Passenger at Greenwich+Docklands International Festival
The Greenwich+Docklands International Festival has been bringing ambitious outdoor art and performance to the Royal Docks this summer. Passenger is an experimental piece of theatre that roams across the docks in an ordinary suburban bus; Jessie Russell Donn went along for the ride.
I arrive at Beckon Park DLR. It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and the station is unsurprisingly deserted. Outside, a sandwich board marked with a pink arrow points me towards a bus stop where a handful of people linger.
We are all here for the same thing.
As we wait, a bus pulls up at our stop and we look to each other… It’s not our bus. We wait for ten more minutes. Another bus arrives, and for some reason we know, this is the one. We all shuffle on board. A few people engage in the traditional London scuffle to get their favourite seat.
The last person to board is a young woman. She rushes to take her seat and spills coffee on a middle-aged man in a suit. A conversation sparks between this unlikely pair. So begins Jessica Wilson’s immersive play, Passenger.
The characters’ voices in Wilson’s play are amplified by speakers attached to the hand rails, their conversations punctuated with atmospheric music composed by Tom Fitzgerald. The effect, over the hum and hissing of the bus, is unexpectedly comforting, at least at the beginning. Passenger deals with themes of corporate oppression and gentrification, and the stories become darker the further into the journey we go.
The journey weaves us over bridges across the water, the Tate and Lyle factory glides past the window, as planes fly over head. Towers loom over expanses of waste land whilst housing developments look out across charmingly haphazard piles of shipping containers. The Royal Docks are diverse and Jessica Wilson’s play takes you through the eclectic range.
A brilliant alternative guide to the docks.
The bus slows at some traffic lights where out the corner of my eye I can see a cowboy straddling a large horse across the dual carriageway. The rider gives a sinister nod to our driver. Keen to see more, all eyes are fixed out of the windows.
Groups of people are innocently hanging around outside shops but the atmosphere makes everybody questionable, what business do they have here? Who are they? Anyone who glances inside the bus could be a character in the play, boundaries have become blurred.
Passenger is a well-intentioned moral tale that has been thoughtfully adapted to its temporary new home. While the script sometimes relies too heavily on familiar tropes, the play provides a brilliant alternative guide to the docks.
It’s easy to forget that cities are comprised as much of stories as concrete and glass. This play offers a device for tuning into some of these narratives. When the play had finished, on my train journey home I discovered my receptors still temporarily open. Or was I hearing voices? That alone was worth the fare.
The finale of Greenwich+Docklands International Festival is on until Sat 6 July. Attend the Cristal circus spectacular for free.
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