Halesworth has a lot going for it. A small town in east Suffolk, it enjoys numerous amenities; recently, I have twice taken advantage of one of its main ones, The Cut, an arts centre using the spacious indoors of a converted maltings cf The Maltings, Snape.
Its theatre was home to an occasion a fortnight ago which could easily have been a portentous flop; instead it was a stimulating success. Called ‘Discover Doggerland’, the alliteration could not disguise the relative obscurity of this unknown place, especially as the eponymous ‘land’ is actually under the sea. But, as all archaeologists know, that is the point, and one which The Cut’s subtitle builds on: ‘The drowned world under the North Sea explored through science, myth, art and stories.’ Portentousness and an absence of punters could easily be just round the corner.
In fact, the theatre was packed with an audience of about 150; and most of the speakers rose to the challenge they had been given six months previously, that is to respond in their own particular creative field to the idea of ‘Doggerland’ and its implications. This may sound pretty dry and academic but in fact the occasion was never either; rather was it vibrant and full of contemporary relevance. The brilliant opening lecture by Prof Vincent Gaffney saw to that: inter alia he made the rather basic point that for most of their history the British Isles had been part of Europe. He, and others, understandably therefore asked whether Britons’ proud claim to be ‘an island race’ was but a myth, promulgated perhaps for political purposes? It is an argument we should hear a lot about in the coming months – but I bet we don’t!
I wont attempt to summarise the contributions or the interesting debates, but a fortnight on I best remember – apart from Gaffney’s brio performance – the poor presentation of most of the speakers who had clearly not been briefed about how to use the technical supports such as a microphone; and two talks, by a ‘visual artist’ and a photographer respectively, about how they coped with the ‘Doggerland’ challenge, not so much conceptually as technically and methodologically. Their parallel stories about how they eventually came to grips with the subject and actually produced something towards the end of the six months were vivid examples of the creative struggle which artists endure – and possibly occasionally enjoy.