Arctic-inspired show explores strange magnetism of North Pole

Tuesday 30 July 2013, 13:48

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For many of us, travelling to the Arctic to gaze upon the awe-inspiring Northern Lights is one for the bucket list, a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the wonders of the night sky at close range.

It is that fascination and magnetism, both literal and figurative, which has inspired storyteller Christine Watkins from Penarth to create a piece of theatre about the pull of Aurora Borealis and the concept of 'north'.

After Hours At The Polestar Club premiered at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre last month and will entertain audiences at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and the Green Man Festival in the Brecon Beacons in August.

Christine Watkins during a performance Christine Watkins during a performance. Photo: Maria Hayes

The show was inspired by Christine's own research trip to the Arctic in 2010 with visual artist Maria Hayes, from Blaenau Ffestiniog, who is also involved in the production.

The pair were keen to see the Northern Lights from the Abisko Sky Station in Sweden but due to cloud cover on the day were unsuccessful in their quest.

However, Christine says they met so many interesting scientists, curators and artists along the way, with visits to the Swedish Institute for Space Physics in Kiruna, the Museum of the Arctic (Arkitkkum), Rovaniemi Arts Museum and Jokkmokk Museum, they saw an opportunity to capture a real sense of the experience through performance.

Christine said: "The research for the play followed several lines of enquiry. We were thinking about what the idea of 'north' means and its hold over the imagination.

"The show takes place in a run-down cabaret venue, The Polestar Club, and is an interwoven piece with live music and singing from the vocalist and violinist Sianed Jones, live performance art from Maria and stories from myself.

"There is an ongoing narrative involving three characters – a manageress, a musician and a stubborn regular - and they build into one another gradually, but as the show unfolds Maria will be documenting it live on stage and there will also be a range of projected images."

Artwork by Maria Hayes Artwork by Maria Hayes, created on a tablet device and projected during the show. Image courtesy of the artist

The show tells the story of a young girl in space, but also sheds light on life in the magnetosphere and involves a "non-scary" opportunity for audience participation.

Christine said: "At the moment the show is taking its first steps and we are seeing how it works. In Aber we saw how well the audience responded when it was shown in the round.

"We have been approached by a venue in Winchester with the opportunity to show it in a planetarium so we are just working out how we could tweak the production to suit it to that sort of venue."

A colour performance painting by Maria Hayes A performance painting by Maria Hayes. Image courtesy of the artist

Christine was keen to keep an element of science in the piece, exploring the physics of the auroral current along with the many myths about heavenly phenomena.

"I looked to find a bedrock of different stories within science where the mythic and personal narratives can resonate so they are not created in opposition to one another.

"The show is inspired by the idea of seeking, finding and understanding the earth we live in and how it fits into space and the way we feel about that."

But so as not to boggle the brains of her audiences, much of the scientific vocabulary and specific detail is carried through the song lyrics, visuals and music that Sianed and Maria have created specifically for the performance.

Storyteller Christine Watkins Storyteller Christine Watkins during a performance. Photo: Maria Hayes

After Hours At The Polestar Club is at Chapter on Thursday 15 August and will show twice at the Green Man Festival from 17-18 August.

It is a collaboration between Christine's own company Honeysuckle Direction, which explores links between art and science, and the Centre for Performance Research.

For more information about Maria Hayes' work visit mariahayes.info. For more information about Sianed Jones visit sianed.co.uk.

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