Writer: Steve Waters and Tangled Feet
Directors: Nathan Curry and Kat Joyce
In a year when environmental concerns have become headline news, both globally through extremes of temperature causing both wildfires and flash floods and more locally through river pollution, vehicle emission charges and government changes to net zero commitments, Steve Waters and Tangled Feet’s Murmurations takes on renewed relevance and urgency.
First conceived for and performed at the National Trust’s Wicken Fen nature reserve, Murmurations is capable of being revised according to each location it is performed in. In this latest incarnation, performed in Essex Wildlife’s Trust’s Bedford’s Park, technically part of London due to the fact it sits in the London Borough of Havering – a fact not missed in this version – references have been tweaked to make this both timely and relevant.
Part walking tour, part audio experience, part play – this multi-sensory experience sees participants join Chloe, a new tour guide volunteer for the Wildlife Trust (and part time performance poet) lead us on an hour walk through the former royal hunting ground, now a green oasis in the Greater London urban sprawl. As distant views of Canary Wharf disappear behind the ancient oak canopy, walkers learn not only about the wildlife that call this fragile landscape home, but also the people for whom this space is more than just a park.
Issued with headsets as we head out on the walk, music, poetry and sounds of nature mix to provide an evocative soundscape. As we move through the park, microphones pick up voices of characters we encounter – a woman coming to terms with the loss of her mother and trying to understand why she had such a strong emotional connection to this place; a couple of workmates on a team building event who have differing views on the importance of the greenbelt; birdwatchers, environmental campaigners, local residents – all pop in and out of view, their voices mixing with the sounds of nature itself.
Water’s script, adapted here for Havering Changing, may have site-specific references, the expansion of the A12 and M25 having particular local resonance, but the themes explored have global resonance. Giving nature a voice, the importance of outdoor spaces for our own mental health, particularly when viewed though a post-pandemic lens, and the growing awareness of the urgency of climate response all prove to be universal and current.
Directors Nathan Curry and Kat Joyce deploy the five-strong ensemble company well. Chanice Hird holds the Master of Ceremonies role as novice tour guide Chloe, while Emily Eversden, Mario Christofides, Carl Parkin and Fiona Watson conjure up a rich and varied supporting cast of residents. Characters emerge from the landscape almost like magic, timed to perfection to bisect the tour walk. Performances are universally strong, coping with the alfresco elements and even the odd errant dog straying from its walk to be part of the action.
Guy Connelly’s impressive sound design is almost a character in itself, mixing haunting melodies by composer Polly Wright with spoken word and the live voices of performers. The technology here though is impressive but subtle. Although wearing headsets and listening to microphoned actors there’s no sense of isolation. The sound of nature itself blends into the mix and the fact that life in the park continues around you – a couple of inquisitive dogs adding unexpected cameos – adds to the sense of being both present at the same time as being an outside observer. It’s a totally immersive experience and one that is strangely moving. As the piece draws to a close, it’s hard not to feel somewhat changed by the experience.
Reviewed on 24 September 2023 in Bedford’s Park, also runs in Dunkeld House Perth Oct 13-16