I beg to differ with the glowing endorsements for Newhaven Cormorant voiced on the front page of Last week’s Sussex Express. For me and for many others too (gathering from comments by those around me at the event) it was, like the proverbial curate’s egg, only good in parts.
The welcoming samba band on the river, the fireboat, the communal game of volley ball with flying cardboard boxes, and later the night-time cliffs lit up with the red light of flares were all personal highlights. There was also the simple pleasure of mingling with my fellow townsfolk and bumping into friends and acquaintances.
However, the spectacle suffered from one overarching problem. Most of it could not be seen by most of us. A crowd of 3,000 is just too many for a street-level performance-art piece involving a dozen or so blue clowns. This made it a long and rather windswept evening (and a late one for the many people attending with young children), following the main float and straining for glimpses of the action way up at the front.
The community input in the form of sea-shanties and a beach-holiday protest tableau by Meeching Amateur Dramatics were likewise rather lost in the general melee, and also quite drowned by the live rock music blaring from Zap Art’s huge truck as it trundled past.
Instead of something like a large firework display that would have been seen by everyone, the climax was a car being driven through a pile of oil drums, again practically invisible to all those not in the front rank of spectators.
The use of oil drums, costumed figures, music and fire in the main procession inevitably raises comparison with Lewes Bonfire, the great difference being that the hundreds of participants at Lewes plus the sheer scale of the pyrotechnics mean that anyone attending is immersed in the atmosphere and intensity of the night. What’s more, Lewes is not funded by the taxpayer via arts grants as Newhaven Cormorant must have been to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds.
I am not disagreeing with those who say that Newhaven deserves something like the kind of large-scale cultural entertainment that Newhaven Cormorant aspired to last month. However, if the talk of some kind of similar event occurring here next year proves to be founded, I hope that the organisers will take some of the comments above on board at the planning stage, and above all make whatever happens genuinely accessible to those attending.
Denton Road, Denton