"The differences that unite us"
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 10/09/17

Years ago I had the honour of interviewing Robert Smith, a Somerset Romany who lived in the shadow of Glastonbury Tor. He spoke of the joy of living life at the pace of a walking horse and today I was thrilled to be part of a group who experienced exactly that, thanks to Wassail Theatre Company and Reveal Productions. Both companies, led respectively by Nick White (Writer and Producer) and Joanna Proctor (Director) dream wonderful dreams of theatre that unite and inspire communities – but they don’t just dream; their visions become reality. Today ‘The Somerset Charabanc’ set off from Huish Episcopi’s The Rose and Crown. We travelled through Langport, down Frog Lane, past gorgeous views of the Somerset Levels, to historic Muchelney. We were transported on a 1920s miller’s cart, drawn by Suffolk Punch horses Barney and George, to celebrate the impending nuptials of Evie (Roxana Bartle) and Sam (Duncan Taylor). Pete, our genial host-with-a-secret (Nick White) introduced us to the implacable Ivan Steel who steered us through, not only the streets and lanes of Somerset (to the fascination of local pedestrians and motorists), but timely threats of hurricanes, floods and tornadoes (not to mention the imminent Apocalypse). Not everyone wishes the lovers well though; Alice (Sarah Mooney) bears deep and ancient grudges and her desire for revenge and retribution endangers all who cross her path. And that meant us, the audience, as well as the star-crossed lovers.

I don’t want to spoil the impact by revealing the details of the newly minted myth of Evie, Sam, Alice and Pete, but their story draws on folk tales and legends to bring us face-to-face with our own, and others, humanity. A capella songs collected by Cecil Sharp and adapted by musical director Nick Brace enhance the story. It is a tribute to the talent of the actors that we share their triumphs and tragedies at close quarters as they joined us on the charabanc. We can reaffirm our belief in the power of love and youth, exemplified with passion, charm and humour by Roxana Bartle and Duncan Taylor. They also made use of our diversity and how we share our differences. We care about the unbearable loss of Sarah Mooney’s bereaved mother even as we fear the unleashing of her power to conjure up storms and chaos. We see the hidden darkness behind Nick White’s hail-fellow-well-met façade, and we share his heartfelt penitence for past wrongs as he seeks to make amends. We witness the profound power of choice and possibility to change our direction through life. And as we passed through Muchelney, many of us remembered how it was completely cut off by terrible flooding in 2014.

The whole experience will never be forgotten. Julie Read and Emily Lay’s design talents were evident in the amazing, inventive costumes, face-painting and hair styling. I loved the make-up – particularly Evie’s and Alice’s, as well as that of the Elementals we met at Muchelney; Air (Eloise Adams, Keira Adams, Fergus Campbell-White), Fire (Danielle Turner), Water (Emily Lay) and Earth, (Brandon Bush). The beguiling young performers enticed us off the cart as the destructive power of Alice’s rage was unleashed.

There are areas of the script I would tighten – Alice had a long, rather directionless period of simmering rage - down to the horses paying no heed to set times - which needed condensing; I would suggest putting a song in its place. Perhaps the Elementals could be furnished with noise making devices and coloured ribbons and scarves to more forcefully represent the gathering storm… and the contradiction in the script (Evie seemingly not understanding the concept of parenting despite Alice talking about her children) could be addressed.

With a nod to Health and Safety, we learnt to duck over-hanging branches. Our gathering at Huish Bridge was truly moving, indicating the care and thought that had gone into crafting a fabulous myth that nevertheless related to our very real, every-day lives. We were grateful that our journey was free of wind and rain, despite Alice’s best endeavours. It was a joy, once safely back at The Rose and Crown, to wish our lovers well and we were delighted with the surprise gift of a tangible memento of a remarkable experience.

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