Prior to Rebel Rabble’s immersive upcoming performance in Norwich, we speak to Limbik Theatre about how innovative ideas grew into reality. Unfolding throughout a walk in Mousehold Heath’s woods, Rebel Rabble delves into the stories of local peasants during the Kett’s Rebellion. Featuring innovative sound systems and a large community cast, this piece of theatre is like no other.
Tell us about Limbik Theatre and what your role is?
Limbik is a company that makes live theatre and immersive experiences in physical and digital spaces.
You are a part of Norwich Theatre’s artistic development programme. How did Norwich Theatre support you?
Norwich Theatre supported the company through various stages of the project. They helped us gather groups of participants from their networks and went on to support us in our funding bid for the Arts Council of England, providing some guidance and support with that application, which can be quite intimidating. They have supported us with the delivery of a series of Workshops on a masked performance which were both open to whoever wanted to come down to Stage 2 and play. They are also supporting us with box office sales for the show itself, on Mousehold Heath.
Why it is important that artists are supported in this way?
What is fantastic about this kind of support that’s been offered by Norwich Theatre, is it just makes us feel a little bit less alone. There are so many different aspects to making a work of art, in creating a piece of theatre, outside of the core creative work. There are logistics, administration, and a whole host of considerations and small but consequential decisions. It’s very easy in the process to feel like you’re on your own. It’s also easy to lose sight of all of the other elements that are at play when you’re trying to make a play. So, it’s brilliant to have an established partner like Norwich Theatre, and have their voice, perspective and expertise as part of the conversation.
Why did you choose the Kett’s rebellion?
We were interested in making a piece outdoors, and we were looking for a location in Norwich that has an evocative history. We heard about the story of Kett’s rebellion from Sarah’s aunt who was reading the novel Tombland. We thought it was an incredible story that aligns very much with the times that we are living in. Once we realised that the location we were interested in was linked to a famous historical rebellion, we honed in on making a piece about rebellion itself and what that means to people living in Norwich today.
What inspired you to make the piece?
The piece was inspired by a desire to experiment with form, as a result of the pandemic. We initially began thinking about this show in the autumn of 2020. We were wondering what live theatre might look like as we emerged from the pandemic. We thought about doing something outdoors, in an open space. Throughout the pandemic, we had been working primarily with 3D spatial audio as a tool for telling stories. So, we decided to merge these two formal ideas: 3D spatial audio, for an audience wearing headphones, in an outdoor performance. We just needed a location. And that’s when we heard the story of Kett’s Rebellion on Mousehold Heath. We thought that it was a brilliant local story to try and bring to life through spatial audio—so the sounds of the Rebellion in the past exist in 3D around the audience’s ears, as they walk through the present physical space. We’re working with this idea of a mixed reality: there’s a physical reality that the audience is experiencing and there’s also a digital layer—the auditory, virtual layer.
Armed with the historical account, we were also keen from the outset to gather personal stories of rebellion as experienced by an intergenerational group of community participants in Norwich. We wanted to see what rebellion means to people of different generations today.
Why an outdoor performance? Does this add another element?
Initially, we wanted to do an outdoor performance because of Covid. We thought it would be the safest way to bring live performance back to audiences as we emerged from the pandemic. What we found working outdoors is that it’s an incredibly inspiring environment to create live performances. The woods have an atmospheric quality that has an incredible impact on the work. They have a scale that is impossible to replicate without being there. They bring a cinematic quality to the performance—you can work with a level of distance in scale that really carries this epic quality.
How do you incorporate audio and real life acting?
One of the things that we experimented with whilst working with spatial audio, during lockdown, was using audio to capture the inner thoughts or inner monologue of a character. This features heavily in our piece Pangea, which moves between characters’ interior thoughts and exterior dialogue. We’ve extended that approach into this piece, so the audio captures the inner life and interior thoughts of three different characters.
There are two other additional audio layers, however, at play in the piece, which all combine to create an overall effect for the audience. One of them is the history of the rebellion itself. In this, we’ve chosen to represent that history through more mysterious masked performers. We realised that we would never quite have the numbers to embody 20,000 rebels. But we thought that masks could capture the spirit of the rebellion in a slightly more abstract but also atmospheric manner, which we felt was in dialogue with the landscape around us. So the text of the history of the rebellion has a quality in its language that is transposed onto these masked performers, who are using movement, imagery, and their presence to act as a counterpoint to that poetic re-telling of the history.
Finally, we have verbatim interviews with the participants themselves. These generally cover moments when the audience is walking through the woods, and they are the participants’ stories and reflections on rebellion. So, there is a thread in the piece that very much arises from first-hand personal real world accounts of rebellion.
Explain what the audience can expect
A walk in the woods, full of surprises.
What is your process for creating a new piece?
Every piece is different but they all usually begin with the kernel of a story, and a sense of how we want to tell it. For years, we’ve called this the “what” and the “how.” We began as a devising company, and the early stages of our process remain connected to a sense of improvisation and discovery.
Why is it important to tell stories about the local area?
Landscape has a way of reminding us of our own impermanence, that generations before us have come and gone but this landscape was here then, and it will be here after us.
Norwich has a big creativity scene. Who locally are you inspired by?
We were lucky enough to have some mentoring from Simon and Jacqui from Common Lot, who were very generous with sharing their expertise of making work with community groups and outdoor theatre. We were very inspired by their ethos and the fantastic spirit of their shows. Other companies who inspire us include: Curious Directive who make innovative thought-provoking work, that weaves science with theatre and uses technology in ways that enhance the experience and feel very authentic to the piece. Glass House Dance make beautiful and engaging work and have created wonderful projects that support local artists. We love Hocus Pocus, Luminous Tales, MoCo Theatre – there are so many!
Photography credit – David Monteith-Hodge Photographise