Longitude’s show run is over. It had a very short run, but it will remount at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. I will keep you updated on the continuing showtimes.
Written by Patrick Chavis
No props, no sets, just people and a projector were used to tell the story of a rarely talked about 17th-century inventor and clockmaker, John Harrison. Longitude is a physical theatre production, which means the sets and everything else was made with the human body. The use of the human body in this production is quite creative and establishes the point of feeling for many of the scenes. Watching Longitude is a truly educational experience that requires focus and intellectual curiosity. It might leave many turned off when exposed to a wider audience because it tended to focus less on John Harrison, the person, and more on his accomplishments and tenacity to make clocks. Since it’s hard to feel for Harrison, you wind up experiencing an hour-long introduction to the inventor in one of the most fascinating and unique ways possible.
John Harrison was born poor and into the humblest of situations. His father was a carpenter. Harrison never went to school, but he learned to master the craft of creating clocks. With that knowledge, he created the first marine chronometer, a clock that can tell proper time even on a rocking ship. Keeping proper time on a ship was essential in finding Longitude (angular distance east or west on the earth’s surface, measured by the angle between the meridian of a particular place and some prime meridian). If you could find the accurate Longitude, you could save days, maybe weeks, on back-and-forth sea voyages. Harrison entered his chronometer into a competition the English government-sponsored and claimed his chronometer could pinpoint Longitude with incredible accuracy. The rest of the story depicts his 19 years of struggle to make the perfect clock and his race with the other inventors of the time, trying their best to beat and discredit him.
Longitude is more about the story than the plot. The plot is minimal, which works fine with this production as we are introduced more to ideas and interesting minute details than fully fleshed-out characters or deep backgrounds. The focus is very much on the invention, drive, and passion of this one person with a particular goal. The show, through the movements and the sound effects, takes us on a quick journey into the brain of Harrison, an eccentric and passionate guy. While you learn a lot about these details, it’s hard to find a strong connection that holds onto you after leaving.
The actors move and tumble like slightly less flexible acrobats. These aren’t circus-type movements, but they look difficult to perform without some practice and preparation. The movements are quite clever, especially when showing internal struggle. They use their bodies to simulate waves, the movement of a ship, and much more. It’s intriguing to watch the next shape the performers make. The choreography in this production is a treat and one of the better things happening in this show. When they speak, the actors do a great job delivering their lines, and I enjoyed the dry wit sprinkled into certain areas of the script to show how different John Harrison was from everyone else.
Longitude is educational and a different way of learning about an interesting man in a very specific way. Its intentional focus on only his invention makes it less effective. The show aims for the brain instead of the heart and misses, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important reminder that great things can come from ordinary people who drive to make it happen.
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