latter will get you closer to what creators of the production have in mind.

BABEL is not about you as an audience member; it’s about you as a human. The idea here is to create a ‘world’ for people to be part of for the evening. Knitting, dancing, and starting fires is all part of that and it’s pretty fun for a while. The bamboo sticks for building were good fun and I was excited when people’s creations were later used in the performance. However, there is only so much of this that you can take, and after a good 30 minutes of the ‘audience’ being dispersed around the park doing very little, it started to get tedious. Indeed at one stage I would say that one of our blogging team was fairly miserable; bored, muddy and not ‘getting it’.

Whilst I wasn’t bowled over by this show, it is undeniably a unique experience and therefore if you’re considering it, you should probably go. It doesn’t quite get it right, but it’s ambitious and certainly something different, so that should be applauded. A tip from us – wear wellies! Or at the very least, don’t wear your only pair of dress shoes – one of our bloggers learnt this lesson the heartbreaking way!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!

BABEL runs at Caledonian Park until 20th May 2012.
Box Office: 020 7223 2223 or book online at www.babellondon.com/

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