Interview: Bradley Hemmings on London’s Free Spectacular, Greenwich + Docklands International Festival
We caught up with Bradley Hemmings MBE from Greenwich + Docklands International Festival to chat about this year’s festival, what inspires him and his London haunts including a tasty MOMO paradise.
Greenwich + Docklands International Festival (GDIF) | 26 August-11 September | Various Locations | Mainly Free
GDIF is our favourite event of the year championing free, accessible spectacle.
How did the festival come about originally and what are your hopes as you come into the 2022 festival?
GDIF first came into being in 1996. In those days there was no DLR or Underground connecting south and north of the river, so at the time, putting on a cross-river festival was a bit like building castles in the air. Of course since then there have been radical changes to the landscape of Greenwich and East London and the festival proudly embraces and tries to play its part in being part of this constant cycle of transformation. I like to feel that we reflect the unfolding story of the area and this year, we’ll be doing that with a fantastic programme of free outdoor theatre and performing arts, celebrating the theme of “Common Ground”.
Tell us about the programme this year and any big highlights or hidden gems we should check out.
This year we’re opening with the UK premiere of SPARK from Dutch artist Daan Roosegarde. It’s a magical reinvention of traditional public celebrations such as fireworks displays, in which thousands of bio-degradable light sparks will move above as audiences lie out on the lawns in front of the Queen’s House in Greenwich.
Then, across the road DISCOVER UKRAINE: BITS DESTROYED will be a dazzling and hugely moving digital artwork, projected onto the Old Royal Naval College. It celebrates the Ukrainian tradition of monumental, publicly sites mosaics, many of which have been tragically destroyed since the Russian invasion.
I’m also really excited that we’re hosting the London premiere of PEACEOPHOBIA by Zia Ahmed at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Multi-Storey Car Park. Part car meet, part theatre, it’s an immersive show offering an urgent response to rising Islamophobia around the world.
Who or what inspires you to programme the outdoor spectacular work for London?
As a festival which takes place outdoors, I’m always inspired by the people and places which make up Greenwich and East London. This area of London is packed with diverse stories and vitality and there are just such brilliant public open spaces across the area.
Over the years, I’ve learned that you can make something amazing happen in almost any space and I particularly love it when we work in local estates and places which sometimes get overlooked.
This year, a Flemish circus company, Be Flat, will take up residence on the Moorings Estate in Thamesmead and local people and audiences from further afield are in for a total treat.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to make or produce large-scale arts work?
I’d say spectacular work doesn’t have to be large scale. More intimate events can also be transformational. It’s important to always concentrate on the audience experience and try to surprise people by disrupting the everyday.
In the times we’re living in, creating art which people can experience for free feels more important than ever, but to do this kind of work you have to have allies and of course money.
So top advice would be to build relationships with town centre managers, local authorities, housing associations, property development companies and, of course, the Arts Council, who have become big champions of outdoor arts in recent years.
What are your favourite haunts in the boroughs you work in? (To eat, to be entertained, to relax)
I love Kailash Momo in Woolwich. It’s a real gem of a Nepalese restaurant and always a welcome pit stop when we’ve been doing site visits with artists on cold days in January.
As gay bars become increasingly hard to come by across London, we’re lucky in Greenwich to have the super friendly Rose and Crown. The music theatre karaoke night is always fun!
And for a spectacular view over London there’s a little known park in Greenwich called The Point. Visitors always head to the top of Greenwich Park Hill for the legendary view over London but at The Point you can enjoy the view without the crowds.