Yesterday, I was lured by the pictures of a chopper bus, what The Stage described as “a profound, perception-altering experience” plus organisers LeftCoast’s own copy that tells us that Rear View by IOU is a “mind illuminating ride around the streets and seafront of Blackpool” using “pioneering technology”. I was not really any wiser about what to expect but it all sounded very exciting!
As I arrived at Grundy Art Gallery in time to start my experience, I was signposted upstairs and 10-minutes later we were ushered through a secret corridor that linked to Central Library. Here we were surprisingly encouraged to take part in an actual life-drawing class. 30-minutes later we follow the life model who has discovered her voice and through her spoken poetry, introduces the beautiful linking theme of an unfinished picture of herself at 23 but now she is 65, she is reflecting on her life passed and how she still imagines herself as a young woman.
We finally get to board the exciting vehicle; seat-belts fastened, earphones on, engine starts, briefing over and off we go. It turns out that life-model, in this instance is performance poet Cecilia Knapp. Speakers are interchanged though and at another performance, I may have experienced the words of Jemima Foxtrot.
Initially I was intrigued as playing in my ears is the “ambient soundscape” which is something akin to meditation music, and incongruous to the shabby streets, drunken passers-by and broken buildings of my surroundings. We see Cecilia standing by a closed down newsagent talking poetically, if somewhat crackly, through a radio mic into our headphones about her bluebird tattoo. I wondered why we weren’t parked up outside a closed down tattoo parlour, of which we are not short in Blackpool and here lies the crux of my frustration with the piece that did not disappear during the course of the next 40-minutes.
Critically acclaimed and a competent crafter of words she may be, it was clear that this wordsmith was writing from another place. The reflections of this London-accented young poet, were not inspired by the amazing seascape that presented itself to us, nor even the seedy streets that we were taken around; the words she was speaking were not connected specifically to the places where we sat; this was yet another off-the-peg show created somewhere else and shoe-horned into this town so that its residents might have a glorious, if non-specific, artistic experience.
Putting my disappointment aside, I tried to enjoy the reflective nature of the piece but sadly I was left desperate for some drama; for tension, for something to happen, for there to be a reason that we are seeing a live person moving about the streets in ghostly fashion. There is a fleeting moment of intrigue involving flowerpots at the Metropole, when Cecilia surprisingly gets into a parked car. Will she disappear forever? Is there a secret tryst arranged that we might be vehicle-bound voyeurs of? A fight with the lady driver as she discovers her new passenger?
No, we watch the car do a clunky three-point turn and then for the next 10-minutes we are left to enjoy the glorious seafront vista accompanied by the plinky-plonky music and some occasional quill scratching sound effects in our less than comfortable headphones but now being weirdly pursued by a Fiat Estate car with the performer inside. Then, on our way back, we see stage managers in position with said flower pots waiting for the next performance and thereby shattering any last fragments of mystery.
I have spoken to others who disagree with my perceptions of this show; some had a gloriously meditative experience, some felt uplifted by it; I am prepared to accept that I am in the minority, perhaps you should go along and find out for yourselves…?
Rear View runs until Saturday 15 July, and is timetabled for five journeys from The Grundy Art Gallery each day with the first starting at midday and the last at 7pm. Each performance lasts around 75 minutes. Tickets cost £10/£8 concessions and can be booked at leftcoast.org.uk
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