The weather is glorious. The setting dreamlike. Everything is falling into place. In just a few days the most anticipated show of the summer will get underway.
I was more than a little delighted to be invited to watch the final dress rehearsal of 100: UnEarth before the show premiers in just a couple of days. When I arrive at the participant’s marquee the heat of the day is still oppressive but inside it is buzzing with excitement.
There are last minute adjustments to be made to costumes and hair and all the while the actors, mostly volunteers, laugh and chat like old friends. The ghostly brass band, in dusty grey uniforms, are tuning up, the sewing machine is rattling and the children, looking very much the part in braces, caps and aproned dresses are dashing about outside.
Another world is slowly taking shape, all at once both familiar and magical.
When everyone is ready we walk together down a cool wooded lane to the first location. It is a picture perfect field of wild flowers with the Cornish countryside stretching out beyond in the now oranging light of the dropping sun. After some rather raucous warm-up games that get everyone’s energy up it is time to begin.
The participants take their positions, the action begins and suddenly reality has been suspended. That other world I caught a glimpse of earlier is now fully formed and I am a part of it.
Following on from the critically acclaimed 100: The Day Our World Changed, which was performed at Heligan in 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of World War One, now 100: UnEarth explores the devastating aftermath of war.
The story weaves together the themes of grief, tragedy, love and courage, (with a splash of comedy) taking inspiration from both contemporary conflicts and the ancient myth.
The audience are taken on a journey both literally as the play moves though the gardens and emotionally as we are asked to contemplate the effects of tragedy and the pain of loss.
We make a pact to follow Orpheus into the underworld on his mission to rescue his beloved Eurydice, we watch as he valiantly tries to prove to a rather rambunctious Hades that love is stronger than death. The show is an emotional rollercoaster from the start but the tension is relieved a little by some brilliant injections of comedy – Hades’ scene in the operating theatre is absolute gold.
WildWorks have made beautiful use of Heligan, a location already haunted by memories and loss. Somehow the show feels more poignant for this history. As the final scenes play out in the setting sun, the attention to detail and the atmospheric location combine to completely transport the audience.
After the show I manage to catch up with a couple of the volunteer participants and ask them about their experiences. What it is like being involved with such a big performance. “It’s been hard” Biljana smiles “It is a big commitment, but it is so worth it!” Whenever I ask any of the volunteers, the performers that really bring the whole show to life, I get the same reply. That all the hard work is rewarded by the friendships they have made and the experience of being involved with such an unusual and exciting show.
100:Unearth takes you on a wild and wonderful trip from war and loss to love and hope. There is tragedy and laughter. So the question must be, will you be taking the leap of faith and follow our heroes on an adventure into the underworld this summer?