• Sheila V

Random Acts of Art

Updated: 2 days ago

Lock down has left us bereft of live performances, whether it be festivals, bands in pubs or theatre we've all missed the joy of the shared experience and taking home warm memories of time well spent with talented people.

Online shows and performances have kept us going, but somehow these experiences simply aren't the same as being entertained by real people. With this in mind, Kneehigh have launched a project celebrating 40 years of Kneehigh with 40 different moments of wonder and surprise. Keep your eyes peeled over the coming weeks, who knows what might pop up in your town or village? From the Bay to The Clays, Kneehigh surprises will be popping up in unexpected places.

A Russian Empress, A Story Dress and a Connection to Cornwall

Bec Applebee’s Kneehigh connections go back a long way, so a 40 year celebration had to involve this wonderful performer. On Thursday locals in Tywardreath, Par and Charlestown were amazed and delighted to receive a Royal visit from Empress Catherine the Great of Russia on her whistle stop tour of the area.

The connection between the Empress and Cornwall, although not well known, is fascinating. In 1774 Josiah Wedgewood was commissioned to supply Catherine the Great with an 800 piece green frog dinner service; the clay for this incredible order came, of course, from right here in the heart of Cornwall where the finest clay in the world was mined. Hand painted on the service were picturesque scenes from Cornwall, Scotland, Wales and England – the finished set was carefully packed and sent on the long journey to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

Fast forward almost 250 years and Bec Applebee has designed and created the most incredible royal gown complete with hand painted underskirt depicting the story and travels of the dinner service with an amazing head dress to match. Starting early in the morning the Empress and her small entourage of Anna Maria Murphy and Kneehigh’s dedicated photographer and visual archivist Steve Tanner walked the streets engaging with passersby and spreading the word of Cornwall’s involvement in what is surely the rarest dinner service in Europe.

As with the previous Random Acts, people of all ages were enchanted when they encountered the Empress with children and teenagers eager to bow and curtsy before her, while adults called out ‘Your Maj’ as she passed by.

Like so many other artists and performers, Bec has not worked in over a year and her beaming smile told its own story of love for her craft and the sheer joy of being able to create something stunning to share. Bec, Anna and Steve were exhausted at the end of a very long day, but their hearts were full and their smiles were as wide as the folk they encountered along the way.

Catherine the Great will continue her tour, but as with all the Random Acts, she could pop up anywhere at any time. Stay alert!

The Story of 11 Doors - Dirty Dancing With Tin Bath and Washing

Anna Maria Murphy has an ear and a passion for true stories and trueish legends, Anna's famous Kneehigh Rambles have enabled her to fill books with wonderful Cornish tales to take liberties with and create magical works to share far and wide. One such story, discovered on a Ramble in Charlestown some years ago, concerns a well known cul de sac in the village called, appropriately, 11 Doors. Charlestown's maritime past is steeped in history with all manner of visitors heaving to in the village and a variety of appetites to be sated. Many sea dogs, as you would expect, were searching for ale, a warm bed and a buxom wench for comfort before returning to the wild sea, but others were looking for something else entirely. And so it was with one young man who sought nothing more than a good woman to bathe him with warm water and wash the brine from his clothes. The sailor found what he was looking for at 11 Doors, returning for his fireside bath and clean clothes each time his ship anchored in the ancient port.

Last weekend this beautiful story was performed in dance form throughout the village by the wonderful Suzie West and Rob Mennear. Suzie and Rob are much loved performers, teachers, choreographers and dance leaders across the Westcountry and work closely with many of Cornwall's own theatre and dance companies so it was no surprise to find their performances in Charlestown were both magical and awe inspiring. The brave choreography involved complex moves which included tipping Rob out of a tin bath, moving in and out of a specially designed door and hanging washing on a line. The fabulous musician and composer Jim Carey was once again called on to create the music for the performance while the pre recorded and captivating voice of the one and only Dawn French narrated the story to safely scattered passers by.

A gloriously sunny Cornish day added to the romance of yet another Kneehigh Random Act of Art, Perhaps the most surprising reactions were from small children playing in the park; their games were abandoned when they were drawn by Suzie and Rob's performance, sitting quietly drinking it all in and cheering loudly as the couple took their bows. Those children are theatre audiences of the future and perhaps one or two might even feel inspired to dance.

If you missed 11 Doors keep your eyes peeled over the coming weeks for further performances and the very special door with QR code which allows smart phone users to hear the story.

Sand Art, Wild Swimmers and Amazing Hats

Kneehigh kicked off two months of pop up performances in style on Gorran Haven Beach on Sunday 28th March with fabulous artist Tony Plant creating a beautiful display. Aided and abetted by eager Kneehigh people raking inside Tony's outline designs the team worked hard between tides to cover the beach with stunning designs. A random act of art, a moment in time enjoyed by people enjoying wild swims and people taking walks on a sunny Cornish Sunday. Gallery photos show an early morning start for sand artist Tony Plant along with Random Acts Lead artist and long time Kneehigh core member Anna Maria Murphy, photos of the design from the cliffs above the beach and finally Tony puts his feet up for a well earned rest and chat with Kneehigh founder and fellow sand raker Mike Shepherd.

Adding to the random theme, creative artist Sue Hill brought along two spectacular swimming hats that Carmen Miranda would have been proud of. Sue is creating a further 18 masterpieces for another Random Act of Art when local wild swimmers and their hats take to the water in the near future. Kneehigh artist Jenny Beare along with fellow wild swimmer Michael Bunney laid down their rakes to pose with their fab new headgear alongside the creator, Sue Hill.

The Hoss's Lament

Less than two miles from Gorran Haven is the ancient fishing village of Mevagissey, a village steeped in history, fishing, smuggling and ghosts. As dusk fell over the village on Tuesday a ghostly galleon appeared complete with figurehead and 1st mate. The ghostly apparitions told the story of The Hoss, a German barque that hit the rocks off Mevagissey in the 18 century with all hands lost. Artistic creator and performer Laura Frances Martin built the incredible boat and it was Laura the performer who wandered the streets with her 1st mate, Jenny Beare, singing a haunting lament of lost souls and things. The lyrics of this beautiful song were written by Carl Grose with music composed by Jim Carey, who both have a long and illustrious history with Kneehigh. The journey of The Hoss is not over as the boat has been gifted to the people of Mevagissey for future events.

As The Crow Flies

Jenny Beare is herself a miraculous and delightful work of art who will be popping up in numerous roles over the coming weeks. On Wednesday and Thursday Jenny took to the streets of Mevagissey, Portmellon and Gorran with her trusted puppet crow, her lantern, her accordion and her musician husband Jamie Crowe. Jenny told the story of The Walk Home, a well loved tale of a local couple whose romance could not last due to the long held antipathy between the two Cornish villages. The original song created especially for the event was written by Jamie himself. Jenny and Jamie are born entertainers, talented and funny they held their audience spellbound. Gorran locals who happened upon Thursday's street performance received an extra bonus when it was revealed that a local couple were celebrating 50 years together, inspired by this, Jenny and Jamie launched into an impromptu tribute to the Blues Brothers with Everybody Needs Somebody To Love. That's what Kneehigh's Random Acts is all about, expect the unexpected.

Historical Archive Film Footage Released on 1st April

Seamas Carey is a musician, performer, composer, all round funny person and now a film maker. Seamas created a very funny short black and white film, purporting to be recently discovered archive footage of life in and around St. Austell Bay and the Clays in 1912. Shot on an old Bolex camera to give an authentic grainy effect, the film was released on April Fool's Day and fooled many of us. Some viewers admitted watching it a couple of times before the penny dropped. One Kneehigh fan finally tumbled when he recognised familiar performers in the shape of Jenny Beare (as previously mentioned - Jenny is popping up everywhere!) Giles King and Jim Carey (Seamas's Dad). If you missed out on April 1st, you can still enjoy the joke as the film is available here - https://www.kneehigh.co.uk/aprilfoolsdayproject

The Distanced Dance

UPG Team's Emergent Ensemble

These day's Par's Cornubia Hall is a Community Hub, but in previous lives it has been home to many activities including a famous auction house, but in the dim and distant past it was a much loved local dance hall. Prodigal UPG's team of six young dancers drifted across Par, Polmear and Tywardreath over three days resplendent in top hat and tails, floaty gowns and tiaras. Each separated from their partners, the Distanced Dancers harked back to the heady days of ballroom and lost romance. A beautiful spectacle on sunny days capturing memories for some and inspiring others to dance along.

The words and photos are my own, I don't profess to be any good at photography or writing, but I write from the heart and I take snap shots on my phone - for more information on Kneehigh's Random Acts of Art and to view awesome, top class professional photos by the wonderful Steve Tanner, visit https://www.kneehigh.co.uk/shows/random-acts-of-art

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