Out of the darkness of a pre-halloween night appears a brightly illuminated 16th century castle. A phantasmagoria of projected images transforms Henry VIII’s Southsea Castle into an unsettling and intriguing occasion for a curious public.
We are in the realm of a macabre and often dreamlike event by the name of ‘Cure or be Cured ‘part of Portsmouth DarkFest , offering opportunities for both local and national artists, poets, musicians and such to perform and disturb in equal measure.
The theme for the evening is ‘Cure or be Cured’. Crow-masked plague doctors mingle and interact with an amused or uncertain audience. An ebullient Master of Ceremonies introduces a range of performers and his presence helps give form to a diversity of acts. Here poetry of all shapes and sizes finds expression: be it a moving piece about a dying child, the shamanistic world of altered states, a Victorian ghost ballad or an anarchic bid for world domination by a quirky but entertaining and crowd pleasing performer, plucking unsuspecting (?) volunteers from a delighted, though justly nervous, audience. A cheerfully delivered musical catalogue of the many Victorian labels for mental illness precedes what is for me the most memorable performance of the evening: a highly skilful Spoken Word poet juggles with language and rhythm with relaxed expertise that stays in the mind long after the show ends.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for ‘Vulture’ whose attempts to introduce a political element to the evening (NHS) soon becomes lost in what seems to me an endlessly repetitive, self indulgent noise. But it apparently appeals to others and my somewhat jaundiced view may be as much to do with my age as anything else.
There was certainly diversity at this year’s Dark Fest and I admire the boldness of the enterprise. It was not afraid to take risks (what would have happened if the weather had been less kind?). Tighter direction could, I felt, have interrelated the items more effectively and given a little more coherence to the evening. However, these are early days and there is a sense here of an original home grown entertainment in its relative infancy. It has already attracted a wide audience and will surely evolve into something rich and strange.