Cor blarst me, thass the Bard!

JON WELCH A version of one of Shakespeare's most popular plays performed entirely in Norfolk dialect has proved an unlikely hit at the Edinburgh Festival. The play, under the banner "Mardling the Bard", played to packed houses at the world-famous arts festival - and no-one was more surprised than writer, performer and director Eve Stebbing.

JON WELCH

A version of one of Shakespeare's most popular plays performed entirely in Norfolk dialect has proved an unlikely hit at the Edinburgh Festival.

The play, under the banner "Mardling the Bard", played to packed houses at the world-famous arts festival - and no-one was more surprised than writer, performer and director Eve Stebbing.

Eve, artistic director of Norwich-based Spin-Off Theatre Company and a drama critic for the EDP, had to rewrite the play at short notice after one of the actors fell ill and dropped out.

The play was originally written for five actors, but there would have not have been time for all the remaining performers to rehearse a revised version so Eve, 31, decided to rewrite it as a one-woman show.

She even learned how to play the piano accordion in a week especially for the production.

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Although Eve's family are all from Norfolk and Suffolk, there is no trace of a Norfolk accent in her normal speaking voice.

However, she has been studying Norfolk dialect for 10 years. "I suppose I got hooked by listening to people tell stories in it," she said.

"I like the way people think things through before they speak. They say things that catch you off-guard and they're very inventive: if there isn't a word for what they need they will just make one up, and that's what Shakespeare did."

Eve said she had been struck by other similarities between the Norfolk dialect and Shakespearean dialogue.

"Shakespeare used lots of word play and there's a similar tradition in Norfolk storytelling.

"When I saw A Midsummer Night's Dream and the clowns, I thought how like the old Norfolk boys I've interviewed they were. They use the same kind of jokes and the things they say are quite unexpected."

In Eve's version of the play, all the action takes place in Norfolk, and there are references to local places, including Burnham Overy Staithe, Hickling Broad, and Mousehold Woods in Norwich.

Eve admitted to feeling nervous before taking the pared-down play to the Edinburgh Fringe. "I was muttering away, learning my lines all the way up there on the train."

The venue for the play was a vegetarian café called Henderson's. "I expected a handful of people but it was full every night," said Eve.

"I was delighted by how well it went. Even the hard-bitten Glaswegians liked it. Almost everyone you meet has some kind of Norfolk connection so they could all relate to it.

"I even managed to get the audience joining in with some traditional Norfolk molly dancing."

The Spin-Off Theatre Company will be performing the full version of the play at the following venues: Thursday, September 28, Wood Norton Village Hall, near Holt; Friday, September 29, Watlington Village Hall, near King's Lynn; and Saturday, September 30, Ashby and Thurton Village Hall. All performances start at 8pm. For details call 01603 663676.

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