Five artists will respond to Robinson Crusoe brief from ExploreTheArch in St Leonards

A Town Explores A Book
A Town Explores A Book

This April St Leonards will be exploring a classic British novel for the third time.

Theatre company ExploreTheArch has spread magic across town and inspired residents, business owners and shop staff to take Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe on board to mark its 300th anniversary.

For the first time, Arts Council England have supported the festival and this grant, plus sponsorship from Hastings Borough Council and Fastprint and Design, and the enthusiasm of the local community means that St Leonards has become the national destination to celebrate #Crusoe300.

The heart of the festival will be performances in Archer Lodge, the theatrical space and home of ExploreTheArch director Gail Borrow.

This year Gail has handed over her house to sculptor Bernard McGuigan and five creative performers. The brief to the artists was to choose a space, spend time there in solitude with McGuigan’s beautiful stone pieces, and create a performance in response.

This has led to five very different shows with musicians Oliver Cherer, Bev Lee Harling, Vladimir Miller, Otti Albietz or choreographer Yumino Seki all revealing their personal response to desert island solitude.

Musician and songwriter Bev Lee Harling has turned her space into an island. The audience is invited to sit on treasure chests and makeshift benches, the salty smell of seaweed in their nostrils and the foot-powered pump organ creaking like an old sail-boat. She has spent the last month creating the set – beachcombing on her way to Archer Lodge and using her finds to complement McGuigan’s serene stone heads. Like Crusoe, her response was to become resourceful. She made the sound of the sea from a handful of dried rice in an old broken drum and made an instrument from detritus cast up on the beach.

It was the process of building the set and being in the space with McGuigan’s sculptures that has inspired her compositions. On a plank of driftwood above the keyboard she has written: “It’s never too late to be wise” – a quote from the book and the lyrics to one of her songs. Other words are written on pebbles sunk in to the sand on the floor.

Although the five artists were all handed the same brief, each one has developed their personal performance in different ways. The trickiest task for the ExploreTheArch audience will be to choose which night to attend. Director Gail Borrow advises visitors not to agonise – just pick a date and book your ticket. There are 28 performances between April 6-25 – each one marking a year that Crusoe spent marooned on his island.

Details are on explorethearch.com. Tickets £14 available online and from Printed Matter Bookshop, Queens Road, Hastings, and Bookkeeper Bookshop, Kings Road, St Leonards. Free tickets are available to under 19s but these are popular and must be booked in advance.

Check out www.atownexploresabook.com to see events on offer across St Leonards from April 4-22. By Erica Smith.

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