Eastern Angles on the road again
David HenshallEastern Angles is taking groundbreaking and innovative theatre to rural communities. The Long Way Home, which is travelling to more than 60 venues across the east of England.David Henshall
One of the great pleasures of the Eastern Angles Theatre Company is not just that they carry theatre deep into the countryside, but that they launch exciting new work, often with a regional connection and invariably cleverly staged.
The Long Way Home, which is travelling to more than 60 venues across the east of England, including Aylsham Town Hall tonight, is slightly different in that it is set on a Greek island.
But, says the director Naomi Jones, it has a universal theme that will resonate anywhere.
It centres on a spirited old widow and her pilgrimage across country back to the seaside village of her childhood. As she treks across the land Old Mother, as she is called, meets up with an abandoned dog-boy and a friendship is forged. It is a journey on which they have a series of disturbing encounters, not least with bandits and ghosts.
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The Long Way Home has a cast of four - the Old Mother, the boy and two narrators who play all the other characters. It has a magical, folktale feel, says Naomi, who has a good history of delivering this sort of narrative, particularly during her five years as assistant to Royal Court and Out of Joint director Max Stafford-Clark, who specialises in new work.
'I am excited by the different ways in which we can present this sort of play and delighted this time to be working with a puppeteer as well,' she says. 'The narrators are both creators and magical storytellers in the great tradition of this art. And with it there'll be some puppets - but not necessarily entirely what you might expect. There will be some traditional puppetry, some shadow puppetry and what is called object manipulation in which objects become other things in the course of the story.'
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The boy is wild, believes he is a dog, probably because he has been treated like one, and he is saved by Old Mother. When the play opens he behaves like a dog but then his rescuer gives him the gift of language, she clothes him and as the play progresses he moves from being the vulnerable one to one who helps her along. 'The tale of the dog-boy is really a sort of coming-of-age, a journey from innocence to experience. It is never specified where he came from or why he was in the forest tied up.'
What period is it set in? 'When I spoke to Charles Way, the playwright, he described it as being a journey through time as much as place. So we start in a sort of ancient world with this old woman in black and old shoes, an image that could be conjured from any ancient folk tale, and we end up in modern-day seaside Kefalonia with white plastic chairs and checkered taverna table cloths.' It is, she says, a universal theme: a wise old lady from anywhere travelling back to her roots and meeting people on the way.
'It is interesting that her relationship with the sea is not quite what she had hoped - the image from your youth is not always what you find. 'It's full of people,' she says when she gets there, and the people she knew are dead.'
The play also deals with the idea of being an outsider, of coming from one place and living in another. Old Mother came from the seaside and lived the rest of her life in the forest and she tells us that this was not always easy. This sort of division is referred to in the play.
Somebody says to her, 'Why do you want to go back to the sea - they all smell of fish.' Another character says, 'People from the forest eat people. Do you eat people, Old Mother?' and she replies, 'Not without vegetables'.
It is when her husband is dead and her sons have left home that she sets off back to her roots and 'what's lovely about the sculpting of this play is that each of the characters, no matter how briefly we meet them, has a kind of journey to make - even her late husband who pops up several times as a ghost.'
Initially, he wants to stop her going and says she is deserting his grave and bringing shame on his bed. Then he doesn't want her to link up with the boy - it's insulting to his sons - but as he reappears we begin to understand what it was that made him difficult to live with for much of his life. And in the end he has an important part to play.
As Old Mother goes in search of her past, we are given two distinctly different views of what the past means. One of the bandits declares that the past doesn't matter because it doesn't exist. 'It's only what you do in the present that counts.' Another character asks, 'How can you exist without a past.'
Susan McGoun is Old Mother and Theo Deveney plays the boy. James Bolt and Jumaan Short are the narrators.
Naomi Jones who grew up in Saffron Waldon had her first experience of Eastern Angles when they performed at her school. Her grandfather was an actor and her mother a drama teacher, 'so theatre was kind of in the blood.' She did a drama degree at Manchester University and took an MA at Goldsmiths College in London and after five years as assistant to Max Stafford-Clark went freelance.
With Ivan Cutting, Angles' artistic director, she adapted and directed last year's very successful and acclaimed Return to Akenfield from the book by Craig Taylor and is thrilled to be back working with Angles whose work she admires greatly. 'With bandits, ghosts and lovely music specially composed by Rebecca Shanks, what more could you want in a show?'
You can see The Long Way Home is at Aylsham Town Hall on March 16 (contact 01473 211498), the Seagull Theatre, Lowestoft, on March 24 (contact 01502 580909), Downham Market Town Hall on March 31 (01473 211498), Wells Granary Theatre on April 1 (01328 710193), Bungay Fisher Theatre on April 20 and 21 (01986 897130), Hockwold Village Hall on April 24 (01842 827268), Thetford Carnegie Rooms on April 28 (01473 211498), Southwold St Edmund's Hall on May 4 (01473 211498), King's Lynn Arts Centre on May 12 (01553 764864), Diss Corn Hall on May 13 (01379 652241) and Sheringham Little Theatre on May 15 (01263 822347).