Outdoor theatrical extravaganza in Caledonian Park gets go ahead

When Glenn Gridley looked out of the window and saw flames in his local park, he feared firebugs were attempting to torch the place.

The catering student immediately raced down the stairs from the top of his block of flats – which overlooks Caledonian Park – to intervene, but what he found was not a gang of arsonists at work.

It was a pyrotechnics crew practising their art in preparation for Babel, a major outdoor theatre production set to dominate the Holloway green space, off Market Road, from May 8 to May 20.

Mr Gridley is now one of about 1,000 community volunteers who will be taking part in the ambitious event.

The 18-year-old, of Woodland Court, off Market Road, said: “I was quite shocked when I looked down. I thought someone was setting fires in the park so I ran downstairs – but it turned out they were doing a fireworks workshop.

“I asked what the show was all about and ended up getting involved, first with catering, and then with the technical side, helping out with rigging up lighting and sound.”

Since that day in March, Mr Gridley has become one of the hundreds giving up much of their spare time on evenings and weekends who will be central to the theatrical extravaganza, which will feature live music, storytelling, trapeze artists and visual effects.

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He added: “It’s an amazing project. It’s helped bring the community closer together and also made me realise this is what I love to do. I’m going to be there for nearly every show, helping out in any way they need.”

The producers, the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) and the WildWorks theatre company, say Babel will celebrate the multi-cultural nature of the capital, with a nod to London 2012.

David Micklem, artistic director of the BAC, added: “It will be an immersive piece that takes the story of the Tower of Babel as a starting point for a show about what it means to be human.

“The audience will not be sitting down. They will be transported into a world we have created, which they will explore, and will get to know each other and form tribes.”

Babel will see the mid-19th century clock tower stand in for the biblical Tower of Babel. The site was chosen partly because it is no stranger to hosting such lively events, having housed a cattle market for over a century, until the 1960s, and been a political meeting place that once saw 30,000 trade unionists gather in 1834.

Mr Micklem said: “When we found out about the history of the Caledonian Park and all the extraordinary people who live and work around there we realised the show had to be there. It has such a rich history and that will be vital to the show.”

The Babel team were boosted last week by the news their licensing application had been granted, meaning they will be able to run until 10.15pm and serve alcohol at the interval.

Some residents had objected and there were even claims that the show could somehow draw prostitutes to the area, but Mr Micklem said: “If anything, bringing Babel will drive prostitution away. The show will leave a positive imprint on the park.”