Saturday. 9:30pm. I’m sitting cross-legged on the grass of Chapelfield Gardens, and all around me the Garden Party is still going strong. The Adnams Spiegeltent is a roar of chatter and noise, and beside it a large mechanical dragon — rather charmingly named Elsie — turns the air orange with the glow from her flamethrower-covered body. I’m not here for either of those events, great though they were. I’m here for Pedal-Powered Car Chase, a fifteen-minute performance involving inventive live music, a handful of plucky volunteers, and some exercise in the name of making us think.
A joint project created by Lawrence Bradby and Matthew Robinson, Pedal-Powered Car Chase both indulges us and challenges us to take a second look at how we think about movement. The main spectacle is a short film made of familiar clips from our favourite films — some shots coming from The Bourne Identity and Spielberg’s iconic Drive — spliced with shots from local traffic jams. It’s accompanied by live music composed by Mike Howe (People Music) and the quiet whir of the volunteers as they pump their pedals. When all the parts are put together, Pedal-Powered Car Chase is a performance that dazzles both sight and sound. When I watched it there was just so much going on that it took some time post-performance to really get my thinking hat on.
Pedal-Powered Car Chase both indulges us and challenges us to take a second look at how we think about movement
But getting your thinking hat on is a must for this one, no matter how distracted you might be by the spectacle itself. Bradby and Robinson want you to think. The opening speech given by Bradby is testament to that, and in it he talked about how we in the UK view free and unfettered travel as a birthright. We expect to be allowed to move freely. ‘We are the Schengen Volk,’ says Bradby, in the second verse of the speech. This is a reference to the Schengen Agreement, which involves 26 European countries who changed their border legislation to allow easy travel between one another, effectively turning them into one giant nation.
The UK opted out of the Schengen Agreement, but I agree with Bradby in the sense that we do have a Schengen-esque attitude. An estimated 5.5 million Brits now live permanently abroad, and in 2014 UK residents made around 38.5 million international journeys. Despite being more educated about climate change than ever before, and the distant spectre of the 2008 bank crash reminding us all to keep an eye on our budgets, recent years have shown international travel becoming more and more common.
we in the UK view free and unfettered travel as a birthright. We expect to be allowed to move freely.
Our conviction about our right to easy travel is obvious even within our cramped island borders. 76% of UK households now own at least one car, and 32% own more than one. Only 10% of all journeys use public transport. The numbers look pretty grim when you consider how close we are to permanently damaging our environment. We need to make changes — and make them fast.
Pedal-Powered Car Chase delights you in the thrills that cars can provide, even as the pedalling of the volunteers and the bicycle-themed instruments used by the live musicians get you thinking about other, less harmful, modes of travel. Pedal-Powered Car Chase connects bicycles and people power to the environmental destruction and convenient travel that cars are so good at. It makes you confront your own enjoyment of a good classic car chase, and think about just why it is so many of us idolise our vehicles.
There were undoubtedly vehicle owners in the audience that night. My partner was one of them. Perhaps a few of those watching were even part of the 32% of multiple car owners. So I would say that confronting these people, who are part of the problem, is quite a daring move — but it’s getting to the point where it’s necessary. We can no longer afford to preach to the choir. Outspoken Cycles, who are known for organising fun and unique events such as this one, seem to get that in a way few others do, and I’m excited to see what they do next.
Norwich Arts Centre is a commissioning partner for Pedal-Powered Car Chase.
For more information about the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, visit their website. Festival runs 13 – 29 May 2016.
Featured image via Norfolk & Norwich Festival