|“Fragments is my first attempt at writing for
ResCen (2000). I tried to test the waters of where I was at, at the time
of writing and this is what came out late one night. It is unedited and
very much a first try at expressing myself in another medium. It was originally
written to be read to the other ResCen Associates. It is written after
being present at all three Mystery Plays revived by the National Theatre
for the Millennium. I first saw one or more of them in the late 70s.”
Where I am at
An injury often opens an unfound door quite suddenly as if the offending
blow also jolts sleeping thoughts and feelings on the shelves of memory
just as it rattles the bones. They are surprisingly passionate and raw these
spilt feelings as if I’m adolescent drunk on unrequited love again.
Coupled with this jolt I have also re-discovered reading—and had
a healthy dose of live theatre recently so this triple cathartic dose has
left me reeling. Maybe I stopped reading because I found it too difficult
to slip in and out of the practical world and the world of the book. The
effects of “Fugitive Pieces” is still seeping through my veins
as if quietly determined to enter every cell.
Reawakened thus I am disorientated and stumble around trying to find a path
to follow. The Mysteries has helped me to grasp at some glimmer of a thought,
The Nativity, the Passion, Doomsday; the bedrock of my cultural history,
seldom unearthed by me consciously yet it touches me on many levels.
I remember Mrs Barnes the vicar’s wife sitting me on her ample Welsh thighs
and teaching us “Away in a Manger”; she wore a leek on her blue
crimplene suit which bewildered me. Then the painting of a saint on his
knees in front of a graceful hind the crucifix in its antlers. I wanted
that painting when I was very small and got it, probably because the Quaker
Sunday school teacher was so amazed at my desire. I shared my bedroom with
it and soon a portrait of an old woman by Rembrandt that I asked for when
I was 7 years old was added to my collection.
Those loves have never left me I realise now, the beauty and wisdom of old
age and the fleeting exquisite grace and strength of a deer. Then I remember
the holy festival I stumbled across in a town in Northern Italy. The priest
who led the procession was so full of a radiance that I could not take my
gaze from him. Was this grace? Here in the midst of grottoes and weeping
statues was a presence I could not believe: or was I magnetised, smitten
by this small dark haired humble man whose faith was it seemed his very
But coupled with these rekindled memories is the flood of a more recent
time. A time when Welfare State was at the fore, the miners were still regarded
by some as the dark heroes beneath new banners, Fairport Convention lifted
the spirits, Hull Truck blew me away with Bouncers and small is beautiful
dripped of the tongue. The North had a pride just about welcomed in the
south. The memories of old labour were worn like a mantle rather than the
ghosts they are now; blinded by the dazzle of corporate power.
So here is a production of that time lovingly reproduced, a reminder of
a time when men and women struggled against the tide of so called progress
were admired. The ancient mixing with the seventies where medieval Britain
meets the end of the Millennium.
God rose on his fork lift truck to look down on us the promenaders and his
fellow players and he came amongst us with his miners lamp shining it into
our faces. The actors most from the north have a rooted earthiness, they
are archetypes of humanity—the butcher, the baker, the candlestick
maker. We chat with them before the seamless beginning and they catch our
eyes as they play. The play within a play within a play... I watch the audience
as I watch the players and see a beauty in them all that I find hard to
see so often these days. An innocence highlighted by the hundreds of twinkling
cheese graters and colanders hanging from the rafters. Jesus the carpenter,
Peter the fisherman, God the miner, Satan the sewer cleaner.
The Mysteries, true community plays now in the heart of London and they
work just (except for Jesus who was just too understated to win our love
and belief). It is truly exhilarating to find oneself part of a play, watcher
and of equal status to the players, dancing with them to end each play.
Here is a folk tradition come to share a bed with high art.
Though I have never read it there is a book called Contact Improvisation
as a form of social dancing that is waiting to be read. Whilst discussing
the world of my most joyous experiences, dancing contact and improvising,
Lucia—whom I so admire, remarked what we do is folk; “that’s
why I find it hard to watch real dancing.”
“Folk has a tradition of participation and reflecting of society and
also has a tradition of the pursuit of excellence.”
I felt a fool somehow that this had not dawned on me before. Now on the
eve of a new glitzy century as I travel the monumental Jubilee line I am
ready to take on the fact that maybe what I do is folk. I do not feel the
nudge of “that’s not art” grasp my shoulder any more because
I don’t care. Where does that leave me, where is my home then? This
idea makes me understand more clearly the dilemma I always feel between
experiential work of which I am most familiar and making work to view.
Though this maybe a naff naive comment born out of my teenage years I also
realise that I view my potential audience and participants as I saw them
in the mysteries; as all having the potential for, well grace.