Out of the Blue

Great Yarmouth, East Anglia

On Thursday night a massive hulk of multi-media music theatre washed- up on the remote shores of Gorleston-on-Sea: . Commissioned for the Year of Opera and Musical Theatre, this community-based "happening" was devised by director Hilary Westlake, composer Pip Greasley and video artist Colin Pearce. A high concept son et lumiere, it gathered together a crew of more than 500 locals, 32 ships and boats, a helicopter and a fleet of armoured jeeps, then cast them adrift on a sea of incoherence and inept direction.

Billed as a sci-fi adventure, began its two-hour voyage into incomprehensibility in Gorleston harbour, where crowds gathered in anticipation of the town's fictional "Yacht Prom". Instead, what they saw was a flurry of fake media interest, as jump-suited security men jeeped to and fro and two small boats circled one another in the harbour. This undramatic activity was, we were told by fictitious radio reports, prompted by the fabulous "Stone Plant", an alien offshore arrival with mysterious and possibly lucrative, oil-bearing properties. While different interest groups plotted how to exploit it, the security firm were involved in a much more sinister, quasi-military operation.

So went the unconvincing rhetoric booming from the loudspeaker, anyway. Delivered with more than a hint of Alan Partridge, this fake reportage dwelt heavily on the supposedly "fishy" goings on, stilted sight-readers attempting to stir up an atmosphere of paranoia and suspense. "We don't know what's going on, but it's extraordinary," said one reporter as we all peered dubiously at a few dinghies bobbing about. "They're hiding the truth from the people of Gorleston!" The people of Gorleston, meanwhile, looked distinctly underwhelmed.

What little excitement had been generated was then diffused by a slow shuffle to grandstand seats on the beach. There a local orchestra struck up, only to have their chiming, portentous music distorted by an inadequate sound system. On the concrete Yacht Pond below, children roller-skated waving gymnasts' ribbons in a display somewhere between Holiday on Ice and a Soviet festival of youth. Beautiful light-shows dyed the waters red and green, while ships sped back and forth across the sea.

The sheer surreality of the scene was undeniable. But, as anticlimax followed anticlimax, the much-vaunted "spectacle" was repeatedly lost against the vast backdrop of the sea or undermined by the lumbering logistics inevitable in a show of this size. The result? A bathos rarely seen on such a scale and all the more keenly felt in the wind blowing in off the North Sea, freezing the audience and whipping words from the actors' mouths. A spectacular failure, then, and a failure of spectacle.