Central Forest Park may just be, on the surface, a skate park and an old lake. However for Appetite’s introduction of The Bell by Periplum, it is an empty playground fit for a spectacular outdoor theatre event. The show ran for two nights on 2nd and 3rd August, and I managed to rally some family members together to attend with me on Saturday night (thanks Momma and Auntie).
Rain did not stop play; the sun reaching every available surface before retreating. Prior to proceedings well and truly kicking off, audience members began to notice an entity moving through the crowd. Swyron is an intergalactic traveller, created from metal (the material, not the music genre, just so you know), and his mysteriously mesmerising steampunk vehicle started to cause all manner of mischief and mayhem. The kids that caught his eye were drawn in, and Swyron zoomed straight for the play area; new followers in tow.
For those of us not headed to the playground, a further warm-act appeared from what seemed like nowhere. Hang on, is that a dragon? Hang on, is that a dragon made out of wheel trims? Hang on, is said hubcap-dragon dropping drum beats and breathing fire ?! Yes, all of the above. Dragon Heart Beats quite literally warmed up the crowd. A percussion frenzy bled out of the giant 5-metre beast, people began dancing and I’m pretty sure its eyes were either indicators or brake lights…
As nightfall approached and the 9.30pm show time drew closer, a quietness hung over the crowd that had now entered the designated arena. An a-line frame to one end of the site was bordered by flag-like structures, and among the crowd wandered performers in bloody states with tattered flags held high. Chants began to rise and an ostinato of melody (yes, I learnt this word today!) creeps through the crowd; it was a in a state of wonder that Periplum’s The Bell commenced.
A fight for life ensues between good and evil; those in white and those in quite terrifying costumes on stilts to tower over us all. Aerial performers twisted and turned on the sturdier-than-seemed posts and frames, with others re-enacting even the best fight scenes – safely, and via trampoline, of course. We were fully immersed, wandering throughout the space to follow the action as it span from one side to another. Battle cries and a beating soundtrack carried us through the performance; it was a depiction of fight or flight to all. With thought-provoking moments of awe, the war on show was surrounded by fiery bursts of pyrotechnics; it was difficult to know where to look to avoid missing the action. It was for the finale, then, that people’s sense of wonder was heightened.
The ‘surviving’ performers began to gather around an open space, situated atop podiums of flames at each corner. The pain of battle drawing to close with a sense of survival rising; it was here a silhouetted bell-like structure appeared in the darkness and could just about be made out. Anthemic phrases and other words of power were bellowed across the audience, the pounding soundtrack halted; The Bell was alight. Accompanied by a lingering echo of chimes, it swayed hauntingly in the breeze until its melancholy sounds died out. Concluding with a cannon of confetti, The Bell’s sign of elation and success fluttered over the awed audience. As thoughts drifted back to reality, it was with some sadness that the show came to end. We can only hope that Appetite Stoke will continue to feed our… appetite… (sorry (not sorry)) for even more wonderful performance events in our great city.