Gardens shoot the Breeze

Sea Breeze
Sea Breeze
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A bold and brave production offers up a ‘glorious evocation’ of one grand old theatre’s magnificent past, ‘turns tradition inside out’ and conjures up a visual treat on a truly epic scale

Every theatre worth its salt boasts at least one good ghost.

It’s a showbiz tradition that some spectral figure always haunts the stalls – or makes everything fright on the night.

It’s a ritual turned into a glorious evocation of this seaside venue’s glittering past in Sea Breeze, a performance that in itself turns theatre traditions inside out, with the audience seated on stage while the bare auditorium itself, stripped of its ground-floor seating, becomes a huge theatrical backdrop.

The ghost of a cleaner skitters about the stalls, while background voices weave memories and anecdotes – from a score of people who used to work at the Winter Gardens – into a narrative.

But it is the spell-binding use of digital image projections, across the vast ceiling, down the gallery and circle, and climaxing in an amazing moment when the theatre appears to flood with seawater, that really captures the imagination and essence of this astonishing performance.

Staged here for the first time last year, it is back by popular demand.

This is a bold and brave co-production between Lancaster-based Live at LICA, Liverpool-based performance artists Raisin & Willow, and Lancaster-based visual innovators, Imitating the Dog.

They might have been tempted to simply conjure up imagery of the theatre’s showbiz past, as celebrity-laden as any venue on the nation’s long-gone variety circuit.

But the only stars to be seen here are from heavens above, projected on to the huge curved ceiling.

Instead it is the Winter Gardens itself that ‘speaks’ of its history, with images picked out of a trapeze artist twirling high above the gods of the gallery, or a full-sized elephant performing in the circle.

Haunting live music, by three performers around the auditorium, too often drowns out voices, which is a shame since there is some convincing poetry conjured up by the motifs of time and the tides.

But nothing detracts from the scale and spectacle of a visual treat. Drawn from the theatre’s past, it ought to do wonders for guaranteeing this splendid venue has a future.

It’s to be hoped these performances won’t be the last.

David Upton