I took a meander into some lovely woodland in Norwich to watch Limbik Theatre’s original production called Rebel Rabble. It’s described as a theatrical audio experience, and is set against the backdrop of Robert Kett’s rebellion of 1549, for which the rebel army set up a camp at Mousehold Heath in Norwich. Rather excitingly, this is where the production takes place.
Instead of being a simple history lesson or a guided historical tour, this is a production which, alongside a bit of historical detail, explores the legacy of the rebellion through the eyes of some contemporary characters, Bernard, Hazel, and Sylvia, as gradually their tales of making a stand unfold.
So, what did I think? Well, firstly, what’s not to enjoy about a gentle amble around a beautiful, historic woodland? But that’s not really what you pay your money for of course. The costly part is the ‘silent disco’ style headphones that allows the audience to be part of the same narrative. And they worked beautifully, adding some atmosphere to the stroll both while the storytelling was happening and in-between. Whether it was the sound of marching while you were being guided from one scene to the next, the sound of sheep to help you visualise the former use of the land, or the heartbeat sound increasing in tempo to emphasise our hosts' feelings, your constant audio companion was the star of the show.
The rebel rabble itself was a group of six actors, each kitted out in earthy, hessian sack-like clothing with an accompanying oversized mask. I don’t quite know whether it was the intention, but to me, the masks seemed to resemble faces in trees with eye holes looking like knots in the wood. Whatever the intended look, the actors scampered across the space in a suitably rebellious, almost mischievous manner, giving it their all physically in the absence of any dialogue. Though there was only six of them, they spread themselves well and almost blended in with their surroundings to keep you guessing as to where they might next appear. It was an effective device by Limbik, and one that I enjoyed.
Having said that, I do have a couple of critical observations as regards the contemporary hosts. Undoubtedly, the major draw of the show is the historical narrative and being at the scene of the rebellion. To justify eschewing quite a bit of historical interest in favour of fabricated tales of people making a stand requires particularly good storytelling, and for me, the contemporary stories were not as engaging as I’d have hoped. In addition, for the most part, they weren’t visually engaging either, which by comparison to the original rebels kitted out in their masks and stalking the improvised sets in a slightly menacing fashion, it left me feeling a bit apathetic about their tales.
To be clear, I thought the concept was a good one as, had it simply been a historical tour of Mousehold Heath, I probably wouldn’t have bothered turning up. The idea was innovative, well-executed, and very slick. It was just on a personal level that I didn’t connect with it, and that perhaps speaks more about my simple mind needing visual stimuli more than anything. However, I would encourage you to check it out, as it’s nothing like anything on offer, certainly in Norfolk at the moment, and it’s inspiring seeing theatre being produced in different and creative ways.
It’s also worth noting that at the end of the production, in a real show of community spirit, audiences are invited back to the “rebel base” for a hot drink and a biscuit, so should you wish, there’s also the opportunity to have a chat with the cast and production team too.
Rebel Rabble continues for the next couple of weekends on the 24th and 25th of September and the 1st and 2nd October, with all performances at either 2pm or 5pm, and tickets are available via norwichtheatre.org