Saturday, 24 March 2018
The spring equinox has come and gone, we now approach the end of March and the coming of Easter. Earlier this month I wrote a blog called ‘In winter’s Grip’ and in that blog I discuss briefly, England’s rather abnormal weather front. See link below.
Putting aside that snow in February is hardly unknown in England, we do have to take on board, that this spring has been one of the coldest in living memory. The month has been distinctly notable for the blizzards, which have continued through March right to the equinox. In some parts the lambs have come a little late, as have the few brave spring flowers that have so far, sallied forth from the depths.
I have been rather fortunate, I have taken annual leave the week before and the week of the equinox. Yet the month has been rather full on, both sweet and sour. A bereavement during the latter part of February cast a shadow, a shadow long enough to touch the beginning of March and tinge spring with an element of sadness.
Noting this however, we should not dwell too long upon the more negative aspects of the month. My annual leave began with a trip to London and a visit to the Fortean Society at Conway Hall. I was there to hear a most informative lecture on Herne the Hunter and Robin Hood. This was delivered with great professionalism by John Callow, who was courteous enough to sign his new book. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, the subject is very much my personal area of interest and a review will eventually be forthcoming.
That week of annual leave was indeed a busy one, perhaps capturing the slow change of tide as winter very slowly relinquished its grip. A change barely discernible in the air yet extant. I was active, attending two meetings relating to a charitable venture, I had meetings with friends and I saw a rather good amateur production of Tommy, it was quite enough to keep me occupied that week.
During the latter part of that same week prior to the equinox, we held our usual moot. It was our delight to drink to the health of two of our attendees who had just announced their engagement. We hoped that this was a sign, the winds of change and that spring was truly in the air. However, that weekend the snows returned, less fierce but as disruptive as previously noted. A reminder that the Snow Queen was not yet ready to depart.
We the Hearth of the Turning Wheel, should have been holding our spring equinox meeting on Monday the 19th of March. The eve of the official date. Due to the inclement weather we postponed one day, meeting for our observance on the evening of the 20th. During this ritual we read poetry and distributed chocolate eggs.
“Ostara is new light, soft sweet air, the running hare and spring flowers. The bursting of buds and the straight following of new paths. May the spirits of the air guide our thoughts when we set out on new paths. May the spirits of the Sun and fire give us vitality and passion to make new ventures successful. May the spirits of water help us to tread new paths with balanced emotions. May the spirits of the earth give us physical balance so we may draw life and health from the strengthening Sun. May the Gods watch over us this springtime and may we continually remember to give thanks to them for this new season.” Poem adapted from Duff G. (2002) ‘The wheel of the Wiccan year.’ Rider Publishing.
Since only a few of us had been able to attend and I had bought plenty of chocolate eggs, we had enough for two each. Wrapped around each egg I had placed a slip of paper and upon each slip, was typed a motto taken from the Anglo Saxon Rune Poem. These served as a little pointer or message for the recipient. My two stanzas of the poem are reproduced below.
‘Peorth is a source of recreation and amusement to the great, where warriors sit blithely together in the banqueting-hall.’
‘The joyous man is dear to his kinsmen; yet every man is doomed to fail his fellow, since the Lord by his decree will commit the vile carrion to the earth.’
Within a day or so of the equinox there was without doubt, a change in the air. There was less chill, the skies were bright and walking around the village I could appreciate this change. Yet the change was not complete, snow was still present in the secluded parts. Although the hares were out in the fields, those fields were hard and still unwelcoming. To balance this however, I saw my first butterfly and my first bumblebee.
Later in the week I attended the wedding reception of a work colleague. A welcome and complementary event to the engagement announcement made earlier in the week. Capturing as it did, a certain lighter air. Yet despite all this promise, the sun, the lambs, the flowers and the tides of romance. The chill and the ice lingers on. The promise we look for and feel with the lengthening days, seems inconsistent, inconstant and itinerant.
At the time of writing it is the seventh anniversary of this blog and I find myself increasingly aware of its significance to my life. Equally I am surprised at the moderate success of the blog. I appear to have gained some respect in its writing, while building upon my published writings. The blog may have only a few followers but due to shares across the web, primarily Facebook, I now average two thousand visits a month. Who is reading this and why?
All this reminds us how much we cannot take for granted. Success or the lack of it. Respect or the lack of it. We cannot take nature, the weather or indeed even our health for granted. We are all subject to many extraneous factors and our fate is known to none, perhaps not even the Gods. It is with that thought and in the hope that the winter chill will soon rescind, that I end with 'Sigdrifa’s Prayer' from Sigdrifasmal.
Hail, sons of day!
And night and her daughter now!
Look on us here with loving eyes,
That waiting we victory win.
Hail to the Gods!
Ye Goddesses, hail!
And all the generous earth!
Give to us wisdom and goodly speech,
And healing hands, life-long.”
Friday, 9 March 2018
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.
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.
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.