Just a quick update. Last night two old friends came down from Birmingham and, on the suggestion of a neighbour, we went to see the Rude Mechanical Theatre Company in their open-air performance of ‘The Wife’, on Crowhurst Recreation Ground.
It was a beautiful summer evening. First of all hot sun, then gradually cooling dusk, and the rising moon, on a classic tree-lined English village cricket field – the loos were in the wonky wooden pavilion. We took a picnic, and arrived early, expecting to see the place thronged, but at first all we could see were a couple of medieval-looking tents in a small enclosure far away in the distance at the end of the ground, and scarcely a soul to be seen.
However, the enclosure gradually filled up with what looked like the inhabitants of Crowhurst, all like us with rugs, picnics and fold-up chairs – I should think there were 100 people there.
The Rude Mechanicals perform what they describe as contemporary Commedia dell’arte. The characters wore white face paint instead of masks, and there were hardly any props. They used mime and improvisation as well as words and music to get the story across. The white faces seemed to give the actors extra expression, as well as a slightly other-worldly feel that fitted well with the fading evening light.
Interestingly, we saw the origin of ‘slapstick’ played out before us. The actors used literal slap sticks – wooden clappers, or battachios. These gave sound effects to mock fights, or episodes of physical comedy.
‘The Wife’ is based on Chaucer’s tale of The Wife of Bath, and the wife, Alyson, is the central character. In addition there were five other actors playing assorted roles. Alyson first of all led us through her prologue, the tale of her five husbands, and then her story proper, about Roland the Knight and his quest to find out what women really want.
It was absolutely fabulous – we all enjoyed every minute of it. It was lively, bawdy, very funny, fast-moving and exceptionally well-acted. All six players threw themselves into it with total gusto, and all gave strong performances. The songs and music were also great.
I was sorry to read in the programme that the Rude Mechanicals have lost their Arts Council funding. They perform all over the South East, and are well-worth supporting. On 27 July I see they are here, at St Leonard’s Gardens.