In order to celebrate the canal’s 258th birthday, artists Lowri Evans, Renato Bolelli Rebouças and Rodolfo Amorim helped audiences to embark on a journey through the history of England’s first canal. The award-winning theatre-makers from Brazil and the UK collaborated in a community event that fused together more than 30 local groups and hundreds of volunteers over three days of events.
By offering a time-travelling trip back to 1761, when the canal was first commissioned by Francis Egerton III, the carnaval trail from Boothstown Marina to Worsley’s Humpback Bridge explored how the process of the industrial revolution moved people out of the field and into factories, as well as exposing how it was fuelled by the hard labour of miners and funded through slave labour.
Like Marley’s ghost, the spirits of the mine workers roamed the tumultuous trail that intertwined the colourful festivities with the forgotten voices sacrificed in the pursuit of progress. Explaining how race, class and gender exploitation energised the industrial revolution, the path positioned real and fictional characters to explore where this route will lead us in the future. Atop the Queenie narrowboat, a drunken woman sung about her lost youth and sealed fate as a poorly paid seven-year-old coal miner. But these scenes were pinned against a life-size ice cream mascot and the entangled Smith’s Knits mermaids washed ashore, covered in the discarded rubbish that has been thrown in the canal by passers-by.
This was an uniquely designed, family-friendly affair which ensured that the stories were digestible for a younger audience. Music, witches and mermaids placed along its route kept the atmosphere imaginative and entertaining; the installations and characters all beautifully illustrated against the natural scenic route. The vibrant festival even took a minute to take cover under a bridge where a masked ball accompanied by a brass band awaited anyone willing to don a disguise and drink with the devil. Comprised of countless local acts including an original poem from the Bridgewater Youth Centre and the Barton Belles’ performance of The Ship Song (by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds), the picturesque walkways were lined with visual and creative collections of public art.
Precarious Carnaval allowed audiences the opportunity to watch and take part in a candid celebration surrounding The Bridgewater Canal. Flooded with history, it didn’t offer a nostalgic walk down memory lane, rather positive and negative impacts of the privately-owned canal and the industrial revolution. Confronting the idealism of a new world, the show explored how the past has encouraged our present use of dirty energy and exploitation while also driving modern developments and new scientific discoveries.