Unexpected Festival returns to Exeter with First World War Centenary work and circus stars

By Ben Miller | 27 August 2014

Festival preview: Unexpected Festival, various venues, Exeter, August 29-31 2014

Click on the picture to launch a gallery from the festival

Last summer, the inaugural Unexpected festival aimed to live up to its name in Exeter, placing some of the most original performers and artists across the country in spaces where you might least expect to see their talent.
 
Inspiring and inclusive, its 2014 edition sets its sights on enticing thousands more to the streets of the south-west’s cultural capital, backed by the Arts Council and featuring a workshop programme which will invite visitors to attempt everything from interactive theatre (courtesy of the University of Exeter’s prodigious drama department) to letterpress and screen printing in the Guildhall Shopping Centre and Bedford Square.
 
Perhaps the success of last year’s festival is underlined by this year’s closing act. NoFitState are an ingenious crew of Cardiff contortionists who have toured their dizzyingly balanced, beautifully colourful brand of theatrical magic to 18 countries, beguiling London’s Roundhouse and the Eden Project along the way.
 
“We want the whole city to feel like they have the opportunity to run away with us,” Ali Williams, the group’s Creative Director, says of Open House, calling on their audience to shape the look of the spectacular final Carnival Parade during a series of costume-making workshops being held at the Scrapstore Exhibition space between August 11-24.
 
“We want the people of Exeter to come and try circus and see something extraordinary.” If that might sound a little daunting to the acrobatically uninitiated, there could be no better teachers than these supple masters of their art, trading a big top for a colony of caravans and bounding, leaping and flying in between free lessons on trampolines, trapezes and tightwires for all ages.
 
“We really want to connect with the public and show them that circus is fun and it’s for everyone,” says Williams. Weaving from the Guildhall to Southernhay with a procession daring participants to don some of their costumes, the open call sounds irresistible, although the effervescent fun of the Circus Sunday it’s all part of will have to go some way to outdo the immersive drama of The Great Fête, which takes place the previous evening.
 
Set within the grounds and Rougemont Garden of the award-winning Royal Albert Memorial Museum, this is a throwback to the enthusiasm and optimism of the wartime recruitment centres enlisting civilians a century ago, when no-one could have predicted the horror World War I would bring.
 
Beginning with an examination by a Sergeant Major, an enlistment pass enrols participants in a whirl of games and activities, with an obstacle course, maps, sing-alongs to popular songs from the era and more.
 
Suffragettes will help create poppies and roses for a dedicated remembrance garden, and a Music Hall Stage should be the perfect place to boost the new troops’ morale via a retro twirl to some swinging tunes, all playfully arranged as part of the centenary programme commemorating the beginning of the conflict nationwide.
 
Elsewhere, the line-up offers some extraordinary theatre. Setting off at dusk and wisely advising guests to bring a torch, Burn the Curtain are taking on the ghoulishly enrapturing tales of Angela Carter for The Company of Wolves, reimagining the lengthening shadows of a lone walk through a forest on a chilling adventure in transient drama.
 
Blood on the Streets, examining the bloodletting of the Middle Ages, is likely to be a macabre thrill, but the squeamish might prefer Xplosion, where unicycling compere Goronwy Thom will welcome the likes of high-energy clowns Le Navet Bete and hula-hooper Angie Mack to Princesshay and Blue Boy Square, not to mention Turbo Jones, whose Reckless Invention show encompasses physical comedy, breakdance and 80s rap.


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Ten to see at Unexpected Festival:
 
Uncle Tacko’s Imaginarium, Guildhall Shopping Centre
Virtuoso entertainment in a lovingly hand-made tent from showman Tony Lidington
 
Devon Carousel’s Poppey and Rose Making Workshops for the Great Fete, Children’s Library
Musical storytelling, singing and decoration making ahead of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum’s Great Fete
 
Across the Lines, Exeter Library
Exhibits from the collection linked to this year’s First World War centenary programme
 
We Will Remember 1914-18, Royal Albert Memorial Museum Courtyard
Adrienne Howells’ commemorative six-foot high black and white work of remembrance art
 
Circo Rum Ba Ba – L’Hotel, Xplosion
Watch as the world’s smallest hotel shimmers into illuminated life
 
Andrew Elliott – Jaardu the Magic of India, Xplosion
Traditional Indian magic and comedy inspired by the performer’s eastern and western heritage
 
Reckless Invention – Comedy Waiters, Xplosion
Silent comedy and slapstick trickery from a dinner service with a difference
 
Jason Maverick, Xplosion
High-energy mime, robotics and circus skills set to music
 
Circadian – Schmutter Bros, Xplosion
Culinary chaos courtesy of a pair of hungry brothers with a portable kitchen and some choice ingredients
 
Upswing – Loved Up, Xplosion
Dancehall and street dance combine in a show of outlandish acrobatics

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