Friday, 17 August 2018

Soft on Stockton

Usually when I'm out and about I'm in Middlesbrough - it's where my work is so the events and activities are generally based around there. Tonight though I'm absolutely flipping delighted to be talking up Stockton. My home town and absolutely, positively where my heart lies. As the hashtag goes, #ilovestocktonme 💓 

In an ideal world this post would have been up and at 'em about two weeks ago, but meh, here we are. Better late than never as we say! 

First up, let's talk Stockton Contemporary - a celebration of original and exciting art from all over the North! There was a map, and a treasure trail of art, and it was absolutely wonderful. I found myself in places I didn't even know existed in Stockton. I saw the BIGGEST TALLEST cake I have ever seen in my life and basically had an absolute blast wandering around the town with my ladies, Andy and Ruth. 

I didn't get to see the whole thing sadly as it only ran for a limited amount of time, but what I did see was oh so worth it. The most unusual thing was on the top of the Castlegate Shopping Centre - probably the most unimaginative, 1970s concrete block you might ever imagine, but upstairs...oh! The reflections! The bright blue sky! The billowing, coloured parachute fabric draped just so! The two artists, also musicians, who climbed on top of the billowing parachute and played haunting music. So unusual. So unique. So definitely not Stockton. Which was absolutely, 100% what made it so special. 

There was only a couple of weeks to wait before it was the Stockton International Riverside Festival (SIRF) which is one of the highlights of the town for the year. Essentially it's a huge festival that's free to everyone, and performers from all over the world come and bring their weird, wacky and wonderful creations with them. The magical thing about it is that the people of Stockton, who would generally be all grumpy and throw around "no way am I watching that rubbish" type of comments, totally and utterly embrace it. Mainly I think, because it belongs to us. It's been running for 31 years (!) and nowhere else in our region has the same offering, and that friends, makes us super proud. 

We basically did after-dark SIRF this year. Well, almost dark. On the Friday night we saw the absolutely amazing Hyde Park Brass. There were people marching, dancing, kids running in and out of the water fountains, someone kicked off a conga line...they basically ruled the town for about 45 minutes and it was truly awesome! The atmosphere was incredible and the whole town felt completely ALIVE. I love that kind of stuff - it totally gives me all the warm and fuzzies. 

From there we had a cheeky drink before heading to Trinity Gardens for The Glass Ceiling by Periplum. I was dying to see this for three reasons: 
1) there was the promise of a fire show
2) it was all about the Suffragettes movement in Teesside 
3) it's coming to Middlesbrough in October and I couldn't wait that long!

Wow. Just wow. What a truly brilliant, awe-inspiring performance. Moving around the space, and taking the audience with them, you were basically drawn from one sight to another and then a noise behind you made you look there and then you couldn't decide where to watch. For an outdoor performance it was fully immersive and completely captivating. A very, very clever and innovative way of making a serious subject come to life in a way that drew everyone in, of all ages. 

As I said, it's touring across the Tees Valley from now until Autumn and I urge you to go and see it. You definitely will not be disappointed and I can't wait to see how they're going to use Centre Square - so exciting! 

On Saturday night we saw La Tortue de Gauguin (Gauguin's Turtle) by Luc Amoros. The description sounded so intriguing and it definitely did not disappoint. I've never seen anything like it and I'm not sure I ever will again. Try to imagine a 9 metre high, 4 storey structure - on the bottom level there's a narrator and a musician and then each floor houses 2 artists behind transparent screens. As the story was narrated the artists painted - sometimes the pictures were individual designs that were ripped off and flung into the crowd. Other times each section formed to make a whole and honestly, each one was more stunning than the last. You could hear the audible gasps all around us as the final reveals were done for each section. 

Each chapter got louder and more dramatic, and the artists became even more animated and the brush/hand/roller strokes became more intense and it was absolutely a journey towards a massive climax! 

Even now when I think about it I get goosebumps. It was a performance for all the senses and it was just amazing. I remember sitting on the grass in the Parish Gardens and thinking how brilliant it is that this kind of thing is available in my home town, for FREE, and it comes back year after year... 

So. Much. Love. 

Our weekend ended with the SIRF finale on the Sunday - always a night to remember, it well and truly went out with a bang this year. The firework show was an absolute belter, turning the river golden and the crowds said goodbye to SIRF on a total high. 

I wish it could be every weekend! But then I guess it wouldn't be as special...but it definitely did reinforce how much I totally do love Stockton. She might be a bit rough around the edges with a lot of empty shops, but she's got spirit and soul and that's what makes her so flipping fabulous!