Friday, 9 March 2018

The Tragic History of Dr Faustus (2006)

Performed by Third Party Productions at the Guildhall Theatre Derby 17th October 2006

This remarkable play, performed by a small company stopped for only one night in Derby and proved that you do not need huge sets or a huge budget to produce great theatre. One single set, a few curtains and props, three actors and the imagination, swept the theatre back to the sixteenth century to give us the well-known legend of Faust. This was in essence the classic Marlowe play rather than the continental versions of this German legend, having no particular love interest, no Marguerite or her familial intrigues.

As such this play owes more to the Richard Burton stage and film interpretations in which he was actor and director (Doctor Faustus 1967), rather than Gounod’s magnificent nineteenth century opera, or the equally amazing silent film of F. W. Murnau (Faust 1926) starring the then world’s greatest actor, Emil Jannings.

Performed by three actors, each at times playing the ukulele, Faustus (Nicholas Collett) is tempted by Mephistophilis (Anthony Gleave), portrayed as a cross between a travelling salesman and a stage conjuror to sell his soul. The appearance of a seductive Lucifer played in a complete departure from tradition by a female (the striking Fionnuala Dorrity) finally clinches the deal. A few magical stage tricks leaves the audience questioning just what is reality and just what is illusion. This includes the transformation of Mephistophilis from demon to seductress, using only a pair of red high heels and a fan. Acting at its purest.

The ending is of course predictable and unchanging but naturally features the beautiful Marlowe prose, as Faustus regrets his folly and eventually faces his end with all its inevitability. As such this was a more than a competent retelling of a well-known story and if it should tour again, I would highly recommend seeing this play.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller (2007)

Directed by Darren Hall and performed by the Belper Players Amateur Dramatic Society at the Guildhall Theatre, Derby 23rd to 26th May 2007.

Most will at least know something of this famous Miller play oft touted as an attack against the threat of free expression in the USA during the nineteen sixties.

The Players are a well known local group and they perform here with a daring minimalist set and a total lack of period costume. The actors instead perform in uniform white shirts and dark skirt or trousers. Although this may avoid any distraction from the Miller prose the lack of costume I personally found a detraction from the performance.

The story is of a group of young girls caught practising (voodoo) rites in the woods, the resulting scandal leads to the girls turning on the town accusing them of Witchcraft to in part, protect themselves. The result is a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions as numerous innocents are hung for Witchcraft.

Eventually the accusations focus on anyone who has ever crossed the girls in the past and those who dare to doubt them now, as they positively revel in their celebrity.

This includes the wife of John Proctor who had a brief affair with his former servant girl, the ring leader of the accusers Abigail Williams. His wife is taken to prison leaving the man in utter despair and eventually this leads to a meeting with Williams in an attempt to save his wife.

The secret meeting between John Proctor and Abigail Williams in the woods should be filled with sexual tension. Unfortunately at the end of this scene I still found it hard to believe they had so much as held hands, never mind that Proctor had “known her in the barn.”

To be fair the part of Williams is a very difficult one as the actress is expected to portray two very different personalities. To the world at large she must be a child but in private and to the audience, she must convey a sexually experienced girl.

The part is traditionally portrayed as that of a sexually awakening teenage girl but historically it is said that the real Abigail Williams was only twelve years old. Today this is very shocking but still leaves us with a twelve year old girl that first commits adultery and then sets about the judicial murder of her neighbours.

In particular by targeting the wife of her former lover, Abigail hopes that after her death John will return to her. Not an easy part to take on and it is no surprise to see Chelsea Richter struggle at times with the role, many a professional actress has done so before her.

The penultimate scenes however are utterly disturbing and better handled by the cast than the earlier ones. Elizabeth Proctor pleads her belly (pregnant) but by a warped twist of fate her husband stands accused. This leads to a cross examination by the deputy governor played with true menace by Martin Drake that terrifies the audience. The final tragedy is that the principled John Proctor faces the gallows as his wife goes free.

Ultimately this is a classic play given an average but competent performance, with a few moments of sparkle to illuminate the tragic circumstances of the times.

Jekyll and Hyde (the musical 2007)

Performed by Derby Opera Company at the Derby Assembly Rooms Wednesday 8th to Saturday 11th November 2007.

The Derby Opera have a well-deserved reputation of performing with quality and professionalism. This latest production lived up to their previous shows. Directed by Nigel Taylor a London show is performed locally with imagination and with style.

The story is well known and needs little elaboration, a gifted if idealistic doctor explores the inner self, in an attempt to find a cure for mental illness. In doing so he unleashes his darker self, which lacking any inhibitions, is a dangerous and amoral monster.

Hyde and Jekyll being played more than competently by Andrew Booth leads us on a journey into a seedy Victorian London. Booth in the lead role does not in fact steal the show but is instead more than ably supported by the remaining cast. Becky Wallhead as Emma and Lynn Nelson as Lucy, providing conflicting love interests as the bride to be (Wallhead) and a prostitute (Nelson).

What really make this show are naturally the songs. Originally performed in the West End the songs and music of Bricusse and Wildhorn could easily have been spoilt by a company of lesser talent. Instead we are entertained as we explore the darker side of the human psyche.

Saturday, 3 March 2018


At the end of February and the beginning of March much of Britain, Ireland and continental Europe has been held in the icy grip of two weather fronts. One front has come from the east, the other from the west and their meeting has led to sub-zero temperatures, snow and the usual disruption. It is remarkable that the occurrence of snow in winter should come as a surprise to so many. Yet the fact that it snows in winter, does appear to be one of those minor details that some in Britain fail to appreciate.

For those of us who look at seasonal calendars and truthfully, I find such calendars fascinating, the news that metrological spring began on Saint David’s Day the 1st of March 2018, is itself rather amusing. What is shown clearly however, it that our modern society for perfectly good administrative reasons, measures times in a fixed, repetitive and predictable manner. True time and the true seasons are obviously less predictable. The boundaries between seasons are less clear, as there are apparent overlaps, a merging and a gradual move from one seasonal tide to another.

I saw the first stirrings of spring on the 1st of February, when I spotted the first flowering snowdrops in a neighbour’s garden. February began with fine, clear if cold days. This is for me Lambtide and for others Candlemas. This is the precursor to the true spring and the beginning of the spring tide, when the new growth of verdant nature begins to sally forth from the slumber of a dark winter. It is however, not at all unusual to have snow in February. We can look forward to the midpoint of the spring, the actual equinox but the cold snap that we are currently experiencing, reminds us that the world about us does not conform to an artificial, manmade calendar.

On the internet and naturally that ubiquitous phenomenon Facebook, many have posted humorously about a Disney character called Elsa from the film Frozen. This Disney ‘Princess’ is apparently being held responsible for this returning cold weather. It is not Elsa that ‘springs’ to my mind when I think of the land about me held in this icy grip. Rather I think of the character from the works of Anderson that inspired the film and is herself based upon old European legends. What links there are between the original Snow Queen of Anderson and the Cailleach of Gaelic mythology is a matter of debate, the roots of both are deep and ancient.

It is the Snow Queen that rides the wind at this present moment, holding off the Spring Goddess of the Dawn for just awhile longer. It is the voice of the Snow Queen that we can hear in the wind, it is her touch we can feel upon our faces and sadly for some, her kiss brings oblivion. The White Goddess of many names is free and energetic in her ride across the land.  Whether we fear her or love her is not the point. We would however, all do well to respect her.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Where the bee sucks there suck I

Ariel’s song from the Tempest
William Shakespeare

Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly;
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily shall I live now,
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Men of Harlech (modern English text)

Men of Harlech stop your dreaming,
Can't you see their spear points gleaming?
See their warrior pennants streaming,
To this battlefield.

Men of Harlech stand ye steady,
It cannot be ever said ye,
For the battle were not ready,
Welshmen never yield!

From the hills rebounding,
Let this song be sounding,
Summon all at Cambria's call,
The mighty force surrounding.

Men of Harlech on to glory,
This will ever be your story,
Keep these burning words before ye,
Welshmen will not yield!


‘O Prince! O chief of many throned Pow'rs
That led th' embattl'd Seraphim to war.’ Milton.


O Thou! whatever title suit thee-
Auld Hornie, Satan, Nick, or Clootie,
Wha in yon cavern grim an' sootie,
Clos'd under hatches,
Spairges about the brunstane cootie,
To scaud poor wretches!

Hear me, auld Hangie, for a wee,
An' let poor damned bodies be;
I'm sure sma' pleasure it can gie,
Ev'n to a deil,
To skelp an' scaud poor dogs like me,
An' hear us squeel!

Great is thy pow'r an' great thy fame;
Far ken'd an' noted is thy name;
An' tho' yon lowin' heuch's thy hame,
Thou travels far;
An' faith! thou's neither lag nor lame,
Nor blate, nor scaur.

Whiles, ranging like a roarin lion,
For prey, a' holes and corners tryin;
Whiles, on the strong-wind'd tempest flyin,
Tirlin the kirks;
Whiles, in the human bosom pryin,
Unseen thou lurks.

I've heard my rev'rend graunie say,
In lanely glens ye like to stray;
Or where auld ruin'd castles grey
Nod to the moon,
Ye fright the nightly wand'rer's way,
Wi' eldritch croon.

When twilight did my graunie summon,
To say her pray'rs, douse, honest woman!
Aft'yont the dyke she's heard you bummin,
Wi' eerie drone;
Or, rustlin, thro' the boortrees comin,
Wi' heavy groan.

Ae dreary, windy, winter night,
The stars shot down wi' sklentin light,
Wi' you, mysel' I gat a fright,
Ayont the lough;
Ye, like a rash-buss, stood in sight,
Wi' wavin' sough.

The cudgel in my nieve did shake,
Each brist'ld hair stood like a stake,
When wi' an eldritch, stoor "quaick, quaick,"
Amang the springs,
Awa ye squatter'd like a drake,
On whistlin' wings.

Let warlocks grim, an' wither'd hags,
Tell how wi' you, on ragweed nags,
They skim the muirs an' dizzy crags,
Wi' wicked speed;
And in kirk-yards renew their leagues,
Owre howkit dead.

Thence countra wives, wi' toil and pain,
May plunge an' plunge the kirn in vain;
For oh! the yellow treasure's ta'en
By witchin' skill;
An' dawtit, twal-pint hawkie's gane
As yell's the bill.

Thence mystic knots mak great abuse
On young guidmen, fond, keen an' crouse,
When the best wark-lume i' the house,
By cantrip wit,
Is instant made no worth a louse,
Just at the bit.

When thowes dissolve the snawy hoord,
An' float the jinglin' icy boord,
Then water-kelpies haunt the foord,
By your direction,
And 'nighted trav'llers are allur'd
To their destruction.

And aft your moss-traversin Spunkies
Decoy the wight that late an' drunk is:
The bleezin, curst, mischievous monkies
Delude his eyes,
Till in some miry slough he sunk is,
Ne'er mair to rise.

When masons' mystic word an' grip
In storms an' tempests raise you up,
Some cock or cat your rage maun stop,
Or, strange to tell!
The youngest brither ye wad whip
Aff straught to hell.

Lang syne in Eden's bonie yard,
When youthfu' lovers first were pair'd,
An' all the soul of love they shar'd,
The raptur'd hour,
Sweet on the fragrant flow'ry swaird,
In shady bower;^1

Then you, ye auld, snick-drawing dog!
Ye cam to Paradise incog,

An' play'd on man a cursed brogue,
(Black be your fa'!)
An' gied the infant warld a shog,
'Maist rui'd a'.

D'ye mind that day when in a bizz
Wi' reekit duds, an' reestit gizz,
Ye did present your smoutie phiz
'Mang better folk,
An' sklented on the man of Uzz
Your spitefu' joke?

An' how ye gat him i' your thrall,
An' brak him out o' house an hal',
While scabs and botches did him gall,
Wi' bitter claw;
An' lows'd his ill-tongu'd wicked scaul',
Was warst ava?

But a' your doings to rehearse,
Your wily snares an' fechtin fierce,
Sin' that day Michael^2 did you pierce,
Down to this time,
Wad ding a Lallan tounge, or Erse,
In prose or rhyme.

An' now, auld Cloots, I ken ye're thinkin,
A certain bardie's rantin, drinkin,
Some luckless hour will send him linkin
To your black pit;
But faith! he'll turn a corner jinkin,
An' cheat you yet.

But fare-you-weel, auld Nickie-ben!
O wad ye tak a thought an' men'!
Ye aiblins might-I dinna ken-
Stil hae a stake:
I'm wae to think up' yon den,
Ev'n for your sake!

Modern English translation

O You! Whatever title suit you -
Old Horny, Satan, Nick, or Hoofy -
Who in yonder cavern grim and sooty,
Closed under hatches,
Splashes about the brimstone dish,
To scald poor wretches!

Hear me, Old Hangman, for a little,
And let poor damned bodies be;
I am sure small pleasure it can give,
Even to a devil,
To spank and scald poor dogs like me
And hear us squeal.

Great is your power and great your fame;
Far known and noted is your name;
And though yon flaming hollow is your home,
You travels far;
And faith! you are neither backward, nor lame,
Nor backward, nor afraid.

Sometimes, ranging like a roaring lion,
For prey, all holes and corners trying;
Sometimes, on the strong-winged tempest flying,
Stripping the churches;
sometimes, in the human bosom prying,
Unseen you lurks.

I have heard my reverend grandmother say,
In lonely glens you like to stray;
Or, where old ruined castles grey
Nod to the moon,
You fright the nightly wanderer's way
With unearthly croon.

When twilight did my grandmother summon,
To say her prayers, sedate, honest woman.
Often beyond the wall she has heard you bumming,
With eerie drone;
Or, rustling, through the alder trees coming,
With heavy groan.

One dreary, windy, winter night,
The stars shot down with squinting light,
With you myself, I got a fright:
Beyond the pond,
You, like a clump of rushes, stood in sight,
With waving moan.

The cudgel in my fist did shake,
Each bristled hair stood like a stake;
When with an unearthly, harsh 'quack, quack,'
Among the springs,
Away you flew like a drake,
On whistling wings.

Let wizards grim, and withered old women,
Tell how with you, on ragwort horses,
They skim the moors and dizzy clifs,
With wicked speed;
And in church yards renew their leagues,
Over dug-up dead.

Thence, country wives, with toil and pain,
May plunge and plunge the churn in vain;
For O! the yellow treasure's taken
By witching skill;
And petted, twelve pint cow is gone
As dry as the bull.

Thence, mystic knots make great abuse
On young husbands, fond, keen and confident;
When the best work tool in the house,
By magic wit,
Is instantly made not worth a louse,
Just at that instant.

When thaws dissolve the snowy hoard.
And float the jingling icy surface,
Then, water fairies haunt the ford,
By your direction,
And travelers in the night are lured
To their destruction.

And often your bog traversing jack-o'-lanterns
Decoy the person that late and drunk is:
The blazing, cursed, mischievous monkeys
Delude his eyes,
Until in some miry bog he sunk is,
Never more to rise.

When Masons' mystic word and grip
In storms and tempests raise you up,
Some cock or cat your rage must stop,
Or, strange to tell!
The youngest brother you wood whip
Off straight to hell.

Long past in Eden's bonny garden,
When youthful lovers first were paired,
And all the soul of love they shared,
The raptured hour,
Sweet on the fragrant flowery sward,
In shady bower.

Then you, you old, scheming dog!
You came to Paradise incognito,
An played on man a cursed trick
(Black be your fall!),
And gave the infant world a shake,
And almost ruined all.

Do you mind that day when in a flurry
With smoky clothes, and scorched wig,
You did present your smutty face
Among better folk;
And squinted on the man of Uzz
Your spiteful joke?

And how you got him in your bondage,
And broke him out of house and hall,
While scabs and blotches did him gall,
With bitter claw;
And loosed his ill-tongued wicked scold -
Was worst of all?

But all your doings to rehearse,
Your wily snares and fighting fierce,
Since that day Michael did you pierce
Down to this time,
Would ding a Lowland tongue, or Gaelic,
In prose or rhyme.

And now, Old Hoofs, I know you are thinking,
A certain Bard's roistering, drinking,
Some luckless hour will send him hurrying,
To your black Pit;
But, faith! he will turn a corner dodging,
And cheat you yet.

But fare-you-well, Old Nickie-Ben
O would you take a thought and mend!
You perhaps might - I do not know -
Still have a stake:
I am sad to think upon yon den,
Even for your sake!

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Whitechapel Murders

The year 2018 is the one hundred and twentieth anniversary of the world famous Whitechapel Murders, a series of brutal killings committed by an unidentified killer with an infamous epithet. I am not going to use that name here, nor will I dwell upon his possible identity or motive.

The Whitechapel Murders took place in the East End of London, during the dizzy heights of the Victorian age and peak of the British Empire. Dependent upon source and opinion, the number of victims said to have been killed by the same man, will range from as few as four to as many as eleven.

Of those eleven victims, one of which remains unidentified, five are considered ‘canonical’ in that their tragic deaths share notable features, although the last murder may not have been by the same hand. It is to these five women that I dedicate this post.

In writing this, I do not wish to add to the lurid speculations often associated with the murders. Nor do I wish to proclaim any judgement on the choice of profession of the victims. That is relevant only to a police investigation and to subsequent researchers. It is not however, relevant to their memory.

It is very often the case that society will remember the name of the murderer rather than the victim, creating a name for the murderer if one is not known. In writing this post I wish to address that anomaly. I ask that we remember the victim and not the murderer.

Each victim of the eleven Whitechapel Murders was a woman, they were all someone’s daughter. Some of the victims were wives, mothers and sisters. They were real people that died in tragic circumstances. Remember them as people.

In producing this blog post I am forced due to lack of material to use the official mortuary photographs, which are themselves well known. These pictures serve to illustrate the brutality of violent death. All images are public domain. As a mark of respect for the victims and their living descendants, of which there are many, I have edited these pictures. This includes the cropping of the post mortem photograph of Catherine Eddowes.

Remember the women.

Mary Ann Nichols: 26 August 1845 - 31 August 1888 (aged 43).

Annie Chapman: circa 1841- 8 September 1888 (aged 47?).

Elizabeth Stride: 27 November 1843 - 30 September 1888 (aged 44).

Catherine Eddowes: 14 April 1842 - 30 September 1888 (aged 46)

Mary Jane Kelly: circa 1863 - 9 November 1888 (aged 25?)