In which Cie Carabosse sets Harrogate aflame

Thursday night was brilliant.  Brilliant in every way.  Apart from anything else, it was an evening of simple joy at being part of an evening’s festivities shared with equal pleasure among both friends and strangers.

The next day we woke up to a Brexit-dominated world, and simple joy has become rather hard to find.

We arrived at Harrogate’s Valley Gardens as dusk fell .  These gardens are among Harrogate’s treasures – 17 acres of lawns, of colourful flowers, of pinewoods, a small lake, of historic buildings such as the Sun Pavillion, all beautifully managed and greatly appreciated by locals and visitors alike.

Normally, by dusk, there’s only the odd dog-walker around.  Thursday was different – Friday and Saturday too.  We spotted  lines of flaming plantpots strung on simple metal frames.  There were smouldering lampshade-like creations. Then we found spherical braziers suspended from stands of mature trees..  There were eccentric bits of machinery, reminiscent of the work of Rowland Emmett, that played with the idea of juxtaposing showers and jets of water with flickering flames and occasional startling fireballs. There were quantities of men’s vests – yes, vests – re-purposed as lampshades suspended over the lake, which became, as darkness fell, an evermore magical and mysterious venue.

Cie Carabosse was in town.  They’re a French street theatre company whose specialist subject is fire in all its forms.  Its members are a playful band of people who aim to transform a space that may have long been familiar into … something else.  Dressed formally in black, rather in the manner of croque-morts (pall-bearers or undertakers),  they wandered round the park, illuminating braziers, attending to some of those hand-cranked machines.  We ambled round too.  Apart from a band of musicians playing atmospherically over in the back corner, there was no event, no ‘happening’.  Everyone enjoyed simply exploring at their own pace, visiting and revisiting this installation, that glade of fires, those vests down at the lakeside, savouring the atmosphere as dusk became black night, as fires grew, damped down, and blazed forth once more.

Cie Carabosse travel all over the world.  They’ll be in London in September as part of the commemoration of the Great Fire of London, 350 years ago.  They’ll be in Seoul, South Korea in October –  so maybe Emily could get to see them.  And they’ll be in the Ariège, in Foix, in December.  One way or another, I hope many of you will have the chance to have your evening set alight by Cie Carabosse before the year is out.