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Gateshead International Festival of Theatre

Tuesday, 3 May, 2011

Caroline Pearce reviews GIFT

On Friday lunchtime it started, with a tea party in the streets of Gateshead outside the impressive Old Town Hall.  It’s just a stone’s throw from the bustling city centre of Newcastle, but important in its own right.

GIFT is what it says on the tin, a festival of international theatre.  The brainchild of Director, Kate Craddock who aims to bring culture to the people of Gateshead and tempt the hoards of visitors up from the iconic Quayside buildings of BALTIC and The Sage Gateshead, onto the High Street.  Based on feedback, Kate’s comments and the sense of achievement and celebration which filled the weekend, this is set to be the first of many.

Kate said “I really believe in festivals as a space for people to come together, to exchange ideas and to make new connections, and I am proud to say that it really felt like this was what happened this weekend at GIFT. I was overwhelmed by the level of enthusiasm both from artists and audiences to support one anothers’ work and to genuinely engage in dialogue about that work.”

The three-day event was filled with delightful and experimental performances by companies from all over the world, from Lawnmowers Theatre Company who are based in Gateshead Old Town Hall, to Foyer Productions who brought their new multi-media show ‘Elena Elena’ all the way from Korea, especially for GIFT.

Gateshead Old Town Hall’s main theatre hosted a wonderfully diverse series of performances about topics including Nixon, grief, hitch hiking to a G8 summit, time, Chekhov and absolutely nothing.  Other performances were held in a bar, a church and an empty shop.  There was storytelling, audience participation and silent dancing – all in a day’s work for these festival bunnies.

There was a programme of professional workshops for the artists which was completely filled; artists wrote and discussed and interacted with their international peers. There were too many to mention them all, but performances ranged from Gateshead’s own Angela Kennedy and Liz Pavey’s ‘Cell’ dance installation in the Town Hall’s old prison cells; a performance installed in a box housed in Gateshead Interchange Metro Station, ‘Kapzuola’ from Austria and ‘Building the Big Society’ by Molly Barrett and Edwin Mingard, which featured a cardboard taxi travelling the streets.

Kate added, “the festival was intended to serve as a response to an area that is currently undergoing major redevelopment work. I was delighted by the extent of engagement with the sited performance works and street theatre that took place, with casual and unsuspecting audiences encountering performances in unusual spaces”

The success of the festival could be measured by the number of people who went along, enjoyed it and went back.  The last event on Sunday night, Richard Dawson’s gig ‘The Magic Bridge,’ was so crammed out they were turning people away at the door.

GIFT happened from Friday 29 April to Sunday 1 May 2011

For full details of the programme and more information see: www.giftfestival.co.uk

(c) Caroline Pearce 2 May 2011

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