Bold, brilliant and brave from Chichester Festival Youth Theatre - review

Crossing Lines
Crossing Lines

Crossing Lines – a new play by Anna Ledwich, Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, promenade performance, until August 24.

Chichester Festival Youth Theatre pull off something rather remarkable with their latest summer promenade production, Crossing Lines by the CFT’s new writer-in-residence, Anna Ledwich.

You know those warm, friendly, oh-so-familiar city centre streets of Chichester?

Enter into the spirit of Crossing Lines, and they soon start to seem full of menace, with danger around every corner.

Do you see that guy sitting on a bench by the cathedral? Is he a spy? And those blokes chatting outside the pub? Can we be sure they aren’t actually watching us?

And that’s the world Crossing Lines plunges us into.

Accompanied by the “companions”, we, the audience, are on the run, trying to escape to a new life, trying to leave behind us a world of “xenophobic tyranny” in which possession of Camembert is an imprisonable offence.

Is Crossing Lines a cautionary tale about Brexit Britain? Quite probably, but more widely, it’s also a plea for understanding and tolerance, a completely immersive evening in which we are shown the ghastly effects and rampant dangers of narrow nationalism.

And if that’s not enough, we can simply marvel at the logistic of the play’s staging.

We assemble on the Cathedral Green where we are harangued by the evil dictator Axel. And then disaffected youth emerges, the “companions” who divide us into groups and take us with them on the run.

Did we have the best “companions” in blue group? Doubtless the others were just as good, but our three were brilliant in the way they bickered, faced down the threats on our behalf and tried to fathom our way out.

They worked delightfully well together, communicating to us via our headphones – something which could so easily have felt a gimmick, but which they managed in fact to make integral to the whole experience.

And so we legged it in their company, stopping at key city centre locations – the Novium, Pallant House Gallery and the Cathedral Cloisters – to watch as mystery figures from the past emerged to re-enact before our eyes tales of compassion, touching tableaux in which the right way to live is hinted at in the face of tragedy.

And then, by the magic which seemed to govern the whole evening, the three groups once again became one. By heavens knows by what feat of radio co-ordination, we converged for the finale in the Bishops Palace Garden to find out whether tyranny will indeed get its just desserts, darkness now falling.

Wandering round the streets wearing headsets hadn’t seemed the most appealing of prospects; the reality was superb, a crucial way to herd us, but more importantly the perfect way to pull us into the bizarre world Ledwich imagined and which director Daniel Hill then so memorably made real.

The night proves compelling – and even as you wander round, you know you will be thinking about it for a long, long time.

Again, the logistics seem mind-boggling, the way it somehow all pulled together.

But as ever – just as the play itself was determined to show us – it’s the human touch which counts the most, the dozens of young actors rising beautifully to all the challenges set before them.

This is a play which manages to be weird and whacky, but also sharply direct and politically relevant, teasing, fun and funny but also wonderfully provocative.

It calls for acting which is bold, brilliant and brave… and my goodness, it gets it. You’ll never again experience an evening of theatre quite like this – a night to relish, a hugely original play delivered by a hugely skilled company.

PLEASE NOTE

Crossing Lines will take place across the heart of Chichester, with locations including Chichester Cathedral, Pallant House Gallery, The Novium Museum and the Bishop’s Palace Gardens. The audience will follow the action on foot.

Crossing Lines is a promenade production; the audience will follow the action on foot around the centre of Chichester. Details about the start and end location will be sent in advance.

As an immersive piece of theatre, audience members will use wireless headsets provided as part of the performance.

There is no formal seating and the audience will be required to stand during the scenes. However, there will be limited seating at each location for those with access requirements, and children may be able to sit on the ground.

Tickets are limited to a maximum of four per person.

Age guidance of 7+

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