On Beltane Eve…

Our recent Beltane weekend through the eyes and lovely words of Sue Vincent.

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

There is probably nowhere else in the country where you can walk through a residential estate on a Saturday morning, in full ceremonial robes and with magical symbols painted on your forehead, without anyone batting an eye. It could only be Glastonbury. After centuries of being at the heart of the land’s tales of myth, legend and magic, they are used to stranger sights than that.

For once, it wasn’t me but our hostess who strode forth in flowing robes of crimson and purple. Alienora was taking part in a play as part of the celebrations… not that she and her theatrical friends were the only one in robes and costumes…. the town was awash with colour and excitement. Mine as much as any, for we were to meet our American friends and, as we see them only once a year at best, I felt like a child at…

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Auld acquaintance…

My first Beltane in Glastonbury was made even more special by seeing Sue and Stu, and three other friends – from overseas – during the festivities. This is Sue’s lovely account of parts of that weekend. Read on…

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

We had stopped for cider at the Apple Tree on the way,  which is not quite a tradition yet, but we are working on that. It is Somerset, after all, and the Orchard Pig is brewed locally. There was chocolate cake too… just  by way of a late lunch. We were on our way to Glastonbury to stay with our friend, Alienora, for the Beltane festivities and to meet up with a few of our other friends too.

The Silent Eye has a history with Glastonbury and, for a year, we had been there regularly. On the drive down we had been working but how long it had been since our last visit… time has flown by and apart from a very brief housewarming visit to Alienora’s new home, it had been years since we has spent time there. It is an odd place by any definition, a mixture…

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Shadow: From Bencher to High Priestess: A truly inclusive drama group!

‘You ought to go along to Shadow of the Tor’s next rehearsal!’ my friend told me, some time in late February. ‘Francis and Brad, the guys who run it, are lovely!’

I must confess, I felt very uncertain when I walked into the back room of the King Arthur pub back in early March. Looking round the room and seeing the colourful, mainly young, people, I feared I’d be deemed too old, too conventional, too plump. Not helped by the fact that, frazzled and wilting from a day’s teaching, I was – most unusually for me – dressed formally and, in my own mind, resembled a stern Headmistress rather than the ageing rebel I feel myself to be!

Scarred also by blatant ageism and looks-related casting decisions made in groups I’d joined in the past, I was extremely wary about pushing myself forward in any way lest I be laughed to scorn or rejected out of hand. For I have few illusions about myself: I know I am good on stage, but I also am well aware that I am neither youthful nor pretty!

Two months have passed since then – and I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions and fears. Shadow of the Tor is an amazing inclusive opportunity for anyone who wants to join in and act or sing or help backstage or write or direct. You do not have to be conventionally anything! Being at the wrong end of my fifties was no bar. Nor was being recently-divorced, anxious, new to the area and prone to mournful moments held against me.

There is a level of tolerance, of acceptance, of cohesion in the group which I have not met in previous drama clubs. The unspoken rule is that respect and kindness should be extended to all – which is part of my philosophy anyway – and that prejudice based on gender, race, creed or colour is unacceptable. Respect for other people’s differences is something I always emphasised as a teacher, and is part of who I am as a person. As I said in a recent Facebook status (the details of which I shall not divulge as the ensuing comments were intensely private and, in some cases, extremely brave) people are people and I either warm to them or I don’t.

But this whole lovely experience has made me realise anew the extent to which we, as human beings, judge others on the basis of their physical appearance, life decisions, body issues and so-called deviation from the illusory norm. It appals me in the world of Glastonbury as much as it did when I taught full time and does in the world as a whole. I say this because what is prejudice if not large-group-sanctioned bullying of often-vulnerable minorities? Prejudice is disrespect – and worse, far worse – practised by those who think that, because of who and what they are, they can get away with unacceptable behaviour and, even more worryingly, be lauded by others for their egregious actions. I have seen the effects of this on the lives of some of my new friends (and old), acquaintances and fellow actors – and I find it deeply sad, and rage-making, that our ‘civilisation’ still perpetrates this kind of crass and destructive insensitivity on a daily basis; that acceptance of the divine spark in all of us still has to be tempered by the ridiculous conditions laid, by societal decree, upon our differences; that acceptance of our basic humanity and connection one to another is not automatic.

My eyes have been opened, my own little concerns very much put into perspective shall we say!

But also I have been given roles! Wow! This has been so exciting and rewarding. As the play was well underway when I joined, I was not expecting a part and would happily have volunteered to get involved in some other capacity. So, to be given Human 4 and a Bencher was wonderful beyond my wildest dreams, the subsequent offer of High Priestess in the Beltane ritual drama a real boost to my shattered confidence.

I was nervous. I did worry that I would be the Weakest Link, that my age would tell against me, that I would disgrace myself by tripping over the Abbey or cannoning into the Tor (and knocking Brad, who was narrating behind it, into the middle of next week!); I will confess now that I did buy, and consume half of, a strengthening bottle of beer prior to the opening!

One of my closest friends from Wrington drove up to see me in action. God, that was so reassuring, so lovely. I have a huge bond with this person and his presence (for I spotted him as soon as he arrived!) was comforting. He and I have been in many a production together. He knows what I am like, on stage and off it! His support was incredibly welcome.

I was, I think, adequate but pretty unmemorable as Human 4, funny in a loud and vulgar way as the Bencher – and, overall, didn’t let the side down too drastically! I haven’t yet seen any film footage of my High Priestess moment (though there are photos aplenty) and, because I was in a kind of trance during the event, I have no idea how I came across to the assembled masses. But, in a sense, that really doesn’t matter: I was part of a team and, as far as I could see, we worked cooperatively one with another. There was no main role; we were all equally important – and that, to me, seems like a very good definition of Shadow of the Tor’s central ethos.

But the light behind the clouds of time and nerve-related constraints has been the sheer fun and levels of bonding. Like minstrels and theatres of old, we have roamed far and wide, rehearsing in car parks, gardens, pub rooms, people’s living rooms. We have laughed until we ached! We have shared chocolate and camaraderie, biscuits and banter, wine and, when needed, whining, tears and tenderness.

It has been, in every sense, a life-affirming time. I have come out of my shell, made friends, started the process of integration in Glastonian life. I have felt included and positively wanted. I have had enormous fun and laughed raucously, such a relief after so many months of sadness, fear and tension.

Although I have only been in town for just over four months, I can already see that Brad and Francis have breathed new life and vitality into the Avalonian creative scene; that they are catalysts for revival and freshness and a more truly cohesive approach to amateur drama.

I await Shadow of the Tor‘s next initiative with great enthusiasm and excitement! Go, Lads!

Photos show most of the cast, plus writer and director, of ‘In the Shadow of the Tor’ rehearsing in my back garden!

Beltane Weekend


Photo taken by Nathan Pritchard.

Brilliant, exhausting, moving, irritating, inspiring, wonderful: I could slather on a full coating of adjectives, but will quit while the plain bread of creative writing remains unsoggy and relatively crisp!

I have met up with friends both old and new: Sue and Stuart (of Silent Eye fame) who stayed with me all weekend (lovely); Diana and Kevin (both part of last year’s Leaf and Flame weekend); Morgana West; the cast of ‘In the Shadow of the Tor’ (most of whom also got stuck in to one or more of the Beltane events) and many other local people I have come to know and, in the main, like.

Facebook is not short of images of the events, so I won’t labour that pictorial point by reproducing them all on here, other than thanking Nathan Pritchard (whose photo of the Saturday drama ritual I have used on here).

There couldn’t have been a greater contrast between Sunday and Monday, the former apparently trying to recreate at least the beginnings of Ye Great Flood; the latter sunny and bright and warm and winsome in the extreme!

Saturday, Shadow of the Tor’s first performance took place in the Assembly Rooms and was extremely well received. Because I was in it, and thus cannot be truly objective, I am not going to formally review it. Suffice it to say that the audience responded with great enthusiasm, we all entered into the atmosphere of excitement of a shared venture and have bonded tightly as a result. Congratulations to Brad Crowley and Francis Oliver for bringing it to life.

I tried to immerse myself in as much of Beltane as I possibly could, this being my first time in Avalon. Beltane Virgin, as you might say (and I just did), though mainly from memory! I watched the lighting of the Unity Candle; listened to the delightful singing of the Free Avalonian State Choir; danced with maidens young and old whilst waiting for the Morris to arrive; watched as the Green Men, horns and leaves aplenty, hefted the Maypole out from the Assembly Rooms and, from there, down to the Market Cross and then up, up, up to the Tor. I saw many splendid costumes, witnessed great good will and jollity; heard the cheering of the masses as they witnessed the plaiting of the Maypole ribbons and the rituals associated with this ancient custom – and watched a town come together for celebration and acknowledgement of that essential Glastonbury spirit.

There are little videos on YouTube of parts of the whole thing. Feel free to ferret amongst them for more information, colour and Beltane vibes!

As for me, I am hugely tired – but also feel honoured to have played a part in this, my first experience of community Beltane. Most of all though, I am thrilled to have met so many wonderful, and special, people during the past four months – and to have played, acted and laughed with some of them during this weekend.

Roll on the Summer Solstice!

Mummers Play and me!

Yesterday morning, I found myself first researching the genre and then actually writing a Mummers Play. It is to be performed as part of the forthcoming Dragon/Beltane weekend in Glastonbury. Can’t wait to take part in, or experience as audience, everything that is going on the 29th and 30th April.

I first wrote a play when I was eleven: Still have the faded blue notebook, filled with childlike handwriting, and the memory of sitting in the back garden of Cumbraes (the house in Headington, Oxford, I lived in until I was eighteen) scribbling away. Such delight.

My next major dramatic piece of writing took place in 2011 when I wrote the play version (camped up) of ‘The Land of Green Ginger’ for Wrington Drama Club to perform as a pantomime. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out the way I wanted them to – and, long story short, the play, as twisted, er envisaged, by Ali, has yet to see the light of day. Damn shame! It was, and is, very funny though I say so myself.

So, with five novels under my belt and all the rest of it, the challenge of trying a new writing format (because the Mummers Play type of play-writing is very different to more modern ones) was irresistible.

It all started, in a sense, when I joined Shadow of the Tor a month or so ago. During Monday’s rehearsal, and having volunteered to take part in a ritual drama which is also part of that Beltane weekend, I was asked if I would like to come along to the planning meeting of the Dragon/Beltane Committee and find out what was what.

I had a lovely evening in the George and Pilgrims (G & P) – and, as a result, agreed to write the Mummers Play. Like you do! I wasn’t even drunk at the time, I hasten to add, having been quaffing nowt but Diet Coke all evening.

Once I knew roughly what I was doing, I set to – and, Oh, the joy! It was a delight to do from start to finish; I had forgotten the sheer pleasure of extended humorous writing. It has some slight resemblance to that perennial favourite ‘St George and the Dragon’  – but has been brought up to date in some very specific ways, which I won’t go into!

It has now been read by some members of the Committee – and they think it will do for the day; in fact, they think it’s pretty good, which thrilled me no end.

Yesterday afternoon, rehearsing Shadow of the Tor’s play (written and produced by founders, Francis and Brad), in Abbey Park, surrounded by verdant trees and sun-thrown shadows, I rejoiced. Clad in Mediaeval costume, larking around in Spring sunshine with like-minded people, I couldn’t have been happier!

It is so good to feel that my creative side, held under wraps for so long, is beginning to flower once more; that tight and terrified posts and journal entries are being replaced, increasingly, by free-flowing, joyous, even experimental pieces of writing. It is lovely to feel that I can contribute something to the local community in this way.

If you live in or near Glastonbury, do come along – on the 29th, the 30th or both! – and watch the Dragon Procession, hear the talks, be enchanted by drummers and Morris Dancers, watch ‘In the Shadow of the Tor’ and the Mummers Play, celebrate Beltane at the foot of the Tor. It is going to be magnificent. I shall be there, in the thick of it!