Drive in Deco

National Theatre Wales - The Persians - Aug 2010

‘The most intriguing show of the week!’

‘Pick of the week,’ Lyn Gardner, the Guardian

In 2011 we were contacted by a Mr Smith, head of the International Guild of City Tenders, extremely excited about a signal his equipment had picked up coming from a mystery building somewhere in Plymouth’s city centre. In his own words;

‘Some buildings store minute electrical charges emitted by human beings that have inhabited them. I’ve developed specialised instruments that can pick up and then decode these imprinted charges. Usually all you hear is static but very rarely, you hear something amazing: a coherent voice from the past. I picked up a waveform of unusual complexity from somewhere in the heart of Plymouth. The complexity indicated not just one residual signal but several! This is very exciting and well, naturally, I had to find this building.’

We were fascinated and agreed to work with him to track down the building and bring his discoveries to the attention of the inhabitants of the city.

Mr Smith’s Journey

10 January 2011. Mr Smith of the International Guild of City tenders arrives in Plymouth following a signal of unusual and fascinating complexity…

11 January 2011. Mr Smith sets up his electromagnetic unit and discovers the signal emanates from the west end of Plymouth’s city centre…

12 January 2011. Mr Smith takes to the streets….

That building was the Colin Campbell House, a wonderful old Art Deco car showroom hidden away inside an inner-city courtyard car park in the West End of the city. Despite being one of only four buildings to survive both the blitz and the city planners, it had suffered decades of neglect and no longer had a meaningful relationship with its surroundings.

To help Mr Smith perform a live waveform decoding and transmit his findings to the general public, we created a Drive–in event, transforming the building’s car park forecourt into a 1930’s movie premiere, in keeping with the era of the building’s heyday. Bellhops and usherettes greeted guests as they arrived in their cars and dancers performed to big-band hits of the 30’s.

As evening fell, audiences were able to observe proceedings, tuning in on their car radios to hear Mr Smith at work. A big screen made it possible to see the interior life of the building and a quartet of musicians accompanied the experience with live music.

And what an extraordinary experience it turned out to be.

Mr Smith deciphered and broadcast a total of six intertwining voices from across the timeline of the building’s existence and in an unprecedented development finally made contact with the building herself – yes, the building was self-aware and called herself Gloria!

Gloria did not want to continue in her present situation but she couldn’t see a way to reconnect to the city. So through our interventions, she found a third option. She reverted to the spirit of her blueprint: the prestigious, far-sighted vision of the architecture of Art Deco’s streamline moderne.

Her last words to us were;

‘Citizens of Plymouth. I was built by the people of this city, who had a dream for the future. And when a different future came, you built a new dream from the rubble. City of architects, shipbuilders and explorers: eyes always on the horizon. Your people make history and I am honoured to have a place in that story. My foundations will always be here with you. But my spirit is the true mettle of my creation and it is and always will be… Extraordinary! Brilliant! Glorious!’

..and leaving her physical form behind, she turned herself into an ocean liner and took to the sea.

‘Winner of the Vice Chancellors Award for Innovation 2011’

Find out more from Mr Smith’s Blogs here.

View a short film about the West End area of the city made by local communities, screened as a short on the big screen prior to the main event here.

You can read the project report here

Drive in Deco was a unique performance combining film, theatre, dance, live music, radio broadcast and popcorn!

Drive in Deco was funded by Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund, Plymouth City Council and Plymouth City Centre Company and supported by Plymouth Theatre Royal, Barbican Theatre, Peninsula Arts, University of Plymouth, City Museum and Art Gallery, Architecture centre, Plymfed tenants association, DBS Music, Babcock Marine Arts Centre, Midas Homes and FOTONOW.