City Park is Bradford’s high-tech water feature, the largest of its kind in the UK, and it has some interesting features – rising mist, a fountain display that includes an archway of water and a centre piece that can shoot up to 30 metres of water in the air. At night the pool can be lit up with a multitude of lights. When the fountains are on it is a moving water sculpture and/or playground. On sunny days it becomes a giant paddling pool, where families picnic and kids hang out all day. It is also gathering momentum as a performance space with Bradford City Park programming a whole host of events here. However, what can not be overlooked is how vast this space is, spanning over 4000 square metres. This makes what Mind the Gap have achieved with bringing their Irresistible performance to the site all the more impressive. They managed to captivate (figuratively not literally) a huge crowd, despite the thunderous clouds looming.
Now I have seen Irresistable before – back in June 2012. You could say this show has always been blighted with bad weather. Irresistible was due to be performed at City Park in March this year, but was postponed due to heavy snow. The night I was supposed to see the show on Otley Chevin, the venue was changed last minute due to poor weather. So, I saw it in the comfort of Mind the Gap studios in Bradford. On that occasion, the experience was up close and personal as performers moved amongst us and we were immersed in stunning visuals and Jez Colborne’s enigmatic voice. So I was interested to see how the show would be at City Park.
Irresistible combines music, theatre and a ‘symphony of sirens’, and tells the story of a man on a journey. He meets the Hobos, who guide him; the Crew, who intimidate him; and the singing Sirens, who lure him. Presented by Mind the Gap Theatre, an award winning company based in Bradford that works with learning disabled and non-disabled actors as equals, the piece was masterminded by Jez Colborne a composer, performer and musician with a learning disability. Driven by a long fascination with sirens, Jez has created Irresistible using warning sirens, other non-traditional instruments and singing voices to create a spectacular experience. Jez said that he knew it was going to be dramatic!
He was right it was. The opening scene at City Park was beautifully orchestrated: people crossing the vast expanse of the mirror pool gathering scattered tin cans created a powerful beginning. Then with a slow build up of seemingly random activity – cycles crossing the pool, a wheelchair entering – the activity becomes more obviously choreographed, as we see the same movement scene happen in triplicate – bikes circling trolleys. This is a genius use of the space. Since the audience are in a variety of locations, each section of the audience had their own version of the action. indeed, all of the staging is well-crafted. In half filling the pool, Mind the Gap managed to create a fabulous setting for this piece. With less water, the pool became divided into smaller performance spaces with one large strip of ‘land’ across the middle that acted as a natural stage. The opening section culminates in a car driven down the central ‘land’ strip. When it stops, the crew jump out starting to cause havoc soon joined by Jez riding in on a motorcycle. In a spectacular finish to this entrance, we see the crew set the car alight. (At this point I fully understood why they insisted that people watch from outside the mirror pool, as young children and open fire is probably not the best combination.)
There isn’t one thing I loved about this piece – for me, it was the whole experience. The music played from speakers behind the audience and all around the park. I felt immersed in those sounds and it also connected me to the other people in the space. There was a warm atmosphere, with children sat along the edge of the pool, families and groups of friends clustered on benches. I enjoyed the three ‘siren’ singers especially. Lit up in lilac lighting, they brought a feminine and glamorous quality, elevated far above us with their sweet voices amplified in surround-sound. On top of the scaffolding around the space were hooded people. We didn’t know who they were at first and it was a lovely touch to the design of the space. They looked a little menacing and added intrigue to our experience.
Perhaps the most spectacular thing about this event was the weather. As the performance finished, I stood (not alone) with the rain lashing down clapping my hands above my head and cheering for the (quite literally) ‘unstoppable’ performers in this epic show. A good example of what Bradford has to offer as a cultural city. More please!
Irresistible was part of Reflections, a family friendly event co-produced by Bradford Council in collaboration with leading local artists and cultural partners. Mind the Gap is the UK’s leading theatre company working with learning disabled artists. The Company tours nationally each year, and is currently working with 12 learning disabled artists. The Company offers training and development opportunities for venues and arts organisations to assist inclusion and access.