In an original retelling of this classic story- already the subject of Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 cult film- traditional bicycles have been replaced by BMX bikes. The reason for this, director Henriette Baker explains, is to keep the story’s dramatic impetus intact within a contemporary setting.
“In the film, when the character gets his bicycle stolen it’s life or death. I wanted to find an environment where it was this life or death situation. In the world of BMXing your bike’s your livelihood.”
For Baker, the power of Bicycle Thieves lies in the simplicity of the plot and the “wonderful father and son relationship” at its heart. The theme of social realism, she feels, is indivisible from the emotional pull of the characters themselves.
The audience, she says, can look forward to “a surprising rollercoaster. I want them to be out of breath, emotionally. What I want is a real, theatrical experience.”
As a part of this, professional BMXers are performing alongside actors and Baker has worked with bicycle choreographer Paddy Waters and DJ Etienne Tron to weave BMX displays into the action.
The project was originally envisaged as a moving set, with the audience cycling behind the bicycle chase which unfolds. Although the production at The View Tube will be largely stationary, some element of this physical experience will remain. Following collaboration with the environmental arts and education organisation, Magnificent Revolution, all electricity used by the show will be generated entirely by actors and audience members pedalling on bicycle generators.
Baker acknowledges that this is “a bit of an experiment … It’s suddenly bringing quite a technical thing into a theatrical production. It’s very necessary to the story, though, for the audience to experience the thrills of the chase on the bicycles.”
This environmentally responsible approach- and its celebration of the bicycle- wholly compliment the ethos of The View Tube.
Conceived of originally to provide panoramic sights of the Olympic Park, the venue’s manager Rosie Murdoch says ‘My job is to make this about more than just The Olympics and 2012. It’s to work with local groups in the community.’
“We always need to programme activities that make sense for our visitors. Something like sustainable travel makes sense because there is no vehicle access to The View Tube. So if people walk or cycle here they’re already in that mindset. From here- where cycling is concerned- there’s a perfectly sensible leap from a practical commuter past time to actual dance and art form.”
Sustainability is key to The View Tube’s entire running. Vegetables and basil for the café are grown in a garden on site. Any supplies they do require from outside must be delivered by bicycle. For Murdoch, once again, an important element of this is challenging the mindsets of the people they work with. “I think it’s a really important message that we give out in as many of our projects as we can … certainly bicycles are the heart of our programme this year.”
Shortlisted for the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award 2011, Bicycle Thieves is performing at The View Tube from Friday 1 – Wednesday 6 July.
Tickets are £8, or £5 with concessions. Book here.