The Plant will, at last, open on 28th October at the magnificent LV21 arts centre on the Thames at Gravesend, Kent. LV21 is a former light vessel. In other words, she was, when still doing her thing, a sort of floating lighthouse, there to warn shipping away from the unseen but incredibly dangerous shoal waters off the Kentish coast. She spent most of her active service standing sentinel off Deal to warn shipping away from the notorious Goodwin Sands.
This part of the Channel is a ships’ graveyard. In fact, there are two shipwrecks supposedly visible from the shore at low tide, although I’ve never managed to see them. Maybe I go at the wrong times. I imagine some old sea dog, hunched against the Tudor Rose-shaped walls of Deal Castle, pipe dangling from lips, staring out to sea through narrowed eyes.
‘Aye,’ he’ll say. ‘If them old sands could speak to tell tales.’
But peer as I may, nothing reveals itself.
One of these wrecks, the ‘North Eastern Victory’, shows her masts (apparently) in a sort of desperate ‘hey, remember me?’ kind of way on clear days.
A little further to the south, if you really squint, and it’s really, really clear, the top of one of the kingposts of the ‘Luray Victory’ can still be seen.
Two empty victories, then. Lost to time and tide. You can go and look around via a tour boat from Dover. Fancy it? Link above.
Tired, presumably, of marking these rusting remains, LV21 was decommissioned in 2008 when Trinity House switched from floating light vessels to solar-powered marker buoys. Happily, she found new life under the loving ministrations of Päivi Seppälä and Gary Weston and is now an arts and community space, exhibition centre and performance venue, getting her breath back on the tidal upper reaches of the River Thames.
Given her history, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate place to stage the opening performance of The Plant. Take a look to get a sense of the atmosphere below decks.
‘The Plant’ is a play about (amongst other things) industry, the culture(s) and habitats that spring (sprang?) up around it, the sense of identity and belonging it can bestow, and the importance of shared purpose in the shaping of community. It feels completely fitting, in these strange times, to have our opening night on a decommissioned merchant ship filled with these echoes of pathfinding, preventing tragedy and warning of unseen dangers, accustomed to floating above and among ghosts.
Come and see.