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Bittersweet show gives 3D take on life by Clyde

THERE'S so much sweet, powdery history still crusted into the bricks of Greenock's Sugar Sheds, you might expect White Gold, an ambitious site-specific production opening there tomorrow night as part of Glasgow's 2014 Cultural Programme, to dwell on the building's past.

Those times still linger in recollected memories, but it's the ongoing experiences of people who live in Inverclyde that have shaped the episodic fabric of the promenade event.

Simone Jenkinson and Joseph Traynor (of Cuerda Producciones, Argentina) have, as it were, picked up the White Gold baton from Mark Murphy, creative lead on the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games closing ceremony.

They're long-time associates, with a swathe of successful collaborations to their credit, but even so the architectural grandeur of the Sugar Sheds has impressed, and challenged, them.

"We think of it as a 'cathedral of industry', a real monument to an important time in this community," says Jenkinson. "You have to match that, bring it alive again."

White Gold is akin to a 3D jigsaw, involving live performance, choreographed movement, music and aerial work. In the interests of marshalling a promenade audience round the space while making sure no-one misses out on the action, some sections will happen three times over.

The logistics are formidable, but everyone - including the tech team on the floor (and aloft in the rafters) - is sustaining a reassuringly cheerful air of calm.

"We just want to get it right for everyone who's given up their time," says lighting designer Lizzie Powell.

"It's not often you walk into a space where there's no rig whatsoever, so we've been putting in extra hours when they're not rehearsing - one crew is working from 4am through til 2pm. At that time of the night, you really do get a sense of how vast the whole place is, and you can't help thinking what it must have been like."

Becky Minto, tasked with designing sets and costumes, echoes that thought. "I've been looking at old photos of the workers," she says. "And at the sugar itself - there are still granules of it, lurking up in the roof, that sparkle when light catches them.

"I wanted to have that kind of white-ness in the space, so I've gone for 'sugar-cubes' - areas curtained off between the iron columns where scenes can be staged but then those drapes can be pulled aside for what I'll call surprises."

One of those surprises is the aerial work. Billy Mack, a member of the professional cast embedded in among the 200 volunteers involved in the show, explains that the beginnings of White Gold are rooted in a story-gathering project that involved asking people revealing questions.

"One of those questions was 'Which door do you wish you'd never opened?' One guy said 'the door to the pub' - because it had taken him a lifetime, really, to deal with his alcoholism. That's the door up there..." Mack points upwards, to a suspended flat, and demonstrates, with one hand punching into his palm, how he'll be hitting more than the bottle in this scenario.

Elsewhere, groups are re-enacting family holidays "doon the watter", helping to piece together a picture of how a community stays together, plays together and survives the loss of heartland industries.

Jill Hughes is a 20-year-old pipe-fitter/welder from Gourock who is spending all her free time learning aerial skills for the show.

"I just thought - opportunity, grab it. I'd never set foot in this building before, but I'm now discovering its history and how it really links into what I'm doing now, living and working at the mouth of the Clyde. There are scenes that tie into when the shipyards were really busy and the whole Clyde was mobbed with industry. There's only a little of that left and we have to savour that as much as we can."

White Gold, inevitably, has a spoonful of nostalgia in its mix, but as Jenkinson points out "when the sugar went, it was, yes, a bitter time".

"But that's not what this project is about. This is about achievement and communities coming together to create something spectacular and extraordinary that they can share with an audience. That's the real sweetness - and it's very good for you too."

White Gold is at the Sugar Sheds Greenock from tomorrow until Saturday

www.glasgow2014.com/culture

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