I remember my first visit to Bell Square was to watch Carousel last year – it was close to sunset and there was a actually a circus carousel in the middle of the brick-paved square.
I witnessed a most unusual phenomenon which transformed the local environment, brought people together for something really impactful and turned a normal day into something extraordinary.
That was Bell Square; the invisible theatre – you don’t know it exists until it magically pops up in front of you – creates a huge impact and then disappears again. It’s as ethereal as the Cheshire Cat but whenever I go to see a performance or when I take other people along, I always feel I’ve been ‘Bell-Squared’ and so do they.
So what is the 'Bell Square effect'? It’s a very positive thing – it puts the shine back in your eyes and a beat in your heart. It’s really quite hard to pin down the ‘je ne sais quoi-ness’ of it all, but if I was to try and articulate it, I would say it’s more about the eclectic mix than any one particular thing.
During the week, Bell Square is a somewhat mundance, paved red brick area which is transformed every other Saturday into an outdoor arts space, in the round with ‘pop up’ wooden seats. Hundreds of people arrive and gather in the space – all ages, backgrounds and nationalities are eager to see what’s on. Before each performance, a very loud bell tolls for five minutes – it sounds ominous almost but it’s certainly not, it’s the klaxon for people to assemble, the invisible curtain to rise and the company of performers to begin their show.
This is where the magic happens – it may be a company of contemporary dancers putting on something hard hitting, a social commentary like Company Chameleon with their show Of Man and Beat. Alternatively, it might involve walking round Hounslow with Tilted Productions to watch scenes of Belonging(s) play out in unusual settings such as a car park or beside a tower block.
Whatever is on, the ringing bell marks the start of an absorbing journey which may last up to an hour or more. Many of the performers are outdoor arts groups who also perform in theatres – there is something very special about these outside shows – there are no walls, there are no barriers, there is no stage. Many of the performers are happy to speak with the audience afterwards; it’s as if they are important as the players themselves to the success of the event.
What all of these performances have in common is they captivate the audience and everyone is drawn in momentarily and that experienced is shared. Whether it’s dance, acrobatics or theatre, there is a connection made between the public and the performers.
No matter how I’m feeling when I arrive, when I leave, I always feel like I’ve been part of something powerful and transformative and that I’ve learned something about life and the world through these powerful performances. It’s an incredibly powerful and uplifting experience.
Are you ready to be Bell Squared?
To keep up with upcoming events, visit our What’s On pages here
And if you are attending Bell Square events – don’t forget to share your experiences on social media using the #BellSquareLDN hash tag.