Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Oulton Box Day

Just a few days ago I was telling at Oulton - At their annual Box Day Celebration. The village is very dispersed, but the villagers came up with an excellent way of bringing the community together. As part of the Millennium celebrations they asked every household to donate a box of bits and pieces that represented their family and the boxes were then stored in a purpose built metal chest that was encased in wood and held in Oulton Chapel. There they will stay in the Oulton Chapel Chest for 100 years before being handed back to the houses from whence they came. What a fantastic idea! Not only does that help unite the villages now, but should also unite them in the future. Even the storing of the boxes at the chapel has resonances with the past when all important documents relating to village life were stored in the parish church chest, for the simple reason it was often the most secure place to do so. Thus they have linked the villages together in the past, the present and hopefully the future.

Oulton Chapel
Not a typical parish church, rather an 18th century non-conformist place of worship
Well worth a visit and more details can be found on the parish council website here...
Also on Simon Knott's Norfolk Churches website

A great idea that is remembered each year at the Box Day celebration with photos adorning the main tent of all those who have come to live in the village since at least the early 2000s, including a traveller and his dog who camped up on the roadside for a while. As I said Oulton is a dispersed village, spread out here and there and so I did have trouble finding the celebration, but in many ways it has a far greater sense of community than many a 'traditional' village!

Thanks to Zoe for inviting me and everyone else who enjoyed a good tale!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Arundel Castle and Colchester Oyster Fayre

A busy week last week and one that took me from the Bishop's Palace in Wells, to Christchurch Mansion House in Ipswich and then onto Arundel Castle in West Sussex.

The Yarnsmith
In the original early medieval keep at Arundel

Arundel is a huge castle with lots of history and like all major fortifications it has suffered over the years and also been restored and added to many, many times. It's that that still stands out about the place, for having just arrived and set up with my storytelling apprentice Kim, we decided to have an explore before I started telling and we stumbled upon a what I can only describe as a fantasy garden.

Oberon's Palace based on Inigo Jones 17th century design

For it turns out that the present owners (Still the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk) are still adding to the castle and it's estates and this new garden was inspired by the work of the famous early modern architect and stage designer, Inigo Jones and taken from a painting inside the main house.

Looking into the Oberon's Palace

Jones was well known for his innovative theatrical designs and clever inventions & effects, many used at court masques. This is reflected in the center piece of the garden - Oberon's Palace which was designed for Prince Henry's Masque in 1611 (Henry was the elder brother of Charles the 1st, but died whilst still a youth) And inside a crown neatly balancing on top of a fountain, which spins and bounces and bobs, but does not fall off.

The crown balancing on top of the fountain In Oberon's Palace

In that respect then the recreation of Jones design is fantastical, for just as some today might look down their noses at special effects, there were those who did the very same some 400 years ago. Ben Johnson, who wrote many of the masques that Jones designed stage sets for, regularly mocked Jones work saying that the literature was more important to theatre than the sets. Alas for Johnson there were many who disagreed and came to see Jones stunning effects, which must have galled Johnson no end!

Looking up in Oberon's Palace

I would have been one of those coming to see what wonders Jones came up with next and for me the fact that I first thought the garden at Arundel was a fantasy garden was not then a criticism. . I thought it was fantastic! A stunning recreation of the work of a creative genius of 400 years ago.

Detail of the main arch of Oberon's Palace

Another of Inigo Jones designs - the Park Temple

Inside the Park Temple

Part of huge Inigo Jones garden

Having told at Arundel on the Thursday I then went back to Ipswich on the Friday and in the evening I continued my storytelling journey onto the Colchester Oyster Fayre. The Oyster Fayer is my favorite historical fair in the whole country and anyone wanting to buy authentically made goods, from shoes to swords, to horn cups and phallic pewter badges, they would best be served by coming to the Oyster Fayre.

For me though it's the entertainment that really stands out and not just because I'm part of it! And this Year it was Melford hys Companie who really entertained one and all. They are part of the now famous living history group who have their base at Kentwell Hall in Suffolk. There are many offshoots and individuals who started at Kentwell and like the Melford players now travel all over the country to schools, museums and heritage sites, demonstrating and entertaining.

The cast of the St George mummers play including the Devil himself and a dragon with real smoke!

The Melfords put on mummers and other plays as they would have been in medieval and Tudor times - all very colorful, bawdy and with lots of interaction with the audience and crowd participation. This year they performed the St George mummers play which even featured a smoking dragon and the kids helping the quack Dr pull out George's guts! Jack Green who as 'Dr John Green' featured in an earlier blog on Nottingham Robin Hood Pageant that can be seen by going here... He played the 'evil' Saracen

Jack Green as the 'evil' Saracen

The boastful Dr of Physic attempting to cure St George

Kill or cure, with the help of some kids!

Finally out come his guts or is it sausages!

They then went on to perform the Reeve's Tale from Chaucer about two lusty students who get one over on a greedy miller. The tale is a bawdy one already, but Jack addedan extra earthy feel by playing a Chaucer type narrator who had to be dragged off stage for getting carried away with the dirty bits!

A case of mistaken identities and mixed up beds in the miller's mill From Chaucer's Reeves Tale

Jack Green again as a very bawdy Chaucer
Being dragged off before he went too far!

And finally they performed Chanticleer, inspired by Chaucer again and that involved everyone in the crowd being animals and giving chase to Reynard the fox when he took hold of Chanticleer the Cockerel. I really enjoyed the plays as did the huge crowds they drew in. From tiny kids to old people - everyone got the stories and jokes, which is something modern theatre could do with taking note of!

Chanticleer the Cockerel strutting his stuff!

Perching with his beautiful hens

Giving chase to Reynard the fox who has Chanticleer in his clutches
Even the audience joined the pursuit!

Thanks To Paul Ullson for inviting me to Arundel and Ted Loyde at the Oyster Fayre..