Originally written for Theatre Bristol Writers.
It takes a leap of faith to follow a stranger into Leigh Woods at night. Often we are told that the darkness of the woods is to be avoided. When walking in darkness, the mind might lead you to ghost-like imaginings. Perception can be heightened in the darkness, sounds seemed more vibrant, smells more potent.
The gift of Nightwalk was an opportunity to wander, listen and re-imagine.
Nightwalk is a woodland journey through space and time where layers of sound create and connect previously unseen worlds. A choir sing a psalm, children play, bridges are built, arctic bees buzz and glaciers melt. The environmental, social and industrial history of Leigh Woods is brought to life through audio and text. At one point you can hear the world turning. The darkness was enveloping yet comforting, and the spectre like apparitions spotted were those of the participants illuminated by the screen of an i-phone as we listened to the performance through headphones.
The lamplight serves to focus attention guiding the way, and at times highlighting small micro-moments of woodland life at others, illuminating a cathedral cavern of trees. Entering a clearing and looking up at the light from the night sky was beautiful and something that other cities can’t usually provide.
The historical and geographical elements of Nightwalk made it difficult not to draw parallels with contemporary times – the performance made me think of the crisis of global warming and also how communities respond to events. Having walked across the suspension bridge to get to Leigh Woods hearing it being built really gave my experience a new dimension and it was definitely a different walk on the way back.
I felt that there was sometimes a bit of tension between wanting to experience the sounds and the space and then reading the text on the iphone and having to balance looking up and out as well as down. However this also reminded me of this need in ‘everyday’ smart phone use in relation to really connecting with the outside or natural world.
The performance left me with an enhanced sense of place and interest to explore the history of Leigh Woods. It emphasised the value and importance of Bristol’s natural environment and gave a memorable reminder of our human impact on the landscape. The performance provided an opportunity to walk and explore Leigh Woods in a way I probably never would have had. Walking in this way definitely leaves you with a sense of being blessed to live in Bristol and being part of something greater.
Nightwalk is part of Mayfest Bristol’s unique annual festival of contemporary theatre and is happening on the 17th, 18th and from the 21st to the 25th of May.