Page last updated at 07:41 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 08:41 UK

Poets and pop stars prepare for Latitude

By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Latitude festival
Even the sheep got in on the psychedelic action at last year's Latitude

Set in the idyllic country estate of Henham Park, the Latitude festival boasts one of the most diverse line-ups in the UK performing arts calendar.

The intimate event features a programme of theatre, poetry, film, literature and dance - and the music stages include Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones and Nick Cave.

The organisers have also secured a rare and exclusive solo set from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.

We spoke to some of the performers who will be travelling to Suffolk this weekend - and asked them what they've got in store.

Royal Shakespeare Company logo
The RSC is putting on two shows over the weekend

The Royal Shakespeare Company has created a show specifically for Latitude, based around the European witch trials of the 17th Century and the "discovery" of a mass grave on the Latitude site.

Jeanie O'Hare told us more.

Tell us about the show.
We've taken a decision to make it a very special one-off event. We've asked for a very late-night slot, so we're playing with people's fears and surprises. It's a little bit ghostly. It's quite frightening. But I can't reveal what the story is.

How hard is it to put on a play in a tent in the middle of a field?
There are certain technical restrictions - we have five minutes to set up and five minutes to get out. But a lot of the theatre styles that we employ at the RSC work well with being right in the middle of the audience.

It's very much in the company's history to be doing some work in a field, in a tent, with a group of travelling players.

What is the experience of the festival like?
We had some actors last year who were wondering around the site before the performance and they wouldn't come out of character.

One in particular was being a zombie, and the security guards thought he was a festival-goer who'd had a bit of a rough time. They were about to eject him from the site when the organisers stepped in and said: "No, he's one of the RSC actors!"

House of BlueEyes
Johnny BlueEyes has worked with Kate Moss, Take That and Gossip

London-based fashion collective The House of BlueEyes is staging a fully-fledged catwalk show on Friday evening. Titled Rock 'n' Roll Faerie, the event takes its inspiration from The Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil.

Chief designer Johnny BlueEyes explained the thinking behind the show.

What is a fashion show doing at a festival?
I love festivals. We're at a place in our world where we, as human beings, need to release ourselves in that way - to take note of the idea of waking up in the morning and looking out the window and seeing the sun.

What have you got in store?
My shows are very performance art based - there are models walking, there are singers singing, there are dancers dancing. It has a very circus-esque energy to it. Because Latitude has a rock and roll base, and this is not a classic catwalk show, it feels like the perfect fit for us.

Is it true that the catwalk will be submerged beneath a lake?
Oh, yes. That is the thing that made me freak out. It made me gag. The idea of seeing the models walking on water, it sends me into an orbit of love. It's magical and I believe in magic. It's all around us.

Your show in London last year featured Beth Ditto and Kate Moss. Will there be any surprise guests this weekend?
The show is much more about embracing everyone and making then feel part of the show. But I do work with well-known people and if they're at the festival and want to come in and work the runway… Let's just say it could happen.

Charlie Dark
Charlie Dark is also part of the hip-hop trio Attica Blues

London-based writer, producer and DJ Charlie Dark is one of more than 100 performers, including former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, taking to the stage in Latitude's Poetry Arena.

Why are you heading down to Suffolk this weekend?
In many other festivals, the poetry tent is kind of tacked on as an afterthought, to fill some space. But Latitude has this tradition of having poetry and spoken word there, so it's better.

Do you choose a "set list" like a rock band would?
I'm a nightclub DJ as well, so my approach to performing poetry has always been kind of like a DJ set. So you take a "box" of poems with you and you read the appropriate ones depending on the mood of the crowd and the journey you'd like to take them on.

Have you got anything special planned?
I've written some new pieces specifically for Latitude, which are inspired by festivals and hedonistic atmospheres in general. I'll be debuting them at the festival, but it'll also be the last time they'll be performed.

I call them dub plate poems. I perform them, and then I tear them up and that's the end of that.

Little Boots
Little Boots' Victoria Hesketh is a festival fixture this summer

Fresh from the top 10 success of her debut album, Hands, pop star Little Boots plays at one of the festival's three music arenas on Saturday night.

This is your first headline slot at a festival. Have you any tricks up your sleeve?
We put a lot of work into the show ahead of Glastonbury, so now we've got that nailed. I probably should change it up a little bit if I'm top of the bill, but I haven't really thought about it. You've got me worried now!

I think it'll be great, although I'm up against the Pet Shop Boys, which is pretty strong competition.

Do you enjoy playing festivals?
Yes, they're great because the crowd is always really up for it and it's a lot more chilled out backstage. You turn up early and you've got the whole day to hang around and catch up with the other bands who are playing. It's quite enjoyable really.

And now the album has come out, people know the songs a lot better more. It even happened in Denmark and Sweden recently!

What other acts will you be trying to see at Latitude?
The fashion show sounds amazing. I've worked with Alexander McQueen; and Henry Holland made my beautiful dress for Glastonbury; and I've worked with a few others like Poltock and Walsh. I like to get custom one-off things. I only wear them on stage, though. Not when I'm walking around the site.

Swan Lake
The pas de deux from Swan Lake will be performed on the waterfront

Sadler's Wells is staging a performance of Swan Lake in three parts across the weekend of the festival - as well as leading hip hop and Bollywood dance classes in the Cabaret arena.

Producer Emma Gladstone discussed her festival experiences.

How do people react to dance in this setting?
We're on a stage that's on the water and by a bridge that 25,000 people have to walk over to get to the auditoriums and the tents. So people who would never think about going to a dance show - and might never even go into a tent that says dance on the outside - come to see us.

How many times has the company been to Latitude?
This is the second year. We've done Glastonbury a couple of times but we decided not to go this year, just because I feel Latitude is much more welcoming and more focused on the performing arts.

When its free and people stay for a full hour to watch what's on, that's the best compliment for me. That's what I was really pleased about last year.

Do the dancers camp out like everyone else?
Yes, we just have to make sure its comfy. So, for example, we have bought much nicer mattresses this year.

It poses a physical challenge, as the dancers have to warm up in spaces that are clean and dry and where they can actually get their bodies warm.

Latitude festival
Latitude aims for a more relaxing atmosphere than most festivals

Tania Harrison is the arts programmer for Latitude, and it is her job to book and accommodate all of the acts. She runs 10 stages over the weekend - and attempts to see at least some of every show.

Have you been with the festival from the beginning?
Yes - it came from an idea a long time ago, where I was saying I really wanted to see something different at a festival. My boss literally gave me a blank page and said: "If you had six stages, let's discuss what you think would work." It's just grown and grown since then.

How difficult was it to convince people to take part in the early days?
Some people were like "how fantastic" but others were much more reticent. I really had to explain the concept. My pitches were pages long, full of ideas and pictures and how I thought it would generate new audiences. I don't have to work as hard to do that any more!

What are the logistical challenges of, say, having Swan Lake, a fashion show and an opera all on the same stage?
When I have an idea or I'm booking something, I have to physically make sure that it works [laughs]. We've had a lot of lengthy production discussions, and a lot of site visits.

I say things like "I really want to ride a motorbike on during the fashion show," and Luke, our site manager, just looks at me like he wants to kill me.

What's the weekend like for you?
Well, last year I lost 8lbs. I put my trousers on on the Sunday morning and they just fell off! I walk something like 26 to 40 miles a day, because I want to see every artist.

What's the backstage area like?
Each stage has its own storage area, otherwise I'd be falling over nipple tassels and wolves' heads. But it is a bit mad. I love it behind the cabaret, because there are painted naked people going "where's my stiletto?" before they run on the stage.

The Editors
Songs like Munich and Smokers Outside the Hospital Door are festival favourites

Indie rock band Editors will play the main stage on Sunday night, supporting headliner Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The quartet will be previewing material from their third album In This Light and On This Evening, as bassist Russell Leetch explained.

What are your plans for the weekend?
We're doing two festivals - so before Latitude, we're headlining a show in Poland. We've got a day off in between, which works out well for us. But the guy that's driving our gear from Europe will have to have his foot down a little bit.

Will you be checking out the other arenas?
I'm definitely going to have a walk round the site and soak up the different things that are going on, rather than just watching bands.

How has the festival season been for you so far?
The most exciting thing about playing the festivals this summer is playing material from our new record. We're previewing four new tracks off it. It's very exciting for us because there's a lot of keyboards, a lot of samples, and a lot of things to go wrong.

What's the best bit about playing on the main stage?
We're second-to-last on the bill, so playing when the sun's setting is great. Also, just supporting Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds is exciting. We played with them in Finland earlier this summer and it was just amazing and I can't wait to watch them again.

Supernova ends with a specially commissioned rock song

Hammersmith's Lyric Theatre is one of London's leading venues for new drama. Its entire creative team is travelling down to Suffolk to try out a new piece of work, Supernova, about an egocentric rock star.

Senior Producer Imogen Kinchin reveals the details.

Are you looking forward to the festival?
I'm very excited. It's great because you can always get back to your tent. You know when you leave the campsite at other festivals, you have to take everything with you because it's so far to walk? This is much smaller, more intimate, and if you lose people you tend to find them again. That's the biggest bonus.

What will the Lyric team be performing?
The idea was to do something we couldn't necessarily do on our main stage, which is to collaborate on a short play that uses everyone's skills in non-committal way.

Compared to a regular theatre, there must be a bigger risk of people walking out.
Yes, but it doesn't seem to matter as much.

If you create a piece where people have to sit and be silent for an hour, you're fighting a losing battle. Whereas, if you're creating something that's fun, entertaining, or shocking, people tend to pop in and see what's happening.

What you also find is that if it's raining it's very full - but if it's sunny it's not quite so full. So you're in competition with the weather. We pray for rain when our show's on and sunshine the rest of the time!

Janice Long
Janice Long began her career at BBC Radio Merseyside

Radio 2 DJ Janice Long will be paying her first visit to Latitude, where she is hosting a songwriting session with renowned British composer Eg White (Will Young, Kylie Minogue, Duffy).

She also presents her regular show at midnight on Sunday, as the festival draws to a close.

Have you been to Latitude before?
No, it's my first time. But the actor David Morrissey lives near there, and he always goes, and he says how brilliant it is - so he's going to come and give me a guided tour for the radio.

What do you enjoy about broadcasting from a festival?
For me, who's totally into live music, it's brilliant to be able to nip out while you're on air to find bands. I always try to grab musicians outside of the BBC compound - I hate all that stuff. So, you know, if we bump into White Lies and they're having a beer we'll say "grab your guitars and let's have a tune". Often you can get collaborations just off the cuff.

Who from this year's line-up would you like to see doing a duet?
Oh my goodness! What if you could get Grace Jones and Nick Cave to sing together?

Have you got any special guests lined up for the show?
Actually, there's this guy called Alex Deakin who works for BBC Weather. He's on every night on the six o'clock news and stuff like that - and this will be his first festival. He even went to practise putting a tent up in Cornwall the other week.

I've asked him to be on the show… I hope it just chucks down on him!

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