• Miles Hedley

GREENWICH & DOCKLANDS INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL

Updated: Sep 13


Booker prizewinning writer and Woolwich laureate Bernardine Evaristo is one of the big-name creatives whose work will grace this year’s Covid-delayed Greenwich and Docklands International Festival – the 25th outing for this globally important extravaganza.

The two-week festival, which runs from 28 August to 12 September, also includes events focusing on the NHS, togetherness, the climate crisis and #BlackLivesMatter as well as the usual array of eye-popping hi-tech art installations either side of the Thames.

Many of the events run over several days in multiple locations, which has proved a huge challenge to organisers having to comply with government coronavirus guidelines to keep audiences and performers safe. The upshot is that fewer tickets will be available this year to guarantee that everyone can socially distance.

2020’s programme kicks off with In Memoriam, a new installation (top) about the pandemic by artist Luke Jerram which runs on Woolwich Common from August 28-31 and acts as a tribute to NHS staff and key workers who have risked – and too often lost – their lives caring for victims. Ceremonial performances will also take place at the installation, some just for health workers.


The Weavers Of Woolwich is an epic new prose-poem by Evaristo (pictured above), a people’s history that celebrates the spirit and resilience of the men and women from around the globe who have made SE18 their home over the years. It is launched in Woolwich’s General Gordon Square on August 28 and will include luminescent pavement art by Gijs van Bon and a soundscape by Roma Yagnik.

Director Jeanefer Jean-Charles will be previewing Black Victorians (pictured below), a work-in-progress dance performance inspired by 19th century photographs of black men, women and children which challenges historical and contemporary perceptions. It will be staged on August 29 and 30 in the evocative ruins of St George’s Garrison Church in Woolwich.

#BlackLivesMatter is at the heart of 846 Live, an uncompromising creation being staged at North Greenwich on September 12 about the murder earlier this year of George Floyd. It is co-produced by Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Royal Docks Team.

Theatre-maker and composer Ray Lee has two large-scale works on view. Chorus is a monumental installation of towering sound sculptures which illuminates the Old Royal Naval College from August 28-31 and Ring Out (pictured below) over the river at Silvertown Quays on September 11 and 12 is a soaring electronic exploration of bells.


Gaia, a huge 3D vision of our beautiful but increasingly fragile blue planet seen from space, will grace the Old Royal Naval College’s wondrous Painted Hall from August 28 to September 6. It is the second epic contribution to the festival by Luke Jerram.

And in Oxleas Meadows on September 5 and 6, Eric MacLennan’s The Open Air Drawing Room will allow people to practise mindfulness alongside Gobbledegook Theatre’s Cloudscapes, an installation showing how humans are as changeable as the skies.

Inclusion, resilience and diversity are the beating heart of Weaving Together, GDIF’s programme of interactive activities which features local residents and artists joining forces to deliver food packages to vulnerable people, compose and share poetry, weave African baskets, braid fabric or turn everyday objects into things of beauty.

Artists leading the project in Woolwich, Thamesmead, Plumstead, Eltham, Charlton and Greenwich include performance poet Rasheeda Page-Muir, designer Lucy Isaiah, Emergency Exit Arts and weaver Natanya Mark. Events take place on August 29-31, September 6 and September 11 and 12.

GDIF is also presenting a series of pop-up touring events under the banner On Your Doorstep which are designed to bring street performances to neighbourhoods across Royal Greenwich. Highlights include Told By An Idiot’s reimagined children’s show Get Happy (August 29 and 30, September 12), Gandini Juggling’s Smashed2 (August 30 and 31) and Christopher Green’s FeelPlay (August 31) about the current mental health crisis.

The Tide walkway on the Greenwich Peninsula is the stage for a spectacular dance show called Rainbow Ballet (pictured above) on September 6.

And on the final weekend of the festival, Jerram is back again with Lullaby, a mesmerising nightcap of twinkling lights and soothing music delivered in Plumstead by a team of cyclists rigged up with LEDs and sound systems.

Across the river at Canary Wharf, Dancing City’s socially distanced international programme on September 5 will star Gravity And Levity, Dulce Compania, Damae Dance, Humanhood, Lo-Guidice Dance, Upswing, Company Chameleon and Patrick Ziza Dance, whose show Dandyism (pictured below) is a tribute to the fashionistas who created the Congolese phenomenon of La Sape.

And on September 1 and 12 in nearby Thames Barrier Park, Walk The Plank offers Fire Garden, an immersive stroll among the trees on a flame-lit trail which aims to negate feelings of isolation by evoking the warmth and generosity of togetherness and renewal.

GDIF artistic director Bradley Hemmings said: “This year’s festival takes place in unprecedented times. The recent months have shown in sharp relief our need for equality and community while reminding us of the resilience that comes from looking after each other.

“As a free outdoor festival, GDIF has always tried to play an active role in local civic life and as we start to reimagine the future, this 25th anniversary festival has been designed with artists, local partners and participants to offer an inclusive moment for reflection while hopefully providing something we all desperately need – a time to celebrate and smile together again.

“The safety and well-being of our artists and audiences is our No1 priority and we have worked hard to put in place extensive to ensure a safe festival for everyone.”

Flemish theatre company De Roovers had been scheduled to return to Thamesmead after their triumphant 2017 show A View From The Bridge to give us their version of Dennis Potter’s magnificent play Blue Remembered Hills on a former munitions site that has been a restricted area for decades. Unfortunately, they have had to postpone the performance till 2021 because new Covid restrictions in their native Belgium mean they can’t travel to the UK.


And plans for the Royal Docks to host the world premiere of acclaimed choreographers Requardt & Rosenberg’s Future Cargo, a sci-fi saga that promised to take audiences into a surreal visual and aural experience enhanced with 360-degree sound on personal headsets, have also been shelved.


Tickets, times and further info – including Covid guidelines - at https://festival.org/gdif/whats-on/

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