Tag Archives: Gemma Fairlie

Theatrical Gold – part two

HOARD FESTIVAL (2nd Visit)

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 16th July, 2015

 

An eagerly anticipated return visit to the New Vic to catch more of the excellent festival of work inspired by the Staffordshire Hoard. Before the double bill in the main house, I catch another couple of ‘table plays’ in the bar.

In Hwaet! by Tom Wells, Elizabeth Elvin plays a woman in cod-Anglo Saxon garb, a mother preparing a surprise party for her daughter who is leaving to study archaeology at university. It’s an amusing monologue – the woman has a very funny turn of phrase – but running through it is a rich vein of emotion that is ever-present in Elvin’s eyes, behind the smiles and the laughter. Lovely stuff.

Sara Pascoe’s Hoarder features a young Anglo Saxon widow who monitors squirrels so she can dig up the nuts that hide away. She is a bit squirrel-like herself and she seeks the stash of gold her late husband buried – she even asks a couple of people around the table to open their bags or empty their pockets. It’s an energised performance from Gwawr Loader, tightly wound and delivered with conviction. Fab.

On to the main double bill.

UNEARTHED by Theresa Heskins

The New Vic’s resident director Theresa Heskins appears (here portrayed by Bryonie Pritchard) to explain how she put the play together. She interviewed a range of people connected with the discovery and then edited their words together to create the narrative. And so the actors speak verbatim words of real-life people. The style mixes naturalism with documentary elements. Pritchard withdraws, substituting us, the audience, as Theresa; the characters now address us, as narrators. This is a fascinating account of an endlessly fascinating story. We meet Terry whose metal detector found the treasure (David Nellist in bluff, amusing tones) and the museum experts whose minds were blown away when he took it to them. Also included is famous TV historian Michael Wood (invoked by the wonderful Adam Morris) who speculates about the nature and the origins of the find. It cracks along at a fair pace; names are projected on the floor to help us keep track of who is whom and images of some of the pieces appear and spread across the stage. There isn’t much in terms of on-stage action but that’s not the point. The documentary style engages us and holds us throughout. As facts and opinions are unearthed, our imagination is stimulated and our sense of wonder activated. Pure gold.

THE GIFT by Jemma Kennedy

This is a story of an Anglo Saxon community thrown into conflict by the return of the menfolk from battle. They bring with them a bag of gold from the recent convert to Christianity, their King. He wants to enlist them to help build a cathedral at Lichfield. The men are up for it; the women not so much. In this society, the women have equal say in decisions and ownership of property – but it’s no egalitarian utopia: they keep bondsmen and slaves to do their bidding.

Jemma Churchill impresses as the formidable matriarchal Wilda, determined to stick to their own ways and values, contrasted sharply with the meek Welsh girl, their slave Cain (Gwawr Loader). David Semark wears the garb and his chieftain’s attitude as though he was born to them, while brash,blokish Beorn (David Kirkbride) shows us lad culture stretches across the centuries. Romayne Andrews is appealing as young man Teon, who is sweet on the slave girl, and Johnson Willis adds to his portrayal of Dudda the bondsman with some sweet lyre-playing. Paula James is ‘wise woman’ Rowena, who interprets dreams and conducts rituals (they are a superstitious bunch) but the rot of Christianity is spreading, infecting hearts and minds, even within this very tribe.

It’s a story of the end of a world. Kennedy’s script has an air of authenticity about it and the production benefits from Lis Evans’s design work in terms of the set and the costumes. Gemma Fairlie’s direction keeps proceedings clear, but the piece seems a little too earnest to me. When Teon elopes with Cain and marries her in a Christian ceremony, she is merely swapping one kind of slavery for another: the new religion diminishes the status of women in society – we’re still working through the consequences.

There is still plenty more going on at the New Vic that I haven’t seen. Like the treasure of the hoard itself, or Anglo Saxon society, I can only glimpse tantalising parts with my understanding incomplete, and the whole thing unknowable.

Unearthed

David Nellist as Terry, the world’s luckiest detectorist

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Theatrical Gold

HOARD

New Vic Theatre, Tuesday 7th July, 2015

 

The discovery of buried treasure now known as the Staffordshire Hoard is a fascinating story on its own but the ever-ambitious New Vic Theatre has gone further, unearthing a wealth of creativity and imagination in this festival inspired by the find.

There’s such a lot going on: exhibitions, installations, drama – there’s a dozen five-minute treats called ‘table plays’, where actors mingle in the bar (nothing innovative there!) and address small audiences with monologues and storytelling.  I caught four of the twelve, each one a distinctive jewel.  In Half A Horse by Isy Suttie, a woman (Paula James) searches for her lover who has left her with half of a horse-brooch as a token. It’s funny, down-to-earth and sweet.  In The Foreigner by Lydia Adetunji, Suzanne Ahmet speaks a garnet’s point of view, recounting its ‘life story’ in a beautiful piece of writing, magnetically performed.  David Semark and Johnson Willis perform a potted Beowulf but it’s getting too rowdy in the bar as playgoers continue to arrive.  There’s no such problem with Out of the Dark: The Hoard Speaks, which takes place in an alcove behind a curtain.  A cast of three (David Crellin, Perry Moore and Adam Morris) pore over runic symbols, their faces lit from below by candles.  It’s mesmerising and intimate – the rich words by Alan Garner of Owl Service and Brisingamen fame.  This one turns out to be my favourite (of the four I’ve seen); it’s like going back in time.

To the main business of the evening and the first of a double bill of plays.

THE THRONE by Frazer Flintham

The New Vic’s resident genius Theresa Heskins directs this present-day comedy, set in a Staffordshire pub.  Landlord Sid (David Crellin) and best customer Cliff (David Nellist) play a practical joke on upper class Gordon (Adam Morris), a bit of a smoothie who claims to be a ‘ghost receiver’.  He has a global following on the internet.  The prank misfires and Gordon looks to be made even wealthier by what he finds buried in a field.

It’s a lot of fun, thanks to a likeable script that has more bathos than a Victoria Wood special, and the affectionate depiction of the characters.  David Crellin is spot on as the affable landlord; Gwawr Loader makes a chirpy barmaid, and Elizabeth Elvin is monstrously funny as pretentious and catty Pam.  There is amusing support from Perry Moore as a local news reporter with a dicky tummy.

Cliff has worked in the local toilet factory for 25 years and it falls to him to make the play’s key point: it’s not kings or trinkets that matter, it’s the working men and women who put the king on the throne, who crafted the jewels and fine objects.  Without the working class, the upper class would be nowhere.  It’s a powerful moment without labouring the point.

As Gordon, Adam Morris smarms and charms it up, playing to (web)camera.  It’s traditional stuff: the lower orders making fun of the toffs, and it’s perfectly pitched and highly entertaining.

LARKSONG by Chris Bush

Set in the hoard’s Anglo-Saxon past, this piece is less immediately accessible.  There is a clash of styles at work here.  There is choric speaking where the language is lyrical and alliterative, much like Anglo-Saxon verse and there is some very (perhaps too) modern dialogue that doesn’t quite go with the period setting.  The play would seem less fractured if it picked one style and ran with it.

It tells the story of a group who appropriate a load of valuables but don’t know what to do with it.  It seems their every option will trigger conflict and bloodshed.  It’s an interesting look at how the hoard might have come to be where it ended up but where it works best for me is with its reflections on an earlier bygone era.  The end of the Roman civilisation plunged Europe into the dark ages, a kind of post-apocalyptic society, it seems.

As Lark, Crystal Condie sings beautifully and there is some pleasing interplay between the characters who are all named after creatures.  Romayne Andrews is Mouse, Johnson Willis is Mole, a goldsmith, and Perry Moore is Weasel – I can’t help thinking of Wind in the Willows.   What comes across is that although circumstances have changed, people essentially have not – and I think that’s the point of this festival as a whole. It’s not about the treasures, it’s about people and history and mortality.  Larksong, directed by Gemma Fairlie, has some striking moments rather than being uniformly brilliant throughout.

I’m looking forward to going back to the New Vic soon and seeing some more.

Pictured are cast members Adam Morris as Gordon and Bryonie Pritchard as Peggy (middle) surrounded by cast looking at hoard.

Pictured are cast members Adam Morris as Gordon and Bryonie Pritchard as Peggy (middle) surrounded by cast looking at hoard.