Arts, Venue

Steve Waters and Tangled Feet: ‘Murmurations’

Murmurations is Written by Steve Waters and directed by Nathan Curry. Waters has been working alongside the Arts and Humanities Research Council and UEA to explore how it is possible for drama and performance to aid the conservation of the natural world. The show was performed at two different locations: The National Trust’s Wicken Fen Nature Reserve and the RSPB’s Strumpshaw Fen Reserve. Part of the beauty of the play is that the place in which you see it will impact your experience of it, as well as the weather, who was there, and what time it was.

Both places are also the subject of the play, perhaps even characters in their own right. The rest of the performers: – Chanice Hird, Emily Eversden, Mario Christofides, Carl Parkin, and Fiona Watson – are of Tangled Feet, a troop with a reputation for site-specific performances. Murmurations takes this concept to a new level. The play is a guided headphone tour that includes audio, visual and poetic mediums that are seamlessly stitched together by the fen’s atmosphere as part of the performance.

The narrative follows several different characters, each with a different relationship to the fen: a farmer’s son, a bereaved woman, her mother, two estate agents, and a couple of birdwatchers. There are times when it is difficult to determine who is part of the play and who just happens to be wandering around the reserve, a feeling that would not be possible without the careful balance between public and private that Murmurations achieves. Characters appear in various spots in the landscape, sometimes visible from a long way away and sometimes not until the last moment. Murmurations is a kind of performance that many will have never experienced the likes of.

As you walk along, sound design by Guy Connelly and Music by Polly Wright maintains the atmosphere and feels like a part of the air in the fen. The music is both tormenting and soft in the way it alters how you see the landscape; the fen moves from a static natural beauty spot to a world alive with people’s stories, memories, and emotions both past and present. Passers-by become unknowing extras, and the audience part of the story. At times it feels as though you are a character in a videogame, each interaction a cutscene, venturing along not knowing what the next encounter will be.

What Waters has carefully done with Murmurations is demonstrate the importance of landscape in changing the temporal and emotional boundaries in our lives. But specifically, how important ecology is in making these connections to ourselves and each other. Waters shows us the beautiful points where humans and nature collide and reform. This connection seems to come from a peculiar place of grief. There is grief for the loss of human life as well as grief for something much broader: a grieving for the loss of connection to nature and the many ecosystems that have died or are dying.

And so, the play is written about its purpose, to reconnect us with the spaces we take for granted. Before It is too late. A murmuration is a flocking together that birds do to travel over long distances both deterring predators and minimising the amount of energy they expend. As the play points out at one point, nature’s only goal is survival. It does not acknowledge borders, cultures, or languages. It seems that through this play, Waters is telling us that we must do the same thing.

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Jack Warren

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May 2022
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