By Nathan Curry
During the pandemic many people sought solace and freedom in the Great Outdoors. Initially, due to the government rule allowing only 1 hour of outdoor time each day, people made sure they claimed their slot, but as the pandemic settled into the long haul people socialised, worked and played outdoors – everything became an outdoor event. As this happened many people started to see their local environments in new ways and noticed nature in the urban cracks for the first time and the incredible vistas and wildlife (sometimes more visible and closer than ever) in the countryside. There was something reassuring, in a constantly changing news cycle, that the skies, woods and fields seemed timeless.
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire run by the National Trust and Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk run by the RPSB are two places that saw this increased footfall and new visitors across the pandemic period. In September Tangled Feet are collaborating with playwright Steve Waters to create Murmurations; a site-specific piece of theatre that will take place at the two Reserves. The piece is part of a wider project Steve is embarking on asking what is the relationship with playwrighting, nature and the climate emergency? Mumurations reflects on our relationship with nature during the pandemic; how it’s given us solace and how does it need protecting from us?
One of the debates of the play is how we should look at these nature Reserves and where they sit (or where we’ve allowed them to sit) in our landscape. Steve discusses whether these Reserves should be ‘wild’ or cultivated by humans, whether there should be fixed habitats or with a wild approach to let things rip. He unpicks the changing climate which is forcing species into new habitats; should humans even be allowed into these protected environments anymore or have we already damaged the environment enough? Alongside this is a deeper debate on how we re-calibrate the role of nature in our lives – is it separate or connected to our value systems, our economic thinking, and our well-being?
We’ve developed Murmurations throughout the pandemic period. The first site visit was in July 2020 as the country started ‘opening up’ for the first (it turns out the first of a few) times. The creative teams walked the Wicken and Strumpshaw boardwalks and learnt about these incredible, protected, nurtured pieces of land. It was hot, teaming with wildlife and each place packed with birders, walkers, and families. We continued into the winter months spending time testing ideas in an icy December – less families this time but still many nature lovers camped out over thermoses. At that point the country was about to enter its third lockdown and it had become clear how important being outdoors was for us all. Making theatre outdoors is something Tangled Feet has done for the past 10+ years – we have witnessed first-hand the power of being on the street, in the park and in the fields. Art outdoors is nourishing for the artistic soul, accessible to everyone and allows artists to try brave and bold experiments in form, place, and content.
For me there is a connection between these threads of art and the natural world. Why is it that during lockdown we sought out both of these sorts of experiences – walks and exercise in nature, a new appreciation of skies, birds and insects buzzing in open spaces and alongside zoom dance classes, painted rainbows on windows and creative online socialising. What is it that we need from art and nature? Both give us time to think – there is inspiration from a fantastic view or stirring dramatic speech. Both ask us to bring ourselves into the picture offering a frame for our imagination. Both allow ritualistic moments of catharsis – the sun setting, the ice melting, the dance crescendo or the dramatic departure. And both are bigger than us and contain complicated creativity embedded inside them; the design of flowers, feathers and roots alongside choreography, language and design.
Experiencing theatre and nature together is brilliantly exciting as the natural world is a stunning backdrop (the best set design out there). The narrative must align itself to the rhythms of nature, the form cannot fight against the weather - if its windy its windy, if it’s raining it’s raining, if the sun sets the lights are turned down. There is something honest about making theatre outdoors – there is no fakery of design, no chance to focus attention via spotlights and everyone is under the same canopy – there is nowhere to hide. The marriage of form, theme and place creates a deep connection. When an actor talks of the earth, of landscapes changing, of the sounds of wildlife it all surrounds you– the work shimmers and shines under the watchful eye of its inspiration.
And the debates on access in art and nature dance around each other with linking themes. Should art be housed in protected palaces or on the streets for everyone? Should art adapt to how the world is changing and what we need art to be or is it a historical form focused on preservation? What is the intrinsic value of art on our everyday lives and how do we quantify that?
Murmurations will take place during the RSPB’s Big Green Week (18-26 Sept)- a national week celebrating action on climate change. Making Murmurations and creating the work in natural surroundings brings the effects of climate change into sharp focus. As the characters talk of a sinking landscape and rising waterline, we look across the watery land and see it. As they bring our attention to a small scrap of land home to a rare, endangered insect we know this land is irreplaceable. When we are asked to witness the yo-yoing weather we feel the heat, rain, and wind on the same day. Perhaps theatre work in the natural environment can help elevate he stories of the changing climate and give voice to the voiceless nature we have taken for granted for too long?
Nathan Curry, Director
NATIONAL TRUST WICKEN FEN NATURE RESERVE Performance dates & times:
Friday 17th September: Shows at 11am, 2pm, 5pm
Saturday 18th September: Shows at 11am, 2pm, 5pm
Sunday 19th September: Shows at 11am, 2pm, 5pm
Meeting point: At entrance to The Reserve
Buy tickets here
RSPB STRUMPSHAW FEN NATURE RESERVE Performance dates & times:
Friday 24th September: Shows at 11am, 2pm, 5pm
Saturday 25th September: Shows at 11am, 2pm, 5pm
Sunday 26th September: Shows at 11am, 2pm, 5pm
Meeting point: At entrance to The Reserve
Buy tickets here