New musical Sound to Sea set for Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games programme

Pushing The Boat Out

credit: Graham MacIver, Glasgow Life

Collaboration between Cryptic theatre company and Royal Navy promises a unique show on the river Clyde

Innovative performance company Cryptic have teamed up with the Royal Navy for a Clyde-built musical. Gareth K Vile stretches his sea legs in preparation

Although the precise details of Sound to Sea have been guarded with an almost military secrecy, Cryptic’s entry for Glasgow 2014’s cultural programme promises a stunning fusion of music (from opera to rock), spectacle (aerialists All or Nothing will be swinging from the Science Centre) and naval precision (the Royal Navy have provided the vessels). Appropriately for Cryptic’s 20th anniversary, artistic director Cathie Boyd has assembled a team of collaborators that will fulfill the company’s mission ‘to ravish the senses’.

‘Since moving here in 1990, I have always wanted to do something on the Clyde,’ says Boyd. ‘I was in the Science Centre having a meeting with chief executive Dr Stephen Breslen – I was thinking about how to combine music while embracing the history of Glasgow shipbuilding. And once my imagination starts …’

Boyd has deliberately invited performers from across the spectrum: from local beatboxing hero Bigg Taj and cellist Oliver Coates (a familiar Cryptic associate, and presenting an original composition) to soprano Marie Claire Breen and the Glasgow Phoenix Choir, the line-up represents the broad history of Glasgow’s musical scenes in a striking new context.

Boyd was looking for an original approach: ‘There are so many events on water that have a fixed stage. I said: let’s have boats as a stage. Which I might be regretting …’ She laughs. ‘Most of the artists come in on boats from various angles. There is a huge range of boats in the same way there is a range of music – some acoustic, but most with sound engineers on board. And we’re even going to have some dancers with Tigerstyle [the Scottish bhangra group], which is lovely.’

The Royal Navy might appear an unlikely partner in such a grand aesthetic display. Captain Chris Smith, Naval Regional Commander for Scotland & Northern Ireland, agrees. ‘The Royal Navy is recognised as an agile, can-do organization, but it is not often we get asked to ravish the senses! This is a first in the way that we are engaging with Cryptic: it was an opportunity to expose the Royal Navy to a new audience.’

However, the alliance makes sense. Given the scale of the production, Boyd’s obsession with detail and the need for exact timings, the Royal Navy could deliver. ‘I am completely in my element,’ Boyd says. And Smith adds: ‘It’s the military mind. We love being precise.’

Sound to Sea
is scheduled for two nights on the Clyde, and another partner, Inner Ear, is filming the event, which will then tour the country in cinemas. Boyd is keen that her work for Festival 2014 will have a legacy, and with the rise of the cinema as a place where theatre can be seen, as in the National Theatre’s various broadcasts, Sound to Sea will have an extensive afterlife.

Yet this detracts nothing from the live event itself. Boyd notes that they have already had 8000 requests for tickets (‘We’ll have to do a lucky dip,’ she muses) and it is unlikely that the Clyde will experience another performance on quite this scale. Boyd is co-directing with Josh Armstrong, whose The Little Match Girl Passion show is still touring the world, and has come back ‘from retirement’ to lead this project. Her enthusiasm – which Captain Smith suggests was an encouragement for the Royal Navy to get involved – extends from the overall structure to individual artists.

‘The music provides the narrative,’ she explains, before describing how the aerialists from All or Nothing will be taking to the skies and Walk The Plank will provide special effects. ‘There will be lots to look at! Josh’s attention to detail is superb, and Miaoux Miaoux’s electronic music is just glorious. That’s the point when I hope that everyone is dancing.’

While Boyd dismisses the suggestion that the Commonwealth Games were deliberately invited to Glasgow to celebrate Cryptic’s 20th anniversary, the Games have provided an opportunity for the company to remind the world how far they have come. Originally a vehicle for Boyd’s theatrical productions, they have steadily expanded their remit, conquering the Fringe with Orlando and regularly touring the world with productions that now grow in the fertile space between music, visual art and drama. Along the way, Boyd has engaged with science – both in using advanced technology on stage and in the content of shows – as well as with opera and contemporary composition. In 2010, she announced a new direction for the company – her ‘retirement’ from directing – and began developing the Sonica festival.

Sonica is now a bi-annual jamboree of composition that demands visual engagement, and Sound to Sea shares both its complex organisation and evocative aesthetic. From the touches of distinctive humour (‘One of the things I adore is that we have Bigg Taj who is physically huge on the wee spark,’ she giggles. ‘And we have opera on Scotland’s response to a Viking ship’) to the grandeur of the ambition, this is a show that matches the scale of the Games and the depth of Cryptic’s vision.

Glasgow Science Centre, Fri 1 & Sat 2 Aug,

Sound to Sea

Glasgow event makers Cryptic celebrate 20 years with a banger of a party featuring over 150 performers, including Treacherous Orchestra, Rachel Sermanni, Miaoux Miaoux, Tigerstyle and more. The 'night-time musical extravaganza' takes place over two summer nights along the River Clyde and quayside, with further…

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